Illusionistquest Chapter 12: Mazes

Filled with delicious grain and grain accessories, you retire up to your room to chat over your next course of action. Akela sits upon the bed she’ll be sharing with Saya, as was decided beforehand, while you sit at the table along with the other adults. You lean back in your chair, though there aren’t exactly enough for everyone, and stretch as you speak.

“Well that’s lucky enough. We know that our quarry is a farmer and is spooky.”

“That really narrows it down.” Clint says, chuckling. “Though I suppose if he’s known, he’d be easier to find, huh?”

“Sounds about right.”Ophelia says, rubbing her chin. I don’t know terribly much about country places like this though. She shrugs, “How would you could about finding such a place?”

Ginelle chuckles, “Same way you go about finding any other place. You search around for awhile and eventually bumble into it.”

“Or, you know, we could ask someone.” Saya says, rolling her eyes. Ginelle gives her a side-long glance, her eyes sparkling with mischief, and Saya huffs. “Oh don’t you give me that. This is serious, it sounds like people are vanishing around this place.”

“Could be isolated incidents?” You say, shrugging, but the look that Saya gives you says otherwise. “It was worth a try, but you’re right. Guy’s probably grinding their bones to bake bread or something.”

Clint looks down from a piece of bread he smuggled out from downstairs. He looks at it long and hard before taking a bite and chewing, though Ophelia gives him a horrified look. He shrugs and smiles, saying, “What? They taste delicious.”

“Even I find that odd.” Ginelle says, frowning too, and Clint raises his hands, sighing.

“Fine, fine. I really doubt this is made from people’s blood or anything, seeing how he can’t have been doing this long enough to bring in a harvest or anything.”

“That’s not the…” Ginelle sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Uhm, so, back on track I guess…” Clarissa says, raising a wing. “How do you plan to uh… you know.” She looks over to Akela, who yawns and waves a dismissive paw.

“I know what you’re doing, keep talking.”

Clarissa looks a little sick, however she just nods her head and swallows before continuing. “Uhm, right then. So…?”

You look about the group before shrugging. “First things first, we need to find the guy, then I suppose we’ll look into how to deal with him.”

Clint raises a finger. “If he’s out with his crops all day, I could, you know, put a shot into his head. Or chest, honestly anywhere would probably work pretty well.”

Saya nods her head, “That sounds like a solid plan honestly. I doubt people around here have any idea what a weapon like that sounds like, let alone what it looks like. Would be easiest with least chance of collateral damage in that case and we can leave before anything really serious comes of it.”

She shrugs. “Worst case scenario, I can just dispose of the corpse easily enough, though I really don’t like the taste of men.”

Ginelle frowns at that, having seen what Saya can do to a corpse, or even a still living body, though Clint shoots you a shit-eating grin. You flip him the harpy and he shakes his head before looking serious again and speaking.

“Way I see it, Tobias is right, we don’t know enough about this guy. Tomorrow we’ll get some recon and see if we can’t do this. I’ll set up once we find him and wait for a good shot.” He smirks and looks about. “Well, I could use a good pair of eyes to help me out also. Helps with the boredom too. Any volunteers?”

Ophelia rolls her eyes, though she looks at his rifle and goes to raise her hand slowly, but Ginelle beats her too it. The Rabbitgirl shoots her hand down and blushes some as Ginelle says, “Fine, I’ll watch your back.”

Everyone looks at her with surprised looks and she frowns. “What? It makes sense, right? Tobias and Saya can do the groundwork while Clint and I cover the two of you.”

“Yeah that makes sense.” You say, nodding your head. “I am curious about those outer farms and the disappearances though. Clarissa, do you think you could look into that after scouting out the Tucker farm?”

She puts a wing to her head in a salute. “You got it! Should be easy enough, seeing as I brought my uniform and all.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out the blue flying outfit with the crown on the back. “I think I can convince people to spill some information. You’d be surprised what people will tell the mail carriers.”

“Speaking of which, has anyone, you know… propositioned you while on a delivery?” Ginelle asks, to a groan from Saya.

Clarissa nods her head like it was a matter of course. “Oh yes, all the time honestly. I used to be really embarrassed by at first but… eh. Unless they take a package wearing no clothes, it doesn’t bother me… much.” She ruffles a few feathers before coughing into her wing. “Yeah, anyway, I can do that.”

“Alright, that’s the game plan for now.” You say, nodding your head. “I think the next order of business is-“

“Uh, what am I going to do?” Ophelia asks, frowning.

You look at her a little startled before rubbing at the back of your head. “Ah, sorry. Uhm, could you, you know, look after Akela for us while we’re out?”

You note Akela in your peripheral vision shaking her head in the negative, but you ignore it as Ophelia sighs. “Alright, that’s fine. I probably shouldn’t feel upset at being left out of murder, but oh well.” She stretches before clapping her hands together and saying, “Alright, time for sleep then! A long day ahead of us, huh sweetie?”

“We’re going to learn, aren’t we?” Akela asks, her face a neutral mask.

“Yes. Yes we are.” Ophelia says, smiling broadly. “Do you know what a phase relay is?”

“No.”

“Well you’re going to!” Ophelia bounces off to her room with Clint, Ginelle, and Clarissa, who all wave good night, leaving the three of you alone. As soon as the room is quiet, you walk over to the bed and sit down next to Akela, smiling as she lets out a little yawn before saying, “And I thought the Orphanage was bad.”

“Come on, Ophelia isn’t that bad.”

“No, it’s just tedious.” She hugs at her little doll before mumbling, “Thank you…”

“Hmm?” You say, leaning in closer. “What was that?”

“I said thank you…” Akela mumbles again. “For the party and… well.” She trails off, but you just smile broadly and give her a big hug, which takes her off guard for a moment until she sighs. “You two are going to spoil me.”

“And you have too much self-awareness for a child.” Saya says, touching Akela’s nose with a finger. “I know this is a serious situation we’re in, but we don’t want any harm to come to you, and want you to be happy. Things might be difficult at times but we’ll do anything we can for you, alright? I mean, we’re family now, right?”

Akela looks between you and Saya before sighing and looking down, a small smile on her lips. “Oh alright… now get to bed, we all have a long day ahead of us.”

“Sometimes, I can’t tell who the adult is here.” Saya says, smirking.

“It’s certainly not Tobi- I mean, dad.” Akela says, and you frown deeply before huffing.

“Told off by my own daughter. Kids these days!”

Akela giggles at that, and you rub her head before nodding to Saya. “Alright, night you two.” You make to move to your own bed when Saya grabs you hand, gently applying pressure on it as she gives you a hug from behind. You both sit like that for a moment before she gently lets your fingers go and you smile at her, heading to your bed for a good night’s sleep.

————————–

Morning came and after breakfast, everyone headed off to find where the hell Carl Tucker’s farm was. Of course, this took about five minutes since everyone knows everyone in this town. It seems like he lives a few miles out north of town on a wheat farm, so you all head out there to recon.

Clarissa takes flight ahead of your group, and by the time she returns, you’re barely out of town, the summer sun starting to beat down on all of you. Honestly, you really shouldn’t be wearing your suit, but damn if it doesn’t breathe well. Ginelle seems fine, dressed in her old, torn up clothing, while Saya wears her black outfit, seeming a little hot herself. Everyone shoots Clint dirty looks, because he doesn’t appear to care in the slightest about the temperature, the bastard.

Clarissa lands in front of you and salutes, a gesture you find endearing, if a little off putting. Damn, are you really that commanding now? She walks up and gives her report.

“Farm is where they said it would be, and I saw the man stands out there, cutting wheat with his scythe. I don’t know what it is, but I felt a certain sense of… I dunno, foreboding when I went over there, like if I landed I’d just curl up in a ball and cry.” She shivers for a moment before continuing. “Anyway, there’s a small ridge overlooking the wheat fields and can see a farm house and small barn at the edge of the farm. Should be perfect for you Clint.”

Clint tips his hat and nods to Ginelle, who nods back. You take a breath and say, “Alright, sounds simple enough. We’ll follow you to ridge and observe for abit before taking a closer look around. If we can take him out up close and personal, it will make things easier for getting out of here.”

“Got it.” Clint taps the [Magesight Goggles] he took from Ophelia earlier. “These should come in handy too. Always a little odd using them, but I’m sure I can cut through anything he throws at us.”

You nod your head before thinking for a moment. “Actually… speaking of such things, I wish I had more time for a good lesson, but let me impart this on you. There’s many techniques for resisting illusions, but the simplest can be done by anyone.”

Everyone gathers around, looking curious. You takes a deep breath and continue. “Illusions play upon your perceptions, making you feel and believe what isn’t there. However, we are creatures of free will, we can change or perceptions of reality around us if we concentrate enough. If you suspect that someone is off, or you notice any irregularities, you first must calm down, and then think of things the way they should be. The pain you feel is false, the sounds in the dark aren’t real, the shifting sands beneath you aren’t there. Be vigilant, and you can resist some of the illusions, though do not assume you’re immune to it, because if they figure this out, they’ll change it on you, subtly but surely.”

Sighing, you nod your head again. “Reality is what we make of it, yet it is also what it is. Don’t forget that and you’ll be fine.”

Everyone nods at you, their expressions serious. This lesson was almost verbatim from what Richard originally taught you, and you feel a brief moment of shock at that thought. Richard, was this always your intention? Damn you, doing such a fine job teaching.

Clarissa takes wing again, and the rest of you head to the farm, reaching it about an hour later, the sun still rising in the morning sky. The little ridge is about where Clarissa described it, and all of you crawl up to the edge through some brush, and take a look out over the fields, seeing most of the wheat already harvested, though honestly there’s still too much there for a true harvest, which should have concluded already. In the back sits the farmhouse, made of solid, yet simple wood, and the small barn in stereotypical red and white colors, though the paint seems to be faded.

You look over the fields for signs of the farmer and see…nothing. You frown deeply before asking Clint, who is sighting through his rifle and the [Magesight Goggles], and he shakes his head also, whispering, “There’s some faint magical energies from the barn, but…is that a scarecrow?”

All of you look toward the field to see a shape hidden in the brush. Why it would be hidden, you have no idea, since that defeats the purpose, but you can’t tell much more about it other than it gives you the creeps. You grunt before looking to Saya, who frowns and shakes her head. “No, let’s wait for Clarissa and see what she has to say before heading out there.”

“Fine.” You say, nodding to the others and slipping away, crawling again until you’re far enough away to wait somewhere conspicuous until Clarissa arrives, dropping down to meet you, her brow coated with a thin trickle of sweat.

“Did you get him?” She asks, chuckling darkly, and you shake your head. She sighs and nods, “Well, from what I can tell asking after some of the missing people, there were four unaccounted for, apparently just got up and left, saying they were going to help Mr. Tucker with his crops after his wife died a month ago. They’re worried, but whenever someone tries to go and ask him about where the people went, they somehow get lost in his wheat field and then decide that it isn’t that important, though they can’t say why they’d think that.”

“Four people missing around here is a big deal.” You say, seeming contemplative.

“Well, five people, actually. One of the farms I visited said that one of the sons went out yesterday, but hasn’t been seen since.”

You and Saya trade looks before nodding in unison. “Alright, thanks Clarissa, I think we can handle it from here.”

“Oh, oh one more thing!” She says, hopping forward and leaning in. “Apparently his wife was a Weresheep and was pretty beloved by people around here. He took it really, really hard when she died, didn’t even have a proper funeral for her, though people tried to get him to.”

“That’s… disturbing.” Saya says, looking worried. “You don’t think he has her body still?”

Clarissa shudders. “Gods I hope not. But that’s all I could really find out before people started asking questions.” She rummages in her bag and pulls out a loaf of bread. “They did give me this though. Very nice overall around here.”

You wave your hand in a negative and she shrugs, putting it back in her bag before sighing and looking off into the distance. “This is going to be something bad, isn’t it?”

“Probably.” You say, nodding your head. “Alright, I guess we’ll have to head out and-“

*CRACK*

All three of you go rigid as the sound echoes through the air. It rings through the air loud and clear and though you’ve only heard it once, you know exactly what the sound is. Both you and Saya break into a sprint toward Clint on the ridge, finding him looking down the barrel of his rifle, cursing like a damn sailor.

“Mark showed his head, so I took a shot, he dropped, but Ginelle went out there to confirm the kill. She hit the wheat fields and now…” He waves out toward the field. “I can’t see her shape distinctly, there’s a lot of magical noise though, which makes me think he’s not dead.”

He grits his teeth. “I know I put a shot into his chest, these goggles don’t lie. Something strange is going on here.”

You look out at the field and notice two things. One, you can’t see Ginelle and two, you can’t see that scarecrow anymore. What the fuck happened to make Clint fail to kill the man, and where did Ginelle go? Better yet, where the fuck did the man drop if Clint hit him at all?

You feel your hands knot unconsciously into fists as you round upon Clint, not even caring that you’re not hiding in the cover. Before anyone can stop you, your fist flies toward Clint’s face, and the man recoils, but before you collide with him, you stop yourself, fist shaking with barely restrained anger. Saya pulls you back before you can make a complete fool of yourself, and she pulls you to the ground to hide in the terrain, not that it would matter much anymore, you’re sure.

Everyone stares at you with shocked expressions, except for Clint himself, who recovers from his shock enough to put on a stony expression. He merely pulls his rifle back and lifts the goggles from his eyes to frown at you. “Well, why didn’t you do it?”

You shake for a moment and growl out, “Because it would have been a mistake. Because I should have known you’d take the shot before everyone was ready. Because I’m a fool too concerned for one friend to care if I hurt another.”

Clint nods his head before sighing and looking back over the wheat field. “Good to see you have a head on your shoulders. I hope you know that I’m with you because I believe in what you’re doing, nothing more.” Of course, as he says this, his eyes scan over the wheat field anxiously, his fingers tapping his rifle nervously.

“Of course.” Saya says, nodding her head slowly. “There’s obviously something… here, but I think we can leave that for later, for now, we need to find Ginelle.”

Both you and Clint look to each other before nodding at her and grunting. Clarissa rolls her eyes and says, “Boys…” before you turn to the wheat field and grit your teeth. Looking out over it, it seems peaceful, as if nothing was wrong, but with that scarecrow gone and Ginelle silent…

“Damnit.” You mutter, preparing to move away. “Come on Saya, we’re going into that wheat field.”

“W…what? You’re going in?” Clarissa says, looking a little afraid.

“Yes, unless you’re going with us.” Saya says, nodding her head back. Clarissa looks out to the field and shudders violently.

“No… no I can’t. It’s… I can’t explain it, but something is screaming at me not to go there.”

All three of you look between each other before Clint snorts, “Scarecrow.”

Clarissa’s eyes widen in indignation and she stomps a talon, huffing. “I…I’m afraid of any s…scarecrow.”

“It’s literally in the name. But never mind, if you don’t want to go in, will you act as a spotter for me?”

Clarissa looks at him a little confused before thinking about it and nodding her head, moving out of the hilltop and leaping into the air a little bit away, circling over the farm in lazy arcs. Clint peers up at her with the goggles down and frowns before sighing and looking back at the field, his rifle readied. “Go, I’ll cover you.”

Saya nods her head and makes to go, but you put a hand on his shoulder and say, “Clint I…”

“You’re sorry, I know, but this isn’t the time for your drama, get out there and save Ginelle!” He shrugs you off and looks back over the forest of wheat. You look at him for a moment and whisper,

“It’s not your fault.”

“What did I fucking just say?”

You take the hint and then leave with Saya, the two of you crawling down the hill before standing and walking up to the edge of the wheat. You stare up at the stalks and feel… a sense of unease. You can sort of place a power upon the plants, but it just doesn’t feel completely like illusion-magic. This takes you aback for a bit and Saya has to nudge your arm and ask if you’re alright. You nod your head and steel yourself before taking her hand in yours, knife held in her other, and the two of you enter into the wheat.

Your feet land within an open space and you stumble slightly as everything seems… different. You’re still in a wheat-field, that’s for certain, but they seem taller than before, much taller, and you see a large, open passageway which has multiple other passageways coming off it. You and Saya both look to each other before taking in deep breaths and turning about to see the exit.

There is none. Just a wall of densely packed wheat that you can’t dig through no matter how hard you try. Frowning deeply, you close your eyes and concentrate on breaking the illusion, yet when you open your eyes, the walls seem less… distinct, but still present, and a moment later your hesitation makes them snap back into place without trouble. This, of course, is trouble, and you growl to yourself.

“Well shit.” Saya says, looking about. “We got caught.”

“It’s just part of the plan…” You growl, walking forward through what was obviously a maze. “This isn’t just an illusion, I can promise you that.”

“What does that mean?” Saya says, walking forward to catch up with you. “How can it not just be an illusion, wizards can’t use illusions, so this man can only use one form of magic…right?”

You nod your head and grunt. “Yes, as far as I know, no illusionist could wield any other magic, which means he has outside help. How he made these work together, I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

Saya frowns before sighing and slapping the wheat with her hand, which becomes black as pitch, and the wheat melts under her touch. She frowns and makes to melt a larger hole, but as she does, the wheat grows back around her and she’s forced to pull back or melt away all her clothing. Had the situation been different, you might have, well, you know.

As it stands, Saya growls and kicks the wheat before throwing her hands into the air. “Fuck it, guy wants us in a maze, we’ll do this fucking maze.”

“See, that’s why we’re dating.” You say, smiling at her.

“Oh? My sailor’s mouth?”

“It’s one part of your mouth I enjoy, yes.” She gives you a strange glance, but you’re now staring off down the corridor, looking toward something. Saya begins to speak, but you put up a hand as you hear a shuffling sound. You take a step forward and something fast shuffles from the left to the right in front of you, limbs flailing faster than you can identify and then it was gone.

Saya had noticed too, and you both nod your heads fiercely and chase after whatever it was, turning sharply to the right and seeing two more paths ahead. You extend your sense and listen, nodding to the left as you think you’ve heard something. Saya doesn’t argue and you run down this new walkway of wheat, making two more turns and yet not finding anything. You make to turn down one more path when something slams into you from the side and you fly into the wheat, yelping as the prickly plants rough your skin.

Before you can react, you feel wood scraping against your flesh while something less dense, something akin to straw digs little scrapes across your face. You flail about as whatever it is, light as it was, attacked you like some kind of Monkeygirl and with an effort, you push it off you, panting as blood trickled down your face. You right yourself and look to your attacker, Saya standing behind it, and both of you gape in confusion.

The thing standing before you was not man nor monster, and indeed it shouldn’t have been alive at all. It stood there before you, shivering and shaking in odd, jerking motions, and bits of straw fall of it as it does. It makes no noise as it rounds on you and buttons sewn onto a burlap sack bore into you, no emotion present in those inanimate eyes, yet there’s enough of a spark of life to make you step back in reflexive terror from the thing which is most certainly a scarecrow.

It takes the opportunity to leap at you again, and you duck down, rolling past it as it flies into the wheat, vanishing out of sight without any apparent effort. You blink and step back when it charges forward again, straw filled legs and wooden frame reaching for you. Before it can reach, however, Saya darts forward, slashing her knife at the thing and it staggers off balance enough for you to get out of the way as it careens past.

You look over to see it turning about quickly and shuddering violently, not in pain but more like… jittering, and draw drops lazily from the rent in its. Frowning, you reach your mind out to the thing, to try and dispel the illusion, if only a little, yet as your power slides over it, you feel… no illusion. Your eyes snap open and you shout, “It’s real! This damn thing is real!”

The Scarecrow whips it’s head back to you and it charges again, but Saya tackles the thing, her hand melting it’s right arm clean off before it wobbles back and looks at you, then to its arm. It shudders and twitches before turning and running off into the wheat, it’s soft footfalls getting lost in the maze.

Saya makes to go after it, but you put a hand on her shoulder and shake your head, instead nodding over to a pathway in the general direction it had fled. Should you continue this way, you’d surely run into it again, one way or another. Without another word, the two of you ran forward again, moving as best as you can figure down the same path it ran ahead. It’s disorienting, however, since the wheat all looks the same, and you remember the corn maze that you had to run through once in Kasin. You had said never again, but here you fucking are.

Ahead of you, you hear the shifting of a scarecrow, and you turn a corner with care, just barely missing getting hit in the face with a scythe, the instrument slicing through the air where you stood with an audible whooshing sound, becoming impaled in the ground before being torn up. You bring the thing fully into view to find with shock that it is not the same one that assaulted you beforehand, but indeed an entirely different scarecrow, it’s clothing and button eyes much different than the earlier one, and this one had both hands, which it used to make another sweep with the scythe.

Thankfully, they’re horrifically bad weapons, and you dodge it enough to place hands on the shaft, trying to wrench it free from the grasp of the scarecrow. As you do, you hear Saya shout something, and you turn about in time to jump backward as a sickle hooks in the air where you stood, moving in strange, jittering motions.

Unfortunately your dodge forced you to leave the weapon behind and now two scarecrows stood before the both of you, these two armed. A moment later, a third appeared from the wheat, traveling like some kind of ghost, a pitchfork in it’s strange hands. All three stared at you, their erratic jittering making your eyes hurt some. The lead one with the sickle pointed it at you and the others charged forward when a loud cry came up and from around a bend charged in Ginelle, her heavy feet churning up earth as she barreled into the three scarecrows, heedless of the danger and snapping wood as her powerful form crashed into them.

They fell in a tangled heap, and Saya wasted no time leaping forward and hacking at them with her knife, something you stayed out of as not to get in the way of the two Monster’s ferocity. You watch as straw is thrown into the air like blood, the jittering motions of the scarecrows growing frantic and with a sickening cracking, one of the heads is pried off the one with the pitchfork, causing the thing to fall still.

Ginelle shouts in triumph, but not before the scarecrow she’s straddling slides from underneath her powerful thighs and rights itself hurriedly, shaking and jittering, its weapon left on the ground. The one with the sickle tried to extricate itself, but Saya took the hint and destroyed its head and it too went still.

All eyes turned on the last remaining scarecrow and it seemed to know it was outmatched. Twitching and jittering, it shuddered violently and ran through the pathways, not even bothering to crash through the wheat like it did before. Eyes going wide with hope, you chase after it, Ginelle and Saya following after you in hot pursuit. Your eyes never leave the thing and after a final left turn, you break into a clearing where the scarecrow flails out toward two forms in the center.

The first scarecrow stood, shivering and shuddering over the form of a prone man, who looked as if he’s in his late forties, his hairline receding as his gut was increasing. The man lay gasping for breath, his arms shaking, eyes wild as he clutched at a hole in his chest. You realize with a start that this is the man that Clint shot, and you can feel the illusion magic pouring from him. He looks at you with those fearful eyes and he coughs something at the scarecrows.

The shuffle and jerk and with a sickening clap, they slam together and then begin to shift. Their burlap splits and the straw pours from one into the other, swelling it in size as it cannibalizes the broken one, making some kind of macabre, swollen horror that shambles forward, it’s arms flailing.

You prepare to fight when the man, Carl Tucker, coughs again, a fountain of blood coming out, and he slumps to the side, obviously dead.

In an instant, the wheat shimmers and then seems to snap, at once becoming normal height, and with a disorienting feeling, you find yourself suddenly on the ground, hidden by the tall stalks, your friends laying nearby. Unfortunately, the scareogre is not fazed by this and it continues to charge at you, and you have a moment to wonder if you could be crushed by straw when you hear a terrifying shriek of panic from high above and a moment later a bolt of purple energy slams into the head of the thing, snapping it backward and sending it toppling backward as a second shot hit in close to the first, passing through and passing to the ground, where the thing hit the ground and then bursts into a shower of straw.

You look up in confusion at the slowly falling straw, like flakes of snow, and you shake your head as it gets in your hair. You barely have time to look about when Ginelle tackles you and you feel your bones hurt a little as she smashes her cheek into yours, gibbering, “Oh Gods, Tobias, I thought I’d never get out of there and I’d never see you again and I’d have to subsist on wheat with scarecrows around and-!”

She’s cut off as wind picks up and the straw is thrown about, Clarissa touching down on the ground to look at you with relief. She stares at the corpses of the scarecrows and shudders before coming to hug you also. “Oh my Gods, when you entered that wheat you just vanished! Clint couldn’t even see you with the mage-sight goggles!”

“I think that was less the goggles fault and more the height of the wheat.” You rub you head and find some blood there, to which you frown. “It was a shared illusion, though all of us were on the ground I guess. Explains why he couldn’t see us, though Tucker got us to sit on the ground, I have no idea. Frankly, I’m pissed.”

“Yeah well, I’m feeling amazing!” Cries Abigail as she appears from your jacket pocket, looking a little worse for the wear, though she shines with that bright light. You try to shy away from her, but she zooms into your face, hers suddenly becoming the size of a human child’s and you flinch as she pushes her lips to yours, the warmth of power flooding into you again.

>You gain, <Cupid>

>The power of love and lust taken from Dollora, channeled through the moderation and gentle methods of Fillios, you can alter the feelings of others more readily to have romantic feelings for each other.

You frown deeply as Abigail, large as she is, pulls back, her eyes looking a little dreamy until they snap back into focus, and she suddenly reappears in her normal size. You barely notice that the others are staring in a mix of fury and horror, and Abigail flits back into your pocket before Saya can rip her little head off, and she makes to tear your jacket off, but she stops as you hear a whistling and turn to the hill to see Clint waving at something behind you. You look about to see the barn door, which is closer than you’d expected, swing open slowly, and from within a dark form emerges, armored feet clanking against the earth.

You look up to see the creature place a wicked looking war scythe against the sleek, yet entirely functional black armor, its silver trim shining brightly in the day. It was obviously designed for a woman however, and despite the large full helm that she wore, it was clear that her vision went to the dead man on the ground.

She grunted, “Well this is a fine mess you damn kids,” the sound echoing in her helm and she held out the scythe toward you, seeming to know how to use it, but before she could say anything, another cracking sound came and shot slammed into her helmet, tossing it off to fly off and land in the dirt. Instead of falling over however, the woman stood there, scythe still outstretched. The only odd thing was that her head was no longer there.

You notice with horror that the helmet nearby shifts and rumbles, and it slowly dawns on you as Saya says, “Oh hells, it’s a Dullahan.”

She grunted, “Well this is a fine mess you damn kids,” the sound echoing in her helm and she held out the scythe toward you, seeming to know how to use it, but before she could say anything, another cracking sound came and shot slammed into her helmet, tossing it off to fly off and land in the dirt. Instead of falling over however, the woman stood there, scythe still outstretched. The only odd thing was that her head was no longer there.

Everyone’s breath catches as a slow, black mist gently drifts up from the neck of the Dullahan, the body still standing there, scythe outstretched. An uneasy quiet fills the sunny wheat field and you feel yourself begin to sweat as the anticipation builds, your fingers tensing up back and forth. The stare down, such as it was, lasts for quite some time before the headless body slowly retracts the scythe and then turns about, walking over to the rolling helmet to pick it up in one hand and set it firmly on the shoulders, twisting it about before turning to you, a massive dent visible on the cranium. She twists it a few times before tearing the helm off, long, dark hair spilling out around a beautiful, human looking face.

The Dullahan looks out toward all of you, her red eyes narrowing, the black sclera standing sharp contrast. She opens her mouth and says, in an annoyed tone, “That was rather unnecessary, don’t you think? Not very honorable at all.”

You hurriedly hold up a hand and shout, “Clint! Stand down!” You don’t see the man behind you, but you’re sure he’s stopped what he was doing. The Dullahan looks at you with a curious expression before nodding her head and relaxing her weapon a little more before sighing.

“Well, at least we can be civil about this. You have made quite a mess of things though.”

“I’m sorry, what do you mean, made a mess of things?” You say, frowning. “Who are you anyway?”

She sniffs. “Hmph. It’s quite rude to ask that of a Lady without introducing yourself.” She shrugs and rolls her eyes, “But what can you expect of the living?”

Saya huffs some and crosses her arms, “You’re quite different than Delilah, she was never so stiff.”

The Dullahan looks to Saya with interest. “Delilah? Ah, I had heard she had a small tryst with some living folk after her failure. Papa was quite displeased to see her trapped her as but a head, but she has since returned to his service and does… adequate work, though menial in truth. Not like what I’ve been assigned.”

Saya’s eyes go wide and she asks, “Where is she? We’ve been searching for her for years, but no one’s heard anything from her.” She looks a little sad then and says, “I never got to say goodbye.”

The other Dullahan chuckles, “A living creature with sympathy for the undead? My, her stories truly weren’t mere fabrications. She did speak fondly of the daughter of that Wizard, I take it you must be she? My, you do radiate with Nerg’s blessings.” She taps the scythe on her shoulder. “If you want, I can send you to his domain, I’ll even put in a good word for you so she can come visit.”

You put a protective arm around Saya and frown, which makes the Dullahan smirk. You size her up before saying, in a polite tone, “I am afraid I was rude, my name is Tobias Shady, and this is Saya, Ginelle, and Clarissa.” You nod behind you, “The one in the back there is Clint. I apologize for his behavior in shooting you.”

She nods her head respectfully. “Accepted. My name is Heather.” She notices your odd expression at the name and she shrugs, “It’s a nice name, though I have no idea who I was in life, not that I particularly care.”

“Very well then… Heather.” You say in a firm, commanding voice, “Drop your weapon so we can talk about what is happening here in civility.”

She seems to waver for a second, the scythe slipping from her grip before she frowns and merely plants in on the ground. “No… I think not, but you’re correct, we can do this in a civil manner, though I suspect I will have to kill all of you for interfering in Nerg’s plans.”

Ginelle grunts, “How nice of you.” You wave a hand at the Badger before sighing and shaking your head.

“We had no idea that there was anything here involved with Nerg. We were merely here to deal with that man there, an illusionist who had gone insane. It was under the orders of Jackor, or are we to get into a feud of the Gods?”

Heather narrows her eyes again. “Jackor? He has agents of his own beyond those damn fairy troublemakers? Phah, that does complicate things, but not so much as you’d think.” She nods to the corpse of Mr. Tucker. “The fool was clearly going insane, yes, and he cloistered himself within his barn, trying to raise the corpse of his wife. Of course, he was failing miserably, not being attuned to such things, so I was sent to oversee him. Taught him a few things such as amplifying his little maze trick, and putting souls temporarily into the scarecrows, which you ruined by the way.” She gives you an annoyed look before sighing.

“Well, had he succeeded in the rituals as I’d instructed, he would have raised a carrion lord and caused a blight to spread over this fertile land and create quite the spectacle of disease. It would have made Nerg very happy.” She nods her head at this, as if imagining the death spread by infecting such a place.

All of you look sick, especially Clarissa, who puts her wings over her mouth in shock. Saya grips her knife and takes a step forward, growling, “Delilah would never-“

“I am not Delilah, and yes, she would, and she has, though not recently.” Heather says sharply, glaring at Saya. “Now then, I am accustomed to things not going as planned, but if you continue to act in such a disrespectful manner then I shall be forced to send you all to Nerg to apologize.”

“There’s no need for that, I assure you.” You say, putting your hand on Saya’s arm and pulling her back. You glare at the Dullahan before saying, in a flat voice, “There will be other opportunities to sow death among this world, lets drop this, shall we?”

The Dullahan cocks her head, even going so far as making her helmet vanish into nothingness and then take her head off, looking pensive as she does. She looks over all of you, especially Clint, before sighing and rubbing her head against her breastplate. “Oh, very well. I can’t very well suffer the same fate as my sister. Being nothing but a head… thank you, but no, that sounds interminable.”

Before you can say anything, she holds out the scythe, head still held in the crook of her arm. “However, things are changing in this world. The winds of death are blowing once again and I will not be party to stopping them. Should we meet again, I will destroy you wholly and completely.”

“As if you could.” Ginelle says, bristling. “Just try saying that again and-

She’s cut off as the Dullahan steps forward and then seems to vanish from sight in a cloud of black smoke, and a moment later, appears with her scythe placed next to Ginelle’s neck, her eyes glowing bright red as she looks at Ginelle with a murderous look. The Badger looks utterly taken aback, frozen in place as the Dullahan drips venom in her voice, saying, “I told you to mind your manners. Open your mouth again and I’ll tear your head from your body and wear your corpse as my own.”

She slowly retracts the scythe, which vanishes into thin air before pulling back, somehow looking down at Ginelle, though she was roughly the same height. A wicked smile appears on her face as she says, “I would enjoy that though. You have quite the muscular, and supple form. With some modifications, it would be quite suitable for me.” The undead Monster pulls back and turns about, walking a few paces before snapping her fingers, and out of the shadows of the homestead, a horse the color of night appears, larger than most you’ve seen, and armored to boot. It stamps with irritation as Heather effortlessly climbs into the saddle.

She turns to give you one last glance before looking at the barn with annoyance. “Oh, I leave that mess for you to clean up. Do be so kind as to play in the blood a little, I believe it’s filthy and some plague might suit all of you. Oh, and if I see Delilah, I’ll let her know that you’ll be visiting her in Nerg’s halls soon. Good day.” With that, she turns her horse and they ride off through the wheat fields and out of sight.

You blink a few times as she goes, the tension leaving the area and making you feel utterly exhausted. Sighing, you turn to see Clarissa slumped down and hugging Ginelle, who actually looks afraid for once. The Crow is crying while Ginelle moves her mouth a little wordlessly, and you have to make a short command in order to get them to snap out of it long enough to listen to reason.

“She won’t hurt you any longer.” You say, holding out a hand to both of them. Clarissa, eyes filled with tears looks at your hand before slowly taking it, her legs shaking with fear.

“Sh… she was so s…scary, I… when she looked at me I just felt myself go numb and couldn’t think of anything.”

“I… I’ve never truly been afraid of… but the way she moved…” Ginelle muttered, allowing you to help her up. You sigh as Clint charges into view and hugs Ginelle, the startled Badger almost getting bowled over the by man. He hugs for perhaps a little longer than is necessary before letting go and releasing a deep breath.

“Gods, I thought she was going to kill you! I almost took a shot right then and there and-” He blink and looks about to see yours and Saya’s startled expressions, and he takes a step back before coughing into his hand. “Right then… sorry about that. Glad to see you’re okay though.”

Ginelle looks at him blankly before her eyes shift to you and you just look at her startled and confused before she turns to Clint and nods her head slowly. “I… thank you for your concern.”

“Yeah I… well, I’m glad everyone is alright.” He says hastily before looking over at Clarissa, who is still shaking. “Gods, we should return to the inn and get something to help calm everyone’s nerves.” He pulls out a hip flask to forward this point, and Clarissa swipes it with the skill and grace only a Crow, born with such innate skills, could manage. She unscrews the cap somehow and drinks deep of the draught, coughing slightly as the bitter taste burns her throat. She holds it back to Clint who gives her a surprised look before screwing the cap back on and nodding. “Alright then.”

“You go ahead.” You say to Clint before waving at the others. “I need to deal with something.” You look over at the barn with a sick expression, and Ginelle walks up to put a shaking hand on your arm.

“Tobias, we can go-“

“I’d…rather you don’t.” You say, looking uneasy. “I don’t think anything good will come of this and I don’t want you to have to suffer any more today.” Ginelle gives you hurt expression before nodding her head solemnly.

“I understand. Just be careful.”

“Oh, he will.” Saya says, poking you. “I’ll be there to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.”

“Oh, me too!” Abigail says, poking her head out before quickly darting it back in as Saya reaches for her, only succeeding in fumbling at your coat pocket, which is still surprisingly intact. Gods, this was a wonderful investment, how was that Lizardman only selling in the street markets? They place a game of cat and mouse for a few moments before you wave both of them off and huff. Saya glares at your chest before sniffing and you shake your head, nodding to the others who take their leave.

You look over at the barn with its open doors and frown. A deep sense of… wrongness pervades and you notice then that a fetid stench is coming from the barn. Taking a breath, you walk toward it, Saya next to you and slowly, you peer inside and wish you hadn’t.

Inside, illuminated by small windows in the barn exterior, you see what appears to be a shrine, multiple cold candles around it, and in the center sits the bloated form of a Weresheep, her head lolling to the side as her sickly skin shines with various oils and unguents. Doing your best to keep your lunch in you, you look about the rest of the barn to see scarecrows on the walls, though these aren’t moving, but you notice a few racks upon which they hang to be empty, with the bodies of humans sitting before them, their heads slumped to the side. You steel yourself and head to one, holding your nose as the horrible stench of the Weresheep fills your nose, and you turn the man over to find him dehydrated and a little thin, but rather much alive. You snap your fingers a few times and his eyes flutter open before closing shut again as he collapses.

Saya, not perturbed by the smell (Seeing as she removed her nose) frowned at the man and said, in a strange voice. “Their souls must have been returned after the scarecrows were destroyed.”

You make to open your mouth to reply, but feel yourself about to retch as you do, and instead close your eyes and nod your head. Saya puts a hand on your shoulder and you both take the three men and one woman, all in various stages of hunger, outside before returning to look at the altar once more. At the corner, you notice something and pick it up, a diary of sorts, and you read open a random page to read the script.

“She told me that if I brought the others here they’d help. They did so love my dear in life, so why wouldn’t they leap at the chance? I had to use my special convincing though, but they came, didn’t they? Grumby looked a little odd at her when I brought him in, but with some help from the pale lady, he gave me all the help he could! Well, he’s a little quiet now, but as long as I think pleasant thoughts for him, he’ll cheer us on! Ah, but I should look after the wheat. Must have plenty to feed her when she awakens, can’t let my dear be hungry!”

You close the book and shudder. This could have been really, really bad if you’d chosen to bypass this place. You’re kind of glad of the fact, but at the same time, you’ve made an enemy of a servant of Nerg… the thought makes your spine shiver and Saya places a hand on you, nodding to the outside. You pocket the [Farmer’s Diary], and head outside, shaking your head to clear the stench as Saya closes the barn doors.

>You obtain [Farmer’s Diary]!

>Detailing Carl Tucker’s descent into madness, and his works with Heather, the Dullahan, this small book is quite heretical!

Neither of you have to say anything as you both enter the house and find some lantern oil, dousing the barn with as much as you can before setting it aflame. You watch it for awhile before agreeing to leave, knowing the smoke will attract people who can help the people you found without too many questions. You hope they’ll be okay, but you don’t want to be wrapped up in any of this, and as you soon head to the inn, arriving around late afternoon.

The scene you find in your room is at once hilarious as it is depressing. Clarissa is laying on the floor, her wings spread up in the air as she giggles, stinking of drink, while Ginelle and Clint pass a bottle, Ophelia pinching the bridge of her nose as Akela watches with an impassive expression. As soon as you enter, she looks to both you and Saya before saying, “Could you do something about all of this?”

You rub your head and sigh as Clarissa rolls under a bed, and Clint offers you a bottle. Saya groans and slumps her shoulders, the both of you feeling utterly drained before having to come to… this. Clint looks at both of you and cocks his head before waving you over. You do so with tired steps and he hands over the bottle to Ginelle. He breathes out, breath filled with the smell of whisky, and says, “Sorry Tobias, they just sort of… well, it was a strange day, you know? Can’t fault the poor girls for wanting to have a little something to ease their minds.”

You sigh, “You’re doing this in front of a child.”

“Child? Hells, I bet she’s the most mature one here.” He nods to Ophelia, “I think your little girl was lecturing the bunny on something when we came in, the poor girl looked utterly mortified.” You look over at Akela, who pats Ophelia’s back a few times with that same, impassive expression, and Clint continues, “Honestly, I think I know what was in that barn. Why don’t the two of you go have the night out or something? We’ll look after everyone.”

Ginelle, leaning on the table, wobbles some and slips, catching herself before starting and shaking her head. Clint watches before sighing, “Well, maybe I’ll look after everyone then.”

You look over at Akela, and an interesting thought comes to your head. You smirk and call over your daughter who comes without much prodding, looking up until you kneel down. “Hey there sweetie, how was your day?”

“Long and boring until these clowns appeared.”

“That’s… kind of rude.”

“I say it with love.” She pauses, as if expecting you to laugh at a joke before she shrugs a hint of a smirk on her face before it vanishes. “Anyway, it wasn’t so bad, though I still find mana venting systems highly inefficient.” She looks at Ophelia and shrugs, “She spent awhile trying to tell me otherwise, but what do I know? I’m a child.”

“Your too smart for your own good.” You say, chuckling as you rub her head, which makes her smile some. “Ah, there we go. Now then, I’m sorry to ask this, but would you terribly mind looking after these, ah… clowns? Your m…mother and I were going to go out for abit.”

Akela cocks her head. “Don’t you have that backward?”

You smile at her and her eyes widen as a wicked little smile appears on her face before vanishing into impassiveness. “Very well then, I’ll have them in bed by nine.”

“Be gentle with them, alright?” You say, wondering if you made a mistake, but Akela flips about, putting her paws on her hips, looking strange in that commanding pose while wearing that cute little dress of hers. She waves you away and you sigh, shaking your head and walking over to Saya, who gives you a curious look.

“What was that about?” She asks, her lips quirking and you merely smile and say, “Go grab a dress and change in the other room. I’ll meet you downstairs.” She frowns but rolls her eyes and does as you bid, and you head downstairs to quickly hit up the innkeeper, who gives you an odd look as you ask for the most romantic place for food in town. He frowns deeply and rubs his chin, thinking for a moment before directing you to the lone, dedicated restaurant in the town, most other places serving food being taverns. You thank him with a copper that he takes readily before turning to see Saya descending the stairs, wearing the red and black dress you’d had repaired in Sanctifrond. Smiling, you offer her your arm and she takes it, the two of you walking out into the early evening.

“So… what to tell me what this is about?” She says, looking curious.

“Well, after today and… everything, I was thinking maybe we should do something, just the two of us.”

“Well, we did burn down a barn together today.”

“I meant something more… you know, romantic?”

She chuckles, leaning into you and shaking her head. “I was kidding! But what brought all this on?”

“Well… I mean, I was, you know.” You rub the back of your head before getting your courage in you and you say, “I was hoping to show you that you mean a lot as, well, a woman, and not just a Monster.” You lean into her some and say, “Not that I don’t like that part also.”

She looks down for a moment before smiling up at you and punching your shoulder. “I’m going to be mad if I find out you’re just charming me with some illusion and you’re just some ham.”

“I assure you, I don’t need an illusion to show that I’m a ham.”

She punches your arm again before you both laugh and end up at the restaurant, a shabby little place with paint that tried to make it look like it belonged in Sanctifrond, yet failed miserably. Still, you enter with a good nature and sit down to a hilariously dressed girl in a maid outfit, who you find is a Monster the moment she opens her mouth, her long tongue falling out as she speaks. While strange, both of you are unfazed and she takes your order amiably. You both busy yourself with light conversation over wine before the main course comes out.

Of course, the best part of the food is the bread and other wheat products, filled with the same flavor as before, and you reveal in the glorious flavors, though the meats are a little underwhelming. At one point Saya picks up a piece of beef and holds it out to you, saying, “Open wide!” You do so, savoring the morsel more because she gave it to you in such a sweet manner rather than the actual flavor. When you try to reciprocate the gesture with a piece of your braised lamb, the morsel falls off the fork and falls into her lap, and she looks at you oddly before laughing, though it wasn’t malicious.

You finish the meal on high spirits, splitting a rather delicious cake baked in town before bidding farewell and walking out into the night. Saya sighs and leans on your arm as you do, and she says, “Ah… that was nice, much better than I anticipated.”

“I know, right? I thought she might have licked the food at one point though, but it’s fine, I bet she cleans the plates with that tongue anyway.”

Saya punches your arm in jest and you both laugh before she sighs and shakes her head, “I suppose we should get back to Akela and the others.”

You look at your timepiece to see it’s only 8:00pm and you clap it closed before looking at the edge of town and smiling. “Nah, I have a better idea.” Saya gives you another odd look before shrugging and the two of you walk off outside the perimeter of the town, walking down a small path overlooking fields of freshly cut wheat. It’s an odd reminder of earlier, but the way the starry sky looks down upon you, the lights so much more noticeable in the country rather than the cities, you both feel a certain sense of wonder in the atmosphere.

It is not at all a shock then, when both of you turn past the farmland and find a small that you walk up and gasp to see a field of wildflowers, sparkling with lightning bugs that had begun to appear as the night grew darker. Both of you stare in wonderment and Saya leans in close to you, her oddly cold body feeling nice still against yours, the only sound her breathing.

“I don’t know if I’ve really said it before Tobias but… I’m glad I didn’t kill you.”

“I uh… am too?”

She chuckles, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I meant to say though, that I’m glad that we found each other, that you could see past… what I am and just…” She sniffles, “I never really considered anything like this happening to me, no matter what bravado I gave to Patricia.”

“Saya, you don’t have to try hard, you can let it out with me.” You turn her some and hold her close to you as you say gently, “I know it must be hard for you. But I’m here for you.” You look down at her face and she looks up at yours, and the familiar sensation of attraction pulses through both of you again. You move in close for a kiss when you feel a stirring in your breast pocket, but before anything can happen, Saya slams a fist into your chest where the stirring is occurring, the other going around the back of your head.

Under the starry sky, overlooking a field of wildflower, and surrounded by the muffled sounds of a screaming fairy, Saya kisses you. And you return the gesture whole heartedly

“So you’re telling me that she not only whipped everyone into shape, but she had them all in bed by 9pm, on the dot?”

Clint nods his head as she stands outside the door to the second room, chuckling softly. “You got yourself a slave driver there. I bet you if she had a whip, she’s know how to use it. Must come with the territory of being an Anubis, huh?”

“Honestly.” Saya says, sighing, “I kind of wanted to see that. Poor Ophelia though, she didn’t deserve any of this.”

“Nah, I think it’s revenge for her lessons today. I cheered her up by letting her look over my rifle though.” He pats the gun in his arms. “Though only when I’m present. She keeps muttering something about different ammunition, and I’m quite afraid of what she might do.”

“She’s mostly harmless.” You say, waving a hand. “Thanks for helping out Clint, especially after… well.” You rub the back of your head and he waves a hand.

“Nah, don’t be like that. Just some friction in the chain of command. I’m so used to being on top that when I saw the shot, I went for it.” He shakes his head, “I’m not sorry about it either, but I do understand now that going off on your own can be trouble. I can’t promise we’ll always see eye to eye but… I would hate to see any of these ladies get hurt.”

You nod your head solemnly and he does the same, a man’s understanding reached, though Saya doesn’t really follow. Cause she’s a girl. But anyway, he smirks at you and says, “Had a good time I take it? Rather bold of you though.”

You look down to see that both you and Saya are holding hands, and you quickly pull apart, flushing. Clint chuckles and takes a swig of his whiskey before sighing. “Ah that’s good… but we should get some sleep, train comes in tomorrow to that little Podunk.” He shakes his head. “I hope we don’t run into that Monster again though… I don’t think she was kidding.”

“No, I don’t either…” You say before nodding to him and he turns to enter the room, leaving you two to retreat to your own. A small lantern burns on the table, illuminating the form of Akela sitting in a chair, her head lolled to the side in sleep. You snicker a little as you imagine her waiting up for you, trying to act like an adult, but still drifting to sleep, and you gently pick her up and place her in bed, tucking her in to her gentle running motions with her paws. Both you and Saya look over her with fond expressions before you turn to each other and kiss, looking into each other’s eyes and feeling a certain longing that you break off as Akela stirs.

Saya looks down, her face flushed before crawling into bed with Akela, and you take the other bed, preparing yourself for sleep, hanging up your jacket to find an annoyed looking Abigail there, who flies away and makes rude gestures at you. You’ll have to scold her later, but for now you better get some sleep. You take the [Farmer’s Diary] and look it over before sighing and placing it in your [Rucksack] for later reading, not wanting to dwell on the memories of the barn.

You notice your [Wizardquest] copies as you do, and you pull one out, your original copy, before looking to Akela and smiling, thinking of a great father-daughter bonding moment. Also it would embarrass Saya to no end, but you put it aside for the moment, regretting that the Dullahan you saw today wasn’t actually Delilah. Well, there’s always the future, right?

With that happy thought, you turn off the lantern, get in bed, and fall asleep, thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow.

The train boarded in the early afternoon, and though the talk in the town was all about the freak lantern accident in the Tucker barn, the fact that there missing people were found certainly kept people’s spirits up, especially after the woman professed that he had kidnapped them and hid them in his barn. He seemed to be written off as a madman, and they were glad no one was seriously harmed, save for Mr. Tucker himself. You thanked the fortune in this case that allowed you to slip by all of this without any ill fortune, and made your Leyway without much concern.

“All’s well that ends well, right?” Clint said, smiling, though he clearly didn’t mean it. The tired expressions on Ginelle and Clarissa’s faces, as well as their hangovers, made it an attempt at small talk that failed. Yes, things did end well, but it was a harbinger of what was to come, all of you felt it, and with that unhappy thought, you entered the Leyway, leaving while the sun was still up.

Ginelle and Clarissa immediately went to bed again, the poor Crow seeming incredibly out of sorts, and Ophelia decided to look after them, feeling a sort of melancholy herself, which made you a little concerned, but you had to see to getting Saya and Akela set up first in your little room, the smallest you’ve had so far.

Saya sat back against her bed, frowning as she crossed her arms. As you set your [Rucksack] down, she sighed and said, “Tobias, have you noticed how the others are acting?”

“Yep.” You say, digging through your belongings and pulling out your [Wizardquest]. “They just saw some fairly heavy things and Clarissa isn’t used to this treatment. I don’t blame her for being out of sorts.”

“Still, I feel it’s something more than that, something deeper.” She mumbles before huffing. “And what is up with Ophelia?”

“She feels left out.” Akela says, looking at her little doll. “I understand the sentiment in some way, but I also think I don’t want to see what you did today.” Her nose wrinkles, “You smelled awful when you got back.”

You look up at the girl, blinking in confusion. “You could smell that? Ginelle didn’t make any fuss.”

“She was drunk off her ass.” She pauses, cocking her head before saying, “I mean, the Badger lady was acting funny, Daddy.” Her flat, monotone ruined the effect of this, and you merely frown at her.

“If I wasn’t such a smartass myself, I’d likely have to scold you.”

“Don’t curse in front of your daughter.” Saya said, looking to the side, a small smile on her face. “It’s undignified and a bad example.”

Akela nods her head, “My little mind is corrupted now, you’ve failed as a…” Her words falter in her mouth as she says them, her expression looking downcast as she turns to look at her doll. “Sorry.”

You exhale deeply before finishing pulling out your book, and seeing the small form of [Bearsy]. Staring into his little bear eyes, you hear the whispers of some forgotten language, coalescing into the thoughts, “You have to go back…” It passes shortly, and you shrug, picking up the little bear and turning to Akela, kneeling down next to her and putting a hand on her furry little paw.

“Hey, now don’t get yourself down. Come on, how about we do something together, hmm?” She cocks her head as you sit down before her and take a deep breath, looking her in the eyes. You rub your chin before looking down at the book and then remembering what Akela said about feeling left out. Slowly, you put the book down and nod, expression becoming serious. “Akela, let’s talk about illusions.”

“It’s magic that allows you to affect the senses of someone affected by it.” She says perfectly. Normally, this would take you aback, but you’re not surprised by her as much anymore. She’s just so smart and it makes you feel wonderful and man you struck out with this little girl. Nodding your head again you smile and speak,

“Correct. In most cases, there’s no trouble with an Illusionist getting into someone’s head and influencing them, as most people are wont to believe what we instill into them.” You wave a hand toward the little girl, “The children at the orphanage, for instance. They wanted the comforts Miss Helen was giving them, and thus they bought into the illusions without any trouble.”

“I’d like to have bought into those illusions as well.” Akela says, frowning. “Sometimes I thought I could see what the others were seeing, but… I don’t know. It seemed nonsensical.”

You nod, “That’s because you’re a little special.” She cocks her head as you hold up a finger. “I noticed it when we first met, there’s something about you that just… well, refuses to accept the illusions.” You hold out a hand to her and ask,

“If you would… I’d like to look into something.” You smile wanly, “That is, if you’d allow me to.”

Akela looks at you a little dubiously, a sense of apprehension in her expression before she takes in a slow, shuddering breath before saying slowly, “Alright… but if you do anything funny, you have permission to slap him.” This is obviously meant for Saya, and the Monster nods her head before slipping to the side of the bed and holding out a hand to Akela, who takes it gratefully. They both nod to you and you take a deep breath before placing your hands to the side of her head and focusing your power.

You go for a simple thing, probing her mind to slip in an illusion of a scent, perhaps roast beast, something that could be found on the Leyway without much trouble. The illusion of the scent flows into her mind and for a moment, you see her nostrils flare slightly before she blinks in confusion and you feel a sudden shift within her.

There’s a feeling of something light, innocent even, the core within, it’s what your illusions are working upon and you feel the energy of your power pour within it. However, as it begins to seep into her, something else creeps in, something dark and cold, and you open your eyes to see Akela looking at you with blank eyes. “What were you doing?”

Taking a breath, you pull back and put your hands together, thinking. “Akela, you… are you alright?”

She cocks her head. “I don’t see myself as all that much different. I thought I smelled something roasting for a moment, but it went away soon enough.” She thinks for a moment. “It would be weird to suddenly smell that, considering how far away the dining car is.”

You frown and nod your head before looking to Saya who gives you a worried expression, so you shake your head and make a gesture for, “later.” Akela raises an eyebrow at this, but you shake your head and smile at her. “Well done honey, you managed to see through my illusion very well.”

“Certainly, but how?”

You tap her head and smirk. “Because you’re so smart.”

She gives you the look of disgust that a banker would give a peasant who asked for a loan to buy a new magitek engine. You chuckle and shake your head, full of mirth as you say, “I didn’t mean it as a joke. I meant it seriously, you did resist because you’re innately anchored in reality, in reason. I don’t know if it’s an Anubis thing, or if it’s because of your own personality, but something within you refuses to be allowed to fall into flights of fancy.”

She still looks dubious and you shrug, “Sorry but that’s the answer I have, it’s quite true! I think out of everyone here, you’re the best at resisting the illusions. I think if you’re ever in danger of illusions, remember what’s true, what’s real. Use that incredible mind of yours and piece away the fiction from the reality.” You tap your head and say, “I’ll be trying to trick you every now and again, alright? Ah, if you weren’t so cute, I might send you into the field with us!”

Saya gives you an astonished look, but Akela looks down and seems to search for something before closing her eyes and nodding her head, smirking. “Sending your own daughter on a mission to murder people, my aren’t you a caring father.” She giggles some as you give her a small noogie that turns into a headpat, and Saya sighs, folding her arms.

“Honestly, joking about something like that, you’re both terrible.”

Both of you look to Saya before you hold up [Wizardquest] and say, “Hey there, have you read this book yet?” When Akela shakes her head in the negative, you smile even wider and say, “Well then! Let me tell you about the best story every written! Even better, it has stories about a certain someone.” Your eyes drift to Saya and Akela is keenly interested, her ears perking up as her tail starts wagging behind her.

Saya rolls her eyes and sighs, “Oh come on, you really don’t have to tell her about that…”

“So you see honey, your Mother here used to fight as a child, and even was a bad guy for awhile!”

“I was NOT a ‘bad guy’! I was just confused and scared and….and…” She throws up her hands and sinks back on the bed, scowling. “Bah, you’re going to read her the tale anyway.”

Both you and Akela giggle and you open the book, pages creased from your many times of reading it. You clear your throat and begin, “Your hands move with precision along your rune inscribed bones…”

———————————–

You gently tuck Akela into bed, her eyes drifted asleep during your tales, despite her obvious interest. Certainly, it’s not the best story for a child, but she asked questions about the various people, and was very interested in the man, “Franz Jakovitch” for some reason. When prodded, she merely thought he was ridiculous, though she found the whole copromancy thing to be incredibly foolish.

Saya sat there the whole time, looking more and more embarrassed by her father’s antics, and at a particular part with certain “ghosts,” she went crimson and had to leave the room for awhile. That being said, by the time you finished up to the flight from Feldergrod, her eyes were growing heavy and her little frame sagged with sleep. So, you tuck her into bed for a nap before dinner, and you stretch, putting your book away before exiting.

The hallway is quiet, no signs of people wandering about, which makes sense seeing as it’s a rather small Leyway, so you decide to check in on the others, walking the short way down the hall to rap on the door. A moment later, the door opens and Ophelia sticks her head out, or well, sticks her ears out, before her face appears and she looks at you, blinking. “Oh, hello there Tobias. They’re both asleep and I think Clint is still at the dining car.” She looks at you hopefully, “Do you need something?”

“Ah, well, Akela is taking a nap and I thought I’d just check in.”

“Oh.” Ophelia says, her ears drooping. “Well, it’s fine here, just a little quiet.”

You watch her expression drop and you look to the side, rubbing at the back of your head. Maaaaan, that expression really kills you, and you start to feel very bad for her. What are you to do though? Thinking this over a moment, a thought comes to you and you ask, “Hey… did Clint ever let you look at his rifle?”

She pouts now, looking miserable. “No… he left with it even though I asked.” She sniffs, though you think it’s for show… mostly.

“Well… I was thinking… his rifle is really powerful stuff, but what if there could be different firing modes… you know, like uh, fire magic or something.”

Ophelia waves a dismissive hand with little enthusiasm. “No… no that would never do. The weapon uses a mana cylinders which use the inherent power in there to power an inlaid spell within the weaponry and fire the bolts of power. To change the elemental affinity of what’s fired, you’d have to go and fundamentally change the runic sigils within the spell lines and that could very well make the weapon useless if done improperly, and even then you’re stuck with what you’re using before.”

“You’ve… thought about this, huh?”

She shrugs, “Maybe a little.” She sighs then and slumps. “Well, back to looking over my tools again. If we find some oil, I could use it.” She goes to close the door when you put a hand on it, desperate to do something to cheer her up.

Ophelia, look, wait, I mean…” You rub at the back of your head, desperate for anything. “Uhhhh, like, what if you… I don’t know, added a new spell form to the uh… the barrel?”

Ophelia looks at you with a very similar expression to the one that Akela gave you earlier, and you have to wonder if one taught the other. She continues this for a looooong while before she narrows her eyes and says, “You’re serious.”

“Uhm. Sorry?”

“No, no, I mean, it’s astounding really. But such a suggestion is just so ludicrous, I mean, adding in a spell form onto ammunition would be meaningless but it would change the mana itself, while adding something to the barrel could…” She pauses, calculations running through her mind and she furrows her brow. You try to say something, but she holds up a furred hand, thinking furiously until a smile appears on her face and she says, “Oh ho ho, maybe that isn’t so foolish after all! If the mana in those chambers is unaspected then it can be changed post shot and…”

She begins mumbling to herself, and you go to say something further, but she hurriedly shuts the door and you hear the sound of metal being moved about, likely as Ophelia is digging through her belongings to find a notepad or something. Or like, a blowtorch, you’re really not certain. You are happy that Ophelia seems perked up though, and if she can craft something to improve Clint’s weapon, he’d likely be all ears. You’re not certain on this point either.

Feeling a little better, you head to the dining car to find Clint in his normal position, chatting with Saya, the whole chuckling over drinks. You feel a moment of jealously for some reason as you see the sight, but when you approach, Saya smiles and waves to you and you sit down next to them, nodding to Clint and giving Saya a light kiss, saying, “Akela’s taking a nap for now.”

“Oh, did she get bored of my father’s antics?”

“Nah, she just got so excited that she tired herself out.”

Saya frowns deeply, but Clint chuckles and raises his glass, “Now then, it’s rude to be talking to a lady like that.”

You stick your tongue out at him and he chuckles again before Saya sighs. “Whatever… So, you really think she’s safe from these illusions?”

You sigh and lean back, thinking seriously. “Honestly, no one is fully safe, but apart from myself, and maybe Abigail, she’s got the best defenses, though I’m not overly happy about it.” Saya grumbles about the mention of the Fairy, but looks at you inquisitively about little Akela. You sigh and say, “I think she’s reacting instinctively to intrusions into her mind. I hate to say it, but our little girl really was abused by someone very badly and it affects her on a deep level.”

You put a hand to your face and pinch between your eyes. “I wonder if she can really trust anyone, given that.”

Both Saya and Clint go quiet at this, and Saya grips her hands together. “So that stuff about her being locked in reality…?”

“True, although a little over the top. She’s had to grow up very fast and she doesn’t easily fall sway to some of these things. It’s like I said before, we have to be able to separate reality from fiction to resist illusions correctly and she does this almost instinctually, her inquisitive and serious nature forcing out these flights of fancy.” You shrug, “I was quiet surprised she liked the book, to be honest.”

Clint swirls his glass before taking a drink and exhaling, shaking his head and saying, “Well, I don’t think you have too much to worry about. She’s a strong kid, and I think she’ll be fine with two good parents looking after her. What that girl needs now more than anything is support to regain that trust she’s lost.” He thinks for a moment before grunting, “I’d probably not ask her about her experiences though, might just set you back further.”

Saya nods her head in thanks. “Sound advice Clint. You sound like a parent yourself.”

He waves a hand and chuckles with a little more mirth, “Oh Gods no, not yet anyway!” He taps his chin thoughtfully, “Well there was Julia out in Frontierstown…”

“Oh, don’t let Ginelle hear that!” Saya says, laughing, and the man seems a little embarrassed, pulling his hat down.

“Now that’s just not right to be sayin to a guy. Messin’ with him like that.”

His words and expression managed to take both you and Saya back and you both look at each other before pressing in close to Clint, lecherous grins on your faces. Saya asks, voice stretching out, “Oh Cliiiiiiint, does someone have a thing for our little badger friend?”

The man looks uncomfortable before sighing and tugging once more at his hat. “She’s nice, I’ll say that. Beautiful too, though she don’t know it. Maybe I feel a little protective of her after Sanctifrond, maybe I’m just a fool, but it don’t have to mean anything. I see the way she looks at you, I think I’d just cause trouble.”

You shake your head, “I see it too, but I do think she likes you. Yeah, there’s something lingering here with me, but she’ll get over it, she’s a big girl and I trust her deeply.” You punch the guy lightly on the shoulder. “You’re an insufferable ass of a noble at times with a smile that shines too bright for your own good, but you’re alright.”

Both of you look into each other’s eyes and you both give a man’s nod, the universal sign of respect between men, and you know the contract is complete. Saya merely watches with a sense of confusion and boredom before shrugging, clearly not going to hear what the whole thing meant, nor did she particularly care.

“Oh.” You say, almost as an afterthought. “I think Ophelia has some ideas to improve upon your rifle.”

Clint immediately throws a hand to the rifle case, his expression at once wary as he says, “Hey there… don’t you dare go and say something so utterly offensive after that beautiful little moment we just had there.”

You raise a hand in placation, “Look, she’s figuring something out, and I assure you, she would be an utter wreck if she managed to cause harm to your weapon. So… just work with her, please?” You look at him pleadingly and he frowns before sighing and relenting.

“Fine… but I’ll supervise all of it. If she so much as puts a scratch on her…” He rubs the case delicately, like a fine woman, before hugging it, like a… fine… woman. He really loves that gun, doesn’t he?

After this pleasant little exchange, you talk about small things, wondering what the future in Oppenheim holds, and have a good time until dinner, where you eat decent enough fare, then make for bed. The rest of trip proceeds in a similar fashion, though Akela now wants you to read to her every night before bed, something you agree to do with relish, looking forward to it as the Leyway pulls into the station early the next evening.

Getting out at the little station, the first thing you notice is that the town was… non-existent. Honestly, you thought Indin was small, but this place is basically four buildings and multiple storage barns, and that’s about it. You look around in disbelief until you find your eyes drawn to the fields out AROUND the town. Out past the darkening sky, you see miles and miles of flat ground with nothing but cattle and white picket fences. It took you a few times and Clint whistling for you to notice the OTHER inhabitants though.

Walking through the pastures as if nothing is amiss, you see a Holstaur stop and look up to the sky. Only then did you see the others, blending in with the cattle as they stood and played among them, and you realize with a start that there are dozens of the Monstergirls! Each of them slim and with massive breasts, bloated with milk, their black and white spotted hair beginning to blend in with the setting sun, you realize they weren’t joking when they said this place was flooded with the Monsters.

You feel something tap your arm for a moment and you shake your head to see Saya and the other girls giving both you and Clint annoyed looks, and you both look to each other before blushing and nodding in apology to the women. Honestly, you weren’t staring at the field of tits… much, but come on, they’re right in front of you! Sighing, you make to go to the inn, which shouldn’t be hard to find, when you remember something and you tap at your chest.

“Hey, Abigail, what’s the name of our hit here anyway?”

No reply comes from your jacket, and you frown, looking inside to find she wasn’t there. You frown even deeper and search all over, not finding the little Fairy. You would be very worried, but she’s kind of bound to you in a way, so you’re sure she’ll turn up. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to go and find the mark tonight anyway.

As you make to go to the inn, you hear someone hail you, and your party stops, turning to see a man walk up, flanked on both sides by very busty holstaurs, the two looking like twins for all you can tell. They look at him with adoring eyes, their long, luscious hair flowing down over their many curves, and you acutely feel aware of Saya’s stares again. Coughing into your hand, you address the man.

“Ah, hello there sir, can we help you?”

The man, about six feet tall with rather plain features and a close cut, black beard smirks at you, pressing the Holstaur twins closer to him, their breasts bouncing playfully against his rather average chest. “Just came by to say hello there! We don’t often get visitors around these parts, even with the Leyway and I just wanted to say a few things to you, get you up to speed you know.”

You frown and make for him to continue, and he smiles broadly. “My name is Robert Beardlington, a resident of Oppenheim. No doubt you’ve heard of our world famous beef and milk from lovely ladies such as these two…” He emphasizes this by fondling their breasts quite shamefully, and she giggle and moan slightly, making your pants a little… tight. He looks at them with a lecherous gaze before turning back to you and saying, smile on his face, “As you can see, we have only the best here, however…”

His expression suddenly becomes dark and serious as he says, almost growling, “If I see you touch any of the Holstaur in town, know that you’re touching MY property, and you WILL suffer the consequences.” He lets this hang in the air for a moment before he smiles again, all malice gone from his expression.

“So! Enjoy your stay in town! Hey, I know, would you like a sample of milk here? Fresh from the tit, I assure you!” He goes to lift the shirt off one of the Holstaur, but you hold up a hand quickly.

“No, please, keep their shirts on!” He pauses then and lowers the shirt, looking mildly mollified. You cough into your hand and smile pleasantly. “Well then, thank you for the offer, but I think we’ll be fine.”

“Of course, of course…” The man says, looking at you oddly before shrugging and leaving, slapping the ass of one of the Holstaurus as he leaves, making sure you see his hand clenching her nigh on gelatinous ass. You stare perhaps a bit too long and Saya slaps the back of your head, forcing you to stop spacing and head to the inn, wondering what kind of strange town you just arrived in and where in the hells Abigail got off to.

 

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