Wizardquest 2: Chapter 17- Holy Rock

It’s not even really a question, when you think about it. Polah did right by you and besides, you get a feeling that she’s a little… shy? Her words to you were anything but, yet when she spoke normally it was almost cute in a way with how awkward she is. Thinking on it more, the way her familiars seem so concerned about her and the way she acts, you actually wonder if she’s gone outside in the past few years.

Sighing, you raise your hand and say to the group, “I need someone to go check up on Polah.”

“Eh?” Zoras asks, cocking her head. “That bad, huh?”

“Her familiar thinks so.”

The Girtablilu’s eyes flicker to the side for a moment before muttering something under her breath and then nodding her head. “Alright, I’ll do it.” When you give her a questioning look, she shrugs and says, “To be honest, I’m not too keen on fighting the Royal Guard again. Gangs? Oh, I can bloody well fight gangs, but that battle with the Anubis in the tunnel was a little over my head, you know?” She gives another furtive glance to the side and you notice her looking toward Hent-Ateh.

“Besides… I’d rather not be anywhere near that thing, you understand?”

“Yes, I do.” Ebe whispers, giving a furtive glance to the abomination. It… her head moves unnaturally toward her as she does so, forcing the Ghandharva to look away sharply before shivering. “Can’t you just have your sister tell that thing to leave?”

“I don’t think that’s happening.” You say, feeling a little sick. “I think it might be best to give Hele… Hel’alin a little space right now.”

Everyone looks rather awkward at that and you groan inwardly at being the source of it. Look, you just confirmed that your sister has become a Monster from ancient times and is possibly controlled by the spirit of a dead one of said Monsters. Given how she also wanted to make you her consort, it’s not exactly a good time for you.

Of course, she did also seem genuine there for a moment, showing something that reminded you of the past but- no, it’s too much to hope for something like that, right? Helene is gone and in her place is Hel’alin. And yet, you can’t fully accept that there isn’t something of your sister there, underneath all this. In a way though, you hope that there isn’t, because it would be easier to continue thinking her dead like you did all those years ago.

Unable to fully banish the thoughts, you turn back to Zoras and say, “Please, go and check on Polah. Get her to safety in the Mina district if you can, though I assume you can find somewhere safe within the Merchant’s guild?”

The Girtablilu raises an eyebrow. “And what makes you think that?” At your insistent stare she chuckles, “I suppose it would be the obvious choice, wouldn’t it? Yes, there are personal guards around the place, guarding it and they respond well to Ammon’s name. Some of them, anyway.”

“Thank you.” You say, nodding to her.

“It’s fine, just… not certain I’m going to be returning you know?” She shakes her head and sighs. “Well, it’s been fun anyway. Wonder what it would have been like to join you on the rest of your adventures.”

“You’d have seen a ruin filled with tons of priceless ancient Ectrian artifacts…” Alice mutters, to which Zoras cocks her head.

“Huh?”

“Oh.” Alice says, snickering. “Nothing at all. You take care now!”

The three Cat o’Ninetails look at each other with knowing looks, their ears twitching as they clearly heard that Alice said. In turn everyone says their goodbyes to Zoras and she departs, skittering away from the battle lines and toward Polah’s place of residence.

Watching her go, you look to Erwin and send, {Follow her.}

{Eh?} Erwin sends back, confused.

{She’s pretty capable and can take care of herself, but in case she gets in trouble I’d like someone else there to help her. Besides, having eyes and ears out there would be helpful.}

{Aww, can’t you make Alice do it?}

{Erwin, you’re the only one I can trust for this. Besides, we kind of owe Polah some and I’d rather not risk you out here if I can help it.}

Erwin mentally sighs. {Oh very well. Only because I like you.}

Kneeling down, you pat the little guy on the head and he sniffs before walking over to Sylphie. The Monster pats his head and he gives you a snide look before scurrying off after Zoras. You know he’ll be fine or else he wouldn’t have agreed so easily. Ah damnit Polah…

“Heh.” The Grand Wizard says, shaking his head as Erwin scampers off. “Seems you have a cheeky bastard for a familiar too.”

Sophie winces as he says this, but her father holds up a hand and shakes his head, “Don’t. It’s been long enough and Bubs had a great life, alright? Now isn’t the time to get all sentimental.”

“He’s right.” Selene says, crossing her arms. “We’re going to need a plan of attack.”

“Yes, we will.” You say before squaring off with them again.”But I think there’s a few unsolved questions before we go into that.”

The twins look to each other with surprise at your sudden change of tone and even Tabitha furrows her brow. Selene and the Grand Wizard look at each other for a moment before nodding and turning back to you. The Monster Lady holds out a hand and asks, “Very well, what else do you require?”

“First things first.” You say, pointing toward the Palace. “Why don’t you just [Twin Plasma Blast] the Palace? Why did you go through all this subterfuge in the first place?”

Selene sighs, “Well, once we realized going in and doing this diplomatically wasn’t going to work, we made our way into the Palace for some regicide. I’ll admit it flat out.”

“I’d say that seems difficult to do, but we accomplished it easily enough.” You say, shrugging.

“We also had a riot going on and scouts beforehand.” Ebe sniffs, giving the two older members a sideways look.

“We had some help as well.” The Grand Wizard says. “Among other reasons, we promised not to destroy the Palace. It’s best that you just know that destroying it would not be ideal for anyone involved.”

“Besides, I do not believe such a thing possible any longer.” Selene adds. “The power that the Prophet current wields would negate such a spell.”

Your eyebrows raise. “How does she have something that powerful? Can you explain again what exactly happened?”

“We entered the Palace, took out some guards without much trouble and faced the Pharaoh.” Selene says. She looks a little agitated as she continues. “Bitch casts a few measly pieces of dark magic before taking a staff from behind her throne and chanting something.”

Her husband nods his head. “We were too late to stop her and when she had finished a low thrumming of magic came into the air. I could feel my bones shaking at it and when we looked at her again her eyes were glowing purple, same as the staff. I tried to cast spells but the seemed to slide off of her.”

“I tried to get in close and slit her throat, but something repulsed me.” Selene adds, looking angry now. Before I knew what was happening, she’d grabbed us with something invisible. I tried to free myself, but she uh… smashed my head into the ground a few times.”

The grand wizard mutters to himself before sighing, “Same, to be honest. The worst part about it is that she looked pained in doing so, as if bringing us down was the worst thing she could have done.” He shakes his head. “Last thing I remember was what sounded like a chorus of voices laughing and the Prophet shouting in anger.”

Shaking his head, he shrugs. “Something like that. Killed a damn dragon and we got beaten by some woman with delusions. How shameful.”

Tabitha grumbles as Selene continues. “Next thing I know I’m in that cell alone. I tried to use my magic but nothing was working and I found myself drained dry of power soon enough. It was only then that they brought him into the cell as well with that collar and a lot of bruises.”

“Magic nullifying collar.” The Grand Wizard sighs. “Fucking things are outlawed in Deleor. Must have gotten one by black market trade or via the Eastern countries which use them for slaving sorcerers.” He holds out a hand which his wife takes before he squeezes it. “They tried to get information from me on rather mundane things such as army dispositions and the situation with Galmathoria. As for Selene…”

She looks at her missing tails and sighs as she reaches for the recently severed one. It was not a clean cut. Her voice trembles a moment before she says, “I got questions on the Monster Nation, at first anyway. As time progressed she began to grow interested in the Violet Sands, asking what we knew about them and how they were operating. I didn’t care much for the cult but I once gave her an answer she didn’t like and…”

“Mother…” Sophie says, putting a hand to her mouth. Her mother waves her over and she hugs her daughter before kissing her on top of the head.

“It’s alright, I have seven more anyway. Just means it’s more of a challenge when we play our game, right?”

“Father could always-“

“No.” Selene says, shaking her head. “He’s offered, but it’s alright. Anything I take is well deserved, I’m sure.”

“Dear, not this again.” The Grand Wizard begins. “Look, I told you that-“

“Ahem.” Tabitha interrupts, putting a hand to her mouth. “This is touching but you two have had this talk too many times to count and we’re in a war zone.”

The married couple look away, abashed. Giving Tabitha a nod, you speak up. “Alright, that’s good to know. I am sorry about your treatment though.”

“Well, we aren’t dead so that’s something.” The Grand Wizard says, shrugging.

“Right. As it stands, we’re in position with the Violet Sands here. If we break this little siege, they’re likely to assault the Palace.”

“And die miserably.” Alice says, waving a hand. “That story was kind of terrifying, remember?”

“Normally, yes.” You say, holding up a hand. “However, we learned an interesting piece of information. Tell then Sylphie.”

“Hmm? Oh!” Sylphie says, starting. She coughs and raises her bad arm too quickly, wincing and making to hold her shoulder. Her Mother looks alarmed, but she shakes her head and smiles. “Ah, don’t worry about! It’s fine, it’s fine. Anyway…” She clears her throat. “I think the way the Pharaoh is controlling all that power is through an aether transformer.”

Her Father looks surprised this time.”Aether transformer? That’s retard…ed…” His voice trails off as he considers this. “Actually, no, I guess it isn’t, is it? But how did you?-” He gives an “Oh you” look to his daughter who bats her eyes girlishly at him. Chuckling, he waves for her to continue, muttering, “Smart ass daughter.”

“Right, so, it’s most likely to be an ancient shrine, right? We’d learned that there’s been an increase in the numbers of guards around the High Altar of the Twins. That has to be where the transformer is!” She asks you to offer up the [Palace Map] and you hand it to her as she points to a spot in a shrine to the twins. “Here!”

Her Mother looks down at the map and frowns. “Dear… this doesn’t say the High Altar is here, merely just an Altar.”

“Well yeah, but why wouldn’t the Pharaoh keep that kind of power close to her? The abilities of such things weaken with distance, right?”

“Our current ones, yes.” The Grand Wizard says, looking over the map. “It would be the logical place for it to be, however…”

Sophie sighs. “The High Altar is in the Great Temple, isn’t it?”

Her parents look at each other before nodding to her. Selene says, “Yes, it is. We went to a congregation there while in the city at first and it’s most certainly there.”

“So we’d have to assault another building entirely to break her hold.” You say, rubbing your chin. “Hells! We can just annhilate that Temple and-“

Everyone in the bubble save for Alice turns to you and shouts, “NO!”

Taken aback, you turn to the face and ask, “What? Why not?”

“It’s an ancient Temple built to both Dollora and Phallia.” The Grand Wizard says, as if you should know this. “The artifacts there are priceless, and beyond that annihilating it would bring us nothing but the wrong kind of attention.”

“From what? The Gods? That’s-” As you say this you trail off, remembering your conversation with Dollora. Drawing your lips into a line you say, “Fine, but we’d need to be quick or else I’m sure the Pharaoh will attack us.”

“Aye.” Tabitha says, nodding her head. “But if we deny her that power she’ll stand no chance, right?”

“Ehm.” Sylphie says, rubbing her head. “Well, the transformer helps keep the power from vanishing once spent. It stores it. When destroyed she’ll still have the power but she’ll get weaker over time.”

“So she’ll still be invincible.” Ebe says, looking down.

“For a time.” Sophie says, nodding her head. “It’s the best plan of action we have available I’m afraid.”

Nodding, you say, “It’s something. We can figure out the details once we take care of the threat in front of us.” The rest of them look toward where the Guard would be stationed. “We need to break out of this and keep the Violet Sands from being annihilated before we can move forward.”

“And for that!” The Grand Wizard says, snapping his fingers. A horrid stench fills the area as feces from gutters rise up and collect before him. He shapes it into a disk and freezes the putrid thing before saying, “Alright, time to use-” He cuts off as a chunk of rock flies foeward and shatters the feces. Looking at the stone and then to you, he huffs and crosses his arms. “Oh, so you’re too good for copromancy eh?”

“Yeah, it’s shit.” You say, giving him a level look.

“Fuck you, it’s not just shit.” He begins before his wife puts a hand on his shoulder and shakes her head.

“Dear, it’s shit. It’s always been shit and it always will be shit. You’ve said you’d do more, but it’s basically always shit. Useful shit, but nonetheless, this shit is shit.”

“Shit.” The Grand Wizard says as he sees the nods from the others. Sighing, he says, “Fine, we’ll use your gay ass rocks I guess.”

“I can do metal too.”

“Oh fuck off.”

Finding and shaping a cobblestone, you hold it in the air before you and the Grand Wizard teaches you how to cast [Remote sentry]. With both of you anchoring the spell, he says, “Alright, we’ll get some good views from here.”

>You learn [Remote sentry]

>Place sentries which are infused with your magic and will wear out over time. Can tap into and see through the sentry, but cannot detect sounds.

>Easy to pick up by other practitioners who are looking.

“Hmm.” You say, rubbing your chin. “It’s missing something. I’d like to hear what they’re saying.”

“It doesn’t do that.”

“Yeah, but this does.” You say, casting [Audio Tap]. The Grand Wizard watches your spell and then asks you do to it again. He watches more intently, probably with [Mage Sight] and he ends up nodding his head and smirking.

“I think I have an idea. One second.”

Concentrating, he mutters to himself before holding out his hands and manipulating threads of magic before casting something onto the stone. Smiling, he says, “I think I’ve merged the spells well! Here, let me show you.”

Following his instructions, he indeed teaches you how to merge [Audio Tap] with [Remote Sentry] to form [Surveillance]. Casting the spell yourself, you find that you can see AND hear from the device!

>You learn [NSA]

>Combing spells in a way that only someone like the Grand Wizard would, you can hear and see from the remote spot. May not use <Vox Caster> from this however.

>It stands for “Nice Surveillance Apparatus”

Sending the little stone out to investigate, you notice Hent-Ateh watching the progress before turning to you and smirking. Gods that’s creepy as fuck. Turning back to your task, you focus entirely on the progress of what you see.

Initially it’s just some cultists holed up in buildings or holding defensive positions in the city streets. The further you go however, you reach a no man’s land where corpses lay, victims of battle. Among the dead are some human guard as well as Anubis and other Monsters. There seemed to be more dead cultists than Guard, yet the Guard are keeping their distance. How… odd.

Moving closer to the lines of the Guard, you see something you didn’t expect to see. Where the cultists are tense and nervous, the Guard are relatively few and relaxed. Certainly they stand at attention, Handmaidens giving orders, but they don’t appear to be looking like they’re going anywhere for awhile. Frowning, you watch through the spells as they stand there.

Daring to get closer, you stealthily move the rock (which is growing rather difficult to do at this distance) closer until you can hear one of the Handmaidens speaking.

“We are to hold in position here for now. The longer the cultists sit the better, but for now we wait for our signal.”

“Of course, Handmaiden. The southern team has already departed some time ago and should be closing in soon.”

“Indeed. They will- What is? HYAA!”

The last thing you notice from the spells is the Handmaiden throwing a spear at frightening speeds toward the rock and shattering it to pieces, breaking your tether point for [Surveillance].

Snapping back to yourself, you shake as does the Grand Wizard, who piggy-backed onto the rock. He coughs and says, “Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. Not much of an attack force, is it?”

“What did they mean about a Southern team though?” You ask, cocking your head. “Are they planning a rear assault?”

“Possibly, but there’s scouts all around. It wouldn’t end as well as they’d think, though a pincer would be smart.” Tabitha says, shrugging. “I think we’d have heard something by now if-” As she says this multiple cultists around you look down at their sigils in panic before turning to Hent-ateh or running for the stairs downward.

Hurriedly pulling out your own sigil, you listen in as the cultists from the way you came cry out. “They’re coming!” “It’s a Deathbringer! Oh Twins, it’s a Deathbringer!””GEOFLEXERS!”

Panic arises around you as you sense telltale signs of magic far down to the south coming to your direction. Putting your hand on the ground, you feel with [Survey] and frown as tremors come to you. Geoflexers, huh? You’d been told by Ebe’s Mother that the capital had Geoflexers, but you hadn’t seen any. Besides, this is a little too much for just that and what the Hells is a Deathbringer.

Informing the others, Ebe gasps. “Deathbringer? Those are Anubis born as Monster Witches! They have no innate magic resistance themselves, but they’re insanely powerful and incredibly rare! I should have known there would be at least one in the capital.”

More signals come from the sigil and you groan. The front lines are seeing the guard press in again as well, seeming to notice the confusion in the cultist ranks. It seems taking your time getting here had allowed this force to move in without being seen and you would have been too late to stop it before you now HAVE to stop it.

“Damnit.” Selene says, growling. “Wish I had a day to recuperate, or at least an hour to get pounded and recover my mana.”

“I know what you mean.” The Grand Wizard says, stretching. “Don’t really feel my best either.”

“Not that we have much of a choice.” Tabitha says, shaking her head. “There’s two fronts we’ll have to fight off before we can get out of here. Question is, which one is more beneficial?”

“Both, of course.” Sophie says, shaking her head. “I think it depends where that creature is going.” She points to Hent-Ateh, who looks annoyed but isn’t moving anywhere. Is it being ordered just to guard this place?

Damn, this is accelerating things. With a force of magic users moving up the south and a conventional force taking advantage, the cultists could be cut down and make life hard on you before you can do anything about it.

Another rumble heralds more of the magic you felt before and you feel again with your magic before your eyes go wide. A louder rumble sounds and in the distance you feel a building collapse. That’s their game, they’re going to collapse the buildings and flush everyone out!

Well shit. This is not what you were bargaining for. You yourself feel a little tired as well, but what choice do you have? You have two power houses who aren’t at their best at your disposal, as well as the rest of your team but you can only be in one place at a time, right? How are you to deal with multiple Handmaidens?

“Way I see it, the Violet Sands need to be able to fend off the physical attack from the west.” You say, nodding to the others. “Our magical support isn’t going to amount for much, but they don’t stand much of a chance if this uh… you said, ‘Deathbringer?’ Is present, right?”

“N-No.” Ebe says, teeth chattering as the ground begins to rumble. “Are they really going to collapse this part of the district? What’s going to happen to this city?”

“Whatever drives the rats out, I guess.” Tabitha says, shrugging. She rolls her shoulder and says, “You’re advocating we go full out into the southern assault?”

“I’m saying we have a better chance if we do that.” Turning your head over to Hent-Ateh again, you wonder why it hasn’t left the post to go attack. It clearly looks agitated, wanting to revel in slaughter but it merely stands, glancing over at the entrance to the basement where Hel’alin is. This instead begs the question of why she’s keeping the thing in place here?

“Edgy as the name sounds, that Anubis clearly is not going to make this easy.” Sophie sighs. “I believe it would be best for us to clear that out before pushing forward into the Temple.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Selene says, nodding her head. “Besides, if the assault is turned away, they may retreat again, allowing us more time.”

The ground rumbles again and you find people slipping off balance. Using your magic, you stabilize yourself and say, “We need to get there, fast. I’m afraid with all the Geomancy it might be difficult for the magically deficient to come.”

Sylphie perks up, but her Mother grabs her arm and she winces. Selene shakes her head and says, “I see the way your arm is, you’re not going out there.”

“But Mom!” Sylphie protests. “They’re going to kill us!”

“You’re just going to fall and make things worse.” She says, frowning. “Dear, why don’t you and Rommel go for now. I’ll keep watch over here since my balance is a little… off. I’ll slow you down.”

“Yeah, I guess.” The Grand Wizard says, rubbing at his chin. “Tabitha, I know the stabilizers in your legs are working well, but we should be enough for this, go and help out the front lines.”

The Lizardman smirks, “Fine.” Nodding to Alice, the two of them run off while Sylphie sighs with Sophie looking over them. Mr. Ed snorts and Ebe looks about with determination.

“I’ll fly with you. Let me get in a position to sing and I’ll help out.”

“Too dangerous.” You say, waving a hand. “If they have archers they can shoot you out of the air and the buildings can be collapsed. I can’t risk you in this…” You trail off as you see her expression. Ah, of course, a residential district. Not everyone here are cultists and in fact, many buildings likely hold innocent occupants. Humans and Monsters of all sizes and species, trying to get by. Of course she’s want to help.

“Hrm.” You say, thinking it over as the ground rumbles. Damn, no time to consider it. “Alright, come on. We’ll figure it out, but stay sharp.”

Ebe nods, expression serious. [Of course!] She says in Ectrian, which makes you smirk at her.

The Grand Wizard groans and waves his hand at you. [Come on, we don’t have time for this you damn whipper- oh fucking Hells, was I about to say that? Damn I’m getting old.]

Both of you stare at him as he says this in perfect Ectrian, walking past you. Shaking your heads, you catch up to him quickly. Despite his captivity, he still retains a decent amount of lean muscle and his stamina appears alright. Still, watching him shudder every so often, you really wonder if he’s not trying to hide an exhaustion from you.

Violet Sands cultists, despite their furor, seem to not be able to handle this threat and run past you, some crying while others fall to the ground at the rumblings. It takes bits of your magic to keep you stabilized, but the Grand Wizard doesn’t seem as well inclined. He trips at one point and you have to bolster him up so he doesn’t hit the ground in a heap.

“Old man, you’re starting to be a liability.”

“I’m not old damnit!”

“You just said you were!”

“Ah fuck, you can understand Ectrian.” He says, shaking his head. “Should have known, it’s one of those innate talents they don’t teach in Wizard School. Really nice-“

“Not the time.” You say, stabilizing the two of you as a loud crash is heard in the distance. Looking up, you see dust rising from where something large has fallen, a building, perhaps? “Listen, I know you’re great and mighty and all, but you don’t know shit about Geomancy, do you?”

“I-” He pauses and then looks away. “Not really a strong suit of mine, but I can get by.”

“I thought not. Look, I normally wouldn’t care much if you died, but I still want to talk with you later so I kind of need you alive.” Shaking your head, you continue, “Also, it would make Sophie and Sylphie sad and I like them Hells of a lot more than I like you.”

“Great, they finally get friends and it’s a piece of shit Wizard. Selene always said they’d go for someone like their Father.”

“Ugh.” You say, feeling annoyed at him again. “I don’t know what I’m fully in for here, but if they knock you off balance, you’re in trouble. You’re tired, and I can see it, and those Geoflexers will wear you down.”

“I could flood the streets with feces, this place is brimming with the stuff.”

“Please don’t.” Ebe says, raising a wing. “That sounds uhm, disgusting.”

“Hmph.” The Grand Wizard sniffs. “I see no one here has any tastes in magic. Look, I am tired but I’m still a lot better at this than you are. Besides.” He snaps his fingers and wind currents push him into the air. “I’ll just fly and cast Solos’s fury down upon them.”

Cocking your head, you watch the man for a moment before your own eyes go wide. Of course! Turning to Ebe, you take her shoulders and ask, “Can you fly me?”

“Uhm. Huh?” She asks, looking confused. “Fly you?”

“Yes, like you did with Sylphie. Fly me up into the air. I’ll cover us and we’ll take them out.”

“Uhm…” She begins before another, sharper tremor is felt. Screams come from the distance. She nods her head sharply and leaps into the air before grabbing you with her talons. She grunts as she does so and says, “Damn Rommel, you’re heavy.”

“All that delicious Ectrian cuisine.”

“Funny. Very funny.”

With the Grand Wizard hovering in air currents around you (something he says took him forever to fucking learn how to do) the two of you move toward the foe. As you pass by beleaguered and scared cultists, you inform them that the enemy is coming from the front again. They seem a little more interested in fighting physical battles and dash off without a thought. Unfortunately it’s not very far you have to go until you encounter the foe.

Wreathed in dust and debris from their assaults, you see a group of human guards with two normal Anubis forming a wedge around four men in dusty brown robes and one Anubis, smaller than the others. She wears loose robes of white- which are oddly free of the dust and debris, and walks with eyes that don’t seem to be focusing on anything while holding a staff. At your approach, one of the men shouts a warning and bows are drawn, firing projectiles at both you and the Grand Wizard.

Figuring he has this himself, you pull forth Ronnie and use [Rock Solid] to intercept the arrows, which bounce harmlessly off your metal. The Grand Wizard pulls his disgusting feces to his defense, arrows seeming to dissolve when they come into contact with the disgusting material.

At this, the men of the guard and the two Anubis escorts low their bows, seeming annoyed. From behind the men in the robes walk forward and move into positions that you recognize. Geoflexing forms eh? Well that’s not much of a problem, from what you saw you don’t think there’s really much of an issue with being up-

A fist sized chunk of rock flies at you and crunches a piece of Ronnie, forcing Ebe to fly out of the way. The men thrust their fists out at you, driving up pieces of debris and detritus toward you with their odd magic and the two of you have to dodge and use your shields to block the rocks. Growing annoyed at your own damn shtick being used against you, you make to cast something when the Grand Wizard thrums with power a moment later.

A bolt of energy flies up into the night sky. Even though it’s clear, clouds seem to form and the air cackles with power. Looking at it in confusion, you gasp and have Ebe fly you lower as a moment later a horrific crash of lightning crashes down into the ranks of the enemy, temporarily blinding you. When you vision clears, you look on in surprise at what you see.

In front of you is a shield of rock from the ground and destroyed buildings, forming in a domed shape over the Royal Guard. It’s broken in several places and smoking, but still intact. Through the holes you can see disoriented guards and the face  of the Deathbringer, her eyes focused on the Grand Wizard a look of anger in her expression.

“Well.” The Grand Wizard says, looking almost a little sickly. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”

“They’re geomancers! Why didn’t you use a Plasma spell?”

“Kid, I’m fucking tired alright!” He shudders and his air spell slips a little, forcing him to focus again on what he’s doing. “Damnit, damnit, damnit.”

The rock shield before you begins to crumble away and the men there ready their bows again along with the Geoflexers. The Deathbringer sits back, pieces of rock floating gently around her. On a whim, you try to shoot her with a [Pebble Gun] but she deflects it easily, her own Geomancy a counter to yours.

“Rommel, I think I can do this forever.” Ebe says. She yelps as the rocks return to flying. The Grand Wizard continues his own defense, but despite his boasts, he starts to pant, clearly showing how much his captivity really took from him.

“Fine, fine!” You say, gritting your teeth. On the ground you might stand a better chance in combat, but defense and offense would be hard to do at the same time. You’d need to clear out all the basic troops too while you’re at it. This would require something fairly devastating, almost uncontrollable and-

You blink one and say, “Oh. Right. Ebe, I’d not get close to this.”

“Huh?” Is all she has time to say before you point your staff at the enemy and cast, [Twister].

The winds answer your call, whipping up into a wild frenzy before you. Rocks fired at you are intercepted, arrows thrown far off course. The broken buildings, debris, everything the damage caused by the Royal Guard created gets picked up in the maelstrom as you feed more power into it and send it their way. You can’t control it now, but you really don’t need to.

The Geoflexers cry out in surprise as well as the normal troops, trying to run for cover. The Anubis are unfazed by the winds, but the debris shreds them apart before they do much to stop it. The normal guard are torn to pieces and the Geoflexers try to defend themselves but they’re unable to do so against the raging tempest you unleash.

As it passes through, you notice that the Deathbringer is gone as well. Doing what Sylphie showed you, you stop the spell and sigh in relief, signaling Ebe to let you down amidst the devastation. She sets you down gracefully, which is more than can be said for the Grand Wizard who drops to the ground nearly in a heap, groaning as he rubs at his backside. At your look of annoyance he snaps,

“You try being beaten nearly on a daily basis, told they’re going to use your damn kids as sacrifices, and locked in a cell for three months before casting magic and see how you like it.”

Blinking in confusion, you raise your finger and ask, “I’m sorry, what’s that second part agai-” Something slams into your shoulder and throws you spinning to land on the ground. Before you can fully comprehend what’s happening, an oppressive force bears down upon you, crushing you with massive weight.

Pushing out with your magic in desperation, you find you’re being crushed by rock. Immediately, you push it off you with some resistance and flip about to see the same thing happening to Ebe. Wrenching her free as well, you yell at her to get into the air before you trace the magic back to its source.

Rising from the ground the Deathbringer stands before you, her skin a little cut up by debris, but otherwise okay. Confused, you notice a hole in the ground near her and realize that she burrowed into the ground to avoid the tempest. Shaking her head, she taps her staff on the ground and rocks fly up around her, pointing dangerous edges at you.

Doing the same, the two of you square off before launching a barrage of rocks at each other. Using magic rather on par with each other in this field, you deflect rocks while using [Rock Throw] of your own, causing low grade [Tremors] and using timed [Pebble Guns] against the Witch. It lasts no more than a minute before the two of you back away, sizing each other up.

[You are quite skilled.] The Deathbring says, nodding her head. [A shame you fight for these heretics.]

[I don’t so much as fight for them as I do fight against the Pharaoh.] You say back in Ectrian, to her surprise.

[The Prophet works to bring us all the best. She has communion with the Twins and if not for these snakes we would have driven forward to bring their blessings to the rest of the world by now.]

[Eh?] You ask, cocking your head. [What are you talking about, blessings?]

“She’s talking about the invasion of Deleor.” The Grand Wizard says, narrowing his eyes. “This Prophet has talked about bringing the order of the Twins to Deleor for years, eschewing Solos. It’s mostly just speech to get people in a mindset for such a war once it begins in earnest.”

The Deathbringer blinks in confusion, unable to understand Deleorian. The Grand Wizard frowns at her and says to you, “We can’t waste time here. You said there was no magic resistance, right Ebe? Well I have a little left within me for now, if I can get a clean shot in I’ll end her.”

Searching his eyes, you feel like he’s keeping something from you yet you don’t really have time to think much about it. As soon as you take your eyes off the Anubis, she launches her assault again, forcing you on the defensive. Bringing out pieces of metal, you find them quickly turned against you, and you’re forced back, taking a few cuts before you retake control of your metals.

Ebe takes flight behind you, but the swirling rocks and stones the Deathbring wields makes it hard for her to get behind the enemy. The Grand Wizard finds it difficult as well to make a shot with his specialty, though you can see the electricity crackling from his fingertip. Why couldn’t he be more useful here, for fucks sake it’s embarrassing. Does he really have any purpose here?

Without an obvious opening to attack with fulgromancy, the lack of water sources her for Hydromancy, and your failure in Aeromancy, you’re left with little options. A fireball would be useless here, however a well timed [Flame Lance] could kill her- expect same problems as the others, getting the opening.

That’s when it hits you, although as you think of it you’re literally almost hit by a chunk of rock. Coming back to your senses, you shout to the Grand Wizard in Deleorian, “Distract her for a second!”

“Distract her for a second.” He says in a snide remark before drawing forth the lightning from around his hands and firing arcs of it at her. She hurriedly defends herself from the electricity, allowing you to plant your staff and concentrate on your spell. Sylphie is a lot better at this aspect than you, but you’re able to do it with just some time…

The Grand Wizard’s lightning snaps back to his hands and he groans before dodging out of the way of a chunk of stone. He hits the ground and cries, “If you’re going to do something, do it now!”

“FINE!” You shout, unleashing the channeled power into the ground.

The Deathbringer looks at you in confusion, not aware of the magic you cast. Sadly it’s too late for her to realize that you didn’t cast anything with Geomancy, no. You cast a spell, but it’s with pyromancy. By the time she figures it out, all she can do is scream as the rock super heats around her, melting and turning into liquid lava. Unable to form a protective layer of stone in time, she slips and begins to burn as the molten rock eats away at her, melting her into it.

Ebe has to turn away from the gruesome sight, though you watch as she dies one of the most horrific deaths you’ve dealt to date. Gods above, you weren’t really thinking when you made this spell with Sylphie, were you? Her screams lasted longer than they should have and watching her skin slough as if it was wax while her fur burned was a sight you’re never getting out of your head.

“Solos…” The Grand Wizard murmurs, shaking his head as he walks up to you. “That’s… effective.”

“It’s done. We have other things to do.”

“Right. Right.” He says, scratching his chin before sighing. “It doesn’t really get easier, you know? Be glad you feel revolted at this.”

“I said it’s done.” You say before summoning up a platform of rock for the three of you. Flying isn’t really an option at this point anymore. Thoughts of what she and the Grand Wizard said play in your mind on the return trip and by the time you appear back you see Tabitha and Alice walking back, laughing with each other.

“The way you fought that Warden was damn impressive!” Alice says, nodding her head. “I never would have thought to trip her with that spear like that.”

“Well, you have to adapt on the battlefield.” Tabitha says, nodding to you as you approach. She raises a hand and asks, “I take it things went well?”

“Yeah.” You say, nodding your head. “Well enough. We managed to take out the Deathbringer and the Geoflexers.”

“Hopefully no more of those Deathbringers in the future.” Ebe says, shaking. She was a piece of work.

“I had it under control.” The Grand Wizard says before sighing and looking to Tabitha. “How fare you?”

“Drove them back. Seems when they noticed the ground stop shaking they thought the jig was up and they retreated. Their lines are too strong to break still, so we’re back to where we were.”

“Well that seems like a waste of time then.” Sylphie says as the rest of your party returns. “What do we do now?”

“It’s not quite a waste of time.” You say, looking at the Grand Wizard. He cocks his head, but you just shake yours and continue. “I think we need to capitalize on this and break through their lines before they recover. We need to reach that Temple.”

“Where the Royal Guard are in full force, yes.” Selene sighs. She also looks at her Husband before shaking her head. “I think it’s obvious now we’re not in the best shape at the moment. Would be nice if we had a day to rest.”

“I might need more than a day.” The Grand Wizard sighs. “But some meditation could help me clear my mind and recover some mana.”

“Meditation, hmm?” Selene says, raising an eyebrow. “You know, I could use a mana charge myself…” She nods over to a vacant building nearby and the two whisper before she says, “We’ll be back. We need to ah… meditate.”

Before you can say anything to the contrary, they vanish. Grunting, you think over your options on how to break through. While you may be able to [Lava Flow] all of them, that’s a lot of work and it leaves you very exposed. Alice and Tabitha are good at what they do, but they’d need to clear the enemy and that’s unlikely to happen. If you can break their lines though, the Violet Sands can move in after you and keep them occupied as you head through to the Temple.

But how to do that safely? What you’d ideally need is something large, mobile, and protective. Thinking about it critically, you ask the others and they all think on it too. Alice is the first to speak up saying, “Sounds like you want to build a leyway here in town.”

“While excellent, that would be quite impossible.” Sophie says, glancing over to the building where her parents went.

“Yeah, not certain how to we could replicate something like that.”

“Well, didn’t Rommel make a big iron wall or something in the dungeons? Just put that over one of his rock boards, right? Boom, there you go.”

“That’s stu…pid…” You begin to say before thinking it over. That’s… actually not a bad idea. It would make mobility quite easy and building a frame over it means you don’t have to focus on the plates the whole time, just moving. Hells, If you want, you can make ports for the others to fire magic out of it. Smiling broadly, you take Alice’s hand and say, “Alice, you’re a genius.”

“Huh.” She says, rubbing her chin. “Maybe my Dad was right, I should have been an engineer.”

“Y-no, nevermind.” You say, looking around. “Where am I going to get that much-Ah.” You grab a nearby cultist and tell him to have the Apophis order iron and steel brought to you. He does so, mainly from the crazed look in your eyes. You could have spoken to her yourself but… you’re still not really up to that at the moment.

Hent-ateh watches you with a curious expression as men and Monster bring scraps of metal that you form and meld together, maintaining appropriate thickness as you form a shell over the largest size board you can create. As it forms shape, it draws the attention of more and more people though you’re too busy working your magic to notice, lost in the joy of what you’re finally doing.

———————————–

The Grand Wizard and Selene, beaming and a little sweaty, walk out of the building to have a blast of sound very similar to a honk blare at them. Blinking their eyes in confusion, they look out before them as a hunk of metal formed in a boxy, angular shape slides toward them. A turret-like device swings in their direction and from it a hatch opens. They look on in confusion as you stand up from inside and wave a hand at them, calling,

“Get in, we’re going to Temple.”

“What the Hells is this?” The Grand Wizard asks, walking up to the construct, running his hands over it. “How did you? What is the point of this?”

“To break through their lines.” Tabitha says, sitting on the side of the vehicle. Unfortunately there’s only enough room to fit you, Sylphie, Sophie, and the their parents. It’s super cramped though.

Alice waves from the other side. “He’s going to drive us into them so I can hit them with my sword!”

“Please.” Tabitha sighs. “I already made that joke.”

“Girls, please, you’re both deadly.” You say before explaining the plan to the two of them. Selene looks skeptical, but being able to be in with her daughters assuages her fears and the Grand Wizard merely seems excited to be in the vehicle.

As they load up into the cramped device, you look behind to see Mr. Ed prepared for the assault also, decked out in a custom barding you made for him with spare metal. Sylphie says he likes it. Searching the sky, you see Ebe flying low enough not to get shot, but ready for what you have in mind.

Around you the Violet Sands prepare to come from behind, this all having been explained to the Apophis. Hent-ateh looks greedily at being allowed to be loosed as well, though only in your wake. Gee, thanks sis, how sweet of you not to use your murder device as the front line assaulter instead of your brother.

“Hey.” The Grand Wizard asks, rapping on the inside. “What do you call this thing anyway?”

Lowering yourself back into the vehicle you say, “A tank,” before closing the top shut.

——————————————————–

It begins with a low thrumming from a distance, a sound that shakes the souls of the Guard stationed around the Violet Sands lines. They’re confused and yet excited as it picks up in intensity for a few moments before drifting lower as something appears from the lines before them. A vehicle like a carriage made of metal without anything carrying it beyond a disk of stone underneath carrying two women atop it. It doesn’t move terribly quickly, and eventually it stops just inside of bow range.

The leading Handmaiden raises a hand, heart pumping in her chest as the strange music begins again. She makes ready to order them to fire when she hears the words from a feminine voice say clearly,

“Do you like, my tank?”

The music suddenly increases in intensity and speed as the vehicle races toward them was faster speeds. Still slower than she’d feared, it’s coming straight for them. The women atop raise shields before them, swords held in their other hands while a horse gallops behind. Surprised, she falters in her orders for a moment before remembering her station and ordering a volley.

The arrows rain down upon the vehicle to no effect, the women blocking them well and the horse changes speed to avoid the hail with sense far greater than an ordinary animal should. Gripping her spear tight, she orders one more arrow volley before calling for swords and pulling the archers back to have troops with shields and other weapons before her. If only the damn spellcasters were still here they could have finished this easy! As it stands, she calls for Wardens to undo their wards and charge the device.

“Guess you’re ready, cause I’m waiting for you! It’s going to be so exciting!” The voice sings, music seeming to amplify the charge of the vehicle. Some of the men falter in the face of this but the Wardens leap toward it, weapons ready.

One warden is cut down by the woman with a glowing sword while another tries futilely to break the armor plating with her weapon. She dents it in a place, but before her eyes it pops back into back as if by magic. A slit opens up on the top and a pebble fires into her head, dropping her to the ground as the vehicle continues forward.

[No!] The Handmaiden cries as her Wardens are cut down or left behind in the dust. More slits open in the vehicle and gouts of flame shoot from it, roasting men while leaving the Anubis unharmed. Rallying the others to her defense, they prepare to stop the thing in its tracks.

“Going to take my tank. Going to see me. Going to drive along until I CRUSH you!”

The line never stood a chance. The men and Anubis in the front are crushed before the solid bulk that rams through them, opening up their lines. Swords clear the sides and the horse charges through afterward as Guard move out of the way, screaming and confused. The lead Handmaiden had tried to stop it, but leapt out of the way soon after it arrived. Ordering her forces to turn around for another engagement, figuring it would be slow to turn, she becomes confused as it why it just keeps going forward.

[They have broken through! After it!] She cries amongst the broken bodies around her, a blessedly small number all things considered.

[Handmaiden, we cannot!] A man shouts before something dark and inky impales him through the chest. The Handmaiden turns and comes face to face with an unnatural grin and purple, glowing eyes.

“EHAHAHAHAH!” Hent-ateh laughs into her face before resuming the slaughter as the rest of the Violet Sands pour in, that heavy music still playing.

————————————

Your tank crashes through the closed doors to The Great Temple of the Twins, shattering them into splinters. The body of an Anubis guard pinned to the door from the collision slides off, slick with blood as you slow the vehicle. Mr. Ed gallops in behind you and the two sword wielders dismount, shields held before them as they turn about.

The charge into the Temple broke the lines of the Anubis present, their attacks as innefectual as those from the line before. The ride here was fairly short, but it’s been brutal on you and even with the ice spells cast by Sylphie, you’re still sweating from the confines. Opening up the tank, you revel in the smell of fresh air, even if it’s tainted by blood from your rampages.

The others dismount too, taking a breather that you have for a moment anyway. Outside the Royal Guard would make their way in shortly, but inside it’s fairly quiet all things considered. While the smaller Temple clearly had a lot of commoners present, this place is practically empty, though you are merely in the outer sanctum.

The layout of this Temple, as Selene told you, is a large, outer water with a sanctum inside with various gardens devoted to Phallia. Inside of that is the Inner Sanctum where the services are held, though based on the size of the place there has to be plenty of side chambers and even deeper areas. Would the High Altar be just inside the Inner Sanctum like that?

Finding no threats in the Outer Sanctum, you look down a path to the Inner Sanctum, the door of which is closed. It’s probably barricaded from the inside too. As Sylphie crawls out you ask, “Once we get inside, what do we do with that thing?”

“Once we identify the device correctly we can either break it or short out the magic on it.” She looks to her father who nods in agreement. “Anyway, let’s not cause too much collateral damage, the Gods really do pay attention to these places.”

“I’ll try. Wouldn’t want to break that Mirror that’s supposed to be in there either.” You say, shaking your head as you remember what Ammon told you. “The outer guards will be here soon, we’ll need to make this quick. There’s bound to be guards inside too.”

“What’s the plan then?” Alice asks, looking up as Ebe flies down into the Sanctum from above and making a hard landing. The Ghandharva puts a wing to her chest and breathes out heavily before nodding to you and smiling.

“Damn that was scary, but it felt good playing that sound. Very invigorating.”

“Yeah, it was.” You say, having not heard too much of it due to being inside the tank and focusing on keeping it moving, but the gesture is nice. You could at least feel the music. “Anyway, glad to see you’re safe.”

Hearing the voices of the Anubis outside, you prepare to give orders when all of the magic users in your group pause as you feel a pulse of magic from within. You can’t really describe what exactly it is, but it makes your spine tingle and your eyes are subconciously drawn to the plants nearby. Do they look a little different to you? No, guess it’s your imagination.

A little more careful, you stand tall and think. You’re here within the temple and because of your tank, getting in was easy, but how are you going to accomplish your task? Looking at the reliefs of Phallia and Dollora, you wonder if there’s anything else you want to do here as well.

{Oh hey.} Erwin sends out of the blue. {The fighting has left Polah’s area, but Zoras seems to be on really good terms with these supposed gang members.}

He mentally hesitates before sending again, {Ah, sorry, am I interrupting something?}

{Erwin?} You send, blinking in surprise. {You- oh, wait, you said Polah is fine?}

{Yeah, I guess so? Everything is drawing closer to the Merchant’s guild anyway and Zoras isn’t really… going to her house.}

{Huh? Where is she going then?}

{With these gang members I guess? I don’t know, this all seems weird.}

You’d like to parse all of this but instead you merely send, {Fine, as long as Polah is fine. Come to the Great Temple.}

{Ehhh, alright, fine. I’m on my way. You stay safe!}

{You too.}

Finishing with that conversation, you turn back to the others and say, “Alright, let’s get inside before they reach us.”

“Don’t want to post guards at the door or anything like that?” Alice says, cocking her head.

“Why?” You say, snapping your fingers. A wall of stone rises up before the destroyed doors, sealing the outer walls. The sounds of furious Anubis on the other end come followed by clinking noises as they try to break it. For good measure, you reinforce the wall.

“We’ll be good for abit unless there’s another way in.” You say, nodding to the others.

“I… yeah.” Alice says, looking disappointed as she sheathes her sword.

“Be careful.” The Grand Wizard says, standing close to his daughters. “Temples like this do draw the eyes of the Gods and at the moment we don’t want to piss off either of the Twins.”

“So you’re saying not to step on the grass?” Sophie asks, to which her father affixes her a blank stare. She smirks before waving a hand, “All in good fun father, let us head inside.”

Walking the short path into the Inner Sanctum, you still can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong about the plants here. While an exotic mix of plants from all over the world, they don’t really seem malevolent or anything. Just… plants.

Shuddering, you continue forward as the sounds of fighting are heard behind you. You’re not certain what to do with your tank, but bringing it inside here is a little much anyway. Besides, no one’s going to damage it, right? Maybe you’ll collapse it later, though at the moment you have plenty of big boy Ronnie to work with.

The doors to the Inner Sanctum are massive, double doors with reliefs of Phallia and Dollora carved onto each side, their hands cupped together as if forming an archway. Both you and the Grand Wizard use your [Mage Sight] to search for traps, but find nothing out of the ordinary beyond a quiet glow about the place. It permeates through everything and it makes you feel a little at ease, like when Dollora spoke with you before. Shaking it out of your system, you direct Tabitha to open the doors.

She does so without issue, gingerly testing the doors and getting resistance. Turning back to you she shakes her head and you sigh. Great, they barricaded it. Well, it would be easy to break it open however you’ve already desecrated one section of this place so maybe doing it again wouldn’t be the best idea. On the other hand, you’ve already desecrated one section of this place so maybe doing it again won’t change anything.

Feeling like you’re running out of time, you walk up to the door and take one of the geoflexer stances you practiced. Remembering some of the forms that the ones you fought used earlier, you follow through as the power forms in your core and you become one with the earth here.

“What’s he doing?” Selene asks, cocking her head.

“Extreme yoga.” Alice says, as if this answered anything at all. The others merely shake their heads and watch as you draw the energy within yourself and then propel it forward with a wave of rock that smashes into the door with such force that it splinters the wood as it slams into the door. They budge open some, a crack appearing between the doors. Another blow of the same kind forces back the barricade and shatters the image of Phallia from the waist down.

“Daaaaaaaaaamn.” Alice says, rubbing her chin. “Stronger than I thought you were.”

Taking a few deep breaths to steady youself, you nod to her and say, “I thought I made that obvious before.”

“Yeah but it’s kind of hot to see in action, right?” She turns to the others and you get mixed reactions from embarrassed glances to the side from Ebe to Tabitha’s admiration and finally Selene’s thumbs up. She pats her husband on the head when he gives her a critical eye however.

“Alright let’s get the rest of this open so we can get Mr. Ed in. Be ready for an attack though.” You say, making forward into the Inner Sanctum. Tabitha and Alice go in first, sliding over part of the barricade, a stone pillar, and then wave for you to enter. Climbing over as well, you look around the chamber with your staff raised.

The first thing you notice about the vast chamber is that it’s empty. Looking confused, you turn your head to take the whole place in with confusion. The room has two side passages at the front where you’ve entered, leading to other rooms around the temple. Above you is a mezzanine where you suspect important members sit for worship. In front of you however is the large worship chamber with row after row of empty pews facing toward the center of the room where an Altar sits, devoid of implements.

The twins climb in as you look about the room in a stupor. All along the walls enormous stained glass is inlayed depicting the twin Goddesses. Facing the west are those depicting Dollora, both as the beautiful angel she once was and then the monster she had become. The dark tinged glass lets in moonlight to bask the silent chamber in while those depicting Phallia the maiden and Phallia the lover to Solos are absent of light.

Tabitha walks over to you, shaking her head as she sheathes her own sword. “I don’t understand, there’s no one here.”

“I don’t either.” You say, shaking your head. “Were we wrong? Is that not the High Altar?”

“It’s the same one we saw beforehand…” Selene says, confused as well. “But there were plenty of guards in this place, not to mention the Priestesses, all of which could wield either dark magic or biomancy. Where did they go?”

“They have to be somewhere here. Someone had to have put up this barricade.” Ebe says, nodding to the assortment of items blocking your entry.

True, someone had to be present to barricade this place, but where did they go? Frowning, you open your [Magesight] to scan around the room and find nothing but that ever present glow. Even the statues of the Goddesses around the room were devoid of any sort of extra energy. In fact, now that you think about it, isn’t it weird that the altar is absent of power?

“Hells.” The Grand Wizard says, his eyes snapping back into focus. ‘That’s nothing more than a slab of rock. We’ve been duped.”

“But… but why would they go through so much trouble to guard this place if it’s not what we’re looking for?” Sylphie says, her ears down. She looks like a hurt kitten, though it takes you a second to realize why. The poor thing really thought she had figured it all out and now it’s been taken away from her- a waste of time.

“Sylphie-” You begin before being interrupted by Ebe.

“Uhm… maybe they hid the real altar?” The Ghandharva asks, trying to be helpful.

You make to say that it couldn’t be the case when you pause and think about it. It’s entirely possible they could have done that, otherwise why have so much defense here? True, they were close to the Violet Sands lines but they realistically wouldn’t want to capture this place- it held little strategic value for them. In which case they have to be hiding something.

“Well.” Sophie says, hand on her chin. “We might as well explore. I’m afraid if we don’t find anything we’re back to square one.”

Everyone nods and continues forward into the worship area. Like most Temples to Dollora, there are sections where no pews are to allow larger Monsters such as Centaurs or Girtablilu to sit. Unlike Deleorian Temples, however, the Ectrian Temples to the Twins are lined with various flower pots, each with elaborate and beautiful flowers. Vines are allowed to grow indoors and Biomancers coax them into lovely patterns dedicated to the Goddess of Plants. In normal circumstances it would make for an awe inspiring sight but these are not normal circumstances.

A cursory search around the worship chamber leads to nothing but some discarded rags and a few crumbs. The altar, as nice as it is, just sits a hunk of dead rock, lacking any and all magic. With nothing to show for it, you regroup with the others at the altar and convene.

“I’m starting to think this was all a decoy.” You say, anger in your voice.

“How would they know we were coming here?” Sophie asks, consternation in her voice. “Only Ammon would have known that because he told us.”

“Ammon or Zoras…” You mutter, thinking it over. What Erwin had said earlier… Zoras couldn’t… she wouldn’t… would she?

“I don’t think she’d do that.” Ebe says, shaking her head. “Zoras wouldn’t play us like that.”

“Well whoever did, I wonder to what end?” Tabitha says, annoyed. “Wasting time? To get us out of the way? They had plenty of time to do whatever they wanted when we were on the other side of the city. What does this all accomplish?”

“We could check the other wings of the Temple?” You put in, though it feels a little hollow. What’s to say they wouldn’t just be wastes of time either? Gritting your teeth, you cross your arms and turn your head to the side, noticing a marble statue of Phallia next to you. Standing there in a dress of stone leaves, crown of thorns in her long hair, she looks at you with a smug expression.

Feeling even angrier at this, you channel some of your power to the statue and shape the marble to be anatomically correct. Under her skirt is now a pronounced and decidedly masculine bulge.

A cold wind blows into the worship chamber, making you shiver and rub your arms. Where did that come from? Outside? Turning to the door, you don’t see much of anything coming from there and your aeromancy can’t pick up the air currents really blowing at all in here. A shiver runs down your spine at that thought and you flip about to see a cloud pass over the moon, casting the room into total darkness. That strange magic pulses again, close to you this time and you hurriedly cast a light into the room to illuminate it.

Immediately the ears of the Cat o’Ninetails around you twitch furiously and they turn up the mezzanine where a group of six figures stand. Three of them are human women dressed in green robes with flowers and leaves along them, naming them as Priestesses to Phallia. Of the other three, one is a Lamia and the other two are Desert Catgirls, all three dressed in robes of black and purple that accentuate the busts and show off far too much skin- Priestesses of Dollora.

One of the human women steps forward, a staff in her hands and anger in her expression. She glares down at you and says, “How DARE you deface a statue to the Goddess?”

“Who the fuck are you?” You shout back, feeling confrontational. “Where is the High Altar?”

“The Prophet took it to her Palace when the fighting began, though she left the other artifacts.” Sighing, she says, “Though it pains us to have such a pathetic altar, it also freed us from the troubles of a particular watchful eye.”

“What do you mean by that?” Tabitha asks, hand on her sword.

The woman sighs. “I was told to make it so any unwanted guests would leave empty handed, but you had to go and do something unforgivable.” Flipping her long hair braided with leaves, she says, “Fine then. Capturing the ones with the nine tails would curry favor with the Prophet anyway and accelerate our Mistress’s plans.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Selene says, her tails coming up to shield her daughters. “But I’m not letting you touch my children!”

“Mother…” Sophie says, looking to her parent. She shakes her head and turns back to the Priestesses. “When you say Mistress, do you mean Phallia? What do the Priestesses of Dollora have to say about that?”

“Hmm?” The Phallian Priestess says. “Oh, they’re fine with it as well, aren’t you?”

The Lamia slithers forward and as she does the clouds move away from the moon, casting her in ethereal light. Your eyes go wide as you see the emotionless expression in her eyes and the signs of vines crawling up her neck from inside her chest. The two Catgirls show similar signs with various plant life crawling up and around their bodies.

“Oh Gods.” Alice says, hand tightening on her sword hilt as you see her grow truly angry. “I’ve seen this before. You crazy psycho bitches didn’t-?!”

The Phallian Priestess snaps her fingers and you feel rumbling as the vines laced all over the temple interior reach up from the walls and swell in size, becoming dangerously large. Your group steps in close together as they writhe around you, drawing in close. The Dolloran Priestesses leap down from the upper level, hitting the ground with bone jarring force, they though they only seem to stumble for a moment before fixating their emotionless eyes upon you as dark magic forms in their hands.

Around you, moonlight filters in, illuminating the faces of the statues that watch as your assailants draw in close. The bestial face of the Monster Dollora glares at her sister statue and it’s funny really, seeing that smug face of Phallia look at you, massive bulge now mocking your situation. The irony is not lost on you as all signs indicate that you’re about to get fucked.

The Dolloran Priestesses lead the attack. You’ve really only seen dark magic once and you blocked it fairly easily, but with three of them unleashing the purple light toward you things became a little different.

Selene steps forward, raising her hand and forming a shield of darkness, absorbing the magic into it before dispersing the shadows around her. She grits her teeth as she does so, shaking her hand as if she’d injured it somehow. Before anyone can react much further, the three charge at you, the Lamia leading the way as the Catgirls scamper after her, a rage in their features.

Apparently whatever happened to them didn’t make the three any slower because they close the gap with you with incredible speed. Something about this doesn’t seem right, but you only have time to snap fire one burst of [Cold Prison], catching a Desert Catgirl’s legs and freezing her in place before the other two arrive, weapons formed of darkness appearing in their hands.

They were met by Alice, who immediately steps forward, sword held out before her, a fury in her expression. You think back to what she said when speaking to the Phallian Priestesses before and wonder if it has anything to do with her rage now. As it stands, she begins to swing her sword with furious blows, catching the dark weapons and rebounding against them. You have a feeling mortal weapons would be destroyed by that touch of magic, but Energischwert merely kept glowing like usual.

“Alice, wait!” You begin to cry before something wraps around your leg and hurls you into the air. A disgusting sense of vertigo fills you as the vine flails you back and forth, keeping you from seeing or even thinking straight. Crying out, you begin to cast [Fireball] but the vine suddenly shudders and drops to the ground, throwing you with bone-jarring force to the floor.

Something shakes your shoulder and you see Tabitha standing next to you, pointing you at the vine that just held you. A sheet of ice covered the base of the thing, the distal part drooping and dead from the sudden freeze. Turning your head, you see the Grand Wizard holding Sylphie’s shoulder and pointing her toward the vines as the two of them begin to cast cryomancy spells against the vines.

Of course… cryomancy. Plants aren’t exactly fond the cold nor fire, but at least this won’t burn you down with it. Though you felt slightly more toward burning everything down a few moments ago, you’re beginning to see the benefit in the ice. A pity you didn’t think of it yourself.

Watching the parent-child duo a moment longer you feel a sense of jealousy despite yourself. Sylphie was your apprentice… or something. Shaking your head, you roll out of the way of another vine that comes crashing down toward you and cast [Flash Freeze]. The vine explodes from the sudden freeze after you [Shatter]it. Staggering to your feet, you hear the Phallian Priestesses above chanting something.

A loud scream comes from the Desert Catgirl trapped in the ice. She’d been casting dark magic spells, her hands still open to her, with little effect but to keep Selene out of the fight. The Cat o’Ninetails had been using her magic to block the magic of the spellcaster, her other daughter keeping her safe from the vines. It seems that despite her long life, she was still in the same boat as the Grand Wizard and her own magic reserves were greater than her stamina would allow.

The Priestess puts her left hand to her head while the other sticks out to the side, trembling furiously as something ripples and undulates under her skin. With a sickening noise, vines burst forth from her arm in a shower of blood and she begins to laugh maniacally, the effect punctuated by choking sobs. The writhing mass of vines slams into the ice binding her and she frees herself before staggering toward Selene.

“By Dollora…” Selene whispers, taken aback by what she’s seen. Sophie stares in horror at the sight for a fraction too late to stop the changed Catgirl from charging them, still laughing. The arm of vines extends and strikes out toward the two, being stopped only by all of Selene’s tails and a few of Sophie’s. The remaining tails slam into the Catgirl’s torso, piercing her skin and shredding her already indecent clothing. Blood trails from the wounds as well as green liquid and the girl stares at them with green, glowing eyes before pulling back and putting her hand to her chest.

Underneath her skin, vines crawl and writhe, mixed in with the flesh. They pull at the corners of her rent torso, pulling it together again and rekniting the host. With the process complete, the Priestess charges at them again, seemingly oblivious to the pain, her arm splitting into multiple, flailing vines.

What in the name of the Gods is going on here? Plants inside their bodies doing… this to them? Swatting away another vine with your power, this one far more sluggish since the priestesses aren’t controlling them currently, you look up toward them and see them staring down at you as if looking at ants. Shouting, you fire a piece of rock at them with [Pebble Gun], striking one of the side women in the chest.

You blink in surprise as she staggers backward, coughing up blood as a pool appears on her robe. Honestly, you thought they’d cast a wall of vines or something to block the shot, but wow, this would be easy. You ready up two more shots when the priestess you shot before staggers toward and you notice a vine crawling out of her chest, pushing your rock out of her body as more vines writhe under the skin of her neck.

“Well…” You say, feeling a little more worried than before. This was supposed to be a fairly easy fight, but these freaks all had plants in their bodies! Ducking under a vine that you shatter apart in a fine mist of ice, you grab Ebe and push her to the floor as Mr.Ed kicks a vine away before rearing up and crushing another one before Sylphie can freeze it. Looking ahead of you, Alice is fighting fiercely with the Dolloran Priestesses.

You’re surprised to find it an even fight, Alice unable to get a decisive edge against two of them despite her skill. Their swordsmanship is quite impressing as well, especially the Lamia who darts in and out to strike while the Catgirl presses Alice back. Unfortunately Tabitha is pressed into fighting with the altered Catgirl, dealing wicked blows with her burning sword and keeping her from regenerating as quickly.

This leaves you and Ebe unoccupied. With the enemy pressing in close to your friends, casting spells is too dangerous, but you need to take the pressure of them somehow. Searching around your group, you realize the easiest to free-up would be the Grand Wizard and Sylphie, their task mainly on keeping the vines at bay, though they just seem to keep coming. If only you could defeat their source!

“Ebe!” You shout to the Ghandharva, keeping an arm on her back and her head down low. “Can you fly me up to the balcony?”

“I-I can try!” She says, looking up at the destination, then to you. Nodding at her, she leaps into the air, gaining altitude quickly before swooping through grasping vines and diving for you. Holding your arm up, she grabs it in her talons and you once again feel the world lurch underneath you. The Priestesses look at you with some alarm and a sea of vines strikes at you but they all freeze and explode into a storm of ice as Ebe screams at them, her voice amplified somehow. Unable to glance down, you have to assume that Sylphie both froze the ice and cast that spell, knowing Ebe would scream. Damn she’s been improving.

Dusted in frozen water, Ebe basically throws you into the seating as she finishes her dive, using her wings to keep herself from colliding into the wall as she beats backward. Tumbling backward into a pew, you shake your head from the blow and look up in time to raise your staff and catch the hands of a Priestess diving for you.

The one you shot before, her eyes glowing green, attacks you with razor sharp fingers, augmented by biomancy, and you take a few scratches before kicking her off you. She stumbles backward and the other two glare at you, raising her hands and gathering magic. The side priestess holds a seed in her hands, magic infusing it. It begins to sprout, but before it can you find out what exactly it is, a familiar voice shouts,

“KABONG!”

Sveth’s guitar slams into the head of the Priestess, making a wicked dent in her skull and dropping her like a sack of bricks. Ebe staggers back after the blow, holding her guitar with shock and surprise before she drops it, going ashen.

It’s all the distraction you need as you drive your staff into the belly of the hurt priestess, forcing her backward. She gasps as air is forced from her infested lungs and you follow up by firing the [Chain] from your pocket, lancing through her body by forming the end into a tip. It hands there, spearing her through, and she screams before turning her rage upon you and shouting,

“You are nothing compared to Phallia’s blessings, little WIZARD!”

Grabbing the chain, she pulls herself along it toward you, fury in her eyes. You stare at you with pity as you say, “For such a cold bitch, you’re not going to like this.”

“Wha-?” Is all she has time to say before ice forms along the chain and into her body. Her eyes go wide as you expand the ice through her, her chest expanding as it’s filled with sharp, frozen water. Eventually it bursts and shatters, destroying her internal organs as a torrent of blood spits out her mouth, that too freezing under your relentless magic. Releasing your magic upon the chain, it falls to the ground, carrying the hollowed out corpse with it.

With a gesture, you retract the chain into your pocket, shedding it of blood before turning to face the Priestess clearly in charge. The one on the floor still lays there, head bleeding from the wound Ebe inflicted. Did she not have a similar ah… “blessing?” Either way, she doesn’t seem to be a threat, so you square off with the Priestess who looks at you with annoyance.

“This isn’t how this was supposed to go.” She sighs, shaking her head. “But it’s not too late, I suppose. The blessings of Phallia are many.”

“Looks to me like you’re turning people into Monsters.”

Her eyes glow green with an inner rage. “DON’T YOU DARE SAY THAT!” She points at you with an accusatory finger. “You’re supposed to be a Wizard, one of Solos’s chosen! Why would you fight for Monsters? You should instead fight for mankind, alongside your brothers and sisters under Solos and Phallia’s light!”

“I used to think that way.” You say, finding something welling up inside you. “But I can’t deny that Monsters have feelings, that deep down they fight and hurt the same as us, that they bleed and love just like people do. Perhaps they way they go about it is wrong but… but it’s a damn sight better than whatever… this is.” Waving your hand down at the battle below, the changed Catgirl still fights, her body becoming more and more unrecognizable as she becomes wounded.

“Stand down and I won’t kill you.”

“Doubtful.” She says, shaking her head. “Of course you’ll kill me, at some point. Besides, if I give myself up then I would be betraying my Goddess. Her work has just begun, the seeds are finally sprouting. All she needs is proper fertilizer and it will all grow faster than anyone can believe.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“No matter.” She says, pulling out a vial of something. Uncorking it, she dumps a handful of small, white objects onto her hand and then blows them at you. They race toward you in a cloud and you get a distinctly terrible feeling looking at them.

Quickly casting [Gust], you disperse the cloud so that they fall around you, dusting the corpse of the dead priestess as well as the ruined wood. With a word from the Priestess, the white specs, which you realize are spores, suddenly burst into life, digging deep into the corpse and the wood, destroying and consuming what they can to grow into red-capped mushrooms, sprouting in a forest around you.

[Ice] flows from your fingertips as you freeze the things, but you’re too late to stop all of them as some of the survivors explode into clouds of spores, making more of the mushrooms all around you and forcing you to blow them away and step back, confused. What’s her game with all of this?

Unable to fire a [Pebble Gun] at her due to being pushed back, you hesitate and miss one of the mushrooms as it sprays spores at you. Hastily pushing most of the spores away, a few touch your hand and you understand her game.

The spores burn as they touch your skin, causing extreme agony. Dropping to the ground, you scream in pain and try to wipe them off you, succeding in making your other hand flare up in pain. Mushrooms don’t appear on your skin, thank the Gods, but the pain! It’s unbearable! Blinking tears from your eyes, you watch as the Priestess looks to Ebe then shakes her head and walks toward you, spawning more of the mushrooms. They sprout around you and you suddenly feel like a beast before hunters, their bows aimed at you, ready to lose for the kill.

The priestess looks down at you with that imperious gesture once again before shaking her head. “Your kind was supposed to be the salvation for Deleor, and the World. If only Wizards would have been delivered to Ectria, and could find the embrace of their Goddess as well. We could have done such great things together.” Kneeling down, she pulls out another vial, filled with a sprouted seed. She offers it to you and says, “I can take the pain away though. Come, let us usher in the world as it was meant to be. Free of these unsightly beasts.”

Tears streaming from your face, part of you wants to take her up on her offer. Anything to remove this pain, you’d take anything to end it. Something resonates within you at her words at well, making you consider her offer more. Rid the world of these beasts? Make it how the world should be? Ruled by humans under their Gods…? Yes, it sounds so… so…

So horrific.

The thing in the vial writhes and she begins to unstop it, not waiting for your answer before trying to force that thing on you. Vines reach toward you, grasping for your mind and an instinctive repulsion flares up in you. If this is what it means to make the world the way it’s meant to be then forget it!

In a moment of clarity you cut through the pain and lash out with the one spell you can think to save you in this situation as you cry out, “GET AWAY EBE!”

The Ghandharva starts as a blast of violent air explodes outward from you, annihilating the mushrooms and their spores. Pieces of pews are thrown through the air while whole ones shatter against the raging tempest. The spell, [Galeforce], hits the Priestess full on in the face and her cries are muffled as she’s thrown back with such force that she sails through the air and over the mezzanine to collide into the far wall. She sticks for a moment, her robes impaled with pieces of wood, before dropping to the ground as her clothing rips and tears.

You yourself are pushed back against the railing, feeling it splinter under your weight. The pain in your back is nothing compared to that on your hands still and you fall to the side, clutching one hand as you cast [Ice] on it to freeze the spores. It works, though the cold is nearly as painful as the spores. Panting, you look up to see Ebe drunkenly staggering, her hair a mess, a cut across her belly from where a piece of wood slashed her. She looks at you and blinks before her eyes go wide and she dashes over to you, trying to help you up.

“Rommel!” She says, patting you. “Are you alright?”

“No.” You say, being genuine. “But I’ll live. We need to help the others.”

Ebe looks down and you see some tension release from her. “No, I don’t think we do.”

Turning your head downward, you see as the changed Priestess becomes encased fully in ice, only her head not frozen as she spits curses at your party. The other two back away, their eyes seeming confused, as if lacking purpose to fight any longer. Sylphie traps them in ice as well as soon as they let down their guard and they look down, dumbfounded.

“RAAAAGH!” Alice shouts, dashing at the frozen Priestesses, but Tabitha catches her arm, stopping her charge. The swordswoman turns back to the Lizardman and glares with a fury you haven’t seen Alice give before. They stare each other down before Alice eventually drops her weapon and slumps, seeming abnormally tired for some reason.

“ROMMEL!” Sophie shouts at you from below. “Are you alright?”

“I asked him that already!” Ebe replies. “He said no, but he’ll live!”

Sophie smirks and shakes her head before her eyes go wide and she points at you. “Look out!”

Turning your head you barely catch in time the Priestess that Ebe had downed, the rent in her skull fixed. The seed she had in her hand before has grown into a plant with razor sharp leaves that she slashes toward Ebe. The Ghandharva shrieks and swings her guitar in an arc, hitting the woman in the side and throwing her off the mezzanine. She crashes to the ground in a small heap and moans pitifully.

Ebe pants and then shouts, “T-Thanks for the save!”

Sophie makes to secure the woman and, finding her alive, takes her tails to finish her when her Father puts a hand on her shoulder and says, “No, let’s take this one captive.” She gives her father a confused look but doesn’t argue as he binds her with cryomancy as well, leaving the woman shivering and confused.

Ebe gently lowers you downstairs and you survey the destruction. All around you destroyed vines had broken pews and glass, turned over urns and shattered pottery. The flooring is stained with blood, water, and sap while tapestries are ruined with the stuff. The upper level is swept nearly clean from your [Galeforce], the debris all along the wall where the lead Priestess lays in a twisted, crumpled heap.

“We ah… made a mess of the place.” Ebe says, giving a little chuckle before looking down. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” You sigh. “Better than to let this travesty continue.”

“What did they do to them?” Ebe whispers, pointing to the Priestesses. “What did they do to themselves?”

“Fucking plants in their heads.” Alice says, her voice exhausted. “Fought one who had a complete transformation and she… she wasn’t human anymore, that’s for sure. It’s…” She puts a hand to her head and chuckles, “It’s why I’m on this silly quest. Beaten so soundly by… this.”

Tabitha looks from her to the Priestesses and frowns. “I see.”

“Is… there anything we can do to help them?” Sylphie asks, a mana potion in her hand. “I mean… they don’t seem… it’s just…”

Her father rubs his chin and says, “Depends how far its rooted I think. This plant I mean.” He walks up to the Lamia and pulls back as she hisses at him before slapping her in the face. She blinks in confusion, as if not certain how to take this before he slaps both hands on the side of her head and focuses.

Her eyes go wide at his touch and she begins to drool, her eyes rolling back in her head as he concentrates. You open your [Magesight] and see an interesting sight. The magical ice sparkles with certain luminescent radiance that normal ice couldn’t match. Underneath this however, you see within the head of the Lamia a green, glowing mass. It seems vibrant and full of life, but you can tell this magical exuberance isn’t natural and it makes your skin crawl.

Watching further, you see an inky darkness pour from the Grand Wizard into the Lamia’s skull, surrounding the green mass. It resists, but slowly the edges begin to rot away until nothing remains. You snap off your sight as the Grand Wizard pulls away, seeming tired. The Lamia’s head droops when he finishes and she pants, as if having run, well, slithered, a mile.

Turning to the Desert catgirl, he does the same, removing the mass from her. When he stops before the changed one and touches her head he recoils before sighing and shaking his head. With a solemn bow of his head, he encases her in ice, and performs your [Shatter] spell after having only watched you perform it a few times in the heat of battle. Gods he’s good, you hate to admit. Imagine if he was at full power?

The room goes silent then, save for the muttering of the bound Priestess of Phallia. In the worship chamber, tired from the recent struggle, you appreciate the quiet from the outside world and sit down at the altar, sighing as you rub at your forehead. Your eyes go up to the statue of Phallia and you frown, shooting her in the forehead with a piece of Ronnie. The metal goes through the stone easily enough, shattering pieces of it before you retrieve the metal. The crumbled face looks at you, almost seeming displeased, but you don’t much care. Killing a priestess is worse than trashing a statue you figure, though you’re not entirely certain what to make of all this they spouted about ideal world and such.

The others gather themselves up, removing the two Dolloran Priestesses from their bondage. They lay on the ground, Tabitha and Alice watching over them. The Phallian Priestess has Selene watching over her for signs of magic or interference, holding her tails to the woman’s neck, prepared to saw it off if needed.

Ebe’s wounds are tended to by the Sylphie and her Father while Mr. Ed softly neighs, making sure she’s okay. The time to recover is very well needed, as you have to plan your next steps carefully. With the true altar moved to the Palace, this was a dead end the whole way. If the Pharaoh is sitting over the altar, you’re in some real trouble.

Sighing, you turn to the state of Dollora this time. The angry, bestial nature of her face should make you feel a sort of revulsion, an anger even. However, looking at her and her followers, you understand some of the beauty in her expression. Though she may be more like the Monsters she created, she certainly kept the beauty she imparted onto them.

Standing up, you walk over to her statue and gently rub her head, saying, “Sorry about breaking your temple. I just… hope I’m doing what you told me to do.”

“Mmm…. huh?” A voice says behind you.

Turning, you see the Lamia’s eyes open and she looks about in confusion. “W-what’s happening? Who are you people?”

——————————————–

The Lamia, Lead Priestess of Dollora, a distinction made due to the Prophet being the High Priestess of both Twins, told you everything that happened. When the fighting began, the Pharaoh’s troops moved the altar into the Palace, telling them to guard this location as if it were to be attacked. Her and her disciples didn’t quite understand the order, but they followed it.

When the guards had fully left, the Lead Priestess of Phallia had brought them together and attacked, knocking them out. Next thing they knew they were here. She was saddened by the loss of one of her disciples, the changed Priestess, but when she learned of what had happened she grew outraged.

“Blasphemy! These things she says are outright lies! And what they did is… it’s despicable!” The Priestess holds her hands together and hisses softly before saying, “I had always thought she looked at us with revulsion, never truly believed in the teaches of both of the twins. Perhaps we should have seen this coming when the Prophet allowed separate Priestesses.”

“What will you do now?” You ask.

The Lamia looks to her companion and they both sigh. “I don’t know. Rebuild, I suppose? We will have to rethink much of the scripture I’m afraid and- Ah, but I get ahead of myself.” She shakes her head, “We should retrieve the artifacts and store them safely.”

“Artifacts?”

“Yes, many artifacts said to be touched by the Twins. Most of them probably weren’t, to be honest, but some are genuine, most famously the Mirror of Heaven.”

“Any others?” You ask, intrigued.

“Oh yes, the scriptures of the old Kingdoms, penned by the first Priestess of the Twins as well as the Holy rake, consecrated by Phallia and used every year to cultivate land for harvest. There’s also the-“

“That’s fine.” You say, holding up a hand. “That’s… fine.”

“Yes, indeed.” She sighs, looking down. She looks back up at you and then asks, “I had no asked but… why are you here?”

Turning to the others, they nod to you and you’re forced to think this over. Eventually you sigh and say, “We were here to break the High Altar of the Twins. We wished to destroy the source of the Pharaohs power so we could… remove her.”

The Priestess’s eyes go wide at this and she puts a hand to her mouth, considering. Her eyes flick to you and she asks, “Are you… of the Violet Sands?”

“No.” You say quickly. “Though we have associations.”

“Do you know what killing the Prophet would do?” The Priestess whispers. “This whole land will be plunged into Chaos!”

“Well.” You say, rubbing your chin. “I suppose someone will need to fill people with hope. I saw the crowds around the Lesser Temple. People want hope and they’ll need someone to fill it but… it can’t be the Pharaoh, you know it too, don’t you?”

The Lead Priestess looks away before shaking her head. “I don’t know… but… at least you’re honest. You could have killed us and yet you didn’t. You show deference to Dollora and… I sense her touch upon you. For that, I am inclined to believe that you have good intentions, such as they are.”

“Stay and rest if you wish. There are wash rooms in the side corridors, if you would like to use them, though I am not certain how much longer the walls will keep the Royal Guard out. If you have other questions then… let us know. We must attend to the artifacts.” The Priestesses stand and walk past the captive, glaring at her, before passing by and heading to one of the side passages.

Left alone with your group, you find yourself a little cold and tired, but alive, same as your friends. You’re not certain how much longer the Royal Guard are going to be kept at bay, but you probably have some time to think and plan your next steps under the watchful gaze of the Twins.

While considering your options a cool wind blows in through one of the large, stained glass windows. Turning to look at it, you see a vine smashed through the depiction of Phallia and find it quite fitting. If you listen carefully you can shouts outside, though they’re fairly distant and fading on the wind. It reminds you of something important, something that you might have forgotten like-

“Oh Hells, the Royal Guard are outside.”

Standing up, you walk over to door you breached to the Inner Sanctum and look outside toward the Outer Sanctum walls. The stone barricade you made with your magic is still intact, though you see a few cracks in it. Looking around elsewhere, you don’t happen to see any signs of the Royal Guard having entered into the area. This confuses you a little because you had to have been in here for some time, right? Or did they think to get you once you’ve left the Temple?

Reinforcing your wall, you inform the others before forming another one before the entrance to the Inner Sanctum. As you do, you notice the plant life outside seems a little less vibrant than before, and far less intimidating. How… strange. Well, no matter, with a few [Audio Taps] set up you’ll know if anyone comes a knocking.

With that done, you return into the Sanctum to see Tabitha sitting the captive up, her back to a pew. She looks at all of you with tired eyes and shivers at her bindings. As you approach the Lizardman turns to you and says, “Seems she’s good to speak with.”

“Speak. Right.” The woman says, chuckling. “After what I did, I expect to be sent to Nerg’s embrace. Fortunately, I will be made into a flower to adorn Phallia’s abode. A more peaceful life then one spent here.”

Blinking in surprise, you look at the two sword wielders and they shrug in confusion. Clearly they don’t know what she’s talking about either. Selene walks up and crosses her arms before sighing. “Ardent followers of Phallia, while few and far between beyond the Cradle in Deleor and the Monster Nation believe that if they serve Phallia well enough she’ll persuade Nerg to turn them into flowers.”

The Priestess narrows her eyes, which have stopped glowing green, and says, “It’s true, you heathen.”

“You have no idea who I am, do you?” Selene says, looking down at the captive with the air of a monarch, despite her rather beleaguered appearance.

The woman smirks, “You’re one the spawn of Dollora, the traitor. You twist and break the beautiful human form into something disgusting.” Chuckling as something ripples under her skin, she says, “I used to believe that Monsters and humans could co-exist, but when I saw the true beauty of Phallia, I realized my folly. Realized everything was a lie, that the Twins were not equals.”

“They’re both Goddesses, though they command different powers of creation.” Selene says, frowning. “Of course they’re equal.”

“Ha! Spoken like an unintelligent beast.” The woman sneers. “Dollora sits in her little realm, stewing at her exile while Phallia seeks to change this world to a more beautiful state.”

“I wouldn’t call that thing wriggling in your head beautiful.” Alice says, looking disgusted.

“You merely haven’t accepted the beauty of it.” The Priestess says. “Sister, you should not be with these degenerates. They will corrupt you and turn you into one of them someday, stripping you of your humanity!”

Alice cocks her head and says, voice cold as ice, “Way I see it, you’re the most monstrous one here.”

The Priestesses eyes go wide and she stretches to lunge at Alice. Not flinching once, Alice tilts back her head and headbutts the woman, causing her to stagger back into the pew, blinking in confusion at what happened. The swordswoman, a bruise forming on her head merely shakes it and says, “I do believe that you actually believe this though. I don’t think it’s merely from a plant in your head like with those others.”

Sighing, Alice reaches out and cups the chin of the Priestess before hissing, “What did you hope to achieve by doing this to them? What is your goal?”

“Why… do you care do much?”

“Because I’m starting not to like plants very much.” Alice hisses, one hand sliding her sword out of the sheath. It glows faintly and her captive narrows her eyes.

“We will exact revenge for Phallia. We will restore humanity to greatness. We will sow this desert with the beauty of life all under Phallia’s loving embrace.”

Alice sighs and lets her go before turning to you. She stands and says, “Listen, I don’t really think that we’re going to learn anything else from her.”

“Fine.” You say, feeling this is mostly correct. One last thing digs at you though and you ask, “What did your leader mean by currying favor with the Prophet? Shouldn’t you hate her for being a Monster?”

“A means to an end.” She whispers, eyes unconsciously darting to the two younger Cat o’Ninetails. She rights back to you and says, “Although if you’re going to the Palace, I would expect that the altar would be in the Palace chapel.”

Furrowing your brow, you ask, “Why are you telling me this?”

She smirks again, “A means to an end.”

Shaking your head you turn to Alice and say, “Do it.”

Without a word Alice draws her sword and cuts the woman’s head in one swipe, blood evaporating on the blade’s enchatments. In a smooth motion she returns the sword to her sheath even before the head hits the floor. Watching as little vines wriggle forth from the stump, she lifts her lip in disgust and walks away.

The rest of you watch as the plant accepts that it’s dead, growing still as the rest of the body falls to the side, dead. Feeling a little sick, you turn away from the sight as well and say, “We’ll burn them later. For now… we have other things to do.”

“What do you think she meant by ‘means to an end?'” Tabitha asks, seeming troubled. “She was rather antagonizing for most of it, but she gave up the location of the altar fairly easily. It feels…”

“Like a trap, yeah.” You say, turning to look at Sophie and Sylphie before pondering the Grand Wizard’s words. The more you think on it, the more you wonder about the interest the other slavers had in them on behalf the Pharaoh. But what could it be?

The Lizardman sighs and says, “Well, we don’t seem to be in immediate danger, though I am a little worried about what they’re doing out there.”

“Maybe Erwin knows.” You say, sending out to the little guy. At least one handy thing about the bond is you’ll know if he’s been hurt or not. It takes a few moments for a reply but he sends back,

{You’ve reached Erwin. I can’t come to the magical link right now, but if you leave a name and aetheric signature-}

{Erwin. Please.}

{Alright, alright. Everything alright? You seemed a little… pained earlier.}

{I was, thank you for asking.}

{No problem.} He sends before saying, {Really though, I wanted to say something but I needed to focus. slipping into this part of town has been difficult.}

{Why?}

{The Royal Guard have retreated to the Palace. The Violet Sands has pushed forward but not that far yet. They seem pretty uh… motivated. I don’t really understand how they broke- Oh. It was you, wasn’t it?}

{Yeah, we used a tank}

{Oh, you finally built it? Cool.}

{Finally?} You send, confused. {What do you mean finally?}

{Oh come on, you’ve wanted to do something like that this whole time, but you just never did. Don’t tell me it’s not true.}

You go silent and he chuckles in response. {Ah, I know you so well. Anyway, I need to dodge patrols of cultists. They’re headed toward the Temple as well as far as I can see, so I’ll need why wits about me.}

{Wait, the Royal Guard isn’t around the Temple anymore?}

{I don’t know, but it seems unlikely. Does that matter?}

{Maybe…} You say, feeling confused. Wasn’t this area supposed to be very well defended? The more Erwin says, the more you get the feeling that this really wasn’t a diversion to keep you occupied. But what could the Pharaoh be doing with that time? You probably don’t want to find out.

Still, looking out at your party, you see the way the Grand Wizard sits down on an intact pew, leaning his head back as his wife sits next to him. They both sigh in exhaustion before Selene leans her head on her husband’s shoulder and seems about ready to doze off.

{Anyway, we’ll think of what to do once you get back here. Are you close?}

{Close enough. See you soon.} He cuts off there and you’re back with only your own voice in your head.

Sighing, you turn to see Ebe walk up to you, her face concerned. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, just tired.” You say, shaking your head. “Good work up there by the way. You’re becoming quite the warrior.”

Ebe blushes and looks down. “No, I’m not that… good. When I thought I killed her, I dropped the guitar and froze.”

“Yes, but you hit her again when she tried to sneak attack us.”

“That’s different.” She says, puffing out her cheeks. “Besides, it was more… me flailing in surprise than anything.”

“Either way, good work.” You say, holding your hand toward her head.

She stares at the outstreched hand before licking her lips and looking about nervously. “H-Here? In front of everyone?”

“You’ve done it before.”

“Yeah but… everyone else was getting headpats and… this is kind of embarassing.”

“Do you not want it?”

“No! I… I do, I just…” She takes in a deep breath, steadying herself as her cheeks go red. She leans her head in toward you and you chuckle before making contact with your hand to begin the process.

Once more does your hand blessed with this destructive force caress her long, silken locks, parting them like a comb. As your fingertips glide over her scalp, she lets out a small moan of pleasure and melts into the caress, her resistance crumbling faster than expected. You begin to notice eyes upon the two of you, but you can’t stop, your hand going on autopilot.

Your gaze drifts to that of Selene’s, the Monster Lady staring at you with a deep intensity. The Grand Wizard’s eyes are large as well, though he has an outraged expression on his face. You wince as you perform a rather skillful act of touching her ear while coming around the side of her head and she gasps before panting a little. Man, this is a little embarrassing, but really, you’re a slave to your headpats. Perhaps all are slaves to headpats, in the end.

When you finish, Ebe staggers, her eyes fluttering a little as she had a giddy expression on her face. She looks at you warmly before they seem to comprehend what just happened and she gasps, turning beet red while looking at the others. Hiding her face in shame, she walks over to a pew and sits down, trying to curl into a ball.

You lick your lips and look at the others, their expressions ranging from amusement and awe to surprise and outrage. Feeling like you should leave, you take a step back when the Grand Wizard stands and points a finger at you.

“YOU! DID YOU DO THAT TO MY LITTLE GIRLS?!”

“Oh Gods, Dad.” Sylphie says, putting her face in her hands.

“Father, please. We are adults.” Sophie says, a little blush on her cheeks. “No need to get so angry.”

“HE DID THAT WITH BOTH OF YOU? IS HE GOING TO MARRY YOU?”

“Dear it… is only a headpat.” Selene says, her cheeks red. She coughs into her hand and says, “It’s not like he held their hands or anything.”

“Not intentionally anyway.” Sophie says, to which her Father shoots her a glare.

“I can’t believe this, I go away to a dungeon for a few months and my little girls are doing such things. Where did we go wrong?” He says, shaking his head.

“Dear, they’re grown women and they can make their own decisions. I’m happy for them to finally experience these things. You know, I had my headpat by men a few times before we met.”

“I know! I know I just…” He shakes his head. “They’re my little girls.”

She pats his back and hushes him. She gives you a nod to give them some space before returning to looking after her husband.

Getting the message, you give an apologetic look to the twins before retreating out of the worship chamber, closing the doors behind you. Sighing, you look to the side as you hear the sounds of someone talking as well as a faint, flickering light. The Priestess?

Walking down toward the source, you find yourself before an open door leading to a relatively small room filled with various objects. Inside you find the two Priestesses of Dollora arranging items and packaging them in chests, locking them up before placing them on the ground for moving. As you enter they freeze before stopping, shoulders slumping.

“Oh, it’s just you.” The lead Priestess says, sighing. “I am understandably jumpy.”

“No, I get it.” You say, looking about. “Not much guarding such relics. Were they just sitting out here?”

“Yes and no.” She says. “We had some out when this began, but usually we keep the door locked.”

“That’s not… what I meant.” Shaking your head you continue. “Anyway, what are you doing with them now?”

“Locking them up to hide elsewhere, nya.” The Desert Catgirl Priestess says. Your eye twitches at that annoying thing some catgirls do, but you say nothing. “Got to keep them safe if the Violet Sands or anything malicious comes, nya.”

“I see.” You say, watching the process. The lead Priestess finishes packing a chest with some random pieces a cloth before locking it. She makes to set it aside but falters and you walk over to help. She looks at you with worry for a moment before looking down at your hands, her eyes going wide.

“Are you alright?”

“Huh?” You ask, looking down at your hands. Where the spores touched, you had red divots in the skin. It doesn’t hurt, not much anyway, but it did leave a mark. Shaking your head, you say, “No, I’m fine. Neutralized them, so I’m fine. Here.” Lifting the chest, you place it next to the others and then hold out your hands. “See?”

“Ah, well, thank you then.” She says, nodding her head. “Let me aid you then.” She takes your hands in hers and a purple glow appears. The tingling sensation there begins to numb and fade away. Blinking in surprise, you look at your hands to see them not any different just… not as stinging. She smirks and says, “Dark magic has many applications.”

“I… see.” You say, rubbing your chin. “Well…” You trail off as you glance to the side and notice a large hand mirror on the table before you.

The item is intricate, made of gold with an oval mirror inlaid in the center of it. On the sides of the mirror are worked depictions of a beast and a rose, both inlaid with gems. It looks a little gaudy because of it, yet at the same time you feel a certain magnetism to the piece. Reaching your hand out, you pause as the Lead Priestess says,

“I would ask you not to touch the mirror.”

Halting midway, you retract your hand and say, “Sorry, I just… don’t know what came over me.”

She smiles warmly. “It has that effect on people. There is magic in this, something primal that draws us all to look into the mirror.” Picking it up, she looks at her reflection and says, “It’s said this mirror shows the Goddesses if you are pious enough. I do not know if that is true but… I have looked into it once and seen Dollora. When I did, I felt a warmth in me, something which lead me to where I am today.” Holding the item close to her breast she says,

“It is a dear treasure to me, and this Temple.”

“What happens if someone not pious enough looks into it?” You ask.

“Nothing, nya.” The Catgirl says, shrugging. “It’s just a nice mirror. Makes you feel a little bad though, I’m doing my best but I’ve never seen anything but my pretty face, nya.”

The Lead Priestess smiles and looks at the mirror with reverence before sighing and handing it to you. “I do not know what to think of you and yours. You are not of Ectria, and yet you have the touch of Dollora upon you. You do not seek to pillage this place and yet you wish to destroy a Holy Altar and kill the Prophet. I don’t believe you will see what you want in this mirror, but I believe you should take a good look anyway.”

She sighs. “If nothing else, you’ll see your own reflection.”

Taking the mirror reverently, you hold it up to your face and look into it. Blinking in surprise, you see a man with short, silver blonde hair and beard with tanned skin that looks like it should belong to a man older than that of what the jaw line should represent. This man has tired eyes, haunted by many choices and sights no man should see. As you look closer, it takes you a moment to remember this is a mirror, and the man you see is yourself.

Closing your eyes, you shudder as you think on that. Through this journey you never really look a moment to look at yourself and see what it’s done to you. In truth, not much has changed, and yet your entire worldview flipped upside down. Your thirst for vengeance has been subdued and it’s been replaced by… purpose? Is that the right word?

{Your task is more important than you know…  Protect that which is dear to you and do not… lose hope.}

The words spoken by Dollora play through your mind again. Funny that a Goddess should be so wise. Or perhaps, that’s the entire point of Gods? Chuckling to yourself, you open your eyes and almost drop the mirror as you see not your reflection, but that of a Monster.

Hand clutching tight to the mirror as if with some supernatural power, you bring the mirror up and stare at it with a mix of fascination and horror. Gone is the tired man and in its place is a face as terrifying as it is beautiful. There is a decided perfection in the way her face is crafted, smooth lines and beautifully pale, unblemished skin with long, black hair framing it. However the aspects of humanity are lost there. Black, animal ears poke out from the sides of her head while antlers adorn the top. You shiver as glowing yellow eyes with black sclera bore into you, as if seeing into your soul. Delicate lips part, revealing sharp fangs as a familiar voice enters into your mind.

{Rommel, Wizard of Solos. Why do you seek me?}

The Lead Priestess gasps at your reaction, her eyes going wide. She hurriedly waves at the other Priestess to get some paper and ink to write this down, her hands clasped together as she prays to her Goddess. Gulping, you say back,

“Is… this really Dollora?”

{A foolish question.}

“Right!” You say, sweating. H-Holy shit. “Sorry to doubt you it’s just… aren’t only the pious supposed to be able to use this mirror.”

{It is but a conduit. Your time is limited, speak your words before I return to my realm.}

Her voice is beautiful and feminine, yet tinged with the feral, guttural sounds of a beast. The contrast only makes it more beautiful and it takes all your will not to be captivated by the sight, Monster or not. A Goddess is a Goddess afterall…

“I didn’t mean to disturb you but since… since you’re here I… I…” You search your thoughts for a moment before sighing out, “I don’t know what to do. I want to protect what’s dear to me but… but I don’t know how.”

{A struggle we all share, even the Gods. I do not reach out to mortals, men especially lightly. Your task is more important than you know.}

“Yes, but what is my task?!” You ask in frustration. “Is it to kill the Pharaoh? To protect Deleor? Or is to it bring my friends back home safe? Am I saving Ectria too while I’m at it? Because it doesn’t look like we’re doing a damn good job with that Cult you started.”

{Know your place.} She sends, her voice making your body violently shake as if struck. {Those who became the Apophis performed their ritual and sought a blessing to enrich themselves and thus was the price paid. What they did with such acts is the business of mortals. Should they rule it is because they had the strength to do so.}

“But the soul of one of those Apophis is inhabiting my sister! Even if I stop the Pharaoh, what then? It’s been years but… but she’s still dear to me! How am I supposed to protect her?”

Dollora grows silent for a few moments, her eyes looking troubled. {Had not this world been thrown into chaos, I would not give you such knowledge. But for the love of a sibling… I shall.} Her expression becomes soft, like that of a Mother’s speaking to a child. {Those who resided over the Chasm and drew forth my power the first time have passed down knowledge of the rituals needed to imbue the power of the Apophis. If the spirit of this Apophis which has escaped my brother’s grasp is not fully bonded, not fully accepted by the host then it can be removed with the same ritual and placed into another container.}

“Another… container? Another person?”

{That is one way.}

“But… what do you mean resided over the Chasm? Who?”

{Those who dwelled there. I cannot say more.}

“I see…” You whisper, thinking it over. Your sister she… there’s a chance she can be returned to you?

{However, should you do this, you must know… your sister’s form has been altered beyond return. She is seeped in my essence and is now one of my children. She may not be the same person you knew, regardless of what you do.}

“Thank you.” You say, a lump in your throat. “Thank you for that information. I… thank you.”

A smile touches her lips, small, but beautiful beyond words. Taking a shuddering breath you say, {Is there anything else you can tell me? How to stop the Pharaoh, about the magic she wields?}

{It is magic derived not of the land nor myself but of my brother, Heavensferth. I cannot tell you how it works, but I can say that by activating it, she has opened herself to the voices of those who tear at her mind. She has long been attuned to the whispers of the Gods, but since taking the power into herself she has grown desperate for relief from the incessant voices in her head. She cries out to the Gods for succor yet I dare not answer, for my sister’s presence is always nearby.}

“Your sister? Phallia? What’s she been doing here anyway? Her Priestesses did horrific things to yours and they spoke of things that I have trouble believing…”

Dollora’s face twists as if in pain and she grits her teeth to say, {I have… said too much as it is. I cannot say anything more. This is the last time we shall talk Rommel, chosen of Solos.}

“Wait!” You say, holding the mirror up closer to you. Looking at your free hand, you stare at the fingers for a moment before hesitantly saying, “I know it’s a futile gesture but… if you’ll allow me.” Holding your hand up, you bring it to the mirror and caress her image, right at the top of her head.

Dollora’s eyes go wide in surprise as you do this before she closes her eyes and begins to laugh. The sound is rich and full bodied, even sweeter than the sound of Ebe’s voice. As you remove your fingers from the mirror she says, {Though I cannot feel such a thing, you are the first to show such a gesture in a long time. A shame for your hands remind me of his…} She trails off before saying, her voice strained. {Remember, your mission is important, but to those around you, one in particular, you are more important than all else. Do not forget that love cuts both ways, and protect what is dear to you…}

Her image begins to fade from the mirror, but as it does, you swear you can see tears in her eyes. Did… could Gods cry? Perhaps these beings were far more… “human” than you gave them credit.

The mirror suddenly feels heavy in your hand and you place it down, shuddering as it feels like all the energy has left your body. Putting a hand to your face, you find yourself drenched in sweat and you put a hand on the table to stabilize yourself. While not as taxing as when she spoke to you without the mirror, you still feel a little drained.

“By Dollora, you spoke with her!” The Lead Priestess says, getting your attention. Looking at her, you see her looking over the notes the Catgirl took, thumbing through them. “Responses from one who spoke directly to the Goddess, something to add to the records!”

“Yes, nya!” The Catgirl Priestess says, scribbling more on paper. You watch this with fascination for a few moments before the Lamia Priestess dives into a chest, rummaging through things. When you ask what she’s doing, she says,

“You have been chosen by the Goddess! A gift not granted to a man in centuries! There is an artifact here that… ah!” She pulls out a glove from the box and hands it to you.

Holding up the glove, you find it to be a little large but made of tough, black fabric inlaid with little gemstones on the knuckles leading to a larger stone on the back of the hand. You look at her and she says, “This glove was wielded by a sorcerer from Deleor who traveled the lands with his Monster wife, helping people in need. He eventually settled in Ectria after having a revelation in this very Temple and gave us this glove when he died. He said it would help channel aetheric energies more readily when worn and helped him conserve mana and energy.”

Looking over the glove you try it on and it somehow fits like… well, like a glove. The gemstone on the back glows and you feel light all of a sudden, as if much of your burden was removed. Staring down at it, you create a globe of light and notice that the concentration and mana drain used to make it is less than before!

“Can I really have this?” You ask, seeming unsettled. “It’s wonderful but…”

“Please.” She says, touching the glove. “After what we saw, you deserve it. If Dollora would speak to you then the path is clear. You will need all the help you can get.”

>You obtain [Heldoran’s glove]

>Conforms to the hand of whoever wears it and reduces mana consumption by 50% as well as lowers exertion needed to cast a spell.

“Here! More artifacts!” The Priestess says, smiling. She hands you a ring and a bracer as well. The ring is simple and inlaid with one amethyst- apparently worn by a High Priestess of Dollora and blessed by her Goddess to improve the power of a Monster Witch’s spells. The bracer was worn by an odd Ratgirl monk from the east who was proficient in geoflexing. It is said to improve the strength and fortitude of the bearer.

>You obtain [Rashana’s ring]

>A ring blessed by Dollora which improves the strength of a Monster Witch’s magic

>You obtain [Julyan’s bracer]

>A bracer worn by a Monk from the East which improves the strength and fortitude of the bearer

Holding the items reverently, you feel invigorated somehow. The Priestess digs through more items but doesn’t seem to find anything else of value. She says if she does, she’ll let you know, so for the moment you pocket them and think of how to dole them out. Feeling thirsty and a little hungry, you decide to see if they’ll let you back inside the worship hall. Walking out of the room, you hear a curious scratching at the wall outside through your [Audio Tap].

Approaching the wall, you hear in your mind, {Hello? I have a delivery for a uh… Rommel? What a silly name.}

{We don’t want any.} You send back to Erwin before lowering the wall. Your familiar leaps up at you and you catch him, smiling as he pats your shoulder.

{Did you miss me?}

{Greatly.}

{Good, so fill me in on everything.}

{I will, with everyone else. First off, how did you get in?}

{There was a foxhole.}

{That’s not… I don’t think that word means what you think it means.}

{There was a hole large enough for a fox. A foxhole. Sheesh, you do need me.}

Chuckling, you enter back into the worship chamber to inform the others of your uh… revelation, and get something to eat. The moon is still high in the sky and there is much left to be done this evening.

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