Wizardquest 2: Chapter 16- Rocks Come Tumbling Down

It doesn’t matter if you’re ready or not, because the time is here. Closing your eyes, you take a deep breath and say, “Right then, let’s do this.”

The twins smile and both nod while the Tabitha and Alice adjust their swords. Ebe and Zoras look to each other before nodding, coming to some inner resolutions. You see Mr. Ed saunter up to the group and neigh while Erwin scampers onto your shoulders, giving you a foxy grin. Everyone’s all here and everyone’s prepared it seems.

{Sure you don’t want someone scouting out the Violet Sands?} Erwin sends, giving you a knowing look.

{No.} You send, shaking your head. {The time for that is long past. What happens, happens, no matter if Helene… well, if she’s involved then she’s helping out her little brother again in a way.}

{Heh… if you say so. If you say so. You just don’t want anyone getting hurt, huh?}

{Can you blame me?}

Erwin sends nothing further and instruct the others to get their belongings and prepare for battle. The whole time Polah stares out into nothingness, her eyes shifting as she coordinates multiple familiars. As the others finish preparing, she snaps her eyes back onto you and sends, {Are you ready to go already?}

“Almost.” You say, nodding to the others. “Despite your crabby attitude, you’ve been a big help.”

{What a charmer you are.} She mentally sneers. {Whatever, we’re almost done with all of this anyway.}

“Polah, you don’t get outside much, do you?”

The Griffon looks at you with a suspicious expression. {What does that matter?}

“Well, you’re fairly good looking for a Monster and you seem to care a lot at least for your familars. Maybe you’d be less shy and crabby if you went outside every now and then.”

{Griffons don’t do that, we’re not a common species of Monster and we’re far more comfortable guarding something anyway.}

Rubbing the back of your head, you say, “If you say so. It’s not really my place to say anything, I suppose. But since I doubt we’ll be seeing each other again…” Looking down at your hand, you clench it tight before holding it up. “Let me give you a proper headpat.”

{I-I don’t want that.} Polah sends, looking nervous. {S-Stay away from me with that.}

Sylphie walks out of the room where the others are gathering their gear and pauses, looking over the scene. Cocking her head, she asks, “Are you going to pat her head?”

“Well.” You say, shrugging. “I was going to try, but she doesn’t want to.”

“Oh wow, she doesn’t know what she’s missing then.” Sylphie giggles. “Or maybe Polah is secretly a prude.” Polah glares at her and Sylphie blinks before smiling even wider. “Ohhhh, she’s just embarrassed.”

Must have been a sending between the two happening, because Polah grows redder and redder before crossing her arms and huffing. Her eyes flick up and down between you and the floor and she fidgets a few times before whispering, “Fine…”

“Hmm?” You ask, walking closer. “What’s that?”

“I said it’s fine…” Polah says, a little louder. “Don’t make me say it again.”

Looking at Sylphie, the Cat o’Ninetails waves at you to continue. Shaking your head, you place your hand upon Polah’s head and something pulses through you. As if being called into action by a force far beyond your will, the pat powers take hold, this time with a vengeance.

Fingers course through Polah’s unkempt hair, yet the strands part easily through your fingers. Finding the skin of her scalp, her eyes go wide as if nothing has ever touched such a place before. Quivering as you continue to explore the jungle of her hair, tears begin to form in the corners of her eyes. Whether or not these tears are from joy, fear, or sadness, you’re not certain, but it’s too late to stop now.

Polah makes to grab your hand with one of her claws, but you gently take it by the wrist with your other hand she submits, sinking her head into the pat. Tears fall down her cheeks as you continue to pat, your hand somehow shifting from the aggressive patting that left the other girls breathless into a gentle motion, something comforting.

As the last bit of tangled hair parts you bring your hand back and let go of Polah’s wrist. She slumps for a moment, eyes staring down at nothing. The familiars in the room walk up to her and either crawl onto her shoulders or place a paw/hoof upon her legs until she shakes and then pulls her head up, wiping away the tears.

“Are… you okay?” You ask.

Staring at you with puffy, red eyes, Polah says, “No. But… thank you.” Gently placing a talon atop the head of the rat who lead you to her before, she strokes his head before picking him up and handing him to you. The little rat doesn’t spare a moment to jump onto your other shoulder and send to you,

{Right then, ya ready for this? Can’t believe ya makin ma masta cry like that without marryin’ her.}

Polah blushes and the rat shakes his head. The rest of your party make their way to the foyer, giving Polah odd looks as they do so. The Griffon stands tall, looking out over all of them and then says, voice clear, “Go and do what you came here for.”

This is the most shocking thing of all it seems as judged by the reactions of Sophie and Zoras. Nodding at Polah, you reply, “That’s the plan. You stay safe too.”

Polah begins to say something but then hesitates and looks to the side. She sends, {We’ll be fine, I have much advanced notice and the fighting isn’t heading this direction anyway. It’s moving West.}

“Thanks again.” You say one last time before gathering up your things as well. Making for the door, you give the place once last look before nodding and heading outside into the night.

The cool air of the desert evening mixed with some humidity from the river tickles your face and you shiver for a moment after coming from the relative warmth of the house. Looking about, you don’t see anyone moving through the side street, but farther away you hear a commotion and see someone run by in confusion. The rat tells you where to go and you group follows the lead, heading northwest.

The side streets are plentiful in the Tajir district and you’re able to skirt the main streets rather effectively, heading around The Great Bazaar. Once or twice you pass by one of the main roads to see a flood of people swarming toward the town gates. Some people make for the way you came, toward the Gate of Gold, while others make toward the river docks in the Mina district. A few mill about in a panic while some others take the opportunity to loot stores. All of them, however, watch the smoke rising from the north, in the Mushtarak district, with anxiety.

Guards are few and far between here and they have no time to question your group, especially not with looters and others trying to flee the city. Like it or not, by now everyone’s heard of the cult uprising and they’re scared. This has spurred the guards further into action and allows you to get closer to the Palace without suspicious eyes following you.

Of course, things get more difficult once you reach the Alnabil district. While parts of the district were evacuating,those on the Tajir district side have holed up, private guards outside estates watching for trouble-makers as a few of the Guard run past from the capital. Some common folk make their way too, along with merchants seeking safe haven, but the main thing you’re concerned with is what your rat friend spots.

There’s a group of people, a trickle in some places, larger in others, heading toward the Palace, likely thinking it’s the safest place to be. Following commands from Polah via the rat, you merge in with this group, which steadily grows larger. No one thinks to question why you’re in this mix, they’re too scared. While technically you’re moving closer to the smoke, it’s still toward the Palace, so clearly it’s safer. Right?

The Guards that pass by don’t have the time to deal with you, however when the Palace walls come into sight, you’re greeted by multiple guards standing outside and the gates closed. People mill about in a panic, asking to be let into the grounds. The stoic Anubis say nothing while looking over the people, only shoving them out of the way if another patrol leaves to head into the city.

Some people catch the feeling on the wind and bleed out towards the west of the city. The Guards barely pay them any attention and thus you follow them, heading away while sticking close to the walls. As you pass, one of the Anubis gives your group a critical look and seems as if she’s about to say something, but is distracted by a loud, fat woman who demands to be taken to see the Pharaoh. The butt end of a spear in the gut is enough to quiet her down, however.

{Aye, just like that. On the Northwest side of the walls, there’s a sallyport, not used too often a’ course and it’s barred rather well, but if you know how to jiggle the lock just right, then ya in.} The rat sends as you break toward that way. Some of the people leaving the front of the Palace follow you since it seems you know what you’re doing, but some quick stings by Zoras has them incapacitated before they can make much of a ruckus.

Hiding them quickly, you continue toward this gate and find it easily enough. As you stand there, waiting for the rat to go in and open it, the door swings open and another familiar, a cat this time, saunters forward and looks at all of you.

{Well now, isn’t this a motley crew~.} The cat mentally purrs. {Well, follow me so I can go back to being pampered by Mistress Polah~.}

You can’t tell, but you think she sounds a mix of annoyed and amused. Cats, right? Anyway, though it’s a tight squeeze, Mr. Ed and Zoras are able to make it in and you soon find yourself in the Palace grounds. Thankfully no one is present, though you doubt the cat would have lead you into a trap at this point. Polah could have betrayed you at any point, so why now?

The domed towers of the palace loom ahead of you while around the grounds are various gardens filled with plants that do not normally grow in the desert. Small buildings for gardeners, etc dot the grounds as well, giving you some cover as you move toward the larger structures of the Palace.

It was hard to really gauge the size of the Palace from a distance, but it’s utterly huge. There are about four towers with the domed roofs in addition to the massive, central domed tower which looms over various wings of the Palace, each larger than the mansions outside. Some parts seem newer than others, but overall the place feels ancient, like a piece of history right before your eyes. Part of you feels bad for digging into it but… well, no time for such worries.

You pause a few times, hiding behind Sylphie’s magicks as some normal Anubis Guards pass by on their patrol routes. While most personnel seem to have been moved inside for safety, keeping guards on regular patrols seems routine. Besides, with the ruckus you assume the Violet Sands are making, it’s unlikely that they’d not know about anyone moving inside the Palace. That, or they don’t believe that anyone making it inside could hurt the Pharaoh anyway.

It takes some time, but eventually you reach the shuttered service doors Polah mentioned. It’s a simple pair of metal doors leading at an angle downward toward some basement complex. Locks are placed all through the handles, but once they’re removed with some simple magic, the doors open to reveal multiple layers of a building material that looks like heavy mortar forming a thick, impenetrable wall that would take ages to dig through for someone with a pickaxe.

 

Thankfully, you have magic! With the others guarding you, both you and Sylphie get to work removing all the material, opening the passageway. It’s faster than you expected, the stuff seperating out easily enough, and you spill it into the chamber beneath as opposed to out where you are. Once a large enough hole is made, Tabitha slides in, followed by Alice and Sophie. You have to work very hard, but eventually it’s large enough for Zoras and then Mr. Ed, the horse looking annoyed at being squeezed in twice in a row.

Before entering, the cat and rat before align before you and confirm the end of the deal. They held up their end of the bargain, as you have with Polah. Nodding your head in affirmative, they scamper away and you enter into the service tunnel. Once inside, you close the doors again and hope no one notices the missing locks before you’re done. Turning to your group, you make sure everyone is accounted for and take stock of your surroundings.

This part of the service tunnels is dark, with no candles being lit, and covered in cobwebs. Clearly no one comes down here any longer. In the distance you see a faint light, so you keep your staff light off and creep forward. Erwin scouts ahead, sighting no one and you follow through, coming into a brighter, better kept tunnel complex.

It’s large enough for many servants to move through, though at the moment it’s quiet. Too quiet… Yet despite waiting for a trap, nothing arises. Looking a little concerned, you push out with your [Survey] but find… nothing? Trying again, you realize that it’s not your magic that’s broken, it’s the Palace itself! Looking to Sylphie, she nods in agreement, bewildered.

“It’s like… the Palace walls reject magic.” She whispers, producing a small flame before snuffing it out. “Can still cast though. But Rommel, this is going to make direct Geomancy difficult.”

Without the benefits of your [Survey], you’re left with the [Palace Map] that Ammon gave you. There’s some of the service tunnels listed, but nowhere near all of them. You’re able to find where you are though, and use it to orient yourself toward the dungeons, which are apparently quite large. Having the Cat o’Ninetails listening for any danger, you continue forward under a [Privacy barrier].

Sophie’s tails, now freed from their confinement, twitch behind her as she moves, listening for signs of trouble. She stops you a few times, and you hear the scurrying of feet from servants or otherwise echo through the tunnels. Only once do you run into a servant, a demure woman who almost lets out a scream but is tied up by Sophie before she can do so and given a sting by Zoras. Quickly drifting off, she’s hidden around a corner and you continue forward with a little more urgency.

Voice sound ahead and while they don’t sound urgent, it makes it less likely that you’re able to get to where you need to be without trouble. You continue moving until you reach a section of tunnels which opens up into a larger cooridor where multiple voices are heard.

[Have you heard what is happening outside?] A male voice asks in Ectrian. [The cultists are attacking!]

[Well, it makes them easier to put down once and for all.] A female voice says. [I figured they’d get uppity once the Royal Guard came back.]

[Yes, but they say an Apophis is leading them!]

[In the heart of the city? Preposterous. You should get back to work. Tomorrow will be just like any other day.]

The two continue to chat for a little longer before they leave, confirmed by Erwin. Thankful for not needing to start a ruckus, you move through quickly and head to the dungeons. Searching around the corridor leading to the dungeon, Erwin spies two guards standing at attention, both Anubis with halbreds and curved swords. The space is too confined to sneak through and you need to take care of both of them before they can call the alarm.

Pulling out pieces of [Ronnie], you prepare to leap out and fire a [Pebble Gun] when Tabitha steps forward. She takes in a deep breath, puts a hand on her sword, then charges forward. You move after her for support, but you’re too late to do anything as she jumps onto the wall, presses off with her legs, and in one motion cuts the throats of both guards before they can do anything. Clutching at their bleeding necks, both Anubis collapse to the ground in spasms before dying a rather horrific death.

With them dead, you enter the dungeon proper. Sophie searches over the guards but is unable to find any keys, meaning they’re not the actual jailors? Damnit. Moving forward with caution though, you enter into a large chamber lined with row after row of cages packed with prisoners. Some are men, some are Monsters, however all of them look at you with a mix of confusion and hope. They also all start immediately shouting at you to let them loose.

There’s too many of them to put a privacy barrier around all of them so you don’t even bother. Though the girls try to keep them quite, they just won’t shut up until you use your magic to break the locks on the nearest cage. Apparently the bars aren’t resistant to magical tampering at least though the stone is, oddly enough. The three men inside pile out as soon as you open the cage and walk up to you amidst the clamor.

[Who are you, oh great savior?]

Thinking quickly, you say, [We are of the Violet Sands.]

Some of the prisoners look at you with wary eyes while others cheer. The men before you smile broadly,[Then you are here to free us?! They brought in the high leader today but I did not expect anyone to rescue her so soon!] The man pops his knuckles. [I will die for the Violet Sands! Give me a weapon and I will fight! So will we all!]

The men cheer and you have Sylphie get to work making them weapons from their cages. As she does so, you free another few prisoners, including an Anubis who has more bruises than unblemished skin. Apparently the Anubis in the Palace do not take well to Anubis who work against them, even more than they hate cultists in general.

Sylphie hands her a makeshift spear just as a commotion sounds before you. Loud, furious braying is heard from further down the cavernous complex and the men next to you flinch in reflexive fear. The Anubis you freed growls, “The jailor and her pack…”

As she says this, three Anubis in the livery of the Palace appear, weapons held at the ready. One of them has similar garb as the Warden from near Gahn though the other two seem to be normal Anubis. They look around at the clamoring prisoners and then to you, growling at your presence. The warden begins to glow with the runic tattoos, turning her magic resistance wards inward and gaining physical resistance.

They don’t engage however, standing their ground as another Anubis pads forward. Standing slightly taller than the others, she wears finery that doesn’t impede her movements and which reveals a series of complex tattoos on her skin. In her paws she holds a double headed axe while a pair of wickedly sharp blades sit on her belt. A set of keys catches your eye as well, and you try to grab it with your magic before she can react, but nothing happens- her wards have extended to the keys just like the weapons when Alice fought the Royal Guard in the desert.

[What is this.] The Jailor shouts, voice booming. The prisoners quiet down, looking afraid of her, even those outside the cells. [Who are you treading in my domain?]

Ebe steps forward, gulping, [W-We’re here as part of the Violet Sands!]

[Here to free your comrades then? Hmm. I didn’t think any of you had gotten past the Guard outside, especially with a horse in tow, but how curious.] She rests her axe on her shoulders, looking at all of you.

Stepping forward, you ask, [Don’t do this, bring us to the high value prisoners.]

[Hmph, your Cult leader was being tortured before we were interrupted. She’s not really in a good place to do much of anything anyway though-] She cuts off as she noticed Sophie and Sylphie. Her eyes go flat and she chuckles. [Ah, so that’s the game is it. No matter.]

Pulling the weapon down from her shoulders and placing it into her paws, she growls, [No one has ever escaped this dungeon alive. You, the Monster Lady, no one! As a Handmaiden, I’d rather die than let that happen.]

You’ve fought Anubis before, and while tough enemies, this one feels on a whole other level. She fairly radiates power and you know damn well that magic will be nearly impossible to use on her. Without the guarantee of your Geomancy on the walls and floor, you’re going to have to rely on getting creative here.

Gods help you.

Instead of letting you have time to think things over too much, the Anubis charge your position. Though they are not overly large, they are still imposing as they charge at you, weapons leveled. You barely have enough time to push Ebe backward along with yourself as the Warden, body glowing red with tattoos makes it in first, howling as she drives forward her spear.

Thanks to your training, you catch it with your staff and then yelp as her strength tears the staff from your hands. Before you can react, she lets go of the spear with one hand and backhands you, the blow sending you backward, stars crossing your vision. You hit the ground hard and with a dazed expression, feeling hands on you dragging you backward as steel rings nearby.

“Rommel!” Ebe says, shaking you. Head still swimming, she leans down and uses a wing to cup your ear before whispering a song into your ear. Your whole body seems to shake and then, almost explosively, everything comes back into focus. You gasp and look to Ebe before turning back to the battle you were so rudely taken out of.

The Warden, her initial attack happening so quickly, has been countered by both Alice and Tabitha, the two turning her aside with their weapons. The Warden seems to instinctively know not to fuck with Alice’s blade and shows far more control than the one in the desert. As she pulls back, however, the other two Anubis move in, their weapons going toe to toe with Alice’s glowing sword and Tabitha’s burning blade.

Sophie shrugs off her outer clothing, freeing her up to battle and her tails flash out before her. She makes to move in and strike at the flanks of one of the regular Anubis when she pulls back the double bladed axe of the Jailor slams into the ground, sending up a shower of rock. The Cat o’Ninetails looks up and snarls as the Handmaiden pulls back the weapon again with shocking speed.

“Hmph.” The Handmaiden sneers before she swipes with the axe again, this time a horizontal cut. Sophie’s eyes go wide and she drops flat to the floor, barely missing getting cut as the axe slices overhead. In the relative confines of the dungeon, there isn’t much room for the axe to travel in this arc and you look on in surprise as the angle seems to head straight for one of the other Anubis! Clearly Sophie didn’t think she’d do this, and nor did Alice who notices it just in time to raise her sword and catch the axe blow on the side of the blade.

The force of it sends her spinning, but you snap your eyes to the Anubis she was fighting only to see the Monster drop as well, seemingly knowing it was going to occur. Either they have something between them or they’ve trained for such things extensively. Because of this, however, it allows the Warden to move into the gap and strike at Alice, her weapon moving with berserk speed. The only reason Alice isn’t run through is Sophie lashing out with a tail and hooking the leg of the Anubis, dragging her to the floor with a quick yank.

Sylphie stands next to you, tails spread out behind her and staff at the ready as she surveys the situation, looking for openings. Mr. Ed stands next to her, the horse seeming incredibly out of place in the dungeon, but where else would he be? Beside them is Zoras, the Girtablilu skittering forward to grab your staff and throw it back to you. She looks about the corridor and curses, leaping onto the wall to stick there and survey for a moment to strike. The Anubis don’t seem to pay her any mind, but she’s still wary.

Despite the best efforts of your friends, the numbers and the skill of the opponents are telling. Alice and Tabitha can easily hold their own, however they’re unable to drive any decisive blows because of the hit and run tactics of the Anubis with the Warden. Sophie is forced to drive back as well, the Handmaiden proving too powerful an opponent for her, forcing Tabitha to pick up the slack. In such a short period of time, it’s obvious this isn’t going to work.

So, that leaves magic. Picking yourself up, you fire pieces of Ronnie into the mix, but have to be careful with your shots as not to hit your friends, which is too difficult in this setting. The shots you do fire either miss or are deflected somehow, the Handmaiden catching them on her axe. Unfortunately your other spells would also cause too much damage down here and you can’t just manipulate the walls to your liking or this would have been easy. Besides, with their magical resistance, you’d need something physical to attack them with. Think… think…

A prisoner nearby clamors on his cage and shouts for you to free him. Growling, you put the man out of your mind before you snap your vision to the bars of the cages. THOSE aren’t magically resistant at all, are they? Made of a decent variety of steel, they’re sturdy, heavy, and are meant to stick around. Best of all, your magic will work on them.

Trouble is, they’re bored into the ground and you don’t have to the time to remove them all easily. Sylphie might be able to help with some pyromancy, but that will still take too much time. No, the best option would be something that could cut through them, something like a sword, a sword with a magical-

Okay look, you need Alice.

Unfortunately, Alice is currently one of the lynchpins of your forward line, her blade keeping the Warden at bay while turning aside the other Anubis. You can hold your own with a sword or a spear now, but you make absolutely no pretensions as to your ability to square off against these Anubis before you, especially not that Warden. You wouldn’t last long enough for Alice to cut open half a cage, let alone multiple cages.

So what? Your magic can’t hold them back for long, however if you had something like a shield, something that could intercept their blows… of course, you’ve been training for this. Quickly pulling Ronnie out of your pockets, you fashion him into plates of metal. Grabbing the roughly made weapons from the already opened bars you slap the pieces of Ronnie onto it to as a framework, creating a bulwark before you in a half-circle. It isn’t the thickest, but it grants you 180 degrees of protection… you hope.

“Rommel, what the fuck?!” Sylphie asks, looking confused. “What are you doing?”

“Just cover me and help Alice, alright!” You shout, steeling yourself. You left a hole open so you can see through your shield as well as wrapped your [Chain] around the outside, partially to secure it further. Taking a deep breath, you prepare yourself and charge into the battle.

The Anubis look at you with confusion as you barrel into them, whipping out with the chain to drive at one of them. The chain grabs her spear and you yank it from her hands. Even though your magic hold on the chain vanishes when you grab her weapon, there’s enough not affected to yank backward. Disoriented, the Anubis falls back and draws her spear as the Warden charges in at you, driving forward a series of blows.

The first few ring off your bulwark while one punctures through, the head of her spear hitting a section of the metal without a framework. She pulls it out and you quickly repair the rent before shouting to Alice, “Go! Cut the bars and make more of these!”

Alice gives you a confused look but doesn’t question the order, disengaging with her sword held out, slicing easily through the metal bars of the cages. They drop to the ground with loud clatters as the prisoners come loose, some spilling out from where you came while others meet with their friends near Sylphie, cheering you on.

You have limited time to think of that as you concentrate on keeping the enemies driven backward with your crude protection. The chain whips out at the Anubis, keeping them on their toes and you feel things are going well until Sophie screams. Turning your concentration over to the Cat o’Ninetails, you see her flying into you. On reflex, you turn your shield with your magic as not to have her fly into it and catch her, the momentum of which driving you backward to land into your shield.

The two of you slide as you hold her close until you collide with the wall, the jarring impact making your teeth clatter. Sophie shakes her head and then nods sharply before gasping. Taking her meaning, you quickly turn the protective device over you, creating a covering as a moment later a sword thrusts through the center, piercing the thinner pieces of iron. Thankfully Sophie catches the blade with one of her tails and together you heave the attacker off, rotating the shield again to drive them back.

The Anubis you took the spear from staggers back with her sword drawn, looking at you in confusion. In her momentary lapse of judgment however, Sylphie takes the opportunity to fire a [Pebble Gun], the projectile piercing through the skull of the Anubis and dropping her lifeless to the floor. The other Anubis notices this and screams, charging at the Cat o’Ninetails. Sylphie yelps and holds up her staff before her too quickly and cries out as her shoulder gives her pain, staggering backward.

As the Anubis charging, Zoras leaps down from the wall, knives raised. She lands atop the Anubis, flattening her to the ground. Holding her tail up, she drives it toward the Monster’s body, but she dodges it and kicks upward with her legs, driving Zoras backward. Rolling to her feet, the Anubis’s eyes go wide as Mr. Ed’s back hooves slam into her face, throwing her backward with a cry of pain. The Warden catches her with that super quick speed and places her on even footing, the two glaring at the horse.

Sophie springs from your arms and assumes a fighting stance next to you as you slam the wall into place again, feeling some mental taxation from keeping all these working parts together. Appraising the situation, you notice that the Handmaiden hasn’t made an attack on you. Daring to take a look, you pan over to watch for a moment.

The Jailor’s axe swings downward, to which Tabitha catches the blow with her sword, turning it aside. She makes a kick with her legs, but the Handmaiden grabs her adamantium foot with surprising strength and flips Tabitha, the Lizardman spinning midair before stabilizing and dropping to her feet, narrowly missing a blow from the axe again. Sneering, the Handmaiden makes to attack again but Tabitha drives her sword upward, drawing a line of scarlet blood along her opponents arm.

Unfortinatrely, the Handmaiden doesn’t seem to care much about his, having as much physical resistance as the Warden does it seems. She barrels into Tabitha, the weight of her assault forcing Tabitha on the backfoot. Using the axe’s butt, she drives it into Tabitha and makes ready to swing the axe again when Alice leaps into the fray, intercepting the blow and allowing Tabitha to recover.

“Ha, looked like you were in trouble!” Alice chuckles.

“Shut up.” Tabitha growls in reply.

“Hey, Rommel!” Alice shouts. “It’s ready!” Before you can reply, she rolls to the side as Tabitha charges in, using the momentum to spring up and strike at the Warden before she can charge at you and Sophie again.

Out of immediate danger, you turn your gaze to the piles of metal bars lining the floors and the multiple men, women, and Monsters milling about in confusion. Collapsing your shield, you take the cell bars used in its construction and shout at the prisoners, “Gather them all together!”

Confused, they respond and in moments you have them in a pile. Moving into the pile, you begin to quickly reach out and take control over all the bars, a process that isn’t as quick as it looks, as there has to be dozens of them.

The Jailor, seeing their tactics failing, disengages from Tabitha to form up again with the other two guards. Holding her weapon before her, she barks and order and the other two comply. Alice’s eyes go wide as they form up on Sophie, finding her the weakest link and the swordswoman goes to save her only to find herself under pressure from the Warden who feints and the Jailor, both of whom pressure her.

The Warden sweeps her legs while the Handmaiden raises her axe to split Alice in twain. Tabitha leaps to intercept, but won’t be able to reach in time. As the axe comes down, you shout, “DROP DOWN NOW!”

Tabitha snaps her head to you and hits the floor, Sophie doing the same without needing to be told twice. Alice looks up in horror but the axe deviates to the side before hitting her. Blinking in surprise, the swordswoman looks up at the Handmaiden in confusion before turning to look at what her opponent is looking at.

Standing before a crowd of nervous prisoners, you have your hands out before you, magical energies rippling about you. Surrounding you in the dungeon are a veritable wall of steel bars cut from their holdings, edges sharp from Alice’s sword sheering them. Taking in a few breaths from the effort, you stare down the Jailor and without further waiting, hurl the projectiles toward her and the other Anubis.

Perhaps if there was more space, they could have stood a chance. As it was, they’re in a dungeon with few areas to turn and run. Sadly, they are not near any of the side passages either. With no recourse and the projectiles moving too quickly, the three Anubis hold up their weapons and cry out in defiance.

The regular Anubis is struck through the arm, a leg, then through the torso, slamming her backward and pinning her to the ground as she screams in agony. The warden catches a projectile, dodges another, but then falls victim to one slamming into her leg and pinning her to the ground. Another one takes off her head.

The blade off the Jailor’s axe catches a few of the projectiles, forcing her backward from the blow while others graze her skin or dig furrows into her body, but don’t incapacitate her. Howling at the maelstrom, a bar takes the axe from her hands and she staggers backward, arms wide open. She stares at you with anger in her eyes, the initial thrust of bars having been weathered.

Unfortunately for her, you had a few left in reserve. With barely a motion, you throw them again before she has time to recover. Try though she might, one catches her in her abdomen, driving her backward and impaling her into a wall next to a cage… with some unfortunate prisoners who were caught in your barrage. The Monster coughs up blood and puts her paws upon the bar, her tattoos flaring with power before flickering.

Her face pale, she looks at you again and tries to say something but only vomits more blood. Holding up your hand, you make to deliver a finishing blow, but Zoras puts a hand on your shoulder and shakes her head. Turning to her and then to the Jailor, you find the life is gone from her eyes and she slumps, dead.

The prisoners, the ones who aren’t dead anyway, shout in joy and adoration, rushing to give you all accolades. Mr. Ed protects Sylphie from the men while Ebe gulps and tries to keep them from touching her too much. Tabitha and Alice put on too much of an imposing figure and Sophie, well, Sophie seems fine with it.

You get your own share of the people as well, men congratulating you. Waving them away, you look to the other prisoners and shout for Alice to free them. She goes about doing so easily and you turn back to the prisoners to ask,

“Do you know if they’re keeping a Monster who looks like those two down here?”

Most of the prisoners shake their heads, but one steps forward, a man who seems a little thin, and says, “Aye, I’ve seen her brought back and forth under heaving bindings.”

“Did she go with a man with hair like mine?”

“Ah…” The man thinks. “No, it was always alone.”

“I… see.” You say, looking worried. “Where is she being kept?”

“I don’t know, we don’t really… get out much.” The man chuckles before coughing. “But they’re further down there.

Tabitha walks up with the keys from the Jailor and says, “Alright, let’s do what we came here to do.”

Nodding, you make to go when the man asks, “What! How are things up there?”

Frowning, you look back the way you came, noticing more prisoners leaving. No sense in subtlely now. “Well.” You say, shaking your head. “The Violet Sands have risen up from the Mushtarak district. The… the Apophis have returned.”

A silence fills the room as the prisoners take this in. Some of their eyes go wide and other look at you with open mouths. It lasts for only a moment before those aligned with the cult shout in joy, holding up their hands in worship. They dash forward and grab the fallen bars and weapons to use and form together as the beaten Anubis says,

“First, we free our leader, next, we kill the Pharaoh!”

The cultists shout in approval and their ranks swell as the dungeon is cleared. Gathering up your party, you make your way forward, keys in hand, toward the back parts of the dungeon. You pass by some rooms with blood stains where the cultists bring out a beaten Lamia, her skin bruised and multiple cuts on her body. She really doesn’t seem to be in the spirits to do much of anything, but she whispers orders to the cultists as best she can. Her eyes drift over to you and she nods her head slowly, clearly seeming to recognize you somehow.

Moving further down the dungeons, you begin to enter areas where there are no prisoners. Turning down a hallway that’s dimly lit, you find at the end of it a door with multiple runic sigils on it. Cocking your head, you walk forward but are stopped by Sylphie who hisses, “Wait!”

Blinking, you turn on your [Mage Sight] to see the true nature of the runes. Laced within them are traps that only those magically resistant would be able to get away from unscathed. Cursing, you make to use your [Reverse Polarity] when Sylphie says,

“I’ll [Dispell] them.”

“Huh?” You ask as she begins to work magic on the runes.

“It’s… something Dad taught me. Takes time to do but it’s efficient. These sigils weren’t really meant to keep out the wary so I think I can break them.”

“I see.” You say, waiting patiently as Sylphie works her magic.

The Cat o’Ninetails begins to sweat a little as she works, but one by one, the traps fade away until the hallway is clear. All the clamor of men behind you is gone by the time it’s done- you figure they’ve gone to go cause havoc upstairs. Not caring much about that at this point, you hold the heavy set of keys in your hands and walk forward again before being stopped once more.

“Ahh, bloody hells, wait a second.” Zoras says, skittering forward. She cocks her head and then chuckles. “Of course it wouldn’t be that easy.” She moves a little bit and touches out with a scorpion leg before nodding and saying, “Trapped with mundane traps too. Seems high profile targets here. One moment then.”

With dexterity that a scorpion shouldn’t possess, Zoras moves her hands, disarming traps with various clicking sounds. Now it’s time for Sophie and Sylphie to look anxious, getting excited and then saddened whenever they hear a trap being disarmed, hoping it’s the last one. Eventually Zoras wipes her brow and says, “Alright, that’s that then.”

“Now?” You ask, and no one else objects. Walking forward, you make your way to the door and put a few keys in before the lock clicks open. Slowly opening the door, you peer inside the room.

It’s much larger than you’d expect and has only one source of light- a small lantern hanging on the ceiling. It swings ever so gently, casting vague illuminations against the walls. Chains creak and shackles rustle as something stirs within. Holding up your staff, you cast a light out over the room, illuminating it further. Focusing your sight, you see two shapes in the room, shackled to opposite walls and your eyes go wide.

On the left is a tall, formerly toned Monster with Red hair that looks faded in the fey light. She has black furred feline ears and paws, with more human, yet still furred hands and sharp claws. Her attire is a ripped and torn tunic, barely covering her shame and show many bruises and cuts on her once tanned skin. Though her arms and legs are chained to the wall, behind her seven tails are chained up as well, their bladed end blunted and firmly in place.

As you enter and cast your light, she winces and looks at you with green, confused eyes. Her mouth works soundlessly for a moment before she asks, “Who… the Hells are you?”

Against the other wall more rattling sounds. Turning your gaze that way you see a man about your height with a long, unkempt, silver-blonde beard. His clothing is a tattered and torn grey robe that hangs loosely on him though you can tell he used to be more muscular. A runic collar rattles around his neck and his eyes open up as well and you can see that despite the poor condition of everything else, they hold strong conviction. The man looks you up and down and then chuckles, which is more of a cough than anything.

“Dear, you have to be gentle with him. He’s a fresh Wizard, you must understand.” Coughing again, he looks back up at you and gives a shit-eating grin reminiscent of Sophie’s. Of course it would, because this man is none other than her Father, the Grand Wizard himself. Speaking as best he can, he asks,

“Now then, who the FUCK are you?”

You wonder if this is how you thought this would go. Maybe you thought you’d show up and they’d be overjoyed, or worried, or have already broken their bonds and are just waiting for you to arrive. Or perhaps you expected things to be exactly the way they are now. Looking at the haggard form of the man who turned the world upside down, you can’t help but feel that his choice of words is just so…

Appropriate.

At once you feel a sense of loathing, relief, and humor. For fuck’s sake, you just broke into the damn dungeon of the Palace where the most powerful people in Deleor were defeated. And here the man sits, fire in his eyes, daring to say that shit to you, his rescuer?

Despite it all, you can’t help but crack a smile. Fuck this guy, fuck him for everything he’s done and fuck him for making you smile. It takes all your effort and you think that somewhere a most suitable man should say this line, but you force a shuddering breath and ask,

“Kept you waiting, huh?”

The Grand Wizard smiles at this and chuckles, “Fucking hells kid, fucking hells.”

You feel something shift behind you and you hold up a hand before opening your [Mage Sight] and scan the room. All you see is a dark, dank room, however only the item around the Wizard’s neck is enchanted. No further traps exist in the magical realm at least, though before you can ask the Monster Lady says, “There’s no other traps in here.”

“Ah, good. Then there’s some people here who want to see you.” Stepping aside, the forms of Sophie and Sylphie are illuminated in the doorway, their eyes wide as they behold their parents.

The Monster Lady’s eyes go wide and she strains at her chains. “SOPHIE? SYLPHIE?!”

“Gods above, what are you two doing here?” The Grand Wizard asks, his turn to seem surprised.

Tears fill Sylphie’s eyes and she drops her staff to the ground before putting her hands to her mouth. Her voice trembles as she wails, “Mom! Dad!”  Dashing forward to her father, she tackles him into a hug, holding him tightly with every fiber of her being.

Sophie takes trembling steps behind her sister, looking at both of them. She sniffs, trying to keep it within herself before she loses control and runs to her mother, hugging her tight.

Watching the scene unfold, you casually break the locks with your magic, allowing the parents to hug their children. They meet together in the middle of the room, laughing and crying as they reunite. It hurts a little to watch this, though at the same time you’re overjoyed for the two girls you’ve been traveling with. The stress and worry seems to melt from them in their tears and you yourself begin to feel caught up in the emotions. Turning away, you rub at your cheeks, trying not to feel when both Tabitha and Ebe put a scaled hand and a feathered wing upon your shoulders. Nodding to both of them, you turn back to the family scene.

“Gods, I was so-so afraid you both would be dead and… and…” Sylphie bawls, burying her head into her father’s chest. “I thought we’d get here and we’d be too late!”

“Shhh, shhh.” The Grand Wizard says, tears in his eyes as well. He looks up and strokes his daughter’s head. “It’ll take more than they can dish out to kill me.”

“Mother I… I tried to be strong and keep it together but… but…” Sophie begins, hugging her mother fiercely.

“My little kitten, it’s alright, I know. Let it all out, no need to hide anything anymore. Mommy’s here.” At this, Sophie begins to cry in earnest, creating messy tears that soak the ragged clothing of her Mother.

Sylphie still crying into his robe, The Grand Wizard looks up and noticed Tabitha. He blinks in confusion before asking, “Did Blake send you?”

“Afraid not. He’s a little busy with Galmathoria last I checked.” The Lizardman shrugs and pats you on the back. “It’s actually this guy’s fault that we’re here.”

The Wizard nods his head and says, “Well thank you then. Sorry for the rudeness before.”

“You’re not sorry.” You say, shaking your head.

“Well, no. Not really, but you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, yeah.” You say, waving your hand. “Listen, I know this is touching and we have a lot of questions to ask, but we need to get out of the city, now.”

“Why, what’s happening?” The Wizard asks, narrowing his eyes.

Tabitha gives him a stern expression. “The Cult of the Violet Sands may have succeeded in returning an Apophis into this world. They are currently attacking in the streets above.” She thinks for a moment. “We may have also have just let out all the prisoners to riot up into the Palace itself.”

The two parents look at each other before nodding their heads. The Monster Lady turns to you and says, voice commanding, “Then this is the perfect opportunity to end the Prophet’s rule here and remove the threat she poses to Deleor, and the world.”

“Yeah, let me get this damn collar off and I’ll help with that.” Her husband says, reaching up to pull at it. “Damn thing has been chaffing for weeks.”

“Magic nullifying device?” You ask, looking down at it. Sylphie sniffs, wiping at her eyes before tapping it and then pulling her finger away.

“Oww! It stings too.”

“Can’t just force it off I’m afraid.” Her Father chuckles. “Need a special key that the Prophet has and-” The runes flicker and fade away before the collar snaps and clatters to the floor, devoid to energy. The Grand Wizard blinks before looking up at you and clacking his tongue. “Impressive.”

Ending your [Reverse Polarity], you nod your head. “Right, let’s talk later. Can you two walk?”

“You should be respectful of your elders, you little shit.” The Grand Wizard says.

Tabitha chuckles, “Rommel here isn’t respectful of anyone.”

“Ah.” The Monster Lady chuckles. “So he is a Wizard then.” She nods to you and smiles a feline grin. “Thank you for rescuing us, Rommel. I’m sure you know who we are, but you may call me Selene.”

The Grand Wizard sighs, “And you may call me-“

“Wizard works just fine.” You say, holding up a hand. “We need to go before they come after us. We do not want to get involved with that is happening up there.” Digging into your pockets, you pull out two [Health Potions] and toss them to the prisoners. “Drink up, I need you in good condition.”

Selene pops open her bottle with frightening speed and closes her eyes, savoring the flavor while the Wizard groans. You frown at him and say, “I know you like the flavor you cum guzzling slut, but no time to be shy.”

“How do you two put up with this guy?” The Wizard says, drinking the potion in one gulp before sticking out his tongue.

“He’s quite nice once you get to know him actually.” Sylphie says, to which her Mother’s feline eyes narrow.

“Oh? What’s this then?”

“Mother, please.” Sophie says, regaining her composure. “Just listen to him for now. You two are in no shape to fight, despite the health potion. Besides, you look ridiculous.” She pulls an outfit from her bag of holding and hands it to her mother.

“I have many questions for the two of you, but for now, everyone turn around.” Groaning, you do up and a moment later Selene sighs as if refreshed. “Much better.”

The Monster Lady, having discarded her ragged clothing, now wears an Ectrian style tunic and skirt with room for her tails. You don’t remember Sophie wearing that one before, though when would she have had the time? Selene pats at her chest and frowns.

“The bust is a little large though.”

Sophie says in a calm voice, “Clearly, it’s because of your captivity.”

“Hmph.” Her Mother sniffs, clearly not jealous of her daughters at all. Nope.

Rubbing at your temples, you say, “That’s real fucking touching, but we need to GO.”

“I heard, you, I heard you.” The Grand Wizard says, standing up slowly. “When you get a family someday, you’ll understand, alright?” He gives you an odd look when you glare at him for this, however.

Turning your back on him, you walk toward the door again, meeting up with Erwin, Zoras, Alice, Ebe, and Mr. Ed. The Gandharva cocks her head as she looks at Sophie and Sylphie’s parents, putting wings to her mouth in excitement for them. Tabitha clasps the Wizard’s shoulder while Mr. Ed nods to the man and nuzzles him. Zoras and Alice merely shrug and move ahead while Erwin leaps onto your shoulders.

{Seems everyone really likes this guy, huh?}

{Yeah.}

{You going to tell him?}

Turning your head back down the dungeon hallway, you pause for a moment before sending. {Let’s go.}

Moving down the corridors at a swift pace, much faster than you’d have hoped given the prisoner’s condition. The potions and some food from Sophie give them a little pep in their step and you race through the tunnels the way you came. Distantly, you hear the sounds of violence from some of the service corridors but you just keep on moving, not wanting to get involved with it. You did what you came here to do, for now… for now just get out.

Here and there you find a servant killed by something, likely a cultist, but none of the combatants themselves. This is good, and in such a case you make it back to the tunnel you entered from without any run ins. Opening up the closure you made, you thrust open the doors with your magic in case anyone is standing behind them, but find nothing but a surprised Anubis in the Palace livery, looking down at the open tunnel. A [Pebble Gun] to the head silences her before she can say a word.

“Geomancy and Aeromancy… not bad.” The Grand Wizard says, admiring your magic. You say nothing to him but instead look around and ask Erwin and the twins if it’s safe. They begin to search with their senses when Selene says,

“There’s a battle going on in the south, likely near the gates. Over here there’s no trace of guards.”

You trade glances with Tabitha before nodding your head and heading out of the tunnel, running for the sally port. As you near it, you find the cat from before licking herself and giving you a questioning look. She looks over your group, especially the new additions, and sends, {So, that’s it then?}

{Tell Polah thanks, but we’re probably not meeting again.}

{For the best anyway. You did make her cry.} The cat sends. It pauses then and sighs the best a cat can sigh. {Though I will admit, she did sound a little worried about you. I’ll let her know you survived.}

Clearly, no one here find it odd that you’re staring at random animals. It’s common in this line of work apparently. Filing through the gates, you enter out back into the Alnabil district. Not much has changed in this area since you last entered, and frankly that’s for the better. Lights in houses indicate nobles waiting it all out while you see no Guards moving through the streets. They must have all made it to the other sections of town or near the front gate of the Palace, if Selene is to be believed.

Moving quickly through the district, you’ve planned on making your way out and to The Great Gate, perhaps blending in again with the people fleeing. The Cat o’Ninetails cover up their tails, no one asking the question as to why Selene only has seven tails, though you see it burning in their eyes. You and The Grand Wizard cover up as well, hiding your skin as best you can as you make your way through.

Skirting away from The Sultan’s Grand Theatre and the area near the Mushtarak district, you head toward the pathway leading into the Masrah district toward the Great Gate. Streams of people begin to appear, many of them looking panicked as they point at the fires burning in the Mushtarak district. You notice a few of them seem to originate near the Tajr district as well, and you hope Polah is safe.

Pushing through the people heading in the same direction as you, you stop as you notice the boats lined up in the river. Many sailors and merchants shout at one another, pointing ahead and seeming furious. Apparently the Channelguards are closed- no one gets in or out through the rivers while this is occurring. As you think this, one of the Channelguards on the bridge ahead of you slides closed, trapping the people in further. Great.

Terrified civilians shout at the loud sound but the Guards, human and Anubis keep them in check. Doing your best to avoid notice as best you can, you act afraid and head toward the gate. Your progress becomes delayed faster than you’d expect, however until eventually you see the massive gate in the distance- closed.

Citizens shout and scream in panic, but the guards keep a shield wall before the gate while others stand atop it with arrows. A line of Anubis lead by what can only be two Handmaidens stand behind, barking out orders while a man tries to calm people down- something which falls on deaf ears.

Sophie and Sylphie cover their ears from all the shouting while Selene hugs both of them, looking about. You as well look for a way out, but it’s not going to happen from this gate. Nudging Ebe, you ask her to ask if the southern gate is open. She find out very quickly that no, as far as everyone can tell, all of the gates are closed. The Pharaoh has ordered the entire city shut up until the situation is taken care of.

Though the people are panicking, it’s really the Guards that give you pause. None of them seem concerned in the slightest, merely holding their positions, looking out over the crowds. One would assume that they’d feel nervous from a riot breaking out, or perhaps worried about the safety of their city. Their calm is disturbing you greatly and you realize, with a start, that it’s because they have unwavering faith in that Pharaoh will win.

That… does not bode well for the Violet Sands.

Turning to the others, you gesture for them to head away from the crowds of people and towards the walls. Perhaps if you can just dig a tunnel out of the city, you’ll be able to get free. Can’t go through? Just go under! Unfortunately, after a [Survey], you realize that the walls are dug deep into the ground. While this isn’t too bad a development, the guards keeping close sentry over the walls on both sides will make it very difficult to go undetected.

In fact, you watch as a group of men with shovels are executed by an Anubis, their pitiful tunnel barely even dug. Poor bastards. You suppose you could make it out, but there would be a lot of fighting and you guess no matter what you do, you won’t be able to avoid it. The question is- how are you going to do that?

“We need to rethink this.” You say to the others. “Let’s find somewhere to regroup.”

Pushing your way out of the crowds, you make for a side street in the Masrah district, wall in sight in the distance. Turning to the others, you say, “We can’t stay here for long, we’re going to create a way out I’m afraid.”

“My daughters say to trust you, but I’m beginning to wonder why we’re trying to leave?” Selene asks, giving you a critical eye.

“Since we have a moment, I wonder the same thing.” The Grand Wizard says, crossing his arms. “Personally I wanted to strike that bitch for what she did, but you’re right, I haven’t cast magic in so long that I’m rusty.”

“Yes, me too, but for other reasons.” Selene sighs. Sylphie rummages in her bag and hands her mother a [Mana Potion], which she sniffs and then holds it away, sneering. “This isn’t freshly squeezed at all.”

“Mom, please, it’s store bought but it works.”

“Dear, you have a man in your group and you haven’t at least saved some coin by extracting some semen? Or at least having him masturbate for you?”

“M-Mom!” Sylphie says cheeks flushing. “No! I don’t- I haven’t- Ugh!”

Selene sighs and downs the potions, shuddering. “Ugh, dear, I need to suck you off as soon as possible, okay?”

“A little later, alright?” The Wizard says, looking back toward the Palace and the smoke in the district. He frowns and then turns to you. “Listen, I understand we’re not in the best place to fight, but the Prophet cannot be allowed to regain control here. We worked too hard to aid the Violet Sands to rise against her and if she takes them out here in the capital, all that will be put to waste.”

Ebe’s eyes grow wide. “What? Y-You helped the Violet Sands?”

“Of course.” Selene says, nodding her head. “Cultists they may be, but they’ve kept the Prophet occupied from her plans on Deleor. We are in no place to repel a concentrated invasion from this place and should eastern Deleor fall, it’s only a matter of time before Galmathoria acts as the hammer to Ectria’s anvil.”

The Wizard nods, “It’s not ideal and I don’t like it, but we can’t allow that to happen. Too many good people will be killed or enslaved. Besides, if the Prophet reaches the altars to Phallia-“

Ebe cuts him off raising her voice high, “GOOD PEOPLE? You mean good DELEORIANS!” Tears form in her eyes as her cheeks go red. “Many good ECTRIANS have already died or been suckered into this cult! They’ve taken slaves, had people killed in relation to this, and their damn goals of bringing back the Apophis twist people into doing… unspeakable things!”

Ebe looks to you and says, “Rommel’s sister was even swayed in by that cult! They’ve unleashed an ancient horror to slaughter my people and you just… you just went and fostered this?!”

Selene bristles. “Do not presume to talk down to me. I have a NATION of Monsters to protect, those who want to live peacefully now. This little cult was never to amount to anything but a distraction, I do not know how they gained so much power in such a short time, but there are ALWAYS reasons for someone’s actions.”

Ebe looks to Sophie and Sylphie, the two seeming miserable, ears flattened. Clearly they don’t want to upset Ebe, but at the same time they just got their Mother back! Can you blame them?

“Listen, Ebe.” You say, holding up a hand. “We can yell at them later, I know you want to, I really do. But We need to get to safety or at least… at least figure out a plan of attack if that’s what we’re forced to do.”

The Gandharva bristles but pulls back, glaring at Selene. Tabitha steps forward, hand on her sword. “Look, we can either try to settle the score or leave the city and regroup. At this point, we lack information of the situation and the capabilities of the Pharaoh.”

“Oh, I can tell you all about that.” The Grand Wizard grumbles. “We had her on the ropes, she was nothing until she took up this staff of hers and worked some spell. Felt like something shattered for a moment around us, then…”

“Then our magic was useless. She was able to contain me before I could engage her in close quarters again and it was like everything bent to her will.” Selene chimes in.

“Unlimited power.” You mutter, remembering the stories from before. “At the cost of releasing the Apophis back into the world.”

“Hmm?” The Wizard asks.

“Nothing.” You sigh. Standing up straight, you look at everyone present and ask, “We have a choice to make here. We’ll have to fight our way out of the city if we’re leaving unless we can think of another option. I need to know, what do all of you think?”

The Wizard and Selene look at each other before nodding. The Monster Lady says, “We need to aid the Violet Sands in overthrowing the Prophet. It’s not just about the safety of Deleor that we do this, but for the world as a whole.”

Ebe looks down, gritting her teeth. “I… I don’t agree with allowing this slaughter but… but it has to end somehow. Either way, I want to do what’s best for my village and for Ectria. If that means leaving then so be it.”

Sophie says, “Myself and Sylphie believe it would be best not to engage the Pharaoh at this time. Besides…”

“Rommel, your sister could be there, right?” Sylphie says in a low voice.

Alice shrugs, “I’ll fight where I need to fight.” Next to her, Tabitha rolls her eyes,

“Tactical withdrawal would be fine, however it would likely be safer to hole up and get information before leaving or attacking.”

Zoras shrugs. “If you’re going, I have more information to gather for Ammon then. If you’re staying, well, better to stay in numbers then.”

{I’ll follow your lead.} Erwin sends, full of confidence.

All eyes turn to you, though the Grand Wizard smirks, as if he himself was in similar situations multiple times. There’s many more questions to ask him, both of them really, but is there time now? And what do YOU want to do here? Is it worth collecting the information and moving in to intervene, or merely returning and preparing Deleor with its two greatest assets?

Or, will you do what you came here to do?

It’s been the case so many times in this adventure, but now more than ever you need to decide.

A cool night wind rushes through the alleyway, bringing with it the distant smells of smoke. Despite this, you take a whiff, scrunching your nose at the stink. This city burns, though you wonder for how much longer? The way you see it, unless something happens, the Violet Sands will be defeated. The Pharaoh will crack down on anyone who happens to be close to the cult and purge all of them, solidifying her rule. Anyone associated in any way, including Ebe’s mother and your sister.

Closing your eyes you think it over again in the relative silence of the alleyway. Though in the distance shouting is heard it’s muted to the point to seem quiet in comparison. It allows you to think it all through and yet… yet something else digs at you. Something deep, something that was present since the beginning of all of this. It reminds you of the reason you were here in the first place, something you’d almost forgotten.

Opening your eyes, you turn your gaze to the Grand Wizard. The man chats softly with his wife while pointing out behind your group, toward the city. They have concern on their faces as they talk despite all the suffering they had to deal with over the past few months. It seems so strange to think that they totally trust each other, a Wizard and the Monster Lady, natural enemies. Watching this feels so wrong and yet… you can’t seem to blame him.

Flicking your gaze to the twins, you see them holding hands, eyes looking toward you while glance flick to their parents. Sophie notices your gaze and furrows her brow, though you look away a moment later, thinking it over. These two girls were the product of such a union, something that was never supposed to happen! And yet if they didn’t come together then all the hardships, all the good times, the emotions, they’d… they’d never-

Moving your gaze aside, it leads to Tabitha, the Lizardman standing with sword on her hand, ears twitching as she listens for signs of danger. Her eyes catch yours and she nods, probably to reassure you. Oddly enough, you feel reassured… but she’s a Monster. A Monster who cried on your shoulder and wept of the loss of her father until she fell asleep, feeling safe enough around you to do so. Even worse, you felt comfortable enough to let her do it.

So when it comes to your original reason for being here, you feel a certain sense of hesitation. Part of you knows why that is and yet an intractable part cries out for you to follow this through. You don’t understand and yet you WANT to understand. You’re afraid and yet you’re more afraid of not knowing, not saying what you came here to say. If you don’t do this now, you might never get the chance and… and deep down you know that the answer to this question will set your course one way or another.

Gritting your teeth, you stand up tall and address the Grand Wizard. “Wizard! Before we decide what to do next, I would have a word with you.”

“Hmm?” He says, raising an eyebrow. Selene’s tails rise but he puts a hand on her shoulder and shakes his head. She backs down, looking a little confused until he leans over and plants a kiss on her cheek. She sighs and hangs back as he walks over to you.

Gesturing for him to follow, you head down the alleyway a little more and once sufficently seperated, you cast [Build the Wall] to block the two of you from view. You know on the other side that Erwin is standing before it, hopefully keeping them from doing anything rash. You’d at least expect to have earned at least that much trust.

“I suppose this is important.” He says as you cast [Privacy Barrier].

“It is.”

“Hmph.” The Grand Wizard replies, looking around at your magic. “Not bad. How long have you been a Wizard again?”

“Only a few months.” You reply, gathering your thoughts.

“Impressive. I didn’t really do much until I was thirty-two, but to get this far you must have had one hells of a time.”

“It wasn’t easy.”

“No, no it doesn’t seem like it was. Especially not with those two by your side the whole way.” He pauses and shakes his head. “I suppose that’s a story for another time. I assume however they sort of forced you into this?”

“Not exactly.” You say, shrugging. “I was the one calling the shots most of the time, though they made the decision to find you before I met them.”

“I see. Well… thank you Rommel. For keeping them safe. I can’t imagine what I would have done had they…” Tears form in his eyes but he wipes them away before taking a deep breath and looking up at you. Clearing his throat, he asks, “But escorting those two isn’t exactly why you’re here, is it?”

“No.” You say in a low voice, almost a whisper. Gripping your staff tight, you look up and raise your voice to say,

“I want you to return Wizards to the way we were.”

Even without the privacy barrier, you know silence would be the only answer. The Grand Wizard stands a little taller, his eyes becoming steely and resolute. He searches your emotions for a long while, jaw clenching as he thinks something over internally. Eventually he closes his eyes and says,

“No.”

Anger fills you at this answer. Well, perhaps not anger exactly, but something akin to beer kept under pressure for far too long and finally being let loose. All the pent up frustration from your journey, the fears, the hurts, the aches, the confusing emotions, and all the doubts pour out of you from that single word. It digs deep into your veins, dragging forth a rage that has you stomp your feet on the ground and shout, “LOOK AROUND YOU! Monsters have pushed their way into our societies, taking what they want and leaving sorrow in their wake! Galmathoria seeks to destroy or subsume our nation and Ectria has no problem taking slaves and raping like barbarians!”

Throwing down your staff, you walk up to him and grab him by the robe, the man merely staring into your eyes as you continue to spew vitriol at him. “These beasts take and take and the force which was supposed to keep them in check is now busy throwing it all away because they fucking can. Where did the proud Wizards go? Those who believe in justice and protecting humanity? Where did the spirit of sacrifice go which made us strong? We are but a shell of our former selves and YOU are the one to blame!”

He says nothing as you continue to hold him. Shouting in frustration, you shake him in a similar manner to how you’ve been shaken by Monsters the whole damn trip. It doesn’t solve anything, but you need a release for all this emotion. Face heating up, you snarl, “I lost everything you know? I lost my Mother, my sister, my whole damn life when I was little. The only fucking thing I had was you! I had your fucking book and a promise to keep. I told myself I’d protect people from these creatures, I’d do what you did, I’d become a Wizard and fucking HELP people. But, the more I read and the more the world began to change around me, I started to see truth of what you did. You didn’t save us, you damned humanity by relegating their greatest protectors to degenerates who forgot their own history!”

Dropping him, or well, almost THROWING him to the ground, you tower over the older Wizard and say, tears forming in your eyes, “And yet here you are, broken and abused by them, yet the first thing you do is hug a damn Monster.” Gripping you knuckles tight, you continue, “How can you just accept that? How can you throw away all that Solos gave to us to protect? How can you let it just continue, to make allow Wizards to be weak creatures who fuck those they were sworn to defeat with no consequences?”

Gritting you teeth, you almost hiss out, “Give me one good reason why you won’t let US save the world from THEM?”

The Grand Wizard, sitting on the floor of some unnamed alley in the middle of the Capital of Ectria, looks straight into your eyes. Never wavering, he opens his mouth and answers,

“Because for all the differences we have, for all the history, the fear, the bloodshed, the wars… for all of that and more, Monsters just want to live and find love. In the end, Monsters are people too.”

His gaze softens as well as his tone as he asks, “And you know that, don’t you?”

Closing your eyes tight, you hang your head as you slump your shoulders, defeated. Despite the torrent of all the rage, the anger, and the frustration, you did know that answer. It became obvious and yet you chose not to acknowledge it. How many times did you see the twins as the same as young women, or Tabitha as a seasoned warrior? Even standing side by side to Alice, you only compared their characters instead of their features. What was the really difference then?

Even after your first encounter with the slavers, despite being lead by an Anubis, she had many men doing the dirty deeds as well. Humans can easily do as cruel or crueler acts than Monsters- Sylphie’s rifle wound is testament to that- and yet you still never gave up this niggling hope that if you just reached the Grand Wizard and roughed him up, that he’d change everything back to the way it was. Maybe, hells, maybe you figured if it all went back to the way it was before, somehow your Mother would return, or maybe even your sister and… your sister…

The Grand Wizard stands up slowly and dusts himself off. Walking up to you, he looks at your tired form and places a hand on your shoulder. Blinking tears of frustration and weariness away, you look at him with blurred vision. He smiles, an understanding smile, something that tells you he knows exactly what you’re going through. With a calm, even voice, he says to you,

“Rommel, I think you just need to stop being such a faggot.”

Blinking one, twice, three times, you can only blurt you, “Huh?”

“Yeah, this whole getting emotional and crying thing. I mean, I get it, you had a hardship and you wanted this not to happen to anyone else ever again, and that’s noble and all, but you really just need to stop being such a faggot.”

“That’s- That’s not.” Shaking your head, you glare at him and say, “That’s not really something you tell someone who hates you and wants you to fix the greatest mistake the world has ever seen. It’s doubly the cause when this man has you trapped behind a wall where no one can hear you and you’ve been imprisoned for months.”

“Yeah, but it’s the truth.” The Grand Wizard says, shrugging. “Listen, Rommel, I understand what you’re asking, but I’m not certain you understand fully what it means to ask this. If I did this, which I won’t and probably couldn’t anyway, then things would change more than you’d imagine and for the worse.”

“How’s that?”

“There’s plenty of practical reasons, but I think the one that you fail to recognize is what it really meant to be a Wizard in the past.”

Stiffening, you say, “Wizards in the past were warriors with absolute wills who lived thirty years fighting temptation in preparation to protect humanity. They were weapons forged to keep us safe and secure.”

“Yes, but what kind of lives do you think the ancient Wizards lead?”

You pause and think it over before slowly answering, “I’d imagine… they lead pretty solitary lives, trying to avoid temptations, yet ready to defend humanity if needed.”

“You make it sound more noble than it was.” The Grand Wizard sighs. Shaking his head, he says, “Listen, Rommel, how was it growing up with the goal of being a Wizard?”

“It was… I guess I’d have to call it lonely?”

“Yes, it was very lonely. Now imagine a time before the Communion Matrix existed. Imagine what it was like to be beset on all sides by Monsters, to be heralded as champions of the people and yet to know you could never interact with them or anyone else. For most Wizards, they were lonely, bitter, solitary men who often weren’t fighting for noble reasons, but for spite or revenge. Much of their technology and advancements came from a far different reason than why we invent today.”

“But.” You say, holding out your hands. “The records all say that-“

“The records are purposefully vague. Who would want to write about something so bleak? There’s so few records left and they’re mostly in the Monster Nation, from those who fought and observed them. The one common theme in all of the stories was the thought of, ‘I wish I could help him.'”

Growing quiet, you feel a growing sense of guilt within you. You’d always thought that the Wizards of the past were these monolithic warriors of virtue and justice, the embodiment of Solos’s will. Perhaps the first Wizards, perhaps.

“Some people wondered why the Wizards left when Mootatrix developed the Communion Matrix. It’s pretty obvious, once you think about it. It offered them a way to break the loneliness felt in the real world without all the complications that come with doing so. No one would know who they are, no one would care. It was so much easier to break from all of it and just retreat into that world.”

He looks at you and raises an eyebrow. “You’ve felt it too, haven’t you?”

“Perhaps… but I always knew what I was going to do though.”

“Yes, you did. You put that hardship upon yourself until you were thirty and what was the first thing you did? You came out here to fucking Ectria with my daughters and rescued me during a civil war just to tell me to fucking make it so you lost your powers when you had sex. What kind of person does that?”

“A dedicated one.” You say before you can think about it.

“Yeah, a dedicated one.” He says, nodding. “The numbers of Wizards have dropped dramatically, I’m sure you’re aware. As more people know about Wizards and know that there’s no consequences to sex any longer, they lose some of that dedication. They slip or they do something else with their lives. Those who were only in it for power and never had a purpose just go ahead and never become Wizards.”

Holding up a finger, he continues, “Which means that the new Wizards, those who began their journeys after what I did are those with dedication, those who take on the hardships for a reason. They’re people like you Rommel.” Looking directly into your eyes, he says, “Would you rather the protectors of humanity be angry shut-ins, or people who go out and fucking do something?”

Shaking your head slowly, you sigh out, “I really want to hate you. I really do, I want to break your fucking nose, but you make sense you bastard. You unbelievable bastard, why can’t I hate you?”

The Grand Wizard leans in with a shit eating grin, “Because, you know I’m right.”

“Fuck off.” You say, waving him away. With a groan, you rub at your head. “Gods damnit. I’d thought that… Gods I don’t even know what to do anymore.”

“Well, you’d better figure it out. Everyone’s clearly looking up to the Monster hating Wizard. Especially Tabitha for some reason, though she doesn’t really get along with anyone.”

“Well, she did tell me why she’s afraid of water.”

The Grand Wizard’s eyes get big and his jaw drops, “You fucking what? She hasn’t told that to anyone! Holy shit, are you fucking her? How did you beat her in combat? No, wait that’s stupid, you just went on a rant about not wanting sex and- By the Gods.”

“Listen, I don’t- Gods, it’s not like-“

“Lad, I’m rooting for you. You two would make cute babies and Gods knows Tabitha needs a good dicking.”

“Holy fuck, stop.”

“Hrm, but would semen mess up the aether balance of her legs? Maybe she should take them off before engaging in anything like that, though that would mean no leg locking and-“

Grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him, you shout, “STOP!”

“Okay.” He says, dropping it like that.

Groaning, you walk up and pick up your staff before shaking your head. “Well this is fucking embarrassing now.”

“Honestly, you have more important things to worry about than embarrassment.” He says, face growing serious. “Like what you’re going to do next. I don’t have to tell you how important it is to Deleor that the Pharaoh is defeated.”

“Yes, you’ve made your position incredibly clear. I just don’t know if it’s worth risking the lives of everyone present, but…” You say, waving a hand. “I’m also worried about what she’ll do the people of Ectria who support the Violet Sands.”

“Ah.” The Grand Wizards says. “The Ghandharva… Ebe, was it? She mentioned something about your sister?”

“I… yes, it’s a long story, but she’s part of the cult.”

“Is she in the city?”

“I don’t know.” You say honestly. “I just know she is around the city, but I’d assume since that thing Hent-ateh is here, she is too.”

“Since you know she’s around, have you talked with her? From what you told me, you gained these powers so you could prevent something terrible happening to people like your sister. If she’s really here then…” He trails off and looks at the wall. “Then family is one of the most important things you can have.”

“I know that, I know, it’s just… I never wanted to get involved with the Violet Sands. They’re crazy and think nothing of enslaving others to their will. The more I learn of the Apophis too, the more I hated them and feared their return. Now that there is one back I… I don’t know what would happen if the Pharaoh were to fall.”

“We… didn’t think that would happen.” The Grand Wizard sighs. “When we first came here we found a small cell of the cult and thought that they could be galvanized into a weapon to slow down the Pharaoh. We didn’t think much of their tactics, but they were effective at getting the populace mobilized and with such a crazy goal they would never cause any real harm. We figured we could use them as a means of getting into the Capital and then assaulting the Pharaoh herself but well, I told you how that went.”

“Which ironically allowed the Apophis back into the world.” You say, waving a hand. “But no one could have seen that coming. I think the better question is how they can seem to communicate with each other so easily.”

The Grand Wizard blinks. “Oh, that was me.”

You stare at him. “What?”

“Yes, it was a spell Selene and myself devised, we made a network of sorts with those sigils they keep, allowing them to speak with others which had the spell laid on it. Taught it to their Witches and they spread it quickly. How else would they stay connected so well?”

Mind racing, you say, “Can you cast this spell again?”

He shrugs, “Sure, if I had one of the sigils. It’s very particular and laid to the exact design though, so not just anything will-” He cuts off as you hold up the [Aliph’s Sigil] before him. A smile comes to his mouth as he cracks his neck and takes the sigil.

———————————————

The wall comes down and the two of you step out toward the waiting group. Though it felt like forever, not much had changed since you had your little chat. No one questions what you talked about save Alice, who gets a sound knuckle to the head by Tabitha. Erwin looks at you and nods before sending,

{I guess you found your answer.}

{You cheeky bastard, you knew what it would be the whole time.}

{Not much of a Quest if I told you though.}

Shaking your head, you hold up a hand. Everyone turns to you and you look over the assembled people and Monsters. You’re acutely aware of the difference between them and the humans again after your talk and yet… it doesn’t seem to matter as much. Though you feel a little emotionally weary from the conversation, it also feels as if a weight is lifted from your chest. You’ll need some more time to really process everything he said, but for now you have other things to do and nothing weighing you down.

Nodding your head, you address the group. “Friends, I won’t pretend we aren’t tired and beaten, and need another long nap. I also won’t pretend that things are serious here. I’ve heard what everyone thinks and after thinking it over myself, I must say that I’m not committed to overthrowing the Pharaoh.”

Selene and the twins look at you in surprise, though Ebe gives you a puzzled look while Tabitha merely watches, waiting for you to say something else. Looking at her and remembering the conversation you just had, you look away again, trying not to dwell on it. Fucking, why does everyone keep saying this? Continuing, you say, “However, I think the true that we don’t have enough information to make a full decision. It may very well be in our best interests to run, but at the same time, it would behoove us to find out what’s going on with the Violet Sands. If aiding them is best for Ectria and Deleor… then so be it.”

The other nod their heads at this, with Sophie stepping forward to ask, “Rommel, how do you propose to do that? Send Erwin to scout?”

“Perhaps at a certain point, however I don’t need that for now.” Holding up the [Aliph’s Sigil], you say, “Turns out the Wizard here made an enchantment that allows us to talk with them. Isn’t that convenient?”

Zoras snorts, “Bloody convenient, yes.”

Ebe nods her head slowly. “You’re going to ask about your sister, aren’t you? I know you’ve been keeping it to yourself for awhile but…”

Smiling at Ebe, you say, “Yeah. Thanks for not digging into it, but I’m… I’m ready to face her. One way or another.” She nods at you as you hold up the amulet and activate the spell that the Wizard laid onto it.

You feel something tug at the corners of your mind, something similar to the familiar bond, and then you hear voices. Furious voices mainly, voices of those shouting back and forth as if in a warzone, trying to communicate. Listening for a moment, you get a picture that things are at a stalemate at the moment, neither side making much headway with even Hent’ateh stalled and forced back. There’s no word of what happened inside the Palace though, but given that there’s no news of the Pharaoh being dead, you assume the opposite happened. Still, the distraction there kept the full might of the Royal Guard from falling upon the cultists.

Listening in to something particular, you hear a woman cry, {Mistress! We have another prisoner!}

{Good. Bring them to me that they may be given my blessing.} Your eyes go wide at the voice which responds. It sounds like Helene and yet… it doesn’t. It sounds more sensual, like the voice is slithering through silk. It makes your body shiver both from being disturbed and also from primal allure.

You’re able to hear all the conversations of this particular cell now and can easily monitor their chatter. You’re on the other side of the city from them,  and it will take some time to get to that district without running into the Royal Guard, but at least you can get a sense of what’s happening now and find a safe way to meet them. On top of all that, you could also speak with them as well, but is it wise to reveal yourself? If you say something now, there’s no going back.

The sigil almost feels hot in your hand as you look down upon it, wondering how to proceed next. With that disturbingly silky voice echoing in your head and a newfound sense of purpose, you need to think carefully about your next actions and how you want to approach this. Will you join in the fight against the Pharaoh or do you just want to see your sister again and confirm what you already fear?

“Helene…” You whisper, clutching the snake-headed sigil in your hand. The metal bites into your palm as you do so, but it’s such a small thing you barely notice. Your mind is too conflicted with decisions on what to do and what your choice will mean going forward.

In the end, it all really comes down to what you do with the Violet Sands, doesn’t it? Determining what their goals are, how they’re doing in relation to the Pharaoh’s forces, and what the demeanor of the Apophis is are paramount. If, and it’s a big if, after speaking with her you decide it’s worth helping them to remove the Pharaoh, you’ll do it. Besides, you’ll have more time to decide whether or not you will need to commit double regicide.

Above all of this however, the words of the Grand Wizard ring in your mind. “Then family is one of the most important things you can have.” You’ve grappled with it and done very little overall to reach out with her since your meeting beforehand. The letter was a gesture, something heartfelt but ultimately with little weight behind it, you suspect. You fear you know what you’ll find when you go to seek her out, but… you have to do it anyway.

“Hmm?” Sylphie says, cocking her head. “Did you say something?”

Shaking your head, you loosen your grip on the sigil and say, “I’ve made my decision. We’re going back in to speak with this Apophis.”

Skeptical eyes greet you and Alice raises a hand. “Uh, why would they just let us walk in?”

A pit forms in your stomach. “I have a feeling they won’t cause us much trouble. We’re too valuable and…” Trailing off, you shake your head and stand up tall again. “Anyway, any objections?”

Your party look between themselves before shrugging. Sophie nods her head, “I suppose we’ve followed you this far. Might as well see what we can do, especially if it helps to preserve Deleor.” She winces as her mother ruffles her hair.

“That’s my little princess.”

“Ugh, Mother please, you’re doing it all wrong.” The young Cat o’Ninetails says.

Selene looks confused. “What? But you love my headpats!”

“I was a younger child then and have a more refined palette now.”

“B-But? Who else has been touching your head?”

Sylphie’s eyes flicker to you and Selene catches it, turning her head slowly in your direction. You feel something like panic wash over you for a moment under the scrutiny she’s giving you. Shifting a little, she eventually sniffs and says, “I assume your sister has been in on this too?”

“E-Ehm.” Sylphie says, fidgeting. “I mean, he gives REALLY good headpats.”

“Dear…” The Grand Wizard says, putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “They’re adults now, they can choose who can pat their heads.” When Selene still glares at you, he says in a softer voice. “If you let it go, I’ll let you pat my lower head, alright?”

The Monster Lady sighs and rolls her eyes. “Oh, very well then.” She gives you one last intimidating look before smirking and walking off with her husband before a wall of rock similar to the one you cast appears to block them off. A moment later the tingle of a privacy barrier being cast is felt as well and both you and Sylphie shudder.

“Gods, it’s like being back at home again when we were little and Mom didn’t travel as much.” She says, shaking her head. “I know they’re doing lewd shit just in the next room, but you can’t hear anything.”

“Sister, do you really want to?” Sophie asks. Her sister taps her chin and then grimaces before shaking her head.

Chitinous legs skitter up next to you and you turn to see Zoras, arms crossed under her breasts. “Well, interesting as it is to know that you could just drop that wall and watch two very important foreign officials going at it, I think there are more important things to do.” She gestures behind you toward the city. “Such as figuring out the next steps.”

“Ah, that’s easy.” You say, turning away from the wall. Gods that’s unnerving to know what’s happening but not seeing it… or wanting to see it and yet not seeing it is somehow worse. Shaking your head, you pull out the small map made for you in town and trace a line through the Tajir district.

“I highly doubt the guards are going to care much about this district at the moment, especially with the cultists pushing south toward the capital. If we push quickly we can come around the sides and reach the backlines.”

Tabitha looks over the map and nods. “Sound enough thinking. Unless they form a rear attack, but with Violet Sands being holed up so well, I doubt that will mean much.”

“Well.” Alice says, cracking her knuckles. What are we waiting for?”

Mr. Ed snorts and swishes his tail in the direction of the wall. The swordswoman clacks her tongue. “Oh, right.” A lewd grin appears on her face as she slowly turns to you and raises a finger.

“No.”

“Aww, you’re no fun.” She sighs, turning her attention back to her armor while giving furtive glances to the wall.

———————————————

A short time later the wall comes down and both the Grand Wizard and the Monster lady walk back toward the group, perfectly composed. They meet the questioning eyes of all assembled and then look to each other before the Wizard says, “Is there something we can help you with?”

Alice raises a hand, but Tabitha slaps it down, making the swordswoman grumble. Sighing, you turn to them and go over the plan, which they agree too. The Cat o’Ninetails sighs and looks at the blunted edges of her tail blades.

“Well, I suppose the walk will give me time to sharpen these. Does anyone have a whetstone?”

“Yes, of course.” Sophie says, pulling one out and handing it to her mother. She receives a smile in thanks as the group begins walking through the streets again. They’re both forced to don concealing clothing again, however Selene has one tail in front of her at a time, honing the edge of her tail with the sharpening rock. It’s kind of unnerving to think of what those blades are made of, or how exactly one is to give birth with them. You suppose she’s just a tough lady for having twins.

Moving at a quick pace now that everyone is more recovered, you make your way through the rest of the Mina district with little difficulty. Everyone who had a boat was now on them, trying to force their way out of the city while the others who figured out that leaving was not going to happen have cleared the streets. Guards have abandoned the area and the only people and Monsters you really see about are looters who have taken to ransacking warehouses.

Though your group raises some eyes as you travel through the streets, no one starts any confrontations- there’s too many easy pickings available to bother with a fight. You begin to wonder if keeping your party members identities hidden really means anything right up until you reach the Tajir district again. Slowing your pace as you pass by the concourse leading to the Merchant’s Guild that divides the two districts, you look about in confusion.

Fires burn from various portions of the Tajir district and you hear shouting all around. Sounds of weapons clashing and cries of pain echo through the district and you turn to the others to look at them in confusion. Erwin steps forward and sniffs the air before shivering. {Ugh, fires burning everywhere. Bloodshed too. I think some looters took things a little too far.}

Moving out again, you make your way through the smaller streets, following Erwin and the hearing of the three Cat o’Ninetails. Zoras scurries along walls to scout around corners and only once were you forced to do battle with a small group of men dressed in dirty clothing with improvised weapons. It was over before they knew what hit them.

Because of the distractions you reach the southeastern edge of the Mushtarak district much later in the evening than intended. This area is devoid of visible life, with either the populace having tried to flee to the gates or are cowering in their homes, waiting for this to be over. If the Pharaoh really cared for them she’d have assigned guards in this area, but goes to show you what she thinks of her people.

The elaborate storefronts of the Tajir district give way to larger and more drab houses and apartments that still have more flair than most villas in Deleor. In this area of the city no fires burn and the streets are quiet… too quiet. Through [Aliph’s Sigil], you’ve heard sparse communications, mainly cultists confused as to why the Royal Guard have stopped attacking them. They’re taking the time to reinforce themselves and the chatter is minimal. It makes you worry instead of putting you at ease.

As you turn a corner you see in the distance the Lesser Temple of the Twins. Though you can’t see much of it, you can hear a low chanting of prayers to the twin Goddesses from a scared and frantic congregation. Thankfully, you’re able to steer clear of it as you move Northwest toward the Na’nthal park. Moving near a larger street, Zoras appears from around the corner and drops down onto the ground before you, looking alarmed.

“Bloody Violet Sands cultists up ahead. They’re looking a little ah… jittery with bows in hand.”

“It’s almost like they expect to get attacked.” You say, rubbing your chin. Well, you wanted to get closer before revealing yourself, but this seems pretty good. Nodding at the others, you take in a deep breath, pull Ronnie out of your pocket, and walk out.

Immediately an arrow comes flying at you and you block it with Ronnie using [Rock Solid]. The men look at you in alarm, knocking more arrows, but you hold up [Aliph’s Sigil] and say, “Hold! We aren’t your enemies!”

The men look at each other in confusion for a moment before two converse with each other and one shouts, “Who are you and why do you have that Sigil?”

“Come on, you have to know about my bargain with Lady Aliph.” You say, getting closer to them. “I’m here to see the Apophis.”

Their response, a furious chatter between them confirms that you already knew, that there is an Apophis. One of them dressed in finer clothing steps up and says, “What makes you think you can just see the glorious one?”

“Ask her yourself. Tell her Rommel wants to talk.” Though you can do this yourself, it’s better for her minions not to know this.

The man eyes you up and down before crossing his arms. “I think we’ll just bring you in on our terms instead-” He cuts off as he looks behind you to see the rest of your party emerging from the side street. Licking his lips, the judges his odds and says, “I shall contact her…”

Taking a step backward, he holds his own sigil close to his breast and mutters to himself before frowning. His eyes go open wide a moment later and he licks his lips in worry. “T-The great one will see you. Please… head this way.” He gives a shaky nod to the others to hold the line and takes you with him past their lines.

A quiet fills the air ahead as hostilities have ceased for the moment. As you walk past, cult members emerge through houses, carrying with them supplies looted from nearby houses or are shoring up defenses. They mutter to themselves as you walk past, as if knowing exactly who you are and why you’re here. The closer you get to your destination, the more cult members you see, as well as more devastation.

The man leads you down a street when you freeze in shock as you come face to face with Hent-Ateh. The… thing stands there, far different than the creature you saw last time. Where the darkness leaked forth from patches of the construct body like something trying to escape, it had now subsumed it. You can see patches of metal as a framework underneath roiling patches of dark flesh which give an unmistakable feminine form.

Glowing purple eyes look at you with recognition and its mouth opens a little too wide, revealing rows of serrated, gleaming teeth. Hands strong as steel grab before you can do anything and Ebe screams in panic at the sudden confrontation as the thing drives its face before yours, mouth open, and…

It laughs.

 But not a laughter of joy, no, this laughter is almost as bad as if the damn thing had taken your head off. “EHAHWHAHSHWHAHAHWHAHAH.” Hent-Ateh nearly screams in your face, making your fucking soul shiver.

The laughter stops as abruptly as it begins and the creature drops you as your party readies to strike it. Long, sensous fingers curl around the unnatural breasts of the abomination as it regards you. “Hmm. A shame. I do so wish to kill you, but I have been ordered not to.”

Ears ringing, you say, “W-what the fuck was that?”

“A present from the last time we met. I was not quite in my right mind, but I assure you, the moment I’m allowed to, I will feast upon your souls.” A disgustingly long tongue drapes from the darkness of her mouth and slides against you face before the thing cackles again.

The man who lead you present bows to Hent-Ateh. “Great protector, will the Apophis see us?”

“I suppose.” Hent-Ateh sighs. “I wish she would have allowed me to keep killing instead of falling back. Ectrian blood tastes so wonderful…”

The man shudders involuntarily but he leads you past her, making a wide arc around the abomination. As you pass, her head follows you, doing a complete 180 while smiling the whole time. As Ebe passes by, she leans forward and says, “Boo!” Making the Ghandharva squeal and cling to Zoras as Hent-Aten chuckles.

The man leads you to a large building where two Anubis stand, draped in the robes of the Violet Sands. Other cultists work around them, fortifying the position and handling prisoners, but they pay you no particular attention- especially not after your scene with Hent-Ateh. They step aside and admit you entrance to the building where you’re immediately greeted by a staircase leading downward. Not questioning it, you head down into the darkness. Unfortunately it’s too small for Mr. Ed to come down, so you leave him outside with Sylphie, her Mother, and Alice. Making sure they’re well situated, you take a lantern from the wall and head down.

Your footsteps echo down the stone staircase and as you enter further you hear the sounds of agonized screaming coming from below. Looking alarmed, you ask the man what’s wrong, but he doesn’t seem fazed, more awed than anything. This in turn makes you feel uneasy, but you follow him toward the sounds of screaming which begin to die down. As you turn through the basement tunnels, you begin to hear the same voice which was screaming begin to cry and laugh.

The man stops before a door, that eerie sobbing coming through the other side. A Lamia guard nods to you to enter before dismissing the man. He looks a little chagrined, but does as he is told and heads away back to his post. Without even checking, the Lamia opens the door to you. As you make to enter, she holds the others back.

“The Apophisssss only wantssss him.”

Tabitha gives you a worried look, but you shake your head and give her a reassuring smile before entering into the room. The door closes behind you and you look at it for a moment before turning toward what you’ve come for.

The room is quite large for being underground. Clearly this place has been used by the cult for quite some time as it laden with ritual implements for the cult and looks more like a shrine than some living room. Lined along the walls are various reliefs of the ancient Apophis along with various trinkets and some potential artifacts. You notice the San’ha urn sitting in the corner, opened and feel a shiver down your spine. Next to it sits the Eye of Ant’anha, gemstone devoid of life. They must have been used in the ritual.

Turning your attention to the center of the room, you see what appears to be some kind of dais with an altar atop it and a couch-like throne. In the center of the altar is a bound, naked man who stares up at the throne, weeping tears of joy. Upon his neck are two bite marks, both of which pulse with malevolent energies. Off to the side you see the Lamia from the dungeons, the leader of the Violet Sands who was captured at the Chasm, looking reverently toward the throne. Finally acknowledging it, you turn your attention to the throne itself and find what you expected to see.

Sitting upon the throne is a long, sinuous form of a Lamia with dark, violet scales. Her body is deliciously feminine and her skin is the color of lilac. This fact is on display given that the majority of her skin is exposed, only wearing a red, jewel studded silk garment to cover her groin. Ornate, silver jewelry adorns the rest of her, including a bustier and a large ornament that has the shape of a cobra’s hood. Red, glowing gems inlay most of the jewelry, giving an even more imposing feature.

Yet despite all of this, the thing about this creature that disturbs you the most are the eyes. Her eyes glow red with black sclera and they look up at you from a face that is distinctly that of your sister’s. Brushing aside a lock of long, brown hair with unnatural red highlights, she smiles at you with a wicked, almost deranged smile.

“Rommel! How good of you to pay your dear sister a visit! It has been too long!”

You feel cold all of a sudden as you remember the woman from before, your sister when you had met her not so long ago. The woman from before was determined and hard bitten, but had a fierce vigor despite the pains that must have been inflicted upon her. While a picture of femininity, she didn’t bother to show it off and instead only seemed to focus on her task- or at least that’s what you assumed when you saw her in that brief time.

This creature before you however… is it really the same person? Where Helene was serious faced, the Apophis smiles at you with an almost insane glee, as if she knows she is all powerful. Her feminine features, exaggerated some after the transformation, are on full display to make it known what she is and how she wishes people to look and lust after her. If it weren’t for her speaking to you and the pit in your stomach, you’d have seriously thought that she was a different person entirely.

Of course, she very well could be a different person now that you think about it. Looking over at the discarded urn and remembering the presence you felt, you begin to wonder who this Apophis really is…

Shaking your head, you stand up tall and say, “Helene, is that really you?”

“But of course, dear brother, though I go by Hel’alin now.” She laughs, putting a hand to her mouth. “Why would you ask something so silly?”

“You look… different.”

“Ahaha, you always were a little joke maker when we were young.” Waving a hand at the other Lamia, she hisses, “Take him away to be fitted for battle like the others. Bring me a woman next time to bestow the gift upon.”

“Of course, your highness.” The wounded Lamia says, ushering the man out and leaving the two of you alone.

Hel’alin slithers down from her throne and draws her body in a circle around you before sliding her voluptous form up close to you. Her breath is hot on your face and you can see long, pointed fangs in her mouth as she caresses your cheek. “Ah… you have traveled so far and been through so much… I was afraid you and I would be enemies. Yet here you are, in the middle of my lair, just you… and me…”

“Helene, stop this.” You say as you feel her breath on your neck. She pulls back, eyes looking confused for a moment before she furrows her brow. Looking at her squarely you want to ask if it’s really her but… you can’t bring yourself to do it. Gripping your hand tight, you say instead, “I’m here to talk about fighting together against the Pharaoh.”

Cocking her head, she pulls away, yet still has her tail around you as she thinks. “Mmm, is that so? My servants have noticed you have quite the… interesting addition to your party. Though why do you think I need you?”

“Because your forces are at the stalemate and the ones in the Palace are surely dead by now. The Pharaoh will win this if you don’t have our help.”

She sighs, “When did my sweet little brother become so very… logical?” Shaking her head, she leans in again, eyes gleaming with a different sort of malice. “You know, I don’t really need your compliance in this. I could always just induct you into the cult with my gift.”

Feeling incredibly tired, you say, “So, the slave has become the slave master? You saved me all those years ago so you could enslave me now?”

To your surprise, you she her expression flicker. The malevolant smugness vanishes, replaced by a horror as she grabs you and pulls you in to a tight embrace. “Twins no Rommel, I don’t mean to- I just want to keep you close and protect you now that you’re here with me again.” You feel something wet on your shoulder and look over to see the Apophis crying.

“Helene…?”

“I read your letter, but I… I couldn’t stop. We had spent too much securing the relics, had too much bloodshed. With the Royal Guard returning I… I had no choice but the become the Apophis and… and…” You feel her sharp nails dig into your [Trenchcoat] as she hisses, voice taking on that sadistic edge,

“I took the gifts of the ancients into myself and BECAME the Apophis. I will break this Pahraoh and usher in the rule of the Apophis once again!” Pulling yourself away from her, she looks at you with those wide, almost insane eyes again. “And then, no one will ever take you away from me again, dear brother!”

Looking into those eyes you feel confused. This Monster before you was not the person from moments ago. Was… was this Helene now or was there something else, hiding under the surface? Confusion and doubt swim through your mind at this, but you push it aside to ask, “What are your forces doing?”

“Hmm? For now we are consolidating. I will soon have Hent-Ateh destroy the forward lines of the Guard while the cultists move in and take more converts.”

“I see.” You say, wanting to pull away. “I believe then I will figure out a course of action with my party then too.” As you make to walk away, you feel her tail tighten around you and you find yourself once again face to face with the Apophis. Beginning to sweat, you watch as she sniffs your neck and then sighs.

“Did I mention how good you smell? You know, in this form now, I am not truly your sister any longer. Though it is early in my rule, I could use a consort, and I can’t think of any I’d rather have than you-?” She cuts off as you touch your hand radiating [Ice] to her scales, making her jump back in surprise. She’s clearly not used to her new body yet.

“No.” You say, stepping away. Giving her one last look, you shake your head and say, “We’ll be in touch.” Before she can say anything further, you walk out of the room and rejoin with your party, heading upstairs. Ebe turns to you with a confused look as you enter up the stairs, but you hold up a hand to forestall her until you reunite with the others and pull away from the building before erecting a [Privacy barrier] and explaining everything that happened.

“Ewww.” Sylphie says, shuddering. “That’s seriously fucked up.”

“I don’t much care for it either.” Selene says, sighing. “But Monsterizing through relics like that… how disturbing Ectria is.”

“What do we do now?”

{H-Help!!} A voice echoes in your mind, making you look about in confusion as one of Polah’s familiars, a rat you haven’t seen before appears. The sending is frantic as he looks for help. {The gangs are taking the opportunity to fight for goods and territory and they’re going to destroy the whole Tajir district if they aren’t careful! Mistress Polah is in danger!}

“Gods…” You mutter to yourself. “I really don’t need this right now.”

{They aren’t at her house yet but please, help her! She can’t fly out of the city because of the guards on the walls, and even if we took them down, she refuses to leave!}

The little rat looks at you with little rat eyes. {Please?}

{Rommel…} Erwin sends. {I don’t think we have the time for this.}

{No, we don’t.} You send, feeling miserable. The rat looks at you with confusion and you’re forced to send, {Listen, I’ll… I’ll think it over, okay?}

{I… okay.} The rat sends. {I know she didn’t seem like it, but she did like having you around. It was… good for her.} The rat scampers away, leaving you with more conflicted feelings. Great…

“Eh?” The Grand Wizard says, looking at you with confusion. “What just happened?”

Explaining it all to the group, you rub your forehead and say, “This explains those hooligans we fought in the Tajir district, and the fires.”

“Should we help her?” Ebe asks, looking worried.

“I…” You say, worried yourself. While you liked Polah and all, going back and helping her would require dividing some of your party to do so. Unlikely they’ll return in time to help out the group in any meaningful way if you make any kind of attack- or if the enemy attacks.

Thinking about that, you look off toward where the Pharaoh’s forces should be and frown. Why would they just be waiting? There had to be something more to this than just that…

With an uneasy feeling in your stomach, you weigh your options and decide on the best course for you, your friends… and the Violet Sands.

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