Illusionistquest Chapter 20: Weary Mind

Dragging everyone out of the mines was less of a chore than expected. Sure, Ginelle was unconscious, Clint cried out in pain at any point you touched him, and Alice was moping once she woke up, but Ophelia managed to get a mining construct working and it easily carried everyone out of the mines.

You’d been forced to use both of the potions, one on the unconscious Ginelle and the other to Clint. The man scoffed at being offered the whole potion, and he forced you to drink some of it when you started coughing blood again. You would have refused, but Saya and Akela’s death stares made you relent and take some sips. Instantly, your chest felt a little lighter, but Clint still winced as he moved. At least he’s not crippled…

When you exit the mines, you return back to a scene of chaos, though with a little more order. The soldiers had enough time to reorganize themselves and get the townsfolk under order, though some people were seen still trying to flee. Someone spots you leaving the mines and points at the construct, screaming about how there’s hurt people leaving the mines. Though it isn’t like you are trying to be stealthy, the attention is not really that wanted.

Still, a group of soldiers moves in toward you, stopping as some recognize Clint and yourself. He waves tiredly at them, but before anything else can occur, you hear a loud, squawking sound, and a form shoots into the air before hurtling toward you faster than a falling star. You barely have time to scream before Clarissa slams down upon you in a flurry of wings and wailing.

“Tobiiiiiiiiaaaaaassssssssssssssss!” She wails, wrapping her wings around you and crying. “Oh gods, you’re alllliiivvveeee! I thought I’d never, you’re all alive!”

Your lungs once again burning, you gently pat her on the head and cough out, “Thanks Clarissa, nice to see you too, but…uh.” You wheeze some flecks of blood. “Can I ask you to let me go?”

She blink some tears before noticing your condition and pulling back, gasping. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t. Ah!” She just seems to notice the others before flailing her arms about. “Waaaah, you’re all hurt!”

“Well, that’s the price of victory.” You say, rubbing your eyes. Your vision seems to have gone double for a second. Crap, are you hurt more than you thought? Putting that aside, you shake your head before saying, “How are things out here?”

“Huh? Oh.” Clarissa says before waving to the approaching soldiers. “They’ve calmed people down, but people are still in a panic since they have no idea what’s happening. They’ve been organizing an evacuation, but…” She looks to you and cocks her head. “But Fiora is…?”

“Dead.” You say, waving off a soldier who tries to help you. The others are picking up the unconscious form of Ginelle and helping to carry Clint, though Ophelia scoffs and says the construct is perfectly functional. They carry her off too.

“Oh, so… we really?” Clarissa says, a little wide-eyed.

“Yeah, we won.” You say before hearing something behind you. You pause, looking over your shoulder, but see nothing there. Frowning, you mutter about stupid bees and turn about to see Clarissa giving you a strange look. You blink and say, “What?”

“Tobias are you…” Clarissa says before shaking her head. “No, no… we won, it’s fine.” She puffs up her chest and says, “Alright! Let’s get back to the Captain and tell him the good news!”

She raises her winghand to the sky and starts walking back to the ruined fort. You smirk as she walks away before shaking your head. You can always count on Clarissa to be a beacon to happiness in this sea of doubt. Still, why shouldn’t you be happy? You managed to win! To avenge your Master and do Jackor’s fucking dirty work. Still… Those last words of his made your feel uneasy. What did he mean that it wasn’t over yet?

You shake your head and turn to Saya and Akela, nodding at the two before heading after Clarissa. As you walk, you cock your head, feeling like something is missing here. You turn your head to see Alice walking behind you, grumbling to herself, but you don’t happen to see Abigail anywhere.

“Psssst.” You hear from nearby, and you whip your head about, but can’t see anything. You hear a giggle and then a soft touch on your neck that makes you shiver and freeze in place. Alice gives you a strange look as you go, but you chuckle slightly, a small sweat coming from your forehead. The voice says again, “Hey, I’m right here Tobias, just invisible.”

“Yes… invisible.” You say, gulping. “You’re totally just invisible and I’m not insane and you were just a figment of my imagination.”

“Who knows~?” You hear the giggling again before something ruffles your hair. You begin to sweat even more, wondering how much she’s going to fuck with you. Not the time Abigail…

“Hey Dad, why does Mom suddenly have fluffy ears, did she- Uh, dad?” Akela says, looking at you as you swat the air around you. “You okay?”
“No dear, Abigail is messing with my mind.”

Akela blinks and looks to Saya, a concerned look on her face. “Uhm… who is Abigail?”

You pause, going utterly rigid. You slowly turn to face Akela with an ashen face and say, “You… you don’t know who… Abigail is?”

Akela and Saya trade scared looks with each other before you notice Akela’s lip twitch. Your brow furrows and you glare at her as she hides her smile with a paw. Saya is better at hiding it though but as soon as Akela begins to snicker, she places a hand to her mouth and does the same. You watch the two snickering at you for a long time before you sigh with exasperation and say, “Come on, that’s not funny.”

“He’s right, it’s not.” Alice says as she walks past you. “There’s still things to do before we can rest, and frankly, you’re not in the right state for this anyway.”

The three of you watch as the Hero walks past, hand gripping her sword tightly. You all turn to each other and Akela’s ears flatten. “Sorry… I thought it would be… funny.” She drags her foot on the ground and sulks. Saya, her ears also flattened, which is super cute to be honest, goes to pat the girl’s head, but the Anubis stands up straight as her hair is visibly ruffled. Her eyes go wide and she looks over to nothing before her and smiles.

“You better show yourself later, Abigail.” She says before the ruffling goes away and a soft chuckle is heard echoing in the air. The three of you look about in confusion before shrugging and following once again after Clarissa.

————————————–

“So, this Fiora and Chalan used some poor girls to plant bombs under the Fort, and collapsed it to cause a panic before they activated war constructs to attack Galmathoria and cause a war.”

“That’s about right.” You reply as Captain Tuskalanie sighs and leans back in the chair. He stares up at the ceiling for a long moment, and you go quiet, watching as he thinks.

Your group had been received quite happily by the people of the town, with the news that everything was taken care of. No one dared question Clint’s word, and with everyone’s injuries, they quite readily saw to medical attention with the few hospitaliers that were in town for the garrison. Though Clint wanted to be present for this talk, they had confined him to a bed next to Ginelle. They tried to get you to sit in bed also, but you managed to convince them to give a little healing before giving your report.
Now you sit in one of the buildings that was structurally sound, which was most of them honestly, but this one was converted into a field command/ hospital due to the size. Saya has your [Port-o-Glass] and is sending a report to her parents while you give yours in person to the Captain. You do not look forward to typing this up to Anderson, but it will have to happen soon.

The Captain leans forward again and cracks his knuckles. “Well, that’s that then, I suppose.” He shrugs as you look at him with surprise. “Well, you took care of these criminals, the constructs are secured by my men, and the populace is getting back in order. Even if the Galmathorians wanted to attack, they’d find us still ready to repel them, even without the fort. And if we can get those constructs up and active…”

“Ophelia already told you, she’s taken them offline permanently.”

He sighs and shakes his head. “Of course. I already tried to talk with Lady Illoma, but she was quite firm that she was taking them back to the Manufactorum in Loveura. If they’re as strong as she says, just having one on hand could…”

“Cause some trouble if anyone subverts it.” You say, shaking your head. “Sir, you have to understand, we really don’t want those things here. Tensions with Galmathoria are still stretched then I understand? I still doubt they’ll make any sort of attack here, and even if they did, those constructs would probably cause more damage to you on defense than to them.”

He thinks it over before sighing again. “Fine, fine, I understand.” He shrugs, “You probably should have said you were working for the crown beforehand instead of hiding in Lord Fullvora’s shadow. Or is that how they operate these days?”

“Helps us get things done.” You chuckle. “Anyway, we do need to return to Loveura, and then to Sanctifrond I believe so we can get this all settled. Are you going to be fine here?”

“Could use some more construction constructs and some help here I suppose, but the people will be happy for the work, and the advent of so many mana crystals down there is fairly wonderful. Might even see a new boom out here!” He chuckles himself before shaking his head. “Still, lost a few too many men and citizens to be happy about this.”

Both of you look down before you nod your head. “Aye. You have your duty to your people and I have mine.” You say, standing up. He follows you to and holds out his hand. You look down at it for a moment before smiling and grasping it, shaking firmly. He smiles and pats your shoulder, a little too firmly, and you wince before leaving the room.

You head downstairs to the makeshift hospital where people and soldiers walk about, talking in soft voices while sobs and some cries of pain are heard in the background. In the end, getting everyone out of the fort saved many, many lives, but those left inside took some severely wounds, and many died, as well as some citizens nearby the debris or in the tunnels that were caved in. Rescue operations are in effect but only so much can be done.

You pass by a mother holding her wounded child and you suddenly see Saya holding an unconscious Akela there. You only notice that you’re staring when you realize the Mother is staring at you, and you shake your head before hurrying past. Gods, your mind is playing tricks on your more than usual. A cold chill runs down your spine as you think about this fact. How far did that battle push you? Was this just the beginning of something worse?

Discomforted, you enter the ward where your friends are to find quite a raucous din. Feeling a little alarmed, you dash into the room as almost feral cries of rage echo through the room and soldiers dash past you and into the room where Ginelle is being held. You follow after them and find four soldiers holding down Ginelle with some difficulty, the Monster flailing about and trying to get loose from them.

You hesitate from acting for a brief moment, shocked by what you see. Ginelle’s expression is one of pure, feral rage. She pulls at the men, and almost throws him off with a strength far beyond what normal Monsters should be capable of in this day and age. She barely seems to notice any of her injuries as she kicks and flails about, and it takes Clint shouting, “TOBIAS, GIVE ME A HAND!” For you to snap out of it and run into the room.

“RAAAAAAA!” Ginelle shouts as you run up and help hold her arm. She tries to bite at you. but you keep out of her reach and shout, “GINELLE! CALM DOWN, ITS ME!”

“GGRRROOOOO!” She growls and you feel a certain fear within yourself that you quickly shove down with [Battle Focus]. Your mind now calmed, you push forward with your power into her mind to find…

Fear. Fear far beyond what you could expect to see. It fills your body and makes you gasp as you pull back, unable to react. Clint shouts something again and a Hospitalier dashes in with a syringe full of some fluid, and she jams it into the Badgergirl, who growls before blinking a few times and then sagging down slowly, her thrashings getting less intense until she falls asleep once again.

The soldiers, panting and covered in sweat stand about in confusion before one of them barks and order and the others dash off to retrieve some chains. Clint, grunting in pain, lowers himself down to Ginelle and places a hand to her forehead, a look of terror on his face as he gently strokes her. “Oh Gods, what did they do to you?” He whispers, tears forming in his eyes.
“She’s afraid.” You say, gritting your teeth. “They filled her with such fear that she’s lost herself.”

“Is there anything you can do?” He says, looking to you for help. You freeze in place before looking to the side and saying,

“I’m not certain. I’ll have to look into it. I…I’m sorry.”

Clint looks at you for a long time before he swallows and then turns back to his girlfriend before being dragged back to bed by the Hospitalier as the soldiers return with irons to lock Ginelle up. You make to sit down, but the soldiers push you out and Clint doesn’t look at you as you do. You don’t think he’s upset with you, just… worried. Pausing outside the door, you shake your head and head back to the inn, where Saya, Akela, and Clarissa went.

As you walk out the door to the makeshift hospital, you pause, noticing Alice standing with her back to the wall, arms crossed and a frown on her face. She makes no move to speak with you, but you frown and say, “You alright?”

“I was defeated in such a shameful manner.” She says, growling. “I thought I was the best there was, and yet I ended up getting stomped into the ground by an overgrown pile of weeds.”

“You did well against Fiora at the start…” You say, but she shakes her head violently.

“It’s the end result that matters! If I’d gotten actually hurt beyond a few bruises, I’d understand, but that was pitiful!” She puts a hand to her head and says, “I see why they sent me out here now, because I wasn’t good enough for the actual Order.”

“Alice, stop…”

“Oh what do you care? You don’t even want me here anyway.” She shakes her head. “We barely know each other and I know you think of me as a nuisance, just like everyone else.” Alice throws up her hands and sighs, “My one chance and I blew it! Is this some kind of punishment?”

You begin to feel an irrational sort of anger at that and growl, “Alice, stop.”

“No, you see that-“

“Alice. Stop.”

You words come out like ice and she stops in her tracks, blinking at you. She goes quiet and allows you to take a deep breath before shaking your head and saying, “Alice, you can’t keep beating yourself up. Yes, you got beaten, yes you got hurt, but you’re still alive and we still won the day. Your actions honestly helped save my life and if not for some interference, you’d probably have beaten her.”

“You’re powerful, I see that now. Yes, you’re a nymphomaniac who thinks too highly of herself, but don’t be down. If you have any regrets, then focus on making yourself better, by devoting yourself to something.” You sigh and turn to walk away. “Maybe follow in the tracks of the Wanderer or something, just if you’re going to mope then do it somewhere else.”

“The Wanderer… You mean Tabitha Steel-legs?” She goes quiet then as you walk away from her, saying all that you need to say. She was merely an ally of convenience and while you held no ill will for her, she needed to get over this on her own. Before you go fully out of ear shot, you hear, “I will! You’ll see, I’ll be the best damn swordswoman in the world and this will NEVER happen again!”

“Neat.” You whisper yourself, too worm out by the day’s worries. Gods, you’d even forgotten to get fully healed with all the things going on. Still, you have some work to do and the sooner you do it, the sooner you can get some rest before heading back home.

The inn is packed with people, as many had become displaced as the clean-up was being performed, and you have to push your way through the people to get upstairs and into your room. As you open the door, you pause as you see an interesting sight before you that makes you smile.

Abigail and Akela sit on the bed, both of them playing with a moving pile of black, fluffy tubes that flap about as they catch and play with them. Childish, but amusing to watch, you trace them back to their source to see the nine tails coming from Saya’s backside. You blink in surprise as you notice that she now sports pawed hands and feet, fully taking on the form of a Cat o’ Nine Tails.

She finishes with something on the Port-o-Glass before sighing and placing the device to the side and then looking up at you with delighted surprise. “Hey there.”

“Hey.” You say, smirking as you watch the simple scene. Akela notices you and jumps off the bed before hopping over and hugging you. You rub her head gently and look up to see both Abigail and Saya smiling softly.

“Looked like you were having some fun in here.” You say nodding to Saya. “Though I feel something is missing with that form…”

“Oh.” Saya says, looking to her tails which lack the blades. They grow a moment later and she shrugs. “I felt it would be safer for Akela.”

“Mom has been changing herself a ton. It’s weird, but kind of cool. She even made herself look like an Anubis once, it was kind of cool.” Her smile slips briefly before her happy face comes back. “Well, you said you’d be back and you kept your promise! Does this mean that…?”

You sigh and pat her head again. “Yes, it means that we can have a normal life soon. A few loose ends and we can finally rest.” You look up and nod to Abigail, still a little weird seeing her so large. Only looking at her now did you realize that her clothing, which used to be that smock and cap, had now changed into a flowing dress that showed off a large amount of skin, though she still wore the cap.

“Can you color with Akela for a bit? I have some work to do myself.”

“Of course.” She chuckles as you give her a strange look. “Oh, would it help if I called you an asshole? Would that make you feel more at ease?”

“A little, yes.” You hesitate before asking the question that comes to your mind, not wanting to ask in front of Akela. “Anyway, thanks for helping out.”

“Think nothing of it. I feel pretty happy right now anyway you bastard, so it’s fine.”

“Naughty words, children are about.” Akela says before leading Abigail over to her colors. You watch them go and shake your head before you feel something very strong and fluffy wrap around your waist. You give a little cry as you’re dragged in and come face to face with Saya, who smiles at you wickedly before pressing her face to yours for a kiss.

When she finally releases you, you blink a few times and shake your head asking, “What was that for?”

“For being so amazing.” She says, wrapping her arms around you. “Now that it’s all over, it’s coming back to me and I’m remembering bits and pieces of what happened. Summoning Xanthia was… scary, but you came back and freed me from her.”

“Hey, who wouldn’t?”

“Most anyone. I’m sure she won’t be too happy with me next time I see her, and frankly I’m a little terrified of when we do but… well, maybe we can delay that for abit.” She shakes her head before waggling her ears. “On the plus side, it seems she finally managed to get her lessons on shape-shifting to stick!”

“That’s great Saya!” You say, kissing her gently again. “What about your… you know.”

She holds up her hands which turns black and oozing before gently placing it on your [Port-o-Glass], which makes your heart beat very quickly. She chuckles and says, “Well, I seem to have total control of it now. Normally I had to keep my concentration up to keep from losing my grip but… I don’t know.” She sniffs and smiles, “I feel so much more in control of myself. I feel like I could keep a form indefinitely now.”

“You don’t think that…” You start but she gives wan smile.

“I don’t dare to hope. But at least we can… if you’d like to…”

You sigh and look to the [Port-o-Glass]. “Not yet, I have some things to report and… well, Ginelle is not in a good place.” Saya frowns and you say, “She’s locked in fear from that Mindflayer and she’s gone almost totally feral. I don’t know what to do yet, but Clint is with her.”

“Gods, I hope she gets better…” Saya whispers before shaking her head. “Is Clint fine?”

“Yeah, he is.” You frown and look about. “Where is Clarissa and Ophelia?”

“Ophelia is still working on those constructs. It’s insane to see how in command she is in her element, I’d never have thought it. Clarissa is sleeping off her worry in the other room. Poor girl almost croaked from the fear for us.” She smiles wanly again. “She’s done really well for someone with such a gentle soul. I’m glad you’re friends with her.”

“Aye, me too.” You say, nodding your head before sighing. “Alright, I need to do my report to Anderson. Mind if I sit here?”

She nods her head and stands, stretching her strange, feline limbs. She catches you watching and she smirks, leaning down to whisper, “Oh, you’ll get quite the eyeful later big guy.”

You feel yourself getting hard and you cough into your hand before turning to the device as she chuckles and kisses your cheek, leaving to play with Akela. Feeling a little warm, you open your Leymail to see an immediate message from Anderson. You sigh and begin to write your report, making certain you keep all the details in place there. It takes some time, but once you finish, you look through your other Leymail, noticing another correspondence from Patricia.

“Tobias.
I hope this reaches you well. I’m told by Anderson that you’ve reached the end point now, so if you’re reading this then you’ve survived, and hopefully so has Saya. If anything happened to her, then I… Well, anyway, you both better be safe.

Contact me as soon as you come back alive.

-Patricia.”

You send back an abbreviated report of your actions, as well as what you gleaned from the altar before you destroyed it. It was the last thing you did before leaving, although you found little there really. No notes, no information, no anything really. All you really saw was that the altar was hastily constructed. Any secrets that it held probably died with Fior…a….

You turn about slowly to watch Saya playing with Akela and your mind begins to turn the gears. Wait a moment, if Saya could get the memories of those she ate then she could possibly… no, but that would be too much to…

She turns to you and where her face is, you see that of Fiora’s, a wicked smile on her lips, and you start, shaking your head to find it back to her normal face. You stare for a long time before turning back to the [Port-o-Glass] as you hear the sound of a message arriving. Shocker: It’s from Anderson.

“Tobias.

Excellent work. Reports from the town have been scattered, and the loss of the fort is regrettable, but not the worst that could have happened. The constructs are deactivated and under the care of Lady Illoma, ready for transport out back to Loveura. We have reports that the support we sent will be there by tomorrow and we can start rebuilding while maintaining a powerful front if Galmathoria gets any ideas.

With the death of Chalan and Fiora, the threat of Illusionists has been alleviated, which will make us and Ms. Boudreaux much more relaxed now. I wish I could say that everything was in hand though, as we’ve seen all communication cut off with The Cradle. No one is able to get in or out, and the Monsters there have become belligerent. Sorcerers nearby report spikes of magic being drawn, and we are unable to determine what is happening.

This began yesterday. I do not know how related this is to the events here, but surely they’ll have learned that they have failed. What this means going forward, I do not know, but without the key part of their plan, a war, whatever they could do is unlikely to see the effects felt in the near future beyond economically. I would like someone to go there and investigate, but I have asked much and more of you as it is. You do not have any duty left to the crown, and you’ve fulfilled much and more that can be asked of you. Money has been deposited to your account and you should be well off. If you should choose to wait until another Illusionist needs elimination, I would understand.

Most people will not know what you have done, they CANNOT know what you have done. You are not The Grand Wizard, you are not the champion who saved the world. But to those of us who know what you did, there is a debt owed. The King himself knows of your deeds, and despite your family’s past, he personally wished to offer you his thanks, a great reward in its own right. Be proud of what you’ve done, and know that your sacrifices have been worth it.

If you require more, I will always be in contact. We may not always have seen eye to eye, and I have been overbearing at times, but Tobias, I hope there is no ill-will. We both work for the best interests of this Kingdom and thus we are comrades under the Crown. May you have a wonderful life with your new family.

By the graces of the crown
-Agent Anderson.”

You have to read it over a few times before it really sinks in how much emotion the man just used there. It makes you feel a little warm and cozy at that thought, and you feel a little smile come to your lips. Well, alright Anderson, you’re pretty fine after all.

You make to close the [Port-o-Glass] when another message appears. You frown and look down to see Patricia has replied. You debate it, but end up opening the message and read the short dispatch.

“Tobias,

Thank the Gods you’re safe, but you’re not going to like what I have to say. The information about those rituals and what happened with Chalan is rather interesting, and it confirms my suspicions that they didn’t just turn her into a Monster, but instead implanted one inside of her. The more her human form was harmed, the parasitic Monster grew until she was nothing more than a raging beast. This smacks of something far before the time of Dollora’s Great Transformation, however, which means it must have been granted by Phallia herself.

I’ve been reading the reports Anderson has given me, about the Cradle. I’m sure he’s told you already about the spikes of magic and the sealing of the borders? Well, from what the Biomancers nearby can detect, there’s a large amount of energy going into there, channeling some kind of ritual. What I bet he didn’t tell you was that as early as a few hours ago, the aetherial attunement changed, it became less intense, but still there.

Someone must have realized their gambit failed in Helmscrag, and now they’re changing tactics. Tobias, there have been multiple reports of people, especially female biomancers, have gone missing, thought to be trapped inside the Cradle. They’re assured that everyone is fine, but I begin to wonder. I think they stumbled on the missing ingredient to the Avatar. I think they’re creating one, but without their war, what will she do?

Anderson says he’s getting someone to try to investigate, but I don’t know. I’m happy for you, but I’ll be following this closely. Sorry for being such a downer. Tell Saya I’m… glad she’s fine.

-Patricia”

“Damn.” You say, tapping the table as you read over her words again. Mixed with Anderson’s reports, this is really worrying. You feel an itch on the back of your neck that you have to scratch and you sigh, mulling it over. You really owe nothing to this anymore, and in fact, you’re now owed something. You have to get back to Loveura, but in doing so, you’ll be way out of the way of The Cradle. Is it really your problem though?

You sigh and think over all the other little issues that have cropped up before looking to your family and frowning. You owe it to them to get your reward from Jackor as soon as you can, and to give them all they desire. The itch subsides and you pull your fingers away to see some blood there, to which you frown deeply. Shit, was it really that itchy?

Shaking your head, you turn off the [Port-o-Glass] and think over Jackor’s words once again. The little wooden bear in your pocket seems much heavier for some reason, and you remove Bearsy to set it on the table, though he weighs just the same as before. You tap the little bear’s head and the words, {You have to go back,} echo again in your mind.

“Yes.” You whisper. “But go back where?”
—————————————–
You sleep on the question. Not that you didn’t have any worries otherwise, but you’re just too tired and frankly hurt to go through much else. You barely manage to take a meal that Saya and the Innkeeper force you to eat before you crawl into your bed and quickly fall asleep.
You dream, unfortunately, though when you awaken all you can remember are the sounds of laughter in your head. You can’t quite place the voice, but something about it is eerily familiar. Putting it out of your mind, you roll over to see the sun’s first rays making their way into the canyon and you blink in surprise at how long you’ve been out. Certainly, you don’t feel all that rested, and your chest still burns and feels like quite a weight is upon it.

You blink away the morning fatigue and realize that the weight you feel is Saya sleeping curled up next to you, her arm draped over your chest. At your movements her face, which she had changed back to fully human, stirs and she blinks a few times before looking at you sleepily and mumbling, “Hey there…”

“Hey.” You whisper back, reaching over to stroke her hair. “Sorry to wake you.”

“It’s fine.” She says, yawning. “First night sleeping without melting any. You never really saw it, but it was a little messy at times.” She makes to get up, and you find that she’s nude from the top up. You blink a few times at it and she looks down before smirking and leaning over to kiss you on the lips.

“It’s fine, Akela is still asleep, and I wanted you to wake up to something nice.”

You smirk and shake your head. “I always wake up to something nice when you’re around.” She flicks your nose before rising and going over to put on her clothing. You look over to see Akela sleeping in the next bed over with Abigail sleeping beside her. Your smirk becomes a smile at the cute scene, though you wonder how long Abigail can stay. With her new responsibilities, how long will it be until Jackor decides to reign her back in?

Sighing, you remember your own conundrum. The Cradle is very close to you, and this threat is quite real, but based on the words of Patricia and Anderson, it doesn’t sound critical. You can just ignore this, let someone else handle it. The same thoughts came to you about your quest to fight Fiora, but that was personal, and you had something to gain.

Your gaze drifts to Saya, her hair a mess, (thought she could fix it instantly) and then to Akela, still sleeping. You look down at your hands and to see that you’ve picked up Bearsy at some point. The little Bear’s words echo again in your head, though you know that it’s your own mind saying the words. You grip the bear tight before shaking your head.

Yes, before you had something to gain, so much to gain, but now you have something to lose. If you went to the Cradle, took them with you and they got hurt again, or if you ended up dying or going fully insane… No, no you can’t take away Akela’s smile again, not when she’s just so recently gained it. Besides, both of them deserve a life free from all the conflict and death, and frankly you’d like it too. Besides, there’s something very important waiting for you in Loveura.

Nodding your head, you rise and dress before firing up the [Port-o-Glass] and weaving a message to Anderson giving him your condolences and promising to meet him in Sanctifrond. By the time you send the same to Patricia, Anderson has replied back, because clearly he doesn’t sleep, affirming this.

“My support teams will be there later today. We’ll make certain you’re fine before debriefing and sending you on your way. Again, I understand your concerns. We will notify the Grand Wizard as well as the Lord Commander in preparation for whatever she has in store. Good luck.”

You pause at that last part, wondering what he means by, “Good Luck.” Shaking your head, you turn off the device and go down to get some breakfast for your family (And Abigail, who talks overly about waffles and how she was excited to eat with her new, larger mouth.)

Thus finished, you decide to head back to the Hospital to see Ginelle. You leave Akela with Clarissa and Ophelia, the latter of which having appeared late last night to pass out in bed, covered in lubricating oils and a goofy grin on her face. You have no idea how many crankshafts she polished, but it makes you feel dirty thinking about it. Still, you don’t want Akela to see Ginelle the way she is at the moment, and you leave her with them.

“Why not leave Abigail?” Saya asks as you walk out in the warm morning. The late summer heat was starting to dissipate, and soon enough Autumn would settle in, but with the way the wind moved through the canyon, it was still a little chilly.

“I think Abigail may be useful in helping me with whatever is happening with Ginelle.” You say, watching as some soldiers cart away some debris. “I’d like all the cheer and happy magic or whatever she can produce.”

“Fuck youuuuuuu.” Abigail says next to you, invisible though she is. She’s really taken a shining to this new power of hers, and while you think it’s a form of Illusion, you don’t have the drive to dispel it for yourself. Besides, the little pink creature with the head of that mantis from Loveura dancing in the corner of your eye is more distracting. Gods you hope it will go away soon, it’s really annoying.

“Abigail, please stop pretending to be a ghost.”

“But I’m spoooookkkyyyyy.”

“Oh my Gods, Abigail, you are now a Queen of your people, entrusted with power by a God, and you use it to pretend you’re a Ghost.”
“Our God is a jackass who derives power from playing pranks and games. Also, you’re one to talk.”

You pause for a moment before grumbling and continuing to walk forward. Abigail makes spooky, smug ghosts noises near you the whole time while you walk, though Saya just chuckles. You glare at her at one point, but that makes her smile wider and also make spooky ghost noises. Needless to say, you’re quite grumbly by the time you reach the facility.

The Hospital seems a little more quiet today, as most of the critical cases went one way or another last evening. Walking through the facility, you reach Clint and Ginelle’s room to find two guards posted outside the curtained off section. They nod to you as you enter and you open the curtain to find Ginelle passed out on her bed while Clint sleeps next to her, head resting on her chest.

As you enter, Clint stirs looks up. He blinks a few times before stretching and saying, “Oh, morning.”

“How’s she been?” Saya asks, and Clint shakes his head.

“Not good. They had to sedate her again and she didn’t seem to notice me.” He shakes his head, “She started crying a little during it, and her eyes… Gods, this is almost worse than her being dead.”

“Shush you, don’t wish that on her.” Abigail says, appearing from thin air. Clint starts, pulling back and reaching for his rifle, which is across the room. He looks down at the empty ground with a surprised look before shaking his head.

A guard pokes his head into the room and blinks, only seeing the four of you there. He blinks a few times before slowly pulling away. Abigail appears again, giggling a little before turning back to Clint. “Anyway, I think Tobias has an idea how to help.”

Clint turns to you, weary hope in his eyes. You nod to him sharply and lift a finger. “I have some thoughts, going to see if they stick.”

“She’s… going to be alright, right?”

“No, probably not.” You say, looking grim. “But she’ll need someone near her to help comfort her through it.” Clint gives you a worried look, but you smile wanly and say, “She’s a strong girl, she’ll just turn it into an advantage somehow.”

Clint closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before nodding his head. “Yeah, you’re right.”

You nod back at him before turning to Abigail. “I’m going to need her awake, think you can dampen the sound in here.”

“Why would you think I can do that?”

“I dunno, isn’t that something fairy Queens can do?”

Abigail narrows her eyes before sighing. “Yeeeessss, it is.” She raises her hands and a gentle warmth trickles through the room, but beyond that you don’t feel much different. She nods to you before pausing. “Waaaaaait, you were just fucking guessing, weren’t you?”

“No, I had every confidence in you…” You mutter as you study Ginelle. Poor girl managed to tear up her clothes in her struggles and they barely cling to her, though Clint likely had managed to slip something over the more vital parts of her, not able to get everything off since she’s been shackled. You look over to see that her wrists are raw from chaffing and you close your eyes and sigh before placing a hand to her forehead.

Everyone takes a shallow breath as Ginelle’s eyes flicker slowly open. She blinks once, twice, and then her eyes go wide and she starts screaming. Her limbs pull at the chains, but no one comes into the room. You hurriedly hold down your fingers to her face and put your face over hers and stare into those wild eyes.

You activate [Eye of Fear].

You feel that strange feeling of your consciousness being sucked down, but this time instead of finding yourself in a dark room, you’re in a field. The more you look about, the more you see that this field looks suspiciously like the one outside of Loveura. A cry of panic rises and you flip about to find the source.

Ginelle sits there, wrapped in the coils of three lamia, the snake women each taking turns to bite her neck. They look a little weird to you though, and when you look close enough, you see that they each have the head of the dead Mindflayer. When one pulls away for the others to bite, you hear them shout, “They’re all dead! Every last one of them!”

Another pulls away, teeth covered in Ginelle’s blood. “Your friends! Your Lover! Even your family, who have been dead for so long!”

“Dead! All gone and there’s nothing you can do!”

“You were too weak!”

“So weak! Pathetic!”

Ginelle, tears streaming down her face, struggles against the Monsters and screams with a hoarse throat, “Nooooooo! Please, stop!”

You dash over to the snakes and shout, “Let her go you scaly bitches!”

They turn their heads to regard you and laugh, voices grating against your ears. You grit your teeth against it and pick up a stick, preparing to beat them away. As you try to attack one, they dodge and knock it out of your hand, laughing maniacally, the sound echoing in your mind. You put a hand to your head and shout, “Ginelle! Listen to me! You have to fight this!”

Ginelle, her face a mess of tears and blood looks at you with unfocused eyes. She seems unable to comprehend your presence, and begins to scream again as the Lamia tear into her a fresh. Growling, you run in and try to pull the Lamia away, shouting again, “GINELLE! YOU’RE TOO STRONG TO BE BEATEN LIKE THIS!”

A Lamia hisses and grabs your wrists, pulling you aside and chuckling as she pins you down. Her teeth bare before you and she says, “You should have stayed away. Now you’ll join her in this hell of her own making!”

You struggle against the creature, but you’re unable to break free, her grip somehow far more powerful than it should be. Something hot and warm dribbles onto your neck and you look up to see venom dripping from her fangs.

Your heart begins to beat wildly and you call out once words from the past coming to your throat: “You can do it Ginelle!! You can break free from this, believe in yourself! Believe in the power that runs through your veins! You can break their hold, I know you can!”

The Lamia moves her face in closer for the bite and you feel a stab of irony that this is how it all ends. Right before the fangs touch your throat though, the Lamia makes a confused sound and is suddenly pulled backward, screaming in pain. You pull yourself up and watch what pulled her away.

Ginelle, her arms bulging, veins popping from her head, forces the Lamia apart with her whole body before letting out a feral shout and throwing them off her like a bomb exploding. The Lamia fly in all directions, shouting as they vanish into nothingness, and Ginelle stands there, broken and abused, painting and dazed, but alive.

She looks at you, eyes holding some of that spark of hers. She says, “Damn cheering section.” Before collapsing to the ground. You curse and scrabble over to her, holding her upright and shaking her, calling her name over and over again as the world pulls away from you and you suddenly find yourself in your own body, shaking Ginelle and shouting.

Clint and Saya pull you away from her as you continue to shake the air it takes you a few moments to get your bearings before you stop and blink your eyes in confusion. You nod to the two holding you and they gently let you go before you put a hand to your head and shake it again, clearing your vision. When you have, you look up to see Ginelle laying on the bed, eyes open, tears streaming down her face, but no longer raging.

Clint hurries over to her and kneels down next to her asking, “Ginelle? Are you there?”

She blinks once before turning slowly to him. She stares at him, as if unable to recognize him for a second before closing her eyes and nodding. Clint closes his eyes and shudders before grabbing a key from the nearby table and hurriedly undoing the locks on her bindings, releasing her wrists and legs. Once free, she pulls in on herself and shivers, though once Clint sees this he immediately wraps his arms around her and whispers protectively to her.

She puts paw on his arm and weeps softly before nodding her head and burying it into his chest. Saya sighs in relief and you realize then that she’s gripping your arm tightly. You pull her in close to you and gently apply [Cupid] to the two, helping strengthen their bonds. Abigail nods as you do this, somehow noticing what you’re doing before waving her hand over them helping both to gently drift off to sleep in each other’s arms.

After arranging both of them on the bed, you exit the curtained off area and tell the guards it will be fine and to bring another Hospitalier. They give you a confused look, and the one from earlier gives you a strange look before shrugging and going off to fetch the healer. Deciding to leave the two alone, you head out and make your way to the station, trusting that the two will be alright, though by fact that the little pink thing is barking now, you feel you’re not in the best frame of mind.

>You madness level has increased to 64%

———————————

The station was designed to withstand the rigors of battle, and due to its location, it was almost untouched from the explosion. People busily move about the area, loading and unloading various wares and preparing transportation for aid and support through the Kingdom. The Trolls guarding the area keep a close eye on everything that goes about along with a contingent of soldiers, half staring at her body every now and again, the other half standing as far away as possible to get away from the stench.

You don’t have to wait long until a sleek looking Leyway rolls in and a group of Heroes clad in various sorts of armor pile out, speaking with the soldiers about where they can best to be put to use. Behind them come two men in black suits and shaded spectacles who survey the area quietly. The moment they see you, they make a beeline, the forward one extending his hand, which you take.

“Agent Kay, this is my partner, agent Jay.” The other man nods to you curtly before surveying the area again. Kay lets go of your hand and says, “We’ve been instructed to work with you while assessing the area for damages. I trust you’re recovering well?”

“As well as can be expected.” You say, shrugging. “Have some friends recovering in the Hospital in town, should be fine, if a little shaken and…” You trail off as you notice Agent Jay staring at something behind you. You cock your head and hear Abigail whisper,

“I think he sees me.”

You blink and turn back to appraise the man who taps his spectacles. “Magesight.”

“Ah.” You say before shrugging. “She’s with us, don’t worry about it.”

“We’re not, or else we’d have taken action.” Kay says not even concerned. “I understand you’re going to Loveura now, is that right?”

“As soon as we’re healed up and the Leyways are operational, yes.”

“I see. You’re taking those constructs with you?”

“They’re property of the Manufactorum, so yes.” You frown at that and say with some ice, “Anderson told you this, right?”

“Of course he did, we’re just confirming. Those units could do some great things for the country. We’ll have to speak about appropriate reparations for the manufactorum.”

“You mean, purchasing them?”

“We prefer our term.”

You frown as he pulls out some papers and consults them before shoving them back into his suit pocket. He doesn’t say anything else and seems to utterly ignore you, so you have to cough into your hand and ask, “Is… that all?”

“Hmm?” Kay asks, turning to look at you. “Yes, without going to the Cradle, we are not authorized to provide you with any additional support. You have been paid for your duty, and a Leyway will be available for you when you’re prepared to leave.” He nods to you and says, “If you’ll excuse me then, we have business to attend to here.”

He walks off quick as you do, and you’re let watching them go. You throw your hands up in the air and say, “Well that was thoroughly unhelpful.”

“What did he mean by the Cradle?” Saya asks, cocking her head.

You blink at her a few times before slapping your forehead, remembering that you’d forgotten to tell her. Or well, you didn’t WANT to tell her. You sigh and shake your head, saying, “There’s been a development in the Cradle. They sealed their borders and there’s been a large amount of magic flowing from the place. No one’s certain what’s going on, but Patricia has a suspicion.”

“Gods Tobias, we have to do something then!” Saya says, turning to go catch Agent Kay. “Let’s say that we’re going and-“

You catch her wrist and she jumps before turning back to you in confusion. You shake your head slowly and say, “No. This is it Saya, we’re done.”

“Huh?” She asks. “What do you mean, we’re done?”

“I mean, we’re done fighting. We did our part, saved the damn country from war. I don’t like whatever is happening there either, but damnit Saya, I can’t put this group at risk anymore.”

“I don’t understand, we just fucking beat a Mindflayer and some…thing that used to be human!” She throws her hands into the air and looks at you incredulously. “Now you’re too afraid to fight some plants?”

You take in a deep breath and put on a firm expression. “You’re right, we did just fight them and win, but look at what it cost us. Ginelle is a wreck, Clint still has back problems, even after being healed, and my damn lungs are on fire.”

You thump your chest and cough some. “To top that off, I’m starting to see things. Frankly Saya, we’re not in the right state to go fighting anyone, let alone a possible Avatar.”

“But…” Saya begins, but you cut her off.

“No. I’m sure even your father knows he has limits, and I know mine. Besides, there’s no guarantee whatever they’re doing will work, and if it does, the Order or the Wizards can handle it. This has gone out of the scope of Illusion work.”

You tighten your grip on her arm as a pained look crosses your expressions. “And Saya… I know you want to go and fight, but after all we’ve done, after all we’ve won, the thought of losing you pains me more than ever. How would you feel if I died? What about Akela?”

Saya pauses and looks down, her expression defeated. You shake your head and drop her arm before saying, “I know it’s selfish of me to ask, but Saya, I care too much about you, about us, about all of our friends we’ve made on this journey. We owe it to them to preserve their happiness also.”

“What if they succeed?” She says, in almost a whisper.

“There will always be a hero to take the reins.” You say, waving for her to come close. She does so and settles into your arm as you sigh. “For us, the story is over. All we have to do is collect our reward from that asshole Jackor.”

“You mean… Richard?” She pauses and then asks, “And what about after that?”

You shrug and say, “We live our lives. Whether that means fighting Illusionists of living a quiet life somewhere, I don’t know. But as long as it’s with you, I’m fine.”

She chuckles, “Sounds almost like a proposal.”

“I’d never propose to you somewhere as dinky as a Leyway station surrounded by soldiers and smelly Trolls. No, when I propose to you, it will be much more grand.”

She freezes, hand tightening on your jacket. “W…wait, you can’t be-“

You cut off her objection by kissing her.

————————————————-

It isn’t until the next day that everyone is well enough to ride the Leyway. Ginelle, having regained some of her wits, is able to comprehend what you tell her, only shivering every so often while holding onto Clint’s hand with her paw. Ophelia was able to get the Blitzers ready for transport, though the agents kept bugging her incessantly the whole time.

You explain your plans to return to Loveura as well as what’s happening in the Cradle. Though some uneasy looks pass between your friends, no one makes and objection, either too tired or unwilling to do so. Clint wishes to return to Sanctifrond with Ginelle, but with a small voice, she tells him that she wants to visit Loveura again, and see this through. He relents, though he makes it clear that he’s going to make her all better back in his Household, where he’ll take care of her.

Ophelia, already heading that way for home, agrees that she’ll part ways there and return to the Manufactorum while Clarissa says she’ll stick with you until you reach Sanctifrond yourselves. Despite the adventure, she sounds keen to return to her job after some downtime to think everything over. You don’t see Alice however, though some of the Heroes say she boarded a Leyway out West already, muttering about where the Wanderer was. The details settled, you board up on the Leyway and head out to Loveura.

The trip is uneventful, which you are extremely thankful for. Once boarded, Clint and Ginelle take a room to themselves, and surprisingly don’t touch any booze. Ophelia spends most of her time lording over the constructs, while Clarissa watches, the two apparently having grown to be friends over the journey, though you have NO idea when that happened. Maybe they feel like 5th and 6th wheels?

Abigail orders food to your car at random times, the server seeming quite confused when he brings it each time, but you let her be. She deserves it. For your part, you spend the time constructing messages about your adventures to the Grand Wizard and Selene, preparing them for what could be occurring in the future. You don’t receive any replies before you arrive, however.

Saya, for her part, makes sure you find constructive ways to spend your time off the [Port-o-Glass]. She does this mainly by setting up traps and dragging you into unoccupied rooms to do unspeakably naughty things with you like **Holding hands while she rests on your shoulder** or **Gently talking about the future.** Occasionally she even presses you for sex, which you give her without any protest.

Though you had some reservations, she doesn’t hurt you, and once you come to this realization, her inhibitions seem to vanish as she seems to want to relieve all her pent up lusts and frustrations. Though the attendants on the Leyway become curious as to why the Leyway cars now smell of sex, neither of wish to stop.

All in all, it’s a fairly relaxing trip to Loveura, beyond a few incidents where your mind gets the better of you. You don’t include that one time the fish talked to you about how cold the world was, because that clearly is a rational thing to comment on if you’re a fish about to be eaten. Delicious he was.

The only other thing of note was that you’d gotten another report from Anderson. Attempts to penetrate the Cradle had failed, but the influx of energies had vanished. With no attacks or anything, it’s hard to say exactly what happened, though their borders are still closed. The Monster Nation is investigating the best they can, though they too seem to be barred. If this keeps up, it could lead to them taking action in their own rights. All in all, the time for you to act has passed, and now everyone must wait to see what the results, if any, are.

The Leyway rolls into Loveura a week after you leave, and as you take a step out onto the platform, a wave of nostalgia hits you like a physical force. Everything appears as it did before, the accentuated architecture of the while buildings, the verdant plant life, and the flowing canals. The happy people and even the gruff Trolls, it all brings back memories of your time here.

You feel yourself choke up a little as you view it, and Saya rubs your arm before nodding toward you gently leading you and Akela out onto the platform. Ginelle and Clint follow after, the mood of the Badgergirl having improved much during the trip, though she still clings to Clint some. At the sight of the city and the Beegirls that instinctively know she’s here, she shivers some, but doesn’t cause much of a fuss. Clarissa come along as well, though Ophelia says she’ll meet with all of you that evening after delivering the Constructs back home.

You wave to her as she orders some Manufactorum workers to help her load the constructs. You’d made plans that evening to meet in the Main District, over near Ulala’s tree, so you knew she’d be there. Her experience with Richard was brief, but she also held the same desire to see him whole and hale again.

——————–

As you approach “The Dancing Wolf” little Jeanie, still working out front cleaning, immediately hones in on your presence and her little tail waggles through the air back and forth as she stands on her tip toes and waves. “Ohh ohhh! It’s Tobias! And Saya! And Ginelle! And uh… other people!”

“Hey there Jeanie,” you say, patting the little Wolfgirl’s head. “Is your mom inside?” Her tail wags even more at this she nods her head.

“Yep! I bet she’s probably smelled you by now already too.” She cocks her head then and looks to Akela before pointing at her. “Oh woah! You’re new too! Hi, my name is Jeanie!”

Akela looks between you and Jeanie, an unhappy look on her face. You nod at her and she sighs before stepping forward and saying, “Hi…woah!” She starts as Jeanie takes her paw in hers and shakes it.

“Woah, you’re kind of foreign, huh? Haven’t seen a wolf like you before!”

“That’s because I’m an Anubis and my name is Akela…”

“Woaaaah, Anubis? What’s that like?”

Akela looks to you for help, but you chuckle and pat her shoulder. “Hey, go play with Jeanie, although as long as she does her chores…” You raise an eyebrow at the little Wolf-girl who whistles and twirls her broom. Akela sighs and shakes head before putting her paws on her hips and stands to attention.

“Alright, if we’re going to play, then this is how we’re doing it.”

You leave the two girls be as you enter the inn, almost getting barreled over by Hannah the moment you do. She bear hugs you so tightly, you feel like you’re going to pass out as she cries, “Oh my Gods, Tobias! You’re back! I thought you might never show up, but here you are!”

“Ha-hannah…” You wheeze, trying to force her off. She blinks a few times before chuckling and pulling away.

“Goodness me, there’s more of you this time. And I smell someone else out with Jeanie?…”

“Our daughter.” You say, looking to Saya. Hannah’s eyebrows raise and she chuckles.

“I knew that would happen, but Gods, you two work fast. Grown in the blink of an eye…”

“We’ll tell you the rest of the story later. Can we get some rooms and some of your fine cuisine?”

“Bah, no time for fun!” She says with good humor. “Alright, alright, well you kids get all settled.” She pauses and asks in a hesitant voice. “Is… Richard?…”

“Not yet.” You say, shaking your head. “But soon.”

She cracks a wide grin and holds her paws out wide. “Well then! I suppose we better prepare for the celebration then!” As she goes about getting things ready for you, you have a strange sensation in the pit of your stomach. You really, really hope that is the case…

——————————-

Nightfall comes painfully slow, but once the last rays of the sun begin to dissipate from the horizon, you gather up your party and head for the Main district. Though not on the way, you stop for some food, laden with honey, because that’s how this town operates, while waiting a little longer. Once your bellies are filled, you make your way fully to the Main district.

There, in the middle of the square, stands Ulala’s twisted tree, swaying gently in warm breeze of the night. All of you gather round, even Abigail, who makes her presence known, trusting in the night to keep her hidden from unwanted viewers. If anything, they’d think her some kind of Beegirl. As you step up, the tree shivers and from the bark appears Ulala’s face, a look of joy on her expression.

She hasn’t changed at all since you last visited, and the familiar smile on her face fills you with some hope. Ulala looks over your group before waving and saying, “Hello! Oh wow, there’s a lot of new people, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess there is.” You say, looking over the assembled group. From those whom you met at the beginning of this journey to those you met later on, you’d formed deep bonds with all of them. You nod to Ulala and ask, “How is he?”

“The same.” She says, sighing. “His voice has been very… distracting, and I’ve done my best to keep him calm and placated, but it’s difficult.” She looks at you with hope. “Have you come with something…?”

“I should hope so.” You reach into your pocket to pull out the tiny bear figurine. “Alright Jackor, we’ve come back. Now then, show yourself.”

“See, I don’t know why you’re talking to a bear, that’s just crazy.” A man’s voice says from above you.

Both you and Abigail snap your attentions to Ulala’s branches to see Jackor sitting then, munching on an apple. He waves at you before dropping down and taking another bite, chewing for long moments before swallowing and throwing the core away. It vanishes into nothing, an illusion then. He wipes his hands on his pants and says, “Fancy seeing you here.”

You look to the others who are giving you strange looks and you turn back to Jackor who shakes his head and says, “They can’t see me. They must think you’re insaaaaane.” He says, chuckling.

“Look, I did what you asked, Fiora is dead. Now it’s time to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Jackor utterly ignores you and turns to Abigail before clapping his hands together. “Ah, my dear, sweet Abigail. I must say, being a Titania suits you as you are quite beautiful my dear.”

“T…thank you, my Lord.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, it suits you. You did well leading him to put down my lost children. I didn’t think he would, to be honest, but because you helped him, you got your own reward, did you not.”

She looks down and nods her head. “Yes… thank you, my Lord.”

“Oh come now, don’t sound so glum. You’re going to be a Queen! Now there’s been some disputes in the forests to the North, so I’d like you to go mediate those and-“

“Jackor.” You say flatly, interrupting the God. He turns to you and raises and eyebrow.

“Hmm? You need something?”

“We had a deal, Jackor! I kill Fiora, you restore my sanity and Richards!”

He cocks his head and taps his chin. “Hmmm. No, I don’t recall that being one of your ‘demands’ such as they were.” He looks you straight in the eyes and says, “You asked me to fix your mind in exchange for hunting down Fiora. I already did that earlier. Now then as for you other demands, you asked, and I quote: ‘You wished for me explain to you why I couldn’t fix Richard, and you expected me not to bullshit you or dance around the answer. Third, you wanted me to tell you why Richard lasted as long as he did, and fourth…’

He leans in close, his expression intense. “You wanted my power.”

Jackor stands up straight and shrugs, a shit-eating grin on his face. “We already filled all the parts of the bargain, Tobias! You did a wonderful job, and you’ve met some great people and gained some great things along the way! They say the journey is more important than the destination, right? Well, you certainly have come a long way, haha!”

“Now then.” He says, turning back to Abigail. “To discuss your new responsibilities…”

You stare at Jackor as he speaks again to Abigail, unable to comprehend what just happened. After everything you went through, after all the heartache, after everything you did to your own mind… to have this be the end result. Your mind goes utterly blank as you can do nothing but stare at Jackor. In the end you’d been outfoxed again, unable to say anything against him, for his words were true. As you watch him speak, one thought bubbles to the surface, a catalyst for your next move.

“You can’t have her.” You say, voice almost a whisper.

Jackor doesn’t seem to notice you, merely speaking more to Abigail about conflict disputes. You watch as the Titania nods her head placidly, her expression downcast. She meekly accepts what he says, and why shouldn’t she? He is a GOD after all.

You grit your teeth and clench your fists so hard that you knuckles pop. Maybe it’s the little pink creature whispering in your ear to eat his face, or maybe it’s the fact that he fucking cheated you, but you’re mad. After everything you did, everything you suffered through, to be given this insult at the end? Well, two can play at that game. You stand up straight and shout out, loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear:

“Good God, we had a deal! That cocksleeve and her sparkly fairy ass is mine!”

Everyone in your party goes quiet as they all turn to stare at you in shock and surprise. Saya’s mouth hangs open while Abigail’s face goes utterly scarlet. Clint cocks his head while Ginelle looks utterly confused, yet your main focus is on the God no one else can see. While everyone else is busy looking at you agape, Jackor slowly turns his gaze to you and within those blue eyes you see such annoyance that it makes you skin crawl.

Actually your skin is literally crawling, but you tell it to stop and it does. You’re not THAT crazy after all!

Jackor licks his lips and sighs. “Tobias, please. This is pathetic.”

“Is it?” You say, looking down your nose at him. “You seem to forget, contracts have meaning Jackor.”

He frowns. “What are you getting at?”

You tap your forehead and say, “I get it Jackor, you’re right. You never said you’d clear my insanity twice, you never said you’d cure Richard, I understand that, however…” You walk over to Abigail and slide your arm around her waist, pulling her in close to you. She yelps in surprise as you press her close to you, but your eyes are focused on Jackor.

“But you did give me so many great gifts, and for that, I am thankful. In fact, I find that I like my first gift the best out of them all.” At that, you slide your hand over to Abigail’s rather… firm… sparkly ass and squeeze it.

“Oh what the fuck.” Saya says, growling and stepping forward. You hold your other hand up behind you, making her aware that you understand her concerns. You can’t see her, but you hear Clint whisper something into her ear behind you and she stops. Taking a mental sigh, you continue your focus on Jackor.

His eye twitches once, but he keeps his composure. “Please do not do that with my property.”

“Oh no no.” You say, firmly rubbing her ass. You are not enjoying this in any way, shape, or form. Abigail, on the other hand, goes a form of scarlet you weren’t aware was possible on the face of a living being. “You see, she is MY property. First of my gifts, yes? You wouldn’t take back a gift, would you?”

Jackor narrows his eyes. “Gift? I never said-“

“Y…you did.” Abigail says, squirming. Her wings smatter some fairy dust on your face, or well, you think they do anyway. “It was w…what you told me to tell him.”

You nod your head to Jackor and smile. “Well, there we have it. Part of the contract, right? Well, I am sad that I cannot have my Master back, but I’ll have to dry my tears in my precious Fairy Queen’s chest.” You kind of want to do just that, but you’re afraid Saya will rend your soul, and frankly you’ve already seen that happen once to Heather. You know it’s possible.

“That will be enough of that, you impudent child.” Jackor says, taking a step toward you. You can feel him swelling with power and anger, something you didn’t feel from him at your last encounter. You can use this.

“Oh? What’s wrong? Don’t like someone touching what is yours? Well, that’s a shame because she isn’t yours, is she? You’ll never have this wonderfully lewd Fairy again~”

Jackor vanishes and appears before you quicker than you can blink, pushing you back and grabbing your throat. His eyes blaze with power and he growls, “No. You will NOT continue to mock your GOD like this.”

Everyone in your party gasps in panic and searches about for whatever is choking you. They must think it’s some kind of magic rather than a GOD in front of you. You briefly wonder if he’ll actually kill you, when you growl down at him, “You can’t kill me, Solos would have your head.”

“No one will know. They think you’re crazy and you’ve made a LOT of enemies.”

“Let my Dad go!” Akela shouts, running up to Jackor and throwing her pawed fists at him. They pass through him with no resistance, but Jackor drops you the moment she does. He steps back and grits his teeth as Akela attaches her arms to your leg while you catch your breath.

“This is how you repay your friends, huh? You wanted me dead no matter how this ended, didn’t you?”

“No.” Jackor says, looking down at Akela with annoyance. “I should have remembered the gift of the Anubis. It seems you once again called my bluff.”

Akela lifts her teeth at him in a snarl, as if she was a guard dog. You blink at her for a moment before cocking your head in confusion. Jackor stare at you before groaning. “You didn’t even know about their gift, did you? Right, you thought it was some kind of immunity from illusions. No, it’s more that they have magical resistance. Befitting creatures who once served as spirit guardians for the ancient rulers of the sands.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Akela says, though her eyes never leave Jackor. “I do remember my mother saying that.”

“Well, isn’t that something.” You say, rubbing Akela’s head. Again, like she was some kind of guard dog, which it seems that they were once, how curious. Steeling yourself again, you return your gaze to Jackor. “Now that I have a witness, maybe we can talk about this rationally.”

“You’re trying to take what’s mine. I am a God whose very power you channel to fuck with the minds of others.” He says, tapping his head. “You are not exactly being very rational here.”

“Yes, because I’m fairly insane again.” You say, shrugging. Akela’s hair made your hand itchy, so you scratch it some. “So once again, you gifted her to me. Do you intend to go and renege on our contract?”

“No, of course not.” Jackor says, frowning. “You know I am bound by such things.” He narrows his eyes then and says, “But you still will not get me to grant you anything else.”

“I don’t see why you’d have to.” You say, itching more at your hand. Fucking hells that’s really, really itchy. Your skin is starting to peel some from the itching. “But I wonder though, have you fulfilled all the parts of our bargain?”

“What is he talking about?” Ophelia says, cocking her head. “Who is he talking to?”

“Insane clown God.” Akela says, looking to Ophelia. “This is very important.”

The Rabbitgirl stares at her for a moment before stepping back and shaking her head while Saya has her hands buried in her hands. You feel that she’s repeating the words, “That put his dick in me, that put his dick in me…” Or well, maybe something less lewd. You can dream.

Jackor goes quiet and just stares at you. You can tell that he’s thinking things over, and part of you wonders if it’s fine to go this far making a God angry. Would a sane person dare to do this? No, but you’re not quite entirely sane anymore, are you?

“You see, I seem to recall when making my demands, that I asked for YOUR power.”

“You did.” Jackor says, nodding slowly. “And I said I’d grant you some ability, a boon, though it would be random.”

“Ah, but you did agree, did you not? To give me YOUR power?”

“No. You made the stipulation that I could take it from someone else.” He shakes his head. “A swing and a miss, Mr. Shady.”

“Damn.” You say, gulping. You thought you had him here. “Very well then, you called my bluff also. Seems we’re at an impasse.”

“How so?”

“I have something you want, you have something I want.”

“You say this as if I am able to grant you the power you seek.” He sighs. “If I could, then perhaps I would.”

“Mmm, I wonder that. You did it once before.”

“Because it was a misuse of my power channeled into you. I merely took it back. Do not mistake me Tobias Shady, you cannot game this system forever. I will not gamble with you, I will not play these games. There is a time and a place for such things, and while I am a trickster, I am not in the mood.” He steps forward and says, “Because no one went to the Cradle things are going to change very, very fast in this world. I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for what is coming.”

You stare into his eyes for a long while before saying, “There will always be a hero ready to stand up for something. They may not look it at first, but when there is a need, someone will rise.”

“Not this time.” Jackor says, shaking his head. “I cannot help this time.”

“Then I will have to take my service to another God. I seem to have some gifts from them, don’t I?”

It’s almost imperceptible, but in the faint light of Abigail’s wings, your [Starlight Wisdom] makes out a small twitch, a break so impossibly small in Jackor’s poker face that no one else could see it. Your eyes go wide and you say, “The other Gods don’t know about the power you granted me.”

Jackor frowns. “What are you talking about.”

“You took the powers from them, stole it. They don’t know that I’m using some of their power. They don’t know…” You begin to smile. “What would happen if I went to an altar of War and called Sveth? If I spoke with a Dullahan about these gifts I use from Nerg? I killed one of his Daughters you know. I’m sure you do, since you were watching me the whole time.”

Your smile touches your lips now. “I wonder then. How would they react knowing that good ol’ Jackor, the trickster who goes everywhere, the child of Solos who travels all boundaries, has been taking from them and having a mortal kill their servants?”

Jackor’s cool is gone now. He slowly reaches up to the lapel on his suit and grips it tightly. To know that you’ve made a God flustered, it’s amazing yet once again terrifying. Still, what can you do? You have to do this, there’s no other choice.

“Jackor, there is a way to make this all go away though.” He glares at you and you shrug. “Merely give me what we defined in the contract. You give me YOUR power and the others just… go away. The other Gods will never find out, because what mortal could be using THEIR power?”

He frowns. “You want my power? Why?”

“Well, you said you can’t fix me, so the next best thing is to have your power.” You shrug. “Who knows. I already do have your power, so what happens when I have more?”
“You’ll probably go fully insane.” He says, shrugging. Akela’s grip on your leg increases, but you continue to look forward, itching your hand and… aww hell that’s blood.

“So what do you lose?”

He looks to you and then to Abigail and points at her. “Give me her back.”

“No.” You say, shaking your head. He’s about to make an objection, but you forestall him by raising a hand. “Don’t mistake me, I don’t mean to take her into insanity with me. Instead, I mean to give her the choice.”

You look at Abigail and see her blinking in surprise. “Tobias… what?”

“She has the right to choose. Does she continue to work for you, or does she stay with me?”

Jackor frowns. “Should be choose to go free, she’ll lose her power and status as a Titania. I know my children, and I know that she has the greatness within her to guide the Fairies well.” He turns to her and eyes the tall Fairy.

“Isn’t that right?”

You look at Abigail as well and she looks down, fidgeting. She slowly nods her head and says, “He’s right… I never asked for this, but… the power he’s granted me… the serenity, it’s nice.” She blushes some, “And being this size, to interact with people like you…”

Saya growls some under her breath, but you merely shake your head. “You’d be a slave to him though. You’d have control, but is it really yours? Do you remember how you wanted so badly to return to your carefree life? Abigail, you can stay with me.”

“I… I know, but, but this form.” She bites her lip. “Tobias, I-“

“Abigail.” You say, cutting her off. “Do you trust me?”

“I… what?” She asks, blinking in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“I mean it true, do you trust me?” She nods her head slowly in response, and you close your eyes. “Then please.”

She looks between the two of you and bites her lip before shuddering and saying, “Alright Tobias. If you’ll go against a God, so will I.”

You smile widely and nod your head. “Thank you.” This completed, you turn back to Jackor and say, “Now then, I think it’s time for the meat of this.” You hold your hand out to Jackor.

“Do we have a deal?”

He looks down at your hand and sighs before taking it. The moment he does, you feel something within yourself shift. It’s as if part of you is physically ripped out of your soul, replaced by something else, something familiar and yet… warm. And yet, you stagger to the side from disorientation, your head spinning.

>You lose all gifts of the Gods.
>You gain [Trickster’s Eye]
>A raw portion of Jackor’s power, luck often goes in your favor, you do well in games, and you have an uncanny knack at seeing through illusions and knowing which ones to play for maximum effect.

You touch your forehead a moment later, blinking away the staggering sensation. As you come back to your senses, you notice the little pink thing with that mantis head staring you in the eyes and whispering, “You’re not perfect.” So… you’re still insane.

Akela and Saya help you rise, and you nod in turn to each of them. Saya puts a hand on your shoulder, looking worried, but you merely shake your head and smile before turning back to Jack and Abi-

You look about for Abigail, unable to find the Fairy. You hear a coughing sound before Abigail says, “Up here, idiot.” Looking yup, you stare once again in surprise at the tiny little Fairy fluttering in the air before you.

“I told you this would happen.” Jackor says, sighing. “I don’t know what you were expecting, but the contract is fully sealed now. You have my power, for what good it will do you. You’ll still go insane, if you’re lucky.”

You shrug. “Hey Jackor, you took away my insanity before by taking the inappropriate use of your power out of me, right?”

“Yes, but I will not do this for you now. Only one with my power can take it from someone else, yet humans cannot withstand that. You cannot take the power from Richard yourself.”

“Sure, sure.” You say, tapping your chin. “Abigail gained her gifts because of your power, right?”

“Yes, she had a touch of my power, using you as an intermediary. It allowed her to become a Titania, a vessel of my will upon this world.”

“Interesting.” You say, nodding your head and ushering Abigail down to you. She flutters down to your hand and looks at you with saddened eyes. You take in a deep breath and then say, “What would happen if a Titania drew forth madness from an Illusionist?”

Jackor pauses then blinking in confusion. He cocks his head, thinking it over. “I do not know. I would never allow a Titania to do such a thing, they’re too precious.”

“Ah, but you see, there’s a Titania right here who has a choice.”

Jackor frowns before his eyes go wide. “You little piece of shit. You can’t seriously be thinking about… you’re taking a damned gamble here!”

“Do you trust me?” You say to Abigail again.

“Do you feel lucky?” She says, smiling broadly.

“Well, I think it’s time to roll the dice.” You place your other hand over Abigail, cupping her in your palms and then shaking once.

>You lose [Trickster’s Eye]

Light flourishes from between your hands and you open them up, releasing a beacon of light in the area, causing you to go blind for a moment. The rest of your party reacts with shocked gasps as well, and it takes you some time to clear your eyes and see the sight before you. It’s worth it though, as Abigail is such a beautiful sight.

Once more a Titania, she hovers in the air, smiling down at you. She closes her eyes and chuckles. “You’re an idiot, you know that?”

“Yeah, but I’m a lucky idiot.” You say, smiling wide.

“Haha… we’ll see.” She reaches a finger out and touches your forehead. You feel a cold shock run through your system and suddenly the pink thing is gone, the itching fades, and everything comes into focus. Abigail gasps and pulls away, her hand shaking and shuddering, but she takes in a deep breath before nodding her head and saying, “I’m alright… I’m… alright.”

>Your madness level is now 20%

“I can still feel some of it.” You say, shaking your head. “But the world is much more clear…” You smile at Abigail and say, “Looks like I really was lucky.”

“Or you were just insane.” She shakes her head. “Or both.” She fidgets for a moment before diving at you and hugging you with all her might. “Ohhhh Tobias! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Hey now, hey now. I don’t think Saya would like this.”

“I don’t.” Saya says, sighing. “But I’ll let you have this one time.”

“Are you sure that we can’t-” You ask, eyes twinkling.

“No.” Saya says, face scarier than your worst nightmares.

“Yes dear…” You say, shaking your head before turning back to where Jackor is, or was anyway. Right, your insanity is gone, you can’t see him again. Well, perhaps it’s for the best. You close your eyes and say, “Looks like I win again, fucker.”

“Don’t rub it in you little asswipe.”

You jump a little, Abigail pulling away as you both look to Jackor, who stands a few feet away from where he was standing before. You blink in surprise and then look about to see everyone else staring at him too. It slowly dawns upon you and you gasp, pointing at him.

“Good God! You’re a mortal now!”

“No, I’m just making myself visible to mortals. And yes, I did keep the others in the square from seeing Abigail’s light show.” He says, sighing. Jackor rubs his temples, a human habit since he clearly doesn’t get headaches… you think. He takes a deep breath before looking at you and… smiling.

“You know what, I want to be mad at you. I want to rage and cause a casino fire or something. To maybe change the luck around you, but you managed to not only blackmail me, but then play the game of GODS to your advantage.” He holds his hands out and laughs.

“I’m actually quite proud of you, my child. You did far and above anything I could ask of you, and once again leave me speechless. You’re the luckiest, trickiest son of a bitch I’ve ever known.”

“My Mother is a fine person.” You say, sniffing.

“No, she isn’t.” He says, shaking his head firmly. “But you did agree to hunt down other Illusionists to take on Richard’s job. I will hold this to you.”

“And I will perform the job.” You say, nodding. “Though before that, I have something left to you.”

Everyone looks to Ulala, who looks about in confusion before blushing, which is odd on a tree, and then waving her arms about in surprise. “Woah wah wah! Ahhh this is embarrassing!”

Jackor chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, I guess you’re choosing to let it ride. I won’t stay to watch the results, but I’ll know.” He holds out his hand to you and says, “From one gambler to another. Well played.”

You look down at the hand of a God and take it, feeling his firm grip. The two of you lock eyes and you both find an implicit understanding. You smirk and say, “Fuck you.”

“And you too.” He says before vanishing into thin air.

You watch the area for a while before looking down to Akela who shakes her head. Nodding your head, you take a deep breath and then sigh it out. You look up at Ulala and say, “Alright. I think we’re all ready here.”

“You sure?” She says, looking a little worried. “He’s not in a good place, things could… Uhm.”

“I know.” You say. “But we’re ready. After everything, we’re ready.”

Saya leans her head against your shoulder awhile you rest your hand on Akela’s shoulder. You look to the side as you see your other friends, Ginelle, Clint, Ophelia, and Clarissa, step up beside you. They all share looks of encouragement with you while Abigail flutters above you. You don’t care if anyone else in the square is watching, in fact, let them. You don’t care about what they think.

“Alright.” You say, nodding your head. “Richard, we’re ready for you.”

Ulala’s tree twists and unfurls, the bark cracking slightly as the core opens and Richard, looking the same as he did all those weeks ago, slides out, slipping down to the ground in a heap, shuddering as he catches his breath. He staggers for a moment and then looks up at you, blinking with confusion in his eyes. He mouths out some words before whispering, “Tobias?”

“Yeah, it’s me. It’s all of us. We did it, Fiora is put to rest.” You hold out a hand to him and say, “Come back to us Richard.”

Tears begin to slowly trickle down his face and he hangs his head. Abigail gently flutters down and touches her hand to his head, shuddering once before fluttering back as Richard takes in a deep breath. He shakes his head slowly and places a hand to his forehead before chuckling. It continues on before becoming full out laughter, and he pulls back, voice echoing through the square.

“Richard.” You say, a pit of despair forming in your belly. You close your eyes and step forward, pulling out your [Hunting Knife]. You open your eyes again and place the knife down to his throat, feeling a knot in your throat. You lick your lips and whisper. “I guess sometimes the house wins.”

Richard’s hand flies up and grabs your wrist, shocking you as he pushes your hand away and looks into your eyes. You blink in surprise as you see the calm, clear eyes of lucidity. You feel yourself begin to tear up as your mentor, the man who might as well have been your father, gives you one of his rare smiles.

“I call a mulligan.”

“Granted.” You whisper, and drop the knife to hug the man. Somewhere, you feel the others moving in to hug him as well, hearing their voices speak words of encouragement and joy. Your focus is entirely on Richard though. Distantly, Jackor’s words of something coming, something deep and terrible echo in your mind, but what does it matter at the moment?

Richard chuckles, pulling away from all of you and shaking his head. “Gods, I haven’t felt this good in years. There most certain is a story for all of this, isn’t there?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” You say, chuckling yourself.

“Well.” Your mentor says, looking over your group. “Looks like your party as grown. Maybe I’ll believe their words.”

“Rude.” You say, rolling your eyes. “How about we go back to Hannah’s place and talk this over some more stew?”

“Sure, and you can tell me about how you and Saya got together and adopted an Anubis.”
You look at him with shock and he shakes his head. “Tobias, Tobias, Tobias. You may have defeated Fiora somehow, but you can’t keep anything hidden from me.” You look a little abashed at that, and he smiles, patting your shoulder. “Come on, let’s go back.”

“Hey, what about me?” Ulala says, pouting.

“Oh, don’t you worry.” Richard says, walking over to cup Ulala’s face. “Even if I wasn’t fully aware of it, you took good care of me, don’t think I’ll forget it.” Ulala blushes furiously and you even see a little twinkle in Richard’s eye. The fuck happened in there?

“Well, it’s getting late.” Saya says, nodding to Akela. “Are we ready?”

You and Richard both look to each other before nodding and speaking in unison.

“We were born ready.”

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