Wizardquest 2: Chapter 13- Rolling Down the River

Erwin closes his eyes and rubs his head against your side as you work your uncanny magic scratching his head. A talent you never asked for, but one you have anyway. Still, it’s something you keep your hand occupied as your mind considers the weight of everything that just happened.

“She took a rifle shot for me.” You say, feeling odd as you voice the words.

Erwin looks up at you and sends, {Yes, and she knew what she was doing.}

Removing your hand from Erwin’s head, you cup them together and give a pensive look down. Erwin cocks his head and sends, {Maybe you should sleep it off, think of it fresh in the morning.}

Looking down at the bed, you frown. The pillows look rather inviting, and it may be the last good rest you get for awhile. Infact, looking forward to a nice bed was one of your driving goals for getting into town again but… you just aren’t feeling tired. The pit of emotions in your chest is too much and the thought of just sleeping it off fills you with a guilt. Come on, a room over a girl is in pain because she saved your life.

{A girl}, you think to yourself, shaking your head. When did it happen that I stopped thinking of them as just Monsters?  Sylphie’s words from the past come unbidden to your mind then, hitting it home all the more,

“You’ve changed some, haven’t you?”

Gritting your teeth, you stand up from the bed and walk to the door. Erwin pads up next to you and sends, {What are you doing?}

“I don’t know, I’m just going to go for a walk or something.”

{Not with all those guards out there.}

“Oh… right, them.” Sighing, you say, “I guess I’ll go get a drink then?”

{I see.} Erwin sends, looking over at the wall next to you. {Alright then, you better change into your coat then and leave your staff}

“Why?”

{In case any guards come in. Come on, don’t argue with me.}

Grumbling, you change your clothing, feeling a little more at ease in your old clothing. Without the turban on, and wearing the [Trenchcoat] it kind of feels like you’re back in Deleor. It hasn’t been terribly long, but to you it feels like months have passed since you were last there.

Feeling that some alchohol might remove your sense of homesickness, you open the door and make to leave when you pause and turn to Erwin. “You coming?”

{Maybe in abit.} He sends, shaking his head. {You head down there, if you need anything, you know how to contact me.}

Feeling a little dissapointed, you nod your head and walk out of the room, down the stairs, and into the bar area. Smoke of all scents cloys your nose, but the warmth feels good in spite of your trenchcoat. The night air in Ectria can be rather cold after all. Most of the patrons are gone at this point, but a few linger on, lost in a literal haze while some prefer their liquid vices instead.

Sitting down at the bar, you look at the bartender, a Rabbitgirl with a rather impressive bust and smooth, coppery skin wearing an outfit that in most places would be scandalous. You’re pretty sure she works here because of the ah… “tips.”

“Speak Deleorian?” You ask. She shakes her head, which shakes everything else, and you sigh, dragging up your limited Ectrian. [Ale, please].

She nods her head and draws up your drink, foam frothing down the glass. She places it down in front of you and asks for a coin, but you say, [On house]. Narrowing her eyes, she looks at another waitress who rolls her eyes and makes a lewd gesture, likely referring to what Alice is doing with the innkeeper. The bartender sighs as if this wasn’t the first time this has happened and places it down in front of you. Digging in your pocket, you pull out a coin, pausing to make sure it wasn’t the [Ammon Mark] before handing it to her as a tip. Thankfully you’ve stored that in a more secure location.

She smirks at you and then makes a show of slipping it in her cleavage. Rolling your eyes, you tap your ale to cool it down and go to take a drink when you hear behind you,

“So that’s the kind of girl you’re into?”

Blinking in surprise, you turn about to see Tabitha behind you. She stands there with her cloak off, wearing only the black form fitting top that shows off her arms. Surprisingly, she wears long trousers which cover most of her legs as well and look rather sliming on her despite the bulky prosthetics. Had you not known what lay underneath, you’d say she was a normal Lizardman going casual. Well, that and the sword at her waist.

“How did you know I’d be down here?” You ask, avoiding her question.

Her lip quirks in response, though she doesn’t address it and merely says, “A little woodland creature told me.”

“Erwin…” You mutter, realizing what he was doing. Around that same time a sense of smugness flashes through your familiar bond. Bastard.

Tabitha looks at you and quirks an eyebrow. Giving her an off look, you wonder what she’s waiting for when it hits you and you clack your tongue. “Ah, right, sorry.” Clearing your throat, you gesture and say, “Please, won’t you join me?”

“Ah, I thought you’d never ask.” She smirks again and sits down at the bar. As she does so, she gives the bartender a look that makes the Rabbitgirl narrow her eyes and sniff before asking in Ectrian what she’d like. Tabitha points at you and she rolls her eyes before pouring her a drink and setting it down in front of her, spilling a little as she does so. She looks at Tabitha with a glare until you hand over another coin, which she stuffs unceremoniously unto her top and then turns around to wash glasses.

“What was that about?” You ask, giving Tabitha an questioning expression.

“I think she was going to try to get you drunk and then have sex with you.” She says, glancing over as the Rabbit’s gives her a dirty look over her shoulder.

“Ah, thanks then.” You say, looking down and then over at Tabitha’s glass. “You want that?…”

“Rommel, I’m a Lizardman.” She takes the mug to her lips and takes a big gulp before placing it down on the counter.

“Ah, right, cold blooded.” You do the same as she and sigh as the cold liquid rolls down your throat. Feeling some thirst parched, you set the glass down and ask, “Erwin asked you to come talk with me?”

“In a way. I did offer to talk with you if you needed it, and I think you need it.”

“I guess.” You say, shrugging. Looking up at Tabitha, you frown at her smirk and say, “Don’t take this the wrong way but… I’m still used to you being more stern. It’s kind of weird seeing you casual like this.”

The Lizardman narrows her eyes. “Is there something wrong with me acting a little more casual?”

“No! Not at all.” You say, holding up a hand. “It’s just… different. I like it.”

She sighs and chuckles, “Well, glad you think so. It’s… a struggle sometimes, being so serious all the time.”

“That’s not your normal personality?”

“No, it is.” She puts a hand to the glass and frowns, “Sometimes though, you just want to take it a little easy though, let down the guard.”

“I’ll be frank, I don’t think we’ve really known each other long enough for that.”

Tabitha frowns and then nods her head. “True, but at least you’re serious enough that I don’t have to babysit you, or act like I do. Those girls, Ebe, even Alice, I need to keep focused, be a pillar of strength.”

Frowning, you ask, “Why?”

“Because everyone needs someone they can depend on.” She sighs and takes another drink. Placing the glass down, she looks at you and says, “To those kids I’m a friend of the family, the always aloof and stern swordswoman who drops by every few years to teach them how to fight. To Alice, I’m a legend, someone whose blade has traveled all over Deleor and done things people can’t imagine. They expect that if I’m around, things will go right, because they just have to.”

Motioning for her to continue, she does so. “You read the book so you know pretty much my early story, lost my legs in the final battle after failing to do much of anything. If it wasn’t for Veronica I’d probably have fallen into some pretty bad depression.”

“Because of Blake…”

She winces and then nods her head. “Yes… because of that. It took some time to truly come to terms with it, but I eventually did. Wandering was partially to find myself more than it was to be useful, though that was important to. All the while though I had to keep focused, rarely letting my guard down.”

“That sounds…” You mull your words over carefully before saying, “Lonely.”

Tabitha gives a wan smile before looking down into her glass again. “A little bit, yes.” She swirls the glass around before draining the mug and placing it on the counter loud enough for the bartender to hear, which actually isn’t very loud. Rabbit ears and such. The drink is refilled and she nods before turning to you and asking, “So you know what I am to those girls, but I have to ask Rommel, what am I to you?”

Caught off guard, you blink in surprise at the sudden question. Feeling a swirl of emotions you open your mouth to speak before closing it and furrowing your brow in concentration. Working the words in your head you say with caution. “I think… you’re someone I can trust. Not just because of your reputation but because among these children, you’re the only one I see as an adult. Knowing there’s someone I can turn to if I need to is a great weight off my shoulders.”

With a wry chuckle, you say, “Before you came along, I felt like, pardon the pun, I was herding cats.”

Tabitha closes her eyes and gives a genuine chuckle, a sound which is actually quite musical to your ears. Sighing, she says, “That is why I feel I can at least trust you enough to have a moment of respite. I see the way those girls look up to you. For those two, they see you as they do their Father, a strong willed man who is there when they’re down, who is a pillar of strength to them, holding them steady as they try to do something that, frankly, should have been suicidal.”

“I…” You begin but trail off, looking into Tabitha’s warm smile. She nods her head and says,

“There’s few people I feel at ease with and one of them is their Father. If those two girls feel that way about you though, then I might as well give you benefit of the doubt.”

A complete loss of words comes to you at that. Gripping your drink tight, you feel a swell of emotion come to you and it takes all your effort to keep it down. Taking a shuddering breath, you exhale deep before draining your glass as well and slamming it down, motioning for another refill. When it arrives you look down at the glass, but see only froth in the dim light of the bar.

“I’m not sure what to feel right now.” You say, chuckling. “To be told I’m like the Grand Wizard and then being the reason one of them is hurting in a bed while the other hates me because of it.” Looking up at Tabitha you ask, “Why would she do that?”

Sighing, the Lizardman says, “Because she loves you, isn’t that obvious?”

Wincing, she hold up a hand, “Not in that way… though with Monsters it’s hard to say. I think it’s really a more pure love. She’s told me before you’re basically her mentor.”

“Wouldn’t her Father be her mentor?”

“Well… about that.” Tabitha says frowning. “I don’t know if I have anything to do with it, but with everything going on in the world, their parents have been rather busy. From what I’ve received via Leymail, he’s been busy these past years and I think they’ve sort of been… not forgotten but a little-“

“Lonely?” You offer. She nods her head and continues,

“So of course they, and mostly Sylphie, would latch onto you.”

“Being a mentor is one thing, but going so far as to risk your life… Gods, I don’t know what I would have done if she’d died because of that.”

Tabitha chuckles, “Sophie told me that when you first met you were rather standoffish, didn’t really think much of Monsters, had some ground rules set. I understand why after your story back in Hatset, but I don’t think a man who hates Monsters would feel like this.”

Folding your hands over your drink, you rest your chin on them and say, “I can’t forgive them, for what happened. I never really told this to anyone but Erwin, but I became a Wizard to gain the power to stop something like this from happening again. Ironic, it’s because of your adventures that I became aware of Wizards and when I looked into their history it just… resonated with me.”

You give a dark chuckle, “Wizards are supposed to protect humanity from Monsters, not feel bad when one gets shot.”

“Mmm.” Tabitha humms, tracing a clawed finger around the rim of her glass. Looking to the side, she points at a patron in the corner of the room, a woman blowing a ring of purple smoke before chuckling.

“Do you feel like you have to protect her from me?”

“Tabitha, that’s not-“

“Not the same? Then what is it?” She gives you a stern look as you search for words. Eventually she sighs and says, “Is it because you know me? Because you know I’m not a raving, sex-crazed beast?” She shakes her head, “By that definition, Alice is more of a Monster than I am.”

Feeling a little cowed, you huddle over your glass, trying to muster your thoughts. Something wet touches your cheek and you shudder to see Tabitha holding her mug up to you. She gives you a warm, genuine smile and says, “Rommel, what I said before is the truth. I honestly haven’t spoken this freely with someone in awhile, and honestly it’s kind of relaxing.” She motions with the glass, some of the liquid sloshing out.

Looking at her you close your eyes and take a deep breath before picking up your own mug and clanking it to hers before taking a deep drink. Both of you slam your mugs on the table and smile in satisfaction, and a little inebriation.

{Well that’s a much better face!} Erwin sends, smiling at you while sitting on the bar top.

“GAH!” You shout, flailing backward in surprise. Tabitha grabs your hand before you fall and drags you back into place before releasing you. Blushing furiously, you scowl at Erwin who smirks before being chased away by a frantic Rabbitgirl who tries to grab him as he bobs and weaves before leaping off the counter and into your chest, causing you to exhale violently from the impact.

Feeling a little woozy and embarrassed, you look up to see something truly surprising though. Tabitha laughing, genuine and pure laughter.

Why, you can’t help but crack a smile yourself.

———————————————————————-

“Tabitha, I’m fine.”

“Rommel, you can’t stand very well.”

“Well excuse me, not all of us have magitek legs.”

“Oh, they’re easy to get though, just break your spine.”

“Unfair.”

Tabitha chuckles as she helps you upstairs. The two of you drank for abit longer, at least until the bartender had enough of Erwin’s shenanigans and had you leave, which was for the best since you were getting a little inebriated. Walking up the stairs to your room, you feel more at ease after the experience. The way Erwin prances around your legs, you’re pretty sure he’s happy about it was well. You try to reach down and pat his head but Tabitha keeps you upright from falling over.

“Woah, what are you doing?”

“Going to Pat Erwin’s head. He’s a good friend.”

“You can pat his head later.”

“Fine, fine.” Looking at Tabitha, you raise an eyebrow. “Do you want a headpat? I’m told I’m pretty good.”

“No, thank you.” The Lizardman sighs. “Maybe I should re-think this whole other adult thing.”

“Fine, fine.” You say in the same tone. As you turn the corner to reach your rooms, a woman exits the door to the room Sylphie is in and freezes as she sees you.

[Oh! Sorry.]

[It’s alright, no harm done.] You say in perfect Ectrian. The woman looks at you in surprise and you blink in surprise yourself. Did you even know those words?

“Are you the healer?” Tabitha asks, to which the woman blinks in confusion.

[I apologize for her lack of communication skills, but she asks if you’re the healer sent by the owner of this establishment.] You say, flawlessly.

[Yes, I am. Are you friends with the woman in there?]

[Indeed, we are her compatriots.]

The healer gives you an odd look. Is compatriots even a word in Ectrian? Well, it is now. Coughing, she says, [She will be fine, the healing potion did most of the work. There was some bone damage that I did some mild repairs too, but I’m afraid I can’t heal the scar that’s there. She might have reoccurring pain every now and then because of it.]

[I see. Is she awakened?]

[No, I had her take a sleeping potion anyway so she gets some good rest.]

[Indeed, well thank you for your efforts my good lady.]

The healer gives you the oddest of looks before leaving you behind, her steps a little faster than they should have been. Once she’s around the corner, Tabitha looks at you and asks, “What the hells did you say?”

“I think Sylphie is going to be okay, she’s just asleep.”

“Rommel you… are full of surprises.”

“I should ask Ebe if compatriot is a word in Ectrian.” You mumble. At that, Ebe opens the door and looks at the two of you, turning back to say something before exiting the room.

“Ah, I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.” She looks a little nervous, “Sophie is in a bad mood after, well…”

“The healer said Sylphie would have a scar.” You say, nodding your head with guilt.

“I… yes, she did.” Ebe says, looking surprised. “I didn’t know she spoke Deleorian.”

“She doesn’t, apparently Rommel is a savant when drunk.” Tabitha says, shrugging you.

“Compatriot isn’t a word in Ectrian is it?” You ask, to which Ebe looks at you with confusion.

“I… no?” She shakes her head. “Look, I’m going to try to calm her down, might need to sing a song. I don’t think she wants to see you right now Rommel.” Biting her lip she continues, “And… there’s only one bed in there now so someone is going to have to sleep… on the floor.”

“Eh, I’ll just sleep in Rommel’s room then.” Tabitha says. “Won’t be a problem.”

“W-Won’t be a p-prob?” Ebe says, flushing. “B-But that’s… but…” She trails off, unable to finish the sentence without incriminating herself.

“He’s a Wizard, it’s fine.” Tabitha waves to Ebe and drags you to your room and leaving a red-faced Ebe behind you. Entering the room, she takes your coat off and drops you onto the bed, where you sigh at the softness there. Not the best, but far from the worst. Tabitha sighs and draws the covers over you, muttering something about babysitting. You hear shuffling and then a rustle as the bed sheets part before Tabitha slides into the bed next to you.

With the windows shuttered, no light enters the room, and you’re unable to see much in the darkness. You can, however, feel Tabitha as she stretches out in the bed next to you, turning over  under the covers to find some comfort. Something cold and scaly slaps your legs and you jump until Tabitha says, “Sorry, sorry it’s my tail. Forgot what it was like to be next to someone who doesn’t have one.”

She shifts again and a quiet comes over the room. Despite the awkwardness of the situation though, you find yourself feeling much more at ease than when Ebe was in a room with you. It’s just… you can’t see anything bad happening. Despite this, your heart beats a little fast and you focus upon sleep and hope nothing bad comes of this in the morning. Indeed, sleep comes for you quickly though, and you drift off soon enough as weariness, emotional and physical, mixed with alcohol takes you away into a deep slumber.

Still, you think as you drift off, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if her tail hit you again.

————————————-

 

>Story continue

“Mmmph, that’s warm…”

The soft words wake you from your slumber prematurely, your senses slowly sliding into place. A mild, throbbing pain builds up in your head and you wince at the mild pain. Ugh, you’re going to have a little bit of a hangover, aren’t you? At least something next to you is a little cold, making things feel a little nicer. Without thinking much on it, you pull yourself closer to whatever, wanting to press your body against it.

Whatever it is happens to be soft, yet firm. A pillow? You are in bed of course, so that makes sense. Pillows do get colder over time, though this one is much heavier than expected. Still, it feels nice. Head throbbing still, you move your face in closer to put your forehead to the cool material when you feel something strange. It feels soft and stringy and smells faintly of sweat. Your mind digs for an answer and with a growing sense of dread you realize that it’s hair.

Hair belonging to Tabitha. Who is in bed with you.

Heart beating quickly in your chest, you think through this situation very carefully. Okay, so she hasn’t killed you yet, which means you can still pretend like nothing happened. Pulling away ever so slowly from her, you freeze as shivers and says, “Ungh… cold.”

Gulping, you pull in again and she sighs, drifting back to sleep. You turn your head and let out an uneasy sigh. Uncomfortable is certainly one word that can explain how you feel at the moment, though perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. It’s not as if being this close to Tabitha is actually physically uncomfortable, infact despite your reservations it’s quite nice. The soft skin of her bare arms at her shoulder and the coolness of her cold blood make for a welcome relief from the aches of your body while the firmness of her toned body grants a rigidity that gives a certain sense of comfort.

You hate to admit it, but the softness of her hair is surprising, but not unwelcome. An overwhelming urge to rub your face against the back of her head has to be suppressed, lest you come to regret it. Of course, this whole situation is bad because you know you need to get away, yet part of you wants to just get closer. What a fucking joke.

Something slaps against your leg and you bite your tongue to keep from jumping. Tabitha’s large, reptilian tail swishes gently under the covers, each time slapping your leg little by little. A little more stunned by seeing such a thing from Tabitha than the actual motion, you let it happen for a few moments before looking back to the sleeping Lizardman.

Though you cannot see her face in the darkness of the room, you can get a general sense of the outline of her body. She’s curled somewhat on herself, having turned onto her side. Arms hugging her chest, she lets out soft breaths at the rise and fall of her chest. An almost content sigh comes from her and you feel a shiver down your spine. Though you want to say it’s fear, you’re having a hard time lying to yourself at how surprising it is to see her so… defenseless like this. Hells, you could probably do anything to her right now, like pat her head or hug her or-

No, no, no, no. With the other girls that’s something different because they’re still younger, but Tabitha is actually your senior, despite how good she looks. Despite the fact that she just professed that she has some trust in you, to go and abuse such a thing while she’s sleeping of all times is… it’s wrong for both you and her. You’re a Wizard afterall! While the damned Grand Wizard’s tampering removed such restrictions, even thinking about it and with a Monster…

“Mmm.” Tabitha murmurs next to you. With barely any warning, she turns over to her other side and slides in close to you. Breath catches in your throat and you reach back your hands as she buries her head into your chest, breasts pressing close on you while she pulls her arms in on herself. Letting out another content sigh, you realize with a start that she must be seeking warmth. Did she do this to Alice when they shared beds, or was it the alcohol? You’ve never really seen her drink, but she didn’t look like a lightweight…

Well, now is certainly the time of times to roll away. If she wakes up, she’ll find that SHE’s the one in the awkward position and you’ll have plausible deniability. You’ll have gotten to cuddle with her and get off scot free! No, wait, that’s not the way to think about this at all and-

Tabitha’s clawed fingers dig into the fabric of your shirt and you wince as they scratch your chest. Well, you’re pretty certain she’s not drawing blood with that, but at the same time you can’t escape anymore. Curses, you really, really had a chance there and you blew it thinking it over. Even worse, now your hands and still pulled back and you have nowhere to put them that isn’t touching her body.

Looking down at her, you see her brown, unkempt hair and the outline of her pointed ears. Feeling the last vestiges of your resistance crumble away, you groan and place your left hand upon her head while your right hand slides behind her strong back. Though you intend to just sit there and let it happen, you feel something happen with your hand upon her head. A cold sweat beads on your forehead as you realize what is about to happen. You thought that this skill, this talent with headpats was a gift, but only now do you realize that instead it is a curse. A curse you cannot control and which seeks to impart maximum comfort upon the scalps of all it touches.

Through a magic more primal and ancient than that of Wizards, your fingers glide through her hair, applying gentle, yet firm pressure to her head. When your fingers first begin this profane ritual, Tabitha shudders against your chest, her nails digging deeper into the meat of your chest. A low, almost inaudible moan escapes her lips and you can hear her tail swishing back and forth under the covers. Your fingers gently caress down the side of her head, lightly kissing the edges of her ears and she gasps, huddling in closer to you, adamantium legs clinking together as she squirms.

With mounting horror, you realize she’s enjoying this, and so are you. Having her pressed so close against you, fingers through her hair, making her feel this way… You kind of don’t want to stop it. Submitting to your hand, you feel as pressure builds up in your chest and your pants. Closing your eyes and accepting it, you let the sensations wash over you until you realize something.

The swishing of her tail has stopped.

Licking your lips, you open your eye a crack and see Tabitha’s eyes staring at you in the night. He expression is flat and tinged with an embarrassed sort of anger that makes your heart beat faster. Of course, this time it really is in fear. Though you get the distinct feeling that there is a hint of heat on her cheeks, her voice is cool as ice.

“What are you doing?”

There’s no denying it. Accepting your punishment, you say, “Apparently patting your head.”

“Are you drunk?”

“A little bit.”

Tabitha closes her eyes and sighs out before  pulling away from you. She looks down at her hands before turning back around. Face away from you, she says, “Go back to sleep on the other side of the bed.”

“You’re… not going to hurt me?”

“No.” Tabitha sighs. “You’re a little drunk, I’m a little drunk, we’ll just… forget it happened.”

Pulling the covers more to her side, you take what you can while staying away from her and turn to the side of the bed, looking out at the wall. Just forget it happened huh? Well, you could and probably should just forget it happened yet the beating of your heart and the firmness in your pants tells you that it will be quite difficult to do so.

With the rush of emotions dissipating, the pain of your headache returns and you inwardly groan as you try to fall back to sleep. Eventually, it takes hold of you again, dragging you back down into slumber. As consciousness once again fades, you feel again Tabitha’s tail brush against your leg.

And it stays there.

——————————————–

You’re awoken by a cheeky Erwin at first light, the fox giggling at you in a way that only a fox can. Tabitha was already up and doesn’t mention anything about what happened last night, nor does she really seem to have any change in demeanor toward you. Because of that, getting ready for the day was fairly straightforward and after gathering your things you head over to the other room.

Ebe opens the door for you, rubbing at her eyes with one of her wings. Though she looks a little hesitant, she lets you in at Tabitha’s insistance and you enter the room. Sophie is gathering up items while Sylphie sits up in bed, propped up by far too many pillows. As you enter, Erwin jumps up onto her lap and she chuckles, petting his head before addressing the two of you,

“Good morning.”

Sophie huffs and says, “Don’t stress yourself out too much.”

“Oh hush, it’s only a rifle wound, it’ll pass.” Sylphie says, waving her arm and then wincing.

Looking down at her you blink in surprise as you see her without her usual robe, which you remember was damaged by the shot. Instead a bandage wraps around her shoulder while she covers herself up with a garb similar to Sophie and Ebe’s Ectrian garb, the green silk looking nice against her pale flesh. She notices your stare and blushes before saying,

“Ah, well, Sophie wouldn’t let me sleep in my robes so…”

“So we did the best for you.” Sophie sighs, placing the damaged robe on the bed. “Ebe, you said you could mend this, right?”

“Uhm, yes, I can.” Ebe says, nodding her head. “I have some leftover cloth I can patch it with, though it won’t be the same…

“That’s fine, we just need it to work.” Sylphie says, smiling before turning to the rest of you. “So, when are we leaving?”

“In a few hours.” You say, walking over to Sylphie. Sophie narrows her eyes but when Sylphie gives her a cool look, she winces and looks down, abashed. Wanting to ask, but not wanting to cause trouble, you settle for kneeling down next to the hurt Cat  o’Ninetails. Smiling, you ask, “How are you feeling?”

“A little stiffness, a little pain here and there. Kind of warm, but overall I feel pretty good all things considered.” She nods her head and winces. “Sorry about all this, I didn’t mean to make everyone worry.”

“Sylphie, you took a shot from a magitek rifle for me. How were we not supposed to worry?” Closing your eyes, you sigh out, “You really had me worried there. If you’d lost your arm, or Gods forbid, your life, I- we would have been crushed. It was a really reckless thing to do.”

Abashed, she looks down with a wan smile and says, “I know, I just… I only thought about how awful it would be to lose you and I just… sprang into action. I barely even thought about the shield of rock when I did it.” Tears well up in her eyes as she asks, “Are you mad at me?”

Shaking your year, you open up your eyes again and smile. “No, of course not. Without you I might have been dead but please, think of yourself. Your sister, your parents, all of us, we’re all thinking about you, alright?”

Nodding her head, she sniffs and rubs at her eyes, wincing, “Yeah, of course. As it stands I’m going to have a reminder about this for-forever I guess.” She tries to hide the pain of that with a smile as she asks, “Hey, do you think that guys find scars sexy?”

Feeling as if someone is acutely staring at your back, you say honestly, “Well, it’s not really the scar, but the story. I think that taking a rifle shot for someone is kind of… you know.”

She giggles, “Yeah, yeah, Mr. Wizard.”

Ebe coughs, “I’ll go get some breakfast.” Tabtiha nods her head and says as well,

“I’ll go and check on Alice, see if she’s still connected at the waist to our benefactor.”

Standing up, you nod and say, “Ah, I’ll go give you a hand Ebe-” but you’re cut off as you feel a small pressure on the sleeve of your robe. Looking down you see Sylphie, her face pointed away, cheeks flushed.

“You know, saving someone’s life… deserves a little reward, right?” She smirks and looks at you. “I think a headpat isn’t much to ask… right?”

Blinking in surprise, you look at Sophie who wrings her hands together before you shake your head and smile. “Yeah, of course.”

Placing your hand upon her head, you let your fingers work their magic to the sounds of pleasure Sylphie elicits.

—————————————————-

Breakfast is soon consumed and Alice located, the swordswoman having been sleeping like a rock next to the innkeeper. Her hips feeling a little worn, she decides to stay in until it’s time to go, and you really don’t feel like arguing with her. In fact, given Sylphie’s condition, only yourself, Tabitha, and Ebe are really in a position to go hunt for supplies. Despite Sylphie’s protests, Sophie keeps her in place.

After giving a heartfelt apology to Mr. Ed while on your knees and groveling in the muck of the stable, he lets you off after making you kiss his hoof. When asked by Ebe why you had to do this, both you and Tabitha find it difficult to explain. You’re forced to answer that, “Anything that happens to her must be explained and apologized to Mr. Ed.” She seems to accept this answer though she bites back asking a question that you’re afraid has to do with something lewd.

Once that’s taken care of, you head out into the city, the two walking beside you. Though Guard presence is a little higher than you were hoping, a chance of attire seems to work at keeping most scrutiny off you. For your part, you’re wearing your [Trenchcoat] as opposed to your light, Ectrian robes. With your [Goggles] on and your turban off, it’s hard to tell you’re the same person, though not terribly many Deleorians are present in town.

For Ebe, she wears her normal attire, fitting in as well as she normally does, which is to say she draws stares from everyone she walks past. Being a bombshell of a beauty and a species such as a Ghandharva does that sort of thing.

Tabitha though, well, it’s hard to hide some of her more defining features, but with you didn’t know better, you’d say by her attire change that she was a different Monster. Wearing the long pants from before, her magitek legs beyond her feet are covered however the most shocking factor is her top. Where you’ve never seen her wear anything but the tight fitting, black top and robes, you instead see her wearing one of the silken, rather revealing tops of Ectrian fashion. Though nothing obstructs the sword at her side, she’s decked out in various jingling pieces of metal and tassels that accentuate her toned physique, though the tan lines where her normal outfit sit are quite evident in the transition from pale to tanned skin.

She takes it all in stride though, the veil over her mouth doing nothing to hide the flat expression she wears, but you’re pretty sure she’s embarrassed somehow? It’s kind of endearing in a way, though from all the stares that your group gets as you travel, you begin to wonder if people think they’re your personal dancers, something quite common in Ectria from what you hear. Oh well, gripping a particular stone in your pocket, you make your way to the market district to shop before it’s time to go on a boat ride.

First stop is to procure more food. While Ebe assures you that Sophie has plenty, it pays to be well stocked. While there, you visit an alchemist and purchase another two [Health potions] and a supply of mana potions for Sylphie, though it feels weird for you to be holding vials of other men’s semen. Of course all potions are based on this, it’s just… still weird.

>You gain 2x [Health Potions]

While asking the alchemist, a small Mousegirl, about where to find a cryomancer, she describes a specialty potion for this region. She only has one in stock, but it’s supposedly a potion designed to allow Humans and non-aquatic Monsters hold their breath for up to thirty minutes. When asked why this isn’t anywhere else, she explains it only works with freshwater and where else would there be adequate supplies of fresh water for this potion to matter?

>You gain [Gilly Potion]

>”Tastes like Crocgirl sweat but lets you breathe like one too!” That’s what the label says.

Feeling abashed, you take the potion and directions to the cryomancer. Oddly enough, it happens to be in an area with a fair amount of clothing, so Ebe takes Tabitha to look at things while you enter the little shop on your own.

Built into the side of a larger building, you find the place at once larger, and smaller than expected. Under the shade of a hanging roof sits a tall desk where behind two Centaurs stand, one wearing a red (and revealing) top while the other wears a blue (also revealing) top. They smile as you enter and you realize with surprise that both of the Monsters have two horns atop their heads, something you don’t think you’ve ever seen.

“Hello there!” The one in red says.

“How can we help you?” The one in blue says.

“Uhh.” You say, looking confused. “I uh… wanted to get this coat enchanted to stay cool.”

“Then you have come to the right place.” The one in blue sighs.

“Looks like I’ve been cucked again!” The one in red says, smiling broadly.

“Uhh.” Feeling a little awkward, you shrug out of the coat and hand it to the one in blue. “You’re a cryomancer then?”

“Indeed.” She says with some melancholy while going over the [Trenchcoa]. “My twin sister is a pyromancer. Most people come here for me while she gets to watch.” She mutters under her breath, “Lucky bitch.”

“O-Okay.” You say, feeling awkward. As the blue one goes over your coat, she pulls out the chunk of [Basalt] and shrugs before replacing it. Frowning, you hold out your hand and ask, “Could you hand me that?”

Doing so, you look over the rock and have an idea. After Tabitha’s help last night, and the awkwardness, giving her something nice might be good. The [Basalt] in your hands is right from Blackfire Reach, a little piece of home for Tabitha. Having something made out of this would be perfect! The thought of her giving you another one of those smiles makes your heart flutter for some reason and you turn to the red sister to ask,

“Do you think you could work an enchantment for me?”

Both sisters stop, looking at you in surprise. The pyromancer begins to blush as her sister licks her lips and begins to breath a little heavy. “Y-You need her help with something? S-Something I can’t do for you ?”

“Y-Yes?” Giving them a confused look you ask for the enchantment, to which the pyromancer goes at it with gusto. Both items finish around the same time, leaving both of the Monsters flushed and breathing heavy. Feeling even more awkward, you shrug on your [Trenchcoat] and find it to be utterly comfortable. The strong heat of the day is cut almost instantly and the heavy outfit you feel you could wear into a volcano!

>Your [Trenchcoat] has been upgraded!

>The lovely piece of fashion is now constantly cool, however the thermos pocket lost its enchantment.

Ebe and Tabitha both walk over to the shop as you slip the [Basalt] into your pocket. When they both arrive looking for you, the twin shopkeepers look visibly flustered. The one in blue outright asks, stammering, “H-Hey, do you want to have sex with us?”

“Uh, no. No I don’t.” You say, backing away from them.

“Oh Twins, YES!” The one in red shouts, slamming her head onto the desk and managing to get her horns stuck there. Neither Tabitha nor Ebe ask questions as you both bolt on outside and away from this horseshit.

With food, potions, and your coat taken care of and your time coming to a close before needing to head out, you make a quick circuit around for any magical artifacts which may aid you further in your quest. While finding a ghitar care kit that you secretly purchase for Ebe, unfortunately none of the shops really has anything of much value here and a search of any ore sellers shows mainly industrial ores. You decide to pick up some more [Iron Ore] to add to Ronnie for a purpose you’ve been considering, though while passing by a silversmith, you purchase an elaborate hair ornament for Alice at rather cheap price.

Ebe approves of the design and Tabitha has no comment, though when you point to one that might work with her hair, she calls it foolish. Quickly changing the subject, you switch to purchasing a matching set of necklaces with stylized cat’s eyes for both Sophie and Sylphie. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a nice gesture.

On the way out, you purchase some raw silver, which the shop keep sells with a confused look. Ebe sighs as you do but seems to accept this. She is learning. Tabitha says nothing as well. She has learned.

>You gain [Silver ore]

>A small, palm sized piece of silver ore, more pure than most raw silver.

With your shopping complete, you return to the inn feeling rather satisfied. Tabitha grumbles about walking about dressed like that all morning while Ebe giggles and tells her how beautiful she looks. When asked to comment on it, you find yourself agreeing without thinking it through. Tabitha merely rolls her eyes, much to your disappointment.

Gathering up with everyone and having an hour to spend, Ebe passes out the clothing she found (mainly pieces of dancer’s outfits, though you’re not certain why she would purchase more of that) before fixing the hole in Sylphie’s robes. You surprise her with the kit, which is filled with oils and a few strings and she hugs you tight as you thank her for everything she’s been doing, even though you do wish sometimes you could do more.

Tabtiha goes to get Alice again and you give the necklaces to the twins. At first Sophie seems a little upset until she sees how excited Sylphie is at them matching. She eventually caves and thanks you for the gift along with her sister, apologizing for her behavior.

“I know I’ve been a twit, it’s just… she’s my sister.” She says, looking pitiful. Both you and Sylphie tell her you understand and soon enough she’s back to her normal, if a little more overprotective, self.

When Alice stumbles into the room, you give her the hair ornament, which she laughs at and then uses to tie her long, black hair back into a pony tail. Receiving approval from the rest of the women, she nudges Tabitha and says they match now. Tabitha merely sighs.

With everyone getting ready and gifts in hand, there’s one last thing to do. Taking a deep breath, you take Tabitha aside and pull out the [Basalt], handing it to her.

“It’s… warm?” Tabitha asks, looking surprised.

“It’s a little gift from me to you, a piece from Blackfire Reach imbued to be forever warm. To remind you of home.”

Tabitha stares at it for a long while before cupping it in both of her hands. Shaking her head, she smirks at you and asks, “First last night and now this. Rommel, is there something I should know?”

Feeling a little heat rise to your cheeks, you shake your head, not certain of how to respond, or perhaps needing more time in which to respond. She looks at you curiously before shaking her head as well and looking down at the rock.

“Well, it’s a thoughtful gift. I’ll need something to keep warm on those cold nights out…at… sea.”

“At least it’s just a river.” You say, feeling awkward still.

“Right… right.” She says, taking a shuddering breath. “Anyway, we should be going.”

With everything set and Sylphie okay to walk, though she does use her staff for some assistance, you make your way to the docks to where Kuhalik specified. When you arrive, a man from last night greets you and ushers you into a warehouse where men are busy loading up items. At the fore of it stands Kuhalik, who looks up from his papers and raises an eyebrow.

“Someone was busy last night.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” You say, to which he smirks.

“Well, seems our competition went and got themselves violently murdered. Guards are on high alert, and we’re trying to pick up the pieces as we can.” He hands over the papers to an attendant before looking at all of you. “Going to make smuggling out a little harder.”

“You have the Mark.” You say, narrowing your eyes.

He chuckles, “Haha! I’m not asking for any more. You’ve done some great services for me as it stands, I just wanted to give you hard time.” Shaking his head he continues, “As such, I’ve giving you a letter of recommendation to Polah.”

“Don’t we have the Marks from Ammon for this?”

“Yes, but with this, she might be a little more receptive. Might be willing to give up some of her treasures too.”

>You gain [Kuhalik’s Kind Words]

>A letter of recommendation from Kuhalik for all you’ve done.

Taking the parchment, you nod and put it away as he leads you over to some large crates. Pointing to an empty crate he says, “Alright, time to get in.”

“You can’t be serious.” Sylphie says, looking a little frightened. “Is he serious?”

“It’s a few days up and down the river to the capital, you don’t need to stay in the crates until after you leave the city and before entering the capital. River is fairly quiet unless any bandits are around, but they’ve been quiet recently.”

“Let’s assume we have terrible luck.” Sophie sigh. “What are we looking at?”

“Lamias generally, sometimes Violet Sands cultists, and occasionally Hippo girls.”

“Hippo… girls?” She asks, looking confused.

“Think of a minotaur but faster and with jaws that will crush you in half. Oh and they can survive for awhile underwater.”

“Oh good.” Sophie groans.

“Yes well, they rarely cause trouble, most of them keep to themselves unless someone pisses them off.” He looks at the light filtering into the warehouse and shakes his head. “We need to get going. Get in.”

Grumbling, your group enters into the crate, which is packed with various fruits around you before being closed. Mr. Ed assures you he’s fine as he’ll be loaded up separately and soon after you hear many men grunting as they lift the crate and transfer you outside. Eventually you’re let down onto a rocking surface and realize you’re on a boat.

There you wait as sounds go all around you, just… sitting. Kuhalik talks outside and before he leaves, his thumps your crate and says, “Have a fun time” before leaving. What follows in another seeming eternity in a stuffy crate before it sets off down the river. The rocking motions stop soon after though and heavy boots thump on the deck, checking over all the wares. Something knocks on your crate and someone asks something in Ectrian. A man replies back and they both laugh before the boots thump away and you’re let out down the river.

Perhaps an hour later another knocking comes at the crate before the lid is pried off and light shines down on you. Hands reach in and pull you out, making you afraid until one of the dockworkers from Kuhalik’s warehouse waves a hand and says in Ectrian, [Hello!]

The rest are freed in short order and you take stock of the boar around you. The top deck is laden with goods in the flat-bottomed boat while there is one deck below it for cabin space. The man directs both Sylphie and Tabitha to the cabins, the two looking a little green, while the rest of you (minus Sophie who goes to Sylphie’s side) lounge around the impressively large boat. As the afternoon sun shines overhead and with nothing around you but mild grasslands in all directions, you find yourself at a loss of what to do until the next threat comes.

Because it will come.

—————————————————–

Despite your deep seated fears, nothing actually came. Well, not within the first two hours anyway.

With Tabitha, Sylphie, and Sophie below decks, you find yourself with Alice, Ebe, and the familiars. With the sun shining overhead and the novelty of the boat though, everyone goes their own separate ways to look things over.

Walking around the boat, you get a better stock for the river craft. For a river in the desert, the Nil’al is very large. All around the banks grass and other life abound, attracting various beasts of all shapes and sizes to drink from the waters. Cruising down the middle if your craft, which is roughly 200ft in length if you had to guess, making it a rather large vessel. It’s only two decks though, the top cargo deck and the bottom storage and crew quarters, but it works in the relatively shallow waters.

Despite being from Deleor, a country of rivers and canals, you didn’t travel much on the boats. The only time you could remember doing so was with your Sister and Mother before the… raid. Taking a moment to settle yourself before thinking more on it, you breath out and recall the event. It really wasn’t any worth much mention, just a small boat ride to Sanctifrond back before the Leyways existed, but it was fun being with them, seeing the water around you and the playful fish, etc. You don’t remember much else about that trip but you do remember the boat ride.

Sighing as you grip the rails you turn back over to look at the cargo. Multiple metallic, and a few wooden, crates sit lashed to the deck, laden with various cargo. None of them seem to have the shapes of the slave crates and asking a crewman in broken Ectrian you find that none of them do contain slaves, and given how free they are about such things, you think it’s true. Choosing not to bother with any of that at the moment, you decide to look for your other companions above deck before doing anything down below.

Ebe walks the length of the boat, chatting with the deck hands who take every opportunity to look at her body. Occasionally they even go a little further and pinch her behind or bump into her chest, blaming it on the rocking of the boat despite it’s stability. She takes it in stride though, smiling and laughing it off, occasionally playing a song or two as long as it doesn’t stop the men’s work. You actually feel a little bad for her taking this behavior, but you have to wonder if such things happened where she grew up, or if her Mother prepared her for such things given her species and talents. Of course, out of the corner of your eye you check on her every now and then to make certain no one is going to go too far. Not that it’s your business of course.

For Alice, you expected to find her fucking a sailor behind a crate, but instead you find her near the prow, arms on the railing, looking out over the river. Feeling surprised and curious, you decide to talk to her and see why she has such… melancholy?

Approaching Alice, wind wisps gently by, pushing her robe past and giving some glints of her armor underneath. Her sword stays at her side as always but she only gives you a glance as you walk up, her eyes turning back to the greenery. Leaning on the side of the boat as well, you watch Erwin as he snuggles onto Mr. Ed’s back, the horse munching on some hay instead of shaking him off. Shaking your head, you turn back to Alice and ask,

“Alright, what gives?”

She smirks and shakes her head. “Rommel, you know I can have deep introspection also.”

“I suppose, but after just getting onto this boat after a night of fucking over and over…” Your eyes go wide. “Are you pregnant?”

“Gods no.” She chuckles. “I have a potion for that.”

Cocking your head you look at her with genuine surprise. “A Monster would make a potion to PREVENT pregnancy?”

“No, of course not. It’s actually a human invention.” She shakes her head, “Human alchemists are fairly terrible, but ironically they were able to make this okay. Hells, some human medicines are good otherwise and only use things like herbs and such instead of semen as a base. Unfortunately, they try to follow too much of Monster methodology and most fail or become poisons.”

“Huh.” You say, looking out over the water. “I didn’t know that.”

“Heh, well most people don’t trust such things. Why should they when slurping semen works so well?”

“I wouldn’t take you for the type to say no to slurping spunk.”

“While that’s true, it’s not all that’s on my mind.”

Pausing to let her continue, she shakes her head. “Gods, I feel like The Ascendant on that boat ride. You know, the one with-“

“Yeah, I read the book.”

“Yeah, right, right.” She says. “Well, after about the tenth time that manlet unloaded his seed into me, I got to thinking about what I’m doing here. Have I really improved any since meeting with Tabitha? Am I even trying? What is my end goal in all of this?” Looking down at her hand, she grips it into a fist, “I just… wanted to ponder all of this.”

“Have you found any answers?” You ask, genuinely interested.

“Heh, I only just started this little trip of mine but… I don’t know. Thinking back to that failure back in Helmscrag, I’m trying to think about how I could have avoided it. Have I changed at all? I don’t know if I have.” Leaning forward over the rail she sighs, “And even if I do become the best with the sword, what of it? I won’t lie, I love getting fucked as much as the next girl, but sometimes I wonder if it’s time to find the one cock I want to spend my life with.”

Looking over at you she asks, “Do you understand?”

“I… don’t think I want to find a cock I want to spend the rest of my life with but…” Trailing off you find that you do sort of understand, though it’s a little nebulous. Frowning, you say, “I think I do though, questioning what comes after all of this.”

She chuckles, “Not quite, but I saw that look in your eyes. Have you been smitten by someone, hmmm?”

“What? No, of course not.”

“Ohhh?” Alice says, giving you the smuggest of smiles. “Is it Ebe? The girl is crazy for you, you know. She’s got one hells of a body too. If I were a guy I’d fuck her any day. Hells, I’d love to be part of the bread of that manmeat sandwich too-“

“Alice, please.” You say, feeling your cheeks heating. “And no, it’s not Ebe though-“

“Ohhhhhhhhh.” Alice says, eyes sparkling. “It’s NOT Ebe? Then who is it, who, who? You can tell me!”

“I liked you better when you were introspective.” You sigh before turning away from Alice. She wraps her arms around your chest and whispers in your ear,

“Mhm, it’s not me, is it? You know, I might consider you to be the cock I’d spend my life with.”

Groaning, you reach your hand about and touch her nose, channeling some [Ice]. Her nose chills and she yelps, pulling away and sneezing profusely while rubbing at her nose. Shaking your head at her, you walk away with a rather quick step over to Erwin and Mr. Ed. The horse raises his head at you and flicks his tail, awakening your familiar who turns his head to look at you.

{Trouble in paraside, oh Master?}

Grunting, you sit down next to them and set down your staff. {Not you too.}

{Glad to see you’re not taken in by temptation though. Have to stay strong.}

{Strong for what?} You send, frowning at him. He gives you a smug look and you grunt again. {If this is about last night, look things happened and… come on, I’m a Wizard.}

{Yes, and?}

You hold up a hand and pause before looking back down. {Erwin, this is… it’s not right. Women aren’t supposed to be on the thoughts of a Wizard’s mind, they’re just temptations we’re supposed to fight and… and…}

Erwin gives you a sympathetic look. {Ah, I didn’t mean to bother you so much about this. I was just having some fun but… it’s not going to kill you to be honest with yourself.}

{Ugh.} You send back, shaking your head. {I… I’ll think about it.}

{Hey, if it makes you feel better, she seemed pretty eager when I told her you were downstairs last night.}

You don’t need to ask of whom he’s talking. Digging into your [Trenchcoat], you pull out the first thing you find, the [Kuhalik’s Kind Words]. Blinking, you look the item over and then notice the seal placed there by Kuhalik. You could open it and then re-melt the wax on the parchment you suppose, but what are you really going to gain by reading it? Shady as he is, Kuhalik hasn’t betrayed you even though he had plenty of chance to do so. Besides, letting Polah look over this without being molested is probably the best route to go. Nodding your head, you put it away and pull out the [Runic Rubbings].

Reading over them with the [Oculus of Henhotep] you go over the stop that you took a rubbing of. It’s basically as Ebe described it, though with a few more details surprisngly. Whoever made this did NOT like the Apophis and described in detail how the Pharaoh mercilessly slaughtered their followers. Very… graphic.

Turning to the other script, it surprises you how this item works on even Dwarven runes. From what you had guessed before and what Ebe’s Mother told you, most of this described the creature held in the tomb, Hent-ateh. The Dwarven runes of course were out of your league, but now you’re able to read them. They describe more warnings to other dwarves, and explain some of the warding protections upon the tomb. Without being there again you can’t copy the wards themselves, but you do get a good sense of what they were doing there. Using the mana in the land they created a seal that grounded the thing into this world and kept it bereft of power.

Getting some inspiration from this, you recall the [Mana Burst] that Farya taught you. The spell resonates with the other sources of magic and shuts them down, right? Compared to this ward, it’s actually not the same thing at all, but you suspect that it’s based on similar principles, though the resonating with the ambient mana must be because whatever Hent-ateh is, it’s not from this plane of existence and anchoring it like that is a weight.

Thinking about things that way, you wonder if maybe by finding the resonance of something and then using the opposite, you could cancel it out instead of just causing a short circuit? Interesting theory, but you suspect you’d have to keep it channeled to keep the effect as opposed to the momentary burst. Feeling like trying it out, you look around for magical items and then snap your fingers, pulling out some of your friends and creating them into Golems.

Ronnie, Acillis, and Valinthia stand in front of you, awaiting orders. It’s kind of cheating to use your own magic to try this because your know your own frequency, but you want to try it out so whatever. Locking onto the magical signature animating the quartz golem, you pulse a similar burst of magic of toward it with [Mana Burst].

The golem shudders and falls apart, the imbued link to him vanishing in your mind. You try to re-establish the connection and you succeed, making you wonder just how this should last. Probably longer in an enchantment rather than a direct spell. Nodding your head, you turn to Valinthia and lock onto your magical frequency again, but this time you reverse it, channeling that. At first there is some resistance, but the bauxite golem collapses, the magic fading as you keep channeling. Satisfied, you cut off the spell and find a similar effect as the burst.

With trepidation, you perform the same magic on your [Oculus of Henhotep] and find that the enchantment returns shortly after [Mana Burst] and as soon as you stop with the channeling, which you believe you’ll name [Reverse Polarity]. Yeah, that sounds nice.

>You learn [Reverse Polarity]

>By recognizing the magical frequency of a spell, you can reverse it and channel it back, canceling out the spell.

>Effect ends on end of channeling, finding frequency takes time though this is faster with [Mage Sight].

Smiling in satisfaction, you go to put away the golems when some of them fall out of your pocket. Sighing, you figure that making a box to keep them in would be the best course of action. Without much sandstone or other rock around, you look at Ronnie, whom you have much of. Though you’d planned a little something different with Ronnie, you shape him into a box to store the other rocks and look down at the solid container.

Thumping him a few times you realize just how sturdy a box of metal would be. Hells, imagine if you could coat yourself in metal like this all the time. Of course, that would be plate armor, but imagine if you could do it without wearing it. Like a coach or something, or a box! Hmmm.

Rubbing your chin you think this over but find there isn’t terribly much space for this, or raw materials without taking from one of the crates. Besides, being on a boat would make it difficult to try out functionality of such a thing, but it’s certainly worth considering. If you could protect people with this and Sylphie and you could cast spells from it… well, then no one would need to get shot, would they?

You hum to yourself as Erwin yawns and jumps down from Mr. Ed, he walks over to you and sends, {I’m bored.}

{It’s the human condition.} You send back, still going over ideas for this thing in your head. The more you think on it, the more you like it, though Gods above would it be impossible to be stealthy. Would probably be heavy too, so maybe giving it wheels?

{I’m a fox, so that’s vetoed.} Erwin sends. He paws the Ronnie-box. {It’s a box.}

{It’s a metal box.}

Erwin looks all around you and then gives you a flat look. {My, how… novel.}

Sighing, you turn your attention to the fox and say, {Go play around the ship or snuggle with Sylphie, I’m sure she needs someone warm right now.}

{Maybe you should do the same with Tabitha, hmm?}

{Low blow Erwin.}

The fox looks abashed, {You’re right, you’re right, sorry.}

Shaking your head, you look out over the water and remember something from Wizardquest. Rubbing your chin, you ask, “Say, how about we have a little… experience.”

{I don’t like that tone.}

“Come on, it will be fun.” You say, standing up and walking to the aft section of the boat. A few crewmen on breaks stand there, smoking pipes as you approach and you ask them for rope. They give you odd looks and you nod, explaining your plan. As you do, Erwin sends,

{Oh for the love of, do you remember how that played out last time for the Grand Wizard? Not so good! He froze a poor girl’s snatch!}

{Oh come now.} You say, looking out over the water as the men tie the rope for you. {That’s almost certainly not going to happen this time. Besides, we’ve surfed plenty of times.}

{On dry land! Come on Rommel, what if there are Hippogirls down there?}

[Excuse me, are there Hippos here?] You ask in your broken Ectrian. The crewmen look to each other and shrug before shaking their heads. Looking back to Erwin you smirk, {See, we’re fine.}

{If… you say so.} Erwin says as the men fit a little rope on him. Nodding your head, you focus your Cryomancy as you’re lifted over the edge of the rails. Forming ice under you, you anchor yourself as you make a large board and use the limited Hydromancy you have to stabilize that. Once good, you have Erwin lifted down and form a board for him, making little loops for his paws to sit.

“Ready?” You ask the fox, much to the amusement of the sailors.

{G-Guh.} He sends back as you let him go and to the two of you separate and pull back behind the boat.

Both of you drift back and in the wake of the river craft feel the wind whip past you. It’s not as fast as sand surfing, but the uncertainty of the shifting waters makes things more interesting in a way. Using your magic, you get a better feel for manipulating water as well as keeping your board from melting, using the balances together to create an equilibrium. Laughing from a surprising joy of such events, you turn to look at Erwin and find the fox chuckling as he uses his tail like a rudder to allow him to move through the water in elaborate shapes. You hope his paws aren’t hurting from the cold though…

{Fuck you, this is fun!} Erwin sends. {I should bite you for putting me on this board though!}

{The Grand Wizard had a good idea for once!} You send back. {He just didn’t do as much planning as I did!}

{I suppose! Hey, how are we supposed to get back on deck anyway?}

{I’ll call to the deckhands once we’re done.} Turning to look at the men who were cheering you on, you find them absent now. Growing a little worried, you call out and get no reply. Calling out again with an [Amplify], one of them appears in a hurry and shouts what you think is,

[BRACE FOR IMPACT!]

“Eh?” You ask when the ship shudders and comes to a halt. The ropes holding you snap taut before the current forces you into the back of the boat, the two of you slamming into the wood with hard impacts. Feeling dazed, you almost slip off, but manage to hold onto the rough wood of the craft as best as you can. Looking down to Erwin you ask if he’s alright to which he nods in the affirmative, having trouble keeping still.

Freeing his feet, you help him over to your board, creating a wider area of ice for more stability and look around you. The boat is stopped, but isn’t sinking so… it’s dropped anchor? But why? Feeling a little bit of fear in your gut, you push to the side of the boat to see another vessel in front of it. A small skiff of a boat with ladders leading from it to your current vessel. Damnit, brigands already?

Still with Alice on board, there shouldn’t be any concern, so you just need to figure out a way to get onto the boat and-

[HIPPOS!] One of the men from above cries. Blinking in surprise, you look to see a feminine head surface from the water. Two more follow suit and before you know it, three incredibly strong Monsters with almost comically large and muscled legs ending in stubby toes leap out of the water and onto the boat, rocking it fierce shouting is heard above as well as the clash of battle and you groan. Great, not just brigands but these Hippogirls too, and boy do they look angry.

At a time like this you need a plan, need to think of something to get out of this mess.

>What do you-

A powerful hand grabs your leg and you look down into the eyes of a woman with a strong jaw and tiny, animal ears on her head. they waggle once before she lets out an almost bestial cry and rips you off your ice raft and into the water.

The water fills your vision and you blink to see, doing your best to keep from screaming and filling your lungs. Trying to let go, you find the woman refusing to do so, her grip almost feeling like it’s going to break your leg. Try as you might, you’re unable to get out and you’re forced to send a blast of [Ice] into her face, causing her to scream and let you go. Swimming for the surface, you take in a deep breath of air, panting and scrabbling to get back up. Erwin calls something at you to watch out for but before you know it powerful arms wrap around your waist and the Hippogirl says in a rough voice,

[Think you can steal what’s ours? You’re mine big boy.]

You think you get the translation right and she mid water suplexes you back under the waves, almost knocking your unconscious. Feeling a little faint, you open your mouth and cough as water enters your lungs. The rope around your waist snaps as the Hippogirl bites through it with her powerful teeth and you begin to regret your decision. The Monster grabs you again and pulls you above water where you cough for air again before you feel everything rush around. She hoists you over her shoulder and you realize that she’s going to try and take you as a damn mate.

If your lungs didn’t hurt so bad, you’d laugh, but instead you look at Erwin who scampers around the ice platform, not certain what to do. The Hippogirl has you bruised and beaten and above deck there is a mix of brigands and more of these juggernauts of Monstergirls. Regretting ever thinking that anything positive would come out of water skiing, you dredge your thoughts together to the task at hand.

The Hippogirl continues to swim to the bank, taking you farther and farther away from the boat and Erwin. Normally you’d find this a little upsetting, but because of the ache in your back, you feel almost numb in the water. Though you have control of your magic, if you managed to make her drop you here, you might just drown anyway!

Besides, her control in the water vastly outpaces yours. Hydromancy helps, but you doubt you can wield it as well as you’d like, so it may end up being a detriment rather than a benefit for you. Perhaps some electricity would work here? No, while Fulgromancy is fairly easy to perform, the abundant water around you would fry yourself as well as your captor- you don’t think you could pull off an insulation on the fly.

Which means… being dragged to the shoreline. Looking up at Erwin, you give him a bleak smile and then pretend to go limp. The Hippogirl grunts and shakes you violently, making you cry out in pain as she swims to the bank.

[Oh no you don’t! You are going to be awake for this you bastard!]

Gritting your teeth, you writhe in her grasp, which somehow makes her hold you with less force. Gods, this, this was the reason you became a damn Wizard. Feeling a surge of annoyance, and pain, flare through you, you bare it as she pulls you back with both arms.

“Huh- AHHHGGG!” You shout out as she throws you out of the water. Despite being weaker than they were before the Grand Wizard’s quest, some varieties of Monsters are still far, far stronger than a human. Hippogirls it seems, are one of those. One of those who has just thrown you from a river to the bank a distance of at least ten feet.

Needless to say, you hit the ground HARD.

“GAH!” You scream as you land on you back, sending up another shock of pain through your tortured frame. Body wracked with pain, you roll over while gasping for air. Wet, sopping footfalls come from nearby and you stretch your head to see the Hippogirl looming over you.

Only now that she’s out of the water do you realize that she’s entirely naked. Long strands of black hair stick to her bare, shapely chest and you get a good look at the solid rip cords of muscle that are her abs. Though her whole body drips with water, the area between her legs is soaked with fluid that dribbles down to the brown-grey hide of her thick thighs which end in those stubby toes.

Pushing yourself to try and get up, the Hippogirl walks over and grabs your leg, throwing you to your back again. Another flare of pain wracks you and your vision wavers. She leans over you,dripping river water onto your face as she grabs your trousers. With surprisingly dexterous fingers, she undoes your belt and begins to pull down your pants.

Despite the pain, that’s quite enough of that. No, you won’t become some powerless normie if you get raped here but good Gods would you hate yourself. Besides, the longer you’re here, the more trouble your friends are in. Gritting your teeth, you lift a hand and point at the Hippogirl,

“Back off, I’m warning you.”

She promptly backhands you in the face.

Once the stars telling you secrets about Fillios’s underwear collection subside, you find that the Hippogirl has almost entirely taken your pants off. Thankfully you’re not at all turned on by an attractive, powerful woman wanting to be impregnated by you and-oh no wait. You’re getting erect. Fucking hells no more mister nice Wizard.

Without so much as a warning to the Monster, you hold up your hand again and cast [Ice]. While most normal combatants might have gone for the face, or perhaps for the hand, you instead hit the one place you know will have the most effect- you freeze her crotch.

The Hippogirl cries out in alarm and falls back, trying to use her powerful fingers to free herself from the frost. Despite having a moment of relief, you press the attack, casting more of the icy spell, forming an encircling band of ice that you then give spikes. It’s not pretty, but it makes her whine like a horny Hellhound at a dinner party, unable to give her genitals the attention they need.

Picking yourself up, you find yourself wracked by a violent fit of coughs. Gods, you really took a beating there. Thankfully surprise is on your side this time, so you just need to get back to the boat and you can render some aid. For once, you kind of hope Alice has killed all of them because you really need a nap. Able to breathe again, you look toward the boat, your eyes drifting to the Hippogirl for a moment. Thank the Gods that you did, because it allows you to save yourself from getting tackled by the Monster.

Pushing yourself out of the way, you dodge her run, the Monster moving far faster than you’d expect for something of that size. Though her crotch is now dripping with melting ice water instead of other fluids, it seems to have made her angerier than anything. Why couldn’t you have dealt with a demure Cancer, eh? Grand Wizard got all the luck.

[RELEASE ME NOW!] She shouts, or you think she shouts anyway. You’re not drunk enough for this.

[No! You stop!]

[I will not! You will pay with your seed!]

Grunting, you hold up your hand again as she prepares to charge. Not even caring, you fire off more [Ice] and freeze her legs in place, connecting it to her belt of ice with rapid speed. She stumbles and almost falls, but the ice keeps her in place as it grows.

Sighing, you walk past the Monster who is busy shivering and… crying? She reaches out for you, but you’re too far away. Giving her a tired look, you walk past, holding your chest with your hands as every step is painful. Turning and facing her one last time you look to Erwin out near the boat and send, {Are you alright?}

{I should ask the same thing! Also, pull up your damn pants.}

Blinking, you look down and realize your pants are still down. Grunting with effort, you fix the issue and then nod to Erwin. {Alright, let’s get back onto the boat.}

{How? An ice bridge?}

{I don’t think I could climb very well and the effort of raising an ice column like that seems… difficult at the moment.} You concede this to Erwin who grunts.

{Fine then, are you going to just propel yourself through the air and onto the boat.}

{Of course not-} Cutting off mid sentence you think about this. Actually… that’s not half bad. Yes, your Aeromancy isn’t very good, but it should be good enough with your ballistics control to do something like this. A little push on the way down and you’ll have protected yourself as well!

Of course, you could also call out for Ebe, but surprise is on your side while time is not. You can’t hear anything from the boat and the crates make it hard to see what’s happening anyway. With effort, you nod back to Erwin and send, {Alright, you first so you don’t drown.}

{I can swim you idiot.}

{You first anyway.}

Erwin sends up a series of protests as you point your hand at him and then cast [Gust]. Concentrating it on a localized area, a whirlwind appears under the fox that sends him spiraling into the air. Crying out in alarm, the fox flails and heads toward the deck. Before he hits, you cast [Gust] again and catch his fall, allowing him to land gracefully. Of course, he gives you the nastiest look you think he’s ever given you, but he’s safe.

Taking a deep breath, which hurts, you pull back from the bank to get a running start. Mentally preparing yourself, you build up the magics and then when it seems you can’t build up anymore, you run (hobble) forward, jump, and cast [Gust].

At once you begin to understand what Erwin felt as you soar through the air like a Cockatrice. See, that’s funny because they can’t fly and neither can you. Flailing your arms about, you almost forget to cast [Gust] again before you plow face first into the deck. As it stands, you merely hit with a little more force than intended and roll a few times before ending up on your stomach, staring at the planks of the vessel, vision swimming.

Though part of you screams for not using a [Featherfall Potion], the other parts say that it could have gone a lot worse. Groaning, you pick yourself up as Erwin scampers over. Dusting yourself off you cough again, feeling your back even worse than before. You cast a little [Ice] on your back to numb some of the pain as you stand on shaky feet.

{Have fun?}

{Har fucking har.} You send back, wincing. {See anything?}

{Not yet, I’ll go on ahead.}

“Right…” You mutter, moving behind the fox. Erwin darts past crates, stopping as you run into a crewman passed out against one of the crates, a knot on his head. Must have been the brigands. Moving further forward, you begin to hear the sounds of shouting and combat.

Your familiar dashes forward and then pulls back sending, {Woah what the hells! Those Hippogirls are some pieces of work!}

Cocking your head, you hug the crates and look over at the open prow of the ship. Unconscious sailors and potentially dead brigands lay strewn around the deck and about them in a triangle formation are three groups look at each other warily.

One side are your friends and the remaining crew. Ebe and Sophie stands in between the crewmen, a club in Sophie’s hand, though you see her tails trashing under her robe. Ebe pulls back some, ghitar in her hand. On the other side is a motley group dressed in various desert robes with a Lamia at the head, all of them carrying various weapons and a few nets. They look nervously between the crew and the last group, which is comprised of three Hippogirls. These Monsters have their arms crossed, looking out over the other two groups as a few crewman and a brigand or two lay strewn out around them.

In the center of it all though is Alice, kneeling on the deck, panting. Her hair is loose and covered with sweat while her robe is gone, revealing her breastplate which is dented. She looks up and toward the Hippogirls, her sword glowing faintly as she grunts and rises, holding her sword in stance.

“Well?” She asks, gritting her teeth. “You want to try that again?”

[We can’t understand you.] The lead Hippogirl, a blonde woman who is somehow even more muscular than the one you trapped on the bank.

[She said try that again!] Ebe shouts, much to the ire of the Hippogirl.

The Monster grunts and says, [Where are they? Give us back what you took and we will leave!]

“What did she say, bird-brain?” Alice asks, to which Ebe translates. The Swordswoman spits and says, “Tell her that we just got on this damn boat and don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe they should ask snaketits over there?”

Ebe translates this at which point the Lamia hisses and rises up, [We are here to appropriate your ill-gotten goods! The Cult of the Violet Sands demands you return what you stole from them and turn over the rest of your cargo as payment to the people!]

The Hippogirl brays, [We don’t care who takes what, we just want what was stolen from us!]

Alice puts her hands to her head and cries out, “Why can’t people speak a civilized languaaaaage?!”

{Erwin.} You send to your familiar. {What are they talking about? We couldn’t have stolen anything, could we?}

{I don’t know, unless the smugglers are bringing in something that belonged to the Hippogirls? But why would the cultists be helping them then? Aren’t they usually… not into that sort of thing?}

{I didn’t think so but… I’ve been surprised before.} Frowning, you look out again as Ebe translates something for Alice again.

“Seriously, tell us what we supposedly stole. I don’t even like these people, we’re just passengers.”

[You dare mock us like this? You know damn well you stole our children!]

Ebe stutters as she translates, and Alice blinks her eyes in wide surprise. “You ah… wow. Holy hells, I’m sorry to hear that.” Turning her head to the crew, she asks, “Hey, you guys aren’t smuggling Hippogirls, are you?” They shake their heads with what can only be described as “mortal terror.”

Ebe hesitantly translates this, which only enrages the Hippogirl. Looking out over at the Lamia and crew, you frown as you watch one of the men in the group quirk a smile before hiding it again. The leader herself stays as stone but you can tell there is a certain wariness in there, as if she’s appraising the situation to see whether or not to turn tail or stick it out.

Planks crack as the lead Hippo stomps on the deck, building up a fervor. The Hippos around her do the same and you know what in mere moments she’ll charge. One of them Alice could probably take on, but three charging? Again, probably get out alright, but the dagger in that Lamia’s hand seems wickedly sharp and poised to kill your companion at a moment’s notice.

Things sit on a knife’s edge at the moment. If you’re really in the wrong here then how can you justify things? But if you’re being set up somehow can you really escape conflict anyway? Losing anymore crew will severely hamper your progress forward and losing the vessel entirely may make it impossible to enter the capital! Imagine if you traveled to Ectria by boat, you bet this shit would be happening every day.

Man, your back really hurts.

Something about this doesn’t sit right with you. Stolen children? The Violet Sands being so open about things? Asshole McGee smirking over in the corner?

{Erwin.} You send to your familiar. {You didn’t smell anything like children or any other kind of slave onboard, did you?}

{No, although some of the crates are filled with rather pungent spices likely on the way to the capital… but it seems so absurd that there would be children hiding in those, especially Hippogirls! Besides, why take them to that city and then smuggle them? Why not just put them below deck if you want to hide them from sight?}

He mentally chuffs, {Slavery isn’t exactly frowned upon here, so who would care?}

Frowning, you think over the same thing. Maybe the sailors knew your group didn’t think highly of slavery? You kind of doubt that Kuhalik would care that much about you group to find that information and tell them, especially as he didn’t seem to recognize you. Either that, or he’s damn good at lying.

{Erwin, go down below deck and get Tabitha, we may need her help.}

{Yeeeeah, I’m not certain that’s a good idea.} He sends back. When you question him he responds, {Why isn’t she here already? You’re kind of dense sometimes.}

{Just… go get her. I’ll handle things here.}

{Alright, alright, just send for me if you need me.} He sends, scampering off down the stairs to the lower deck.

Turning your attention back to the scene before you, you notice Alice standing taller, sword at her side as she watches both sides. Her main attention is on the Hippogirls, but you can tell she’s positioned to watch the “cultists” as well. The [Aliph’s Sigil] weighs heavily in your pocket as you grip your hand around it. Should you come out with it and make them back down?

No, that would ruin your surprise, which is all you have going for you. You’re not certain you could take another of those Hippogirls without killing them, and even then they move damn quickly. You’d need to be positioned beforehand in case anything happens. If only you could be in multiple place- Ah, you can.

Sending out Greg, Valinthia, and Phallia, each linked for an [Arc Node], they make their way around the crates and other cargo, hiding from sight as this standoff continues. You can almost see the sweat coming from the sailor’s heads as they watch in tense worry. Well, never mind, you’ll do something here in a moment, because you’ve figured it out.

Fuck all of it. You know damn well (probably) that there aren’t any children on this vessel and you damn well are sick of being put up to this shit. So far being up front and honest with your annoyance hasn’t failed, so why would it fail now? Beats direct combat and if they want that then fuck them, they’re the ones who asked for it.

Gathering a few pieces of Ronnie in your hand, you cast [Audio Tap] on a point behind the cultists and reverse it for <Vox Caster> before waiting and watching.

[I’m getting sick of waiting!] One of the Hippogirls says. [My little Ahliaya! Give her back to me!]

Alice frowns, “Bless you?”

The Hipoogirl gives even more irate and looks like she’s about to snap. Over on the other side the Lamia shakes her head. [Pathetic. Insulting them after this. Surrender now and spare yourself the pain.]

Ebe translates to which Alice sighs, “Oh come on, there aren’t any children on this damn ship! Right captain?”

The man next to her blinks in confusion before Ebe translates. He holds up his hands and shakes his head in the negative. [No! We are not transporting slaves!]

[SLAVES?!] The lead Hippogirl shouts, [THEY ARE OUR CHILDREN!]

[We don’t have them!] The captain says back, clearly terrified. This only makes the Hippos angrier. Seeing the flash of animosity in the Hippogirl’s eyes you figure it’s about time to end this farce. Or perhaps you’re just going to create a new one.

From your <Vox Caster> you send out, channeling all of your annoyance, [ALRIGHT THAT’S ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT!]

The effect is immediate and if your ribs didn’t hurt so much you’d laugh. The bandits flip about, looking for the source in panic while the Hippogirls bray and shout in challenge, looking for signs of intruders as well. The sailors as well seem terrified, while Ebe and Sophie look at each other with a sense of relief. Alice is about the only one to look dumbfounded, staring around while scratching her head and asking, “Eh? What did he say?”

[Show yourself!] The Lamia hisses, her features intent upon the spot where you’re projecting from. Well, you suspect she would be with that famous Lamia hearing. Oh no wait, that was the tongue thing. Regardless, you continue using your broken Ectrian to say,

[Laughing man. What is funny?]

The man who smirked before looks at where his leader is with an ashen face. The Lamia looks at him with a cool expression and he licks his lips before saying, [Wh-what are you talking about?]

A loud crack thunders behind the man and he jumps while screaming as a [Lightning Bolt] hits the deck next to him. Phallia fades back into her hiding place after arcing your spell and you continue, [Don’t lie.]

[N-Nothing! I wasn’t laughing at nothing!] He says, visibly afraid. He turns to his leader who narrows her eyes. Licking his lips he steps behind her. Rolling her eyes she hisses,

[Show yourself, sorcerer. Your tricks won’t work here.]

[Tricks? You want talk tricks? No children on boat!]

[Lies!]

[So is you being Violet Sands!]

The Lamia hesitates then and then narrows her eyes before turning back to the group before her. Hissing, she shouts to the Hippogirls, [They are trying to trick! Attack them before they hurt your children!]

[What?!] The Lead Hippogirl shouts. [GRAAAAAH!]

Stamping her feet on the ground she charges at Alice, the other two behind her. Cursing at yourself for your hand being forced, you walk out from hiding and cast [Ice]. A layer of frost covers the deck, causing the desert creatures to slip on the alien substance. They cry out and crash to the planks, sliding toward Alice who leaps over them and lands with surprising grace despite her flailing feet at the end. The side effect of your cast is that the sliding Hippogirls bowl directly into the sailors and your friends who try to leap out of the way.

Ebe takes to the air while Sophie attempts to dodge. Her foot gets clipped by one of the Hippogirls and she gasps before being slammed into the railing along with two of the sailors. You curse yourself as it happens, but your attention is pulled back elsewhere as something flashes in your peripheral vision. Gasping, you hold up your staff and a solid “thunk” is heard before an inch away from your eye appears the point of a blade.

Looking up, you notice the Lamia giving you a cool expression, her hand going to her belt for another throwing knife. Gritting your teeth in anger, you start walking toward her, knife still in the staff. The other bandits around her look at you with some panic, but at a hissed word from her, they stand up a little straighter. With a careful hand, she throws the blade at you, the path a little less easy to notice this time.

Not that it matters, you watch as she prepares and raise your staff to use your [Metallurgy] to stop the dagger in mid-air. The weapon hovering before you, you continue forward, implacable as you slowly flip the blade to point at her. The Lamia licks her lips and gives you a cold expression as you send the dagger back at her.

The blade embeds itself in the deck in front of the Lamia, who doesn’t flinch as it’s obvious where it was going. Still, it allows you enough time to get close enough to her that if you need to fire, you can without her reaching you, despite Lamia’s great reach with their tails. Giving her a cold expression you watch out of the corner of your eye as Tabitha helps get Sophie away from the Hippogirls, the Monsters still flailing on the ground. You have a little bit of time to resolve this before going back to them.

[I am sick of shit. Who are you?]

[We are Violet Sands.]

Grunting, you drop the rocks in your pocket and pull out [Aliph’s Sigil]. Narrowing your eyes you say, [What is this then?]

[What does that trinket matter?] She replies, eyes seeming not to recognize the item.

Nodding your head, you put the item back into your pocket. Yep, looks like your hunch was correct. Taking a deep breath, you hold out your hand and then point at the man who chuckled before, casting [Gust] at him. He cries out in panic as the blast of air catches him from his feet and hurls him overboard and into the river. Snapping your gaze back to the Lamia you hiss, [Do not LIE to me.]

[How DARE you!] She hisses back. [I should kill you!]

Digging in your pocket for Ronnie again, you hold up the pieces and say,[This will kill you. Pain. Much Pain. If lucky.]Looking supremely annoyed and intimidating you say, [Where are children?]

The Lamia’s gaze flicks to something behind you and she smirks, [Who cares what we did with them, you’re about to be irrelevant.]

Not entirely certain what that last word was, you don’t get the chance to ask before Ebe cries out and you turn your head to see a Hippogirl bum rush you. You’re unable to stop her in time and she catches you, barreling you into the railing and making your vision go black for a second as the pain overwhelms you. Head swirling, you look back up to see the form of the naked and violently angry lead Hippo over you, grabbing your shirt and thrusting you against the railing, denting it even further with your soft, squishy body.

[Yes! He stole your children and hid them from you!] The Lamia laughs! [Take care of him while we look for your children.]

The lead Hippogirl shouts in your face [WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?]

She shakes you violently as you cough out, [The Lamia! She is lying!]

[She told us where they were! You are thieves and liars! Where are they?]

[Check ship. Please believe. Never would steal children.]

The Hippogirl growls, [I have been lied to before by man. I will break you.]

[Don’t make me hurt.] You say, getting your bearings back. Holding your hand up to her muscled chest, you touch a piece of Ronnie to her flesh and power your magic around it. [Please. Stop.]

The Hippogirl’s eyes go wide before she narrows them and then snarls before throwing you across the deck. Hitting hard, you crumple as you try to get up the first time, managing it with help from your staff. The Monster looks at you with a piteous expression before turning and surveying the situation before her.

Alice, who had been helping Sophie doesn’t notice as a net gets throwing over her, making her struggle and drop her sword. She shouts a string of profanities understandable in any language before a man clubs her over the head. Sophie shouts at them as a Hippogirl tackles her to the ground, pinning her in place. Ebe, circling in the air, tries to swoop down and help, but ends up having to dodge as the Lamia throws another knife at her. Gulping, she flies back into the air in alarm.

Feeling faint, you push yourself up as everything starts to go wrong. The Lamia gives you a cool look before looking at her knives and shrugs, figuring it’s not worth sending it at you. Instead she pulls Alice up by her scalp as the other bandits subdue the crew alongside the Hippogirls. You reach for your magic but find it difficult to focus with the pain and disorientation. Shit… if only Tabitha were here.

{Erwin} You send, mind foggy. {Erwin, where are you? Where is Tabitha?}

{I told you! She’s not coming!}

{Why Erwin? Why? We need her!}

{I’m sorry, Sylphie tried to come on deck too but she’s in no state either. I’ll be there soon, I promise!}

“Tabitha…” You mutter to yourself. You knew she was afraid of the water, but what could be so terrifying that she couldn’t come up here and help? She did it before, when she was younger, so why not now?!

Looking back to the situation at hand, you take a few, shaky breaths and try to gather your thoughts. Magic… you need magic to-

[They are stopped. Where are the children?] The lead Hippogirl asks of the Lamia who still holds Alice hostage.

[Hmm? Oh, they are? Good.] The Lamia says before nodding to her remaining brigands. [Go secure the cargo. We might as well take this vessel too since it went so well. We have some good slaves to sell also! Ah if only they didn’t fight.]

She turns to go but the Hippogirl grabs her shoulder and spins her around. [Where. Is. My. Daughter.]

[Oh. That.] The Lamia says nodding her head. [I lied.] At that she takes the large dagger in her hand and slams it into the chest of the Hippogirl.

The Monster staggers backward, looking down at the wound in her chest. She begins to say something but falls to the ground as a pool of blood appears around her.

The other two Hippogirls cry out in alarm but nets get tossed over them (and Sophie) and they get beaten as well until they go unconscious. All of this happens to the laughter of the Lamia who holds back her head and laughs like some stereotypical Eastern Theatre villain. Even her allies seem a little disconcerted, but to all intents and purposes, she won. She tricked everyone and won, everything went according to plan.

Except for one thing. She didn’t kill you and let you watch this happen.

Anger flushes over you at what you see. Visions of Monsters callously taking what they please, stealing away not only property but lives flash before you. Feeling far from hale and with only anger to sustain you, you stagger to your feet and, with the help of your staff, shout out to the Lamia,

“I WARNED YOU!”

[What? I can’t undestand-] The Lamia says before a piece of Ronnie flies at her skull. Unfortunately, just as your magic can intercept metal, she can dodge… metal. The pebble of iron sails into the distance as her whipcord body bends and dodges. Hissing, she  whips back to you and shouts at her men, four left in decent condition, to charge you.

Feeling good about charging a man who can barely stand, they do so, running at you with nets and clubs. Though feeling faint, you shout in angry Deleorian at the men before sweeping your hand and stumbling to the ground as you do so. A wave of [Razor Wind] flashes out before you and the men cry out as their legs are torn to bloody ribbons from the deadly air.

Sadly, you knew this was just a ruse. The Lamia used the sacrifice of her men to dash at you, grabbing a club from one of the fallen men and charging at you, weapon held high. She gets maybe fifteen feet from you when a shadow falls over her. She blinks and turns around in time for the other thing she forget to crash down upon her, driving her down into the planks.

[THAT’S ENOUGH!] Ebe shouts, her talons holding the Lamia the deck. The Monster tries to worm out of it, but Ebe’s powerful legs keep her in place the as Ghandharva lifts the guitar gifted to her by Sveth in the air. The rock-solid instrument seems almost light in her wings, but she brings it down into the back of the Lamia with enough force that the Monster gives one gasp of agonized pain before passing out onto the deck.

Panting with effort, Ebe looks up at you, wild-eyed. You give her a tired look and smile before saying, “I didn’t… know you played the drums.”

Falling to the deck with a grunt of pain, Ebe drops the guitar and rushes to help you up as Erwin arrives, looking aghast at the situation. {Holy hells, are you alright?}

{No, I’m not alright.} You send, feeling weak. {But I don’t think I’m bleeding anywhere, we need to help that Hippogirl if we can.}

{What? Why?}

{They were tricked like the rest of us. Come on lets-} You cut off as you cough violently. Ebe whispers some soothing words in your ears and you feel some tension leak away as she does. Damnit Ebe, you need to do things right now, not take a nap.

“Rommel, you need to rest. Let me and Erwin handle this, okay?”

“I… I can’t…” You mutter to yourself as the Ghandharva practically drags you to the stairs. She gulps and with some effort gets you downstairs. She’s sweating as she leads you to the nearest cabin, finding it occupied by Tabitha.

Looking up at the Lizardman, you’re vaguely aware of her sitting against the wall, arms wrapped around her legs and sword on the bed. She looks over at you with wide eyes and says, “Oh Gods… Rommel, I didn’t-” Her expression turns to horror and she looks down, putting her hands to her head. “I let it happen again!”

“W-wha-?” You begin before coughing again. Ebe hurriedly lays you down on one of the cots in the tiny room and holds you as you start coughing harder. She calls for Tabitha to help, but the Lizardman just stares at her for a moment before blinking and heading over to you, helping hold you down as it passes. You take a few, stabilizing breaths before nodding your head back against the makeshift pillow.

“I’m going back up there, please stay with him.” Ebe says, nodding to Tabitha before leaving the room without a word. The Lizardman looks at her with panic, an emotion you thought you’d never see on her face before she looks at you with a piteous expression. Her mouth works without sound before she takes a shuddering breath, closes her eyes, and whispers,

“I’m sorry. After everything you said last night, and I do this.”

“T-Tabitha.” You say back, feeling parched. She looks at you and seems to get the message, pulling out a canteen and giving you some water, which feels heavenly. Sighing after the refreshment, you lean back and ask, “What happened?”

“I…” She begins but looks away, expression ashamed. “I thought I’d gotten over this, but…” Unable to finish the sentence she takes another deep breath and says, “I’ll tell you after you’ve rested, alright?”

“Tabitha…” You say feeling very tired. “Are you going up?”

She tenses and says, “Maybe I could just look after…you…” She trails off and looks down, consternation on her face before she grips her hands and stands up. “No, no I’ll go up and help. I’m sorry.” Before you can say anything else she turns around and heads out of the small room, leaving alone and tired. Very tired in fact. Actually, so tired that a good nap is warranted and-

————————————–

You awaken a few hours later to Sylphie gently rubbing your shoulder. Your eyes flutter open and you look up at her with confusion before the pain returns and you grunt as the muscles in your back tense up. She puts a hand on your arm to stabilize you, wincing herself for the effort.

“Hey, hey. It’s nightfall, are you alright?”

“No.” You say, feeling parched again. You ask and she brings you some water to which you sit up with some effort and drink. Grunting you say, “What’s going on?”

“Ebe and Tabitha got Sophie awake and they tied up the brigands. The Hippogirls are out but the leader is alive. Seems not even a dagger in the chest is enough to kill one of them, though the one you dealt with earlier came aboard and is helping.” She sighs and sits back, “Most of the crew is down though, no one is dead it seems, which is a blessing, but they aren’t in fit shape to sail this boat tonight. The captain will see to tomorrow though.”

“I see.” You say, rubbing your chest. “What about you?”

“Oh, well. I wanted to help, I really did but my arm and…” She shakes her head, “I’m embarrassed to say but I get seasick very easily. I don’t so much fear the water as I have a difficult time not being bedridden. As it stands I’m not doing so well but… I figured I could at least talk to you.”

“So that’s why you didn’t want to get to the port.”

“We did pretty good overland!” She sniffs.

“Hmph. Where is everyone?”

“Erwin is looking after the brigands and Ebe is tending to the sailors. I think the Lamia is awake but we’re not certain what to do with her at the moment. The Hippogirls probably won’t be too happy with them when they awaken.”

“No, I imagine not.” You look around and ask, “Where is Tabitha?”

Sylphie looks down, “She… she’s in the room I was in.” The Cat o’Ninetails hesitates before saying, “I knew she was afraid of boats but I never guessed… I don’t even think Dad knows why it’s like this.”

“I see.” You say, frowning. She moved rooms? Why? Did she not want to be near you? Frowning, you look up as Sylphie claps and then winces.

“Oww. Oh, Sophie made dinner in the galley. I’ll get you some.”

“Thanks but I’ll do it myself.” You say, standing on wobbly legs. Taking a deep breath you say, “I should probably see what’s going on for myself.”

“Don’t overdo it.” Sylphie says, looking at you with worry. “You’re not invincible.”

Chuckling, though it leads to a little coughing, you retort, “Sylphie, I think I know that.”

“Do you?” She whispers before shaking her head. “Anyway, let me know if you need anything. I think I’m going to lie down for a bit. Calm my damn stomach.” She puts a hand to her mouth and then takes in a deep breath before leaving you alone again in the room.

Rubbing at your head you sigh out. This was supposed to be a simple boat ride and now this. Brigands masquerading as Violet Sands cultists, Hippogirls with stolen children, and a traumatized Lizardman? That’s not to mention your own injuries, which you feel utterly foolish for allowing to happen. But… causalities were to a minimum. Maybe the price was worth it for you staying your hand. Of course, you only have so much patience.

No rest for the weary you suppose. Which is probably fine given the fact that you can’t just lie about in bed all evening like some normal person. That just wouldn’t be feasible in most situations for you these days.

On a more serious note, you are a little worried about the events that just occurred. As far as you’re concerned there are three things you really need to address at the moment, and while all are fairly important, you figure you might as well get the most physically taxing out of the way while you’re still (relatively) fresh from bed.

“Where are the brigands being kept?” You ask Sylphie who blinks at you.

“Oh, they’re upstairs, didn’t want to keep them below deck due to the lack of space.” Nodding out to the hallway she grunts and puts a hand to her stomach. Looking up at you she blushes, “Uhm… if you don’t mind leaving I couldn’t use a little ah- well.”

“I understand.” Standing up, you give her a soft rub on the head before turning to go. She sighs and it seems some of the tension leaves her as you do so. These hands of yours… Taking your staff, you wince as a twinge of pain goes through your body from your injuries. Damnit this is going to be annoying going forward.

With a sigh, you continue outside and upstairs to find yourself under the night sky. Basking in the cool, desert air, the accumulated sweat of your exertions cools you down and you almost feel cold, a sensation you never really thought you’d feel again. Walking past the crates which loom around you, illuminated by the moonlight, you come to the foredeck to find the bandits tied up. Most of the men are tied together and unconscious while the Lamia is tied so firmly that you’d think she was a hog on the way to slaughter. On closer inspection under the lantern of one of the crew do you notice that the ropes are not tied in a normal pattern. Why would someone put such emphasis on tying the ropes around her breasts?

As you approach one of the men swings a lantern over to illuminate you. He nods his head as you’re recognized and he directs you to someone standing near the prisoners. Alice and Ebe turn to you, the former rubbing a bruise on her head while the latter lets out a sigh of relief before walking over to you and giving you a hug.

“Rommel, good to see you’re walking around but…” She looks a little hesitant, “Shouldn’t you be resting though? I’m sorry I couldn’t help you out sooner and you had to get hurt like that and-“

You cut her off by placing a hand atop her head. Her eyes go wide as your fingers begin their dark work. As you course through her hair, her breathing increases and her body shivers. Though you should be hurting as you do this, you feel nothing but a simple calm. Ebe lets out a little squeak as you run past her ears and you say, “You did really good today Ebe. You saved me and everyone here with your quick thinking.”

“I-I didn’t d-do anything.” She mutters, words half hearted as her eyes flutter. “I j-just hit her with my guitar.”

“Yes, and it made a very satisfying ‘kabong.'” You say. Hand moving a little firmer, she shudders and lets out a little gasp, melting into your hand as you pat. This is dangerous, what you’re doing here. If you’re not careful you might even become used to this, using your hands to make women into pat sluts. Well, that’s going a little far actually, but damn does Ebe seem to really love this.

When her legs begin to quake, you slide your hand down her cheek and cup her chin, giving her a little scratch under there before pulling away. Her eyes flutter open and she blinks at you, a little confused. Ah well, maybe that last part would have worked really well on the twins. Looking down, her cheeks heat up and she stutters, “T-Thank you.”

“That was a reward, no need to thank me.” You say, nodding your head. “I just hope I can count on you in the future if something like this happens again.”

She beams and says, “Yes!”

“Ahem.”

Looking over to the side, you see Alice standing there, a look of annoyance on her face. Puffing out her cheeks, she says, “Geez, get a room you two. It’s like you made love to her head or something. I think she even came a little.”

“N-No I didn’t!” Ebe says, a little too quickly.

“Yeah… anyway. Did you come just for that Rommel? It’s sweet but you really should go to sleep again, you look like shit.”

“I could say the same to you.”

Alice gives you a cheeky smile before sighing. “Ah I’m too tired for this.” Looking over at the captives she sighs, “Those hippos are going to utterly murder them when they awaken.”

“I heard the leader is alive. Who healed her?”

“Ah, seems one of the crewman was a mundane surgeon of sorts, was able to just pull that knife out and stitch her up. Bitch stopped bleeding pretty quickly, all things considered, though we’re not really certain what’s going on in the inside, though…” She points to another part of the deck where the three Hippogirls sleep. The leader lays on her back, breathing with a fair regularity all things considered. A man sits next to her, talking with another Hippogirl who looks at the others with worry. On closer inspection it’s the one you froze before, though she does have some clothing on which seems tight over her frame, but keeps her more modest even though you can see the entire definition of her breasts. She notices you and narrows her eyes before nodding her head slowly and then looking down with a blush on her face.

“Anyway.” Alice continues. “I don’t think the fully situation has been explained to her, she’s probably waiting for her leader to wake up. They are kind of slow you know.” She nods her head, not caring how loud she is.

“I see.” Looking over at the tied up Lamia you feel a deep sense of anger well up inside you. It might be time to get to the bottom of all of this. Looking over to Ebe you say to her, “Please go downstairs and look after Sylphie, she’s not feeling too good.”

The Ghandharva blinks and asks, “What? Why all of a sudden?”

“Because I’m not sure I want you to see what I’m going to do here.”

Ebe blanches and looks away before taking a deep breath and standing firm. “No. I’ll be here. You might need a trans-ah who am I kidding, you WILL need a translator.”

“Ebe-” You begin before being cut off as Alice puts a hand on your shoulder and shakes her head.

“She’s resolved to it. She’s not a child.”

Looking at the swordswoman with concern for a moment you then nod your head and say, “Alright but… this isn’t going to be pretty.”

“It’s fine.” She says, with only a little trepidation.

Walking over to the captives, your friends in tow, you stop before the Lamia and the others and plant your staff on the planks with enough force (and a little audiomancy) to make her jump, as well as some of the present brigands who look about in startled confusion.

[What do you want?] She hisses, looking a mix of angry, tired, and a little embarrassed. Seriously, who tied those ropes, they’re pressing her clothing into her so tight that it accentuates her curves. You get a deep feeling that this is actually very sexual in nature and when you look over to Alice she has a shit-eating grin on her face.

Shaking your head, you begin to speak and Ebe rolls her eyes before translating for you, forcing you to switch back to Deleorian, which is easier anyway.

“Where are the children?”

[I don’t know what you’re talking about.]

Hanging your head, you rub your temples before saying in a slow, deliberate voice. “You are going to tell me what I want to know or we’re going to play a game here. I’m not so certain you want to play this game.”

When Ebe finishes translating, the tied up brigands look to their leader with nervous eyes. She narrows her own and hisses, [Do what you will.]

Sighing, you pull Dante out of your pocket and gingerly apply magic through him, breaking off small pieces of the [Obsidian]. The volcanic glass swirls around your hand as your magic carries it until you place the shards on the cheek of one of the bound brigands who begins to sweat. Looking over at the leader, you say, “I’m sure you’re thinking, what could he do that the Hippos wouldn’t do? They can break your bones, rape you into submission, drown you, or even take you as captives. What do I have to fear from a Wizard of all things?”

At the mention of the word Wizard, some of the men grow frightened while the Lamia’s eyes narrow further. Choosing not to acknowledge this, you continue. “You see, I’m tired of letting slavers get away. I’m tired of being nice to you scum, and I’m tired of doing things in a polite way. You have one chance to tell me why you attacked, where the children are, and why you were impersonating the Cult of the Violet Sands.”

Flicking your wrist, the piece of Donte digs into the man’s flesh and he lets out a chocked cry as it slices through his skin, leaving a shallow, but bloody trail. “Failure to do so will lead to one lucky slaver being tickled by Dante until they can’t ‘giggle’ any longer. Do you understand?”

The Lamia hesitates before hissing with no content.

As if eager to feed on the blood of a slaver, the rock digs further into the man’s skin, dragging greater furrows and eliciting a cry of pain. The men near him try to back away as bloody rents are formed in his skin, but find they cannot move anywhere. You merely stand there, looming over them and watching as your friend goes about his gruesome work. Alice stands stoic beside you while Ebe does her best to keep from blanching. The nearby crewmen also look a little perturbed, but they keep it to themselves.

The right side of the man’s face a bloody ruin, he pants and shudders, blood dripping down onto the ropes as he begins to cry. You don’t even bother to ask him where the children are, he’ll tell you if he knows. Using Donte, you cut open his shirt and expose his bare, muscular chest. Grunting, you take the rock and begin the process again, this time on his chest.

By this point, everyone is watching you and you’re growing a little inured to it. The silence from the other bandits is more unnerving to them than the bloody work you’re doing and you know they’ll all be wondering if their next. Once you’ve written the word, “Slaver” onto his chest in bloody furrows, you sigh and step back, holding the blood covered rock in your hand, the black edges gleaming red in the firelight.

The man looks at you, panting and crying, his lips quivering. Narrowing your eyes you say to him, “Last chance before we end this.”

His mouth works pitifully but he eventually looks down, weeping. Feeling disgusted with yourself, yet even more-so disgusted with him, you shatter Dante with your magic into a storm of particles which you maintain with [Flurry]. The man looks at you with wide eyes, seeming to know what’s going to happen. He opens his mouth to scream as you fling the particles at him, which unfortunately just makes things all the worse.

Bits and pieces of razor sharp volcanic glass shred the man’s insides apart, and he vomits a mixture of blood and obsidian, his cries turning into garbled chokes as he dies possibly the most gruesome death you could wish upon someone. The men next to him scream in panic and pain as errant pieces scratch their skin as well until you recall the pieces to you, forming them back together into a whole. Looking down at the man, he lets out one final, bloody cough, and dies.

Sufficiently terrified, the men sitting next to him begin to cry also, speaking so quickly you can’t hear it all. Holding up a hand, they stop, looking at you with wild eyes and you point to one of them, the man who was smirking before. Gesturing at him, he says,

[We took them! We took the children, oh Twins. She told us we were to use them for leverage, to get the Hippos to listen to us so we could take the cargo! We’re not of the Violet Sands, we’re just thieves- though they have caused us trouble and- oh Twins please don’t hurt me!]

He breaks out weeping and you bed down in front of him to say, “Thank you for your honesty. Now then where are you keeping them?”

[The hideout! They’re at the hideout!]

[SILENCE YOU FOOL!] The Lamia hisses, her face wracked with anger. [YOU COWARD!]

“Where is your hideout. How many others are there?”

[D-Down the tributary up the fork! O-Our boss is present, she’s also a Lamia! The children are there, oh Twins we were just going to take some cargo!]

“I see.” You say, nodding to the man. “What will happen when you don’t return to your hideout?”

[T-They might come looking for us and-] He cuts off and blanches, [W-what do you mean, not return?]

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. A Wizard is faithful, one hundred percent.” As Ebe translates this, you pull Ronnie out of your bag as soon as she finishes, you shoot him into the man’s skull. Everyone gasps in surprise, except for the other brigands who look at him with shock. Unfortunately for them, this pause allows you to complete the grisly work with each one of them, leaving their sagging corpses tied together. Retrieving Ronnie you turn to the Lamia who thrashes on the ground, her eyes wild with fear and rage.

“You should have been more accommodating.” You say. When Ebe doesn’t translate you sigh and continue. “I don’t care if you can’t understand me. I don’t care if the Hippogirls want to destroy you either, I only care that you’re not going to hurt anyone any longer.”

[NOOOOO!] She screams as the piece of iron lodges itself between her eyes, and then the light dies from them. Her body slumps to the deck as the sounds of the night river play around you. Retrieving your friend, you place him into your pocket and sigh before turning to the crewman. [Throw off.]

He blinks at you a few times before getting the message and gathering up a few more men, and the awakened Hippogirl to throw them overboard. You watch the grisly work before turning to Alice and saying, “What’s done is done. We won’t have another Nane on our hands.”

She nods her head, understanding, and flicks her gaze to Ebe. The Ghandharva looks at the men tossing the brigands overboard with hollow eyes. Sighing, the swordswoman taps your shoulder and says, “You’d best go downstairs and get some food. I’ll take care of her.”

“Yeah.” You say, feeling emotionally exhausted. “You’re right.”

Giving one last look to Ebe, you feel it would be best to leave things. Heading back downstairs, you stop as you pass by the room Sylphie was in before. Leaning close, you can’t hear anything through the door, but you wonder if Tabitha is inside. Feeling a growing tension in your chest, you turn back toward the galley.

The galley is small but has decent enough seats for the crew. A range sits over in the corner behind a counter where Sophie sits, leaning on an elbow and sighing while stirring a pot. She looks when you walk in and says, “Oh, hello there Rommel.”

“Good evening.” You say, tired. She furrows her brow at you and says,

“You look even worse than I expected. Did they hit you that hard?”

“Yes, and no.” You sigh. “I just executed the slavers.”

“Oh.” She says in a quiet voice, understanding. An awkward silence pervades the galley, you two being the only ones there. Sophie is the first to break it, looking up at you and saying, “You must be hungry, I made a stew from what they had here along with some bread from the port.”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, right.” You say, feeling famished. She walks over to you with a bowl and some fresh bread-not hard to come by considering that it’s a river boat and you aren’t expected to be gone for terribly long periods of time unlike a sea vessel.

Looking down at the bowl, you smell the rich scents eminating from it and your mouth begins to water. Looking up at her you say, “I’m sure the cook wasn’t too keen on you upstaging him like this.”

“The cook has a concussion, and he’ll get over it later.” She says, waving a spoon. “Besides, do you know how many marriage proposals I got down here? Clearly they haven’t had a beautiful woman cook for them in ages, I’m doing wonders for moral.”

“Hah, right… right.” Your laughter trails off as the morose feeling comes over you again. Stirring around the stew you ask, “Has Tabitha eaten?”

“Tabitha? No, she hasn’t yet that I know of. She was on deck for abit when I was first waking up, helping tie up the brigands but didn’t stay long.” Sighing, Sophie says, “She isn’t… terribly find of boats.”

“I know.” You say, furrowing your brow. “Do you know what happened to her?”

“Beyond what’s in my Father’s book, no. It’s a touchy subject and we never found a reason to ask her. I suspect it’s something very important considering how radically different she acts about it though.”

“She didn’t look so good when I first saw her, was shaking and just… I don’t think it’s right to just leave her alone like that.”

Sophie looks at you with a warm expression. She gives you a soft smile and then walks over to the pot, readying another bowl with some bread and a hands over a flask of something.

“I understand.” She says, nodding her head. “You take care of her, okay?”

“I… yeah.” You reply, looking a little skeptical. What did she mean by take care of her? Looking down at all the food, you manage to hold it all, though Sophie takes your staff from you. Nodding your head gratefully you stand to go and ask her, “About Sylphie…”

“It was her choice, and I don’t blame you. We’ll just have to live with it is all.” Sighing, she looks back to you and smiles, “Now then go to her.”

Turning from her, you head down the hallway, moving in time with the gentle swaying of the boat until you arrive before her door. Knocking on it with your foot you ask, “Tabitha, are you in there?”

Nothing answers you. Sighing, you knock again and say, “I know you’re in there, let me in, please.”

You hear something move inside then and the door creaks open a moment later to reveal Tabitha standing there, her hair in a state of disarray and her face looking miserable. “Rommel, I don’t really want-“

“You need to eat.” You say, pushing your way into the little room. She gives a half-hearted protest as you place the food on the small outcropping that passes as a table. Sitting down on one of the little beds you take a spoon and begin to eat, savoring each bite.

Tabitha looks at you with a blank expression as you eat and says, “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing, I’m eating?” Dipping your piece of bread into the bowl to soak up some juices, you take a bite and sigh, “Damn, Sophie really does know how to cook.”

“That’s not what I- Rommel, please.” Tabitha sighs, wrapping her arms around her waist. “I didn’t want you to see me like this and-“

“If you don’t eat I’m going to eat your food for you. I’ve had a long day too.”

The Lizardman sighs and walks over to grab the bowl and bread, sitting down next to you on the little bed and taking a bite. Her eyes light up some and she says, “This isn’t bad at all. Honestly, I don’t know who taught her how to cook, her Father isn’t that great and I promise you that Selene hasn’t cooked anything that wasn’t over an open fire.”

“Maybe Chaika taught them.”

“Her? Hmph, maybe.” Tabtiha chuckles. She looks around for something and you pull out the flask, which she looks down at before opening and sniffing. She quirks an eyebrow and says, “Wine?”

“Seems like it.” At this she shrugs and takes a drink before handing it to you, which you drink from as well. The slightly sweet drink is of very poor quality, but it helps take a little edge off your nerves. The two of you eat in silence until you notice Tabitha put down her spoon and stare into her bowl. Furrowing your brow you ask, “Full?”

“Rommel I… I can’t just eat like nothing happened.” She whispers, hands trembling. Staying quiet, she raises her head and says, “I cowered down here while you almost died!”

“Yes, and it was very painful.” You say, putting your bowl to the side. “But I don’t blame you for it.”

“Why? If I was there I could have sliced them apart like nothing! No one would have had to get hurt and… and…”

“I read Wizardquest as you know. I know what happened on that boat ride from Sanctifrond. I know you have an issue with boats. I don’t blame you for not being there.” Looking into her eyes you continue with conviction despite being so tired. “What I do feel a little ashamed about is that you’re just hiding here instead of talking about it. That’s not the Tabitha I’ve come to know.”

Her face grows ashen and she looks down. She takes a ragged breath and breathes out, “Do you really know me though?”

“No, I’ll be honest. But do you remember yesterday? How you said I’m a pillar of strength for you in this group?” Taking a deep breath you exhale and continue, “I can’t stand seeing you like this. To have affected you so strongly it must have been something very traumatic. I won’t ask you to tell me but I want you to know that I’m here for you to lean on through this.”

Giving her a soft smile you hold out the flask and say, “You don’t have to hold this in alone.”

Tabitha looks down at the flask, then up at you with trepidation. Her scaled fingers shake as the takes the flask and holds it in her hands. Taking a shaky breath, she takes a drink and says, “Rommel you… you’re a bastard, you know that?”

“I’ve been called that before.” You say, taking the flask back from her. “But what’s the occasion?”

“You could blame me for being weak, you could berate me, you could even hate me. Instead of any of that though, you want me to just lean on your shoulder and cry?”

“Well, not in that particular way, but I suppose-“

You words are cut off as Tabitha leans into you, her head resting on your shoulder. The Lizardman closes her eyes and chuckles, “This isn’t how a normal Lizardman is supposed to act.”

“You’re not a normal Lizardman, now are you? Besides, didn’t you say that people, fighters or no need support every now and then?'”

Giving another chuckle, Tabitha then sighs and looks down at the bowl in her hands. She’s quiet for a long while before she begins to speak.

“I’ve never told anyone this… not Veronica, not Blake, not even the Wizard. They never really asked either, figuring I had my reasons so I just… never confronted it.” She grips the bowl tighter and says, “I actually haven’t been on a boat since the incident twenty years ago and it’s because of what happened when I… when I was a child.”

Taking a deep breath, she continues. “When I was maybe eight, my Mother, Father, and I went on a sea voyage out of Hudson to the islands south of Deleor. My Mother had been a refugee from Blackfire Pass and my Father had decided that we should leave Deleor to find a new life, despite the relative peace from the Monster Nation.

“It was an experience to see a vessel like that, to be out on the open sea. I remember being excited about it all, though never missing my sword training on deck. It was actually during one of those sessions with my Mother that…” Her words drift off as she begins to tremble. Putting a hand on hers, she looks at you and then nods her head, gaining some resolve.

“While sparring, the sailors suddenly went into a panic, the men running about to get weapons, shouting about pirates. From behind a small island a vessel appeared and rapidly gained upon us, lobbing firebombs and sending boarders. It was a group of men, women, and Monsters of all shapes and sizes. The sailors did their best to fight them off, but they had a Hydromancer in their numbers and the sea was that their command.”

” They had put me in the corner of the vessel, saying I was too young to fight, so I just watched. My mother and Father fought them off too, using her skills to slay many of the boarders. They didn’t expect someone like them on board and the pirates were driven back.

“In desperation, the Hydromancer used her power to tear a hole in our ship, causing it to take on water and list. My father was thrown off balance just as a pirate came from behind him. I tried to reach out and warn him but I couldn’t and the man stabbed my Father with his sword. When I tried to pull him away, the pirate backhanded me and sent me tumbling back and over the railing where I fell into the dark ocean.”

Shaking visibly, Tabitha says in a low voice, “It was so cold… so dark… I couldn’t see, couldn’t feel, I was so panicked. I couldn’t even use my blade skills and my Father… Gods my Father.” She puts a hand to her face and takes a shuddering breath. “I gulped in some water and could feel my lungs burning as I drifted downward. I felt like I was going to die until something came in and grabbed me. I remember opening my eyes and seeing my Father looking at me with a smile as blood trickled from his back. He swam me up where some of the crew were able to get me back on board.”

Looking at her, you ask in a quiet voice, “Just you?”

“Yes.” She whispers. “Just me. Once I was secured my Father lost his remaining strength and sunk down under the depths.”

Closing her eyes she says, “We returned to Deleor via a passing merchant vessel and mourned for him. My Mother was changed after that and I… I never really got over my fear of boats.” Gulping, she gives a sad chuckle and says, “That’s… that’s my story.”

“Gods…” You whisper, looking at her. “I didn’t know Tabitha… I just… I’m so sorry.”

“It’s been so long, I can barely remember his face.” She says, tears falling down her cheeks. She wipes at her face and says, “Gods, look at me, I’m a mess, ha… this isn’t like me at all.”

Gently, you take your hand and place it on her head. She gasps and looks at you as you slowly start running your fingers through her hair. Tabitha’s eyes well up further and she says, “You never asked why I was able to fight the Sahaugin twenty years ago, but not the brigands today.”

“It’s fine. I don’t need to know.”

“I was trying to be strong for Blake because I thought I loved him, because that’s what Lizardmen do. But today I was so afraid of anyone in this group being hurt that I froze! I was a coward and I froze!” She buries her head into your shoulder and goes into what some call ugly crying. Of course, she doesn’t look ugly to you while doing it.

You continue to stroke her hair until you hear her sobs stop and her breathing go more steady. Looking down, you see that she’s fallen asleep on your shoulder, something she likely sorely needed on this voyage.

Tomorrow you’ll have to manage to get everything back to normal and to deal with those Hippogirls. Thinking about what the man said, you wonder if the Hippogirls will be alright getting their children. And what was this about the Violet Sands messing with them? Either way, this can wait until morning. Sighing yourself, you take the bowl from Tabitha, place it down, and stay where you are until you also feel the pull of sleep take you.

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