Everyone stops and looks at you as you fold your arms and close your eyes, becoming lost in thought. “Hrrrrrmmmm.”
“It’s a big call, I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t ready to go yet.” Richard says, nodding his head, an action mimicked by Saya.
“It’s going to be dangerous, and taking the time to figure out a better plan might be warranted.” She says, nodding to Ginelle who shrugs.
“I trust your decisions, as insane as it might sound sometimes.”
They all look back to you, to which you have your knuckles to your forehead, tapping it as you continue to think. “Hrrrrrrrmmmmm!”
“Tobias…” Richard says again, walking up to you and putting a hand gently on your shoulder. He squeezes it briefly before blinking a few times and then saying flatly, “You’re not really deep in thought, are you?”
“No, no, I am.” You say, turning your head to look back at him. “I really am, I’m just trying to figure out what I want for lunch.” Everyone stares at you, very hard and you feel Richard’s hand pinch down upon your shoulder like a vice-grip, forcing you to stagger somewhat and squeal, “Oww owww owww!”
“You little shit, you had us thinking you were contemplating the severity of our damn mission!”
“I waassssss!” You complain, pulling yourself out of Richard’s grasp. You wince and rub at your shoulder, “Damnit… look, I know it’s super important that we take this seriously, I really, really do, but do you really want to go into battle on an empty stomach?”
Sergeant Fellows waggles his moustache, “Boy, there’s an unconscious woman over your friend’s shoulder, do you really think now is the time for food?”
“Well, yes. She’s not going anywhere.” You say offhand, and the Sergeant blinks a few times, taken off guard. You turn back to Richard and shrug, “Come on, we don’t know what could happen…let’s at least do this with a full belly?”
Richard folds his arms and gives you a searching look before opening his mouth and being rudely interrupted as Ginelle’s stomach growls. All eyes turn to her and she blushes, putting a paw to her mouth. “Uhm… food sounds good actually.”
Saya shakes her head, a small smile upon her face before Richard relents and starts walking toward a food stand in the Market District, a bewildered Sergeant Fellows in tow.
“This was the best idea you’ve had.” Ginelle says, stuffing her face with honeyed summer squash and tenderloin wrapped in slices of rye bread. The sticky liquid gets all over her paws, but she casually licks her fingers, smiling in delight as she does so.
“I’m not going to lie Sergeant, I’ve been to this city multiple times, and I think the hardest thing ever is finding food that isn’t honeyed.” Richard says, eating a sandwich of his own, made without the sweet sauce, but still apparently baked into the bread.
“It’s a tradition in this city, due to the large influence of the Hive!” Sergeant Fellows says, not eating anything because he was “on the clock,” although his eyes followed everyone’s food hungrily. “I will say though, we do have a high proportion of those with some strange disease that makes them urinate a lot.”
“Unrelated, I’m sure.” You say, biting into your own sandwich, which you also had gotten without honey. Look, the stuff was good, but come on, a little change of pace is nice. The bread is pretty good though… “See, I told you having lunch was a smart idea.”
“This is the fourth time you’ve said this.” Saya says, munching on her food. “You can give it a rest.”
“But I like being right!” You say, before looking over at Ginelle. To most people, she might look like she was sitting on a low bench at the little park table you’re eating at, but if one looked closely, they’d find she’s actually sitting on thin air. She blinks and smacks the air beneath her, and something shifts before going still. She looks up to you and shrugs.
“This chair isn’t very solid.”
“I have my reservations about such activities.” Sergeant Fellows says, waggling his moustache. “She is a person too!”
“Crown says it’s fine.” You say, waving your hand. “She’ll be fine, and this way she’s not going anywhere, and as long as the [Chameleon Cloak] is over her, none will be the wiser.” As you say this, a Kobold in rather revealing clothing jogs on by, stops in place for a moment, staring down at Ginelle, before shaking her head and continuing on the path. “It’s fiiiiiine.”
“I suppose.” Saya says, finishing her food before taking a drink of water from a canteen. “Speaking of fine, Ginelle, are you alright? You kind of took a little beating there.”
“Ah, I’m fine.” The Badger says, waving her hand. “Her little baby punches couldn’t really hurt me.”
“What about when she used the servo on your gut?”
“Oh, that stings, but it isn’t as bad as the time I got bitten on the stomach by a venomous Lamia, skin turned black for awhile.” She continues to munch on her food, her portion bigger than everyone else’s before blinking and looking about. “I got better.”
“H…how did… I don’t…” Saya says, bewildered.
“I dunno, I rubbed some herbs into it. Anyway, speaking of black, are you alright after that uh… you know, whatever that was?”
Saya expression turns a little down. “Ah… yeah, I’m fine, just disoriented me a little. No lasting harm, I’m just… sorry you had to see me like that.”
“I don’t know why you’re apologizing.” You say, popping the last of your food into your mouth. “I thought you looked really cool.”
She sits up a little straight, staring at you with a look of surprise. “Y…you did?”
“Yeah, I mean, able to take blow like that and still be fine? Besides, getting to see you in your true form was kind of cool.” You blink, thinking it over for a moment. “Ah, sorry, I guess it might be kind of personal to be seen like that.”
“N…no, that’s fine…” Saya mumbles looking off to the side. You can’t really tell, but she might faintly be… blushing? Oh wow, that’s actually kind of cute. You feel a little embarrassed at seeing her like that, and you scratch the back of your head, thinking about what you should say now.
Thankfully, Sergeant Fellows chimed in, “I have no idea what you’re talking about you two, but keep things civil! We may be a very progressive city, but a modicum of modesty is quite good to have for a budding relationship!”
You and Saya both look at each other, blink, and then slowly look away. Richard merely finishes his food before standing and stretching. “Alright Sergeant, that’s enough bullying my kids, let’s do what we came here for.”
“My kids…” Saya mutters before shaking her head and checking her gear before nodding to the rest of you. You and Ginelle both nod your heads and the Badgergirl picks up the unconscious form of the Chameleon, who you’re quite surprised has stayed out this entire time, before handing you the [Chameleon Cloak], which you fold and put into your [Rucksack]. You notice that the same Kobold stops and stares at the Thief as she appears from out of nowhere, yipping and continuing her jog with a little more speed when she see you watching her.
“Whoops.” You say before shrugging putting your hands on your hips. “Let’s finish this.”
No one objects.
“Alright, this is where we part ways.”
You nod to Sergeant Fellows as he opens the door to the Arboretum, a thin trail of vines falling over the entryway as it swings gently open. The side of the large stone structure is covered in all manner of plant-life, and it’s hard to see the bricks beneath as you stand on a small path that lead around to the back of the building. All around you are the sounds of canals flowing and the gentle noises of birds and other wildlife, but it still feels… a little too quiet to you.
“Thank you for everything.” Richard says, helping Ginelle hand the Thief over to him. “I hope you don’t run into too much trouble over all of this.”
“Bah, it is my job to see justice done. If I must take a fall, then so be it. I have plenty to live on for some time.” He adjusts the unconscious woman on his back. “The rest of you take care. If I can send any assistance I can trust, I will.”
“Thank you sir.” Saya says, nodding her head. “Good luck.” With that, he leaves back down the path you came, leaving the four of you feeling a little sweaty from the heat and humidity, but eager, if nervous. There’s no real words left to say in this situation, everything was left bare already. Fiora was here, awaiting her thief, and you were going to take her down.
Okay, so it sounds cooler when you don’t think about it. Regardless, everyone nods and Ginelle opens the door, sniffing the air as she cautiously moves in first, you following behind her, Saya and Richard behind that. As you cross the threshold from the sunny little path into the dark confines of the Arboretum, it takes your eyes a moment to adjust to the change in light. As soon as they do though, you can’t help but whistle softly.
Though it was a side entrance to an emergency area, the place was covered in plant life. Green vines snaked over every surface you could see, with arrays of flowers in so many different varieties that you had to stare, almost running having Saya collide with you before she stops herself. On a nearby table, several bags of fertilizer, which smell to high heaven, are stacked around some pots with flowers in a rainbow of colors, though they didn’t look particularly healthy, as if someone hadn’t been taking good care of them recently. You look around the room and find more plants, some common, others not, in similar conditions.
“Weird.” Richard says, touching one of the plants, a leaf gently breaking off in his fingers. “The caretakers here wouldn’t just leave plants like this. Something must be keeping them from their work.”
“It’s a little dark in here, don’t you think?” You say, looking around the room. “I thought this place was supposed to be bright.”
“It is.” Saya say, standing near an opening to another room, the walls covered in vines. She touches one, and feels it ripple slightly, to which you frown. “Looks like this is just a side-room, come over here and… well, you have to see for yourself.” You and Richard exchange looks before you walk to the opening and pause, seeing an even more breath-taking sight.
The room is a dome-shaped structure, the roof made of glass, and it’s utterly massive. Trees of all sizes reach up to the very ceiling, obscuring the light from outside, yet allowing enough to suffuse the place with a visible warmth that allows you to see the full splendor of the greenery. Butterflies flap around and bees (the small ones) buzz about to the foreign looking flowers, darting around fruits of shapes you’ve never seen before. Small canals, likely linked from the outside, snake all around the room, even one forming a larger little stream, to which you can see fish swimming in, likely to a larger pool somewhere else.
The whole place exudes a sense of calm, and that’s only of the portion you can actually see through the foliage near you. Your mouth works soundlessly for a moment before you lick your lips and say, “It’s…wow.”
“Yeah…” Saya says, with a similar expression of being awe-struck. “This is… amazing.”
“Isn’t it?” Richard says, nodding his head. “This is only one of three domes too.”
Ginelle looks shocked, “Really? It didn’t look that big on the outside.”
“It’s a deceptive place, hard to really get the full scope with all the foliage around it also. I visited here once with…” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “With Fiora.”
“Richard…” You say, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you going to be able to do this?”
He nods his head, a look of resolution on his face. “Yes. She has to be stopped, for our sake, and hers.”
You nod back and Ginelle moves forward, pushing through some bushes and moving onto the main path. The rest of you follow in tow, trying to keep a look out all around you for any signs of illusions or trickery. Both Richard and yourself have your senses cranked to the maximum while Saya has the [Magesight Goggles] on, though they fog abominably, making her take them off every so often and wipe them clean.
You move down the path, past some trees with large, fan shaped leaves and strange, spiky fruit, when Ginelle stops, sniffing the air. She frowns and looks back over to you. “Do you smell something… sweet?”
“Sweet?” Saya asks, curious. “Like what?”
Ginelle frowns, rolling her hand, “I don’t know… like the smell of fresh flowers? It’s kind of weird that I can pick this one out above all the other smells here.”
“I don’t see what you’re talking abou-” You abruptly cut off as the smell comes to you. Oh wow, this smell was positively heavenly! You blink your eyes a feel times before taking in a deep whiff. Ohhh yes, this is possibly the best smell you’ve ever smelled in your life! “Wow, you’re right, that’s amazing, I wonder where it’s coming from.” You take a step forward, walking toward… something.
“Tobias…” Richard says, frowning before looking about. “It does smell nice though…” He follows you as you peek around corners, using your nose to get a better picture of where it’s coming from.
“Hey Ginelle, think you can pinpoint it?” You say, looking all around, feeling compelled to find the source of this. It wasn’t an illusion, you’re damn certain about that, it was just something that smelled amazing, even a niggling part of your mind was saying you should stop and think about this. Bah, since when did you listen to that part of your mind?
“Do I look like I work here?” She says, crossing her arms. Saya blinks a few times, looking around before frowning.
“Speaking of which… where is the staff? Did Fiora send them off or something?”
You shrug, looking over to another path and smiling before walking toward it, the smell growing far more powerful here. “Maybe something happened to them? Hopefully not.”
“Well, the Thief did mention something about some strange Plant Monsters in here…” She suddenly perks up, her whole body coming to attention. “Shit, Tobias, get back here!”
You look back over to her, raising an eyebrow. “Oh come on, it’s just some nice smelling flower, I’ll pick one for you if you want.” You chuckle and turn back to the foliage you were in front of. You move to dig further into the brush, when you notice a shoe on the ground. You frown and bend down, picking it up to find it spattered in blood. That’s… bad…
You feel something drip onto your shoulder, and you look down at it, blinking a few times before looking up to see the torso of a woman with green skin and dark green hair, an iron mask on her face. It takes you a moment, but you realize that she’s sitting within a large, cavernous flower, who’s petals peel backward, revealing a network of teeth-like fibers.
Your mind temporarily goes blank, and all you can think to say is, “You smell nice,” before she lets loose a scream and plunges toward you.
“I don’t know you!” You shout, quickly reaching into your bag of [Pocket Sand] and throwing a handful of the hot, spicy sand. It splashes across the iron mask, filling in the dark eyeholes, but before you can see the results of your actions, you dive out of the way, rolling over the slick stones and getting your nice suit covered in dirt and plant material.
You hear the Plant shriek again and trash about, wet sounding vines slapping at the stone nearby. You roll to your feet, hurriedly looking about at your handiwork. The Monster’s vines and petals trash about in random spastic motions, her torso, which looks oddly scarred now that you look at it, thrashing back and forth, though it isn’t really going anywhere. Apparently it’s range is fairly small, which is great! Looks like the sand, though you’re not certain how you keep pulling it out, worked!
You take a shuddering breath as you stand and skirt around the thing, which calms down, it’s heaving (and busty) chest shuddering. You look over to your friends and they shrug, still on their guard. “Well, that could have been bad.” You say, shaking your head.
“Tobias, get over here.” Saya hisses, her knife in her hand. “That thing is dangerous.”
“She can’t get to me, though, or she would, right? She probably has just used that smell to attract people.” You look down at the shoe you dropped before and you blanch. “I think… we know where the caretakers went.”
“Still, let’s not tempt fate.” She looks warily at the Monster, who’s masked face is now staring straight at you. You find it incredibly unnerving as she utters a mild and guttural growl, and you nod to Saya, carefully walking over to her.
“I don’t get it though, why is she here? And why does she wear the mask?”
“Perhaps she has a lot of loyalty to Fiora?” Ginelle suggests, shrugging.
“I don’t think so.” You say, turning your back on the Monster. “But this must be something the Thief was talking about, look at those scars on her chest… what are those from?” You hear the Monster grumble something, and you barely register the slight rattle of chains before the hair on the back of your neck stands up.
You whip around a sharp crack fills the air, and the Monster, which you thought to be rooted into the ground, shatters a link of chain that was hidden by all the foliage, and a storm of roots and vines propels the shrieking Monster forward. Your eyes grow wide as you try to dig into your bag for more sand, but you feel something shove you forcefully and you tumble to the ground again, picking yourself up as quickly as you can.
With horror, you witness the massive, toothed petals of the plant close around Saya, who thrashes against them before the whole thing lifts into the air, snapping shut around her legs, which vanish into the thing a moment later. The entire monstrosity, looking nothing so much like budding flower roils around the ground, the sounds of two muffled shrieks echoing from within.
Your eyes go wide and your vision narrows as you watch Saya get eaten, trying to save you to do so. Your hands shake as you grab for your [Hunting Knife], and you wail at the top of your lungs, “SPIT HER OUT YOU UGLY BITCH!” You throw yourself at the Monster, stabbing it with your knife, drawing gouts of green sap as your blade slices through vines and roots.
The monster bucks and turns it’s body toward you, smashing you with the closed petals, and throwing you forcefully off, your knife still embedded into her side. Desperate you run toward her again, shouting, “Hold on Saya! We’re coming to get you!” You look to Richard and Ginelle, screaming at them, “Don’t just stand there!”
Ginelle, seemingly taken aback for a moment, snaps out of her shock and leaps toward the Monster, her jump sending her high enough to latch onto the petals, her long nails ripping into them. Though her muscles bulge, she is unable to tear them open, and she lets loose a mighty roar of rage, or perhaps anguish, you’re not entirely certain which.
Richard frowns deeply and puts a hand to his forehead before shouting, “I can’t seperate out Saya’s mind from this plant! I can’t use an illusions that would do anything!”
“Well fuck, stab it then!” You say, reaching the Monster again and latching onto your knife, tearing it out in a spray of green juices that splatter your face and coat. You stab it again, catching a flailing vine with your hand while you scream, “Let her go! Don’t you fucking dare take her away from me!” You don’t even think about the words as you shout, your mouth working independently of your mind, which tries to latch onto something, anything you can work with to cast and illusion, but maybe it’s because you’re angry, but you can’t focus on anything.
Suddenly, the Monster thrashes even more violently, a gurgling scream coming from inside the petals, and you hang on tightly as it charges forward into the brush, throwing itself about randomly, crashing into trees, ferns, and other foliage, moving in random and destructive patterns. You see Ginelle fly off as it spins about, and you feel your own grip slipping before it shakes violently and slumps to the ground, twitching every so often.
You blink your eyes, confused at what just happened, when from between the petals, you see a black liquid begin to ooze out, flowing down the sides of the Monster, and a sickly smell begins to permeate the area as the Plant starts to melt. Perhaps melt is the wrong word, more like, it’s being dissolved. You pry your hands off the plant, fingers shaking from grasping tight for so long, and you watch as the petals slowly break down as more and more black ooze chews it apart.
“What the hells…” Ginelle says, shaking herself and rubbing plant debris out of her hair, her body covered in fresh scratches from sticks and branches, which she likely doesn’t notice. Richard walks up himself, and you all watch, transfixed, as the petals finally fall apart, and you see the revealed interior.
In the middle of the flower, where the twisted Alarune once sat, now sits a creature of made of flowing black goo shaped like the torso of a young woman, her arms outstretched, a simulacrum of a mouth open, as if locked into a permanent wail. There exists the hint of an left eye socket, but the right eye is a gleaming red arachnae eye, which swivels toward you as it becomes revealed.
Ginelle and Richard take a step back upon seeing the sight, and you can’t help but notice multiple human bones poking from the ooze, though there were no signs of clothing or other anything else in there. The Monster revealed inside the petals stares at the three of you for a moment before looking away, an expression of hurt and regret appearing in the eye, and she places grabs one dripping arm with her hand, shrinking back.
You walk forward slowly, but deliberately and, to the gasps of Ginelle and Richard, place your hand upon the arm of the Monster. The ooze feels slightly cool to the touch, and springy, yet firm in a way you wouldn’t have guessed. She stands straight, turning her gaze upon you, a look of shock on her face as you say, “You had us worried there for a moment.”
Saya pauses, before closing the eye and slowly shifting, her black ooze flowing back into the main body, her skin turning green, facial features taking on something far different than you’d seen before. When she opens the eye again, she looks exactly like the plant from before, though without the mask. Curiously though, you do notice that her breasts have no nipples… how curious. She moves her lips, which you realize are scarred horrifically, just like the rest of the face, and in a moment she says in a rough voice, “You’re… not afraid.”
“Why would I be? That was badass!” You say, giving her shoulder a light tap of your fist. “I told you back at lunch, that stuff is really cool!” You do scrunch up your nose however. “Though you really had to copy her fully? I wasn’t aware that Alarunes had skulls.”
“They do… sort of.” She says, chuckling a raspy chuckle before frowning and then clearing her throat, speaking in the voice you were used to. “Ugh, she has really bad vocal cords, Fiora really messed the poor girl up.”
“What do you mean?” You ask, frowning.
“Well, Fiora did…” Saya trails off, shaking her head. “Wait, you don’t… you don’t find this repulsive?”
“Saya, I’m not going to lie, I’ve read Wizardquest like, a thousand times, and some of my favorite chapters are the ones you’re in, because I was always fascinated with how your father described you.” You scratch at the back of your head, “I kind of feel like you should be the embarrassed one though, since well, uhm… hey were did your clothes go anyway?”
Saya blinks a few times before smirking and beginning to chuckle. She starts shaking before throwing her head back into a full bodied laugh, her rich voice singing as she starts to cry, she’s laughing so hard. You cock your head, about to ask what’s so funny when she wraps her arms around you, hugging you tightly against her as she whispers, “You’re one of a kind Tobias.”
She pulls away, a smile on her lips, and you smile back, a little confused at what just happened. She waves you away and you step away from what might as well be a corpse before Saya takes a deep breath and melts back into black goo, strange Alarune bones dropping into the sludge of her body as it flows over the human bones, forming them quickly into her usual form, blackness turning into shapes of muscle before transitioning into full skin. It’s a little disturbing to watch, but you’re transfixed as she does so, resolving into her normal form, which she covers with her hands, one finger waggling as she shakes her head.
You cough and reach into your [Rucksack], pulling out your [Overcoat], which honestly was taking up almost all the space in the stupid thing. You do your best not to stare, but she’s… well she made one hell of a body for herself. “Here, take it.”
“What a gentleman.” She says, and you look to the side as she takes the large coat, draping herself in it. She sighs, “I wish I had a little more time to prepare for that, but all I could keep myself from dissolving were the bones. Takes a lot more effort that you think it does not to just… eat everything.”
“I…can imagine.” You cough into your hand. “Are you decent now?”
“No, but it’s not like you haven’t seen me naked at this point.” She says, tapping your shoulder. You look back over to her and she pulls the coat a little tight, blushing. “I kind of feel a little embarrassed now that I said it like that.”
She… looks rather cute like that, hell did she always have that expression? Man, maybe your hero worship is getting the better of you, but you feel a flutter in your chest as she looks at you like that. Well, that or your virginal status, but you try not to think on such things.
“Saya?…” Ginelle says, walking up to the two of you along with Richard. Saya tenses up, looking a little afraid as she looks into the Badgergirl’s surprised eyes. The two are quiet for a few moments before Ginelle looks down, dragging one foot through the grass, “I’m sorry, I just… was a little surprised. Please don’t hate me for that.”
Richard sighs and shakes his head, “It was… definitely not what we expected to see, but well, that’s who you are, right?” He shrugs, “We didn’t mean any offense.”
Saya blinks and looks down, a content smile on her face. “Thanks… that means a lot.”
“We still friends?” Ginelle asks, and Saya chuckles.
“Well that’s a touching little moment.” Richard says, putting hands on his hips. “But I’m afraid we’re still in the lair of my crazy Monster pupil. It wouldn’t surprise me if she knew we were here now.”
“Perhaps.” Saya says, frowning. “Though this one’s memories were… hazy, I could tell that Fiora didn’t really think much of her. The word, ‘failure,’ kept playing through her mind over and over, almost drowning everything else out.”
“A failure?” You say, cocking your head. “Failure of what?”
“I don’t know, she wasn’t right in the head, but she seemed to be very much in pain. I don’t think she always looked like that, but Fiora chained her up here at some point and she… well.” Saya looks a little troubled before shaking her head. “Still, how many Alarunes have you known that could get up and walk?”
“Not many.” Richard says, looking troubled. “However, the Thief used referred to them as plural. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more around here.”
“Fucking hell…” Ginelle says, growling before punching a fist into a paw. “Well, we’ll just have to show them up.” She smiles toward Saya, though something seems a little off, her eyes drifting toward you. “You’ll let me have the next one, right?”
Saya rolls her eyes, standing up and stretching, which makes the [Overcoat] rise up dangerously high before she pushes it down, and you avert your gaze, whistling. She hops down from the corpse of the plant before reaching to her side and frowning as she finds nothing there. You sigh and hand her your [Hunting Knife], which she tosses up a few times, feeling it’s weight before nodding her head to you. Ginelle leads the way again, and you continue forward, feeling only a few aches and pains as you do so.
Eventually, the sound of water begins to grow louder and the plant life starts to get more sparse, and you notice canals appear along the path which were covered by plant-life before. They begin to grow larger and larger, and you see the dome open up into a large, open space, where another dome lets in a blinding array of light, twinkling gently down upon a circular area of stone. You look about to see that there are two other openings across from you, leading to two other domed sections, where the path continues into more depths of plant life.
As your group walks into the light, you notice that the canals flow around you, forming a large pool all around the platform, which you realize is connected but intricately made bridges, allowing the water to be connected. Seriously, this place is almost mind-boggling in its construction and population. While the left section had more of the water flowing into it, to which you hear the faint sound of frogs croaking, you don’t hear anything particular to the right, though there do seem to be many more insects flying buzzing about plants in that section.
“Well…” You say, waving away some insects which are totally real mosquitoes. She had to be in one of the domes, but the other might just contain another one of those crazy plant Monsters. Or perhaps they’re around, guarding her? Hrm, well you have to figure out something, you’re so close.
You scratch your head, looking at both rooms. Either one could be where Fiora is hiding, but you have no idea where. You could always [Pierce the Veil] and try to find any signs of her, but it seems… like a waste of energy at the moment. Besides, Richard would have done it already, right?
You turn to Ginelle and rub your chin. “Do you think you can sniff her out?”
She gives you a flat stare. “I have no idea what she smells like, and again, with all of these scents in here, it’s kind of difficult to pick up on something without an idea of what it is.”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to randomly pick one.” You sigh, before looking to Richard. “You have a coin?”
He frowns deeply, “You’re going to entrust our future to a coin-toss?”
“Well, unless you know where she might be…” You trail off, thinking that line of thought over before snapping your fingers. “That might be an idea… Hey Richard, you’ve been here with Fiora before, right?”
His expression darkens some. “Yes… I have.”
“Well, she’s kind of crazy about you, right? Literally even. So, if she’s decided to set up shop here…”
Saya snaps her fingers, “Then she might be somewhere with a significance to the her.”
You point at Saya and nod your head, “Bingo.”
Richard closes his eyes and thinks for a moment before speaking slowly. “Well… we came here one afternoon about eight years ago. We’d spent the day running all over the place, and felt like something calming to end out the day.” A rueful grin appears on his face as he continues to speak. “I was wearing an outfit pretty similar to this one and she… well, she was wearing a rather striking green dress. I told her not to, due to the heat, but she was never one to listen to me, and by the time we made it here, she was utterly drenched in sweat, and looking fairly miserable.”
He chuckles, “I remember when we walked in, she thought there might be some relief, but the humidity made her gag before giving the deepest glare as I couldn’t help but laugh. I found out once again how powerful her right hook was.” He rubs his right shoulder before sighing. “Sunset was on its way as we walked through the various plants. We were basically the only ones left, most other people having gone home, and it felt like… like our own personal garden. The sounds of the gently flowing streams, the way the plants swayed gently, and the soft fluttering of insects… it all made quite the atmosphere.”
Richard pauses, taking a shuddering breath. You look back over to Saya and Ginelle to see them both staring at Richard with pained expressions, Saya’s hand over her heart. You take a deep breath and turn back to Richard as he looks up at the glass ceiling, clouds moving lazily overhead and creating a screen where only a few beams of light penetrate. One such beam falls upon your master, illuminating his expression of regret.
“Fiora had this fascination with frogs you see, not exactly frog girls, but frogs in general. Used to catch them as kids she said, so when we heard the gentle croaking, we just had to follow them to the pond they have. As the place began to grow darker, firebugs began to light up, buzzing around us as we walked together, arm in arm toward the water. There’s a little bridge above it, and we just stood there, basking in the sounds of the place, holding each other as the night came upon us and the firebugs cast the dark waters an aetherial hue…”
He chokes up then and you take a deep breath before walking toward him, but Ginelle beats you to him, gently giving the man a hug. He slowly reciprocates it, taking a few moments before pulling back and rubbing at his eyes. He smiles to Ginelle and pats her head. “Thanks dear. I didn’t think I’d get so emotional over that but… I must be getting old.”
Saya nods her head slowly. “You must have really loved her.”
Richard looks to her before taking a deep breath. “Yeah.” He shakes his head before slapping his cheeks. “Damnit, I didn’t plan on that taking so long. So then, I guess going toward the pond is as good as choice as any.”
“Richard, are you… going to be alright?” You ask and he nods his head, smirking.
“They’re just frogs, Tobias.” You see his hand shaking a little. “I think I’ll be fine.”
“That’s not what… Alright.” You sigh and shake your head before nodding to Ginelle. She stretches and then leads the way to the left, the rest of you following behind.
The first thing you notice as you cross the threshold into this dome is that it’s much more open than the other one. Now, to be sure, there’s plenty of trees blocking sight down the paths, but none of them are nearly as tall as the ones in the last dome. You also notice that the stones near your feet grow a little slick as various lichens grow over them, as well being a little wet, likely from the large amounts of canals criss-crossing the stonework.
You keep your wits about you, sniffing the air cautiously, but finding nothing more than the smell of wet plants and a warm humidity. A mosquito buzzes by your head and you wave it away, grumbling to yourself, feeling fairly miserable here. How did anyone find this happy and romantic? You look over at your two female companions, who seem to be totally in the zone and you shake your head, dispelling such thoughts. You really need to focus up on the task ahead of you and not worry about Richard’s story, even if it was well… moving.
Ginelle cocks her head at one point, a little Badger ear twitching. “Do you hear something splashing?”
You and Richard look over at the canals nearby, but see nothing really out of the ordinary. You look back to Ginelle and shrug. “I guess? I don’t really see how it’s significant though.” She frowns before rubbing her chin and shaking her head.
“Hrm, it’s gone now. Weird.”
Richard pats her shoulder. “We’re almost at the pond anyway. Probably just a fish or something, nothing to be concerned with.” He grits his teeth and exhales slowly. “However, we need to be on our guard if Fiora is here. Everyone ready their gear and steel their minds.”
Ginelle brandishes her paws while Saya twirls your [Hunting Knife]. She reaches to her forehead to pull down the [Magesight Goggles] when her goes pale. “Oh hells.”
“Something wrong?” You ask, cocking your head. Saya looks abashed as she says slowly,
“I think I might have eaten your goggles.”
“Well, I wasn’t thinking about them at the time!” She says pitifully. “I was just thinking about saving you, alright? Gah, so stupid, those things weren’t cheap…”
“It’s… fine.” You say, gently grinding your teeth. Those were night goggles! “Thank you for saving me though.”
“I’ll… I’ll buy you another pair!” She says, nodding her head. “Still, the loss of the goggles is going to hurt. Hopefully you can keep her out of my head.”
“We’ll try.” Richard says, checking his own knife. He slides it back into its sheath. “Alright, lead on.”
Ginelle does so, leading you around a corner covered by trees, and you find yourself suddenly standing before a wide, open pond. Lily pads and algae dot the surface of the water as small fish and frogs swim through, or leap out from the waters, causing small ripples out through the water as sunlight streamed down upon it. Cat tails sway gently as they reach out from the waters, tickling the old lumber of a small bridge which crosses the pond, white paint faded and cracking upon its surface. It’s an idyllic, and lovely looking scene, but no matter how hard you look, no matter how far you try to extend your senses, you don’t see Fiora.
“Damn.” You say, crossing your arms. “She’s not here.”
“Guess not.” Richard says, walking around the edge of the pond. He shudders as a frog crosses his path, but he keeps moving until he reaches the bridge, gently rubbing his hand over the old wood. “Just as I remember it.” He looks up at the center arch of the bridge and walks up to it, looking around the dome and then down to the waters below. He sighs and leans over the edge of the bridge, shaking his head.
“Should we…let him be?” Ginelle asks, and you shrug.
“This is all really hard on him, I think we owe him at least that much.” Ginelle and Saya both nod their heads and you cross your arms, looking down at the water. Huh, that’s weird, were those lilypads always floating so close to the center of the pond? You watch in fascination, which quickly turns to horror as the pads begin to coalesce, and from the center of the them, the form of a woman’s face, green as the pads, rises from the water, her long, green hair seemingly made of stringy river grass. She looks up at Richard and pulls herself up to the torso, revealing a well developed chest and long, delicate arms strung with stands of the same grass. She lifts one arm and the grass twitches and writhes.
“Oh fucking hells!” You shout, grabbing Ginelle and pointing her at the Monster. “Richard! Look out!”
You watch in horror as the Monster reaches for Richard, the grass shooting forward at alarming speed. She’s too far away to hit with your sand, not that it would do much due to the water, and you doubt even with your knife you could hit her in time. No, the fastest thing in this situation is your mind, and you reach out with your magic, weaving it upon the Monster’s brain to force her into an illusion.
You can’t stop her in time before she reaches Richard’s leg, but almost as soon as she makes contact with him, she pulls away, frowning and firing the stretchy limbs again, this time markedly to the left of Richard, missing him completely. You clench your fist in victory as Richard figures out what’s going on and backs up, getting himself in order. The Monster fires off another string of grass toward the illusory Richard you created, before stopping and turning to look at you.
Oh, hmm, she apparently has you in her sights now. She wades through the water toward you, dredging up more plant material as she does so. You prepare yourself to dodge to the side if she fires off one of her limbs, and maybe fire an illusion off as well, but you’re caught off guard as she says in a soft-monotone voice, “You’re not welcome here.”
“I’m sorry, what?” You say, noticing Richard moving off the bridge and slowly slinking toward you. Ginelle and Saya slide in next to you, preparing to fight the Monster, but she doesn’t seem to care much, moving at her same pace through the water.
“I said, you are not welcome here. You do not respect her will, do not worship her.” She points to Saya and Ginelle. “You traffic with heretics. You do not deserve to speak with the will of the divine.”
“Heretic? Will of the divine? The hells are you talking about, lady?” You say, feeling certain that this is about to turn into a fight, they always turned into fights. To that end, you begin to start laying down another illusion, slowly, as not to put too much stress on your mind, but your snapfire illusions from before had taxed you some, you know this.
“Though I was unworthy, a failure, I will do what I can to remove heretics from this world.” The water around her begins to churn, frogs leaping out from the water as plant-life begins to rise up from the depths of the pond, curling around the bridge and her body, lifting her slowly until she’s only submerged from the knees down. She’s naked at the waist, of course, why wouldn’t she be, but her lewder parts are covered by a swirling series of dark red tattoos and strands of pond grass. She looks at you firmly in the eyes before nodding her head and firing tentacles of plant material at you.
“Yep.” You say, dodging to the side as Ginelle and Saya do the same, all shouting as you feel a wave of disgusting water splash upon you, filling your nostrils with the stink of pond water. You roll back to your feet just in time to see another tentacle grab you around the waist and pull you into the air, your limbs flailing as you’re waved around like a rag-doll.
“A little, h…help here!” You shout, doing your best to keep your illusion up, while not throwing up your lunch. You hear the others yell something, and suddenly the tentacle thrashes violently toward the ground before it lets you go, and you cry out, landing onto Richard, who thankfully was prepared to catch you.
Of course, you must have been thrown faster than anticipated, or you need to go on a diet, because you slam into Richard, causing the two of you to roll backward in a heap of flailing limbs. You groan, picking yourself up and rubbing your head, vision swimming some, but enough to see Saya and Ginelle dancing through a sea of tentacles. Saya slashes through lightly tentacles with your [Hunting Knife], dissolving others with her free hand, which is pitch black. Ginelle, on the other hand, doesn’t even dodge them, instead ripping them apart with her claws, powering through all that’s thrown at her. It looks great, but it’s obvious they’ll be overwhelmed at this rate.
“Damnit, work, work, work” You say, groaning as you add a little more to your illusion. You feel something push at your backside, and you look back to see Richard trying to shove you off.
“I can’t breathe under you!” He wheezes out, and you roll off, feeling your limbs ache some. Is getting thrown about the new thing for you? You help Richard up, and he groans, rubbing at his chest. “Gods, I’m not as young as I used to be, huh?”
“Were you ever young?” You quip, watching the battle, and he smacks the back of your head.
“Impertinent boy.” He frowns and observes the battle carefully. “You’re casting an illusion?”
“Aye, which is why I would appreciate you not slapping the back of my head.”
“Fair enough, but your illusion is taking too long to take effect.” He narrows his eyes, and you hurriedly shake your head.
“Wait, wait! I got this, please. Just… just let me take some of the brunt of this.”
He blinks a few times, taken aback, but he nods, a wan smile on his face. “Alright, alright. Don’t be reckless, and remember what I’ve taught you.”
You roll your eyes, pumping yourself up to getting back into the fray. “I know, I know. Geez, such a nag.” With that, you dash forward, back to the battle, dodging the swing of some vines and observing the Monster.
Her movements have begun to slow, which is obvious based on how easily Ginelle is able to stop the tentacles coming her way, moving closer to the main body. Saya notices Ginelle moving forward and moves to cover her. You smile at their teamwork and look toward the Monster, who’s teeth are chattering slightly, and you know that your illusion is working.
“H…how are you doing this? Are… are you a Wizards? No… no, Wizards should not be here!”
“And what if I am?” You say, dodging a tentacle, pushing the illusion of freezing water further, reinforcing the cold water becoming ice. “That’s right, I’m a damn Wizard here to shut you down.”
“Impossible! You can’t know of her divine will!” She cries out, her voice taking on emotion. Her tentacles suddenly pull back into the water, causing Ginelle and Saya to falter, standing their ground as the ground shakes and rumbles, water roaring upward as the Monster’s full body is revealed.
What you saw before hasn’t changed, as she still possesses the body of a beautiful woman, but all the plant material upon her has formed and merged with that which was assaulting you before, creating some kind of exo-skeleton of disgusting weeds and pond plants. Small fish caught in the weeds wriggle fruitlessly as the hulking construct pulls itself out of the water, slapping down upon the shore.
You look up at the thing and blink a few times before whistling softly. “Weeeeeell, shit.”
Saya curses, “Copromancy might be nice right about now.”
“You’re literally the only person who’s said that.” You say, watching as the weeds form into an arm, and you grab her, rolling to the side as it slams down onto the ground next to you. “Fuck, what are we going to do about that?”
“What were you doing before?”
“Making it seem like the water was freezing.”
She grits her teeth. “A little hard to do that now, but… she thinks you’re a Wizard, right? Can you play that up, and straight up freeze her legs?”
“Well, yes, but it’s a little…”
“Do it, Tobias.”
She stares at you with an intense expression, and you sigh, knowing she’s right. “Alright… alright, I can do it. What are you and Ginelle going to do?”
“Look for your opening.” She ruffles your hair before dashing toward the Monster, leaving you to pick yourself up and start forming a new illusion. Saya didn’t appreciate what she asked of you, but you’ll do it, at least to make sure she doesn’t get hurt, although you’re not exactly certain she could be hurt.
“Hey ugly!” You shout, and the Monster turns her gaze to you, still swinging at Ginelle and Saya. “Yeah, I can see why you were hiding in the water there, too embarrassed to show off that fat ass!”
She frowns, “I am not affected by your crude taunts, for I was chosen out of many for a divine purpose. Though I may have been found unworthy, I know my worth is more than yours.”
“Ouch, that’s really cold.” You say, pointing at one of her large, plant-ridden legs. “I feel like I should return the favor.” You push forward an illusion of casting [Ice] and the Monster pulls back, flailing. Her right leg appears stuck in place, and she falls to one knee upon the other constructed leg, crashing into the ground with her limbs. She blinks, and begins to pull herself up, but it’s too late.
Ginelle and Saya run up her arms, dodging trips and traps formed of weaved plants which hastily try to stop them. Ginelle gets caught at one point, but with a roar, she tears herself out, and leaps toward the main body, which has a look of terror on her face. She screams as jets of tentacles fly out toward Ginelle, catching the Badergirl in place before she can do so much as scratch her face with her claws, restraining the growling Monster.
Of course, doing this meant her attention is lost upon Saya, who rams your [Hunting Knife] into the Monster’s chest, making a wet sound as she pulls it out, accompanied by a spray of green blood which flies from the wound. The pond creature screams and writhes, the massive body flailing about, releasing Ginelle as it starts to unravel. Saya loses her balance and begins to fall, but the Badger grabs her and spring-boards off the dying Monster, cradling the smaller woman in her arms as they hit the ground, avoiding as the bulk crashes into the earth, shattering into a mass of plant wet plant-life and dead fish.
You lean back on your haunches, and take a deep breath, feeling your illusion fall away. You can feel your mind roiling at the backlash of using such magic, and you grit your teeth, knowing there’s hell to pay for this. Still, as you watch Ginelle pick Saya up in a big bear… well, badger, hug, the smaller woman, looking like she’s having trouble breathing, you can’t help but feel it was worth it.
>Your Madness level has increased to 20%
“Nice going.” Richard says, holding a hand to help you up. You take it and stand, nodding to him.
“Took a little bit of effort, but… what’s done is done.”
“Yeah well, I’m proud of you.”
You look back at him and nod your head, feeling a little embarrassed that such a compliment would make you feel so good. Well, you did always crave the praise of your elders, especially since you didn’t get much as a child.
Ginelle and Saya walk up, the two dripping wet and covered in bits of pond plants. You wrinkle your nose at the two of them and wave a hand before your face. “Phew, you two smell terrible!”
“Hey!” Saya says, punching you on the shoulder. “That is no way to talk to ladies!”
“Yeah!” Ginelle adds in, punching you on the other shoulder. She doesn’t exactly judge her force well, however, and you stagger backward, clutching your arm and wincing, to which she holds up her hands. “Oh hells, sorry about that.”
“Geez, trying to break my damn arm, after all I’ve done for you.” You whine, and Saya punches you again.
“Crybaby. You smell like garbage too.”
“Sexy.” You say, flashing her a smile, to which she rolls her eyes. You wipe some excess water from you before sighing. “Well, she’s not here, which means she has to be…”
“In the last dome, aye.” Richard says, frowning. “That dome has a large amount of insects in it, and I think they cultivate honeybees there, but that’s about it.”
“Honeybees?” Ginelle says, blanching some. “You don’t think that?…”
“No.” Richard says, shaking his head “The Hive isn’t connected.” Ginelle breathes out a sigh of relief before nodding her head resolutely and walking back the way you came. The rest of you nod your heads too and follow her.
By the time you reach the connecting chamber again, the sun has begun its decline downward. There’s still plenty of light out, but it really highlights how long you’ve been here. Some of the disgusting water has dried off during your walk, but there’s still enough to start chaffing, and you feel rather aggravated as Ginelle stops at the entrance to the last dome, waving away some errant gnats which are trying to nestle in her hair.
“Rest of you ready for this?” She asks, looking over her shoulder.
“Sure am.” You say, stretching. “Guess once we take care of this, life goes back to normal, huh?”
“I suppose so.” Saya says, sighing out. “That’s the nature of these things.”
“Yeah…” Ginelle says, seeming a little crestfallen. “Well, just because we’ll finish this mission, doesn’t mean we can’t see each other again, right?”
You smirk, “I suppose not. Besides, you’re going to come live in Kasin, right? We’ll see each other a fair amount then.”
She smiles, “Yeah, you’re right! This isn’t the end!”
Saya chuckles, “I’ll have to head to Sanctifrond to speak with Mother, but working with the three of you has been fun. I’d hate to have to lose contact with you.”
“And maybe someday we can maybe come visit you and maybe possibly get some more signatures and potentially meet your father?” You say, batting your eyelashes at Saya. She rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
“You are SUCH a fanboy! But… I guess I wouldn’t feel so bad if you wanted to come meet my parents.” She looks down, a soft smile on her face before she shakes her head. “A…anyway, let’s not get carried away. We aren’t out of this yet.”
Richard nods his head. “That’s right, the future is always worth looking forward to, and watching you three grow close together over this short period of time has been… well, wonderful, but we still have work to do. Fiora is still out there, and though I do still hate having to ask this of you… we must destroy her.”
“We know, we know.” You way, patting his arm. “Come on, let’s do this.” He shakes his head, smirking, before waving to Ginelle to lead the way. She does so with a little spring in her step, apparently thinking about the future despite what Richard said. Well, might as well let her have that, since things are about to get real.
The first thing you notice about this dome are the insects. Richard said they’re present, but almost as soon as you enter, three bees fly past you, followed by kaleidoscope of butterflies. They’re amazing to behold, but rather annoying in all honesty. You find yourself attacked by the gnats that annoyed Ginelle as well, and all of you, save Saya who seems utterly undisturbed by the insects, are having a bad time.
As far as the foliage goes, this is much more similar to some of the plants you’re used to seeing, including some familiar fruit trees and bushes. They’re kept a little more sparse than the other domes, and through some of the trees, you can see beehives swarming with the little buggers, surrounded by fields of various wildflowers. It’s lovely, in a hometown charming way, and the air is far less humid and stuffy in here than the other two domes.
A small canal runs by, seemingly more populated with fish than before, likely due to the pond problems earlier, but the water smells clean at least, and at one point you even pause to wash off some of the disgusting pond water. It doesn’t help much that mosquitoes start buzzing around you, but at least you feel better that the others are being attacked too, though you do still feel a little grimy, no matter how much you wash.
“Wonder how far in she is?” You ask as you walk, feeling more nervous the farther in you go. Does she still have more of those freakish plant Monsters about? It bugs you, though in a different way from all the other bugs.
“Not certain, but if I recall correctly, there’s a large clearing around here where they held events such as barbecues and such.” He frowns, searching about. “Actually, it should here.”
You cock your head, looking about the area. This part of the path has far more trees than the other areas, pressing upon the path and shading it deeply. As you look about though, it dawns on you that this is a little weird, like it shouldn’t look like this. This whole place has been meticulously crafted and cultivated, so why should you get this feeling?
Saya kneels down, feeling the stone. “Hey… the path here, he seems to change direction.”
You frown and look at the path, finding it overgrown with bushes and grass. However, under all of this, you can see the faint signs of the path splitting off and you take a deep breath, stepping backward and looking toward the others. Their expressions turn serious as well and they prepare for battle as Ginelle walks forward, pushing aside the foliage, and fading into the treeline. You follow her closely, and the moment you break the treeline, you feel a pressure push upon your mind.
“Ungh!” You gasp, and Richard does the same, the two of you putting hands to your heads, shaking them for a moment. You look to each other and nod in unison. She’s here, no doubt about it, and whatever she’s doing, it’s using a lot of magic. Ginelle pushes through a last barrier of plant life, opening the way for the rest of you, and you slide in to witness something truly strange.
The area before you is the large, circular area Richard spoke of, but instead of being open, there’s enough foliage about the ring to create a distinct separation, a room made of trees, bushes, and ferns. Only short grasses, weeds, and flowers dot the inside of the circle however. Set all about the room are various tables holding alchemical equipment of various shapes and sizes, vials and glass jars containing fluids and seeds, and in a few places, red and green bloodied tools. In the center of the room sits a large, wooden slab, seemingly grown, rather than carved, the entirety covered in dozens of vines and flowers which give it a beautiful appearance, yet the various colors of blood staining the slab gives it a twisted shade. Above the slab sits an organically grown, wooden statue of a very familiar, and beautiful woman, or should you say, Goddess.
A tall, thin woman stands before the altar, for it is certainly an altar, tapping it with a rather annoyed tone, her back turned to you. She’s wearing a flowing, light green sundress, and her long, luscious red hair shines under the fading light of the afternoon sky. She pauses as you enter the circle, before turning a beautiful face to you, green eyes sparkling in anger which immediately transitions to joy.
“Richard! How good of you to come see me! I see you took a swim without inviting me? I’m hurt!” She looks around the three of you before pouting. “A shame though, I was expecting someone else. Tell me, have you happened to see a Chameleon about? She has something for me.”
“Fiora.” Richard says, his voice stern. “Stop this, stop whatever damn game your playing here. You know why I’m here.”
“Game? Well, I suppose you could call it a game if you want, a game with some very high stakes, but a game nonetheless.” She chuckles, her eyes sparkling with something other than mirth. “As for why you’re here, well, you’re here to kill me for being insane!”
She twirls about, leaning forward and smiling a little too widely at him while showing a generous amount of cleavage. “Do I look crazy to you Richard? Does a crazy woman subvert and entire city, order warbots on the cities increased tax-load, and force the Town Guard to gather seeds for her?”
“Yes.” He says flatly.
She blinks a few times before standing up straight and sighing. “Oh well, I guess I’m crazy then, hehe.” She closes her eyes before opening them again, and her seriousness causes you to take a step backward. “I can’t let you do this Richard. You don’t understand the gravity of what I’m doing, what I have to do. She freed me from that bastard Jackor, and this is my price.”
“I don’t get it.” He says, balling his fists. “Why are you doing all of this? Who is this she you speak of, and what do you mean that you’re free of Jackor?”
She sighs, shaking her head. “Isn’t it obvious at this point? You’re a smart man Richard, I know that better than anyone.”
You look back up at the altar and take a deep breath before gritting your teeth. “Richie… the she’s that she’s talking about.”
“I know. It’s Phallia. Phallia’s done this to her.”
Fiora smiles widely and claps her hands together, laughing wildly. “Of course it is! All the plants should have been obvious, right? Or did you really think it was that whore, Dollora? Ah, I love a good mystery! Of course, this one ends with no one figuring out who did it until it’s all over I’m afraid.”
She sighs, shaking her head, “I do so wish I didn’t have to do this though. I wasn’t lying when I said I asked her to spare you too, but she can’t gift you the ways he did me. But I can free you another way, please don’t fight me, just surrender peacefully, and I’ll end your life, end your suffering, and when it’s all over, we can be together in Nerg’s realm…” She holds a hand out toward him, smiling softly.
He closes his eyes and takes a shuddering breath before slowly pulling his knife. “Let’s stop with the pretenses here, Fiora. If you want things to be this way, then at least stop showing me who you were, and show me who you are.”
Her expression falters and she looks down, her expression one of sadness. “Richard… If that’s what you wish…” The world seems to shimmer for a moment, and slowly the illusion fades upon Fiora, her pale, white skin changing to a shade of lilac, her green dress changing to a revealing outfit of a rubbery, purple material with a deep neckline, and open neckline, running on the inside of her thighs. Gloves of the same material appears upon her arms, running up to her elbows, and thigh boots with heals appear on her feet.
Her hair, which was a rich, beautiful orange, changes to long, violet stands, the majority of them flowing outward to form long, bladed tentacles that swarm about her body. Upon her forehead appears a purple crown, studded with a gleaming red gem, and her green, human eyes change to a deep red, with alien looking pupils that shine curiously in the light.
She smiles widely as her true form is revealed, and she spins about, giving the four of you quite the show before plating a fist on her hip. “Well, what do you think? I’m told I’m a Mindflayer, whatever that is, but it feels appropriate!” Her eyes flash and you feel magical power build about her. “Come then, my love, the rest of you, let me free you from your mortal bonds!”
Everyone shifts to battle stances, Saya holding your knife with expert ease, while Ginelle snarls, popping her knuckles. Richard stands up straight, his eyes shining as you feel him running through his repertoire of illusions, preparing to do battle with his former love. The air grows tense, and everyone, save Fiora, begins to sweat from the tension and humidity. You look over the group, then to Fiora, who makes no move toward you, instead standing back, preparing her assault. Closing your eyes, you exhale deeply and turn to face her head-on, daring to look into her red, inhuman eyes.
“Before we begin, I have something to ask.”
Fiora cocks her head, her attention shifting to you. “Hmm? Oh, Richard’s new apprentice! Tobias, was it?” She rests her cheek on her fist, smiling at you, though her tentacles writhe in the direction of the others, as if they had minds of their own. “My my, aren’t you the cute one? I bet your together with one of these darling girls, aren’t you? Is it the damnable spawn of the Grand Wizard? Or the Badger hick? Or…oh don’t tell me, it’s both? You cad!”
You sigh and shake your head, “This isn’t about me.”
“Oh but it is! You know, I bet Richard was a wreck when I left, but I had to, you see, my mind, it went strange, terrible places!” She leans in conspiratorially, despite the distance, “I was never very good at managing my own power, too fun it was! Ah well, I gave him quite the fucking before I left, didn’t I?”
Richard frowns. “Fiora, what the hell are you doing?”
“Shush, my dear, the boy and I are speaking!” She turns her gaze back to you, “Sorry about the interruption, he’s always been impulsive like that. Oh, but what was I saying? Yes, that’s right, it didn’t take him long to replace me, did it? No… but that’s not right for him, he would probably have talked about me all the time.”
You frown, feeling that this conversation was getting out of hand. “No, not really. I knew who you were but he never really…” You trail off as you think about the past few years, reflecting on certain conversations. At the time, it seemed like normal chatter about training, but now that you think about it… he was talking about Fiora, wasn’t he?” You turn to Richard, frowning. “Were you always thinking about her when you chided me?”
“Tobias, she’s trying to get into your head.”
“I don’t feel any illusions.”
“A true illusionist doesn’t need to rely on their powers to make someone believe something.”
Fiora shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders as she begins to walk slowly toward the two of you. “My, that’s rather flattering actually, knowing that you were always thinking about me, I’m touched!”
“Stay back!” Richard says, pulling you backward, and Fiora stops, chuckling softly.
“Bother, you saw through me. You really must train your apprentice better to be observant.” She taps her chin. “Oh no wait, you’ll be dead before you can do that. A shame really.”
“You bitch, stop acting so high and mighty.” Ginelle says, lowering her body position to pounce upon the woman. Before she can, Fiora smirks, and you feel something shift as Ginelle’s eyes go wide and her head snaps to the side suddenly. She staggers backward before falling over, dazed as if she was slapped across the face with a metal pipe.
“Tch, so unruly.” Fiora says, a snarl in her voice. “I see why the bees don’t like them.”
“You bitch…” You say, balling your hands into fists. Saya moves over to Ginelle, her body posture wary, and she leans down, feeling the Badger’s neck before nodding. You sigh out in relief before glaring at Fiora. Straight out attacking her was bound to fail, and there’s no way you can match her illusion for illusion. She has a silver tongue, and almost got the drop on you. If you can’t fight her, outthink her, or outmagic her, there’s only one thing that you have which she doesn’t.
You grip Richard’s shoulder, nodding at him slowly. He blinks a few times before giving you a worried look. You flash him a smile, and he looks even more worried, but nods his head before furrowing his brow toward Fiora. That done, you take a step toward Fiora, and her tentacles raise, preparing to strike, when you say,
“You’re being played, Fiora.”
She pauses, blinking multiple times. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You’re being played, can’t you see?”
“Boy, this is a really poor attempt at trying to trick me.”
You shake your head, “No, no tricks from me, in fact, the only tricks here are from Jackor!” Your hand snaps up, pointing directly toward her. “I object to all of this! I object because you are being controlled!”
Everyone stares at you, standing in the middle of no man’s land, your hand pointing toward Fiora like an idiot. You feel stupid, very stupid, for doing this, because it’s just a bluff. Yet something’s forming in your mind, some pieces from what you’ve heard before, putting pieces together. What if… what if she really is being controlled? You look up at her, feeling the power of reasoning flow within you, mixing with your, let’s be fair here, bullshit. It spurs you forward, and you press your assault.
“You are surrounded by all these plants, giving thanks and blessings to Phallia, saying she has freed you from the madness of Jackor, but have you considered that it was not Phallia, but instead, Dollora? How would Phallia, Goddess of plants, change you into a Monsters, the domain of her sister, Dollora? It makes no sense.”
“That’s not even considering the fact that Jackor never releases the souls of his children, his illusionists. Unless there was something for him to gain, a game for him to play. I bet you that you’ve been given the illusion of him freeing your mind, when you’re his slave just like the rest of us!” You hold your head up high, your words making more and more sense to you as you press on. “Fiora, you have no reason to fight us, your mind, your body even, have been corrupted by the dark Goddess, and you’re still being played by Jackor. Phallia is a wonderful Goddess, one of love, and yet you believe you’re doing these cruel acts in her name. Does that make sense?”
Fiora begins to put a troubled look on her face, and she pulls in on herself a little, hugging her waist with her arms, her tentacles beginning to hang a little limply. She seems confused to you, your words making her think. <Perfect> You think, smiling wanly as you spread your arms wide. “Fiora… you’re not our enemy. Richard has told me about how kind and wonderful you were… how you still are, deep inside. It doesn’t matter what you look like, but what’s on the inside! Fiora, let this all go, don’t do what they want of you, don’t be their pawn.”
Fiora pulls back some, looking a little afraid. “I… but that’s not… but she told me that…”
“Dollora is a Goddess of lies.” You say, noticing Saya frowning at you deeply while helping up a dazed Ginelle, which is weird, because you’d figure her a Solos kind of girl. You hold out a hand toward Fiora. “You can stop this now, before any more bloodshed has to happen.”
“I… I can?” Fiora says, sniffing as tears drip from her eyes. “I’m scared. I’ve been questioning it all from the start but… but she kept whispering, telling me it was the right thing to do, even though I know it’s not!” She shudders, holding herself, “I don’t want to kill people! I… I need help!”
Fiora holds out a hand toward you, her eyes pleading. “Help me…”
You nod your head, feeling pride in having talked down such a situation. It started as a bluff, but it ended into something magical. Richard and Fiora could be together again, your life could go back to normal, and no one had to get hurt. You take a deep breath and take a step toward Fiora, smiling widely. “We’ll do anything…”
“Then can you stop?” Fiora says, her lip twitching.
“Huh? Stop what?”
“Stop being such an idiot.” She says, her mouth quirking into a full smile before her eyes widen, and she begins to chuckle, clutching her waist out of mirth instead of protecting her. “Hahaha, are you stupid kid? Dollora?” She takes a step toward you, and you gasp, dropping to the ground as one of her tentacles slashes over the space where your head was a moment before.
“Tobias! You surprised me some, telling such intricate bullshit! I almost believed that you really believed what you were saying! Did you really think that Jackor would willingly free someone from his madness? That Dollora has anything to say over what the plant Monster’s do? After that incompetent eight-tailed bitch took over the Lady, she became toothless! Complacent!”
From the ground, you stare into her eyes, a look of horror on your face. Everything you put together began to crumble apart as her words bore into you. She stands over you, laughing hysterically, and you say in a muted voice, “You’re still insane, aren’t you?”
As if a switch was flipped, she abruptly stops laughing, and stares at you flatly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but your babble has grown boring to me. I have a war to start you know. Those pesky Galmathorian’s aren’t going to invade Deleor by themselves you know!” She raises her arm and her tentacles follow before zipping toward you.
“Fiora!” Richard shouts, and suddenly her tentacles recoil, Fiora taking a step backward, her eyes wide. She staggers back, holding her arms out to steady herself before her head snaps, and she coughs as blows hit her in rapid succession. Her hair flies about in random patterns as she tries to push something away before she seems to realize something, gritting her teeth and standing straight, growling.
“Richard! I knew you’d be trouble, you son of a bitch. Using an illusion on me? Even one so crude as punching me? I am not your pupil NOR your woman any longer!”
“I know.” Richard says, his expression serious. “I’ve come to peace with that, why won’t you?”
Her eyes flare and she leaps toward him, when everything seems to… shift. Suddenly Richard is standing to the side of her, and she’s… rising through the earth? The scene seems to snap back into reality, and you see Richard rolling to the side, grunting in pain as a wave of bladed tentacles slash over his head. Your eyes go wide as reality seems to shudder once again, and with dull realization, you realize that Richard never told you what would happen if an illusionist went all out with another illusionist.
You grit your teeth and turn to Saya, shouting, “We have to help him!”
“What about Ginelle?” She says, the Badger able to stand, but holding her neck, as if it hurt her.
“Let her stay behind, I need you know!” She looks to the Badger who nods her head gently, wincing, but giving Saya her blessing. Saya gets up and runs to you, her eyes going wide at the confrontation.
“What the hell is going on there?”
“I don’t really know, but if I concentrate, I can see them right. We have to distract Fiora, or hit her when she’s busy, I don’t know.” You begin to feel panic as Richard stumbles backward, his arm bleeding from where a tentacle hit him. “Fuck, we have to go.”
“Tobias!” Saya says, trying to restrain you before giving up and chasing after you into the madhouse that as the illusionary battle between the two. You focus intently, preparing your senses for the power being thrown about, and you cross the threshold between them, immediately ducking down as Fiora’s tentacles swipe at Richard where your head was, once again.
“Fucking hells!” You scream, rolling to the side as you feel a pressure on your mind, and find Fiora staring at you. Suddenly there’s two Fioras, and your eyes go wide as one runs after Richard, the other stalking toward you, her tentacle hair snapping like whips.
“You miserable little excuse for an illusionist. You have no style, you have no grace, Gods forbid, you even have the funniest fucking face!” She says, before laughing, cracking her hair toward you.
You feel Saya pull you to the side, and you nod to her as another whip of tentacles comes down, and Saya shouts, slashing her knife at the appendages, causing it to fly back, spraying green blood. The Mindflayer howls before throwing more at you, and you reach into your [Pocket Sand], pulling out a handful normal sand, and throwing it at Fiora, gently coating her in a mist of fine particles right as the tentacles smash into your chest, throwing you off your feet a good four feet, and slamming you on your back.
“Gaah!” You cry, your back flaring in pain as Saya puts herself in front of you, holding your knife up before slashing away at the tentacles in a flash of bladework, each slice sending chunks of tentacle and blood spraying all over. Fiora steps back, crying out in pain as Saya dashes in, flicking the knife ahead of her, the blade imbedding itself in Fiora’s arm, causing her to grasp it. She doesn’t notice then when Saya latches onto her face with her hand, which rapidly turns black and begins melting Fiora’s face.
The Mindflayer screams, but soon enough Saya has covered her mouth in goo too, green blood and black ooze dripping down the front of the Monster as she gurgles and slumps down to the ground, where she continues to melt, much to Saya’s apparent surprise. It catches you off guard for a moment as well, when you have another cold realization. “Oh fuck, that was an illusion!”
Saya blinks before one of Fiora’s tentacles appears, and slaps onto Saya’s forehead, the blades on the appendage digging into the younger Monster’s flesh. You watch as Fiora, not even looking at Saya, instead concentrating on Richard still, ungulates the organ, and Saya cries out, falling to her knees and shaking violently, her form suddenly collapsing. Not the same as when she was hit by the Phantom Thief’s gauntlets, but very similar, and where once was a girl was now a pile of bones and black goo that twitched violently.
“Noooo!” You scream, running up to Fiora and grabbing the tentacle that was holding onto Saya’s head, pulling at it violently, causing Fiora to off balance, her attention snapping to you. You feel another pressure on your head as a swarm of bees appears, but you grit your teeth and push back, the force of your anger shattering her illusion, though it strained your mind to do so.
Fiora growls before throwing more and more illusory assaults upon you, slapping you with wave after wave of illusions from the potentially believable, to the downright stupendous, and though it drove you to a knee, the strain and exhaustion pushing you far past your limits, you resist her assault, staring at her defiantly.
She blinks, taking only momentary attention off Richard, but it was enough time for him to launch a counter attack, and Fiora violently tears her tentacle from your grasp, which sends you staggering backward, as she rips at her strange garment, tearing sections into pieces, revealing her attractive, yet purple, flesh underneath. She even tears into her skin before she holds something invisible up, crushing it in her fist, her chest bleeding slightly.
“Fine then Richard, if this is the way you want it, then…” You cut her off by throwing a handful of vibrantly yellow sand at her face. She cuts off suddenly, and even though her eyes are coated in sand, she gives you and expression of pure hatred. Unfortunately for her, this allows Richard to run up, and stab her in the abdomen with his knife.
She shudders then, her eyes growing wide, and she looks down at the knife, then up to Richard, a look of shock on her face. He grunts and steps backward, panting slightly as she puts her hands on the handle, staring down at the wound. She gulps a few times, before breathing heavily, her chest heaving as she begins to hyperventilate.
You walk over to Richard, feeling the your abused mind still reeling from the assault before. You don’t want to think about your state of mind after all of this, but he did it, the bastard actually managed to do it! You smile, gripping his shoulder tightly, and the older man nods to you, before looking back to Fiora, a look of pain on his face as the woman slumps, her expression turning to one of abject sadness.
“Richard…” She mutters, beginning to sob. “I’m so sorry Richard… I never meant any of it… I just wanted to be with you again, but it wasn’t my choice, and now… now you’ve killed me.”
“I’m sorry Fiora, but you must realize it had to be done.” He takes a shuddering breath, and you see a tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “I never wanted to have to do this.”
“Richard…” She says softly, looking up at him with a tortured expression. “Do you love me? Even like this?”
He takes in a deep breath before exhaling slowly. “…Yes. I always will.”
She bows her head before sighing and putting her hand once more upon the dagger. “Thank you, and I’m sorry.”
You and Richard step back as Fiora’s head snaps up, and you stare into her eyes which literally glow with intense, red light. As you stare into those orbs, you feel yourself being sucked in, everything around you distorting. Desperately, you reach out, trying to cling to anything possible, but your arms are no longer there, and you begin to fall upward before crashing to the ground, which swallows you up, dragging you into a pit of darkness. A thousand pains, each more indescribable than the last tear at your flesh for an eternity, and your voice goes hoarse from your screams as you become lost in a tidal wave of agony.
Suddenly, it stops, and you find yourself lying on your side, drool coming from your mouth, you body twitching slightly, unresponsive to your actions. Voices whisper your mind as echoes of mosquitoes, fire, disgusting wetness, and the words of Bearsy play over and over. “You have to go back…” You huddle into a little ball, or try to, only half succeeding as your body tries to remember how to control itself.
>Your Madness level has increased to: 80%
Distantly, you’re aware of Fiora struggling to her feet, panting as blood trickles down her face from a gash there. An overturned table is cracked into pieces around her, seemingly from impacting on something. You faintly hear Ginelle scream, “What did you do to them, you bitch?!” Before leaping at the Mindflayer, wrestling her to the ground, but being thrown off by a tentacle before she can swipe at the other Monster.
You watch dully as Fiora staggers to her feet, looks off toward something next to you, and cries out, shaking a fist, the other seemingly broken as it dangles loosely. She then looks up at the altar, her expression becoming miserable he wails, “No! No, it’s ruined! She won’t… she won’t forgive me… I can’t stop here, I have to… to go.” She looks over at something next to you, and she begins to cry, “I’m sorry! I didn’t want to leave you like this, please, forgive me!”
Fiora takes a step toward you before pausing and stepping back. She closes her eyes and then runs out of the foliage, her body seeming to shift as he places her illusion of humanity around her. Though he face was an illusion, the look of regret and horror on her face was real enough. With that she vanishes, leaving you alone in the dome.
Your mind, still reeling from the torment within, tries to focus on something, anything, and you dully begin to hear the sound of someone whispering to themselves frantically. You grunt and roll over, failing twice to push yourself before succeeding and locating the source of the voice. As you do though, you wish you hadn’t, as you behold Richard, his eyes looking frantic as he babbles to gibberish to himself.
Oh Gods no. The strain of the battle, the last attack by Fiora, it… Oh Gods. You dully feel tears streaming from your eyes as you fumble to reach out for your Master. You say in a raspy voice, “Jackor… why?”
“Because that’s the way things are, kid. A shame too, because I really thought you two had it there. This is not going how I thought it would at all…”
You blink a few times before struggling to look up at a man of average height and slight frame with attractive features and short, blond hair. He sighs and shakes his head and his blue eyes, far too blue to belong to a human, look into yours, and you immediately know exactly who it is who’s standing before you.
“Jackor…” You whisper.
He nods his head to you slightly before smiling wanly. “Tobias Shady, my child. Would you like another throw of the dice?”