Wizardquest 2: Chapter 11- Unmovable

Tapping your staff on the ground, you shake your head and look at Tabitha with tired eyes. She furrows her brow at you as you say, “If the Royal Guard are present, we shouldn’t sit around here. Besides, we’ve spent enough time as it is, everyone should be ready to go, right?”

Your voice must have been harsher than you thought, because Sylphie and Ebe flinch while even Alice looks a little surprised. They look at each other before nodding and standing to gather their things. Unable to change this, you sigh and turn to Tabitha who looks you in the eye and nods with understanding before helping with preparations to go.

“Ako.” You say, walking over to the Kunoichi. She frowns at you and replies,

“What?”

A wave of frustration comes over you, but you stifle it and say, “Look, sorry about last night, I wasn’t exactly in my right mind, you know?”

“It is not my duty to judge such things, only to make sure we all do our duty.”

Part of you wants to slap her upside the head for being such a bitch, but you can’t tell if that’s also the part that doesn’t want to talk about your past and is making YOU bitchy. Instead, you grit your teeth and say, “Fine. We’re going need to see Ammon soon.”

“Very well.” She says, nodding her head to Zoras. “And her?”

“Oh yeah, I’m bloody fine, thanks for asking.” Zoras groans. She tries to stand, but her legs are wobbly even to you and you find yourself going over to her and putting a hand on her shoulder to drift her downward.

“You should probably just stay here.”

“Oh like the hells I’m going to stay here like some damn spider in her web, I’m going.”

“Listen.” Crouching down to get to eye level with her, you continue, “Zoras, I know our meeting was a little rocky and while attacking Ebe like that should be unforgivable, she clearly has forgiven you and so must I.” Shaking your head you sigh, “You proved who you are, and I want to thank you for it. As such, I don’t want to see you risk yourself outside when you’re not in your best health. Please, stay here, alright?”

Zoras looks at you with utter surprise in her eyes. “You… you’re worried about me?”

“I mean.” You say, feeling a little conflicted still. “Yes, I suppose. You did right by us so… why not?”

Zoras goes silent at this, biting her lip as she searches your expression. Despite her apperance, she nods her head in a rather demure gesture and says, “I… suppose I will then.” She blushes and looks away, “Ah Gods, I haven’t had to say goodbye to someone in awhile.”

“Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again.” You say this figuring you probably won’t meet again, and both of you know it. Still, these things need to be said, and as you stand she grabs the hem of your robes, making you look down at her.

“Hey ah… if you’re going to the palace, mind swiping me souvenir? I always wanted a piece of bloody royal treasure.”

Unable to keep yourself from smiling at this, you smirk and say, “I’ll see what I can do.” She nods her head at this answer and leans back, folding her arms under her breasts and sighing as you finish your own preparations.

Soon enough you’re ready to go and Ako steps back in from outside, nodding her head. “We are free to go now, please be quick.”

Without any objection, you follow her outside into the bright light of the Ectrian day. The warm sun shining down on you feels good, though you don’t get to bask in it long as Ako heads you down another alleyway, such as they are in this city. The city is more quiet than you’d expect, most people likely being indoors when the guard are out in force, and you have to stop at multiple times as you hear other sets of hooves coming. At one point Ako curses and leaves you behind, tossing a cloak over herself and stepping out into the street. A few terse words later she returns to you and continues you on the way.

Despite being mostly in the shadows, you can hear the guards crawling the streets, knocking on doors and questioning people. More than one shout of protest comes as the guards barge into a house and you feel sickened at this. They clearly feel nothing wrong ruining people’s lives in the name of the Pharaoh. You remember the words of your ah… your sister… and then quickly put them out of your head. No, let’s not think about that for now.

Eventually you reach the warehouse again, and are ushered inside by Ako who closes the door shut behind you with a worried look. Your group sighs as they find themselves in familiar territory, and Ammon greets you, looking as cheery as ever.

“Ah! You came much faster than expected! Why we could have traveled together had you told me!” As he says this, Ako walks up and whispers in his ear to which he frowns and says, “Ah, we’ll go and pick up Zoras later. Seems there’s something that calls my attention in the streets anyway.”

“Such as?” Sophie says, cocking her head.

“Never you worry little princess.” Ammon says, smirking. “Now then, you’ll head out the way you came, I can confirm they won’t be watching that area, for now anyway. It won’t be hard to reach the trail and-“

“We’re going to head to Tet’ahn.” You say, cutting him off. He blinks at you in surprise and says,

“You’re going there? Ah, but I suppose you would need some supplies and such.” He nods his head. “I would advise you not to linger, everything has been dangerous these days.”

“You’re telling me.” You sigh. Shaking your head, you make to move past him, but he puts a hand on your chest and whispers in your ear,

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Your spine stiffens as your eyes narrow. “Ammon, you better not-“

He smiles and says, “Can you say, ‘thank you?'”

Blinking at him in surprise, your mouth works soundlessly at this and he chuckles, heartily until you finally sigh out, “Thank you.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard.” He says, pulling something out of his pocket. “Oh yes, I had forgotten this, but you might need it. It’s not terribly well detailed, but such things are hard to come by and this copy is all you get.”

Holding out your hand, he gives you a piece of parchment, which you unroll to look at. Before you is a map of the palace, clearly drawn out by someone who had infiltrated it at some point rather than an architect. Scribbled words and moderately straight lines show a layout of the important places in the palace and while it looks rather sad, it’s easy enough to use.

>You obtain [Palace Map]
>Not the map of the Palace of Setet you deserve, but the map you need

“I see.” You say, stuffing the map away in your bag. “Thank you for this, you’ve been a big help, possibly more than you’ve needed to be.”

Ammon gives you a sidelong look. “That is a statement rich with implications, my dear Rommel.”

“Is it? My mistake.” You say, feeling some tension building. He smiles at you and steps away, waving his hand over the stairs down to the tunnel.

“Very good! You have a nice trip now, and do let me know how the reunion goes? I love family gatherings?”

Sophie sniffs, “You’ll know as soon as we do.”

“Hahaha, so I will! So I will!”

With that out of the way, you head down into the tunnel with Sayaka in tow this time, the Kunoichi opening the grates. The passage is boring as before, yet not quite as tense, and when all of you reach the outside, the Kunoichi bows and makes to leave, pausing next to you only to whisper,

“My sister is rather enamored by you. She’s a little disappointed you didn’t get rough with her.”

Blinking in surprise, when you turn to look at her again she’s gone. Feeling utterly confused at the whole situation, you shake your head and play off the confused looks that Tabitha and Alice give while glaring at the two Cat o’Ninetails who look just like the grinning fox next to you. Their animal ears twitch and you groan at their stupid non-human hearing. With them in good spirits, you push once again into the desert heat.
——————————————

Oh right, the desert sucks.

This thought came to you quite quickly as you began your journey to the southeast. With the sun beating down on you, you have no time to feel mopey over your past and current revelations, because you’re sweating like a pig again and feel your chest aches every now and then as you walk. Such is the price of being a hero, you suppose.

Conversation is, of course, sparse in the group, the twins having grown tired of their bullying of you. This is something you’re also quite thankful for as you travel through the sands. You’re honestly only able to tell you’re off the beaten path because of Sayaka’s instructions, telling you that if you run into any sign-posts, then you’re too close to the roads. As such, you see no sign posts and no signs of well, anyone.

The day drags on and before long you stop for lunch, eating some food that Sophie prepares while looking over the map. You agree that there’s really nothing much to do be done about it until you reach your new contacts, though Tabitha is understandably nervous about the situation. She bring up what you failed to bring up with the others.

“I don’t trust this Ammon. He’s playing us for something, but I can’t tell what.”

Everyone agrees with her on this point, but there’s nothing much to be done for it, how can there be? At this point it’s all you have to go off of, and at least it’s something. His words about this Tet’ahn though are a little cryptic however, but again, you’ll have to meet it head on.

As the day drags on, you find yourself glad no one asks you about your family again. That was your top fear as soon as you got out of the city and frankly it still eats at you. Thinking you put most of this behind you, you know that eventually it’s going to come to the fore and you’ll have to talk about it… or face it. You’d like to say, “what are the chances I’ll see her again?” but you know the answer to that already.

Ebe returns from a survey in the later afternoon. Near some craggy lands she found the town surrounding a small source of water. Not very large and made in simple Ectrian style, she doesn’t describe it as different from any of the many other towns in Ectria, at least from the air. Based on distance, she suspects it will be evening by the time you make it there, possibly well after dark. Feeling this to be rather better than staying out in the sands for the evening, you decide to press on, despite any particular fatigue.

The sun sets and you travel by the moon and the eyesight of the two Cat o’Ninetails, foregoing any light for the time being. As you approach the town, you see lanterns set up at the edge of the town, near a rocky outcrop. Given the size of the place, a wall would be difficult to build and likely useless as they may not have people to defend it anyway. Still, the light should belong to a town watchman.

Signaling to Sylphie, she sets her staff to glowing to announce your presence. The watchman in the closing distance stands up at your approach and looks at you in alarm, calling out, “Who goes there?”

“Just some travelers looking for a place to spend the night and get supplies!” You shout from a safe distance.

The man pauses for a moment and brings something up to his face before nodding. You can’t tell what it is, but he says a moment later, “We don’t get many travelers out this way, who told you about us?”

“Someone from Hatset.” You say. “We didn’t want to travel the main roads, too dangerous these days.

He pauses again, holding the item to his face. Letting it fall, he says, “Very well then. Let me inspect you and I’ll let you in. Come closer.”

Following his commands, you walk over to him so he can inspect you, looking at all of you in the torchlight. He pauses to study each of you, looking under cloaks and such before pausing and squinting at your face. He turns around and whispers something, to which Sophie and Sylphie both frown.

{Erwin?} You send.

{He just said, “That can’t be right.”}

The man turns around again and smiles, “I suppose you don’t much look like bandits, especially not with all that magic and such beautiful women.” Tipping his hat, the man nods to the town, “Let me show you in.”

Everyone looks at each other. Feeling off about this, you nod your head and follow the man into the town. As you enter, you get the feeling of eyes watching you, though only a few of the houses have any lighting. Your staff doesn’t illuminate anyone at the windows, but you just feel… weird. Still, nothing much happens as you find yourself at a larger structure, a tavern of sorts which has a few rooms for the occasional traveler.

Getting settled in and paying with some of the Ectrian coin you found, the innkeeper is helpful enough but he only has three rooms able to house two people per bed available. Mr. Ed goes to the stable out back while your group figures out the task of, “Who gets to sleep in the room with Rommel.”

This, of course, means that everyone is in your designated room, arguing about it while you hold your hands in your head. Your suggestion of, “Can’t someone just triple up?” was widely dismissed. Everyone wants some bed space, which means even if you’re on the floor, someone is going to be in the same room as you. Why they should care you don’t know, but either way you’re tired of the arguing.

Sighing, you step outside of the room as Alice tries to impress upon them in perfect logical discourse why she should get to sleep in the same room as you. Rubbing your head, you make to go take in some of the night air. As you do, you step near the common room and pause as you can’t help overhearing the innkeeper speaking.

“Yes, yes they’re here but they’re in their rooms. We should postpone the ritual though and- what? But we can’t!… I see. Very well then.”

His voice cuts off and you hear him walking away, to which you hurriedly zip back into your room to find Tabitha with her magitek foot on Alice’s back, shaking her head. The others are still chatting though when you return they cut off, evidently seeing the look on your face. When you tell them what you heard everyone grows serious, even Alice on the floor.

“What do you think they mean by ritual?” Sylphie says, looking nervous.

“I don’t know, but it might not be worth it to find out.” Sophie murmurs. “Does Mr. Ed see anything amiss?”

“No but-” Sylphie cuts off as a knock comes at the door. Licking her lips, she calls out, “Yes?”

The door opens to reveal the innkeeper, who has a very fake smile on his face. “Ah, I am afraid I am going to have to ask all of you to retire here soon. It is quite late and any commotion may be unsettling for the nearby townsfolk.”

Not having settled their little debate, nor decided how to proceed, your party once again looks to you, their fearless leader, for guidance.

Well…
>What do you?

>Story continue

“Ahem.”

Clearing your throat, you turn to the innkeeper and smile. “Of course sir, we were merely reminiscing about the day’s events and making plans for our evening rooms.”

The innkeeper’s face brightens. “But of course! I can escort your parties to their rooms.”

He lingers at the doorway after saying this, smile still forced on his face. The party looks about with awkwardness, Sophie coughing in her hand as the uncomfortable silence drags on. Each of the girls glances toward you, as if waiting for you to say something. When the oppressive feeling grows too great you eventually groan and say, “Can’t we all just share one room?”

“NO!!!”

The accumulated voices of your assembled party and the innkeeper hit you like a physical force. With effort, you keep yourself from reeling backward, though you do take a step backward. Seeming just as startled as you, the others look about each other with surprise which quickly turns to embarrassment. Thankfully you’re too shocked to be embarrassed, though something tells you that you should be.

As eyes shift between each other and occasionally to you, you sense that you need to act quickly or else things may get out of hand. Looks like you’re forced to choose after all. Time seems to slow down around you as possibilities race through your mind. You have to choose one of them to end this nightmare, so does it really matter who you choose? You could randomly spin a bottle or roll some dice for Solos’s sake!

And yet… something tells you otherwise. Two voices in your head, bickering, drowning out the other voices. Despite the insistence of both, one speaks louder, and though you don’t really know why, you have your answer. After what feels like six days, you open your mouth and say,

“Tabitha and Sylphie, you two share a room. Alice and Sophie share the other room and for the last room, me and… Ebe.”

Silence deafens the room. Ebe’s eyes grow wide as her cheeks flush furiously. The other girls look at you, then to each other, before looking down and nodding their heads. Even Tabitha looks a little confused, but she shrugs moments later and turns to Sylphie, putting a hand on the Monster’s shoulder.

“Alright, you heard the man, come on.”

Sylphie, looking perturbed, makes no objections as she’s lead away toward the innkeeper, who looks like he just passed a kidney stone. As for Sophie, she looks at you with a raised eyebrow before shaking her head and putting a hand over Alice’s mouth before the woman can make any trouble. She attempts to, but ends up rolling her eyes and walking out without much of a protest. The innkeeper nods to you and coughs before closing the door to your room, leaving you with Ebe and Erwin.

The Ghandharva looks at the door with surprise before turning back to you, her green eyes meeting yours. Despite her bronzed complexion, you can see her blushing furiously and it soon makes you uncomfortable. Looking away, you spy Erwin grinning at you in a way that only a fox can, and you frown at the familiar, sending,

{What are you looking at?}

{It’s just so cute!}

{Ugh, get out of her!} You send, feeling angry for some reason. {Go do some recon or something!}

{Mmm, but I’m doing some good recon right here!}

{Damnit, look can you go bother someone else? Go be with Sylphie or something!}

{Can I snuggle her chest?}

{Sure! Whatever!} You send back, putting a hand to your forehead. Gods damnit why are you so embarrassed? It’s the atmosphere from before putting you out of it, isn’t it? That’s the reason, you’re just so tired you’re caught up in it!

Erwin slips out of the room as you sit down on the bed, shaking your head. A shuffling of feathers sounds next to you and you look up to see Ebe bending over to look into your face, a look of concern on hers. She opens her mouth and then closes it, scrunching up her mouth before sighing and asking, “Are you alright?”
“I… uh, yeah.” You reply, coughing into your hand. “Just a little worked up is all. Erwin, you know.”

“Oh!” She says, standing up and chuckling. “Erwin, of course. He’s… causing trouble?”

“You don’t know the half of it.” You sigh.

“I suppose I never really know what Erwin is doing or thinking, just that… he’s a good friend to you, right?”

Taking a moment to think about it, you exhale some of the stress before responding. “Yes… he’s a very good friend, if grating at times.”

“Ah, I see.” She says, fidgeting.

Looking up at her, you frown. Sitting down let you clear your head a little and the conversation toward Erwin is a welcome distraction. Still, seeing her fidgeting like that is a little disconcerting, so you pat the bed next to you. “Might as well sit down, I suppose, no sense in looking uncomfortable.”

“Eh… eh?” She says, looking more red. “A-Are you sure?”

“I don’t see why not?”

“O-Okay then.” Ebe says before taking in a deep breath and sitting down on the bed next to you. She grows quiet, looking at you every now and then out of the corner of her eye as you lean over, rubbing your face. You catch her at one point and frown, sitting up and asking her what she’s doing.

“N-Nothing!” She squawks. “I just… well, I mean.” Coughing into her wing, she says, “I was thinking about good friends and such. I had friends growing up but none of them were really… good friends, you know?”

“Mmm, I know that.” You say, nodding your head. “Given my… circumstances, I didn’t have much of a chance to make friends. Or maybe I shunned them.” Giving a wry smile, you say, “Maybe that’s why Erwin means so much to me.”

“That’s sweet.” She says, a genuine smile on her face.

“Thanks.” You reply, to her embarrassment. Quirking and eyebrow, you shake your head and ask, “What do you think of this place?”

“Huh? Ectria? I mean, it’s my home and all but-” She cuts off as you give her a knowing look and she clacks her tongue. “Oh, you mean this village. Uhm…” A look of concentration comes over her face as she thinks it over.

“I don’t like it.” She says, nodding her head. “The rhythm feels off here, you know?”

“The… rhythm?” You ask, looking confused.

“Ah! I mean, like there’s a strange vibe here.” She says, looking flustered. “Like there’s something with the air, a humming almost. The innkeeper doesn’t look like any innkeeper I’ve seen, he looks scared.”

Sighing, you nod your head. “My thoughts too. Something’s wrong here.”

“What should we do?”

“Hmmm.” You muse, rubbing your chin. “Sending out Erwin might be unwise since they saw him when we arrived. I would still like some early warning beyond Mr. Ed though, but how to do it?”

“Uhm.” She says, cocking her head. “Can’t you put those uh… [Audio Taps] wasn’t it? Hear what the innkeeper is saying?”

“A little difficult unless I know where to cast the magic. If I had Erwin scout places out and cast through him… bah same problem.” Grumbling, you lay back on the bed, thinking. “If only I had something small and mobile…”

Ebe shifts, “Uhm… what about those little golems of yours?”

Blinking, you think it over before bolting up. “Ebe, you’re a genius.”

“H-Huh?” She says, looking confused as you race over to your [Backpack], pulling out rocks. “W-what are you doing?”

“Pulling out rocks of course.” Having chosen four rocks, you focus your magic upon them and cast [Imbue Golem].

The piles of rocks shift and soon take form as Stan, Phallia, Babyface, and Greg take shape into golems. Each takes a humanoid form, and though it’s a little taxing, it’s worth it to make them seem vaguely distinct. You take special pride in Phallia, who looks at you a smooth face, yet feminine form. Pleased with your work, you attach [Audio Tap] to each of them and then ascribe a set of orders for them to patrol the grounds in a pattern as you have laid out.

The golems, orders imbued, parade out. Phallia and Babyface go out the door while Stan and Greg go through a little window, beginning their patrols. As they walk away, you listen for anything they pick up immediately, but hear nothing beyond the sound of the pitter patter of tiny rocks on the ground.

“That was pretty cool.” Ebe says. Turning to face her, you see a smile on her face that’s rather genuine. “Your magic is always so interesting to watch, you know.”

Blinking in surprise, you cough into your hand and say, “Well, it’s not like some mummer’s show or anything, it’s rather life and death stuff.”

“Uh huh.” She says, giggling. “If you say so.”

“What’s what supposed to mean?” You grumble, to which she giggles again.

“Nothing!” Ebe walks over to the bed and sits down, sighing as she lays back, her golden wings spreading over the bed sheets, framing her voluptuous body as if it were art in a gallery. Looking up at the ceiling, she asks, “What now?”

“Well…” You say, your golems in the back of your mind. “I guess we wait to see if anything happens.”

“What if nothing happens though?”

“Then I guess we get a good night’s sleep.”

Ebe’s cheeks flush and she lifts her head to look at you. “Oh, r-right.” She fidgets on the bed before stuttering, “W-Well, i-if you want, we can sh-share the… ah… uhm…”

“Hmm?” You say, looking up at her as you unroll your bedroll. “Something wrong?”

Ebe stares at you in confusion and surprise before sitting up and leaning over. She narrows her eyes and says, “You… were planning on sleeping in the bedroll?”

“Well, yeah. You’re getting the bed, so I’ll sleep on the floor, it’s fine.”

“It’s f- no it’s not fine!” She groans. Using one of her wings, she slaps the bed next to her and says with a touch of anger, “You’re sleeping in the bed tonight too.”

“Uh… why?”

“Because you’re tired and you’ve done a lot and… and… j-just do it!” Ebe’s cheeks flush after she says this, all hints of defiance leaving her expression. She blushes and turns to the side, crossing her wings over her chest.

Looking at her like this, she seems rather defenseless in a way, and yet the strength in her voice from before reminds you of when you first met her. You feel something stir within you at this and your mouth goes a little dry as you begin to feel uncomfortable. Looking away, you begin to say, “I think I’ll be fine with the bedroll” when she asks,

“Please?”

Closing your eyes, you sigh and lower your head. Ah Gods damnit, that tone of voice, trying to guilt you into this. Feeling conflicted between a sense of danger and your respect for Ebe, you weigh your options carefully. On one hand, you’re going to probably be awake all night listening for anything going on as it stands, so it’s not like you’re in any danger if you keep your wits about you. Besides, it’s Ebe, it’s not like there’s any reason to be afraid, not like you’re with Alice who would be naked already.

With a groan, you roll your bedroll back up and say, “Fine, I’ll sleep in the bed.”

“R-Really?” Ebe says, looking surprised for some reason. “You mean it?”

Shrugging, you walk over and sit down on the bed. “I mean, I don’t see why not I guess.” You smile at her and say, “That is, if you’re fine with it.”

She blinks a few times before smiling herself and nodding her head. “Of course!”

“Good.” You say, still feeling a little conflicted, your heart beating hard in your chest. Taking in a deep breath, you exhale slowly and listen close to your golems. Feeling the signal to the golems, you’re able to get a rough estimate of where they are. Nothing comes to you but the sound of the night time desert, making you wonder where the innkeeper went. Maybe he retired to his own chambers?

“Everything alright?” Ebe asks, to which you tell her you’re looking after the golems. She nods and says, “I suppose it’s fine then? Maybe it’s nothing after all.”

“Maybe.” You say, shrugging. “I’d like a nice, uneventful night.”

“Yeah… seems like we’re always getting into trouble these since we met.” Ebe chuckles nervously before sighing. “Hey Rommel… uhm… what do you think you’ll do when this is all over?”

“Hmm?” You ask, turning to her. “Where did this come from?”

“I was just thinking, you know? I know the main goal is to help Sophie and Sylphie and I love both of them as my best friends but… what happens when it’s all over?”

Crossing your arms across your chest you think it over. Your plans still haven’t changed, though at the same time it feels a little more nebulous than before, a little less certain. After you confront him… what then? Even if you’re able to convince him, what WILL you do? Go back to your home and live in solitude again after everything you’ve done so far? Somehow that seems a little difficult to accept, a little too lonely.

“I’m not certain.” You say with honesty. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead, I’ve just been focused on the goal ahead, meeting it one challenge at a time.” Feeling pensive, you ask, “What about you?”

“Me?” She asks, looking surprised. “I… I don’t know either. I know I said I wanted to return home after my experience in Deleor but… the more I travel with you and the others and after going home again… it all seems so small. I feel like, pardon the wording, like it’s not enough space to spread my wings.”

“I think I understand that.” You say, nodding your head. “Sometimes… I think I understand what the Grand Wizard felt on his journey.”

Ebe watches you for a moment before smiling and reaching over to pull out her ghitar. You watch her with curiosity as she tunes it before nodding her head. A wan smile comes to her mouth as she says, “There’s something I’ve been working on, would you like to hear it?”

“Well, as long as we don’t make too much noise… sure.”

She smirks and then takes a deep breath before beginning to play on the ghitar. Soft notes play from the instrument, washing over you. Though she doesn’t sing, something in the melody is seemingly imbued with her voice and you feel as if the music is speaking to something within your heart. Memories of your home, your family, come to you unbidden and you soon close your eyes, drinking in the sound that pours forth from her ghitar.

It feels like it ends almost as soon as it begins, though you know that isn’t true. The longing in your heart for the sense of belonging that you had when you were little, the bonds of family pull at you. You feel something soft caress your cheek and you look up in surprise to see Ebe wiping a tear from your cheek, that wan smile still on her face.

“So… what did you think?”

It takes you a few moments to gather your thoughts enough for you to say, “It… it’s beautiful.”

Ebe lets out a deep breath. “Ah, good. I was afraid that making a song based on my own feelings wouldn’t speak to someone else but… I guess it spoke to you, haha…hah.”

The Ghandharva chuckles, a little awkward before she clears her throat and says, “I’m glad you liked it though.”

“Yeah.” You say, feeling tired, yet happy. “Yeah I did.”

————————————————————-

Nothing much seems to come through from your golems, and you share the news with Erwin who shares with Sylphie, who ends up barging into your damn thoughts anyway to tell you what Tabitha told her. Frankly, it’s annoying, but it’s the best you have.

“Consensus seems to be that nothing’s wrong and that we’re paranoid.” You sigh out, rolling your shoulders. “Tabitha suggests we all get some sleep for now.”

Ebe yawns, covering her mouth with a wing. “Sounds good to me, I’m beat.” Saying this, she places her ghitar with her things and begins to remove the jewelry she wears. You’re surprised to see how well she’s able to slide the delicate pieces off using only her wings, and you don’t really notice that you’re watching her undress until she begins to remove the silken garb over her hips.

Quickly turning about, you pull the surprisingly comfortable bedsheets over yourself. A few moments later you feel a warmth moving towards you. Something touches you and you close your eyes. It’s Ebe, you’re so… uncomfortable.

“Sorry.” She whispers. “Could you take care of the lantern?”

Ah, right, the lantern, the light which is over course in the room. You could use magic, but that could get messy. Easier to just get up and turn it off. Groaning, you get out of the bed and walk over to the lantern, turning it off and casting the room into darkness. Only a faint light from the moon outside trickles into the room, allowing you to find your way back to the bed. As you slip back under the covers, you bump into Ebe and apologize.

“It’s fine.” She giggles. “I mean, one can hardly share a bed without bumping into each other… right?”

Feeling a little unsettled by her choice of words, you once again turn over and scoot close to the edge. The room grows quiet as you lay there, listening via your magic for signs of anything, yet nothing comes to you. Perhaps nothing will happen tonight, maybe you just are paranoid. That whole ritual thing the innkeeper talked about, maybe it has to do with some rain dance or something. Feeling a little silly, you allow sleep to begin to take hold of you.

Something warm and soft presses against your back and you freeze up. A soft wing wraps around you while plump, pillowy thighs lay against yours as Ebe presses herself against your back. You feel sweat that’s not at all connected to the heat trickle down your face as a whisper tickles your ear,

“Rommel… I-“

Babyface’s aetheric signature shifts as he crumbles into a pile of granite. Despite Ebe’s hold on you, her words are drowned out you hone in on the [Audio Tap] placed on him. You left orders to crumble into a pile of stone if they saw anyone, however your anchored magic is still in effect. Focusing, you hear two voices speak.

“Are they asleep?” A sensual, female voice asks.

“I believe so, they’re split into three rooms as well.” The voice of the innkeeper replies.

“Good… that will make things easier. The ritual time is almost upon us and I must prepare myself for the apotheosis.”
“Are… are you certain? I know that we wish for the return but… does it have to be you, Lady Aliph?”

“It is a blessing granted to us. I sense doubt in your voice… are you not committed?”

“O-Of course I am! I’m just… worried about you, we all are.”

The woman laughs. “Don’t be! When this night is over, we will begin the end of the Pharoah’s reign!” She chuckles again, “Now then, take these and make sure our guests don’t wake up. The cult has need of them.”

“A-As you say, my lady.”

His voice trails off as the sound of footsteps trail away. You can hear the innkeeper muttering to himself before walking forward and away from your golem. You’re not certain where he’s going exactly, but you have a feeling he’s coming to pay you a visit. Frowning, you pull yourself back to hear Ebe speaking.

“Is it something I said? I’m sorry Rommel, I didn’t mean to offend you by being too pushy, I just-“

“Ebe, we’re in danger.”

The Ghandharva stutters in surprise. “W-what? Danger?”

Pushing away from her, you get out of bed and listen through your other golems as they too crumble. Greg and Stan let you hear the sounds of many footsteps outside. No voices, only the feet of many, many people, all heading in an indeterminate direction. This ritual IS happening and it’s going to happen soon, though you have to wonder what this Lady Aliph means by apotheosis?

Taking your staff, you light it slightly and look to Ebe, to find the Ghandharva wearing small clothes which only cover her with some modestly, exposing the majority of her curvy, bronze skinned body. You push the feeling of her on you out of your mind for now as you relay the information via Erwin to Sylphie and Tabitha. Alice and Sophie are left in the dark, however, but the main question being asked of you pertains to how you’re going to handle what is coming.

“We have to let the others know.” You say, gritting your teeth. Not looking behind you, you add, “Ebe, get dressed, now.”

“Uhm… y-yeah, of course.” She hops up out of the bed as you confirm with Erwin what you’re hearing. The fox already has Sylphie awake and it doesn’t take long to get Tabitha up either, the two waiting for your command, such as it is. Erwin, you ask to dash out and wake up the other two, but the fox replies in the negative.

{I can’t get into their room, the door is closed and I doubt they’ll awaken in time to let me in without anyone noticing.}

Frowning at his sending, you think over the situation and then send back, {No, we’re all going into their room, get the two packed as soon as they can and move it there, we don’t have much time at all.}

The reply is a few moments in coming. {Alright, I’ll let them know.}

Figuring that Sylphie already knows all of this, you turn to Ebe to find her hastily pulling the clothing over her hips. Frowning, you say, “Forget the jewelry, just throw it in your bag, we need to go.”

“R-right.” She replies, still flustered by the whole scene. You don’t really have time to gawk or anything at her, and as soon as she’s ready to go, you open the door and peer outside, into the hallway. Nothing greets you, so you cast a [Privacy Barrier] to mask your footfalls as you usher Ebe over to Sophie and Alice’s room. She hurries without complaint, and you watch as the door opens, she makes a few gestures, and then slips inside. Shortly after Sylphie and Tabitha do the same, the Lizardman giving you a curt nod as she makes for the room.

Seeing them in, you hesitate and then go to make the move yourself when out of the corner of your eye you see a light from a candle flicker down the hall. Turning, you watch as the innkeeper rounds the corner and stops, staring at you with wide eyes. In one hand he holds a candle on a small candlestick, the other, two vials of a thick, white liquid.

He gasps and steps backward, making to run. Before he can take two steps, you slap the wall next to you and channel power into the sandstone, a wall forming behind him. He runs into it and looks at the edifice in shock as it starts moving, pushing him down the hallway until he’s standing right before you, a look of horror on his face. Mouth opening, wide to scream, you slap a hand over his mouth and give him your most powerful glare you can summon. His protests die in his throat as the others spill out of the room.

Tabitha and Alice (who isn’t quite dressed yet), disarm the man while you hold your [Knife] in your hands, mostly for show. You don’t need it, but it feels good to have and you’d have to bother the others for the sword, which frankly isn’t the best in a hallway anyway. The innkeeper looks sick as the process occurs, whispering, “H-how did you know?”

“I was just going to relieve myself, you’re the one who was acting suspicious.” You say, to which he pales further.

“I-I don’t… but you…”

Sighing, you shake your head and say, “What’s in the vials, what were you going to do to us for this Lady Aliph?”

“You know about… but how?” He asks, looking incredulous. “They never said you were part of the Royal Guard! You were supposed to be our allies!”

Blinking in surprise, you look between the rest of your group who also look confused. Turning back to the man, you ask, “Why would you think that? Better yet, why would you try to drug your allies with…” You wave at the vials which Sylphie takes and uncorks. She sniffs it and then says,

“Ugh, it’s like straight semen. This looks like those sleeping drugs that slaver had, crude alchemy.”

With a frown, you turn back to the innkeeper and ask, “You were trying to drug your allies into a deeper sleep? Why?”

“B-because I was told to! The ri- the evening is special, you weren’t supposed to be here.”

Alice snorts, “Well, we are, so what of it? I should just kill you for all this.” When he squeals a little, she smirks, though Tabitha glares daggers at her before clearing her throat.

“While I agree in a way, there’s no point playing us, we know about the ritual, this ‘apotheosis,’ what is it?”

He swallows and then licks his lips, eyes thinking about whether or not he should speak. It seems as if a moment of defiance would come to him before Alice pulls at her sword, revealing some of the glowing steel and he relents, all his defenses shattered. “Okay! Okay! I’ll tell you, just… oh Twins, please don’t kill me.”

“Fine.” Sophie says, crossing her arms, though she keeps her tails still hidden. “How do you know about us, what is this ritual, and where is it occurring?”

“Look, I just hear from others over the sigils, alright? I don’t know anything else about you other than you saved some of your brothers.” He says, looking beaten down. “The ritual is… I… I don’t know much about it. I just know that Lady Aliph is to commune directly with the great ones and it’s occurring in the temple of the Twins.”

You blink in surprise at this answer, blurting out before thinking, “The temple of the twins? But how would they be able to do that there?”

“Look, I don’t know any more than that!” He begins to cry some. “Twins, I knew this was a bad idea, but the whole town is in the cult and Lady Aliph is going to… going to…”

Tears begin to spill for real from the man and you groan, figuring you’re not getting anything else out of this. Nodding to Alice, the woman makes to know him out. Before she can, Sylphie stays her hand and holds up one of the vials. She kneels down to the man and opens one up, saying, “Here, drink some of this.”

“B-But that’s made from my own semen!”

Sylphie shudders, same as everyone else in the group. You and the man trade glances and the look in his eyes digs into your soul. Closing your eyes, you say, “It’s either this or being clubbed on the back of the head.”

The man gulps and closes his eyes before nodding his head and opening his mouth enough for Sylphie to pour some of the thick, creamy substance in his mouth. He grimaces before his eyes flutter and he topples over, asleep.

Tabitha and Alice drag him into a room as you remove your wall, the stone sinking back into its original architecture. Sylphie corks the bottle again and puts them in her bag with care, sighing before saying, “I’m glad we didn’t have to kill him.” Ebe and Sophie mimic the gesture.

“For a cult member, he’s a little off, don’t you think?” Sophie says with consternation. “He didn’t seem very devoted to the cause.”

“He implied much of the town is part of this cult… I think.” Ebe says, thinking. “Maybe he was pressured into it?”

“Maybe.” You say, nodding to the others as they return. “But now we have to figure out our next move. I can’t hear any sounds from my golems any longer, which means everyone is probably at the temple.”

“Is it worth getting involved in this?” Tabitha asks, her expression serious. “If they’re so involved in this ritual, then they probably won’t notice us leaving. I doubt we’ll generate much ill will leaving one of their members alive.”

“Apotheosis, however…” Sylphie mutters, concern on her face. “It implies the pinnacle of something, I’ve heard it referenced before when concerning transformation processes.” She blinks when you give her a surprised look and she says, “What? I read a lot.”

Ebe thinks it over for a moment before grimacing. “Someone is transforming? You don’t suppose they’re… they’re going to Monsterize someone, do you?”

Everyone trades glances, grimacing themselves. Sophie speaks first, “It does… fit with what you said beforehand, these blessings the cult received. However if it was the Apophis who gave such blessings, then-” She cuts off suddenly, eyes growing wide.

Tabitha cuts in, “I doubt that there are any Apophis here at the moment, or else that man would have been far, far more fanatical. We have to assume it means something else.”

Muttering to yourself, you resolve your plan of action. “We need more information.” When Tabitha raises an eyebrow, you say, “I don’t plan on just busting in and killing people, but we need to know what’s happening. This could impact things here, especially since it’s likely these cults are in communication. Having something happen here may cause us trouble down the road.”

Her reptilian pupils narrow, but she relents and says, “Very well then. We’ll make for the temple.”

Nodding, you usher Alice to finish dressing while you address Erwin. The fox groans at your commands, but runs outside, quickly finding your two golems, which you reform and send alongside Erwin, their new orders to follow him until otherwise notified. By the time this is settled, Alice and Sophie are ready, and you head out into the inn, sending [Audio Taps] head of you to listen for anyone, but no one is present. With this secure, you head outside at the all clear from Erwin.

Along the way you collect Babyface and Phallia, the pile of ore seeming almost gleeful to be back in your pockets, though you’re certain you’re imagining things. Rocks don’t have emotions! That’s what makes them superior to people! Thoughts turning away from this, you and your group exit the tavern and head to the shadows.

The small town is quiet, with no signs of light beyond that of the moon. No sounds come to you, neither from your golems, nor from around you. The silence is eerie out here, making you shudder as the cool night wind passes over you. With no one in sight, you continue to walk through the town, wishing you’d asked the innkeeper where the damn place is.

“Usually Temples are in the center of town.” Ebe says when you ask her. “It’s pretty common for smaller towns to work like that.”

Sending this information to Erwin, you almost jump as you notice Mr. Ed standing next to you, snorting in the cool desert evening. You get the impression he’s laughing, but you’re glad to see him here. While not the most inconspicuous member of the team, he is one of the wisest and most dependable.

Erwin confirms the location of the Temple soon enough sending, {There’s lights around the Temple, and a few townsfolk around the entrance with torches. I guess they’re on guard or something.}

{Any other way in?} You send, to which Erwin asks you to wait, making you sit with tension for awhile. When he returns, he says,

{There’s a second story. No one is behind the place and there’s an open window you can enter.}

Relaying this to your team, you make your way around the Temple, staying out of line of sight of the guards. Unfortunately, this means you have to take a rather long path around the town, but what else can you do? You’re forced to act this way, though a palpable sense of wrongness begins to build in you the longer you take to do so.

When you reach the back of the Temple, you cast a [Privacy Barrier] before throwing an [Audio Tap] in the room above you, listening for anything. In the distance you can hear someone speaking, but you can’t make out the words. As far as you can tell, you’re in the clear. Casting, [Build the Wall], you rise up on a column of hardened sand and look about the empty room.
The room appears to belong to the resident priestess, this seeming to be her home. Dollora and Phallia aren’t terribly big on cleanliness it seems because articles of clothing, some very skimpy, are spread around the room in various heaps while rustled bedsheets lay atop the bed. No light burns in the room, but beyond the closed door, you can hear that speaking again. Nodding to the others, you go in groups, leaving Mr. Ed at the bottom, the horse taking it upon himself to act as sentry. You sense he really wanted to go into the room though.

Bringing Erwin and your golems up, you pat all three on the head before opening the door just a crack and peering out. It appears that this room is along a narrow band of fenced hallway overlooking the main area of worship. Peering out a little further since the coast is clear, you can see there is another room nearby, also closed, but beyond that just various items of worship stored in the small space and a small staircase heading down in the corner.

With the door open you can hear a little but clearer that is being said, though you use an [Audio Tap] to amplify it, listening with keen interest, though you have to parse out what is being said from your limited Ectrian.

“And so, on this night we give thanks to our great masters. After all these centuries, they will arise again to deliver us from the tyrannical rule of the Pharaohs!”

“Praise be!” An assembly of people speak in eerie unison at this. The voice from the before sounds much like this Lady Aliph character who was speaking to the innkeeper. You whisper some of this to Ebe who confirms what you’re thinking, quieting down as she speaks again.

“Now is the time that our Masters will awaken, but they will not come from the grave to reclaim what was once theirs. While their essence is tied to this land, freed from the shackles of the Pharaoh, it is up to us to give them form! We must not sit and wait for our liberation to come to us, but to instead be the VESSELS of our own freedom!”

“Praise be!” The crowd cheers again.

“This…” She pauses, though you’re not certain why. “Is an ancient vial of venom from Kis’ta, one of the most revered of the Apophis. It has sat here in this village for generations in this very altar, disguised in order to hide its true purpose. However…”

Her voice trails off again, though you wish you could see what she’s doing. Feeling a little more confident, you send Erwin out, who looks out over the assembly, and you through his eyes. “It has lain dormant, without power of its own. But with the seal broken, and the power of the Apophis returned, it once more brims with the vigor of its former master! It sings in my hands with the transformative powers it once held! Brothers and sisters, while many others of our families will try their best to invoke the power of the Apophis, WE, yes WE shall truly bring it here once more into this ECTRIA!”

“PRAISE BE!” They cry out in exultation.

“I, as your leader, will take the responsibility upon myself. Once we have taken this step, there is no turning back, though I know you all understand.”

A murmur goes through the room, which hushes soon after. “Now then, we shall finish preparations. Prepare the circle and light the candles. Rael, Ephra, watch over the preparations. I must meditate before it begins.”

Looking through Erwin’s eyes, you notice this Lady Aliph is a tall woman with bronzed skin and long, ruddy-brown hair. She’s utterly beautiful and dressed in a ceremonial silk outfit which doesn’t leave much to the imagination. A few dozen cultists in robes and town clothing stand about as a flurry of activity begins with people moving about, chanting, etc. Next to the Lady, however, are two Monsters, one of them a Lamia wearing purple robes whom you think is Ephra, the other, Rael, is a…

You pause as you look closer through Erwin’s eyes. An Anubis? But… but why would one of them be serving the Purple Sands! She stands stock still, spear in hand as she looks out over the crowd with a critical eye.

Fearing being caught, you pull back and tell this to your group when you hear Lady Aliph say in the crowd, “Oh yes, check on our friend at the Tavern, we are expecting some guests.”

Closing the door as silently as you can, you turn to the others and tell them what you’ve heard. There’s a possibility you can get out of here quickly, before anyone notices. It will take some time before someone hears something from the inn, and they may start the ritual before they get back, so you may stay undetected. Still, this is the moment to decide if you’re going to disrupt the ritual or not, though with those Monsters present things might not be as easy as you’d expect, not to mention whatever the cultists and Lady Aliph have up their sleeves.

There’s no right way to handle this situation. If you do nothing, the ritual goes as planned and you could be looking at a disastrously powerful Monster returned to this world. If you intervene, you get on the shit list of the Violet Sands, because someone will somehow get the word out. If you sit tight and watch, they’ll figure out you’re gone anyway! In fact, the only thing you have going for you is the fact that the Violet Sands holds no outright hostility toward you and even thinks of you as guests, depending on how nefarious this may or may not be.
So what, you go out there, [Pebble Guns] a-blazing? Kill everyone there, even the cultists who may not even know what they’re involved in? Or what, just walk out there and say hello, drink the fruit juice Erwin spied in that bowl in the corner, and then slap the vial out of her hands? Ugh, all you fucking want is a good night’s sleep, is that so much to ask? You’re only thirty, but you’re far too old for this shit.
“Actually.” You say, standing up as anger suffuses you. “You know what, fuck it. Sylphie, give me cover, Tabitha, Alice, you get the stairs. Ebe, you’re in support if I need you.”
“Uhm.” The Ghandharva says. “What are you about to do?”
Breaking off a piece of Ronnie with your magic, you further turn him into smaller little pieces of ore which you hold with a tight grip. With that, you take your staff in your other hand and thrust open the door, which slams back against the wall.
Confused shouting is heard from downstairs but you don’t care. This was the intention, afterall. Walking over to the railing, you look down upon the assembled group of cultists who look back up at you with wide eyes, alarm in their expressions. The Anubis is already moving to the stairs while the Lamia sits there, hood over her face, though you can see a red, glowing eye underneath. Lady Aliph as well has a momentary look of surprise as well before her features smooth out and she says, projecting her voice,
“Rommel and friends! So good of you to jo-“
She’s cut off as piece of hot Ronnie zips past her face and imbeds itself into the far wall. She blinks and makes to touch her cheek, turning about to see the hole in the wall after she finds she’s not bleeding. Licking her lips, she makes to speak again, but you beat her to the punch, your voice feeling hoarse and gravely.
“You tell your damn mutt to stop before she gets her limbs chopped off, because I want to yell at you in fucking peace.”
Rael doesn’t stop up the stairs until Ephra hisses in a way that would normally make your spine tingle. The Anubis’s paws stop moving right as she reaches the second to top step, putting her at eye level with Tabitha, who crosses her arms and frowns at the Anubis, not bothering to draw her sword. Of course, considering the position of the attacker, Tabitha would just need one magitek kick to knock her to her doom.
Once the Anubis is settled, paw hand still on her weapon, you turn your gaze back to Lady Aliph and say, “First off, I was looking forward to taking a nice sleep in a bed for a change, getting some supplies, and then going off on my way. I wouldn’t have given a shit if we woke up and there’s some purple snake rolling around as long as you minded your own damn business.”
“But you couldn’t, and you didn’t, and now you’re going to get me yelling at you, or else I’m putting a piece of iron into your head faster than you can say, ‘Oh, please don’t put a piece of iron into my head.'”
In hindsight, that’s rather slow, but the point still stands. Taking a deep breath, you continue in your tirade. “Now then, you’re going to fucking tell me why I had to make a man drink his own refined semen because you wanted to bring us as guests to this little party?”
Lady Aliph purses her lips before speaking. “Well, I suppose if you’re so courteous as to ask nicely-“
“By the Gods, please don’t fuck with me.”
She licks her lips and continues, unfazed. “Yes, well, you see, we had heard of what you had accomplished fighting the Royal Guard and had thought that you would wish to aid us in our struggle against the Pharaoh and her tyrannical rule.”
Pinching your brow, you say, “You know, I’m not from around here, and I don’t much care about your political struggle, but humor me: Why is the Pharaoh a tyrant?”
The assembled crowd of cultists all murmur to each other, looking almost outraged that anyone would question her on this. Ephra hisses again to the crowd and they quiet down, still seeming unsettled however as Lady Aliph speaks.
“The taxes she levies are unfair for the people and her guards do nothing but trample over the unfortunate while she sits on her throne and orders her people to fight a country we have no reason to quarrel with. A tyrant who uses her subjects as chattel must be overthrown.”
“Eh?” You say, cocking your head. “Way I see it you look like a noble compared to all of these folk here. How are you so on the side of the common folk?”
The cultists burble up at this, voices angry. “You can’t talk that way about Lady Aliph!” “She’s been here for us for years!” “She’s one of us, she understands our plight!”
Lady Aliph holds up a hand, quieting them down as she says, “Clearly, you can see the loyalty here. True, I am off the nobility of Ectria, but I found their ways so repugnant that I came here to be the priestess of this temple, where I have served these people ever since.”
“Yeah, and when you found out the secret behind that altar, you went digging and found out you could become a purple snake Monster and take down the Pharaoh with a mob of people who don’t understand what’s happening.” You say, rolling your hand. “For a priestess though, I would have expected you’d keep your dirty laundry a little more well kept.”
While you were referring to her undergarments strewn around the room, it does become a nice double entendre and has the effect of the cultists burbling to themselves. They probably know exactly what’s going on, but having someone point it out in this way makes them question it, or so you think. The more you talk, the more annoyed you get, but also the clearer you think. As such, you get back on topic:
“Now that we have that established, why again did you need us?”
A flash of annoyance comes and goes on her face. Her hand tightening on the vial, she says, “Because, as a Wizard, your seed would be quite powerful as a catalyst for the ritual.” Her gaze turns to Sophie and Sylphie. “Having a little touch of the blood of princesses would be quite useful as well- but only a little!”
Sophie frowns and mutters, “So they did know… but that’s not even how that works in the Monster Nation, we aren’t princesses.”
“So!” You say, stamping your staff on the floor. “To recap: You could have let us just sleep and we wouldn’t have been causing any trouble here, but instead you tried to have the innkeeper drug us so you could drag us here, take their blood, and suck me off?”
Lady Aliph shrugs, “In simple terms, yes, I suppose so. I do not see why you are being so hostile about this.”
You hold out your hands, shaking them at her with bewilderment. There’s no real words to be said at how matter of fact she put this, and she even doubles down by continuing.
“Do you not also have your grievances with the Pharaoh? Does she not currently have their Mother and Father in her possession? What do you stand to gain by hindering us here? Lay down your arms and join us in the ritual! Should you do so, I promise that you will be rewarded quite well for your help.” Her eyes flash with something wicked at that, and you can’t tell what kind of fantasies she has in her head, but they’re probably something perverted.
Your eyes turn to the vial she holds her in her hands, the one filled with the venom of a long dead Apophis. Can this really have the power to change a human into one of their kind? You know what most Monsters have abilities made to improve sexual experience rather than actually hurt them, but what if that vial kills her? You suppose, in a sense, if it works as intended it will kill her, or at least the person she was before.
On an ethical level, maybe she’s right, maybe having someone go and stop the Pharaoh would be good for the people, to have someone more benevolent in charge of things outside the capital. Clearly it’s a popular sentiment, to have people join a damn cult over such an ideal, but those stories you’ve heard, what Ebe has told you…
You became a Wizard to gain the power to maintain the balance between man and Monster, to make sure nothing like what happened to your family happens again. This land, filled with slavery and greed, is corrupt and needs a change, that much is certain. Is it your responsibility though to guide that path? Your actions almost certainly are changing the course of history, but that’s unintentional, not something you want to do. Your end goal is still the same as it was before, to get to the Grand Wizard, but if you do that by ignoring one of the reasons for Wizards existing, are you any better than he is?
Can you just let her turn herself, and possibly others, into Monsters?
The vial of black liquid swirls in her hand as she waits for a response from you. Watching it for a few, tense moments, you ask, “What happens if it doesn’t work?”
The crowd goes quiet, their eyes all turning to Lady Aliph. The woman stands before the crowd, lips drawn tight as she sees the questioning look in their eyes, something no cult leader wants. She begins to speak, voice meant to embolden the people, “It will not fail. With the ritual done correctly-“
“WHAT IF IT DOES FAIL?” You shout, voice drowning hers out.
Lady Aliph blinks as if she’d been struck, doing her best not to stagger backward. Her eyes dart back to the cultists and she frowns seeing they will no longer be placated with propaganda. Licking her lips, she says, tone more serious, “There are other means to draw the Apophis back to this world. The San’ha urn has been recovered by one of our sisters and it will as well bring one of our Masters back into this land. As for other relics, I do not know, but our brothers and sisters will stop at nothing until the harmony is brought back to the sands.”
The cultists murmur between each other, their fears assuaged, for now. For your part, you feel a sense of dread coming over you. So the Urn would have a similar effect, and you have no idea where it is! Gods, you hope that your sister, if that’s truly who that woman is, isn’t mucking with this sort of thing. Sadly, you know this isn’t true, as she must have known what she was getting into to steal the urn in the first place.
You probably can’t stop that ritual, whether or not it would succeed, but you can stop this one right here and it would be easy. What comes after though, is not. There is no doubt in your mind what will happen as soon as you take this course of action, but your conscious can’t allow this to happen. Besides, you’re tired and cranky.
Raising your staff, you slam it to the floor, casting [Tremor]. The effect is immediate upon the cultists, who jumble about and fall to the floor with cries of alarm. Lady Aliph staggers back as the ground beneath her becomes unstable, the vial tightly held in her hand. Seeing your opening, you throw out your hand and cast [Gust], but before the magic can strike, a wall of sandstone rises up from the floor and intercepts your magic, causing it to fizzle out harmlessly.
Blinking in surprise, you look to see Ephra smirking at you, her hood falling off to reveal an angular face with Ectrian skin and red, ritual tatoos on her face which are a shade darker than her red hair. She pulls a charm from her pocket and you feel magic channeling within her moments before she casts [Tremor] at your group, forcing you off balance!
Once the initial shock wears off, you’re able to stabilize your group by reversing the tremors in the ground cast by her spell, but the damage is done. While the cultists are still on the floor, your element of surprise is gone and Rael has used the opportunity to bound up the stairs. The only reason she didn’t instantly kill Tabitha is because the Lizardman’s magitek legs have stabilizers in them, allowing her to stay upright, though not much else. Though she couldn’t draw her blade, she was able to deflect the blow enough, only drawing a small line of blood across her ribs as the spear head slices through her clothes.
Rael, taken a little off guard by this, is unable to utilize the full power of her spear in such close quarters and is forced to pull back, giving Tabitha time to recover, at least a little, before the attack recommences.
For your part, you sense another spike of magic coming and leap to the side as a spike of earth juts forth. Regaining your composure, you make to counter attack against the Geomancer Witch when the whole second story seems to rumble. Looking down in confusion, you, Sophie, and Ebe cry out in surprise as the section of stone you’re on gives way, breaking apart underneath you as Ephra’s magic destroys the supports and sends you falling.
The impact is jarring, and you feel your head swimming as you pick yourself up, using your staff for support. Dimly, you see Ephra digging in her bag to pull out a white vial, fumbling with the stopper to get it open. All around you are screaming cultists, their numbers confused and afraid from the sudden magical assaults. Sophie groans next to you, pushing debris off herself while Ebe managed to dodge the worst of it by flying when the mainstay of the magic hit. She lands next to you with a worried expression, ghitar held in her hands like a weapon, though she looks terrified.
“Rommel! Stop her!” Sylphie cries from above, sending out a burst of magic to drop the wall that Ephra created. It sinks back into the earth to reveal Lady Aliph unstopping the vial. She holds the liquid up, a fanatical look in her eyes.
Ephra manages to get her own vial opened but stops as she looks at Lady Aliph with horror on her expression. “No! Not without the ritual!”
It’s too late however, and even though you cast another [Gust], it’s doesn’t reach her until the venom is already down her throat. Your magic causes her to stumble backward and the vial crashes to the floor, shattering into shards of glass.
You look on in fascinated horror as she begins to write on the floor, arching her back and letting out a scream of agony. Sick, popping noises issue forth from her body as she does so, foam dribbling forth from her mouth as her eyes go wide and begin to bleed. You can’t tell for certain, but it looks like her sclera bleeds so badly it becomes black, her iris turning red and her pupils becoming… oh Gods no.
Her pupils become slit like a serpents, her tongue, which is busy screaming, elongates and splits while her ears grow pointed and sharp. Along her cheeks, skin sloughs as scales form while below her waistline the most dramatic change occurs. Though you can’t see much under the skirts she wears, you hear more of that squelching, popping sound. She lets out another scream of either agony or bliss and from where her legs should be a long, serpentine tail emerges. It lengthens with speed only possible from arcane magicks, rapidly growing out to the size of Ephra’s tail.
It seems to last an eternity as you look on in horror, but it can’t have been more than a few minutes, if that. Lady Aliph lays on the ground, her chest, which appears larger now, heaving up and down as she takes in breaths with her new lungs. Her skirts, which barely cover any of her new lower body swish as she rolls to the side and shakily rises, Ephra coming over to help her.
Feeling an intense sensation of loss, of being unable to stop this event, you find yourself surprised when Ephra wails, “Nooo, the transformation failed!”
“What are you talking about? I feel… I feel amazing!” Lady Aliph says, cackling. “Power surges through me! I must be an Apophis now!”
“Lady… look at your skin.”
Lady Aliph blinks and looks down at her hands, her eyes growing wide. “No… NOOOOOO!”
It takes you a moment to realize it yourself, but then it hits you. Her skin is the same shade of Ectrian it was before and her scales are a dirty brown instead of the purple that has been described in the stories. Oh, Lady Aliph has monsterized, but she is no Apophis. She is however, by the glare she gives you, quite upset.
“You… you ruined it! With the ritual in place I would have had the power! You could have been willing helpers of the Violet Sands but now you will pay!”
She holds out a hand and hisses, “Give me a vial.” Ephra hurries to comply and the newly transformed Lamia downs the white liquid in one gulp before throwing the vial to the ground and hissing at you. “If you will not serve me willingly, then I will have to make you do so BY FORCE.”
Above her hand a spiral of purple energy appears, and both you and Sophie cry out, “Dark Magic?!”
From the second floor you can hear the battle raging between Rael and the two swordswomen, their numbers meaning little in the confined space while Sylphie looks down at you with a concerned expression. All around you the cultists are still in their confused state, none rising to attack you, but before you are two very angry and rather powerful Monster Witches. Maybe… maybe it’s not too late to say sorry?
“Fuck this, fuck all of this.”
Raising your staff, you slam it on the ground, drawing up a wall which blocks the dark magic hurled at you. The wall falls a moment later, taken down by Ephra, but you expected this. Both of the Lamia look at you in shock as you stride forward through the lowering wall on a direct course toward Lady Aliph.
She summons another ball of dark energy while Ephra builds up more magic. Before either can cast their spells, you fire off a blast of [Shotgun pebbles] with a few pieces of Ronnie. The blast hits the wall to the other side of Aliph’s face from the first shot and she staggers, the magic failing and flickering out of existence as her concentration fails.
You weren’t aiming for her, but you could feel Ephra desperately pushing your pieces of iron away from Aliph. You likely wouldn’t have hit her if you were trying in such a case, but the effect was what you had intended anyway. The Geomancer witch fumbles to regain her composure, but by the time she has a spell up and ready, the temperature around her drops dramatically and she shudders, her own concentration thrown off.
Not sparing a glance for what you know Sylphie has done, you stride forward to the shivering, newly transformed Lamia and raise your staff. She lets out a shriek as you bring it down to… bonk her on the head.
The scene around you goes silent beyond the combat upstairs and Aliph’s whimpering. Ephra looks at you with confusion while Aliph rubs her head. The disoriented cultists blink in confusion, but don’t say anything, too dazed to process everything that’s going on. Lady Aliph looks up at you with her new, serpentine eyes and asks, “What the hells was that for?”
“I should be asking you the very same thing!” You say in your meanest, nastiest, gruffiest voice you can muster. Using such a voice reminds you of your mean Uncle Leroy, the maddest man in the whole damn village. You never understood why he spoke this way, but now it all makes sense. You really are cranky and tired.
“You know, I was perfectly fine just going back to the inn and taking a nap, but no, you wouldn’t have let us have that either wanting to take my spunk and their blood. You want to complain that your ritual didn’t work? Maybe if you yellow bellied serpents had some damn respect, then this wouldn’t have happened. Back in my land, we respected one another and everyone could do arcane rituals in piece! But not here. No, you wanted to pour cum down my throat so you could rape a tired, aching celibate and drain the blood of some innocent young ladies!”
You bop her on the head again with your staff, to which she puts her hands over her head and whimpers, still too confused to make any attack on you, same as Ephra. Grumbling, you continue your rant.
“Damn snakes, you could have had the decency to ask for our bodily fluids. I find something very shady about someone who puts on a good face and whispers out of the corner of her mouth, hmm? And back to this whole ritual thing, you’re the one who drank that ancient venom without waiting, so whose fault is it that things turned out this way, huh? Oh you better believe it’s not mine.”
Aliph protests, “But you tried to break the vial and-“
“DID I SAY I WAS FINISHED MISSY?”
She whimpers and covers her head, “N-No sir.”
“THAT’S MORE LIKE IT.” You huff and adjust your robes, sort of wishing you had your turban. “Go to another country and they have no manners. It’s so shameful it makes my damn back ache. Oh and speaking of back aching, if you’d just left us alone, I could have gotten some good rest for a change and you could have been PURPLE.”
For good measure, you bonk her on the head again, though this time she was prepared and caught it on her hands. Grunting, you pull away from her before turning as you hear a cry followed by a thud. The Anubis, Rael, lays on the ground, chest heaving up and down, multiple wounds on her body. She grunts and makes to stand but Tabitha leaps down from the second floor and points her blade at the neck of the Anubis, who snarls once and then goes quiet.
“Ah, Tabitha?” Alice says from the balcony. “You uh… want to take a look at this?”
The Lizardman blinks and turns to look at your group at the altar. She blinks in surprise, same as the Anubis, both of them unable to comprehend what just happened. Frankly, you’re not even certain what just happened, but talking to them in such a manner felt… well goshes it just felt great.
“Now then.” You say, holding your staff up again, to which Lady Aliph holds her hands up. Smirking, you say, “You want to start something little missy?”
“I think I’m older than you…” Lady Aliph mutters before shuddering and crossing her arms. “Would you mind turning the temperature up?”
“No, I like it cold like this, it soothes my anger.”
She purses her lips and then sighs. “V-Very well then. Well, you’ve managed to ruin any dramatic tension here and now I’m just not certain a conflict is worth it any longer, especially since you’ve incapacitated my bodyguard.”
“I’m actually quite alright.” Rael says, waving a paw from her prone position.
Lady Aliph clacks her tongue. “Well… I think the point still stands. I suppose the cultists could drag you down while we have an epic magical duel though?”
One of the cultists raises a hand. “Actually, I think we’re fine, thank you for asking.” The other cultists mutter to themselves in approval, clearly not wanting to fight any longer.
“Bother.” Sophie sighs, letting her tails out since everyone knows anyway. “I was hoping to be useful here.” As she says this, some of the cultists back away, eying her tails with apprehension.
“S-so.” Ephra says, shuddering. “W-What happens now?”
“Well that’s a damn good question!” You say, turning back to the cult leader. “You failed in your ritual to become a purple snake and now you’re a brown snake. Did you really not plan for this? Should have answered my question earlier, maybe you’d have some contingency plan. What made you think this would have turned you into an Apophis anyway, eh? Why did you not think this would kill you?”
Lady Aliph puffs out her cheeks. “Look, the inscribed rituals inside the altar around the vial said it would unleash the gifts of the Apophis upon those imbued with the venom. It should have worked!”
“Uhm.” Ebe says, dropping from the sky to stand next to you. “Wasn’t the gift of the Apophis to Monsterize people into Lamia? I mean… it looks like it worked?”
Ephra and Aliph both turn to look at Ebe before furrowing their brows with consternation. Ephra puts a hand under her chin and mutters, still shivering, “Mmm, that could be one way to interpret the text written there. The rituals seemed a little more involved than a simple catalyst as the venom could have produced, but why would they have that present with just the venom? But no, you have the eyes of the Apophis, so something should have happened…”
Lady Aliph hisses, shaking her head. “Twins, you’re telling me that I lost my beautiful legs for only a half-transformation?”
Ephra shrugs, “I-I suppose? Do you feel more powerful?”
“Well.” Lady Aliph says, summoning a ball of dark magic. “I suppose. It’s easier to conjure up my magic, though I was going for a fireball…” She looks at the ball of dark magic. “Hmm, now that I’m a Monster, I suppose my faith has granted me access to this?
“Wow, great, fantastic.” You grumble. “So, now that your damn ritual is ruined and we’re not going to fight anymore, can I just go to bed?”
All of the assembled cultists mutter to themselves, shrugging. The fight is out of them now, so they mill about, waiting for some orders. Lady Aliph watches this and turns to look at Rael as Tabitha helps her up, the Anubis brushing dust off her. The Lamia flicks out her tongue, rubs the back of her head, and sighs, “Well… I mean, I could relieve some of your tension with a good fucking. Honestly now that the adrenaline is gone, I’m starting to feel some of the changes. How do you Monsters stand this, I feel like I could fuck a horse!”
A few cries of panic are heard from outside. Moments later, the doors burst open as a cultist cries and flies through the portal, landing on the rubble pile. She whimpers in pain as Mr. Ed strides in, snorting as he stands over the cultist. He looks around as everyone stares at him and wickers before pawing the ground.
You look at the horse and then turn back to Lady Aliph who flicks out her tongue nervously. She chuckles, “Aha… I didn’t mean… literally.”
“Well, if you bother me again from my sleep, then I’m going to send him up to your room, alright?!”
Lady Aliphs blinks and then cocks her head, as if entertaining the idea. This lasts only for a few moments before she shakes her head violently and says, “NO! No thank you, I believe I’ll be fine.”
Sophie snickers at something and you turn to look at her with confusion. Pointing behind her, she says, “Sylphie says you’re not his type anyway.”
Ephra and Lady Aliph look at each other with exhausted expressions before slumping their shoulders, totally defeated.
————————————————
A ray of sunlight strikes your face, rousing you from your slumber. Blinking your eyes, you grumble in annoyance as you turn over, pulling the covers over your had. As you do so, you find yourself face to face with Ebe, the woman sleeping soundly next to you. Frowning, you notice she’s far more clothed than she was last evening. Still, her sleeping face is a little too unnerving and you find you’re unable to go back to sleep.
With a sigh, you sit up from the bed and stretch. Something pops in your back and you sigh in relief, scratching yourself before getting up and getting dressed. Behind you, Ebe stirs in the bed and mumbles, “Mornin’…”
“Good morning. Sleep well?”
“Mmph… I guess.” Ebe sits up and yawns, ruffling her hair, which looks rather disheveled. “Looks like they didn’t attack us over night.”
“And damn well they shouldn’t.” You say. “If anyone came close, my golems would have torn them apart.”
“I don’t…” Ebe begins before shaking her head. “I don’t think your golems would have done that.”
“No, but I would have noticed any changes in my magic.”
“Oh.” She says, yawning. Shaking her head, she climbs out of bed and walks over to you, putting her wings on your shoulders. You frown at her and she sighs, using her wings to adjust your robes. “I’m not going to do anything like that with you, you’ve made it abundantly clear.”
“Not quite what I meant, but I’m glad you understand.”
Ebe looks down, a little troubled. “I just wanted to say… sorry about last night. I thought that maybe… being close with someone might help you out after what you told us. I should have thought more about it, especially since it was a Monster who did that to you.”
Scratching your head, you look down at the downcast Ghandharva. Though things were a little awkward, you know she was being genuine and thus you can’t really get that mad at her. With an inward groan, you say, “I know Ebe. I know this is all rough for you too and you just want us to feel better.”
“Y-Yeah.” She says, still looking a little troubled. “I won’t do it again…”
“It’s forgiven.” You say, waving a hand and taking up your staff. “Let’s go get some breakfast-”
Your voice cuts off as you notice her wing is on your robes. Furrowing your brow, you turn to see the Ghandharva with her head down even further, expression downcast. Her mouth quirks momentarily before she asks, “I don’t want to leave everyone. I know I cause you trouble, and I know I don’t really bring much to the group but… but I want to help Sophie and Sylphie, I want to help… I want to help you.”
“Ebe, come on, we just-“
“Do you not like me?”
You look at her in confusion. “What? Why would you think that?”
“B-Because I’m a Monster, and I was pushy. I know I said it before, but I didn’t understand and I forgot, and I wasn’t thinking and-“
She cuts off as you place a hand on her head. Sighing, you gently rub her head, fingers getting lost in the tangles of her golden hair. “Ebe…” You begin. “When I first began this trip, I did hate Monsters. There’s no way I could have been in the same room as one let alone share a bed with you. Maybe I still don’t trust most Monsters, but I know at least you’re genuine in everything you do.”
Taking a deep breath, you continue, “So no, I don’t hate you. In fact, I like you far better than I do Alice.”
“B-Because she’s a slut?”
“Because she’s a slut.” You say, patting her head one final time before withdrawing her hand. She fidgets, a goofy little smile on her face. Rolling your eyes, you say, “Come on, we should get some breakfast.”
“Oh, I suppose we should wake the others up first.” Ebe says, making for the door. You catch her by the shoulder and say,
“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary.” Holding up a finger, you wag it once, twice, three times and-
A loud shriek comes from the room across the way. Moments later your door slams open and Tabtiha flings Erwin at you, the fox giggling like mad in your head. Catching him with one arm, you look at Tabtiha with innocence and ask, “Whatever seems to be the matter?”
“You damn Wizards and your damn pranks.” She say, gritting her teeth. You notice she’s only wearing underclothing, exposing her toned abdomen. Not seeming to care about how she looks, she points at Ebe and says, “You should keep him from doing these sorts of things.”
“What?” Ebe says, looking confused. “What did I do?”
“Yes Tabitha, what happened?”
The Lizardman growls, “Don’t you play coy, you asked your familiar here to shriek like… like some damn vixen or something.”
Sylphie pokes her head out from behind Tabitha. “Actually, a male fox is called a reynard so…” She cuts off as Tabitha glares at her. “Ehm. I mean, you’re both despicable, grrr.”
From down the hall, Alice (wearing next to nothing and not caring) pokes her head out. “Something wrong?”
“Nothing!” Sylphie says. “Just Rommel being Rommel.”
“You want I should get my sword?” Alice asks, sighing when Sylphie shakes her head.
Looking at everyone assembled, you clap your hands and say, “Breakfast anyone?”
——————————-
In short order, you find yourselves at a table of the tavern, plates of hot food before you. Though it’s a small town, they have enough to feed paying guests, though the innkeeper graciously allowed you in for free. While awake, he still seems groggy, though he doesn’t bat an eye when you ask him to taste the food he gives you before you eat. Since he doesn’t pass out or die, you assume it’s alright to eat.
“I’m surprised.” Alice says, popping some flatbread in her mouth. “I figured they’d try something again.”
“Me too.” You say, shrugging. “But I’m glad they didn’t. I didn’t have the patience for that.”
“You sounded like an old man back there.” Sylphie says, giggling. “Old man Rommel, putting the kids in line.”
“Don’t you give me lip you whippersnapper or it’s the cane for you.”
“Oh no~” Sylphie cries with a playful tone.
The door to the tavern opens and the innkeeper hurriedly makes an awkward bow as Lady Aliph and Ephra enter through the door. The newly transformed Lamia slithers around with some difficulty, her tail knocking over chairs, much to her annoyance as she makes her way over to you. Managing to successfully appear, she stops next to you and nods her head. “Good morning.”
“You’ll understand if I’m not as keen on speaking with you.” You say, popping a date into your mouth.
“Of course.” She says. “You seem as if you got a good sleep, yes? In that case perhaps you’d be willing to talk-” She cuts off as you shake your staff at her. “Could you not shake that please?”
“Tch.” You say, putting the staff down. “Since you asked nicely.”
“Yes, indeed.” She says, flicking out her tongue. “Well, here we are, after running foul of our ritual, no one is seriously hurt and I am now a Lamia and not an Apophis.” She looks at her tail and frowns, “It’s taking some getting used to. Did you know that you can taste the air?”
“Sort of.” Tabitha says, to which the rest of you group looks at her with surprise. She shrugs as Lady Aliph continues.
“Beyond that, there are these… urges. I don’t know to describe it but-“
You cut her off by holding up a hand, “Look, I don’t really care about your urges. I just want to eat breakfast, get some supplies, and leave.”
“About that.” Ephra says, speaking up. “You are headed to the capital then? From what we hear, you are on your way to rescue the Grand Wizard and the Monster Lady.”
Narrowing your eyes you say, “How do you know all this anyway? How could you know about that Urn so quickly as well?”
Ephra frowns and looks to Lady Aliph who sighs and pulls her necklace from between her cleavage. Upon the chain sits a similar serpent icon as what you saw before in Ebe’s village and the crypt. Cocking your head, you look up at her and say, “That’s the symbol of the Violet Sands, right?”
“Indeed.” She says, rubbing it with a finger. “They do not just mark our members, but also serve as a means to communicate with each other. They are imbued with magic that allows us to speak with one another over great distances.”
Whistling, you make to touch it, but she pulls the charm back. “Only those devoted to the cult can utilize it, however. For you it would be a bauble, however…” She leans forward, giving you a good view of her augmented chest. “You could have killed us, and yet chose not to. You are heading to the capital and will almost certainly run afoul of the Pharaoh. Your aims seem to line with ours so… why not join forces? We could offer you assistance with our members as you offer us assistance.”
She chuckles and flicks out her tongue, “Scratch my scales, I scratch yours, yes?”
Ephra coughs and mutters about you not having scales, but Lady Aliph doesn’t seem to notice. She stares intently into your eyes, her slit-pupils boring into you. Slowly, her tongue flicks out and she says, “What do you say, brother?”
The question surprises everyone present. Well, everyone but you anyway. The twins turn to each other, muttering dark words while Alice scratches her chin trying to think it over. Tabitha grunts and looks displeased while Ebe frowns in consternation, lost in thought. Erwin looks up at you from his plate of food, cocking his head and remaining silent for your answer.
Crossing your arms, you close your eyes and take a deep breath, thinking it over. You can feel the collected tension around you as you do so, which makes sense. This situation is very serious as your answer could change the entire course of your journey! Going forward with the Violet Sands would allow you access to resources and some of the populace, which may be more useful than just Ammon’s informants.
However, there is also the problem of what the Violet Sands intends to do by bringing back the Apophis anyway. Sure, you don’t have much of a vested interest in Ectria as it stands but something doesn’t quite feel right about delivering these, and you hate to say it, snakes, to ruling over a country. It just feels… slimy, for some reason. Of course, it’s not the first time you’d cause major regime change on this adventure, so why get so worked up about it now? Fucking Ectria keeps trying to kill you anyway.
Still, you sigh and open your eyes to say, “I’ll need some more answers before I agree to something like this.” Looking at your group, you say, “Before WE, I should say.”
Sophie’s eyebrows raise as she says, “You’re considering this then?”
“Might be worth our while.” You say, shrugging. “Pharaoh has what we’re here for and they don’t like the Pharaoh so it might work out well. Especially with supplies and housing, etc.”
“Mmm yes, we do have plenty of help with that. Many cells all over the country, even though I hear that our brethren near the Chasm of Regret were killed before they could complete their own ritual.” Lady Aliph says with a sigh. “They had the Talisman of Tet’hua as well, said to be imbued with the greatest magic of the Apophis.”
“So they were also seeking to become an Apophis?” Sylphie asks, still looking perturbed. “I apologize for being blunt but… why would you want to give up yourself like that? Monsterization is…”
Lady Aliph smirks, a twinkle coming to her eyes. “Dear girl, I haven’t felt this good in years. More so since I had one of our brothers ah… break me in last night. I never knew semen could taste so good! Not to mention the smells and the sensations, ah… if I knew being a Monster would feel this good, I would have cast away my humanity ages ago!” She chuckles and winks to Alice before pulling back as if struck. Looking over, you can see Alice has the deepest, scariest scowl you’ve ever seen someone give, a far cry from her normal, lewd self.
“Ah…ahem.” Lady Aliphs says, coughing into her hand. “Yes, what were we talking about? Oh, becoming Apophis, well.” She closes her eyes and takes a steadying breath before speaking. “The cult of the Violet Sands is formed of the remnant followers of the Apophis from centuries past when they existed before. Generation after generation passed down the relics of their masters, entrusting it to their children to safe keep until the time the power was released back into the world. Where once Apophis were seen as masters, they soon faded into legend, then to myth. To many devout, the Apophis are spoken of as demi-goddesses.”
Licking her lips with her long tongue, she continues, “The Apophis knew they were to be destroyed, saw that the Pharaoh had beaten them. But they knew that their message would be needed in the future, and so they imbued their essence into various items and lay in dormancy, waiting to be returned. Despite mild surface activity, we’ve known that the only true way to unite the people against the Pharaoh is with an equal force: that of the Apophis.”
You let that sink in for abit, mulling it over on your tongue. A question comes to mind, but before you can ask, Tabitha does it for you.
“What is so special about Apophis anyway? How do they differ from normal Lamia?”
It is Ephra who speaks this time, clearing her throat to get attention. “I believe I can answer that. Apophis are not a natural species of Monster. As far as we know, there were never any serpents from before the Great Transformation who match this description, and as such all we have to go on are legends.” She pauses to collect her thoughts,
“Millenia ago, when the first Pharaoh was granted her power from the Gods, there were those who saw the dominion being created and rebelled against it. They saw the way the armies of the Pharaoh would brutalize people into submission, forging the disparate pieces of Ectria into a whole country. Many did not like this, but what could they do? The Anubis were too strong and the magic the Pharaoh wielded was too great. They could only submit.”
She raises a finger. “However! In the farthest corners of the Desolation, near the Chasm of Regret, a group of Lamia who had seen these acts, bandied together and cried out for succor from the Twins. They wished fervently to protect the people and give an alternative to the rule of the Pharaoh. Perhaps it was because of the location to such a Gods touched region, or perhaps it was the strength of their wish, but something divine touched them and granted them immense power.
“Their skin and scales turned violet, their sclera becoming pitch dark. Power coursed through their bodies and they became exquisite spellcasters as well as beauties beyond compare. When they emerged from their ritual, the people were awestruck by their magnificence, and followed them without hesitation.
“The Pharaoh did not expect such a thing to occur, and her forces were soundly beaten away from the Chasm, and then further back to the capital until Ectria was divided north and south. For generations, this was maintained, each side taking some territory from the others here and there, but no real gains occuring. During that time the Pharaoh had children, and the Apophis did as well, also find that their bite could, if they did so wish, imbue a follower with part of their strength and turn them into Lamia, who would serve as their lieutenants. For a time, the people lived well, adoring their mistresses.
“It wasn’t until Pharaoh Kissa, the snakeslayer, grew to womanhood that she trained the first Anubis Wardens and brought an unexpected fury to the lands of the Apophis, destroying them one by one. The Apophis were unprepared, and desperately tried to protect their people, but Kissa was a stronger Witch than they, and had made an enchanted staff to drain the powers of the Apophis, eventually forcing them to put their power away as the last Apophis was killed, her vital essence torn away and placed into the staff. After that, the Pharaoh line never left the Kingdom of Set’et, but their armies made sure that no one would forget who ruled the sands.”
Ephra exhales, her history lesson finished. For your part, you find this utterly fascinating to hear legends and history of other lands, but the others don’t seem as enthused except maybe Sophie, who rubs her chin while eying the Lamia. Ebe is the one who speaks up first though, fidgeting as she is next to you.
“That’s… that’s not how I heard it at all.”
“Oh?” Lady Aliph says, leaning over with her long body. “Were you told that the Apophis were brutal dictators who conquered with force? Do not believe everything you hear, for I was told the same thing growing up in the capital. It wasn’t until I saw the people here while resting on a trip during my priestess training that I realized how terrible things were.”
Tabitha narrows her eyes. “It seems like these Apophis had lots of time to practice their skills. I’ll be frank, what makes you think that if some people are transformed into Apophis that you will be able to defeat the Pharaoh after she managed to beat the strongest spellcasters in Deleor?”
Ephra and Lady Aliph trade looks before the cult leader says, “There is a reason the Apophis of the past put their essence into these items. When invoked correctly, their spirit will be present with the bearer of their new form.” She touches the scales on her cheek which rim the flesh of her face. “Since my own transformation was… incomplete, I was not granted such a luxury. If the spirit of this Apophis was present… it’s gone now.”
They both look somber at this, but Alice seems horrified. “Wait, wait, wait. Are you telling me that people who do this are going to have long dead snakes talking in their heads?”
“Well of course.” Ephra says, looking surprised. “They would have the wisdom of the past along with the knowledge of the present! Together with the cells we have placed over the region, were have the keys to victory in our grasp. She will not consider this approach.”
“Hmph.” You say, thinking it over. Something doesn’t sit right with that description though. These sound like revenants, though as far as you know, a revenant can’t be willingly made. Of course, you’ve seen stranger things happen before, though if these Apophis don’t know they are revenants or something similar, then how keen would they be to just sit on the sidelines giving advice while someone runs around with their power…
Scratching your head, you sigh and say, “It makes sense, I suppose. But have you considered what you’re going to do AFTER the Pharaoh is gone? You’ll have created quite the power vacuum, and depending on how many Apophis there will be, how will you stabilize the country?” Narrowing your eyes, you ask, “Or do you just want the Pharaoh dead and gone?”
Ephra pulls back, surprised, though Lady Aliph chuckles and says, “It will be up to the Apophis, I am afraid. There will be some turbulence, I suspect, however once control of the capital and the ports is maintained, we will go out to the towns and villages and give them succor under their rightful masters.”
“I see.” You say, folding your hands together. “And will you also free the slaves?”
It’s her turn to look surprised. “Free the slaves? Why would we do that? We need them as sources of labor for this new country. Those who refuse to acknoweledge the new order will of course be put into slavery. It is much more preferable than the brutal murders that the Pharaoh performs, I assure you.”
Ebe bites her lip as you tighten your knuckles. Gritting your teeth, you ask, “And what of Hent-ateh? What will you do with that abomination?”
Lady Aliph cocks her head and looks to Ephra. “Hent-ateh? That’s Helene’s little monster, yes?” The Lamia witch nods her head to which Aliph continues. “Yes, that creature. From what I know, the contract it must fulfill has it ending when the line of the Pharaoh is ended or it is dismissed by the Apophis. For now, there is little we can do about it, but use it to fulfill its purpose. At least it listens to Helene…”
Hearing that name again makes a stab of pain go through your heart. It can’t be the same Helene, can it? No, of course it is, why wouldn’t it be her? With a heavy heart, you ask, “This Helene… who is she?”
Lady Aliph cocks her head, “Oh, she is a member of the cult, rather high ranking too. I’ve only heard about her from others, but she was once a slave from Deleor. She was bought by a member of the Cult who freed her once she proved her talents and willingness to serve the cause, but beyond that I’m afraid I know little else.” She blinks and then squints her eyes at you. “Is there a reason you wish to know this?”
“Curiosity.” You say, pushing down the sinking feeling within you. Yes… it’s probably her then. Awash with conflicting emotions, you shudder to regain your composure. Sylphie puts a hand on your shoulder and you nod to her concerned expression. Turning your gaze back to the two Lamia, you say, “I need to discuss this with my party. We will contact you with our answer later.”
Lady Aliph frowns before nodding her head. “Yes, of course. I understand how important a decision it is, but I think you will benefit from the information and resources we have available. I am afraid that anything less than our ritual tattooing process will not gain you access to ass our secrets, however, but I am quite sure you’ll agree.”
With that, she turns and slithers away. Ephra sighs and says, “There’s no tattooing process, but she wishes there was. There is an imprinting process on the charms we wear but…” She pauses and then shakes her head. “We have said far more than we should have already. Lady Aliph certainly believes your restraint last night is indicative of your intentions. I, on the other hand, am not so convinced.” She sniffs and then slithers after her leader, dodging the freshly knocked over chairs.
With them gone, it leaves you, your party, and the innkeeper, who coughs and thinks of something better to do. Once you hear a door slam down the hall, you sigh and look at the others, simply shrugging and asking, “Well?”
“I don’t trust them.” Alice says, her expression serious. “Something isn’t right about how nonchalant they are about all of this. It gives me an itch that I can’t scratch.” At your expression she glowers, “And no, I don’t mean sex, though it would be appreciated.”
Nodding, you look to Tabitha who sits there, eyes closed, tapping her forearm. She stays like this for a moment before sighing out, “Frankly, I only care about keeping these two safe and rescuing their parents. A destabilized Ectria is not terribly concerning to me and honestly would be a boon for Deleor given its own concerns. I shudder to think what is occurring there without the Monster Lady or the Grand Wizard present.” She shrugs, “If it means we need to work with this cult, then it’s one last knife at our back.”
“I agree.” Sylphie says, speaking up. “I don’t really like all of this cult stuff, it feels icky but if it helps us rescue Mom and Dad, then I’m all for it.” She nods to you with her sincere approval before turning to her sister. “Sophie?”
“Hrm.” Sophie hums, while looking down. “I believe they were lying to us… or were themselves in the dark about something. The two stories about the Apophis are so disparate that one has to be false. Certainly over generations these things could become more pronounced between the two groups but I don’t buy it. I believe that there’s more to this than we know.” She exhales.
“However… I believe that doesn’t necessarily mean we should discount this opportunity. I propose an alliance, not members of the cult but agreeing not to harm each other’s actions. It would not do to become beholden to such a group should the worst happen, especially not for her.”
Everyone looks as she gestures to Ebe, the Ghandharva taking a moment to notice the attention on her. She blinks twice before jumping and putting a wing to her mouth. “Oh! Ah, uhm… sorry.”
“Ebe…” Sylphie says, expression downcast. “Gods, I didn’t think… look at us, discussing the future of your country without you.”
“No, I was just lost in thought is all.” She sighs and shakes her head. “I never expected when I left home that I would get into something like this. I just wanted to find a husband, and then to go back home, but I can’t even do that right.” She chuckles, “Now I get to be part of a group that could label me as a traitor. Twins, what a mess.”
“You can still leave if you wish.” You say with a quiet voice. “We have our purpose here, but if you’re going to stay then you’ll be the one to suffer the consequences. It would be fairly easy to disown us if you wish.” Looking at Sophie and Sylphie, they both look crestfallen, but nod their heads in the same manner.
“I still need to think this over, but you have a choice Ebe, we won’t fault you if you leave.”
Shaking her head again she says, “No, but thank you. I will continue to travel with you, even at my own detriment.” Closing her eyes, she sighs out, “I already told you that I want to help Sophie and Sylphie find their parents. With this information, this choice, I can choose to sit back and watch as my country changes around me, or I can help it. I may not trust the Apophis and the stories about them, but I know that the Pharaoh’s rule does hurt those outside the cities. Something needs to change, and even if I don’t quite know what, it’s better than sitting at home and helping to gather food.”
She looks up, resolute, “I will follow whatever you wish to do Rommel, and do the best I can to support you and yours. If that makes me a traitor to Ectria, well…” She hesitates before stiffening her back. “Well, then I wanted to find a Deleorian husband anyway.”
Everything goes quiet for a few moments before Sophie’s mouth twitches and she lets out a snicker. She hurriedly turns her face away, hiding it with her hands as small titters of laugher escape her. Ebe blinks twice before color comes to her cheeks and she turns away, embarrassed as all get out. She lets out a small, “S-sorry!” to which Sophie breaks out into uncontrollable laughter, which affects even the mortified Sylphie, the two twins laughing before looking at each other and hugging Ebe, who looks utterly perplexed.
Trading glances with Alice and Tabitha, the three of you shrug and continue to eat while the younger girls make noise. Looking to Erwin while this goes on, you ask, {What do you think?}
{I think you didn’t ask the main question on your mind.}
{I don’t see what-}
{You want to know where you sister is, don’t you?}
Closing your eyes, you give an inward sigh. He’s right, of course. As the fox leaps up to the table and yips, causing the gaggle of girls to shriek, you think back to the alleyway and the woman who was your sister.
————————————————-
You send Tabitha, Ebe, and the twins out to gather basic supplies while you, Erwin, and Alice stay back in the inn. Alice raised eyebrows at you suggesting you stay together, but you told her flat that she couldn’t be trusted not to break and or sexually assault anyone. She didn’t argue either point and instead contented herself to practice her swordsmanship while you think over your next move.
All parties made valid points, from Sophie’s skepticism to Tabitha’s pragmatism. Fiddling with your golems as you think, you use your magic to mould Phallia’s head into looking like hair, the golem kicking her little feet as you do so. Yes, you may have subconsciously made the golem do that while you brush the hair, but you’ve got other things to worry about.
{Hey Rommel, Rommel.} Erwin sends. {Alice wants you to look through my eyes at something.}
{Is it her without clothes on?}
{N-Noooooo.}
Sighing, you look down at Phallia and say, “I sometimes wish I could channel magic through you guys. You would never try to help me peep on women, right?”
The golem stares impassively at you, which is super easy because she lacks a face. Frowning, you use your pinky to make a little smiling face on the golem my molding the rock like a stick in mud. When you pull away, you find yourself feeling a little better at the childish caricature. Maybe you should try a little harder at this, though if you’re not careful people will accuse you of playing with doll- err, arcane implements. Yes. Those.
Erwin slinks back into the room, rolling his eyes. {She says you’re a bore, but that if you ever decide that you want to make the beast with two backs she’ll be waiting.}
“Honestly, does she ever give up?” You groan. Well, that’s probably one her best traits you suppose. Dogged determination. Oh and a magical sword.
Erwin looks at the golem your working on and sends, {So, they’re cool and all, but you can cast spells through me, what use do you have for them?}
“Well, they make good sentries when you can’t be out patrolling all the time, and if I can figure out how to channel magic through them as well, I can keep from sending you into danger.”
{Aww, that’s so sweet!}
“Yeah, yeah.” You say, sighing as you put down Phallia. “I’ve read through the book and I don’t really find a good way to do this. It talks about attunement, but I’m well attuned with the minerals as it is, so what else is there?”
{I dunno, why don’t you ask that Geomancer snake? She didn’t really like you very much though.}
“No, I suppose not.” You say with a frown. “But that would be a good course of action. Wonder if I can ask her once I’ve made my decision.”
{Perhaps. She is in the tavern afterall.}
“Huh?” You say, looking surprised. “When… how?”
{Uh, fox? Come on now.} He shakes his head and trots to the door. {Might as well go ask.}
Following Erwin, you return to the main room of the tavern to find Ephra and Rael sitting at a table, a bottle of liquor you think to be like whiskey in front of them with a cups sitting nearby. As you walk into the room, Rael’s eyes track you but she doesn’t make any moves, merely watching you as you walk up to them. Ephra blinks and says languidly, “Can we help you?”
“Shouldn’t you be with your Lady?”
The Lamia shrugs, “You were taking too long, so she sent us here to wait for your answer. You continued to take too long, so we started drinking.” She takes her glass and drinks it straight, shuddering at the taste before putting it down.
You watch her for a moment and then cough into your hand before asking, “Can I ask you a question about geomancy?”
She blinks twice before saying, “Why should I answer anything about that?”
“Because we may become part of the same cult here soon.”
“May be.” She snorts, grabbing the bottle with her tail. She pours some in the glass and says, “So you haven’t made up your mind, huh?”
“I’m not ready to give my answer anyway, not until my party is back from shopping.”
“Ah, of course.” She takes another drink. “Well, sit down I guess. Won’t do to be rude to our potentially newest member I guess.”
You take the chair and sit down, looking between her and Rael. The Anubis sniffs at you and then looks down at her drink. Clacking your tongue, you touch the glass and cast a light [Ice], chilling it. She blinks at the frosty glass for a moment before sniffing the drink and then downing it, shuddering at the flavor before smirking and saying, “Alright Ephie, this guy is alright.”
“Don’t call me that here!” The Lamia says, embarrassed. “Ugh. Just ask your question already.”
“Listen, do you know about Golems? I want to try to channel magic through them, but I don’t much know how.”
“Eh?” She says, frowning. “What, like making and <Arc node>?”
“I… suppose?”
Ephra sighs. “Arc nodes are hard to make, they require magically attuned materials to work as a basis. Discharged mana crystals might work, especially in geomancy, but you’d have to attune them to a particular type of mineral for golems. The best thing would probably be whatever is in your constructs out in Deleor. That magitek stuff is crazy.”
Blinking in surprise, you ask, “What if it’s a broken core?”
“Ehhh, should still work. Things like golems which are inherently magical to even stay in shape are likely not to need a full matrix. Why, you have something like that?”
Thinking to the [Crystal Shards] you have in your [Trenchcoat], you nod your head. “Yeah, I just might. Thanks.”
“Tch, great.”
Ephra pours another drink and you make to touch her glass but she hisses at you, making you pull away. Ah, right, cold blooded. Frowning at her demeanor though, you ask, “Is there a particular reason you dislike me?”
“You’re not into the Cult’s ideas and you never will be. Lady Aliph doesn’t seem to think that through, sees you as an asset much the same as you see us. For someone in her position, that’s smart. For us, those who believe in the cause, have done so for generations, well.” She glares at you, “I don’t care for it. Especially after what you did last night.”
Frowning, you say, “I don’t think it would have worked anyway. From what I can tell anyway, the venom turns people into Lamia, not Apophis. It wasn’t one of the artifacts like the San’ha Urn.”
“No… I suppose it wasn’t.” Ephra sighs, slumping on the table. Maybe it’s the drink, but she looks so defenseless like that as she murmurs. “The Urn will certainly transform whoever enacts a ritual with it. Hells, they might have already done it by now. But for here… I guess we’ll never know.” She lays her head on the table and sighs again.
Rael rolls her eyes and says, “Look, they could have killed us all. Be thankful they didn’t.” At Ephra’s murmured response, the Anubis chuckles and says, “She had planned a lot for that ritual. We all did, I suppose. But we all want to see change occur in one way or another.” She pours a drink in her glass and passes it to you.
You look down at the glass and she waves to you. “It won’t bite… much. Whether you join or not, as long as you don’t put a piece of metal in my head, I’d say we’re fine.”
Shrugging, you take the glass, chill it, and drink, feeling the hot burn of the liquor as it goes down your throat. Coughing, you put it on the table to Rael’s laughter. She’s about to speak when the door opens to admit your party, who all look at you with looks of surprise. Sophie raises an eyebrow as she walks up and says, “Well then, it seems you’ve made your decision.” She sniffs and drops something on the table before you. “Oh, and here’s those goggles you wanted.”
“W-what?” You say, stumbling over your words in surprise. “I didn’t ask for goggles!”
“Uhm.” Ebe says, tapping her wings together. “We figured you could use them since you uhm, rub at your eyes a lot because of the uhm… the sand.”
“I thought they’d look cool.” Sylphie says, nodding her head. “But man, were those hard to find. Turns out they aren’t that common in a little town like this.”
Looking down at the goggles, you rub at the glass mean to protect your eyes and nod your head. “Thanks.”
Sylphie and Ebe smile while Tabitha crosses her arms and mutters, “I was the one who found them…”
Ephra grumbles and turns her head, narrowing her eyes at seeing everyone present. “Oh, you’re here, how wonderful. Now then, what’s your answer?”
Tapping the table, you take a deep breath and say, “I believe it is in the best interests of both our parties if we were not to join the cult.”
Ephra scowls while Rael shrugs. The twins look at each other with knowing looks and Alice nods her head in acknowledgement. Ebe sighs out without any particular emotion and Tabitha merely shrugs. Erwin though, Erwin is the only one who looks at you with a critical eye, narrowing his gaze as you take another breath to speak.
“However… I do not think we needs be enemies. I propose instead that we form an alliance of sorts, a non-aggression pact in a way where we neither agree to get in your way, nor are we under your control.”
Everyone blinks in surprise, their reactions the same. Knowing this would be the reaction, you push onward, your voice taking on a harsher tone. “However I will warn you: While we will have no antipathy for you and yours, we will also not be played by you. If our goals align, we can work together, but that is on our terms, not yours. You fuck me with or any of my group, I’ll finish what I started last night, do you understand?”
Ephra looks at you in stunned silence while Rael chuckles and pours another drink. She chuckles and holds it toward you, tapping the glass. Not changing your frown, you reach out and touch it with the [Ice] spell again. She smirks and downs it in one pull before exhaling and saying, “Alright then. So you don’t want to join us, but you don’t want us to fuck with you. Sounds reasonable enough, but at the same time, you want our help, don’t you?”
Frowning, you nod your head, to which she sighs. “Ah, I figured. I suppose there’s things we can do for each other beneficially, but I suppose that means Lady Aliph won’t just go and let you know where all out cells are, does it?”
“Of course not.” Ephra spits. “Honestly, we should just have you leave now, but… ugh, I need to speak with Lady Aliph.”
“She’s in the shrine, yes?” You ask, to which Ephra waves. Nodding your head, you make to stand and say, “Well, might as well get going, we need to head to Jahardin soon enough.”
“Mmm, I see.” Rael says, putting the stopper in the bottle before standing and stretching. “Well, might as well deliver you to the Lady.” She nudges Ephra who grumbles and rises on her serpentine body and begins to slither outside. The Anubis shrugs and waves for you to follow her.
“Tabitha, Sophie, come with me.” You say to the two before addressing the others. “The rest of you, stay here, we won’t be long and we don’t all need to go.”
Alice sighs and shakes her head. “Fine, get us involved with these crazy people I suppose.”
Ephra glares at her while Rael lifts an eyebrow. “Crazy people huh? Mmm if you say so.” She shrugs and leads the way, Alice staring daggers at her back, which now that you think about it, is the first time you’ve REALLY seen her seriously annoyed at someone. You wonder why?
The sun outside is already hot, though it feels good on your skin. Looking down at your arm, your hand, you realize with a start that it is richly tanned, something you didn’t think you’d get before. Of course, it’s also a little dry, and when you pull back the sleeve of you robe, you see that your arm is still fairly pale, but it’s the small things. Like all the pocket space you’re missing with these robes versus your [Trenchcoat].
Sighing, Sophie cocks her head and asks what’s wrong. “Oh, I just miss my coat is all. Too hot to wear out here. If only there was an enchantment I could use to keep it cool…”
“Why not create ice and stuff it in your pockets?”
“Then everything would get wet and terrible.”
“Oh come now, it can’t be that ba-“
Ephra cuts in, “Just visit a damn Cryomancer. It’s a popular enchantment.”
Looking at the Lamia, then back to each other, you ask, “Is there a Cryomancer in town?”
Rael shakes her head. “Unfortunately not. There’s one human sorcerer and he’s just a pyromancer, not very useful here and without a ready supply of mana, he doesn’t cast spells much. Beyond Ephra and Lady Aliph, who is- was, a pyromancer, that’s it.”
“Interesting cast of people in this little town.” Tabitha says, looking about. “How did an Anubis with such martial skill as yourself end up here? Are you one of those Wardens?”
“Ha!” Rael laughs. “No, not at all. My family is far removed from the line of Wardens, though not so far as to forget our martial ancestry. We specialized in bodyguard services for the nobility and I was actually Lady Aliph’s guard on her pilgrimage. I didn’t much believe in this whole Cult thing, but eventually it started to make sense to me.”
She shakes her head, “Things in these towns, different than near the capital or the Port. You’ll see what I’m talking about.” Leaving it at that, you continue on to the shrine.
Pushing open the doors, you notice a hoof mark and some splintered lumber where Mr. Ed damaged the door. Smirking at it, you continue forward past the rubble pile that some cultists are still cleaning up. At your approach the stiffen, though Ephra’s scowl is what makes they clear away from you. She sniffs and continues forward, bringing you to the altar where Lady Aliph is coiled up, resting upon the stone with a contemplative look.
As you approach she says, “Did you know how cold it actually is here? I didn’t, I always thought it was oppressively hot.”
“My lady, you need to sunbathe every now and then to keep your body temperature up now.” Ephra says, doing her best to control herself.
“Ah, yes, I am… cold blooded now, aren’t I?” She looks at her hand and the long nails upon it, frowning at ridges of blood vessels seen underneath her copper skin. With a sigh, she turns her head to you and says, “Well then, have you made your decision?”
Though you open your mouth to speak, Ephra interrupts you. “Yes, they have. They wish to keep an alliance with us with potential mutual assistance.”
Lady Aliph seems to understand this, closing her eyes and exhaling with disappointment. “I see.” Pushing herself up, she rises to her new height and says, “Very well then. While I had hoped to be able to work with you as a brother, it seems we shall be acquantinces instead. You understand that I cannot tell you much of the inner workings of the cult, nor grant you access to our communication, yes?”
“I do.” You say, nodding your head.
“However… while I will spread the word, it would be best if you were to have some form of identification…” She mutters before calling over a cultist. Whispering something to them, they nod and scramble off upstairs, bringing back a small charm similar to the ones the other cultists have. She looks it over and nods, handing it to you. “Show this to a member of the cult and they will not harm you, though I do not believe they will grant you succor either. It depends on the cell in question, you understand.”
“I do.” You say, putting it into your pocket.
>You gain [Aliph’s sigil]
>A Cult of the Violet Sands charm given to you by Lady Aliph, this charm shows that you’re at least who you say you are to Violet Sands members.
“Well then.” She says, folding her arms under her breasts. “I suppose you’re off and away, there isn’t much more to be said here, is there?”
“Hmm?” You ask, cocking your head. “Usually people proposition me for sex one last time before I leave.”
“Oh, no, I’m quite fine right now, I had a fill-up while you were deciding. Quite amazing feeling honestly, I don’t see why Ephra doesn’t do this all the time.”
Ephra looks down and says, “My Lady, there is such a thing as moderation, even with Monsters.”
“Is there? It is not one of Dollora’s teachings, after all. She is quite free with such things as our bodies.”
“I… I’m waiting for the right man.” She says, going crimson before throwing up her hands. “Gah! I have things to do!” She looks at you and frowns before shaking her head and leaving.
Rael chuckles and says, “She’s an idealist, what can we say?”
Sophie nods in approval while Tabitha shakes her head. For your part though, you look up at the carving of Dollora and Phallia as depicted in the Ectrian style. Your eyes linger upon Dollora and her bestial features when you’re reminded of the events in the last shrine you went to, and the voice you heard. Frowning, you walk up to the altar, looking closer at the statue.
“Oh? May I help you with something?” Lady Aliphs says next to you, her eyebrow raised. In Deleor, men are often never seen within the chambers of shrines to Dollora, however you recall that in Ectria, all people worship both Dollora and Phallia. Considering how difficult it is to grow plants here, you understand Phallia, but why Dollora too?
“I was just curious is all. Looking at the statue.” You say, a little embarrassed for some reason.
“Mmm no, I don’t believe that.” The Lamia says, slithering around you. “You have the look of someone with questions, questions for the Gods.” She smiles with genuine warmth, “You are, of course, in the right place.”
Staring at her with surprise, it occurs to you that before all else, she is still a priestess of the Twins. After the events of last night, you find it weird, but while they seem to revere the Apophis, they certainly still worship the Twins. What an odd dichotomy that is, but perhaps that’s the way of things here.
“Ah… yes, I suppose.” You say, looking at her and then back to your companions. Tabitha gives you a quizzical look while Sophie looks at you in consternation. Feeling a little more embarrassed, you turn back to the altar and take a deep breath, walking up further to it and looking down before. You hesitate before kneeling down and putting your hands on your lap. Inhaling a deep breath, you close your eyes and concentrate on… on…
You know, you don’t really pray that much, do you? Still… you do your best to remember the time before, when you felt like you needed help. Pleading to a power higher than yourself, asking for answers you can’t find yourself. In a way it is humbling, and at the same time it’s a little scary to reach out like this. You do so, however, and wait for anything to come.
{Dollora.} You think, praying. {Ironic, isn’t it, that a Wizard would pray to the Goddess he stands against? I suppose I had no choice to ask your help before, and now I return to ask what you were saying before and why. I don’t think you’ll answer me, but… well, I suppose I should try.}
You sit there for a good five minutes with no answer, nothing at all. Feeling a little silly, you sigh in disappointment and prepare to open your eyes when you hear faintly,
{Your task is more important than you know… Protect that which is dear to you and do not… lose hope.}
And then it’s over. Despite how faint the words are, you find yourself out of breath, panting and with your head hurting abominably. F-Fucking Dollora just spoke to you! Holy hells, a Goddess just reached out and touched your mind!
You feel hands on your back and you turn about to look into the frightened eyes of Sophie and even Tabitha, the two saying something, but you don’t hear the words. Shaking your head, sweat droplets fly off and you look to see your hands are pale and shaking. Another hand touches you head and suddenly you feel cool and less anxious as something washes over you or more accurately, in to you.
Your hearing returns like a thunderclap and you cover your ears as Tabitha and Sophie both barrage you with, “Are you okay? Gods Rommel, what’s wrong?”
“Peace.” Lady Aliph says, quieting them. “He has been touched by Dollora and he must recover. Men, especially those in service to Solos are not within her realm and it puts both a strain upon him and I’m sure the Goddess herself. What fate you must have to receive such a blessing though… what did she say?”
You shudder and shake your head, not wanting to repeat it at the moment. Lady Aliph frowns but nods her head. “Very well. I have used some of my magic to calm you, but you will still be weak for awhile. Are you certain you wish to leave?”
No, you aren’t certain at all and you feel like you should go vomit, but you’re going to leave. Standing on shaky legs and being helped by your friends, you nod to her and say, “T-Thanks.”
“For what? You’re the one who almost killed me and then refused to join our cult.”
You make to say something in rebuttal, but can’t seem to find the words. Shaking your head, you stand on your own feet, sigh, and start on your way back to the tavern. When you make it outside, you shield your eyes from the sun, finding it blinding. Squinting, you remember the [Goggles] and take them out, placing them over your eyes and sighing at the mild change in light.
“Rommel, are you alright? What the hells happened there? She said Dollora spoke to you?”
Looking to Sophie, you nod your head and say, “Yeah, she did.” You relate your story and what she said to the two who both look at you with astonished looks.
“W…wow.” Sophie says, furrowing her brow. “That’s… that’s really… wow.”
Tabitha crosses her arms and looks concerned for once. “I don’t go praying to the Gods very often, but this is something else. For Dollora to say something like that… the meaning has to be different than we’re thinking, I can’t imagine she’d speak to a Wizard just like that.”
“I feel like I ate a whole cow and then ran ten miles in the desert.” You groan.
“You going to be okay to travel?” Tabitha says, voice earnest.
“Probably.” You say, stomach still roiling. “Not in a fit shape for much else at the moment though.”
“Fair enough.” She says, watching you walk. After a few staggers, she shakes her head and walks up next to you, taking your arm and placing it around her. She then helps prop you up and walks with you, using her strength (and legs) to help you walk faster.
“Uh…” You say, feeling a little embarrassed. “Tabitha, you don’t have to-“
“It’s a little embarrassing watching you walk like that.” She says, not looking at you. “Don’t think much into it.”
“Heh.” You say, just accepting it. Of course, it’s a little awkward being so close to her surprisingly ample chest, but the coolness of her skin and scales feels good and you sigh out in relief to which Sophie raises an eyebrow and says,
“Oh? You seem quite content in her arms there Rommel.”
You groan and say, “Look, I just got touched my a Goddess and it wasn’t a good experience, I’m not too proud for some assistance.”
“Nor should you be, all people, fighters or no need support every now and then.” Tabitha says, shaking her head. “You’ve sort of done things on your own at this point anyway.”
“Have I?” You say, frowning and thinking about it. In a way, she’s right, yet it feels wrong, which compels you to say, “I don’t think I have… I think that everyone in our group has helped out in their own way. It’s not just my goal, it’s all our goals we’re working toward and something about it is important enough to make a Goddess give me the bad touch.”
Sophie blinks in surprise before stifling a laugh. Both you and Tabitha trade looks and then sigh in unison, making your way back to the tavern to relate the story to the others. They stare at you in amazement and insist you stay to rest, but with the backing of Tabitha, you get them to agree to leave the town.
As you leave, the people… cultists, watch you go, making no effort to stop you. Passing by the front of the town, the watchman from last night tips his cap at you and says, “Happy trails, and may the sands at night be the color of violet.”
———————————————————————
The travel is slow going, mostly thanks to you, and by the time the sun starts to set, you haven’t made much distance. Sylphie helps make the sand shelter, her control over sand improving with your teaching, and soon enough Sophie has food going and the camp is warded and prepared. As you eat everyone has varying degrees of discussion about what to do going forward with the Violet Sands and what your little talk with Dollora meant. The conclusions drawn were to think more on it later and to just tackle the cultist when you see them.
From what the innkeeper told Ebe, it’s normally a couple of days to Jahardin from where you are, and her aerial views show that there’s nothing of much value in the area. Unfortunately, this means it’s boring desert travel for all of you. Fortunately though, this means it’s boring desert travel for all of you. Frankly some nice, no Sandworm, no bullshit attacks level of travel sounds nice.
The first night you are basically forced by the others to go to bed right after dinner, and you have a hard time arguing. The sleep is fantastic and the next day you feel like a new man, ready to face the day. While walking on the road, a mild sand storm comes, most of which you deflect with your magic, but the goggles turn out to be the real winner and you thank Tabitha for finding them when it’s over.
“Huh?” She says, looking at you with a little confusion. “Why thank me, they weren’t my idea?”
“Yes, but you found them.” You say, tapping the goggles. “They’re actually really useful. You must have been on the look out to find something like this in a small place like that.”
She sighs, “Well, I didn’t think they were for sale, but the man who had them wasn’t using them much anymore due to his age and parted with them easily enough.” Shrugging, she says, “At least you’re getting use out of them.”
“Well, thanks for helping me out.” You say. “It’s nice to know there’s someone mature and strong looking over this group. Takes a weight off the shoulders.”
Tabtiha gives a genuine smile. “Is that so? Hmph, if only that other Wizard I know would give me the same respect.”
“He doesn’t respect you?” You ask, genuinely surprised.
“Well, he does.” She says, shaking her head. “It’s just an issue of familiarity I suppose. Sort of like how you interact with Erwin.”
“I have a hard time imagining someone acting that way with you though.”
“Well, you don’t really know me, do you?”
“Oh.” You say, frowning. “I suppose I don’t. Maybe I should try?”
She pauses and raises an eyebrow before smirking. “Is that so?”
Calling a break soon after, she proceeds to beat the shit out of you in weapons practice. On one hand, your arms hurt. On the other hand, your spear and staff training is improved. At the end of the day of the day though, you suppose there’s one thing else to take out of it: she seemed pretty content kicking your ass.
That evening, you spend the time tinkering with your golems, creating <Arc Nodes> out of Phallia and Stan. You find the conductive properties of the [Crystal Shards] to be quite effective at channeling your magic once attuned, and you practice that evening channeling various geomancy spells through them as they walk past sand dunes. Unfortunately you can’t see where they area, but you can listen with [Audio Tap], and your attempts to backwards engineer the spell to project sounds actually ends up working! Of course, when you check the book, it tells you how to do this, so you don’t feel too excited.
>You learn <Vox caster>
>[Audio Tap] now allows you to speak through it.
For fun, you send some voices through Phallia as he traipses over a dune during your watch shift, you casting [Survey] through her While the effects aren’t as useful as when you’re doing it nearby, you still get a good feel for the environment. One of your pings shows some stonework nearby and you pause, getting a better feel for things. It seems to be an old structure again… damn this place is littered with them.
“Hello?” You call through the tap, ordering the golem to tap the ground as if knocking. “Anybody hooooome?”
An unfamiliar voice sounds near Phallia, “What talks with no mouth, has eyes but can’t see, and feels without touch?”
Eyes flying open in surprise, you make to cast another [Survey] to get a good picture of what’s going on, but before you can your connection with Phallia severed, the [Audio Tap], and your [Imbue Golem], severing. Everything goes dark on you and you find yourself sitting in camp, flabbergasted.
Alice yawns as she opens the flap of the tent and walks out, scratching at herself as she wears light clothing. She rubs at her eyes and asks, “Mmm, your shift is done I guess… anything happen?”

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