Illusionistquest Chapter 15: Dark Heresies Pt. 2

You shake your head, trying to dispel the thoughts swirling around your mind. You have better things to do than to wallow in these crazy thoughts. Besides, you’re tucking in the tuckered out Akela, who yawns loudly, mumbling that she’s not tired before you pat her head and tuck her into bed, putting a light kiss on her forehead. She mumbles softly about getting the better of you in the end and then drifts off to sleep.

You and Saya watch the darling little girl for a short while, your fingers intertwined in the soft lantern light of the room. Saya leans on your shoulder and whispers, “I wonder sometimes… what it must be like to have a child like that, you know? I mean, I love Akela, but, well… I guess this is what Mom felt, huh?”

She wriggles in closer to you and looks up, a little fire in her eyes, “Maybe we should have another go, hmm?”

Feeling a mild sense of panic, you shake your head and say, “Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m a little tired and I have a few things to take care of before tomorrow.” When Saya’s face becomes crestfallen, you chuckle and kiss her gently on the lips. “Shhh, we can still cuddle when I’m finished. Why don’t you head to bed, it’s going to be a long evening tomorrow.”

She sighs before shaking her head. “Oh… alright. Maybe I’m being a little pushy anyway, Monster blood and all.” She chuckles, “Maybe this is the first time I’ve really thought of myself as an actual Monster, and not some…thing. Hah, what a world.” She gives you another peck on the lips before pulling away and stripping to make ready for bed. Seeing as you two made the beast with two backs, she doesn’t really bother to be modest about it and gives you quite the show. Not that you’re… ah fuck it, you’re looking, you have the right to.

Still, you have work to do. With a mighty amount of effort, you drag yourself over to the table and pull out your [Port-o-Glass]. Thankfully this entire town is a nexus of leylines, so you have no trouble getting reception, and you weave your way into your Leymail. Again, more spam, but hidden in there is a gem from Patricia. Your eyes gleaming, you open it up and read what she has to say.

“Dear Tobias,

Hopefully you get this and Saya hasn’t clumsily broken your Port-o-Glass like she did with her Dad’s when she was twelve. Assuming this hasn’t happened, I hope you and little Akela are doing well (Saya too, I guess), and that your journey hasn’t been too stressful. Me? Oh, I’m just dandy, Mom came by again and chastised me for not having a husband yet, but that’s just how she is. A shame you didn’t meet her.”

You feel your hands clench up. She knew it would make you annoyed that you couldn’t get Hala’s signature, but she just keeps on going. Damn, was this what Saya had to grow up with? You roll your eyes and keep reading.

 

“But seriously, let’s cut the crap. I deciphered a lot of that text since you took your sweet time in messaging me your Leymail address. Why I didn’t have you leave me your address, I’ll never know, but hey, we can’t all be champions of intellect all the time. That being said, the runes are rather disturbing.”

“From what I can tell, most of them are ancient runes invoking the power of Phallia, which is to be expected. Nothing too out of the ordinary, beyond being carved into flesh and such, but what’s really concerning is the other stuff. See, what I’m finding here are runes of binding and runes of summoning. It’s hard to find much information on these kinds of runes because the Crown doesn’t want people running around summoning Shoggoths and the like. However, they did send me some aid from this some guy named Anderson, who apparently found out what I’m doing and gave me some information. Weird how he found out, but that’s the intelligence community, huh?”

Ayep, your Leymails are almost certainly being monitored. It’s probably a layer restriction spell on the whole damn magitek device rather than directly linking into your account or anything, but… that’s really annoying. With a sigh, you continue on.

“Back on topic. These runes are similar to ones to summon beings like Shoggoths and lesser familiars of the dark, though no one does that because they always end up eating you. What we’re looking at here is something that pulls from a central coil different than those, but is clearly not of our own world. Now then, mixed with the fact that they’ve layered runes to Phallia, well, I start to wonder if this Fiora isn’t trying to create an Avatar.”

You blink, reading this all over again. An Avatar… only two have ever been described before, and they were both in [Wizardquest]. As far as you remember, an Avatar is a mortal who directly channels the power of a God. They become the living instrument of that God’s will upon this world and the power they wield is immense. The Grand Wizard was only able to kill the Avatar of Dollora because the Avatar of Solos had already weakened her, and it was one hell of a fight to read about as it was!

“The fact that their trying to pull the essence of Phallia into a mortal body is interesting however. It means two things. One, that Phallia is unable to grant her minions such a power without going through some serious hoops, or, that she is unwilling to, and that they’re trying to force her hand. I don’t know which I fear more, but if they manage to create a stable Avatar, then shit’s going to go down real hard.”

“Anyway, I’ll keep researching on my end. You find any more information or have any more queries, you let me know, alright? Oh, and tell Saya she’s still a stooge. Thanks.

-Patricia.”

You lean back and mull all of this over in your head. Avatars… great, what more did you need? At least this was all a failure so far, but if Fiora managed to work at it again, what were you going to do? Damnit, you begin to feel irritated, like you’re wasting time somehow. Well, not much you can really do about it now, so you just send a reply with how you’ve been since you last spoke with her, leaving out the whole sex thing. Best not to make her mad. That done, you look back to your Leymail to see that Anderson sent you a message with bold letters saying, “ARE YOU FREE TO TALK?”

 

You roll your eyes and open the Leymail, reading through the runes.

“Of course you’re free to talk, you’re you. I’ve heard reports of a strange group of men and Monsters in Saydinhold, so I assume you made it there safely. I want a report about your affairs there.”

No end address, no nothing. What a fine, upstanding member of the community. You sigh and reply back. “Anderson, it is good to speak with you again. We are doing quite well, how are you? Good, good, that’s great to hear. So, we ran into Chalan here and boy was it fun. Seems she’s lost control of the Illusionist here to the Danuki and she’s quite made. We have plans to jump her tomorrow, maybe see what that’s all about, maybe kill Chalan, I don’t know.”

You hit the send button and almost immediately you get the reply, “Be serious, this is not a game for children. Tell me more.”

You roll your eyes and write out all that had occurred, minus the uh… sexy parts. You end it by asking for any support he can send, and the reply is much slower in coming, though it does eventually come.

“The Leyway in question is a Thunderbird Express Cargo coming from the Southwest from Ydd, where it’s hauling in mana crystals and other magitek supplies, a list of which I will send you, however the important part is the amount of mana crystals being shipped by Squirrel Girl Transportation. They’re scheduled to hit track 11 at 9:45pm tomorrow before being loaded into warehouse 4. No delays reported as of yet. I believe this information should be helpful, though I am afraid I lack any agents in that direct area who may be of assistance to you. Will this do?”

Uhhhhh. You scratch your chin before replying, “Yeah that will do, thanks.” You thing for a moment before weaving as well, “Oh, and can you look into the Danuki related to the Squirrel Girl Transportation? I think they’re busting up their own cargo for insurance money.”

The reply back merely says, “Done. Report back to me when this is finished.”

You feel no further need to reply back, and a few moments later, you receive schematics of the warehouse, as well as a list of the cargo it’s pulling in. Mostly mana crystals, some aetheric converters, a mana chamber, and… two mana cyclers. You frown at that. Mana cyclers… Gods, it feels like so long ago since you stopped Fiora from stealing Ophelia’s. Back when things were simpler…Ah hells, you’re going down this sad story path again. You shake your head and finish clearing out your inbox before pausing. You think for a moment before sending a Leymail to Selene, detailing your run-in with Heather. She’d probably know what to do about that.

With that done, you power down the [Port-o-Glass] and you ready yourself for bed, stretching and crawling under the covers to snuggle up to Saya. Her body is a little cold, as always, but you hear her sigh out in pleasure as your warm form cuddles against her back. You don’t relish the feeling long before sleep overtakes you, however.

 

———————————————

The plan is simple, in theory. With the entire warehouse mapped, you know exactly where to strike, and don’t even need to mark crates or anything. Clint is able to take this information and scout out the area during the day, finding the best vantage point from which to snipe, and Clarissa agrees to help fly him up there, and to act as his spotter. If things go south, she can fly him out of there too.

Ophelia, not being suited for this task, is assigned to comms, taking control of routing all communications through her devices, making sure all chatter goes through her before being sent out. The delay will be… annoying, but necessary so people aren’t cluttering the lines. She bemoans not having something to directly place into the ear to muffle the sound, but as it stands she doesn’t really know how to make that work. Hells, she wants to tear apart one of the devices to figure out how THAT works. Maybe later. Oh, and she’s babysitting Akela. That too.

Clint does take her modified barrel, however, the device finished, and though he spends time getting used to the weight, he’s still a little unsure. Still, if you need the extra “firepower” from the fire laced spell barrel, he has it.

As for Saya, Ginelle, and yourself? You’re the assault party. Goal is to hide out and wait for Vivienne to show herself, and hopefully corner the woman before Chalan can appear. If she can’t be reasoned with, well… then you’ve killed before and you’ll kill again. This goes doubly WHEN Chalan appears, and you have orders for Clint to shoot on sight. He doesn’t seem to find a problem with that order.

So, that in mind, as the designated time rolls around, everyone gets in place. Ophelia confirms everyone’s position as you hide out in the warehouse, under the cover of [Chameleon Cloak]. 9:45 on the dot, you hear the sound of a whistle, and the low rumbling of a Leyway pulling into the warehouse, multiple people hurrying about and unloading various cargo, including some crates labeled, “Danger! Unstable aetherics” inside. They stack them nice and neat before laughing about how many hookers they were going to bang and what ale they’d drink. Regular ol’ warehouse workers, yep.

Soon enough the place is empty as the Leyway fully powers down, and silence once more settles on the warehouse. You whisper the all clear to Ophelia, who responds back that Clint has yet to see anything. Frowning, you rock back and watch the crates. Nothing happens for a long time and you begin to wonder if Vivienne somehow found out about your little plan. That is, until you hear the giggling.

You look up as a rope drops from the ceiling, and a form dressed in a dark cape drops down onto the floor of the warehouse, giggling like a madman… well, woman. They step forward to the crates of mana crystals, and puts a hand on the side of one before… wait is she rubbing the crate?

“Oh ho ho, you’re a naughty one, aren’t you? Mmm, thought you could slip away from me and my friends? No, no, you have to pay the price I’m afraid. But it’s alright, I have just the thing right here to make it all better.” She pulls a small device from her cloak and places it upon the crate. It hums quietly before vibrating, and a moment later, it begins to hiss faintly as whispers of blue smoke come out of it.

 

“The hells is that?” Ginelle whispers, and you shake your head, not exactly knowing that you’re seeing either. Well, either way, you need to get out there, so you nod to them and lift the cloak, announcing,

“Vivienne Montor!”

She flips around quickly, her hood falling off in the process and revealing a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties with short, black hair and a rather pretty face. A shame her eyes are a little too large, and you realize she’s looking at you with mix of terror and surprise. “W… what? Who… who are you?”

“Vivienne, don’t panic, we just want to talk.” You say, taking a step forward. She takes a step back from you before hurriedly pulling the hood over her head.

“Vivienne? There’s no Vivienne here. There is only the Crow, caw, caw.” She makes little talons with her fingers before giggling, abruptly cutting off and coughing. “State your business with the mighty Crow.”

“Uh… the uh…” You scratch your head before sighing and saying, “The Crow, why are you working for the Danuki?”

“What? How did you know that?” She backs up again, looking a little shaken. “Don’t you dare hurt my friends!”

“Friends? What kind of friends are you talk about?” You say, frowning. “The kind that pay you to smash things up for them?”

“Hah, smash things up. They’re just objects held by evildoers!” Vivienne says, sniffing. “See, I figured it out when this nice lady came and told me I could be the hero I always knew I could be. She made me see that I was holding myself back, and I started to do some real good around here, using my super secret powers for justice!” She giggles a little before standing up straight.

“However, it wasn’t enough, no, I still felt empty inside, hollow. Like a piece of me was broken apart from all the rest. I was supposed to be waiting for her to return to give me my most important mission when I was ready, but the Danuki, my friends, they saw my potential. They told me about the true evils here and even paid me to help!”

Clearly, she’s insane. You think… anyway. This behavior isn’t normal at all, but you try to reach out to her anyway. “What about Chal… the nice lady? Are you going to go back to her?”

“Oh, nah. She tried to look for me already, but I decided I wasn’t going to help her after all. I’m already doing such good work!” She says, smiling broadly before frowning. “Though I’m afraid you’ve seen me and I’ve said too much already. I’m afraid I’m going to have to silence you now…”

All of you tense up, ready to fight as the woman walks forward, her cloak rustling softly. She stops and throws an arm out toward you, and you reflexively defend yourself, but no attack comes, and instead she shouts, “I’m going to have to ask you to be silent about this! Pretty please!”

You pause, confused, the three of you blinking at each other. Did she just… ask pretty please? Scratching your head, you turn toward her again and cough into your hand, preparing to speak when you hear a slow clapping. Everyone freezes and you stop to turn toward the sound.

In the corner of the warehouse, you see someone emerge from the shadows, their hands clapping slowly as they walk forward. The form resolves into Chalan, her face split with a wide smile until she appears in the faint illumination of the moonlight through the warehouse windows. She stops clapping and looks at the two of you before chuckling. “An amusing little farce you two have set up! My, how wonderful it was to watch, but I’m getting a little tired of sitting back, and I wanted to have my turn to join in on the fun.”

You make to signal to Clint, but you realize Chalan is standing behind the shade of a crate, the line of fire obscured. Whether by intention, or accident, it doesn’t matter, she can’t be seen, and a stray shot could detonate the mana crystals. Gritting your teeth, you listen as Chalan speaks to Vivienne.

“Dear Crow, I am sad to hear that you are avoided what could truly be the greatest justice you’ve ever taken part in. I’m hurt that you’d turn your back on me like this.” She puts her hand to her breast and she sniffs fake tears. “It hurts.”

Vivienne stiffens and she says, “T…the Crow is sorry but… but I can’t.. I need to help my friends.” She shakes her head, “Surely, there is others to help you.”

“No! Only you!” Chalan says, taking a step forward, but when Vivienne steps back, she stops, returning to her original position. “I see. You’re going to spit in the face of the power I gave you.”

“It’s my power!” Vivienne says, sniffing. “And I can use it how I want!”

“That’s right, Crow, you don’t have to fall to her.” You say, nodding your head. “But you don’t have to work for the Danuki either. Can’t you see they’re having you break things only for them to gain money? Like what you’re doing now, what uh… what are you doing anyway?”

She blinks and taps the device, which is done spewing the blue smoke. “This is a wonder gadget that drains the bad energy from evil crystals, releasing it as pure energy out into the world.” She smile at this and you groan. Great, it’s a mana draining device, she’s sucking the crystals dry.

“Vivienne, come with me and I can explain everything that’s happening.”

“No, don’t listen to him, he’s a villain!” Chalan say, reaching out to Vivienne.

 

The Illusionist looks back and forth between the two of you, biting her lip as she says, “Y…you’re both trying to confuse me!” She seems to gain some courage from that and she seems to shimmer a little as you feel a wave of power come over you. Darkness seems to spread out from where she stands, and she giggles, “Too bad you’re now in the darkness, the domain of the Crow!”

Saya sighs and puts on the [Magesight Goggles] while you focus. Somewhere, you feel Clarissa is groaning at that statement, but you don’t really have time to dwell on that. Things are about to get messy.

“I AM THE CAWING NIGHT.”

“Here we go.” You say as Vivienne lets lose a shriek and unleashes her power. The night, which was pretty dark to begin with, suddenly became far, far darker and you lose sight of everyone else. You hear the sound of people moving about you, Saya and Ginelle cursing, and the mild cackling of your target. Were you yourself as of a few weeks ago, you’d be scared shitless, perhaps unable to fully grasp what’s happening, or maybe you’d panic, but with your recent murd- uh, inquisitorial work, you find yourself calm in the dark.

You close your eyes and take a deep breath, knowing that this is but an illusion. You feel the tendrils of it upon your mind and with a rational thought, you destroy it, shattering the illusion around you and casting the world back into the dim light of the night. This is all well and good, because you find Vivienne charging at you when you open your eyes.

“Neat.” You say, channeling your boon of [Battle Focus], and you stare down the woman, who notices the change in your stance, and she gasps, pulling back as a mild fear appears in her eyes. This is not fully graceful, and you sigh, watching her do her little dance before she stops and points at you, shouting,

“How do you see through the all encompassing night? You… you must be bluffing, you cannot see the Crow in the darkness!”

You hear some static come over your communication device, as Ophelia says, “Deadeye says he has a bead on the target, should he take the shot? Over.”

“Nah.” You say, looking about the room. No sign of Chalan… that’s not good, but maybe she’s lost in the dark? Well, best make this quick. You take a step toward Vivienne and say. “I think I got this, over.”

She watches you with terrified eyes, which shift back and forth in a rather… less than normal fashion. Feeling that you’ve found the limit to where she might bolt, you stop and raise your hands. “Viv…The Crow, wait a moment.”

Your voice is loud enough that she can hear, but you do your best to keep it slow and steady. Saya and Ginelle quiet down as well, their motions going quiet, and you’re certain they’re latching onto your voice, trusting in whatever amazing negotiation powers you’re about to engage in, though you know Saya can see through the illusion… sort of, those goggles aren’t really made for the dark. Still, your charisma is at max and you feel that on a good day, you could charm a God. Actually you tricked a God once, but that’s kind of close, right?

“Crow, I need you to listen to me, we don’t have much time.”

“W…why should I listen to you?” She says, growing more tense. “You’re an evil-doer and this is some sort of trick!”

“Crow, look, the truth is we’re here to help you. I’m going to come straight with you, I didn’t want to say this at first but…” You take a deep breath for dramatic effect before stepping forward and posing. “We are Heroes of the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood, but not just Heroes, no, we are SUPERHEROES.”

“Oh what the fuck.” Ginelle says behind you, but you ignore her, already going full in.

“The Crow, we have heard of your power, and we have been sent from the main SUPER HERO’s HALL to recruit you to apply great JUSTICE! But first, I must introduce the team!” You put your hand to your forehead, point to the sky, then twist about to point at Saya.

“First we have Acidgirl! Created by a mad scientist who wanted to create the perfect biological weapon until he accidentally added CHEMICAL D into the mix. Using her power of shape shifting and melting steel beams she fights for JUSTICE in the night.”

“Rolling your arms together, you flip about to Ginelle, shouting, Right next to her is Musclehead, the strongest badger in the world whose home was destroyed by the evil Queen Bee! She seeks now to protect the world from her villainy!”

You pump your arms into the air, position your legs apart, then point your fingers toward yourself. “And last but not least Scatterbrain. A noble who grew tired of the good life and trained under a mighty Illusionist. However, the evil Witch Fiora has stolen his mentor and now seeks to destroy the world! Now Scatterbrain must use his power to pull tricks on nasty people like her who want to make others go crazy!” You twirl your hands into the air before kneeling down and pointing at Vivienne. “And Chalan is working for her!”

You hear Ginelle snicker behind you, doing her best not to go into full out laughter while Saya mutters, “Oh dear Gods, I’m dating that.” You ignore them, knowing that no one appreciates fine art like you do. Well, you appreciate them anyway, they’re nice in their own way.

Vivienne stops, staring at you with wide eyes. For a moment, you start to think that she doesn’t appreciate your work either, and you begin to feel a little self conscious. Of course, as this thought comes to you, she cracks a big smile and says, “Oh, my, Gods, I KNEW IT!”

She claps her hands together and shouts, “I knew it, I KNEW IT!” She turns around a few times before saying, “I knew The Crow would be recognized someday! And today is the day!” She stops and snaps, the darkness vanishing around her. “So, when do I start?”

“Never.” Chalan says, stepping from around the side of a stack of crates, having hidden there during the confusion and your… show, apparently. The three of you gasp as she appears behind Vivienne, and before anyone can react, she clamps her hands upon the woman’s head. Vivienne gasps and you feel her try to use her power, but before she can, green tendrils course from Chalan’s hands and puncture into Vivienne’s skin. No… no, not tendrils, but vines!

Vivienne screams, her eyes seeming to glow for a moment as Chalan grits her teeth, her entire skin seeming to crawl as something runs under it. Honestly, you have no idea what to do, and your mind races with various orders, but before you can say anything, you see a flash of light from the distance, followed by the crack of a rifle, and moments later, Chalan’s arm explodes into a shower of gore as it’s suddenly separated at the shoulder.

Chalan and Vivienne both stagger forward from the impact and the screaming woman’s eyes go blank as she falls down, the roots that are attached to Chalan’s useless arm dangling from her head as the other arm pulls back, releasing the grip on the woman’s head. You blink, watching as Vivienne collapses to the ground while Chalan stands before you, her eyes wide as the area burns softly as magical fire cauterizes the flesh.

She flips about and snarls before snatching up her fallen arm and leaping back out of Clint’s line of fire. Ginelle cracks her knuckles and makes to rush Chalan, but you should, “Wait!”

Ginelle freezes in place, taken fully by your command, and she looks at you with confusion as you watch Chalan in the shadow of the crates, panting fiercely. She stares at you with furious eyes, a horrifying picture due to all the gore that coats her visage. She shouts, and then, using her other arm, tears apart the cauterized flesh, allowing a small torrent of green fluid to pour out. It’s only then that you notice that underneath the flesh is interwoven with roots that writhe and squirm. The whole scene is sickening and gruesome at first, but it gets even worse when she cleans the broken arm, and places it next to her shoulder.

The arm twists and shakes as roots snaps between the two and it slides into place against the body, and she shudders, bones snapping into place. The thing is a disgusting mess, but the flesh seems to knit and heal before you very eyes, though the bone is apparently harder to form. She closes her eyes and shudders, saying, “Very well… you can have that failure. I’ve learned by lesson, and next time, there will be no games, no conversations. I will kill all of you.” She looks between and narrows her eyes. You show for Ginelle to leap after her, which she does, but before she can reach the woman, Chalan leaps backward and you have to call Ginelle back, or risk losing sight of her.

 

You sigh and rub at your forehead, picking up your communication device as it buzzes and Ophelia says, “Deadeye and Birdbrain can’t see the target anymore. What happened? Over.”

“She got away. Over.” Shaking your head, you look to Saya who returns the gesture.

“She’s wounded, but did you see what regeneration she had? I knew she wasn’t human, but that’s… that’s insane, this coming from someone nearly impervious to physical attacks.” She looks off to where Chalan ran before shaking her head. “No, no we should stay the course, unless you want to go after her.” She looks to your questioningly.

You frown, thinking it over. Chalan was nearby, wounded. You could potentially overtake her, run her down and with your combined strength, take her out. You’d probably have to have Saya destroy her to be sure she’s dead but… oh right, you need to talk to her about this. Still, there’s the form of Vivienne before you, breathing, but still very much out of it as you nudge her with your foot. Ugh, so many options and so little time, you need to figure out what to do. To that end,

>What do you-

You feel a pressure on your leg and you look down to see Vivienne gripping it tightly in one hand, her eyes staring at you with murderous rage. She hisses out, “I realized something… both of you are right. Both of you are evil.” Her grip tightens and is almost painful at this point, and you wince, trying to pull away as she pushes herself up. “But not just you two… everyone is evil. If everyone is evil, then everyone must be brought to justice.”

She smiles broadly, her eyes crazed, “THE CROW WILL BRING JUSTICE TO THIS WORLD!” She begins to cackle madly when Ginelle runs up and kicks the woman in the side of the head, the force of which sends her flying away to crash and tumble to the floor. She coughs and wheezes for a moment, and Ginelle runs to make a follow up, not caring at you try to command her, but Vivienne stands and laughs again, the side of her head bleeding.

Power erupts from her and darkness once more permeates the entire area. It’s not like it was before, not in the slightest, and you feel a deep sense of unease followed by a shriek of pain and anger from Ginelle, who thrashes madly in the dark. You look about, trying to cut through the darkness again, but it’s so much more powerful this time, you have difficulty really tearing it apart enough to give you more than a rather low level of vision. It’s enough to see Ginelle standing there, a gash on her arm, as Vivienne dashes behind some crates, and Saya standing there, looking confused once more.

The device in your hand crackles, “Scatterbrain, this is bad, Deadeye says he can’t see anything, and people outside are freaking out.” She pauses for a moment, “Over.”

 

“Shit.” You say, squeezing the device. “Shit, shit, shit.” Her power is burning so immensely now, she must be insane beyond reckoning, and you hear her little giggles and cackling from various areas around the warehouse. You flip about, trying to trace the sound as you focus on piercing the darkness, but you can’t concentrate as you’re too busy looking for where Vivienne might strike.

“Get down!” Saya says, knocking you flat, and you feel something pass over you before crashing into the ground, throwing splinters of wood everywhere followed by crackles of blue light that spark and hiss before suddenly going out. You blink in confusion before realizing that she’s throwing smaller crates of mana crystals at you!

You look over to see Vivienne pick up another little crate, and you put your arms around Saya, rolling her off to the side and behind some other crates as the mana crystals slam into the ground, popping and spitting an explosive burst of light before going dark. You crawl with Saya a little bit before you’re hiding… well, you think you are anyway, and the two of you get some breathing room.

“Fucking hells.” Saya says, rubbing at the [Magesight Goggles]. “I wish these were real magesight, because I can’t see shit in here. They’re fogging up too, and the fact that it’s dark anyway, I don’t know if I can see much more than Ginelle.” She groans, “Please tell me you have a way out of this.”

“Give me a second, I have to think.” You say, furrowing your brow. You know it’s an illusion, so you should be able to beat it but… but it’s not working. Are you panicking somehow, even despite your boon? No, you feel calm, but… why? It can’t be that… she’s overpowering you? No, that’s… that’s not how it works… right?

Saya grips your arm tight, pressing her firm body against yours, and you frown on instinct, saying without thinking, “Careful there.”

She blinks, looking at you with a surprised expression. “Huh?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.” You say, thinking nothing of it as you go over the facts. Alright, so there’s a crazy woman out there making… yep she’s making crow sounds now, throwing mana crystals around, and you can’t stop her illusions the easy way. So maybe you have to-

“No, it’s not nothing.” Saya says, gripping your arm. “Tell me.”

“Saya, do we have to do this?” You say, concentration lost. “We’re kind of in a life or death situation.”

“Well I don’t see you do anything else at the moment, so tell me.” She looks down, a little saddened… you think she’s saddened anyway, it’s hard to tell honestly. “I feel like you’re avoiding me after we had sex. Why?”

“I…” You pause, shaking your head. “Saya, I think it’s something we should save for,.”

“I AM THE CROW, NOW CAW CAW COME TO ME! JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED!”

“Aww hells.” You say, listening to Vivienne’s rant. There’s insane, and then there’s this whole situation. “Look, Saya, I wanted to bring it up later, but… well, when I uh, well, when I came in you, you sort of uh…” You roll your hand.

“I… orgamsed?” She says, blushing… you think. Man this darkness sucks. “It was kind of amazing, but… oh Gods, did that look ugly? I can change however you want me to look and-“

“Shhh.” You say, putting a hand over her mouth as you hear someone crawl on the boxes atop you. You hear Vivienne giggling as she struts about, and you look up to see her holding another little crate. She looks down and sees both of you before she smiles broadly and says,

“The late bird gets the worm too, it seems!”

Both of you scatter to opposite sides as the crate comes crashing down, sending a shower of heat and light, and the two of you run to opposite side as Vivienne cackles. You run as best you can, trying to dodge into other terrain, but she follows, leaping at you, and tackling you, but you roll with her, pushing her aside and staggering back as Saya runs in, kicking the woman in the abdomen, and forcing her back. Vivienne looks between the two of you before she spreads her arms to the side and the dark seems to materialize into something… something like a….

“Oh hells.” You say, leaping back as she charges forward with a sword made of darkness, laughing the whole time. You dodge to the side, avoided a swipe and Saya moves in, using her knife to parry the sword, which is thankfully held awkwardly since Vivienne clearly doesn’t know how to use it.

“So…. what did I do wrong?” Saya says, pushing Vivienne back.

“Saya, seriously, we’re sword fighting now, we can wait.”

Saya kicks at Vivienne, who tucks to the side and swings again, to which Saya rolls by and says, “No, you can’tell me.”

“Saya, Gods damnit, look, I don’t need to ruin your concentration.”

“I’m fine.” Saya says, grabbing the dark blade in a hand and slashing at Vivienne, drawing a spray of blood that appears grey in the dark of night.

“Fine.” You say, throwing up your arms, “When you orgamsed, you dissolved part of my back, okay?”

Saya freezes in place, her mouth caught in a look of absolute horror as she stares at you. You’re too late to stop what happens next, as suddenly Vivienne whirls about with the sword and slices it cleanly through Saya’s abdomen, who blinks a few times before looking down and frowning. “Damnit, I liked that coat.” She then splits in half, her torso and legs separating.

You stare at her in horror, your [Battle focus] not saving you from the sudden rush of panic. Oh Gods, oh fucking hells, Saya, oh no. You are distantly away that this is just an illusion that’s being projected to both of you, that she’s fine and there’s nothing to worry about. But seeing your girlfriend be cut in half before your eyes because of something you said… that breaks you a little.

Vivienne cackles loudly before pointing the blade, which now seems all too real, at you and saying, “THE CROW’S JUSTICE IS THE WORLD’S JUSTICE. SOON YOU WILL MEET NERG AS WELL!”

You run. It’s probably the most shameful thing you’ve ever done, but the panic within is too strong now the strength of her power pouring into you. This darkness, it utterly subsumes you and washes over your core, driving you to run. What else can you do?

You stumble as you run into something… a crate? Of course there would be a crate here, but why HERE of all places? You look about, the dark impenetrable to you, and you freeze as you hear Vivienne’s laughter. Panting, you feel at the crate before you and vault over it before going flat to the ground and crawling away to hide, have to hide have to… to get out of here. Saya’s hurt…dead maybe, and Ginelle? Oh God’s where is Ginelle? What if she’s hurt too?

You fucked up hard this time. Why did you have to say that to Saya? She had everything in hand, and you just had to fucking open your Gods damned mouth and distract her. Now she’s… she’s… what will you tell Akela? How can you break this to her? Oh, but you have to survive this first, and-

You pause as you hear a crate nearby being leapt upon as Vivienne, presumably, chases after you. You panic and feel about, your fingers finding some purchase on a crate’s opening, and you pull it open, hurriedly throwing yourself inside and closing it, doing your best to control your breathing. Fucking Hells, what are you going to do now? She’ll either find you, or she’ll get tired of your shit and go off to hurt others. You hear Ginelle rage off in the distance, her sense of smell giving her some help, but you hope she doesn’t try to attack the woman without your aid…

Ginelle gives another cry, this time of alarm, and you momentarily rise to break out of the crate when you’re reminded of your situation as another cold wave of dread comes over you. Your legs go weak and you curl up, feeling yourself weeping softly. It wasn’t supposed to be like this… not at all, and yet… and yet…

“What the fuck are you doing, you faggot.”

You blink, temporarily stunned by the sudden sound and it takes you a moment to process it. That voice was… Abigail? Yeah… yeah that’s Abigail, but she… why was she speaking to you? She never gets involved in things like this? Fuck, is this actually your subconscious mind trying to fuck with you? Probably, you think you’re going more insane by the moment, or maybe it’s all the buzzing going around you and that damn itching you feel on your arm. Why are there so many mosquitoes out here?

“Don’t you fucking ignore me you piece of shit.” Abigail says, and you feel a light slap across your face.

You blink a few times, even more startled than before, saying “Uh… maybe I really am insane if I figment of my imagination is slapping me about.”

“You think I’m a figment of your imagination?” Abigail says, her voice sounding heated. “You really think that? You bought colored wax sticks for a figment of your imagination as a way of apology? Man, you really are crazy.”

You feel a small beating of wings across your face as you assume Abigail is hovering there, and a moment later, you feel something flick your nose. “Honestly, if you’re going to give up and quit over something little like this, you might as well just go and die so I can be freed of your shit.”

“I… but Ginelle…” You say, biting your lip. “And Saya… Gods, Saya…”

“One, she got cut by a sword. Come on, you’re not stupid. Two, it’s an illusion, you idiot.” She punches your forehead… you think anyway as it’s a light tapping feeling. “Three, you’re not this weak. Think about all the strengths you’ve gained for a moment and you’ll see that she’s just a piss-ant that got into your head a little.”

You absorb her words and slowly begin to breathe a little slower as you let that sink into you. She’s right… Saya can’t be hurt by physical weapons, unless it was to break her bones, but whatever. The sword itself is an illusion, just like this darkness. You knew this, you kept repeating it yourself, but until someone calmed you down enough to let you process it, you were trapped in the illusion just like any commoner might be. This isn’t who you are, this isn’t what Richard trained you for!

You grit your teeth, feeling your [Battle Focus] slide into your mind again, and the despair in your heart begins to be pushed out as you fight back control of yourself. The darkness surrounding you begins to recede as Abigail starts glowing before your eyes, casting a fey light through the contents of the box, which is apparently filled with soap. You stare at her, marveling at her elegance. Though she still is wearing that dirtied smock, in the shining rays of silver light, she shines like a beacon of brilliant beauty, and you almost weep in joy for being given the gift of sight. She nods at you, and you return the gesture, knowing what needs to be done.

Taking a deep breath, you tap into your newest ability, [Heart of Darkness]. The world seems to flow and shift about you as you take hold of the illusion about you, push it out and bring the world into an almost near brilliance of light to your eyes. You feel your form begin to shift as the true night welcomes you while the illusion, one your generating on your own, feeds into it, and you almost chuckle with what you’re about to do, though you feel nothing but contempt for Vivienne.

The cover to the box flies outward as you kick it off its hinges. You hear Vivienne spin to face the noise, but by that time you’re atop the crate, staring down at her, pointing toward her. She pauses again, blinking in confusion at you as you point directly at her. She then rubs her eyes and shakes her head, saying, “What?… How can you? Why can’t I see you very well?”

You chuckle softly and say, your voice deep and brimming with anger, “Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was given it, molded it to me. I lived in the light until I was a man, but now it is but BLINDING! The shadows betray you, because they belong to ME.”

“No… No, you can’t… you can’t do this! I am the CROW! I am the darkness! I am the NIGHT!”

You point at her and exert your power upon her, the darkness creeping into her vision and she screams, backing away, her hand tightening on the sword in her grip. It wavers slightly in her hand, and you know that you’ve turned the tables and gained the high ground now. Looking down at her upon your box of soap, you sneer give her one last chance. “Drop your weapon and surrender, this is your last chance.”

She grits her teeth and shakes violently before snarling up at you and flipping her hood back over her head, hiding her eyes. You sniff dismissively and say, “So, it’s treason then.” With that, a brilliant sword of light appears in your hands, and you leap forth from the box to bring the weapon down to bear upon the woman.

Vivienne gasps and steps back as you slice at her with the sword, your illusory blade coming to match hers. Clearly, she has no sword training and just though it must have looked cool or been iconic, because you push her back easily, causing her to stumble and have to regain her balance. Sure, you’re not a sword master yourself, but one of the things your dear ol’ father made you do was some mild swordplay, you know, like respectable gentleman’s sons did. Well, you haven’t touched a sword in years, but who’s really counting here?

Your mild proficiency is more than enough to counter her ineptitude, and you push your power onto her, your mere presence, amplified by the strength of Dollora herself, makes you almost blend fully into the night, and despite your glowing sword, she searches around in a panic, screaming as she tries desperately to fend off your swordplay. You can feel her illusions starting to fade as her focus leaves, and you know you’re beating her!

You drive her back again and she shrieks, turning tail and fleeing, running straight for a wall of crates, her eyes staring in disbelief at what she’s seeing. She looks aghast at the sight before turning about and staring at you. You walk forward, a blur in the night, shining sword ready to destroy her. Abigail flutters out above your shoulder, lighting up the world in a brilliant array of colors as well, bursting through the last remnants of Vivienne’s illusion.

The woman gasps and puts a hand to her head, still managing to keep the sword somehow visible. You frown, and dispel it from your mind, showing her for what she truly is, a scared woman holding a… wait, where did she get that knife from?

She flips about in a panic and stabs at the crate behind her, which you only now realize is packed with mana crystals. Her thrust breaks through the wooden exterior, and she reaches in, grabbing a handful crystals before pulling out another device like the one from before and jamming it into the crate. The whole thing begins to steam and hiss and your eyes go wide as she stares at you with maddened eyes. You saw fear, terror, desperation and… hope.

The whole crate behind her explodes into a shower of brilliant blue light, and you have to back up, shielding your eyes from the sight, and you’re knocked back by the shockwave of the explosion, sinking to a knee and gasping for a moment. You look up to see Vivienne charging you, knife held before her, and on instinct you thrust forth with your arm and your power, and hold forth your sword of light.

Vivienne’s crazed eyes go wide and she looks down at her chest. She coughs a few times, her eyes going out of focus as she drops her knife, fingers moving to the spot where a sword should be, had one actually been lodged in her chest. Though there is no true wound, blood begins to trickle from the corner of her mouth and she wheezes once, her body slumping forward. Her mouth works softly and she says, “It’s… it’s getting so dark… yet this blade is so bright… I…I’m scared. The Crow… is never scared…”

You close your eyes and drop the illusion, walking forward to the woman and placing a hand gently on her head. You take a deep breath and rub her head gently, saying in a soft voice, “Go to sleep, Crow. You’re off to a better place.”

“Y…yeah…” She says as her mind, so dominated by your illusion, fools her body into believing it is dead. And so, as she slumps to the floor, motionless, she truly is dead.

You shudder, feeling a wave of fatigue come over you as you let go of all your power. The emotions of the fight follow next, and you feel your knees grow weak as you stagger to the side and shudder.

>Your madness level is now 30%

>A voice echoes in your mind now, louder than before

>”You have to go back.”

Shivering, you shake your head and look to Abigail, who’s now standing next to you, a little shorter than you, but much, much taller than before. She looks back at you, and you cock your head before asking in a tired voice. “So, are you going to kiss me or whatever you do?”

She seems to think about this for a moment, tapping her chin before shrugging. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

You blink, a little surprised. “Wait… you always just do that and then… you vanish.”

She giggles softly before leaning in, her now uh… enlarged features accentuated. She looks you over and smirks before saying, “You look different from this perspective. You’re also blushing a little. Am I making you nervous?”

“Why are you only like this after a kill?” You ask, taking the chance to speak with her about it. She thinks for a moment before shrugging again.

“I don’t know. Jackor’s power flows through me, but every time he grants a new power, it builds up in me, fills me with this loving warmth until I’m fit to burst.” She rubs a hand down her side. “I wonder why I can’t remember this feeling when the power is given up though. Perhaps it is another of our lord’s cruel jokes.” She shakes her head and sighs.

“What if you… stayed like that?” You ask, a little curiously and she seems to contemplate this answer.

“Oh… I could never do that, it’s not my natural place, there does not exist any like this beyond the Titanias and…” She trails off before shaking her head. “No… no that would be too much of a jest, even for my Lord.” She turns back to you and holds out a hand.

“Come, receive your gift that flows through me, that I may give unto you.”

You look at her hand before turning about to see Saya laying on the ground, groaning softly. You don’t see Ginelle at first, but after a few moments you realize that her cry of alarm earlier was her plowing straight into a crate and getting stuck in there, cursing and growling. You’ll probably have to help her out later. For now you just sigh and shake your head, looking back into Abigail’s eyes before taking her hand.

“What will happen the next time we kill and Illusionist?” You ask, and she smiles.

“I have no idea.” She leans forward and kisses you.

>You gain the ability [Morbid Allure]

>The power of Dollora, hand in hand with Nerg allows you to effortlessly induce a depression onto your target. The darker the night, the more potent the despair, though this may be modified by other things.

You open your eyes, a little confused that the kiss was so short, and once again find Abigail having vanished, though you feel your jacket pocket shifting some. You sigh and shake your head, picking up your com device and say, “This is Scatterbrain, target neutralized. Over.”

You hear some static over the line for a moment before Clarissa’s voice comes out, which is a little surprising. “Woah! We got Ophelia to patch us in! That was really cool, though who was that sparkly lady who kissed you? Uhh… over.”

“Abigail.” You say offhanded as you move to Saya. “Would you mind coming over here? I’d like to get everyone out of here before people start to swarm in here, over.”

“No problem, Scatterbrain.” Clint says, taking the device. “We’ll come pick the three of you up. You alright? Over.”

You look down at the corpse of the woman, who seems so very young to you. Sighing, you click the devic on one more time.

“Yeah. I think we’re alright. Over.”

——————————-

The work begins with digging Ginelle out of the crate she ran into. She looks rather pissed as you pull you out, mumbling her thanks through gritted teeth. Of course, her cheeks are bright red, so you assume the true reason she’s angry is that she was embarrassed. You feel a little too tired from your exertions and headache to make fun of her, though gosh did you want to. The hole in your torso from doing so would be worth it you feel.

“Ugh…my head.” Ginelle says, shaking her aforementioned anatomical structure. “What the hells was that about? We’d been through some illusion shit before, but that just… hells, I KNEW it was an illusion, but it still got to me.”

“I’m curious to know myself.” You say, walking over to where Saya lay, unconscious and slightly gelatinous, her features melting slowly into blackness. She shifts slightly as you approach, and you kneel down next to her to gently place a hand to her skull, which is sort of poking out of the mass that is her body. The skull jiggles as muscle-like attachments move, and you’re pretty sure she’s rousing. Maybe.

“And you uh… you stuck your dick in that?” Ginelle says, frowning. “I mean, she’s great and all, but uh…” She scratches her chin and shrugs. “Well, whatever makes you happy I guess.”

You roll your eyes and turn back to Saya, asking, “Did you get a whiff  of Chalan?”

“Hmm? Oh, I think so. With the darkness, not much to really see, so I was smelling a lot of things.” She sniffs behind you. “You need to bathe more, btw. I can still smell that stink from yesterday.”

“Think you can track her down?” You ask, watching as Saya begins to stir, a half-formed eye turning to look at you. It blinks as more definition appears about the orb, and you nod to her before turning your head to Ginelle. “Once Saya is up, I think we need to go after her.”

“I don’t know.” Ginelle says, rubbing her chin. “It sounds like an awful lot of people are making a lot of noise out there, and she could hide in that confusion really well. Besides, you’re really tired, and frankly I don’t know what shape Saya is in.”

“I’ms… finsh…” Saya says, her mouth forming words slowly as she begins to reform herself, pulling it back into human shape and fitting back into her clothes. It’s a strange looking spectacle, but by the end of it Saya is sitting before you, readjusting her neck and sighing. “Honestly, I had believed I was cut in half for a little while and I sort of… panicked a little.” She blushes and looks down, “Sorry you two had to see that.”

You ruffle her hair and help her up slowly, “Don’t worry about it, we have bigger things to look after anyway.” As you say this, Clint and Clarissa fly in, the two coming in at a running landing. Ginelle waves to them as they stumble up, the gunslinger taking a moment to compose himself before looking about to the corpse of Vivienne and whistling.

“I’ll tell you, it was strange just to see her fall down like that, but that’s an illusion huh?” He shakes his head. “How the hells did she reach us all the way out there? Everyone was stuck in the darkness, we had no idea what was happening.”

Clarissa shivers, “I wanted to fly down and help, especially with this ‘Crow’ business, but when everything went dark, I… well, I felt it was best to stay.”

“Speaking of staying.” Saya says, nodding to the entrance of the warehouse where some people were looking about, “We should probably not do that.”

“Right you are.” You say, nodding at her before heading off to the side. The rest follow you and you say to Clint, “Did you happen to see Chalan escaping from the warehouse?”

“Nah, sorry about that too.” He says, gritting his teeth. “Still not used to the weight on that damn barrel. Sure, the fire was damn nice, and the destructive power was something else, but I was aiming for her head. Could have ended this much sooner if only I’d hit.” He shakes his head. “Well, she has to be on her last legs though. Someone doesn’t just survive that, right?”

Ginelle, Saya, and yourself all exchange looks between each other before looking back to Clint. He blinks and then swears under her breath as you relay the story of the events his missed, making sure the communication device is on. Ophelia hears the story herself, albeit with far too much curiosity about how the weapon fired, and you eventually find yourself finishing the tale as you head out of the warehouses.

“So she’s some kind of… walking…Alarune… thing? Over.” Ophelia says, her voice confused. “How is that possible? I mean, Plant Monsters are pretty much immobile except the uh… ones you faced in the…” She trails off before hissing between her teeth. “Gods…Over.”

“My thoughts exactly. I’d like you to get my [Port-o-Glass] and contact Agent Anderson. Over.”

“Uhh… you have this thing password protected, right? Over.”

You look between everyone and lean down to whisper into the device, “It’s GrandWizard314”

“Nerd.” Saya, Ginelle, and Ophelia say in unison, the latter’s voice through the device. You frown and look to the others who chuckle, having gotten close enough to listen. Poor, sweet, innocent Clarissa did not join in however, and she’s once again your favorite. So there.

Ophelia goes silent for a few moments before chiming in, “Alright, here we go. Gods, that’s a lot of rabbit porn you have on here. I don’t even know how to get to the… oh, Anderson contacted you. Hrm… yeah alright, I’ll reply to… wait how the fuck did he know it was ME sending the message? Over.”

“I think he’s some kind of… strange man… Monster.” You say, frowning at the device. Saya gives you a startled look and Ginelle grits her teeth, even Clarissa looks a little faint. Right… right, Monstermen were a strange myth from the elden days, and  no one liked to think hard on what happened to all the men when Dollora made MonsterGIRLS. There are… implications.

 

“Right, sorry, just tell him the situation, see if there’s anything he can about it, over.” You say, stopping at an intersection of buildings and listening to the night. The sound of alarmed voices and people running about is all over the area and you wonder just how far her influence spread. The sound of hissing from a Leyway nearby signals something is very wrong with it.

“Ugh.” Saya says behind you, putting a hand to her head and staggering. You frown and turn to her, helping her stabilize herself while Ginelle sniffs the area for Chalan.

“You alright?” You ask in a low voice, Clint and Clarissa taking interest in her condition. She waves you off and chuckles,

“It’ll take more than that to put me down, you know that.”

“You haven’t said anything about what I said before.” You say under your breath, and she stiffens, her fingers tightening up. She looks between the others and you before biting her lip.

“Tobias, I…I was…”

“Saya, I’m saying this for your own good but… we’ll have to talk about it later. I need you to go back to Ophelia and Akela.” She makes to protest, but you hold up a hand. “No, no arguing with me here. I need you to do this, because I care about you. You’re clearly not feeling your best and I don’t want you in danger.”

“Centaur shit, you could get hurt too.” She says firmly, planting a hand on her hip. “I’m coming.”

“Come on Saya, I’ve never seen you stagger like that before. We’ll be fine.” Clarissa says, the little bundle of energy’s worried face making Saya pause. She looks between all of you before lowering her head.

“Alright… I suppose.” She takes a deep breath and nods to Clint, who tosses his com device to her. “I’ll let you know if I see anything, alright?”

“Deal.” You say, gripping her arm. “Be safe.” She gives you a wan smile before shaking her head and running off to head back to the inn. You sigh, watching her go, before turning back to Ginelle. “Well?”

“I think she went this way.” Ginelle says, pointing a long nailed finger to the north. She frowns, “A lot of people this way. Is she trying to board a Leyway?”

“We can’t let that happen.” You say, gritting your teeth. “Can’t let her get away, or she’ll get the better of us.” Everyone nods in unison and you make to run into the streets, finally seeing the true panic that Vivienne had caused.

People mill about, confused and shaken as they readjust to seeing. Multiple carriages lay strewn about, the horses having run into things or gotten away in the confusion. Constructs move about, picking up fallen cargo, with multiple boxes of various designs broken into bits, and even a Leyway stands still on some tracks, venting mana as the device tries to restart after an obvious forced stop. Overall, it could have been worse, but the property damage seems… a little excessive. At least it seems things are better as you get closer to the station, having gotten out from the bubble she put forth, but… damn she did a number on this place.

Ginelle sniffs the air again before snapping her attention to someone walking slowly on the periphery of the crowd, a rough cloak thrown over the shoulders of what was obviously a feminine form. You see in the dim light of the street lamps a gentle curl of brown hair and a blue dress and you shout, “There!”

All of you break into a run, pushing through the crowds of people as you try to get to Chalan. She turns her head as you push through and her eyes go wide, teeth gritting in anger, and she bolts, flying into the crowd of people and sliding through them with practiced ease. You shout again and you push forward, Clarissa taking to the sky and keeping track of Chalan as you run.

Unfortunately, everyone around was just in a heightened state of panic, and seeing you pushing and running through the crowd reignites this passion, and they panic again, moving in strange, erratic patterns and somehow forming a perfect wall of flesh to keep you from moving forward. Ginelle is able to bowl people out of the way, but yourself and Clint have to try to push through the people, which doesn’t end well as they push BACK.

You come across a surly looking man at one point and have to do a minor illusion to make the man trip, allowing you to ram a fit into his gut and push him out of the way, but when you get but five feet away, you hear the sound of a whistle going off. You look up to the sky to see Clarissa pointing at the nearby Leyway, and you’re just able to see the doors shut before Chalan’s face. You sigh in relief as the cars slowly rise into the air before jettisoning off and away. Excellent, you still have a chance to…

Chalan leaps from the platform, startling many people, and attaches herself to the last car as it moves off, the whole Leyway gaining speed before quickly going from sight, and Chalan with it. You stop your pushing through the crowd and grunt, shaking your head and moving to help Clint from a far-too-friendly Kobold whose hands can’t stay out of his pants.

————————–

“There you are, wondered how much longer it would take.” Ophelia says as you enter into your inn room, the three of you looking tired and miserable. You already told her the failure on your way here, but it still stung. Seems that Leyway is headed north east as well, which is unfortunate, because that’s exactly where you need to go toward Helmscrag.

“Sorry, streets are a madhouse right now, town guard is making sure order can be brought back to everything, but… it’s troublesome.”

“Yeah…” Ophelia says, showing you your [Port-o-Glass]. On the screen is some diagrams of Saydinhold, mapping out areas of panic and a few riots that Anderson had apparently complied. “It’s not exactly a pretty scene it seems. But hells, this guy has information, I have no idea how he complied all of this so fast.”

“Maybe he’s a Wizard?” You say, sitting down and sighing, rubbing at your head. Gods you have one hell of a headache, and you keep hearing whispers in the back of your mind. Ugh… “Who knows?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s not a Wizard…” Ophelia says before shrugging. “Still, he’ll be a good resource going forward. Says he credited your account too and that the bankers here can cash it.”

“Sweet.” You sigh before looking about, frowning. “Where’s Saya and Akela?”

Ophelia blinks a few times before looking around. “Oh, I have no idea, actually. I think… oh right, she said she wanted to move Akela to the other room since it was going to be loud her, wanted Akela to sleep well you see.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.” You say, stretching as Ginelle gives you an odd look. You wave to her and say, “Get some rest, it’ll be morning soon, you can stay here while I see to them, that alright?”

“Yeah, works for me.” Ginelle says, laying down in your bed and wrinkling her nose before shrugging. Clint sits at the table and starts going over his rifle while Ophelia hounds him over the details of the firing and its effects, though Clint looks less than amused at the attention. You hear the words, “She should have exploded!” at least twice. Clarissa hops over to you as you go to leave the room, placing a hand on your shoulder.

“Hey, you alright?” She asks, looking a little concerned.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s just another day at this point.” You say, rubbing your forehead.

She’s quiet for a few moments before saying, “You remind me of Richard, you know? The way you’re acting now, he’d be like that when I delivered letters sometimes. Seeming so tired…” She shakes her head, “Just take care of yourself, alright?”

You look into her eyes, seeing the concern there, and do your best to give her a reassuring smile, which only makes her frown a little. “It’s fine, I’ll be okay with some rest, don’t worry.”

“He used to say that too when I asked, you know.”

Well that’s disturbing. You pat her shoulder and head out, going down the hall to the other room, which you open slowly. Inside sits Saya at a bed, holding Akela’s little paw as a candle burns gently in the corner. She looks up as you enter, and gives you a wan little smile before looking down, her expression becoming crestfallen.

You pull up another little chair in the room and set it down next to Saya, taking a seat and looking down at Akela, watching the rise and fall of her breath and her innocent sleeping face. You wonder sometimes what it would have been like to see her growing up from a baby? The thought stirs something in you and you look over to Saya who shares your gaze. She begins to form words on her lips, but stops and merely shakes her head.

You reach over and gently take her hand in yours. She stiffens for a moment, and her skin feels a little more… solid? Sighing, you tighten your grip and whisper to her, “Saya, I’m sorry.”

“What do you have to be sorry for?” She murmurs, looking down at your hand. “You didn’t almost melt someone during sex.”

“No, but I did pick a really terrible time to tell you that.”

“Hmph, that was my fault as well. Gods, I was so stupid, getting blindsided like that, but I was so shocked… why didn’t you tell me?”

You sigh and shake your head, looking over at Akela before whispering, “Because of that.” Saya gives Akela a strange little look before giving you the same. You nod and say, “I didn’t tell you at first because I love you and didn’t want you to get worked up over it. Saya, yes, it’s not something I’d say was particularly pleasant or something I’d like to go through again, but the pain of seeing you like this, or hells, seeing you get hurt like tonight is much, much worse.”

You lean back and let out a deep breath. “Gods, if you could only know the panic I went through when she projected the illusion of you getting cut in half. My mind couldn’t fully rationalize what was happening and I just…” You put a hand over your eyes and take a calming breath. “Besides, you were so happy, how could I take that from you?”

Both of you are silent for awhile, just listening to the sound of your daughter sleeping. Eventually, Saya grips your hand and whispers, “I’m scared… I’ve waited so long for a day like this… for someone like you, but I’ve also feared I’d do something like this too. Lose control and hurt people around me.” She shivers, “It’s hard, sometimes. Hard to keep this up. Sometimes I wish my Dad had never made me.”

You squeeze her hand tight and hiss through your teeth, “Don’t you ever say that. You can be alot of things, but morose over something like this is not one of them. You’re stronger than this, and we’ll just figure something out, alright? Maybe we’ll just take things slowly, maybe we’ll find some kind of protection, something. Either way, you’re not going to blame yourself any longer, because it’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to her.”

You both look down at Akela again, her furry little ear twitching, and she sits up a little straighter before rubbing at her eye and nodding fiercely. “You’re right.”

“Of course, I’m always right.” You say, smiling as she punches you softly on the shoulder. She leans in close to you and you whisper in her ear, “So… do you want to…ah… you know.”

She blushes and giggles softly, “Maybe tonight we can just… hold hands?”

“Lewd girl.”

——————————–

“Alright Abigail, let’s hear it then.” You say, drumming your fingers on the map of Deleor that included the Leyway system. You’d taken to mapping out where your Illusionist kills had come from as well as the path you’re taking. Looks like there aren’t any other major settlements on the way to Helmscrag, just some outlying towns, as well as a few Monster settlements that use the Leyways. This close to Galmathoria, many of the tribes that lived about Deleor found themselves in better company as opposed to those closer to human civilization. Of course, with the advent of transportation such as the Leyways, the boundaries between man and Monster were shrinking even further.

The little fairy plods along the map, seemingly lost in thought as she taps her chin. “Hrrrrm. Looks like there’s four more Illusionists that may have been touched by Chalan or otherwise.” She points toward a forested area near a small river, the Wutan, which is about a day away by Leyway and draws a small marking with one of her colored wax sticks.

“Tilluhn?” Clint says, looking down at the map. “Never been there, but I hear it’s a decent sized logging operation. Been a small little place for years, but with the Leyway, it’s getting much more exposure. An Illusionist there could be trouble, but it is sort of out of the way.”

Abigail shrugs, “Eh, it is what it is, guy is on the list so there it is.” She taps her head and adjusts her smock before drawing a mark in an out of the way area a little off the Leylines more north of this location than West. Looking at it, it would probably be easier to say that it’s about the same distance from here than Tilluhn is. All of you lean over and frown at the map.

“What gives? There’s nothing here.” Ginelle says, frowning. She rubs at her head and then squints down at the Fairy. “Are you sure you’re not defective.”

Akela waves the drawing implement at Ginelle. “Don’t make me draw a penis on your face. I’ll do it, I’m pretty skilled at it too.”

“That’s not how… those…” Saya says before shaking her head. “The point stands there, what’s the deal with this?”

Akela shrugs, “I don’t know, some woman out there is going crazy, I don’t know much else beyond that. I think her name is Emily Durand.”

 

Clint stiffens then, and everyone gives him a strange look, to which he waves a hand. “It’s nothing, name just sounds familiar is all.” You continue to give him a strange look and he sighs, “Seriously, it’s nothing. Let the murder Fairy continue.”

“Thank you!” Abigail says, sniffing. “So, last place is… here.” She flutters over to Helmscrag and makes two marks. “Well wadda ya know, it’s Helmscrag.”

“So that means that Fiora is there, right?” You say, frowning. “So it’s her and someone else, right?”

“Nope, it’s two totally different Illusionists!” She beams before frowning and then looking down at the map again. “Hrm. Well, I think it’s two anyway… feels like it, though I can tell you for certain that it’s not Fiora, or else we’d be tracking her. Lord Jackor can’t see Fiora, remember?”

“I remember something… like…that.” You say, grunting. Well, whatever, it’ll all work out alright. “I guess we’ll have to figure out if we want to go straight to Helmscrag or stop by and take out the others.” You look about and ask, “Any questions?”

Clarissa raises a wing and says, “Ohh ohh! Uhm, why is the Fairy small again?”

“I didn’t eat my vegetables.” Abigail says before pointedly ignoring the question, apparently thinking it stupid. Certainly, she doesn’t remember yesterday… right? Anyway, Clint interrupts by addressing you.

“Well, that’s typically your decision.” Clint says, shrugging. “Though there aren’t Leyways leaving out for the Northwest until this evening because of the ruckus, guess we have some time to pal around town since Chalan is gone. He taps the table before looking to Ginelle. “Hey, want to go get some new clothes?”

She blinks in surprise and confusion for a moment before looking down at her (decidedly) ratty clothing that she’s just managed to scrape up, thanks mainly to running into a wall. She rubs at the back of her head, blushing a little before coughing into her hand, “Ah, sure, that’s fine. But what are the rest of you going to do?”

“Mmmm, I think I’ll look around town for a few more things.” Ophelia says, putting the barrel down. “Those mana crystal explosions gave me a few ideas on some things we can do…”

“I’m scared.” Clarissa says, and everyone gives a little chuckle, except for Ophelia, of course, who sniffs and makes to get her things ready. The plucky Harpy smiles and hops over to the bunny. “Hey hey, can I go with you?” Ophelia rolls her eyes, but you can see she’s happy for the company.

“I think we’ll stay here for a little bit.” You say, looking to Saya. Ginelle gives you a knowing look and you return a flat stare. “I figure we can look over some things, get prepared on what to do next.”

“Aye aye, boss man.” Clint says, tipping his hat.

 

“If you’re going to be like that, you’re dismissed and on leave until 6pm.” You say, making your best overblown general face. Saya chuckles, having actually known generals, and the others depart amiably. It’s good to see that they can still smile despite everything that’s happening. Also, you’re pretty sure Clarissa can’t get in much trouble with Ophelia around… or perhaps it’s the other way around?

Regardless you shake your head and boot up the [Port-o-Glass]. Saya moves to look over your shoulder and Akela sighs, rolling her eyes and sitting down on the bed, kicking her paws. She stretches and says, “Couldn’t I have just gone with Auntie Clarissa?” When you give her an odd look, she shrugs. “What, she’s my favorite today.”

“Oh well, she’s my favorite today too.” You say, smiling. “Hrrmm, well Akela, have you been a good little Anubis.”

She looks at you flatly for a moment before putting a fake, yet innocent smile on her face.”Golly gee, of course I have been! The best little Anubis!” She snuggles you leg. “Daaaaaddddyyyy.”

“Okay, that’s a little much.” You say, and she backs up, chuckling. You look down to Abigail, who is writing on a piece of paper with her colored wax sticks. She notices you gaze and looks up at you, seeming a little confused. “Hey Abigail, would you mind sharing with Akela?”

“Eh?” She says, scratching her head before turning to the Anubis girl. She rubs her chin and thinks for a loooong moment before sighing out, “I guuueesssss.”

Akela walks up and takes a wax stick, a yellow one, somehow in her paws and Abigail hops over and says, “Woah now girlie, you can’t just go CHOOSING a color, the color chooses you!” She picks up the wax sticks and flutters over to the bed, while Akela takes some paper, and the two begin to draw, though Abigail gives orders here and there. You watch for a little while, watching Akela take in the instructions, an interested smile on her face. Heh, maybe she’ll be an artist when she grows up…

You shake your head and look back to your [Port-o-Glass] and frown to find that Ophelia had changed the image on the background matrix, showing a picture of a Rabbitgirl wearing lingerie. You groan as Saya punches you arm, but you don’t even bother trying to defend yourself. Ophelia got you good here. You destruct the image and continue onto your Leymail, noticing the message from Selene again.

“Oh hey, Saya, your Mother sent a Leymail, would you mind reading it?”

“Sure.” She says, reading over your shoulder the quick message before groaning. “Ugh, she’s so cryptic, but I guess that’s to expected, seeing as Anderson probably has this thing bugged.” She cocks her head before shrugging. “Well, I don’t think he can hear us, right?”

You stare at the device before whispering, “No… no I’m sure he can’t…”

“Uh… alright.” Saya says, “So I think she’s trying to say that there’s something going on in the Cradle. The weeds she’s talking about have to relate to a faction there that’s causing trouble, and considering that she just dealt with their delegation…” She frowns deeply, “I think she’s implying that the Queen Alarune is plotting something.”

“Well… I guess.” You say, rubbing at the back of your head. “I mean, we knew something like this might be possible, right?”

“But now we have confirmation. Dad was worried about this for years, but nothing ever happened, and we just… let it be.” She drums her fingers on the table. “If a war between Galmathoria and Deleor comes to pass… what would the Cradle do?”

You both go quiet for a long while before you say, “Can you respond to her for more information?”

“I’d rather not…” Saya says, frowning. “I know it involves Deleor, but I don’t want Anderson to know…”

“I’m sure he has an idea. Might as well send her something.”

“Oh, very well.” Saya says, rolling her eyes and shifting to type a message. “Maybe I should just send something to Dad while I’m here.”

Your heart starts to beat very quickly and you lick your lips ever so slowly. “Yes dear, please go ahead and do that.” She pauses and looks over to you before frowning and raising an eyebrow. You raise your hands and use all of your training to keep a straight face. “What? Everything’s fine, go ahead.” You stand up slowly feeling yourself become faint. You just have to get her to send that Leymail, then you’ll have his address…ehehe…heh.

Trying not to give too much away, you look over to see Akela drawing on the paper with a smile, her legs kicking back and forth  as she hums slightly. Abigail looks pleased as Akela draws, drawing on her own paper, yet occasionally giving little comments and criticisms to Akela, even so much as jumping on the little Anubis’s head to look down at her and point toward little things that could be fixed. Huh, guess she is an art fairy after all, because you’ve never seen Abigail look so happy. You wonder what kind of life she lived before being scooped up into all of this…

“And done.” Saya says, spinning the [Port-o-Glass] to you. “All yours, if you have business for it.”

“Mmm, I see.” You say, trying to contain your enthusiasm. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. You carefully take the device as Saya moves to go look at what Akela is drawing, and as soon as she’s out of reach, you hurriedly check the runic logs and find… oh yes, here it is, “Wizard4life.”

You pause, staring at the address, thinking it may have been a mistake, but Saya sent it, and Anderson could easily see it so… either they already knew his address, or this wasn’t his most personal one. Feeling a little ashamed, you cycle the runes and see the message she sent, skimming over the pleasantries, telling her Dad she was fine, asked her to say hi to her sisters, told her Dad she was seeing someone and… oh boy. You lean back and look up, a little bit of fear in your eyes. He’d know this isn’t her Leymail, so it must be yours. The things he could imply from this… well, guess you better make the most of it.

“Dear Mr. Grand Wizard,

I actually have no idea what your last name is. I should probably ask your daughter. Oh, sorry, I should introduce myself, my name is Tobias Shady, your daughter just told you about me. Oh, but I didn’t read her mail or anything, that would be wrong. Your wife may have told you about me, but I am currently engaged in courting your daughter. And we may have adopted an Anubis. And I’m making a fool out of myself even though I can edit this at any time.

I’ll be honest with your sir, I’m a huge fan and have styled my life after your work, and you may think that’s why I’m dating your daughter. I assure you, that is not the reason in the slightest, I do truly love her, and that’s why I’m sending this Leymail. I need your help, help to understand her better. When we had sex… yes, I’m sorry sir, please don’t be mad, she was wonderful. That’s awkward isn’t it? Sorry, but she may have lost control and melted my back a little. I got it fixed, but I was hoping you had some insight on this, because she’s a little shaken up and I want to do anything to make her feel better. Please sir, I just want her to be happy.

Sincerely,

Tobias Shady

P.S.: Can I have your autograph?”

 

You look over the hastily constructed Leymail and think highly about editing it to make it look proper, but then rethink it. No… no it’s more honest this way. You may have accidently hit the send rune on reflex, and now it’s been sent. You may be freaking out a little. It’s okay though. Probably.

Well, nothing for it, you power of the device as Akela bounds over, a picture in her paws. “Hey, take a look!” She beams at you as she present the paper. Smiling yourself, you take it from her and view the child’s artwork, expecting to see some cute little picture in bad squiggles. Instead you find a detailed picture of yourself, Saya, and Akela standing before a house, all of you smiling.

Sure, it’s drawn in crayon, but it’s pretty impressive. You stare at the picture, stunned for a moment before noticing the little picture of a Fairy in the corner. You look up at Abigail who smirks, hands on her waist while standing on Akela’s head. “My protégée! Her artistic talents are raw, but I’ll shape her into something wonderful!”

Akela looks up at Abigail, “When she stands on my head, it’s like I can draw better, or well, see what I want to draw better. It’s weird, but maybe I’m just amazing.” She beams before looking back to you. “Do you like it?”

You kneel down and gently hug Akela, saying, “I love it, thank you dear.”

She hugs you back before turning to Saya and repeating the process, you beaming in delight at the scene. As soon as she’s finished, you stretch and say, “Who wants to head out to the town eh? Let’s get some lunch.”

——————————————-

You return to the inn after walking about the town with Saya, Akela, and Abigail (the latter hiding in your jacket), the three of you having had a good lunch while buying some more art supplies for Akela and Abigail, the little Fairy whispering what to buy in the Anubis’s ears.

For your part, you found a lovely looking dueling saber, though Saya makes you put it back because, “It’s tacky these days.” Instead, you see a cane sword and scoop it up, using the money you had in the banks here, which they honored very readily. In fact, the Danuki here look pretty ecstatic… some of them anyway, and they readily cooperate with you, though thankfully you don’t see any from the Counting House from yesterday. While they still make your still crawl, the money is nice…

>You obtain [Sword Cane]

>It’s a sword whose sheath is a cane.

>Cane Sword! For kids! (Please don’t give to Children)

As for Saya, well, she might be sporting a new necklace, courtesy of your murderbucks. Fairly paltry price, she practically cried and gave you one amazing kiss, though Akela stuck her tongue out. Ah, to be young again. Overall, you call it pretty successful, and had a good trip back to the inn.

The others seemed to have a good time too, which both Clint and Ginelle in new apparel, the man sporting an excellent looking Duster while Ginelle has as a new supply of dresses and other clothing she can tear up. You want to ask where the money came from for this, but then you remember that Clint is rich so. You don’t… ask. They both smell of alcohol too, but they seem sober enough.

As for Ophelia and Clarissa? Well, apparently Clarissa sent out more flyers about Oppenheim, drawing some fairly impressed people who were tired of the city life, especially after the events of last night. She felt like she did good work, and couldn’t stop talking about it. Ophelia, on the other hand, had bought bombs.

“So, I thought about how to utilize the explosive properties of those mana crystals, and found that I could use liquid mana to prime mana crystals and then attach it to an aetherically attuned detonator!” When everyone gives her blank looks, she rolls her eyes. “I plug in a time for the aether timer to count down and when it does, the thing explodes.”

“Ohhhh.” Everyone says, clapping slightly, and she rolls her eyes again, mutter, “Plebeians…” Sure, you got most of what she was saying, but her inventions are getting crazier by the day. “Anyway, I have the materials to make four of these. I don’t uh… know how big the explosion will be so… uhm.” She rubs the back of her head, “Be careful?”

>You obtain 4x [Mana Bombs]

>Big blue boom. Detonating overcharged mana crystals resulting in an aetheric burst. Results may vary.

“We have some time until the Leyway leaves.” Clint says, looking at his own timepiece. “We have a gameplan yet? We do need to buy tickets”

“Oh, and is there anything you forgot to do while here?” Clarissa asks, scratching her head. “I don’t think I personally forgot anything… hmm.”

Everyone looks to you, once again, and you think back to your planning session and everything that happened here. What do you do now? Where do you go?

 

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