Illusionistquest Chapter 17: Mind War

You finish your last story about Richard, the one where he found you drinking his bottle of aged Eastern wine, and how he got his revenge by putting spiders in your bed for a month. As you finish, everyone has a smile on their face and some good cheer, something that makes your heart sing. It’s wonderful to see people you care about enjoying even the simple things, and more than once Clint mentioned he’d love to meet the man. Of course, underneath the joy, there is the undercurrent of sadness, but everyone chooses to ignore it, for now anyway.

Looking at your timepiece, you realize it’s about time to head to the station, and as everyone goes upstairs to pack their things, you make to check out with the innkeeper, who eagerly takes your money, a happy smile on her face. When you question why she’s so exuberant today, she merely claps your shoulders and says, “Oh don’t you be playing me like this boy, I know you came here as out salvation!”

You cock your head to the side to see Khloe trying to tip-toe away, but she catches your gaze and her ears flatten down, looking like a uh… well, a cat who got caught doing something bad. You turn fully to her and cross her arms and she coughs into her hand before saying, “Aha, well, you know, they wanted to know EVERYTHING and rumors sort of get around and uh…”

“She told me.” The innkeeper says smugly, to which Khloe throws up her arms.

“Oh Gods, come on!” She sighs and puts her head to her forehead. “Uggghh, yes, fine, I told her. But she needed to know too! Everyone does!” She raises a finger then, smiling. “The executive in town wants to speak with Enochia, maybe make some kind of deal? They don’t feel right about pissing off a dryad you see. They’d rather make some kind of uh… tree farm… or something.” She scratches her cheek.

“I’m not exactly the brightest in the world to think of that sort of thing, you know?”

You sigh and shake your head. Maybe you’d had this sort of idea, but you were tired and focused on getting home and, ugh, excuses. Looking back at her, you say, “Oh alright then. But I don’t want fanfare, you know what happened out there, it’s nothing to celebrate.”

Her ears droop again and she nods her head. “Yes… you’re right. But at least we have something to look forward to.” She perks up and smiles broadly.”Thanks you though… I earnestly hope the rest of your travels are safe and pleasant. Please, if you ever need anything from us, come on by! Sounds like we’ll still be here.”

“You got it.” You say before finishing your check out as the others arrive. You wave farewell to Khloe and the innkeeper before leaving to the station, the town in a sort of celebratory manner for some reason. You do your best to stay hidden but some people notice you and point, whispering excitedly, and you groan inwardly. Great, thanks Khloe, reaaaaallll great.

As you reach the station, you find a man standing there in a richly tailored suit, flanked by two, larger men who look like dressed up lumberjacks, axes and beards at the ready. Yes, beards can be weapons in their own right. As you approach, the man studies you before smiling and raising his arms up into the air, “Ahh, Lord Shady! A pleasure to finally meet you!”

He walks before you and performs a sweeping bow. “I am Master Honoriant, executive of the Tilluhn company. I have heard of your exploits from our own Khloe, and I wished to personally give you our thanks. I fear we would have lost all our funding had the murders continued!” He chuckles, “But that is not the case anymore, and we may have a rather lucrative business venture in its own right!”

“I see.” You say, nodding to the man and returning the bow, though not quite as deep. “Thank you for your words, but I am merely doing my duty to the crown. I hope, however, that you keep faith with the Dryad, or I fear the crown my take more interest in your operation.”

“Is that a threat?” The man says, smile never wavering.

“No, not really.” You say, shrugging. “Anyway, we need to prepare to board a Leyway, thank you again for your words, and give our regards again to Khloe.”

“Ah, of course, of course.” The man says, nodding his head. He snaps his fingers and one of the Lumberjacks produces a stack of tickets, which Honoriant takes and hands to you. “These are a token of our appreciation. They will allow you to ride the Leyways in style, free of charge, on behalf of the Tilluhn company.”

You gingerly take the tickets, one for each of you and read them over, whistling. You already were traveling in some nice accommodations where they could be had, but these are… well, if you ever go back to Sanctifrond, you’ll certainly have plenty of niceties. You nod to the man and then bow. “Your gift is most appreciated, thank you.”

“Oh, think nothing of it.” He says, waving a hand. “Now then, if you’re ever thinking of increasing the market share of the Shady house into the lumber market…”
You smile at him wolfishly. “You really want the Shady name associated with your company?”

He returns the smile. “Perhaps…perhaps…”

You both stay like that for a long while before Saya coughs into her hand and says, “Uh, gentlemen?” You both step back and chuckle before heading off on your various ways. Saya walks close to you and asks, “The hells was that about?”

“Noble stuff, you wouldn’t…” You pause as you figure she actually MIGHT understand. “Uh, guy stuff, you wouldn’t… Noble guy stuff, yeah, yeah that’s it.”

She narrows her eyes at you, but you manage to chuckle it off before boarding your Leyway. You’d thought it over, and the best course of action is to head off to the North, though Clint looks both relieved and disturbed at the same time. You try asking him about this Emily chick, but he just stays tight lipped and takes his ticket, heading off to the dining car. Weird…

The Leyway leaves a little later, and everyone goes back to their cozy little environments, though when Ginelle finds out that the Tillhun company is comping the food also, she goes to town on as much meat as she can. You pity the poor chef on the small Leyway, but well, that’s how these things go, right?

For your part, you read Akela a little more of [Wizardquest], getting to the part where Selene bids farewell to the Wizard. After having met Selene, you can really understand her a little more, and reading this section again it strikes home. You find Akela quiet after that, only saying, “Poor Grandma.” You agree and gently tuck her in to sleep before opening the [Port-o-Glass] and doing a little work.

Still no reply from the Wizard… great. You’re actually a little scared now. Scanning through, you find little much of interest, and decide to send a message to Patricia, finding it odd that Anderson hasn’t assaulted you as usual. Of course, as you send your latest adventure to the Wolfgirl, Anderson immediately strikes, asking for a status report. You sigh and send him the details of what you’ve learned here today.

“The corpse was taken by the authorities” He replies after some delay. “I am sending some information to their town watch to have it brought to us. I can get a mage there by tomorrow, we will look into this. Oh, and since you did not remove the man completely, we are sending half benefits. Still, it is good to know that you can do things less messily.”

You roll your eyes at that last statement. Not even attempting any tact there, he just went out and said it. Without anything else to do, you roam around the Communion Matrix a little, getting caught up on current affairs in the world. Seems that the mayor of Sanctifrond was apprehended for money laundering, and a new mayor instated, while Sanctifrond is still investigating house Fullvora for their actions in the events at their party, wondering why the eldest son left town so quickly.

Nothing is really all that interesting beyond a few reports that people are seeing an increase in the yield of crops in the west, the closer to the cradle the better. You find that particularly odd, considering everything, but you figure Anderson already knows, and decide to send an addendum of this to Patricia for now. Might as well, right?

That being done, you enjoy the rest of the evening in the company of your friends and girlfriend and eventually head off to a simple sleep.

—————————————————-

The next day is also fairly uneventful, and you arrive the day after in the early morning, getting out of the Leyway at a fairly decent sized town named of no real importance named Jurenburg, the only redeeming feature of this town being that it’s the closest stop to your destination. Disembarking the Leyway, the first thing you notice is… nothing.

Not that there isn’t anything there, but that there’s nothing wrong. The people here seem positively cheerful honestly, and maybe that’s the confusing part. It’s early in the morning and everyone seems rather happy! Not crazy happy, because you know what that looks like, but just… normally happy you suppose? Still, you frown and speak with a nearby Troll, who also looks pretty happy.

She grunts and says, “Why shouldn’t we be happy? Things have been pretty good here for the past few weeks since the so called ‘Queen of the West’ set up shop out of town. Used to be a lot of Feral Monsters round these parts, causing trouble for everyone, but when she started culling ’em. Gathered herself quite a little following of Monsters herself.”

She chuckles, “Haven’t seen her, but that kind of charisma makes you want to just go out there and join the good fight, huh? Ah, but the union, gotta keep to my post. You have a good day, and stay out of trouble, you hear?”

You nod to her, seeming rather troubled as you leave the station and head for somewhere to get breakfast. You find a nice little eatery and gather round, listening to the people about as they discuss how they don’t have to deal with those feral Monsters taking and raping people any longer. Even a few Monsters give their agreement, talking about how this Queen is fighting with strength and charisma that hasn’t been seen before, and how she’s done so much in only a few weeks.
“Excuse me.” You ask a rather happy group of harpies sitting around a table. “Where exactly is this Queen?”

One of then, a mop-haired Crowgirl, not terribly unlike Clarissa turns to you and says, “Out in the West, of course. The plains out there are riddled with uncivilized Monsters who still think it’s okay to take what they want you know, but last I heard from my sis who’s been flying about there, her little camp is about a day or so out, right?” The other harpies nod, and you return to your table, looking pensive.

“I don’t understand it, I knew Monsters who stick to the old ways were rife out here better than anyone, but this is just crazy.” Clint says, shaking his head. “Driving them out so violently? What does she hope to accomplish?”

“Dominion, of course.” A voice says nearby, and you turn to see a surly looking Kitsune with short hair sitting at a nearby table, a pipe in between her teeth. “Bitch is looking to become the next Queen of Blades.”

“Eh?” You ask, but the blond Kitsune stands, adjusting her clothing, which looks to be a fairly simple top and rough cut pants, similar to what Ginelle would wear. She adjusts her tails, all six of them, before shaking her head.

“Never you mind. My word of advice? Don’t go looking for trouble. Way people tell it, ever since a few days ago she’s become far, far more aggressive.” Before you can say more, she turns and walks away, leaving your group a little confused.

“Well. That’s weird.” Clarissa says before nibbling on a muffin.
———————————————-
Your party finishes their meal and decides to walk about the town, see exactly what’s happening out there. By the sound of it, it’s some kind of battleground, and going out without more information seems… unadvisable. Deciding to meet up at an inn in town, you split up in three groups to explore and gather information.

Clint and Ginelle head off again, though Clint seems rather more subdued than usual, while Ophelia and Clarissa head off on their own. Clarissa wonders if she should fly over the outside of town, but you decline, telling her it’s not the best idea, especially if there’s actually Harpies who might think she’s a feral. She frowns at the words, but doesn’t argue with it.

This leaves Saya, Akela, and yourself. Well, also Abigail, but she doesn’t count. You feel something stabbing your chest for some reason, but you just bite your lip and continue on with your life. With no real goals in mind, you decide just to walk down the streets, see the sights with your lovely little daughter in tow, her paws being held in between the two of you. If she was older, it would be weird, but she’s young, so it’s cute. That’s how these things work, of course.

It’s a nice place, this Jurenburg, and you find it reminds you a lot of Kasin. The people walk about with happy expressions as they go about their daily business, and you find yourself getting into it as well. Sure, you didn’t really walk the streets terribly much, but you weren’t a social pariah either. In towns of this size, you don’t know everyone in town, but you know many of them, and the way people stop and speak with others as they walk by, well, it’s nice.

Saya chuckles as you stop at an intersection, looking about the area. You cock your head and turn to her, but she just shakes her head and says, “You look kind of happy there.”

You study her, the smile on her face genuine as well, and you think that no one has a right to be so beautiful. You nod your head and say, “Yeah, it kind of reminds me of home. It’s very comfy, you know?”

“Yeah, it reminds me of my home too.” She looks off into the distance as she says, wistfully. “I wasn’t there all the time, not like my sisters since I went to school with Madam Xanthia, but when I was home, I loved walking the streets of town with Mom, and sometimes even Dad.” She smirks, “Mom would embarrass him to the hells by flirting with him out in the wide open. It always made me groan, but at the same time, I found it kind of cute.”

“Embarrass him? Like what?” You say, smirking. Saya lifts her eyebrows and leans over to you to kiss you gently, but before she can reach your lips, Akela groans.

“Uggghhhh. You know, I used to dream about having parents who’d do this kind of stuff, but now that I see it, it’s really, really annoying.” Of course, the smile on her face sort of ruins the illusion, but it’s fine.

“Well, someday you’ll find someone to be an embarrassment with sweetie.” Saya says, and Akela rolls her eyes.

You make to say something more when you hear a loud argument nearby, taking your attention. A Badger and a Centaur are fighting nearby, though only with words for now, anyway.

“So you think it’s alright for them to just slaughter Monsters out there?” The Badger says, growling.

“Well they never fucking learned beforehand! We try to make a good name for ourselves and then those SAVAGES still take and rape people!” The Centaur scoffs.

“They’re our FAMILIES! Half of your parents lived out there before that damned Wizard changed us all!”

“For the better! We have lives here, and don’t need to live in fear of the next day! Civilization has come, and with it, prosperity!”

“Civilization? You think that fighting and subjugating Monsters who wish to live the way they have for generations to be civilized?” The Badger scoffs, balling her paws into fists. “You want to pretend this is fine, go ahead, but I want no part in it.”

The Centaur grits her teeth, “Oh, so what, are you going to join the Black Tails now? Go ahead, get yourself killed! When the Queen of the West comes for you, your kind won’t be missed.” She paws the ground with a hoof, and the two Monsters stare each other down for a few moments before the badger shouts in frustration and turns away, growling furiously under her breath.

The people standing about mutter to themselves as the Centaur sniffs and walks away down the street. You think about asking her what the deal is with these “Black Tails,” but her death glare she gives you makes you reconsider. Instead, you turn to a couple of human women nearby and ask the question. You can make logical decisions every now and then!

“The Black Tails?” One says, a distasteful look in her mouth. “It’s a group trying to organize a resistance against the Queen. Nasty ruffians they are mostly, but the worst part is, they’re likely based in town here rather than out in the plains.”

“Aye, they’ve been leaving papers about everywhere, trying to get people to their cause, but it hasn’t been working too well so far as I know.”

“Well, we’re not Monsters, so it doesn’t as much affect us, though it does mean our men aren’t getting stolen!”

They laugh amongst each other before walking away, leaving you with a frown on your face. Saya leans to the side and says, “This is sounding worse and worse as I hear about it. The tensions remind me of something before a Monster Invasion.”

“But it’s the opposite side this time. Why are these Monsters following a human anyway? Is she really that charismatic?”

“I don’t know.” Saya says, frowning. “But if she’s surrounded herself with so many Monsters who follow orders enough to kill other Monsters, either she’s a damned good orator, or she’s using illusions, which has to be driving her batshit insane.”

“What did that fox lady man by dominion anyway?” Akela asks, and the two of you pause, looking down at her before looking back up at each other.

“That’s a fairly good point.” Saya says, frowning. “Mixed with comment about Queen of Blades, which is a term some people use to describe Mom.”

“What, you think she’s going to usurp the Monster Lady?” You say, shaking your head before pausing. “That’s insane…”

“Yep.” Akela says, nodding her head. “Pretty insane.” Saya chides her for talking about insanity with such a flippant tone while you think about this. It’s not wholly without reason that this could be her goal. But to be so organized, and so bloodthirsty? Beardlington had a dream of making a harem, and used his skills and illusions to bring pleasure to the Holstaurs, but this… you don’t why they’d follow a human woman, it makes no sense, unless…

Both you and Saya snap your heads up at the same time. “She’s a Mindflayer!”

——————————————————-

“Yeah, she’s not a Mindflayer, not outwardly.” Ophelia says, sitting back down at your table in the inn while placing some drinks before everyone. “From what I hear, she’s going about as some kind of Succubus, as boring as that is.”

“Would be an easy disguise.” Saya says, frowning. “But most Monsters are fairly distrustful of Succubi, due to their nature of being sluts.” When everyone gives her surprised looks, she rolls her eyes, “When I say Succubi are sluts, I mean way more slutty than other Monsters and…” She frowns and slaps your arm, making you wince.

“What was that for?”

“Entertaining bad thoughts.” She says, sniffing. You have entertained no such thoughts, but you notice Ginelle looking at her paw, then to Clint, then back to her paw before dropping it slowly.

“Anyway, so it sounds like she just appeared a few weeks back, started saving people from roving bands of Monsters, keeping them from the town, and her deeds attracted other Monsters, though at a really rapid rate. She’s been pushing farther and farther out though, claiming swathes of territory for the people in this town, but recently…” Ophelia shrugs. “No one seems to know what’s changed as people don’t usually return if they go out there, for better or worse.”

“Same story here.” Ginelle says, shrugging. “Though we heard more about this Black Tails group. Sounds like they tried an assault on the Queen early on, but were repelled, and now they’re hiding out, doing hit and run attacks on her. Seems the Feral Monsters are organizing under their banner, and a few people whisper about major battles in the coming days.”

“It’s too convenient.” Clint says, gritting his teeth. “She’s being manipulated into starting a petty little war here, but I can’t figure out what they stand to gain! This place is out in the middle of nowhere with no major exports beyond some textiles, some grains, but nothing major. It has no real value beyond being on the Leyway system to the North!”

He sighs and pulls down on the brim of his hat. “She’s always been a stuck-up bitch, but Gods damn, she’s not stupid…”

“I…” You say before frowning, a thought coming into your head. “Wait, the town isn’t important, but what about the plains itself?”

Everyone gives you a strange look, but you raise your hands, “Think about it. If she’s being directed to do something to the town, she may have stayed close, but why would she go into the plains? To hunt more Monsters? Plausible, but maybe there’s something out there, something someone needs an army to get to.”

You nod your head in smug satisfaction, feeling pretty good that you figured it all out. Oh yes, you certainly are the champion of champions here. Chuckling, you look up to see everyone giving you annoyed expressions. Blinking a few times, you ask, “Uhh… what’s wrong?”

“Tobias, dear, that’s stupid.” Saya says, patting your arm gently. Everyone else concurs and you deflate visibly.

“It’s okay Dad, I thought it was a nice story.” Akela says, patting your arm.

“You’re mocking me, aren’t you.”
“N…no.” She says, eye twitching. She’s such a good girl, loves her papa so much.

“Well fine.” You say, crossing your arms. “I don’t know what we’re going to accomplish here in town though, I think we may want to head out to the plains and actually find this ‘Queen of the West.’ We’ll have to at some point.'”

“Mmmm, but would going now be a good idea?” Clarissa says, looking outside. It’s early afternoon, but we need supplies and stuff, right? I’ve never camped outdoors, except when a big storm comes in and I usually can find a rest-stop somewhere if I’m on duty.”

“She’s right.” Clint says, smiling. “I think this is my forte here, but we shouldn’t go out until next morning. Give us some time to plan how we want to do this anyway.” He stretches and downs his drink before standing. “I want to go gather some supplies anyway, since we’re not exactly equipped for the outdoors, you know?”

Ophelia looks at her bags before sniffing. “It’s all very important things.”

“Things we aren’t bringing. We can probably store it here for a fee.” He says, nodding. “Bring the essentials and whatever we can carry on our backs. Hiring a wagon would probably take too much time, and the attention wouldn’t be worth it, unless the boss-man wants to.”

You shrug, “I’ll think about it. Go ahead and gather stuff, we should be good.” You think for a moment and shrug, “And if we’re getting any firewood, you can use the Talcum company name.”

He smirks and takes Ginelle and Ophelia with him, though you’re not certain why the bunny wants to go. You shrug and lean back at your table, thinking about the days ahead when a familiar figure walks up and sits down next to Clarissa, making the Crow jump in alarm, getting some feathers everywhere. The visitor rolls her eyes before plucking a feather from her blonde hair and sighing, fox ears twitching.

“You’ve been asking a lot of questions around town.”

You narrow your eyes, sitting up straight as you study the woman, clearly the Kitsune from this morning, though how she knew you were here is a mystery. “Maybe we have.”

She sniffs and crosses her arms. “I’d advise you don’t go around causing trouble or going out to look for this Queen of the West. It won’t end well for her, especially if you’re thinking of joining her.”

“And who would you be to give us this advice?”

“A concerned citizen.” He unfolds her arms and stands. “Don’t get involved in this, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but things are about to get messy here, and it won’t on me for lack of trying to keep you safe. If you go outside, you’ll be a target for both sides, I hope you know.”

“And why are you telling us this?” Saya asks. The woman studies her eyes for a long moment before bowing her head.

“Because there’s too much unnecessary bloodshed as it is.” She turns from you before you can say anything else and leaves, leaving the four of you confused and a little aggravated.

“Should we go after her?” Saya says, frown evident on her face. “She clearly knows more than she’s letting on.”

“No.” You say, shaking your head. “I doubt we could find her, and it wouldn’t be worth it even if we did to be honest. I have a feeling she’ll find us.”

“If you say so…” Saya says watching after where the woman went. “In that case, let’s get our own preparations for tomorrow then.”

——————————-

You slept pretty well that evening, Clint having returned with a mountain of provisions, sleeping rolls, and other equipment for camping. You have no idea where all this stuff will go after this adventure, but it is what it is. You updated the situation to Anderson, including your theory, but he had no information either. Patricia also got your leymail, but she had to do more research to figure out what’s going on, and a quick Leymail by Saya to her Mother also got sent about this whole affair.

That being done, the morning comes pretty quickly, and Clint gets you out near the damn crack of dawn, where he basically berates everyone until they get ready to go. It seemed the reason Ophelia went with Clint is that she needed more than one pair of clothing suited for the outdoors, especially since her normal attire was more suited for workshops, and you were going to be away for some time. She wears a rather close cut top, her slim arms exposed like Ginelle, though on her it looks baggy instead of tight. She seems to take it in stride though, though she is not amused at the wake-up time.

You head out of to the western side of the city, where a small road leads to a few outlying farms and such, and travel it, seeing the various folks working their fields. The farther you get, the more livestock you see, and the less homes until everything is just vast fields of grass with some scattered copses of trees here and there. In the far distance, some mountains loom, with some forests here and there, but generally speaking, everything is open, green, and pure.
It’s a weird feeling.

Clarissa does a few aerial sweeps, not really noticing anything of much value beyond reporting a lake in the distance, as well some more trees. She wants to go scouting out further, but you decline again, not wanting to lose track of her. She sighs, merely content to spread her wings anyway, flying lazy circles around your group as you walk. You curse not getting a damn horse, but Clint really suggested not to, so that’s how it has to be.

Nothing happens the whole day, beyond Clarissa spotting some birds in the far distance, far enough away that she wasn’t certain if they were Harpies or not. You didn’t expect to really find anything today, but it’s kind of annoying that you have to continue forward through this without anything of any value! By the time you stop for the night, everyone is quite ready for something other than walking, and you learn some very important facts.

The first important fact is that Ophelia has never seen a bedroll in her life. This is amusing, but the more important fact is that Clint can cook, and Akela apparently looooves campfires. As the night grows darker, the man gathers everyone around and tells stories of the West and adventures from the people and Monsters that live there. You honestly knew Clint could speak, but his storytelling skills are superb beyond belief, and by the end, everyone is enraptured in their own fantasies of the western reaches.

“And that, is how the Harpy headswoman brought the Centaur tribe to justice. Not with violence, but with her brain.” He taps his head and Clarissa lets out a little woop, clearly the most invested in the story. He chuckles and says, “Alright, we need to get moving in the morning. Everyone off to bed, and we’ll set some watches.”

“Awww, really?” You say, yawning. “Watches again? Man I don’t miss that.”

“You really want someone to get the drop on us?” Clint asks, raising an eyebrow, and you sigh, rolling your eyes.

“Whatever, wake me up when it’s my turn.” You say, getting ready for bed. Clint shrugs and stokes the fire as you do, making sure Akela and Saya are well settled before turning to bed yourself. Feeling tired after the day’s efforts, you close your eyes and slowly drift off to…

“Wakey wakey…” You hear whispered into your ear.

You groan, blearily opening your eyes. “Ugh… my turn already? It feels like I just fell asleep…”

“Mhm… not quite, handsome.”

“That’s kind of gay, Clint…” You say, turning to look at the man, but you freeze in place, eyes wide. Where you expected to see Clint, instead you find the beautiful face of a black-haired Lamia, her serpentine eyes glittering in the firelight. You make to back away, but her tail wraps around you quicker than you can react, and she constricts you, placing a finger to her lips.

“Oh no no, that won’t do. Besides, your friends are enjoying this also…” She turns and points to the others, and you find in dismay that four more Lamias have Clint, Ginelle, Clarissa, and Ophelia wrapped up, leaving Saya and Akela sleeping nearby. You watch as Akela’s ear twitches, but she makes no move to get up, and neither does Saya, making you wonder if she’s really asleep.

You want to ask the woman what this is about, but she merely chuckles, continuing to constrict you, and says, “It’s rare that men and Monsters come out here of their own volition, but these are dangerous times. How about we escort you to safety? Now now, don’t refuse, I assure you, things are much… nicer with me. Of course, if you struggle, well… I can’t promise everyone here will be that safe…” She lets out her long, forked tongue and chuckles as she says this. You feel yourself gag a little, but you need to figure out a way out of this!
Despite the situation, despite the fact that Clint pulled a Blake, a common saying when someone fucks up their watch, you feel pretty good. Honestly, you feel like laughing if it weren’t for the fact that you’re being constricted! Still, you can’t help but let out a small chuckle, and the Lamia cocks her head, giving you a strange look.

“Something wrong? Oh dear, have you broken already? No fun that way you know.” She sighs and taps her cheek. “Bother, well as long as you get a boner, that’s fine I suppo-“

“N…no.” You wheeze out, and she cocks her head. “I…I’m ex-” You cough some, and she lets some slack on her constriction, at least enough to allow you to breath. You take in a few gulps of air before saying, “Thanks, guh. Anyway, holy hells, getting raped out in a field by a smoking hot Lamia?” You lick your lips, and push a little with [Cupid]. “I’m sure you can feel it, can’t you?”

The Lamia frowns for a moment before her eyes grow wide and her mouth hangs open. “Oh my Gods, it… that can’t be your…”

“Oh yes. You’re not the only snake here.” You say, chuckling. You’d normally get slapped for that, but the way she starts to breathe heavily and her palms shake, you know that it was the right thing to say. Sure, your Godly boon may also be helping, but you wish to believe that this is totally because you’re a smooth operator. You raise your eyebrows a few times and say, “Why don’t you let me down so I can unleash it?”

The Lamia slowly nods her head before letting you go, to which you immediately throw out an illusion. You hear Ginelle cry out, “Alright Tobias! Kick her a…ss…” She trails off as you step away, fading into the night with [Heart of Darkness]. At the exact same moment, the Lamia who had just held you cries out in glee before ripping off the strip of cloth that kept her breasts in place, revealing her rather large chest to the night sky. Without any regard for propriety, she wraps her body around apparently nothing before making motions to tear something off and then clapping her hands before letting out her long tongue.

“Uhh… Trisha?” A blonde Lamia says, the one holding Clarissa. “What are you doing?”

“Mmmphhh, whuh hou doth looth lik?” Trisha says, her mouth filled with nothing. The other three Lamia give each other strange looks, for they clearly are seeing nothing at all, and thus not paying any attention to you, not like they could, because you’ve made your way to Saya and Akela, making to rouse the older Monster when Akela opens an eye and says, “Not yet, they’re watching.”

You blink a few times, wondering how she… ah, sound and smell, of course. You frown and look up, seeing the other Lamia’s looking about in confusion. The blonde Lamia sighs and makes to slither forward, but you look at her and strike once more with [Cupid].

The Lamia’s eyes go wide and she looks down to Clarissa, who seems terrified more than anything, and the snake’s cheeks become flushed as she stammers, “W…what do you think you’re doing with those f…feathers?”

“W…what?” Clarissa squeaks, but the Lamia lets out a cry of pleasure, letting loose the Crow as her coils slip like cut rope. The Lamia falls on her back to the ground, panting as she squirms.

“N…no! I’m ti…ticklish th….ah!” She rubs one hand on a breast while the other hovers near her crotch, where she seems to be holding something that’s not there. To anyone else, it appears as if she’s trying not to masturbate, but to her, well… apparently Clarissa is quite skilled with those wings at providing… relief.

“Okay what the fuck is going on!” The Lamia holding Ginelle shouts, looking about in confusion. Unfortunately, with her attention distracted, Ginelle shouts and uses her might to burst free of the coils and grab the snake, the poor thing looking utterly terrified as Ginelle grabs her top and accidently pulls it off, the woman’s torso falling to the ground with some minor scratches. She looks up in terror at Ginelle before you smile like a madman and throw your [Cupid] out again. Teehee.

The Lamia takes in a sharp breath, her more modest chest heaving. “N…no. P…please don’t hurt me.” Ginelle grunts and leans down, grabbing the Monster’s shoulders and shaking her a few times, causing her to shout, “No….! P…please! D…dooooon’t~”

Ginelle pulls back to slam a fist in her face, yet the Lamia’s eyes twinkle, causing Ginelle to curse and throw the Monster violently back to the ground before leaping back. She makes to leap at her enemy again but stops, a look of utter confusion on her face at the scene before her as the Lamia runs her hands down her torso.

“N… no please~! D…don’t hurt me anym…ahn!” She cries out, slamming herself back into the ground forcefully before arching her back and letting out a cry of pain mixed with a moan of pleasure. She twists and turns as she seems to be ravaged by some unknown assailant, yet the way she masturbates, you seem to have guessed right, she totally is a masochist.

“Dad, these are not things children should see.” Akela says, sighing and sitting up before looking over to Saya. “Mom, you should slap Dad.”

“Maybe later, when I can see him fully.” Saya says, opening an eye. “I wanted to wait for the right time to strike, but then SOMEONE starts whatever the fuck this is.” She rolls onto her side and waves a hand at the Lamias as the original one, Trisha, cries out, her whole body shuddering from the hips as something large and hard slams into it over and over.

“Well, it beats having to kill them. Besides, they came looking for some sexual gratification and well.” You shrug, using all your talent to keep from smiling. “Who am I to deny them?”

“I cannot see you, but I assume you’re doing your best to keep from smiling, which you are likely succeeding at, and it only makes me more angry.” Saya growls, immediately making your smile vanish. Oh boy.

“You missed one.” Akela says offhand, her watching Trisha getting fucked by your illusionary self with a twelve inch cock that’s harder than diamonds. You’re very glad you aren’t using [Project], because man, this really, really is lewd. You actually kind of feel bad about this, but it’s not really different thank imagining things, right? Just with magic.

You shrug and, with a flick of the wrist, do the same on the last Lamia, the one holding Clint, and she too becomes lost in ecstasy, though she does seem to take more effort on that part. Clint and Ginelle look at each other before walking over to Saya and Akela, the Badger helping up poor Clarissa who watches with a mesmerized expression. As the approach, Ginelle gently helps Clarissa down onto your bed roll before she crosses her arms and says, “Alright Tobias, what are they seeing?”

You keep quiet for awhile as the sound of snake women having the best sex of their lives occurs. Ginelle narrows her eyes and stares right at you, because of course she would. These beastmen Monsters and their damn noses and ears. You still stay invisible though, prompting the Badger to growl out, “Saya…”

“Yep.” Saya says from behind you. You turn about, but Saya grabs for you, catching your arm before hurriedly pulling you into a hold. You struggle against her for a few moments before sighing and returning to normal vision. Everyone looks at you with disapproving glares and you sigh, rolling your eyes.

“Fiiiiinnneeeee. So look, they wanted to rape us, right? So I mean, I let them! Well, actually it’s mostly the other way around, except for you Clint.” You point to the Lamia who was holding Clint, the Monster having wrapped around nothing again as she seems to hump the air. “She’s raping you.”

“Har har.” Clint says, rolling his eyes before pausing. “Wait, what about the other two?”

“Uhhhhh.” You say, and Saya tightens her grip on you. “Ack! Well, uh, Ginelle is apparently very rough and Clarissa has very sensual feather hands and- gah!” You cry out and both Ginelle and Clarissa walk up and start a flurry of slapping.

“T…that’s just wrong!” Clarissa says, cheeks scarlet. “You have all this power and you do that?!”

“I swear to the Gods Tobias, I should string you up!” Ginelle adds, her damn nails digging into your arm. “This is one of the most embarrassing things you’ve done!”

“Owww owww owww! Come on! It’s effective and easy to do! No actual violence EXCEPT WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT NOW, GODS DAMNIT.”

“Alright, take it easy.” Saya says, pulling you away. “I need enough left of him for my turn, alright?”

Clarissa and Ginelle pull away, the former muttering about how she can’t be a bride anymore and the latter huffing. Saya lets you go and you rub at your arms and chest, grumbling to yourself. Clint walks up to Ginelle and places a hand on her shoulder, to which she looks in his eyes before quickly looking away. A little too quick anyone asked you, though you believe no one will. The man sighs and says, “Lamia can mate for hours, think you can uh… speed this up?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess.” You say, snapping your fingers. At once, all four Lamia arch their backs and scream in ecstasy before collapsing into heaps, their faces embarrassing masks of pleasure as their tongues lull out of their mouths. They’re alive though, just… damn, you wonder how good you made it for them. Hopefully they can still find satisfying husbands…

>You Madness Level is now 33%
>Multiple illusions offset by [Cupid]
>Multiple illusions offset by [Heart of Darkness]

Ginelle and Clint set to tying up the Lamias and once they are secure, you are put onto watching them as the others go to bed. You grumble the whole time about saving ungrateful louts and how it’s all Clint’s fault, but all that happens after that point is you being incredibly bored. Away from a Leyline, you can’t use the [Port-o-Glass], so instead you just take out [Bearsy] and turn the little bear in your hands.

{Hello Tobias}

You jump, dropping the figurine and staring at it in horror. The little statue doesn’t move or do anything, so you look about in confusion before slowly walking up to the carved little bear and gently turning it over. It’s tiny little eyes stare into your soul, and once again you hear, {Well, that was rude}.

“Oh no.” You whisper. “I didn’t think I was THAT insane.”

{Nah, not really, insane enough to talk with a tiny bear, but not horribly insane.}

“I don’t know how to feel about that.” You say, picking up the little figurine. You stare at it for awhile before frowning. “So… have you always been able to?…”

{Hard to say, if this is based on your insanity, then I’ve been an inanimate object until just recently.}

“What about all that, ‘You have to go back’ stuff?”

{Well, maybe you do have to go back}

“Where?” You say, frowning down at the little doll. You get no reply. Frowning deeper, you shake the little bear, but still get no reply. You stare a little while longer before looking at your jacket. “Abigail, was that you?”

You feel a little shuffled followed by a tired, “Was what me?”

You watch grit your teeth before sighing and saying, “Never mind. Go back to sleep.” You feel a shifting again and then blink in confusion. Wait, does she always sleep in your clothes? That’s really… really weird. Your mind preoccupied with the implications of what was happening with your own head, you have plenty to keep you occupied until the sun comes up and everyone, including your captives, awake.

The first one to awaken is Trishia, a goofy smile on her face as she stirs. She yawns and makes to stretch her arms, but blinks in confusion before looking down and seeing that her arms are bound. She shuffles about to get her tail to move, but it’s been tied together with the other tails, causing one hell of a commotion more than anything else. She grits her teeth as the other Lamia awaken and spots you, a mixture of anger and embarrassment on her face.

“Y…you! What happened? How are… what did you?” She shudders, “After all that, you shouldn’t able to stand!”

“Yeah, well, you know.” You say, shrugging. “I have a lot of stamina.” The other Lamia stir and have similar reactions, but Clint levels his rifle and they pause, not seeming to know what it is, but feeling its best not to mess with it. You walk about the group of Monsters before squatting down before Trishia and asking, “So, what was that about last night?”

“I… well, you were rather uhm…” She fidgets, cheeks getting red. “Ahh… I’ve never had sex like that before, it was AMAZING.”

You groan and put your hand to your forehead and all the women in your party grunt. Sighing, you look back up to her and say, “No, I mean, why did you attack us?”

“Oh!” The Lamia says, cheeks getting redder. “That…Erm…” She takes a moment to compose herself before staring back at you with an icy glare. “I’d rather die than tell you.” You put your hand to your pants and her eyes go wide. “Uh, uh, I mean, we were told to rough you up a little, nothing much, I swear! It’s just… you know, when we found you here…and smelling so… good…” She trails off, staring at your pants, and you roll your eyes.

“Yes yes, but who told you to rough us up? Do you work for the Queen of the West?”

The Lamia pulls back, looking disgusted. “NO! Why would you assume that? That bitch is out there killing our friends! Don’t you DARE assume we work for her.”
“Fine, so it’s the Black tails then?” The Lamia looks over to the side, and you grit your teeth, grabbing her by her top. She gasps and a smile appears on her face before she realizes her mistake and then she frowns.

“Yes, we are. And we’re proud of it!” She puffs up her chest and stares into your eyes with her green, serpentine orbs. “We serve the Lady of the Tails and we WILL drive out this murderer!”

You pull back and frown, “Lady of the Tails?… that’s an odd name.” You think it over for a moment before sighing, “So, this Lady told you to find us and rough us up. For what purpose?”

“We weren’t told.” Trishia says, looking down. “You don’t look like the kind to join with the Queen though, so why are you even out here?”

You look around to your companions. They give you wary looks, and you nod to them before saying, “Well, we’d like to talk with her.”

Trisha gives you an odd look before frowning. “I… see. So then, you’ll bring us in as captives then?” She looks to the other Lamia who all look downcast and a little terrified. “I thought it might happen someday… but we are prepared! At least we had one last, good evening.” She hangs her head.

You rub the back of your head, “Look, I just…” You pause then, going over their words again in your head. These Lamia attacked you on the orders of the resistance, and you’re certain their resistance, as their anger is too genuine. But that would imply that the Black Tails wanted to attack YOU as well as them. But for what purpose?

You look over your captive again and clench your jaw. If they are truly resistance, then they’ll make excellent prisoners to buy you way into the Queen’s camp. But can you really do that? Letting them go might be disastrous also, since they could strike again, or call any of the feral Monsters to you!
“Damnit.” You mutter before shaking your head and pulling your knife. The Lamia’s eyes go wide as you walk up to them, knife in hand, but they soon look down with resigned expressions. Saya steps forward, concerned expression on her face.

“Woah woah, Tobias, what are you-?” You cut off her as you swing you knife, and her eyes go wide as well. You arm falls down to your side as the rope holding Trisha hits the floor, releasing the Lamia’s arms. Both Saya and Trisha look at you with stunned expression as you make to free the other captives, who also give you incredulous looks.

“W…what?” Trisha says, her voice failing her some. “You’re letting us go?”

“Yep.” You say as you finish with the bonds on the last Lamia and start to untie their tails.

“Why?”

“Frankly, because I don’t need you.” You finish releasing your captives and sigh as you sheathe your knife. “Look, we’re out here for a specific purpose. I don’t want to hurt you, but frankly, I also don’t want your boss to keep up this shit.”

You give Saya a look out of the corner of your eye before shaking your head. “We’re going to see the Queen of the West, and afterward, well, this will up to the TRUE Queen of Blades how to handle this.”

Trisha looks at you with suspicion. “The true Queen? The one who never bothered with us out here after she got her little Wizard to fuck and took away our strength?” Saya stiffens at this comment, but the Lamia merely sighs. “But clearly, this is our loss. I don’t fully understand why you’re sparing us, but… thank you.”

“Again, I have nothing against you.” You say, shrugging before quickly pulling the knife and thrusting it before her face. “If you dare attack us again, then I won’t be so kind. Tell that to your master also.”

Trisha stares at the knife, then up to you before her cheeks heat up and her tongue slips from her mouth for a moment. “You ah… you’re not actually taken already, are you?”

“Yes. He is.” Saya says, stepping forward, an angry expression on her face. “Now I suggest you slither away before I show you what happens when you mess with another Monster’s man.”

The Lamia’s jaw hangs open. “You? A Monster? What kind of trickery is-ohholyshit.” She stumbles as Saya’s hand explodes into black tendrils. Trisha licks her lips and chuckles, “Aha… well, if that’s that then, I think we’ll just be on our way.” She nods to the others and begins to slither away when you hold up a hand.

“Before you go, do you know currently where the Queen’s forces are?”
Trisha gives you an incredulous look. “Uh… you’re out here and don’t even know where she is?” She looks between the others before shaking her head.

“About a day to the northwest last I knew. Over near stoneworks I think, though why they’re at those ruins, I have no idea.”

“Ruins?” Ophelia asks, cocking her head. “What kind of ruins?”

“Hells if I know.” The Lamia says, slithering away. “But they’ll find you before you find them, let me tell you that. Oh, and I doubt you’ll have to worry about my sisters too much after this, we don’t dare go close unless we’re raiding.” She leaves with that, moving casually into the grass before fading away in the taller brush.

You look to Saya and say, “Are you alright?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah.” She says, looking down at her hand before reforming it back into a human shape. “Sorry about that, but she just made me angry.”

“No no.” You say, walking over to her and pointing to the others to finish breaking camp. “Are you alright with the decision I chose.”

She blinks a few times before taking in a breath and nodding. “Ah… that. Well, we’re only out here to kill that Illusionist, right? It really is Mother’s concern about this war, but she surely must have heard of it by now, there’s no way she hasn’t.” She frowns then, “I don’t know why she hasn’t sent anyone to deal with this though. I know she’d usually ask Tabitha, but she’s busy doing something else. There’s others, of course, so the only reason I could think of why she hasn’t sent someone is because they’re all busy.”

“That.” She says, looking a little concerned. “Is terrifying in its own right.”‘

You both share a knowing look before nodding to each other and heading to your own preparations. Akela begins to ask what else Saya can turn into while you do so, but she ends up helping too, and your group starts off into the plains again as the sun starts its climb into the sky.

Again, nothing much beyond the warm sun greets you, and Clarissa once again flies into the sky to do recon. You have enough to pre-occupy your minds as you move through the plains, but around early afternoon as you’re preparing to set down for lunch, you hear Clarissa call, “HARPY!”

Everyone stops and immediately goes to ground while Clint draws his rifle, looking out into the sky. There, in the northwest a solitary form does a lazy circle in the air before suddenly two more shapes leap into the air from behind a thicket of woods and follow the original, which appears to be getting closer to you, though thanks to the great distance, it’s hard to say at first. Clint signals to Clarissa, who nods and flies to the ground, hiding under the cover to the taller grass. Your group waits for what seems an eternity before a loud, avian cry fills the air. Moments later, three shapes fly over your position, their shadows against the sun flowing over you before passing by.

You turn back to watch them swoop about one more time before they pause in the air out of your line of sight, yet you can clearly hear their voices as they argue amongst each other.

“Gods damnit, I thought you said there was someone out here!” A shrill voice cries, sounding annoyed.

“I did you idiot, she must have gone to ground. Damn ferals, thinking they can get close to camp. Well not while I’m around!” Replies a deeper, more resonant tone.

“Honestly, you think too much of yourself. You didn’t stop that raid last week.” Comes the final voice, more calm and almost bored sounding.

“Shut up! I had something in my eye!” The deeper voice says.

“Yeah, both eyes, at the same time. Also something in your throat.”

“Do I have to choke a bitch?”

“No… ugh, let’s just head back to-” The calmer voice cuts off and you hear the sound of wing beats getting closer. “Hey, did you see that? The grass moved.”

You grit your teeth as you hear the three harpies land on the ground. The tall grass of the plains shifts as they move their wings through it, clearly on edge. You look about to the others, and both Saya and Ginelle slowly rise before stepping back into the brush. The sounds of the harpies gets closer when one says, “Wait, wait. Why are we down here if we think there’s enemies? It could be a trap, that’s just like them.”

“Uh, because it’s a harpy, and they work alone as scouts and such. Clearly, she’s not too bright, or she would have flown away.” The deeper voiced Harpy stops and thinks for a moment. “Actually, maybe she is smart, doesn’t want to mess with me, huh? Heh. Hehe.”

You hear their talons scraping across the dirt and grass, but you keep still, knife in hand. They pass by and you shout, “Now!”
You hear a bunch of squawking followed Saya and Ginelle shouting and leaping out to tackle the Harpies. They use their skills/strength to subdue two harpies, the smaller ones, which appear to be of the common sort, while the third, larger Harpy, an Eagle with a shock of white hair gets out unscathed. She looks about at the sudden assault and leaps into the air, not even pretending to be courageous anymore, and flies off with a massive burst you speed.

You curse and signal to Clint to shoot her down, when Clarissa bursts from the grass and hurtles toward the Monster at speeds you can barely believe. The Eagle turns her head in time for her eyes to bulge out of her head as the smaller Harpy slams into her, the two hitting twirling about in the air before Clarissa kicks violently with a talon, sending the other Monster hurtling to the ground, only managing to right herself right before hitting, and turning it into a swooping dive, using the momentum to propel herself further into the air and turn about, sending out a ferocious shriek before flying back toward Clarissa.

The Crow merely hovers in the air before deftly doing a mid-air flip as the Eagle passes by and comes down with a talon to slam into the back of her opponent, using her full weight, which isn’t much, to send the woman down again, this time following her and not allowing her to right. The two hit the ground like a comet, throwing up a cloud of dirt which obscures them from view.

“Holy shit!” Everyone in the vicinity shouts, including the other harpies, and you dash toward where Clarissa landed, yelling for Saya and Ginelle to hold the captives in place. You push through the grass until you reach the cloud of dirt, putting a hand to your eyes as you move through it, eventually coming across the form of Clarissa coughing into her wing as she sits on the unconscious form of the Eagle. As you approach, she looks up and waves her other wing.

“I got her!”

—————————————-

“Well, that went better than expected.” Ophelia says as the captives are put into place. “But really, two sets of captives in one day, we’re on a roll you know.”

“Ugh…” The Eagle says, coming out of it. “Did anyone get the number of that Leyway?”

“No, but we got the number of that Crow that kicked your ass.” The calm Harpy says, a tall, lanky thing with long, black hair. “They got us good though.”

“Crow… the fuck is…” The Eagle Harpy blinks and looks about to see Clarissa standing there. “WHAT!”
Clarissa sniffs and puts a wing up to her mouth, “Thought you could beat the best flyer in Sanctifrond. Maybe in another century, ohohoho.” She chuckles a few times before looking about and coughing into her wing. “Sorry…”

“Ugh… beaten by a Crow…” The Eagle says before sighing. “Well shit, what happens now? We brutally murdered by you animals for taking away your ability to be brutal little savages and…uh…” She trails off as she notices you and Clint. “Wait what.”

“Here’s what’s going to happen.” You say, looking at your knife. It’s a nice knife, though honestly you wish you brought your [Sword Cane]. Too difficult to really bring out here, but man, would that have been nice to sword fight some Lamias and… actually that’s a terrible idea, forget that. You can swordfight someone else later, for now it’s time to focus. You nod to yourself, confusing the poor Eagle, before you sharpen your gaze.

“We want to have a little chat with the Queen, and you’re going to help us do it.”

“What? No!” The Eagle says, eyes narrowing. “We would never betray the Queen! She is the greatest and when she’s done with her work here, she’ll be the real Queen, and not just in name!”

You blink a few times as the smallest, shrill little harpy groans. “You’re a fucking idiot.”

“What is she doing here?” You say, pointing the blade close to her. She sniffs and turns her head.

“Do your worst! You can’t scare me! Without us, you’re not getting into camp, because they’ll wonder where we went! So you’re screwed!”

“I can have my girlfriend eat you and wear your bones like a suit to walk into camp without issue.”

The three harpies pause and look slowly to Saya, who waves her hand and smiles with malicious glee. The lick their lips a few times before the two smaller harpies whisper to each other and say, “Hey uh, maybe we can reach a deal here. You just want to talk to her, right?”

“For now, yes.” You say, shrugging. “We’d like you to get us into the camp.”

“We… can do that.” The tall Harpy says. “But we can’t get you to see the Queen, not unless she wants you in, and honestly you’ll probably be detained on sight and uhm-” She looks to Saya who is admiring her skin, which has changed to black. The Harpy licks her lips and chuckles, “Aha, well, we can introduce you as diplomats from uh… uh…”

“From the True Monster Lady.” Saya says, nodding to them.

“Oh! Yes, that would work, she might believe that!” The Harpies look to each other before nodding vigorously. “Yes that will work!”:

“Uggghhhhh!” The Eagle Harpy growls. “You damn traitors! What if they’re here to kill the Queen!”

“Oh come on, that can’t happen while that scary bitch is nearby, have you seen that scythe? It’s horrifically wicked! I think she moves in the shadows too, it’s weeeeiiirrrrddd.”

All of your group goes stock still. The Harpies pause in their banter and look to you with worried expressions. “U…uh… something wrong?”

“This… woman you speak of. Does she wear some dark and scary armor?” The Harpies nod and you curse. “Okay, strange question, but do her eyes glow red?” They nod again and you sigh. “Last question, does her head detach?”

They look at each other with confused expressions before one says, “Oh yeah, I guess it does, doesn’t it?”

“Awww fuck.” Saya says, throwing her hands up. “Heather is here.”

“Oh, so you know her?” The Eagle says, smirking. “Maybe you should just turn away now then?”

“And maybe you should shut your mouth before I eat it.” Saya says, thrusting her hand before the Monster’s face. She blanches and nods her head, allowing Saya to sigh and pull back before turning to you. “Tobias, this might be a bad idea.”

“It probably is.” You say, frowning. “But we’re already out here, and we can’t just leave. I’m curious as to what she’s doing in that camp myself, and if Heather is involved, it can’t be good.”

Saya sighs and shakes her head.”Yeah… you’re right, but… damnit I wish Mom was here, or maybe even Delilah…” She clenches her fist and looks you in the eyes with determination. “But we have work to work to do.”

You nod back and pat her shoulder before looking at the Harpies. “Well, time to get walking I’d say.” They groan and complain about how slow walking is, but with Clarissa’s prodding, they start making headway toward the trees, and past it, the camp of the Queen of the West.

———————————–

“There it is.” The tall Harpy says as you survey the camp from a distance. It took you until sunset to reach the camp, apparently the harpies were stationed farther out for watch duty, and with the changes in terrain, you took longer than expected. Now you lay down upon a rise, looking over the edge toward the camp.

It’s fairly large, and fortified with various logs forming a perimeter that clearly has been in place for a few days, especially with the stakes dug around it. You watch as various Monsters of all varieties patrol the outside of the camp in not quite military fashion, but enough of a formality that clearly they have had some training. You’d almost think this was a forward camp of the old Monster Hordes if you didn’t know better, which scares you to be honest.

You look over to see rows of makeshift tents, as well as a few more regular ones, with cook fires gently drifting into the night sky. In the back of the camp sits a circle of large, stone pillars, though you can’t get the full shape of them at this distance and the light though, but they HAVE to have some significance, or why would they be out there and not continuing their purge?

“Where did they get all those supplies from?” Clint mutters while looking over the camp, his rifle at the ready. “Look at that, swords… tents… how did this get funded? Though… it seems that not everyone is armed.”

“Hrm.” You say, frowning and crawling backward. “So, what do we do then? Continue with the plan of being diplomats? Or should we infiltrate?”

“It’s dangerous either way.” Ophelia says, biting her thumb. “I don’t know if we should bring Akela with us for this.”

“Aye.” Clint says, nodding his head. “But we need to figure things out quick. Looks like the guards are getting restless, they must have noticed our friends missing.”

“Ehehe, we’re well trained.” The Eagle says before Ginelle bonks her on the head. “Ouch…well better make up your minds quick, this is getting annoying.”

You think for a moment before shrugging. “Yeah, sure, let’s go with your plan, why not?”

Everyone gives you incredulous looks as you stand up from the rise, stretching. “Yeah, might as well be open about it. Skulking about, infiltrating a camp full of Monsters who can hear and smell us from a great distance? Ehhhh, doesn’t sound too appealing, you know.” You turn back to the camp and nod your head. “Yep, let’s just walk in and talk to them.”

“Tobias, that’s a little… uh.” Saya says, waving her hand about. “Insane, you know?” You give her a sidelong glance and she grunts before shaking her head. “Sorry, look, I know that sneaking in can be hard, but maybe if we find the location of-“

Clint coughs and Saya quiets, looking at where he’s nodding his head. The three Harpy scouts sit there, frowns in their faces as they listen to Saya. Her eye twitches slightly before she throws her hands up in the air. “Oh for fuck’s sake, fine, whatever.”

“Not the brightest idea honestly, but if they have any Badgers in there, we’re going to be found out anyway.” Ginelle says, shrugging.

“Oh yes, we have a whole contingent of Badger shock troops who-” The short Harpy begins before the Eagle gives her a stern look. “Errr, I mean uh. So how about that weather? Nice, right?”

“Come on then.” You say, taking a breath of night air. “Let’s go, and be the most professional you can be, alright?” You look over your group to see Ginelle in her already dirty clothing, Clint in his roughs, Ophelia in her casual clothing, and Clarissa in… well Clarissa looks alright. “Ayep. Proooofessional.”

“I feel like I was just judged like a piece of meat…” Ophelia says, shaking her head. “Well, I’ll look after Akela then. Not sure what use I’ll be in there, but-“

“Sorry, again, I need you to come with.” Before this fully sinks in, you turn to Saya and say, “I’m sorry, but I need you to stay here again.”

“WHAT?” She says, stiffening up. “Tobias, you know damn well that you’ll need me in there if things go bad. The Rabbit is a nice team player, but Gods damn you if you think I’ll sit this out because you just asked me too.”

“Saya, calm down, I have a reason…”

“It better be a damn good one!” She says, face growing heated.

“Saya, I can’t have you being recognized in there. If they catch wind that you’re present…” You look at the Harpies again before going to take her arm, but she pulls away, looking hurt. You’ve never seen her quite this angry, and frankly it’s scaring you. At the same time however, you need her to stay. The reason you’re giving is legitimate but…

“Saya, please, let’s just… walk over here for a second.” She narrows her eyes before growling and shaking her head. She stomps past you, and you briefly glance at the others who quickly look away, trying to seem like I had nooooo interest in what just happened. You sigh and follow after her, holding out a hand.

“Hey, slow down, we don’t have to do that far-“

“Oh yes we fucking do, because I’m going to yell at you and I don’t want Akela hearing all of it.” She takes a shuddering breath before turning about and jamming a finger in your chest. “I tried to keep cool back with that forest shit, but this is too much. You’re worried about me being found out? I can change my fucking face!” She waves a hand over her face and suddenly the features are similar, yet different. “I’m a master of fucking disguise for the Gods’ sakes!”

“Look, Saya you know they could leverage-“

“Leverage what? They’re GOING to figure it out, I gave all the fucking clues in the world! Someone HAS to be smarter than those stooges.” You both look over to see the Eagle Harpy slam her head into that of the tall Harpy before the smallest steps on her taloned foot and the three start bickering. She shakes her head and leans in to say, “Tell me straight Tobias, are you doing this to protect me?”

“I… I mean, no, that’s not the only reas-” You choke up as Saya stands tall and looks down upon you, despite her size. You feel so very small under those eyes, and eventually you look away, to which she sniffs and brushes past you.

“I’ll watch her for now, but when you return…” She shakes her head and rubs at her eyes. “Just go.”

You look at with a distraught expression before closing your eyes and nodding your head slowly. “Alright.” You whisper before turning about and walking to the others. As you approach, they all stands up straighter and give you worried expressions. You take a deep breath before exhaling and saying, “Come on, let’s do this.”

Ginelle and Clarissa help up the Harpy captives, one of the muttering, “Trouble in paradise…” Before Ginelle bonks her on the head again before leading them away. You shake your head and kneel down to Akela, the little Anubis’s ears twitching softly. Her expression seems as if it could be carved from stone, and it breaks your heart to see that.

“Akela…” You say before sighing. “Be a good girl, alright?”

She shrugs and then walks past you to Saya, who takes the little girl’s paw before looking to you and walking off somewhere to hide. You close your eyes and curse yourself, but at least you know they’ll be safe for this one. With that thought in mind, you stand up and follow the others to the enemy camp.

——————————————

“HALT!” A Wolfgirl guard says, holding a spear toward you. The weapon looks strange in her paws, but at the same time, she looks like she’s reasonably competent in using the thing. The light armor she wears over what is essentially nothing gives a strange sense of cohesion and legitimacy to her demand.

You stop multiple paces away from the gate, and the woman cocks her head, as if seeming confused that someone actually responded the right way. She seems troubled for a long while before turning and whistling to another Guard, a heavily muscled Centaur, and the two converse with each other for a long time before turning back to you and shouting, “STATE YOUR BUISNESS!”

“Good evening, we are diplomats from Sanctifrond, here to speak with the Queen of the West!”

“Sanctifrond? The capi-” The Wolf cuts off before consulting with the Centaur again, lifting her head and pointing, whispering furiously before saying again, “WHO IS THAT WITH YOU?”

“HEY CARLIE!” The Eagle Harpy says, waving a wing. “HOW’S WATCH.”

“Why is everyone yelling…” Ophelia says, holding her ears. “They’re like, fifteen feet away…”

“WHAT? WHY ARE YOU THREE THERE?”

You give the tall harpy a look and she swallows before saying, “We’re escorting them! That’s why we were so late!”

The Wolf blinks and then turns back to the centaur again before flipping back one more time. “ARE YOU SUUURRREEE THEY’RE DIPLOMATS?”

“P…pretty sure.” The tall one says, chuckling. “Would we lie.”

“Yes.” The Centaur says with a flat tone, and everyone looks at her with hushed expressions until she chuckles, “I’m kidding! They said I needed to work on my sense of humor you know.”

You all let out collective breaths and walk forward as the guards open the makeshift gate for you. As you pass by, the Centaur gives you a once over and you think you’re out of danger until she shouts, “WOAH HOLD ON.”

You freeze, turning to her and saying, “Yes ma’am?”

She snorts and clops forward up to Clint before poking his rifle case. “I forgot, no weapons in the camp. Diplomats or not, can’t let you have that… whatever it is.”

“How about I show you…” He growls, in uncharacteristic anger. You make a quick gesture of your head and he grits his teeth before handing over his rifle. “Better take damn good care of it.”

“Yeah yeah…” The Centaur says, taking your knife from you and Ophelia’s wrench. The Wolf pats down Clarissa and Ginelle, and finding nothing of value, goes to pat you down. You briefly consider using an illusion to hide your knife, but… well, let’s be on the safe side. You hand over your knife and she grunts, placing it in a pile with the other items.

“Alright, so you’re diplomats then. I suppose you want to speak with the Queen?” The Wolf asks, and you nod your head.

“Indeed. We have heard of her grand venture here and wish to speak about what this means for the future of Deleor. If the cards are played right, perhaps even the Monster Nation will accept your Queen and help drive out the Feral Monsters.”

The Wolf’s eyes sparkle. “Ohhhh, is that so? About time they figured out how great we are!” She puffs up her chest and slams her spear against it. “Well, allow me to lead you to the Queen!”

“No, the honor should be mine.”

Everyone pauses as the eerily familiar voice comes from behind you, and you turn about to see from the shadows of a nearby tent the form of Heather appear, clad in her black armor, red cape flowing behind. She holds her hand to the side and her scythe seems to materialize from the darkness into her hand as she stares at your group.

“M…Mistress Red eyes.” The Wolf says, taking a step back.”I… I did not know you were here!”

“I am always here.” Heather says, walking straight toward you, those red eyes with their black sclera boring into your own. “Do not forget that. Now leave.”

“I…” The Wolf starts, but a glance from Heather makes her spine stiffen, and she scurries away in fear. Heather turns her eyes back to you, appraising you and your group before she sniffs and says,

“What did I tell you last time?”

“If we met again, you would destroy me wholly and completely.”

“Yes, I did. Did you believe I was joking? That I made and idle threat? Give me a reason why I shouldn’t take your head like a bushel of ripe wheat?”

“Because you’re interested in how we found you and who else knows what you’re doing.” You say, keeping a cool expression. “You want to know what we know, and I promise you that if we go to Nerg’s realm, you’ll never find out.”

“You speak as if I do not speak with Father.”

“You and I both know it doesn’t matter at that point.”

She goes silent at that and sweeps her gaze over your group before saying, “Where is the other one?”

“She’s somewhere she can put her skills to use, though I assure you it has nothing to do with this situation right now.” You nod curtly to the Dullahan, and her eyes flash crimson.

“I have not forgotten your insolence, and while ever instinct in my cold, dead body screams at me to destroy you, you have piqued my curiosity, for now.” She steps back scythe vanishing from her hand. “Very well then, I’ll bring you to the Queen, though at the first sign of trickery, Inquisitor of Jackor, I will kill all of you.”

“Very good then.” You say, and she grunts, turning to lead you down a path in the middle of the camp. You turn to the others and nod forward, and they gulp, shuddering some before following. Even Ginelle seems shaken, but the worst off is Ophelia, who grips her arms and shakes violently. Clarissa puts a wing around her and tries to calm her down, but… clearly the Crow is very upset also.

Heather leads you through the camp, and you inspect the state of things as you go. The camp is far larger than expected, with multiple units of Monsters sitting around their fires, cooking various foods for the evening. You watch with curiosity as one Lamia waves her arms about, lifting a cook fire into the air and having it fly around, and you realize that this camp even has Monster Witches, a scary thing in and of itself. If she had many of these women about…

As you walk by, many of the Monsters point toward you and whisper, doing their best to get a look while not being seen by Heather, and as you watch them, they watch you. It’s strange to see the disparity in the Monsters, half of them wearing military grade armor, while the others wear random clothes that don’t seem to do much in the way of protection.

“So.” You say as Heather continues to push forward to the stone circle. “Why do you continue to work with the Illusionists anyway? You know this is far more involved than simple insanity, yes?”

Heather looks over her shoulder and sniffs, “Of course I do. These Monsters were already under her banner before I arrived. This woman is not clever, but she has charisma, and clearly someone else was using her, just as the farmer was being used. I offered her a better deal, something she wanted more.”

“So you know she is a woman and not a Monster?” You say, and Heather chuckles.

“Who do you think I am?”

You refrain from answering, though you lose your chance to soon enough as you arrive before the stone pillars.

The structures are massive, easily thirty… maybe forty feet in height, made of granite hewn by ancient hands and weathered with age. You count ten of them aligned around a large circle of stone inset into the ground, with various runes scratched into them as it slopes downward, forming a depression. You can’t really sense anything from the place, but it feels… arcane somehow. As if there is power trapped in there that wishes to be freed.

“Ophelia.” You whisper to the Rabbitgirl whose wears perk up. “There isn’t a leyline out here, is there?”

“Uh… no, not that I know of, why do you ask?”

“Why would there be something like this all the way out here, away from the major sources of power in this world?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know old magic, I know magitek.” She pauses and looks over the pillars again. “Though some of the runes… seem familiar. They remind me of an energy conversion pattern but… hrm.” She goes quiet as Heather turns about and looks over all of you.

“The Queen comes, do not try anything.” Her fingers twitch softly, but you just stand still, doing your best not to react to her, and she sniffs again, clearly annoyed.

From the circle, you see a figure appear, walking forth from behind a pillar which obscured your sight before. Surprisingly, they are alone, and it does not take long until they resolve into the form of a woman of average height with long, red hair tied in an elaborate tail behind her. She saunters more than walks forward, and it draws your eyes to the dark leather outfit that hugs her well developed curves and accentuates her tanned flesh. She stops next to Heather and runs a claw-tipped hand over the long, curling horns from her forehead as she looks over all of you with bright blue eyes.

She scans over your group with curiosity until she pauses, her whole body going rigid. Heather notices it too and her body goes tense as she prepares to fight, but to her surprise, the Queen puts her hands to her cheeks and says, “Oh my Gods, CLINTAIN? IS THAT YOU?”

“Oh here we go.” He says as the woman dashes toward him, tiny wings on her back and spade tail flapping behind her in less than realistic fashion. She wraps her arms around him and buries her face in his chest, rubbing it back and forth.

“Oh my Gods, I never thought I’d see you again! And here of all places? Woaaaaaah.”

“Yes, it’s nice to see you again too Emily.” He says with a forced smile, and the woman chuckles.

“Oh, that’s not my name anymore! I’m The Queen of the West now.” She giggles, “This whole place is my camp, and all these Monsters are following me! I told you that I’d be a Queen someday, and look at where I am now.” She sighs and nuzzles his chest,

“And you’re back here too! Oh Heather, you were right, dreams do come true.”

Heather’s eye twitches a few times, but she merely nods her head while Ginelle grinds her teeth and raises her claws. You quickly put a hand on her arm and shake your head, to which she looks at you and growls a few times before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Emily watches the whole affair before cocking her head and asking, “Who are your friends Clint?”

“Ah, well, I made a trip back to Sanctifrond recently, and I was asked to lead a diplomatic expedition here from the Capital.” He waves to you and says, “This is Tobias, our lead diplomat, as well as Clarissa, our courier, and Ophelia, our Magitek specialist.” He pauses as he gets to Ginelle. “And this is… a local bodyguard.”

Emily’s eyes go flat as she looks over your group, and you realize that her earlier joviality was merely hiding a deeper intellect. Heather steps toward her, eyes glowing with rage. “My Lady, these people are liars, they are not-” She’s cut off as Emily raises a hand and stands up straighter, giving off a regal, if rather… lewd… impression.

“I will hear them out.” She says, and you feel a wave of something pulse over you, making you stand a little taller yourself, as if you wish to look your absolute best before this regal creature. She seems taller then, and she looks down at all of you before closing her eyes and nodding. “Our work here is nearly complete, so I would appreciate if you would speak your piece quickly.”

“Of course.” You say, bowing to her, which is formality but… seems maybe a little too formal. “Lady, we speak on behalf of the Crown and the Lady of the Monsters, and wish to speak about your plans after you remove the feral Monsters from this region. We are worried about a potential destabilization of the region and the Lady would like to bring you into an official part of the Monster Nation to-“

“Is that all they wished to speak of?” Emily says, cutting you off. “How trite. Those are the words of subjugation, to make me subordinate to one so much weaker than myself.” She shakes her head. “You do not start with strong negotiations, for what do I stand to gain from joining? Nothing so far as I see. I have the love and adoration of so many Monsters here, and soon, I will have the power to rival the so called ‘Queen of Blades.'”

“If I may ask-“

“You may not.” She says curtly, and you shut your mouth, looking abashed. Why are you looking abashed though? She’s Queenly, sure but… it doesn’t make sense to you and yet it does!

Clint coughs and steps forward. “If I may ask-“

Emily turns to him faster than you can believe and flies into him again. “Ohh, well if it’s you Clint, then of course I can tell you.” She chuckles and points to the stone circle. “We’re priming this circle with Heather’s help, and when all is said and done, we’ll have control of the Leyline network! I can shift them wherever I want and have TOTAL control of all the Leyways!” She puts a hand to her mouth and laughs,

“I will control this nation’s transportation and all will BOW to me or everything will grind to a halt! Ohohohoho!”

Your eyes go wide and you turn to Heather, who stares at the woman as if she was some kind of insect. You make to mouth some syllables but she just stares at you, and you realize that this is the end goal of her plan. There’s something she isn’t telling Emily about all of this, and the implications make your spine crawl.

“You like riding the rails, right Clint? Well, now that you’re here, we can ride a certain rail all night long..:” Emily says, chuckling maliciously while the man groans slightly. Ginelle seems to struggle between wanting to act civil and knock the Queen’s head off, but the way Heather watches her, you know EXACTLY how that will end up.

“Ah, but for now.” Emily says, her fingers trailing along Clint’s chest. Why don’t you sit back and watch as I take what is rightfully mine?” She turns back to the stone circle and closes her eyes, slowly raising her hands up, and the whole place suddenly shudders and begins to glow a soft green. She opens her eyes and chuckles, sauntering back into the circle.

“Oh, Heather. Please make sure our guests are well entertained while I work. Being a Queen is such hard business you know.”

“Oh, I know.” The Dullahan says, looking down upon the group as the green glow intensifies behind her. “But it is very, very rewarding.”

The green glow of power pulses from the ancient site, and it makes your skin crawl as you can literally feel the energies coursing through it. You can hear the Monsters nearby growing agitated, especially those with magical gifts, who have to look away at first to adjust to the sudden changes in aethertic properties. Thankfully your particular vein of magic is not nearly as close to the source as Monster Witches, but you have to flinch a little as well.

“What are you playing at?” You ask, blinking a few times before looking to Heather. She stands between you and the pillars, her silhouette shaded by the light behind her. She looks down upon you with that imperious gaze and sneers.

“I don’t have to tell you anything.”

You look at her eyes, so full of malice and victory, that it makes your body shiver with anger. But what can you do in this situation? This is insane! You’re in the middle of a war camp of Monsters who have no compunctions to kill, a ritual the likes of which you have NO idea is occurring, and worst of all an insanely powerful Monster in service to the God of Death will cut you down if you try to do anything.

Oh, and she hates you.

Part of you wishes to leave, to get someone more powerful than yourself. You’ve been in some shit, done some fairly insane things. Hells, the Grand Wizard himself may have had some trouble with some of what you did! (You’re joking, you think he would have been perfectly fine). You wish someone else was here, like Selene, Richard… or even Saya. You were a fool to leave her behind, even if it was for good intentions.

You clench your fist and grit your teeth. Out of the corner of your eye you see the others shift nervously, Clint’s fingers twitching to grab a weapon that isn’t present, or Ophelia and Clarissa staring in mute horror at the ritual before you. Ginelle closes her eyes before opening them slightly and looking to you. In that gaze you see a single question:

“What do we do?”

Your eyes go wide as you realize that there is no help coming, that while you’d rather run to the higher powers of the land, there’s nothing they can do. At this place, at this time, everyone is looking up to YOU for their salvation. No one else can do this but you, and you suddenly feel at once sick to your stomach and filled with a determination. You accepted this task, and you knew it would end with your mind or body in shambles, but that is not to be here, not now. You have business with Fiora, Chalan, and Jackor himself. What is a Dullahan compared to that?

{Do it} Bearsy echoes into your mind. {She has to go back}.

“I know.” You whisper.

“Eh?” Heather says, raising an eyebrow. “What was that?”

You stand up straight and she furrows her brow as you look over her shoulder at the pillars, now pulsing slowly. You have no idea how long this ritual will take, but rarely are things simple, so you feel you have some time anyway. Looking back to Heather, you shrug and say, “Oh, nothing.”

“What’s your game?” She says, frowning. “You don’t do something like that and just pass it off as nothing.”
“What does it matter? I can’t beat you, you’ll shadow step or something and take my head off, what does my ‘nothing’ matter?”

She blinks once before rolling her eyes. “Nerg, you’re insufferable, but yes, you’re quite right, though it annoys me.” She looks over her shoulder before nodding. “You’re not moving from the spot though, not until she’s finished.”

“How long will that be anyway?”

“Nice try.”

“Rats.” You say, snapping your fingers before sighing. “Not really my intention but a good try. Still, I wonder why you’re helping her like this.”

“You truly believe I’m helping her?”

“Looks like it to me.” You say, shrugging. “Of course, we both know that she was being used by someone else to start a little war out here, or did you supply those weapons?”

Heather frowns and looks out at the armored and armed Monsters. “No, I did not. They’d had them long before I arrived, and as far as I can tell, they were delivered by train from the East before suddenly being cut off. Emil- the Queen was quite agitated by it, so I am told.”

“The…East? Like, Loveura?” You say, frowning.

“Yes, I believe so.” She narrows her eyes, “What do you know of this?”

“More than you, I suspect.” You say with disinterest and she frowns, scythe forming in her hand.

“Tell me.”

You shrug, “I mean, what does it matter? You’re getting what you want, and I have a feeling they’re getting what they want. I wondered at why you’re helping a SECOND Illusionist, but now I wonder if they have you in their schemes also.”

She growls, “I do my duty for Nerg and no one else.”

“Mmm, I suppose.” You say, watching as the glow intensifies for a moment, and you feel a mild rumble in the ground. “But it’s a strange coincidence, you know? Also, working in broad daylight seems strange for a Dullahan, but here you are, the right hand Monster of a Queen, known far and wide.” You shrug again. “Doesn’t really fit your MO you know?”

You notice Ginelle, Ophelia, and Clarissa looking at you with strange expressions, but Clint, oh sweet sweet Clint, he understands. Looking away from both of you, he schools himself into a face of worry, and your eyes slip back to Heather, where you see your plan start to take hold. In her eyes, those dark, burning eyes, you see the seeds of doubt planted there.

Heather shifts slightly and grunts, “I came here because I saw the turmoil being made here after your last interruption, and Nerg told me of this place, how it could serve a purpose.”

“Why do you need her then? Why not do it yourself?”

“Do you believe the ancient Wizards would have allowed Monsters to meddle with such structures? We could have done this centuries ago had there been the chance, but without the proper situation, it was impossible.”

“Proper situation? You could have conned any number of men or women into this, why now?” You cock your head. “What has changed?”

“The change, is the turmoil in this world, the power of multiple Monsters drawn together in one place, bound with the hopes and dreams of a single human.” She shakes her head. “Sickening, but the key has always been bringing humans and Monsters together, something the Wizards never thought would happen.”

“But something they hoped would?” You ask, but Heather raises an eyebrow and you raise your hands in a placating gesture. “Fine, fine, I get it. Still, it seems awfully convenient you know? That you, who knew of this place, to be lead here, where an army was being formed under another Illusionist. Luck could occur, I suppose, but…” You shake your head.

“Well, I know that the ones she serves have goals not even Nerg knows.”

Heather takes a step forward and grabs your shirt, lifting you up into the air. You struggle to keep your emotions in check and succeed, to which she snarls a rather intimidating snarl. “Do not disparage he who will have full control over your very SOUL.”

“I do not disparage him, but I wonder if he truly understands the contrivances of his very sister.”

Heather pauses, blinking a few times. “Sister?… What do you mean?”
“Come on, Heather. Nerg is grand and powerful, perhaps the second most powerful of the Gods, and yet his children are but shadows of that power, much of Dollora or Solos’s children are shadows of them. There are greater powers than you know, and it is not without reason that you are being manipulated.”

“Lies!” She says, throwing you to the ground. You grunt as you hit, and Clarissa gasps, running over to help you up while Ginelle growls. You hurriedly hold a hand out to her and she stops, narrowing her eyes at the Dullahan, wanting to strike. You wipe at your chin and nod to Clarissa before looking back to Heather.

“Ask him then. Ask Nerg directly the truth of this. You say that you enter his realm freely? Then do it, speak with him and ask his favor.” As you say this, you take a gamble and push with [Morbid Allure]. Perhaps it is because she is a child of Nerg, perhaps it is because she has the echoes of Dollora within her, perhaps it’s just luck, but in the darkness of the night, she begins to doubt as a depression comes over her.

“He…he can’t be. Sister… Dollora? She has a hand in this? It would make sense but she hasn’t…”

“She wants you to ruin the leyline network, to make it easier for her to invade again. War is coming, you said it yourself, but the odds are stacked against her unless she does this. And you fell right into the trap.”

“What? That’s not even what will occur, this ritual site was not to control the Leylines, it’s always been a weapon, a magical field nullifier.” She says offhanded, her expression distracted.

Your eyes go wide. A magical field…nullifier, dear Gods, if she had her hands on that, then she could… she could ah… With the uh… You frown. The fuck is a magical field nullifier? Well, best not find out and just continue on your course again. You notice Heather’s expression change and you realize your ability is waning, so you push on it again.

“Of course it is. It makes perfect sense doesn’t it? It’s exactly how they’d win the war.” You are bullshitting really fucking hard right now, but Heather nods her head slowly as you say that.

“Could it be… no, I’m certain that he… but if that’s her plan and not Nerg’s then I could be…no I…”

“Speak with Nerg.” You say, pushing upon her emotion. “You can’t allow yourself to be tricked like this, confirm with the God of the Dead before it’s too late!”

Her eyes go wide and she nods before she seems to flicker for a moment and then vanish into a cloud of darkness. Your group stands there in mute silence for a long time before you turn slowly to Ginelle and say in a strained voice,

“Please go kill the woman in the circle.”

Ginelle nods her head slowly and walks forward into the magical circle. You turn about to see the Monsters nearby giving you confused expressions, as if not really understanding what they just saw. They don’t attack or anything though and you take a shaky breath, realizing your whole body is trembling. Holy fucking shit, it actually fucking worked.

“Tobias did you just… convince the Dullahan that she was being manipulated and needed to go talk to her Dad?” Ophelia says quietly, and you nod your head slowly. She looks off at the circle, still glowing with power and whistles. “Damn.”

“That was the crazy thing I think I’ve ever seen you do.” Clint says, shaking his head. “She could have killed you at any time if she caught onto your lie, you know that?”

“Y…yeah, I know.” You say, gulping. “But it worked, right?”

“I suppose.” He says, looking off to the circle. “I just hope Ginelle will be-” He cuts of as the circle suddenly shakes violently, the power within sparking and going wild before suddenly stabilizing. The Monsters nearby begin to chat in hushed whispers, pointing at the stones and then to you and you start to feel a little worried.

“She’s taking too long.” You say, gritting your teeth. “Clint, I need you to-“

“Have faith in her.” He says, taking in a deep breath. “She can do this, I know it.”

You look at the man with a solemn expression. “Did you used to love her?”

“Wouldn’t call it that. Maybe a passing attraction, I don’t know. She had that spark of adventurism that I thought attractive, and one hell of a body, but I found out pretty quickly how clingy she was, how… narcissistic. She came out to the West to rule the place, and clearly Chalan only magnified this belief that she deserved to rule.” He shakes his head, “No, I didn’t love her, but she never gave up on me.”

You both look back to the circle and you frown, “Does it feel weird knowing that Ginelle is the one who’s doing the dirty work?”

“Does it feel weird knowing that a psycho-bitch from the Hells themselves can appear at any moment and take your head when she finds out you’re full of shit?”

“Yes, but you didn’t answer the question. Does it feel weird that the woman you loved is about to be killed by the one you love now?”

He stands there quiet for a long time before saying, “What does the past matter but something to learn from. It’s the present and the future we should be concerned with.”

“So you haven’t told her yet?” Clarissa says, though she’s shaking visibly. “I mean, it’s obvious to everyone, hahah…erm…” She looks to you. “Should we really be doing this right now?”

“Yes. We need to act very casually or else those Monsters will think something is wrong.” The magic flickers again. “Though it may be a little too late for that one.”

Suddenly the lights die down from the pillars and you curse under your breath. The Monsters about grow visibly agitated and you close your eyes, making ready to cast one massive Illusion to get out when the pillars explode into light and you feel a concussion wave of force slam into you, throwing you to the ground.

Dazed, you pick yourself up to see that the others had shared this fate. All around you Monsters lay on the ground with stunned expressions, not the least of which being your own companions, and you hurriedly help pick them up. Ophelia shakes her head and says, “What was that?”

“I have no idea…” You say, frowning as Ophelia checks the magitek communication device she had on her person. Apparently they didn’t think it a weapon, and she goes it over to make sure it’s not damaged before frowning.

“Hells, I think I broke it.” She grunts before her ears twitch and she looks over to the circle. “Wait, is that Ginelle?”

You both look over at the circle to see Ginelle walked toward you, carrying something in her arms. As she approaches, you notice it to be the limp form of the Queen of the West, Illusionist extraordinaire, and pain in your ass. She’s dead now, and you take a deep breath before nodding solemnly. “I see. Did she give you much trouble?”

“Eh, not really, she was kind of unfocused.” Ginelle says, shrugging. “Able to snap her neck, probably should have left her there but uh, I don’t know, maybe we can use her or something.”

“Ginelle…” Clint says before shaking his head but you smile.

“Oh yes indeed, we need to get out of here and if we make people believe this is actually her walking with us, we can make our escape, which we really should do, like, right now.” You turn about and start speaking random, amiable things to the corpse Ginelle is holding. She frowns and looks to Clint, who shrugs and helps hold the woman as if she’s asleep, which she kind of is. Except she’s dead, which is like a really, really long sleep.

Your group moves slowly through the down Monsters and you ham up that she’s tired and such, and how great her plans were, and the Monsters on the ground don’t give you trouble since they’re so out of it. It’s difficult, but you eventually reach the front of the camp, where the others block view of the Queen as you convince the dazed guards to let you have your weapons back. The Wolfgirl does, and you take them, asking for a nearby tent the queen can sleep in. She shows you one and you place here there, the Wolfgirl taking up an admirable guard as you leave the camp.

“The hells?” Clint says, looking at his rifle as you walk, making sure you’re going at a slow, reasonable pace until you’re out of sight of the camp. “The mana capacitor is burned out. What the hells did they do to my baby?” He frets about as you walk out of camp and Ophelia sighs, looking over the gun.

“Savages, all of them. First I land on my device, now your rifle is broken? At least we made it out of that camp without any trouble, I was really afraid that, ughk-“

You frown at her words suddenly cutting off and turn about to ask, “Something wrong Oph-” The words catch in your throat as you see a large, crimson scythe pull free of the Rabbitgirl’s body, a spray of scarlet blood flying into the air as she drops to the ground. Your eyes go wide as you watch the scythe swing about again, and you see Clint narrowly parry the strike with his rifle, but he’s still thrown to the ground with a grunt of effort.

Ginelle runs over to him protectively and Clarissa flies into the air out of the reach of the weapon, and in this position all of you can now see the red, glowing eyes of Heather as she stares at you in murderous rage.

“You’re dead. All of you, dead with your souls going to the most damned of the hells. I will barter for Nerg himself to punish your souls for eternity for tricking me and taking my prize AGAIN.” She raises her scythe, and you instinctively lash out with your power to find… Nothing. Your eyes go wide as the realization comes over you of what happened back at the pillars.

“Ah, you understand now, don’t you? The power went off, though not as planned. I could only return to this plane but am now stuck in it. Though I cannot call upon the magic of Nerg, I do not need it to deal with the likes of you.” She brandishes the weapon and gives you the most malicious smile you’ve ever seen. “Without your magic, you’re nothing more than overly ripened fruit ready to be harvested.”

“Oh Gods, Ophelia!” Clarissa screams, her wings beating overhead. “S…she killed her!”

“She’s not dead yet!” You shout, turning back to the Dullahan. “We can’t give up on her!”

Heather growls, “She is still alive, yes, but not for long.” She raises that overly large scythe with one hand. “I’ll make sure of that.” The scythe comes slicing down toward the prone Rabbit, and you know for certain she isn’t fucking around. Heather intends to end Ophelia’s life!

You desperately push forward with your magic, but find nothing at all, as if there was a blank-space in your mind. Part of you had always sort of wished you could be rid of your powers and the pains they’d bring, but now more than ever you wish that there is something, ANYTHING you can do. You dash forward to try and save Ophelia, but in the end, you are forced to watch helplessly as your speed is too slow to save her.

Something flies from your jacket pocket at speeds you can hardly believe, slamming straight into Heather’s face, causing the scythe to deviate off course as the undead woman has to put a hand to her head to keep it from flying off. You take the opportunity to complete your run to Ophelia and begin to drag the woman away, blood coating your hands. Oh Gods, there’s so much of it here…

A bright, shining light appears from Heather and you look up before shielding your view of the Dullahan as a bright array of colors dazzles you. The effect is clearly magnified for Heather who shouts in anger and tears at her face, ripping the glowing beacon from her head and holding the little Fairy in her mailed fist. She snarls and begins to crush the terrified looking Fairy when Ginelle barrels into her chest, throwing the Dullahan backward and releasing Abigail, who falls to the ground.

“Ginelle!” You shout, and the Badger deftly grabs the Fairy before she hits the ground. Abigail has stopped glowing by the point, but you sigh in relief to see her shakily give you a thumbs up. Ginelle hops over and leaves the injured little Fairy with you before leaping back over to Clint, who is holding his rifle like a club while standing before you.

You look down at Ophelia, who is still breathing, though raggedly, and you hurriedly dig into your rucksack for some spare clothing or… anything really to patch up the wound. You find the [Chameleon Cloak] and look at it without comprehension for a moment before snapping your gaze to Clarissa. Holding the cloak in the air you shout, “GO! FIND SAYA!”

The Crow gives you a startled look before nodding her head fiercely and swooping down to grab the item and fly away. “I’ll bring her as soon as I can! D…don’t die!” You nod your head back as she flies out of sight into the night and you return to Ophelia.

From what you can see, there’s one large wound on her back, though you can’t tell how far the weapon has pierced. You hurriedly tear her clothes out of the way and take off your jacket and your shirt, jamming the cloth into the wound and applying pressure. The clothing gets soaked quickly, but it’s all you have to work with. Still, it does not look good at all for her, but… damnit damnit damnit!

“D…don’t give up hope.” Abigail says, her voice almost as audible as a whisper. “You’ll find a way through this, you always do…”

“Ha! Now you’re going to inspire me?” You say, shaking your head while tears fill your eyes. “My damn powers are gone, I turned Saya away, and now Ophelia is about to die and it’s all my fault!”

You hear another cry and you look up to see Clint swinging his rifle like a club at the Dullahan, who blocks the blow with the scythe before taking her other hand and, in a shocking display, grabs her hair and tears her head from her shoulders, using her own head as a mace to bludgeon Clint’s head. The man is thrown violently to the ground as he gasps in surprise. In one, fluid motion she reattaches her head to her shoulders and takes up her scythe in the others hand and use the haft to trip Ginelle before flipping the scythe about and bringing it down on the Badger.

Ginelle rolls out of the way as the scythe hits the ground, blade becoming buried in the ground. She leaps up and the two square off as Clint rubs at his jaw, groaning. You close your eyes and look back to Abigail. “If only I had my damn abilities granted to me by Jackor. If I could keep calm or even give better commands…shit.”

“Idiot.” She says before picking herself up and fluttering over to you.

“Woah woah woah, Abigail, you need to rest and…” You trail off as she begins to glow a soft, yet recognizable glow. Your eyes go wide and you say, “Wait, how?”

“Jackor gave me the next gift before the pulse. He knew this was about to happen, and decided to keep an ACE up his sleeve.” She smirks at you and flutters up to your face. “I hope whatever he put in there is worth it.” She places a small hand gently on your cheek and it expands to become the size of a human’s. You feel the soft, tender feeling of her flesh and you look to see a woman before you who looks like Abigail, and yet… the level of calm serenity before you is so different from her normal personality you can hardly believe it. Her other hand touches the bare skin of your chest and a soft warmth flows into you at her touch, somehow setting you at ease. She smiles softly and presses her lips to yours, and once again the power stolen from the Gods fills you.

>You gain [Insight of Suffering]
>Stolen from Nerg before the Hells were sealed by a magic dampener and threaded through the power of Hevensferth, you are able to confront others of their sins, inflicting a conscience even where is none.

You watch as Abigail pulls her lips from yours and pulls away, and you swear you see tears in her eyes as she seems to fade away into the form of Abigail the Lenan Sidhe, whom you catch, laying the little Fairy to the ground. She shudders softly before falling asleep next to the wounded Rabbitgirl.

Gritting your teeth, you look up at the battle to see that it isn’t exactly going well. Clint is looking dazed and Ginelle has to expend more effort in keeping Heather from straight up killing both of them, and the multitude of scrapes and cuts on her body seem testament to this. You make to stand up and help when you see that Ophelia is bleeding again. You grit your teeth and shout to Clint, “Clint! Get over here!”

He gives you a blank stare for a moment, but before he can do much else, Ginelle flips about, grabs the man by the lapels and hurls him toward you, using the motion to spin around and dodge another blow from the Dullahan. Clint hits the ground next to you and picks himself up slowly, to which you grab him and drag him over to Ophelia, jamming his fingers into your makeshift bandage.

“HOLD THIS.” You shout, and he blinks a few times before nodding his head slowly. You take in a deep breath before standing up straight and walking toward the Dullahan.

Heather body slams Ginelle, forcing the Badger to gasp in shock and allow the Dullahan to grab Ginelle’s short hair and hold her by it, pulling back to expose her neck. She places the scythe blade to the Monster’s neck and growls, “I’ll see you in the Hells you little bitch.”

“Hold it!” You shout, pointing toward Heather. You push with the only power left to you and force your accusatory will upon the Undead Monster. You feel the ability slide against something, as if unable to get purchase before a strange feeling of something akin to a block sliding into place occurs. Heather’s eyes go wide and she snaps her gaze to you.

“How?”

“You are not the one asking questions here.” You say firmly, and you see the Dullahan quake though almost more in confusion than any fear.

She pulls on Ginelle’s head and places the scythe closer to the neck, enough to draw a little bit of blood. She looks into your eyes and says, “You think you’re in charge here? Stop whatever you’re doing right now or I’ll take her head off and wear her body.”

“No, you won’t do that. I see it in your eyes, the anger, the betrayal, the fear. You’ve always lived in the shadows of your Sisters, haven’t you? Because of this, you always tried harder than they have, and because of it, you’ve done things that even you regret.”

“That’s asinine, I am a daughter of the lord of Death! Why would killing people give me any pause?”

“Why haven’t you killed her already?”

Heather pauses before shaking her head, “Because she is still useful at the moment. You’ve ruined too many of my plans and your words are too dangerous a weapon. You tricked me before with the arcane powers of your thrice damned God, but how are you doing it now?”

“Because it is not Jackor who’s power I am using, but your own father’s. I am bringing judgment upon your undead soul through HIM.”

Her eyes go even wider and she trembles, “No… no that doesn’t make sense! How can you have access to power of my Lord when I don’t! Y…you’re lying!”

“How can I be lying if my words have such an effect upon you? Nerg doesn’t want you to do this, he wishes for you to be more like Delilah, doesn’t he? To cause little atrocities, not throw the whole world into chaos!” You point a finger at her. “You don’t want this either, do you? But you just have to prove yourself!”

“Stop it!” She shouts, shaking her head while pressing the scythe to Ginelle’s neck, drawing more blood. The Badger grunts, yet you see her nose twitch, followed by one of her ears. She gives you a look and then grits her teeth from the pain as Heather shouts again. “I’m tired of your damn mind tricks! I don’t know how you’re doing this in the face of the pulse, but you will STOP THIS!”

You look up to the sky and shrug, “If you say so.” You take a step back and hold up your hands as something large plummets from the night sky to land directly on top of the Dullahan.

Heather cries out in surprise as her right arm is thrust to the side and her whole body is pulled backward by a weight that drags her down and causes her to release the Badger. Ginelle rolls to the side and puts a hand to her neck, watching the carnage as the armored Monsters flails about at whatever is on her back. It takes you a moment to realize that the thing that plummeted from the sky was none other than Saya herself.

You see a knife pulled high in the sky as Saya grappled with the undead, and it flashes down, sliding in between Heather’s head and her gorget, drawing up strange, ephemerally scarlet blood. Heather cries and rolls about, but Saya merely shouts and holds on, driving the knife deeper into the unarmored section until, with a sickening sound, Heather’s head pops off her shoulders.

Saya’s knife flies free of the body, and she looks in astonishment as the headless body sits up before slamming back to the ground, crushing Saya between the hard armor and the ground, thus dislodging the other Monster’s grip. Heather barks an order to her body, and it turns about, driving a fist into Saya’s gut, causing her to grunt in pain before seeming to slide off the fist as she reforms her internal organs, allowing her to slip out of the grasp and roll up with knives in hand.

“YOU AGAIN!” Heather cries as the body picks up the scythe from the ground. “I should have killed all of you when I had the chance. To think I was almost swayed by his words again.”

“Oh, I could have told you not to listen to anything he says.” Saya says, looking for openings in the armor. “Honestly, he’s really good at spewing nothing but bullshit, so what makes you think you should take anything he says seriously?”

“I uh… love you too?” You say, cocking her head.

“I’m going to kick your ass later for this, you know that right?” She shouts back. “Now help out Ophelia, I’ll handle it from here!”

“Gods I love you.” You say before running back to the rest of the group where Clarissa has touched down. You see Clarissa wiping off from blood from Ginelle’s neck before nodding her head.

“Alright, you’re find you damn lummox, but if you’re not careful, I think you’ll going to lose blood from those thousand cuts you have there.”

“I’ve had worse.” Ginelle says before looking back to the fight. “I need to get back there and help Saya…”

“Not right now you don’t.” You say before looking to Clint. “How is she.”

“Frankly, she’s bad. I get her undressed and managed to get something like a bandage on her, but she’s lost a lot of blood and we’re nowhere near any sort of civilization. Our only option is to take her back to the camp, but…”

“They’ll probably kill us anyway, damnit.” You say, growling. “They have Monster Witches there too, I bet they have some health potions or something. Damnit, I can’t have her dying on us Clint, I can’t!”

He grips your shoulder and looks you firmly in the eye. “Tobias, you better keep it together. How many near death scrapes have we been in? How many times have we questioned our own sanity? Boy, we need you to be strong, it not for our sake then for hers.” He points to Ophelia, who looks far too pale for your liking. You gulp and nod your head slowly.

“Of…of course.” You say before taking a deep breath. “Okay… so we need a health potion… the nearby army has some of them, but they won’t give them to us.” You frown for a moment before noticing that part of Clarissa is blurred out of sight in the night. Your eyes go wide and you snap your fingers, “Clarissa!”

She jumps up straight and says, “W…w…what?”

“I have never needed something from you more than I do now. It’s going to be dangerous, I know, but… you’re the only one who can do it in time.” You grit your teeth and say, “I need you to go into that camp and get us some potions.”

She looks at you with a terrified expression before looking down at Ophelia and then to her wing. It shudders a few times and she gulps. “I… I don’t…” She closes hers and takes a shaky breath. “No… no you’re right. I’ve been scared before, but I told you… told myself that I’d be able to do this, that I wouldn’t be a burden.” She stands up straight and places the [Chameleon Cloak] back into her bag.

“It’s my time to save the day.” She flies into the air and faster than you can believe, rockets toward the camp.

A small smile appears on your lips and you whisper, “Godspeed Clarissa.”

“Tobias.” Clint says, getting your attention, and he points to the battle. You look up to see Saya using both of her knives to parry a blow by the scythe, dragging it across the blade before she spins and delivers a kick with her boots to the armored body’s chest. It staggers backward, but seems to feel no pain at all and continues to move forward and press the attack.

It’s odd to see a headless form fighting like this, but nearby sits the head, shouting out orders. Whenever Saya tries to feint for Heather’s head, the body stops her, or moves the head at Heather’s orders. Saya never gives the body a chance to become whole again though, but you wonder if your Goo Monster girlfriend has the stamina to face off against an undead Monster and live.

“Tobias, I need you to look at something.” Clint says, handing you something heavy. You blink and look down to see one of the [Mana bombs]. You expected to see the device dull and unworkable, but the primed mana crystals inside the curious little device that Ophelia rigged together now glow unnaturally bright and you almost feel as if it’s hot to the touch.

Looking over the device, you notice that the magitek timer isn’t workable, but why would the crystals be glowing like this? The liquid mana inside the chamber looks fine as well, and you wonder, just maybe…

“Clint, we need a way to prime this.” You say sharply, and the man nods in agreement.

“My thoughts exactly.” Clint says. “If we can strike it with enough force… damnit why does my rifle have to be broken?”

“If your rifle worked, then we wouldn’t have this issue, now would we?” You say, shaking your head. “Though things would be worse in that case too.” You watch the battle unfolding, seeing Saya slide again to attack with her knives, and you notice that one of her sleeves is torn, her skin dripping black. The Dullahan’s body blacks the knives with the scythe but as Saya tries to melt the armor, she’s thrown backward with no damage to the armor. Hellsforged, immune to even Saya’s acidic touch, much like Lionsedge was.

“She always blocks with that scythe.” Ginelle says, rubbing her throat. She sounds very tired, and despite what she said before, she looks like she’s about to fall over. “I punched that thing quite a few times, and it almost seems instinctual. Saya is good, but I don’t know if she can get past that defense.

“What did you say?” You ask, looking to Ginelle who blinks in surprise.

“I said, I don’t think she can get past that-“

“No, no, about the scythe? She uses it to block everything?” Ginelle nods and you pick up a rock, readying it to be thrown when Clint takes it from your hand.

“Allow me.” He winds up and throws the projectile at the Dullahan, who barks and order and the Body neatly slices the rock in half with the scythe before going back to fighting Saya, who looks a little ragged at the moment.
Clint nods his head and picks up another rock, and you grab the [Mana Bomb], but Ginelle takes that from your hands. “Allow me.”

“Fine, whatever.” You say, watching the flow of the fight. “On my order…”

Saya dodges another blow and kicks off the scythe, flipping through the air to land some feet away, readying to come in again. As she hits the ground you shout, “SAYA, GET AWAY!”

She may be mad at you, but her trust in you is clearly strong enough that she leaps away at your order as Clint’s rock soars toward the headless Dullahan. Heather barks an order and it s slices it in half neatly, just as another, larger object flies at her. Heather orders this one to be stopped as well, a look of irritation on her face until she realizes that this isn’t a rock, but instead something glowing blue and reeking of energy. She tries to order her body to stop, but it’s too late, at this point the scythe is already flying through the air, as it makes contact with the [Mana Bomb] a flash of blue light and a wash of warm energy pours over you, forcing you to put a hand to your eyes and step backward.

A ringing fills your ears and you find yourself unable to see for a long time as whiteness covers your vision. You rub at your eyes as you blink in a dazed confusion and slowly everything starts to come back to you as colors start reappearing once more. Though you hear things in a sort of muted whisper, you look around to see everyone else much the same as you. With an unsteady gaze, you look over to where Heather and Saya were to find Saya sitting there, front half of her clothing blown off and her skin with strange, blackish blisters that run down the front of her. She looks pained, but she’s breathing. As far as Heather goes…

There’s nothing. Nothing but a large, faintly glowing crater where the Dullahan once stood. Not even her armor is present, just… just nothing. You stand on shaking feet and shake Clint and Ginelle, who both look up at you with surprised expressions before looking at the crater themselves and staring in confusion and amazement. You turn from them and head over to Saya, who rolls onto her side and groans, though it comes muted to you.

“Saya.” You say, finding your own voice to be quiet in your ears. “SAYA!”

“You don’t have to yell, I can hear you fine.” Comes her voice, sounding like she’s underwater. “Gods, could have warned me that explosion would have been so big… fuck me this hurts.”

You lean down and place a hand gently on her chest to see goo sloughing off the bone underneath. It seems intact there, but overall it’s like seeing meat scorched too long under a fire, and the whole thing makes you a little sick. “ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”

“I told you that you don’t have to… oh, I bet your hearing, right you can’t change your ear drums. She clicks her tongue before wincing. “I’ll be fine, I think… Never had this happen before, but… I’m still alive and I can sort of… manipulate my…” She looks down at her ruined chest and then up to you before blushing. “Oh hells, this is really embarrassing, don’t look at me!”

She covers her face with a hand, using the other to push you away, but instead you grab her arm and pull her into you, kissing her firmly. She squirms for only a moment before sighing and falling into the kiss, pulling away only to cough a few times. You smile fondly at her and say, “Saya, Gods I’m sorry about before, you were right, I never should have sent you away, I wasn’t thinking and now-“

“Shush.” She says, putting a finger to your lips before shaking her head. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about this later though I must say…” She looks at your chest and smirks, “You are quite dashing covered in blood like that, some kind of Barbarian indeed. Was it a rough fight with the Illusionist?”

Your smile vanishes and you look back to Ophelia. “No… this is Ophelia’s blood.” Saya expression grows concerned and she stands up, wincing a little.

“I see. I might have a few medical supplies but if it’s that bad…” She trails off as she looks up into the sky before cocking her head. “Is that Clarissa?”

You break out into a wide smile and pull Saya into you again, hugging her tightly as the Crow touches down and hurries over to Ophelia, small red vials in her wings. “It is! Thank the Gods, it is!”

————————————————

“Ugh…. gruh…”

“Dad! She’s awake!” Akela shouts, and you hurry over to where she’s sitting, next to the bedroll where Ophelia is sleeping. You put a hand on your daughter’s shoulder and nod at her before saying,

“Hey, go get the others, alright? Thanks for watching her.” Akela nods and stands up to go find the rest of your group around the little camp you made inside one of the little forest clearings. You’d spent the night hiding out there and recovering from your wounds, to which all of you had more than expected. Ginelle is still sleeping peacefully after having collapsed onto her bedroll, and Clint wasn’t in much better shape, a nasty knot swelling on his head.

It was sweet Clarissa who’d saved the day, bringing forth three vials of health potions she’d managed to pilfer from the camp, which was in a state of confusion without their leaders. Easier than expected, she was even caught at one point and managed to bullshit her way out of it before flying off. Two potions immediately went to Ophelia, who’s wounds healed up very nicely, though she was still out of it, and the other going to Saya at Ginelle’s insistence. The poor Badgergirl said she’d seen worse, but you really have to wonder. Still, a little ointment and some bandages on her worse wounds and she was ready to go to sleep next to Clint, who wanted to watch over her, but was forced into bed by a tired Harpy.

Saya is the first to heed the call and she walks up, wearing some extra clothes she brought since the others were destroyed. Loose clothing made of simple cloth, it looked good on her for some reason. She hands you something and you take it, realizing it’s your shirt and jacket, both amazingly clean, if a little damp. You give Saya a confused look and she shrugs.

“You really, really got a bargain on those clothes. Blood resistant also I suppose, who knew? I’m not the best at washing clothes though.” She scratches her cheek. “Though maybe once this is all over, it would be good to learn those kinds of things.”

“Fair enough.” You say before turning to Ophelia who slowly opens her eyes. You gently put a hand on hers and she looks about with a bleary expression.

“W…wha? What’s go- ack.” She coughs a few times, lips looking chapped. You wave to Saya who hands you a nearby water skin and you gently pour some into the Rabbitgirl’s mouth. She nods weakly after swallowing and says, “Where are we?”

“Camping out in the woods. Take it easy Ophelia, you took a nasty wound from that Dullahan and you’re still recovering.”

“Feel like a Leyway hit me.” She says, grunting. “Though I don’t feel a wound… is that bad?”

“Nah.” Saya says, smiling. “Got you a health potion, fixed you up, though damn did you come close to talking with Nerg.”

Ophelia grunts, “I’d have to listen to that haughty bitch all day if that was the case…” She takes a deep breath before sighing. “So… what happened?”

“Well, your [Mana Bomb] worked.”

Her eyes sparkle a little. “It did? How did you get it to work after the magitek was broken? What was the explosion radius, how was the damage was-” She’s cut off as Saya puts a hand over her mouth.

“Enough of that, you need to sleep some. We all need to recover a little before heading to town.”
“Aye.” You say, looking up at the late morning sun. “I hope this didn’t do more harm than good though.”

“If they had full control over whatever that thing did, can you imagine the damage they could have caused?” Ophelia says, closing her eyes. “I want to see what town is like, but for now, I think I’m a little tired.” She begins sleeping again soon and you nod to Saya before the two of you stand up and walk away from the sleeping woman.

“Do you think it spread very far?” Saya asks, and you shrug.

“I don’t think so. Clarissa says she spotted a Leyway moving in the distance when she did an aerial sweep, but we can find out tomorrow if we have a decent pace, maybe the next day.” You shake your head. “More importantly, how do you feel?”

She shrugs, “Better. It felt like a part of me was physically ripped away, like I was only a portion of a whole. I don’t feel 100% yet, but I can form a reasonable human shape.” She lifts up her shirt to you where you see pale skin melding to black in blotchy spots. You notice her breasts are well formed though and you sigh, pulling down her shirt where you find her smirking at you.

“I just want you to be healthy, alright?” You say, and she nods.

“Yeah, I know, I really do.” She places a hand against your chest, frowning as she feels the little lump where Abigail is sleeping in her own recovery. “But I think the safest place for both of us is right next to each other. Please don’t keep me out of it again without a really, really good reason.”

“Is, ‘because I love you’ a good enough reason?” She grabs your nose and twists it, making you wince and bend over, speaking in a nasally voice, “Okay okay! I get it, stop!”

She lets go and huffs, to which you rub your nose and sit down to watch the others in the camp resting. You sigh and look out toward the town you’re returning to, hoping that you didn’t inadvertently throw Deleor back into a dark age. And what of the Black Tails? What would they do once they learn of what’s happened here? Will they still target you when you return? Should you take some time to rest before heading back there and returning on the way to Helmscrag?

And Heather… you can’t stop thinking about that, wondering what happened to her. She said she couldn’t return to the Hells so does that mean…? You shake your head and lay down, looking into the sky. No rest for the weary they say.

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