Wizardquest 2: Chapter 2- Path Less Traveled

“Alright, quiet you two.” You hiss at them, trying to keep your voice down. They don’t seem to hear you however and continue to bicker, each one wanting to be the sacrificial lamb for the other. You hiss at them again, a little louder this time, but they’re clearly so involved in their hero shenanigans that they’re not paying attention at all.

{Erwin} You send, but he’s already walking up to Sophie. Opening his tiny little fox mouth, he bites one of her tails and she slaps a hand to her mouth, eyes going wide in shock and… uh, that is pain, right? She quickly flicks that particular tail to dislodge Erwin, but he’s already retreated. Blushing furiously, she turns to you and hisses,

“What was that for?”

“To get you two to listen. Come on, you’re acting like you want to be martyrs here.”

“What choice do we have?” Sylphie asks, hugging her staff to her breast. “We can’t get far enough out of the town after busting through the guards, and I can’t make us all invisible for long enough! Frankly I don’t know if I can even cast it…”

“You can make people-” You say before quickly shaking your head. “Never mind. Look you think there’s no other route but to sacrifice yourself, right? Wrong. There’s always another option.”

“We can’t go through the walls, nor can we go over the walls, someone would spot us in an instant.” Sophie says, frowning. “That would mean we either sneak out or…”

“We go under the wall.” You say nodding.

“The soil here isn’t so… great for that, is it?” Sylphie says, biting her lip. “Do you even know how to do that?”

“Not really, no.” You say, looking around. There’s a path that leads near the edge of the wall to the east, which shouldn’t be found easily by any guards if you make it long enough…

“But how do you expect us to make this work? And what about Mr. Ed?” Sylphie cries.

“He’s a smart horse, he’ll figure it out.” You say, shaking your head.

“I…I suppose that… huh?” The Cat O’Ninetails blinks before concentrating. “Wait he’s sending that he’s out of the town but-” She frowns deeper but doesn’t say anything else.

“We’ll figure that out later, I’m going to need both of your help for this.” You say, walking toward your intended area of escape. They both nod to each other before catching up with you as you pace around an open section of ground, taping it with your staff. Sending your magic into the ground, you can feel the way the ground is made, get a better picture of the dirt and rock that composes it. This has become easier for you, and you’re beginning to think you can identify construction of the ground below you with minimal effort.

“Not the best for digging…” You grunt. Raising your hand up, you make a gesture and try to move the ground. You succeed, but not in the way intended, and mainly manage to create a small hole. Mostly you just make dirt go everywhere, and when you try again, it doesn’t make it much deeper.

“This isn’t going to work, is it?” Sophie says, looking nervous.

“I just… need to think about how to do this, alright?” You say, furrowing your brow and wondering how to make the magic work the way you need it to.

Sylphie, who has been quiet until now, walks forward and taps the ground with her own staff. She nods her head and says, “Rommel, what if you used your magic in an inverse of [Build the Wall]? Instead of concentrating the magic around one spot and dragging, what if you made a repulsion with your magic? Concentrate it in the center and then expand it outward?”

You look at her with genuine surprise before turning back to the dirt. No… it couldn’t be that easy, could it? With some trepidation, you feel your consciousness condense there and then…

The small hole bursts open, deep enough and large enough for all of you to enter, at least one by one. You blink in surprise and let the magic slip, to which the dirt that is being held back by your magic fills in the hole again. Frowning, you cast the spell again and it opens, to which you feel a small pressure on your mind to hold it open.

>[Trench] learned!

>Displacement of earth can be used to create trenches or holes in the earth.

“Well well.” Sophie says, walking up the hole and looking into it. “This is our way out?”

“Yeah.” You say, crawling into the hole. You push out further with your magic and widen the area before you so you can fit. “I’ll go first and keep pushing the hole further, it’s going to fill in behind us.”

“Sure you have this?” Sophie says, frowning.

“Hmph. I guess you don’t have a reason to trust me yet, especially not after what I said earlier.” You feel a little embarrassed as you say, “Sorry about that, I guess.”

Sophie rolls her eyes and jumps into the hole. “I guess that’s all we can expect to get. Come now Sylphie.”

“Right!” Sylphie says, jumping into the hole as you push forward, toward the wall.

{I’m staying behind.} Erwin sends.

{Afraid of the dark?} You send back, but Erwin just mentally chuckles.

{No, but I’d rather keep an eye up here. See what’s going on and give you updates.}

{Very well. See you outside.} You send and he gives an affirmative before his presence goes further away.

“Right. Time to dig a hole.” You say, continuing to cast [Trench] slowly but surely, pushing forward.

In the darkness, it’s difficult to tell how much progress you’re making, but as you move you collapse the tunnel behind you, which is mostly just allowing the dirt to return to the area of least resistance. This creates a pocket around you, that, as long as you keep moving, should have enough air.

Sylphie mutters something from behind you and her staff glows with soft light, to which you nod to her. She nods her head and gives a nervous smile, to which Sophie clasps her sister’s shoulder, giving her some reassurance. Shaking, Sylphie takes a breath and continues forward.

You begin to sweat, feeling the oppressive heat under the ground and send your magic up to feel around you. It travels through the base earth before hitting something different, something your Geomancy can’t penetrate. It feels grainy and rough, sunk hard into the earth and… the wall. You’re under the wall.

Brow dripping with sweat, you nod to the kittens, who return the gesture. Just a little farther, just a little farther…

{Rommel, she’s approaching the area you began the tunnel.} Erwin sends, almost ruining your concentration. The tunnel shifts and Sophie has to take a step forward, pressing Sylphie against your back as dirt falls onto her. You quickly re-establish control and send,

{Are you sure?}

{Yeah, and there’s a lot of dirt around here, the earth looks fresh from where you dug. She’s going to figure it out.}

{Damnit!} You send, looking perturbed. {We need a distraction}

{I can’t make one large enough to distract her on my own!}

Gritting your teeth, you send, {Give me control}

{Is that a good idea? You can’t concentrate on that spell at the same time as you do this.}

{It will be fine, give me a moment.} You send before snapping to Sylphie, your voice sounding stained in the small tunnel.

“I need you to keep up the spell.”

“W..what? Why?”

“I need to cast spells through my familiar, Chaika is about to find the entry site.

Sophie bites her thumbnail at this and Sylphie turns pale in the fey light. “But… but.”

You grab both of her shoulders and say, “Sylphie, you’re the one who came up with the idea, and I KNOW you have the capability to do this. You just have to keep the tunnel open long enough for me to distract her.”

“I…I…” She says before looking into your eyes. She bites her lip and then takes a shaking breath saying, “Okay… okay, I’ll try.”

“Good.” You say, watching as she gathers her magic and then casting it out, creating the  same effect as your spell. She shudders but gives a thumbs-up, and you slowly remove your spell. The ground shifts and shudders, but it holds. Nodding to her, you close your eyes and sync your magic with your familiar and-

You see an alleyway where a cobalt blue construct walks, her form decidedly female and very curvy. An emotionless faceplate glows with red eyes upon the head as her sleek form stalks through the alleys. It takes you a moment to feel right in this form, get used to the sensations of being so short. Perspective is a bitch, after all.

{The Guards} You send, and help guide Erwin over to the northeast gate, where the mercs are standing. Looking about, Erwin climbs up a small building, his little frame finding plenty of handholds so that he can get a better purchase and scale to the top. Once there, you prepare your magic.

“Hey Thad.” One of the mercenaries says, looking up and shading his eyes in the late afternoon sky. “What’s that on that roof?”

Thad, rubbing the knot on his head, looks up at the mentioned roof and frowns. “The fuck is-“

A wall of earth appears behind him. He stares at it for a long moment before shouting, “OH FUCK NOT AGA-” Before he knows what’s hit him, the box forms again.

“I’M GOING TO BEAT YOUR ASS YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” Thad shouts, his friends trapped inside the box shout as well, creating one hell of a racket. One of them begins to shudder and says,

“H…Hey Thad, is it getting cold in here?”

“What the… No…NOOOOO!” Thad shouts as your [Ice] begins to creep along inside the walls, making them harder and forcing the cold to be trapped within. The men huddle down for warmth, shouting to their friends who try to open the box, but can’t seem to do so as long as you keep reinforcing the walls. As one final stroke, you throw rocks quickly against the wall to form the words,

“I tried to fuck Sylphie and that’s what I get.”

A moment after you finish, a blue blur of motion appears and Chaika runs into view, standing in front of the box. She stares at it for a moment before shouting at the other men, who raise their hands and shake their heads, pointing at the box. Chaika walks over to the wall and bursts through it, crashing the integrity of the wall.

You see through Erwin’s eyes that Thad curses at Chaika before she punches him in the gut before grabbing him by the arms and swinging him about, smashing into all the other men and then into another wall, causing it to explode into dirt and ice. All the other men draw their weapons and Chaika begins to tear through them before-

“ROMMEL!” Sophie shouts, shaking you back to your body.

You stagger for a moment to notice dirt raining upon you. Snapping your head to Sylphie, you see her trembling, her staff’s light failing. She looks at you, panting heavily and says, “I… I ran out of mana and…”

“Damnit, drink a potion!” You shout, quickly using your magic to reinforce the tunnel, but the integrity is shot. “Fucking hells.” You say, thrusting your magic forward to tear open a path ahead and curving upward.

“Out, out, out!” You say, running up the slope, making rudimentary stairs out of the earth as you go. Sylphie staggers behind you and Sophie grabs her, using her tails to drag herself up the tunnel as the rest collapses behind her. The three of you leap up out of the tunnel as the rest of your magic falls apart and it fills in, as if it was never there.

Green grass surrounds you outside the walls, and you collapse into the field, groaning as a wave of exhaustion flows over you. The other two groan nearby and you look over to see Sylphie shaking her head and spitting out grass while Sophie mumbles and rubs her backside.

You close your eyes and take a deep breath, thankful everything is fine before standing and dusting yourself off. Sophie looks to you from her place on the ground, expecting something, but you instead look off to the East where Mr. Ed comes trotting by, snorting. He nuzzles Sylphie as Sophie rises and sniffs, making a point to flourish her hand to Sylphie, who takes it and rises.

“We need to keep moving.” You say, getting a report from Erwin. “She won’t stay distracted forever, most of those mercenaries are already unconscious… or worse.”

“That’s Chaika for you.” Sylphie says, rubbing her face against her familiar’s. She sighs and mounts the horse before plodding off to the east, away from the main road for now, the rest of you in her wake.

You decide to keep moving for quite some time, the world having grown exceptionally dark as you move through the lightly forested region into what is still sparsely populated territories. Despite the presence of two major cities, this area called, “The Green Triangle” is bordered by rivers to the west, borne to the north, and the oceans/Port Dorning to the south and east. In this area, mostly farmers and some villages stand, but it’s one of the comparatively lawless regions in Deleor, where some Monsters still practice the old ways.

You explain all of this to the two as you keep going, until the darkness becomes so oppressive, and your weariness so overwhelming, that you have to stop for evening in sheltered grove within the forest. At some point Erwin rejoins you, describing how he watched Chaika tear through the mercenaries, then the regular guards, then the mercenaries again, before finding out that no one knew if you two were in town. She left soon after, heading out toward the Port.

“How long do you think she’ll be distracted in Porn Dorning?” Sylphie asks over her bowl, looking drained from the day’s events.

“It will take some time to question people if we’ve taken a ship. Best case scenario, she boards a vessel herself and heads to Port Amun’ra, but if she doesn’t, she’ll have to head North to the pass.” Sophie says, looking tired herself.

“We’ll have to beat her there then.” You say, finishing your meal. The other two nod and then look at the fire, the small crackling of the sticks calming you. Sighing, you put the bowl down and say, “Sylphie.”

“Huh? What?” She says, looking up from the fire.

You fumble around with the words before rolling your hand and saying, begrudgingly, “Good work in the tunnel.”

Her eyes go wide and she blushes, looking down as she stutters, “B-but I failed! T-the tunnel collapsed because I was careless and… and…”

“And you at least tried and held it long enough that I could distract Chaika. You could have refused, but at least you gave it the effort.” She blushes deeper and hides her face at the compliment, to which you frown and say, “However you are not to go without being full on mana again, do you understand? What if we are attacked and you’re low on reserves, what then?”

“You’re right…” She says, sighing. “I’ll take first watch as penalty.”

Looking over her sincerity, you nod your head and say, “Very well then.” She stands to prepare her things and you begin to clean up the campsite with Sophie. As you scoot close to pick up some scraps that Erwin missed, Sophie grabs your wrist and you tense up before looking at her. Her expression is hard, but it soon softens, and her grip slackens as she sighs and says,

“Mr. Rommel. I wanted to… thank you.”

“We all needed to escape. Letting one of you be taken away was going to complicate things later.”

“No, not for that, though I do like how this turned out. It’s…” She hesitates and shakes her head. “Well, I wanted to thank you for the way you’re treating Sylphie.”

“Huh?” You say, genuinely surprised.

“It may only be a few days since we’ve met, but she does respect your magic, even if you’re clearly a low level hack.”

{Ha! She knows!} Erwin sends, and you hear his little fox snicker coming from somewhere behind you. Well, she wasn’t wrong…

“However,” She continues. “You are a useful hack, and I’m glad you’re here.” Nodding her head, she finishes gathering things up and says, “You should get to bed Mr. Rommel, you’re on middle shift.”

“Yeah yeah… hey wait, what?” You say as she walks away, tails snapping behind her playfully.

{Erwin.} You send, feeling frustrated. {I don’t know which of these two is more exhausting.}

Erwin just laughs.

Grumbling to yourself, you make ready for bed, crawling into your bedroll and falling asleep quickly and quietly-

Something rustles nearby you and your eyes snap open from your sleep. The rustling sound comes again and you frown, looking over to the campfire to find Sylphie sitting there, her eyes closed, mouth half open as she drools. Blinking, you realize she’s asleep! Was it time for your shift? What was making that noise?

Turning your head slowly to the source you see something digging through the supplies you have nearby. Something large and vaguely brown in the firelight, and it takes you a moment to realize it has a feminine form. A Monster of some kind.

She pauses and then turns to you sharply, hands filled with various foodstuffs and Sylphie’s mana potions. You both trade looks for a long while before the Monster bolts, running off into the forest.

“Oh for the love of Solos.” You growl, slapping the ground and sending a current of power into it. While not as focused as sending the magic out via your staff, it was enough to cause a small wall to appear in front of the fleeing Monster.

Who just lowered her shoulder and barreled through the hastily constructed wall as if it wasn’t there, only managing to stumble slightly before continuing to run into the forest.

Cursing, you get up and rouse Erwin via a mental sending before quickly putting your boots on and shouting, “Wake up! Wake the fuck up!”

Sophie’s head immediately appears out of the tent, concern in her eyes and tails poised about the entrance flap, ready to strike out at any attackers. Sylphie, on the other hand, startles awake and holds her staff up, the magic gathering at the tip to make a beacon as bright as a small sun. She shouts loud enough that, if your intruder hadn’t left before, she would have now.

Sophie slaps a tail into her mouth, shutting her up, before holding her sister’s head and making shushing noises until Sylphie quiets down. Removing her tails, she turns to you and says with a smooth, calculating voice, “What happened?”

“Monster got in somehow, stole food and I think the mana potions.”

“A Monster got in and didn’t try to rape you? How did they get through the ward…” Sophie looks around and sees the wards, which were set up beforehand, down but not appearing damaged. She whirls upon her sister and hisses, “Sylphie, what did you do?”

“I…I…” Sylphie stutters, holding her staff close to her. “I think I turned them off because I needed some extra space to practice a spell and I guess I just turned them… off.”

“For the love of-” You begin before putting your hand to your head and taking a deep breath. “Damnit, who knows when the next time we’ll get some more potions, we need to hurry and get them back.”

“What? Out here in this darkness? How will you find-” She pauses and snaps her eyes to Erwin. “Oh.”

“Yeah. You drank a potion earlier, right?”

“I mean, yeah, I guess.” She says and you nod your head to Sophie.

“Watch the camp, make sure no one else comes, we’re going after her.”

“Are you sure? You don’t want me to go instead?”

You give Sophie a knowing look and she sighs, nodding her head. “Very well, get going.”

Without further adieu, you grab Sylphie’s wrist and drag her along with you until she starts running herself after you. You make certain you don’t touch her hand, something you’re sure she would have mentally shut down from, and move, following Erwin mentally as he picks up your quarry’s scent.

If it were just a matter of uneven, rocky ground you may have been able to just use your magic to help ignore the terrain,  but unfortunately the trees and plant life make it impossible to do so. After almost tripping and falling to break your neck the first time, you channel a small amount of power into your staff to form enough light to let you see by. Sadly this will make you very easy to see, but they can probably smell you anyway.

{Ugh.} Erwin sends, seeming disgusted. {When was the last time she bathed? It’s like a training field mixed with a slaughterhouse.}

{This does not invoke confidence, Erwin.} You send back, avoiding another tree root. {What are we chasing?}

{Eh… it’s not a bear. Maybe… some kind of weasel?}

{She’s a big weasel.}

{Yeah, I guess}

You somehow feel like something important was missed in his response, and from behind you, you see Sylphie tense up, though she quickly passes it off, making you wonder what the hells she was worrying about. Turning back to the path, you see Erwin pass through a bush before he quickly sends, {Lights off!}

The light snaps off, hiding both of you in gloom. Tensing up, you listen for the sound of movement behind the brush. Nothing comes, not even Erwin’s tiny steps, but you still feel his presence in front of you. You’re almost tempted to see through his eyes, but you’re stopped as you feel Sylphie’s small hand on your arm and you turn to look at her.

Due to being a feline Monster, she has that eye shine that seems to unique to predators. In the small light of the moon, you can see the reflections in those shining eyes and you find yourself startled. Tears fill the corner of her eyes and a sadness pervades her expression. She tightens her grip upon your sleeve again as she whispers in a choked voice, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh for the love of-” You begin again before taking in a deep breath and focusing. She messed up big time, but what would berating her accomplish? You look into her eyes and whisper, “Sylphie, I need you to focus here. You screwed up, I can’t deny that, but we all make mistakes. We learn from them, and if you want to cry, you can do it later. For now though-” A message from Erwin comes through, and you nod your head.

“For now, we’ve found our thief.” You look to her and ask, “Can I count on you?”

Tears filling her eyes, she regards you for a long while before nodding her head and wiping her eyes. She takes a deep breath and says, “Gods, I’m a mess.”

“Yeah, but it could be worse.” You say absently, to which she punches you in the ribs, though the force isn’t really behind it. Holding your staff before you, you head through the brush as quietly as you can, Sylphie behind you, before coming out inside of a small clearing around a rocky outcropping. Atop the rock, basked in the light of the small moon, sits the one who stole your items.

She’s tall, much taller than you thought before, easily over six feet and made of muscle. short, brown hair  that transitions to black covers her forearms and legs, ending in sharp clawed paws. Behind her, a long black tail swishes as she eats some of the food from Sylphie’s pack, the vials of mana potions still intact. As crumbs fall from her mouth, you see in the wan light small, brown ears and a stern, angry looking face.

{What in the hells kind of Monster is that?} You send, looking surprised. {A kind of badger}

{I think…} Erwin begins, mulling it over.

“Wolverine.” Sylphie whispers, and you turn your head to regard her. She shrugs and says, “I like animals, and Mom IS the Monster Lady.”

You shrug and think it over before saying to Sylphie, “Hey, you mentioned invisibility, right?”

“Huh? Uhm, yeah, sort of. A trick of the light I guess. I used to do it as a kid.”

“Can you do it now? It would be best to get a drop on her if we can.”

Sylphie thinks this over for a moment before a resolution comes to her eyes. “I’ll do it.”

You smirk, “You’re learning.” She blushes before taking her staff and closing her eyes, channeling magic. She reaches out and touches your arm before everything ripples slightly and then… well nothing seems to change. You blink and look about, sensing out with your magic to feel… something surrounding you. A barrier of some sort.

“Come on.” She whispers. “Let’s be quick and grab the stuff.”

This sounds good to you, as you’d rather not deal with a large, muscular monster if you can help it. You’d rather not have yourself getting hurt, or raped possibly. Oh, and Sylphie could be hurt too, which would probably be bad. Erwin would probably be fine though, you suppose.

With the veil upon you, the two of you slink closer and find your way up the rocks, doing your best not to shuffle the rocks. The wind rustling the trees blows into your face and you get a smell of the Monster, and you understand now what Erwin meant when he was describing the scents. At first you mistook her human-like skin to be dark, but instead it’s merely tanned and covered in dirt and grime. Oddly enough, the muck looked appropriate on her, and you’re quite happy that she’s covered in it as it obscures her bare breasts. In fact, you realize she’s not wearing a scrap of clothing at all!

You feel yourself shudder at the sight and Sylphie pauses, squeezing your shoulder. Dispelling the thoughts, you feel your resolve come back. Turning your attention back to the Wolverinegirl, you freeze as you notice her eyes directly on you. She stares at you but makes no moves, and you realize that she can’t actually see you. Of course, as you notice a moment later, she can SMELL you.

The wind blows to your back and she stands up slowly, wiping her chin as she sniffs the air. Lips parting into a snarl, she growls out, “Show yourselves.”

“Crap.” Sylphie says, dropping the veil, to which you groan.

“Sylphie, you don’t just show yourself when someone says to do so!”

“But she knows where we are!”

“Well NOW she does, but she didn’t before!”

“No.” The Wolverinegirl says, her muscular, grimy body tensing, showing off the muscles on her abs and biceps. Once more, you’re thankful for the layers of mud as she says, “With your scent, I can find you anywhere. I don’t need my eyes.”

“Probably good as Wolverines aren’t really nocturnal…” Sylphie mutters to herself.

“What?”

“Nothing, don’t listen to her.” You say, frowning and pointing your staff at the items. “You stole this from our camp, and we’re taking it back.”

Her tension doesn’t lower as she hisses, “No.”

Rolling your eyes, you tap the rock with your staff and it shudders before stones rise in the air about you. “Please, I don’t want to get into a fight here. Just let us leave in peace and we won’t have any problems.”

“I said. No.”

You pause, narrowing your eyes. “Why is this meagre amount of food important to you? I can maybe imagine the mana potions if you’ve been semen deprived, but the even that shouldn’t be too hard to come by since you live so near human towns.”

“It isn’t-” She begins before shaking her head. “No, I don’t need to explain myself to you. Leave, or there will be trouble.”

“Hey, he’s right!” Sylphie says, a little defensively. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but things are kind of different after these last twenty years. It’s pretty easy for a Monster to just walk into a human town and live there! Plenty of Monsters who resorted to rape and thievery can now live productive lives!”

“We don’t want productive lives, we just want nice, simple lives.” She growls out, seeming visibly agitated. “Something that we haven’t been able to have for some time, no thanks to your Lady.”

Sylphie frowns. “I don’t understand. Mom… I mean, she doesn’t have much of a presence, this far east. The Monsters here always sort of lived on their own terms without much interference.”

“Yeah, I know.” The Wolverine says, her nose twitching, posture shifting slightly. Her tone of voice changes to a softer tone and she says, “I didn’t used to need to steal, but you do what must. Travelers, caravans, whatever it takes.”

“Is it a rival tribe of Monsters? If you need help, you always could have sent to Sanctifrond! Someone would have shown up to help!”

“A rival tribe? Hmph… something like that.” She says, eyes looking off to the side for a split second before returning to you two. “As for Sanctifrond, leaving this place is not possible. It would damn the rest of the glutton, though I am loathe to use that word.”

You tense up at that, especially as you feel a wave of unease come from Erwin. Licking your lips, you say, “Pack, huh?” She turns her attention to you and you grimace. “Where exactly is this glutton?”

{Fuuuucccck, they came from downwind!} Erwin sends. {I couldn’t smell them!}

The Wolverine stands proud and tall as the bushes around you rustle and eight more tall, powerful, and dangerous looking Wolverines come out of the brush, each looking meaner than the last. She shrugs and says, “Does that answer your question?”

“Yeah.” You say, feeling nervous. “I guess it does.”

Sylphie grabs hold of your arm as she surveys the group of Wolverinegirls surrounding you. They don’t seem like they’re about to pounce, but at a word from their leader, and you’re certain she’s the leader now, they easily would. With a calm sadness coming over her features, the leader of the glutton sags her shoulders and squats down to the rock, toying with the food.

“Go. Leave before I do allow one of my girls to take you for a husband. You most certainly smell good enough to bear worthy offspring, and we could use a Witch after… nevermind.” She shakes her head. “Just go.”

You’re on a rocky outcropping, which is your advantage, but with so many large and powerful Monsters around you, the chances of you winning in combat against them would be difficult. Perhaps better with Sylphie nearby, but you really doubt you’re going to get out of this unscathed. 

Of course, you can always just walk away. Sure, the loss of the mana potions would mean that Sylphie would have to ration her magic for now, but you’ll reach a village eventually, and you can stretch your food out to last until the next village. No, you don’t NEED to fight this battle.

“Rommel…” Sylphie whispers, her hand shuddering. “Just, just tell me what you want me to do.” She gulps before nodding her head. “I don’t want to hurt them, especially because I don’t think this all their fault but, but…”

She tightens her grip on her staff. “I have to get stronger. Can’t keep hiding in Dad or my sister’s shadow.”

Nine pairs of predatory eyes stare at the two of you, waiting for your decision. A low tension fills the night air, like a pot ready to boil over. You have no doubt that if you chose wrong, you will end up burned. With that in mind, you  close your eyes, steady your breathing, and place your free hand on Sylphie’s shoulder. She looks at you with confusion as you shake your head and open your eyes to look at the leader.

“Very well then. You have us at a disadvantage here. We will go.”

The lead Wolverinegirl narrows her eyes. “Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

She studies you, those brown, and they are brown, eyes of her searching your expression before turning to Sylphie. You see something underneath that calculating look of hers, a sort of sadness and resignation. If you didn’t know better, you’d say she probably wanted you to attack, or at least put up some kind of resistance. It’s gone a moment later, and she shakes her head before waving at her glutton. They all back away, forming a path for you to exit.

“Go then.”

You nod and descend the outcropping with Sylphie in tow. When you reach the ground, you look to the other Wolverines and notice the hunger in their eyes, marking them truly as subordinates. Still, they make no sign of attack, and you clear them soon enough. As you reach the low underbrush, you pause and turn about to regard the Wolverine once again.

“If you try to steal from us again, it won’t be over so peacefully.”

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.” Is her only reply.

The two of you walk through the brush and out of the clearing. As soon as you do, Sylphie grabs your arm and puts a hand to her chest before taking some deep breaths. She looks visibly agitated and you can only frown at her as she does so. Certainly you feel a level of adrenaline coursing through your own system from the da. nger, but she really looks scared.

“You really haven’t gone out much, have you?”

“This… coming from a Wizard?”

You smirk. “Fair enough. You put on a good face out there at least. I have to wonder though, do you think you would have been able to do it?”

She looks up at you with a confused expression. “Do it?”

“Fight them. Kill them if you really had to.”

Her face goes pale and she bites her lip. Looking over her shoulder at the concealing brush she begins to form a word before stopping and drawing her lips tight. She looks back up at you with a measure of resolve in her eyes and gives you a tremulous nod.

I wonder. You think to yourself and prepare to leave. You reignite the magic at the end of your staff and begin to walk when you pause, searching about for your familiar. You frown and quest out with your mind to find him back in the clearing, watching the Wolverines.

“Watch over me for a second.” You say absently, and slip your way into Erwin, despite Sylphie’s sudden surprise.

The strange sensation of viewing the world though another creature’s eyes hits you again. Suddenly things get brighter for you, and you have a better view of the glutton of wolverines, which had begun to well, glut themselves on the food. It wasn’t a very large amount, but they eat like they haven’t seen decent food in awhile and you find this curious despite the bounty of nature in the area.

“My Lady.” One of the Wolverines asks, licking her claws. “You shouldn’t have let them go.”

“They were obviously practitioners.” The leader says, looking at the vial of mana potion pinched between two nails. “I don’t doubt you would have subdued them, but it could have been messy.”

“I suppose, it’s just… can we really keep doing things like this?”

“Can never tell when they’re out there. Fighting back didn’t work and-” She cuts off abruptly and stares right at Erwin, who yelps and scrambles out of the clearing.

Your consciousness returns to your body and the darkness pervades again, to which you shake your head and say, “Come on, we need to go.”

Sylphie seems like she wants to ask why, but stays quiet and helps you get your balance back as you return the way you came. Of course, neither of you remember how to get back, but Erwin reappears soon enough and leads you on, mumbling to himself about something involving tactical blunders or something.

You return to camp to see the wards up and Sophie sitting by the smoldering campfire. She looks up at your light and walks calmly to the wards as you reach them. Her eyes search over the two of you before she sighs, “You didn’t catch them, did you?”

“Yes, but we ended up being caught in return.”

“Unfortunate but… that’s the way things are.”

“Yeah.”

Things get quiet then as the three (four) of you stand there, wards in between you. Crickets chirp in the crisp night, and you end up coughing in the interim awkwardness. “Uhm… the wards?”

“Password.” Sophie replies.

“Oh I swear to the Gods.” Sylphie says, putting a hand to her face. “Come on sis, I’m tired.”

“What’s that reaction for?” You ask, looking between the two of them. Sylphie seems exhausted again while Sophie merely stands at attention, hands held down before her. Frowning, you ask Sophie, “Sophie, we don’t have a password, open the wards.”

She raises a finger up and waggles it. “Passssword.”

“Sylphie what is she talking about?” You ask the other Cat O’Ninetails, who looks utterly mortified. A look of weary disgust comes over your expression. “Are you two playing some game here?”

“Pass. Word.”

“Fine!” Sylphie says, throwing her hands up to the air. She grumbles and walks over to the ward, whispering something.

“Louder.”

“What? I… guh…” Sylphie says something a little louder, though you can’t make out the words.

A mischievous grin comes over Sophie’s face and she looks like she’s about to ask something else when she pauses and looks at you out of the corner of her eye. The smile on her lips fades and she sighs out, “Welcome back then,” and deactivates the wards.

The two of you and Erwin slip back inside before the wards are set back up. Sylphie gives her sister a glare before sniffing and heading into the tent. Both of you watch her go and you give Sophie a flat stare.

“What was that about?”

At the corner of her lips is the hint of a smile. Seemingly unaware of it, she says, “It’s a sister thing.”

“It seems like a childish thing.”

“To some, we are still children.”

“Do you think you’re a child?”

Sophie pauses at that, thinking it over. She taps her chin with one of her tails, the bladed edge seeming to miss her delicate skin with unconscious ease. She shrugs and says, “I’ll watch the rest of the night. You too look tired.”

Narrowing you eyes at her change of subject, you feel that you can’t argue the point. All the running through the woods and the confrontation drained you something fierce, so you merely shake your head in dismissal and settle down to bed, thinking over the night’s events and what it meant for the future. Sylphie will have to ration her magic then, at least until you can find another village, but who knows when that will be?

——————————————-

The morning’s breakfast was sparser than the past day as Sophie began to plan ahead. Neither of the two know about the villages down the main road between the little town and Borne, as many maps don’t bother to display the little settlements unless they have something of value. Because of this, it’s hard to gauge when you can resupply, although if you have to hunt, you’re pretty sure Sophie can manage. With this in mind, you make your way to the main road and start walking.

It’s a quiet day in the early spring, with nothing but the five of you, the gentle wind, and the sound of birds calling in the forests. The two sisters look at it all with some wonderment, but you merely feel a boring sense of sameness from it all. You had lived in a heavily forested area for all of your life, so a trail with some trees and birds doesn’t really phase you that much. Still, it is at least nice traveling weather.

Hoof steps sound next to you and you turn to see Sylphie riding beside you, Mr. Ed keeping pace with your footsteps. She looks a little pensive and doesn’t say anything, but you get the impression she wants you to ask her something. You don’t, and after awhile she lets out a groan of a sigh and says, “Come on, you’re supposed to ask what’s wrong when a cute girl seems all thoughtful!”

“There’s a lot of implications in that statement.” Sophie calls, but Sylphie shoots her a glare before pouting. You just shrug.

“You’ll talk if you want to, and you did.”

“Meanie.” Sylphie mumbles. She looks away for a few moments before sighing and saying, “Alright alright, so I guess magic and stuff. I’ll have to ration it right?”

“Seems so.”

“Y-yeah. I guess.” She fidgets some on the horse and says, cheeks red. “You aren’t going to uhm… you know.”

“Don’t ever bring that topic up again.” You say with finality and she sits up in the saddle, back going rigid. Her mouth works soundlessly for a moment before she shakes herself and looks ahead.

“Right! Of course. Rationing then. I was hoping to practice my magic some as we were traveling, but I’m not certain that would be too wise.”

You think it over. She really does need the training, but if you’re attacked, then you might end up being in some serious trouble again if she doesn’t have any mana. It’s not like you can ask really how much magic reserve she has within her, because it’s not exactly something that can be measured with any reasonable certainty. You’ve heard of some aetheric mathematicians who tried, but when they gave two sorcerers of the same discipline mana crystals with the same aetheric density and asked them to cast the same spell over and over, one of them always ran out first.

No one quite knows how to explain it, but the simple answer at the moment is that, “It’s magic. We ain’t gotta explain shit.” While not the most tasteful answer, it was best just to go with as people had for millennia. To think too hard into it would then make it a theological question, considering what people know about mana and magic anyway.

 “Tonight. We’ll discuss a training protocol tonight.” You say, nodding your head.

Sylphie accepts this answer and the five of you continue to travel again in relative silence, stopping once for lunch and a breather in which you practice manipulating your [Build a Wall] and [Trench]. Sophie writes in her little book while Sylphie watches your practice.

“Have you ever thought about like, copromancy or anything?”

You blink at her in surprise from the sudden question. Frowning, you return to digging holes and say, “No. Only your Father finds that a worthwhile endeavor.”

“So you’re saying he’s not just A shit wizard but THE shit wizard?”

You give her a sidelong glance before shaking your head. “It’s a field of magic with interesting applications, but at the end of the day, it’s manipulating feces. It’s something you’d see suggested by some peasant on the Communion Matrix rather than a field anyone would seriously get into.”

“I mean, I tried it once, but I made one hell of a mess and had to clean it up under duress of a day spent with Chaika.” Sylphie says, a look of disgust on her face that quickly changes to a smile. “But I guess I bring it up because every Wizard I’ve met has had some kind of quirk, something they’re interested in. Dad loved enchanting and discovering new methods of magic, but all I know is that you’re a history buff. Why?”

“Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” You say, shrugging. You give her a critical eye and say, “You’re getting awfully familiar.”

She blinks and then blushes. “Oh come on, can’t a girl be friends with her travel companion?”

“A girl? Sure. A Monster? Perhaps not.”

A pout comes over her face for a moment before her ears perk up at the same time as Sophie’s, and they turn their heads to the road, watching the way you came. After a few minutes you hear what they’re hearing as well, and a watch as two large wagons roll into sight, pulled by teams of two large horses.

Upon the wagons sit multiple large, metallic boxes that are chained down to the beds of the wagons, and all around you see guards escorting the wagons, more than you’d expect for such a route. One of them points to your group as they come by and the wagons halt, men testing swords, spears, and other weapons while going at alert.

You trade glances with the other two, who both have their tails tucked away, and you walk up to the caravan, where a guard intercepts you, hand on his sword. Frowning at the gesture, you look into his eyes and say, “Good day.”

“Who are you?” He says in a rough voice, looking you up and down for weapons.

“Just travelers.” You say, returning his gaze. Oh, you are NOT going to let some pissant normie get the better of you. Pointing at the crates, you ask, “So, what’s in these?”

“What are you doing out here at this time of day.” Was his response.

Sighing, you prepare to speak with a cloaked figure steps down from the second wagon and up to the both of you. You both turn to regard them and you notice immediately that it is a Monster. While the cloak obscures her face and most of her body, you can still see large, black canine paws for hands and feet, and her red eyes through slits in the veil.

The guard bows to her and steps back, to which she nods before turning to you. While the first thing you notice is that she is some kind of Monster, the next thing you notice is the cold, calculating expression in her eyes. She seems to size up every inch of you before flicking her gaze to the twins, who had come closer, likely due to their curiosity. Damn cats.

“Good day.” She says in a thickly accented voice. “I apologize for the rudeness of my guards. It is the nature of our cargo, you see.”

“Which is…?”

“Secret, I am afraid.” She shakes her head and says, “If you are confused about the extra security I have, it is because this area is so very dangerous at night. I hope you have not been attacked by thieves or vagabonds?”

“We have been, but they did not harm us.”

Her eyes sparkle with something for a second, and then it’s gone, replaced by that calculation again. “Oh? That is very good to hear you were not harmed. Tell me, where were you attacked, and by what kind of brigands.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes. I must tell my guards to be on alert then. I do not wish to lose my cargo, after all.”

“Or your men?”

“Hmm? Oh! Yes, of course not. That would also be a tragedy.”

Something feels… off about this Monster. You can’t really put your finger on it, but it feels like talking with a Danuki, though she clearly is not one. It just makes your skin crawl talking about this so casually, but maybe all merchants are like that? Still, you can’t find a reason not to warn her at the moment, so you tell her roughly where you were stolen from.

“Wolverines? Hrm… they are… large and strong?”

“I’d say so, yes.”

“I see… well then, thank you for the warning.” She turns about to board the wagon again, but you call out for her attention and she turns to face you, as well as three guards.

“I just wanted to ask if you knew of any villages coming up down the road soon. We could use some supplies after last evening, of course.”

She cocks her head and says, “Mmm, on my way here, I noted a small village perhaps a day away. Nothing of much interest there, however.”

“I see. Perhaps we will meet each other on the road again, since we seem to have a similar destination.”

The cloaked Monster looks to Sophie and Sylphie again before shaking her head. “No, it would be best not to. My men are very impulsive, and I would not like to see your daughters hurt.”

“They aren’t my daughters.”

“A little young to be your lovers though.”

“They aren’t  either of those things.” You say, scowling.

“Their loss then.” She chuckles in a rich, melodious voice and hops up on her wagon again, signaling to the driver. Reins crack and the wagons begin to roll again, guards giving you glares as they continue down the road at a decent pace. Before they’re too far away, the Monster turns on the wagon and shouts, “Don’t go into the forests at night again!”

And with that, she’s gone. The three of you stand there, watching in the wake of the wagons before turning confused looks to each other. Sophie breaks the silence first by saying, “Odd for an Ectrian to be all the way out here.”

“Ectrian? That’s what accent?” You ask, looking surprised.

“Yes, I’ve heard them before while in Sanctifrond. They don’t often make their way into Deleor beyond Borne or Port Dorning, but the people and Monsters of that nation are known to be excellent traders, so if she found something of value out there, then I suppose it would make sense…”

“Wonder what was in those boxes.” Sylphie says, hands on her hips. “They had some little holes in them near the top. I wonder if what they’re transporting needs air. Livestock, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Sophie says, rubbing her chin.

“It’s none of our business.” You say, stretching. “We should head out back on the road again or your mecha maid will catch up. Sylphie, it looks like you’re in the clear to use magic tonight, as long as you don’t need use it all, alright?”

The Cat O’Ninetails makes some ecstatic gestures at that and you start on the road again, figuring you’ll hang back some, but end up catching up with the caravan eventually. Oddly enough you, as darkness comes over the land, you don’t end up finding any sign of them. Maybe they’re just moving faster than you thought and have set up camp elsewhere.

As for your camp, you find a spot nestled in the shade of a rocky hill near a small stream which provide enough cover, but is far enough away from the road to avoid any major detection. Across from you lays the forest, branches swaying in the evening wind.

You make certain the wards are set up this time, and Sophie makes an excellent soup, to which you are very thankful to have her around. Much more dependable than her sister, though you’re certain after the password incident that there’s a Jackor level trickster lurking under her calm demeanor. As you eat however, you get a sending from Erwin, who had already eaten and was wandering the landscape because he’s a troublemaker.

{Huh. Wagon tracks.}

{So what? Of course there would be wagon tracks on the road.}

{Well, yeah, but I meant OFF the road.}

{Huh?}

{I see wagon tracks heading into the forest a little head of us. Don’t see anyone around though, so they must have gone in deep.}

{I guess that’s neat, but is it any of our business?}

Erwin pauses and then sends back a moment later, {Man, you’re a killjoy.}

Shaking your head, you finish your meal while Sophie and Sylphie chat amongst themselves. When you place your bowl down on the ground, they turn and Sophie asks, “Well then, what’s on the agenda for this evening?”

Sylphie cracks her knuckles and then winces as she seems to hurt herself. Shaking her hand she asks, “Yeah! What are we practicing? Or do you have any other ideas?”

“Not really.” You say, stretching and then standing up. Cracking your neck, you wince a little at the sound. Apparently being a wizard now doesn’t make sleeping at a bad angle any better. You’ll find the perfect pillow someday, but that day is not today.

“Alright, let’s see… how’s your grasp of the basic elemental magics?”

Sylphie taps her chin. “Hmm. Well Dad and Harmony are big on Fulgromancy, so I understand the basic theories behind electrical currents and the way their aetheric properties discharge as well as manipulation of varying charges.”

She raises a finger, “Pyromancy is super basic. Build an image of a raging inferno into your mind and condense your mana into this burning passion before unleashing it. Spells dealing with fire basically rely on how you shape it then without getting burned.”

Another finger goes up. “Glaciemancy, cryomancy, whatever you want to call it, is about calm and coolness that you use to propagate with your mana. It’s very much about keeping your cool in difficult situations, though frankly I’ve known these kinds of sorcerers to be pretty standoffish.”

And yet another finger goes up. “Aeromancy. Yeah, this one I’m pretty sure no one really understands beyond actual Aeromancers. From what I can tell, you need to be adaptive, able to flow with the winds to bring it to your will. Being rigid and firm doesn’t work well if you’re an aeromancer, at least that’s what I’ve heard.” She shrugs. “But most Aeromancers are crazier than Illusionists, sooooo.”

“Dear sister.” Sophie says, smiling sweetly. “You only know one Illusionist and he’s only mildly insane.”

“Well, yeah, he married Saya.”

They both giggle at some joke you don’t really understand, though you do know that Saya is some goo Monster sister of theirs. You’ve at least read Wizardquest even if you didn’t really care for it… well most of it. To be fair, you kind of thought that Blake was cool, if a fucking idiot normie. Oh and Veronica was pretty great, you wouldn’t mind meeting her someday.

Raising a hand, you quiet the two of them before nodding your head. “Clearly you have a good grasp on these magics. I don’t think practicing them is going to be as important for you at the moment, so why don’t we work on geomancy?”

“Sure!” She says, eyes sparkling. She grabs her staff and puffs up her chest. “I never really read much up on this subject before yesterday! It’s kind of interesting.”

“For someone who has a good grasp on magic, I wonder how you’re not leading an academy or something.” You say, shrugging.

She falters for a moment before putting her smile back on and chuckling, “Nah, I couldn’t do that. I’m not my Dad or Mom or anything.”

“No, you’re not, and you should keep thinking yourself in their shadows.” You say, not even looking at her as you look around for appropriate rocks. You point to them and say, “Lift that boulder.”

“Huh? Wha?” Sylphie says, startled. She hesitates for a moment and you look over to her, to see her frowning, lost in thought about something. You snap your fingers and speak again.

“Geomancy is about control. Rigidity. The earth doesn’t move under your feet, it is solid.” You walk up to her and point at the boulder again. “Lift it.”

“But I’ve already done…”

“Lift it.”

She frowns and points toward the boulder, and you can feel magic channeling about her. The boulder begins to lift slightly and you say, “You’ve lead a pretty free life so far, right? No real worries or concerns?”

“I…I guess?” Sylphie says, looking confused. The boulder hits the ground again and she jumps, seeming startled by her magic failing. She turns a glare to you, but you merely point at the rock. She gives you a look of exasperation and lifts the rock again, to which you say,

“Have you lost anything before?”

Once more it hits the ground and she growls, “I can’t focus with you distracting me like this!”

You stare at her and say, “Freeze the rock.”

“What?”

“Freeze it!”

“Gah!” She says, thrusting out her staff and… nothing happens. She blinks in confusion, but you merely continue to stare at her and shout,

“BURN IT TO SLAG!”

“GGRRRAAAH!” She shouts and a raging inferno appears from her staff which shoots forward into the rock, the fireball exploding against the rock, scorching it, and everything around it, horrifically in an uncontrolled inferno.

Sylphie steps back, looking shocked and confused as you calmly use [Rock Throw] to pile rocks and smother the fire. She looks down at her hand and then back to the smoking ruin before turning to you and growling, “What was that about? You said we were going to practice Geomancy!”

“We were, for a moment.” You say, rubbing your chin. “But your mind wasn’t focused on it. You were busy thinking about what I said before this started, about leaving your parent’s shadow.” Turning to her, you say, “I believe what you say about your magic, you have a good grasp on things, but you can’t control it.”

You point your staff at the boulder, still smoking, and lift it almost effortlessly. She watches with a frown on your face before you drop it to the ground, scattering smaller rocks all about. Turning to her, you say, “Geomancy is about stability. Focus. Dedication. You understand the basics, and I know you have the power to use the magic, but you’re unfocused.”

The campsite grows quiet, only the crackling of flames breaking the silence. Sylphie holds her staff to her chest, looking concerned, while Sophie sits there, her eyes judging you. Looking in turn between them, you grit your teeth and realize you did it again, lashed out with good intentions but… it’s so hard to think of them as young women out in the world for the first time instead of just… Monsters.

Feeling a twinge of something akin to regret, you rub at your cheek and make ready to speak when Erwin sends to you. {Uh… you might want to see this.}

{See what?}

{Just get in my head.}

Frowning, you slip into your familiar, and open your senses to hear… shouting. A lot of shouting. Quickly becoming alert, you see through Erwin’s eyes the pounding of feet as the guards from before run through the trees, their weapons replaced with nets and chains. Ahead of you, a man is thrown bodily through the air, screaming as he hits a tree and slumps down amidst a feral cry.

Two men pull back from the fighting, dragging something kicking and screaming in their large nets, and one of them turns and clubs the captive until it stops moving. With some surprise, you notice it to be a Wolverinegirl, though not one of the ones you saw last evening. A different glutton?

As the fighting continues, you see the cloaked form of the Ectrian Monster walk up to the captive and slowly reach forward to caress the cheek of the unconscious Monster before running her hands over her arms, feeling the muscle, and then to her toned stomach. She nods and says, “Excellent quality. They’ll do well back home. Make sure they take the drug.”

“Right.” One of the men says, and they drag the captive back toward the caravan, or so you can gleam from Erwin.

Closing your eyes, you appear back in your own body and shake, feeling the sensations of being a man again. When you open your eyes, you find the two of them looking at you with a mixture of confusion and concern. Sylphie cocks her head and asks, “Erwin?”

“Yeah.” You say, thinking over what you just saw with a grimace. Slavers… Monster slavers at that. You put a hand to your chest to calm your heart which was beating with furious intensity. Controlling your words, you say casually. “Guess he decided to follow our visitors from earlier today.”

“Why?” Sophie asks, looking interested. “Curiosity?”

“Partially.”

“You looked a little upset by something.” She asks, studying your expression. “What did he see?”

Looking at her, you weigh your answer. It would be easy to lie to them, say that it was nothing to worry about, that you should just leave it be. This would be safer, be the logical solution to get them to the desert safely. However, safety is all these two knew, and sooner or later something else like the alleyway or the mercenaries will happen, and you don’t think they’ll be prepared.

With this, you can control the outcome, maybe get the jump on these slavers. The Wolverines seemed to be giving as good as they got, but they’ll be overwhelmed soon enough. If you intervene, they might learn something. That’s the reason you tell yourself for what you’re about to do anyway, even if it isn’t the true reason.

Taking a deep breath, you say, “It would be best if you saw this yourself. Follow me, but be quiet about it.”

You hear a whooshing sound and look over to see Sophie vanished from where she sat. You blink in surprise, waving your staff where she was to see if she’s invisible, but hear her chuckling above you as something taps your shoulder. Looking up, you find her hanging upside down from a tree, her tails suspending her as she gives you a rather full view of her cleavage, though one of her tails is keeping her skirts from falling into her face.

“I think I can handle stealth in a forest.”

You and Sophie trade glances before you roll your eyes and you say to Mr. Ed, “Watch the campsite, we’ll be back.”

Sylphie frowns and says, “He says I better come back without a hair on my head touched.” She turns to you and narrows her eyes. “What are we witnessing again?”

“You’ll see.” You say, giving the horse a knowing look. He merely flicks his tail and goes back to grazing. Sometimes you forget that this horse saw a mountain explode in a blast of plasma, go toe to toe with a Dullahan, and run through a forest of undead. Mr. Ed is probably the most hardcore member of your group.

Turning away from him, you hurry out of the camp and into the forest, avoiding traveling down the main road. Using your link to Erwin, you navigate your group in the dark, advising Sylphie not to light her staff. She obeys, though after the events earlier she seems a little standoffish, wary even. You feel this is for the best, especially for what is about to happen.

Sophie suddenly drops down in front of you, a look of concern on her face. Her ears are twitching furiously and she hisses, “What the fuck is going on ahead of us?”

Right, cat-like hearing. Monsters, always flaunting this stuff. You look her square in the eyes and say, “Slavers. They’re slavers.”

“Shit.” Sophie says, anger coloring her features. Sylphie looks horrified and steps away from you.

“S-slavers?”

“Yeah. They’re current rounding up a group of Wolverinegirls living out here. I suspect they’ll have them subdued soon if we don’t hurry.”

“What? Us?” Sylphie says, her face going pale. “W… we can’t fight slavers!”

“Is that so? Well, they’re rounding up Monsters in Deleor, which has outlawed slavery of any kind, but you know they’re just Monsters.” You shrug, “We can just leave, let it happen. It won’t break my heart if we do.”

Sophie narrows her eyes, watching as your hand tightens on your staff, but says nothing to you and instead turns to her sister. She walks up and places a hand on her shoulder, saying, “Sylphie, listen to me. What would Mother say if we let this happen when we could do something about it?”

“S…she’d be disappointed.”

“Yeah, she would. We can make a difference though, here and now. We said we’d take over for Mom someday, right? Lead in her footsteps so she can finally relax? Well if we don’t stand up for ourselves, and these Monsters, how will anyone ever respect us?”

She takes in a deep breath, and you realize that under this confidence is a facade. She’s as scared as her sister, isn’t she? Looking her sister in the eyes, Sophie says, “How can we respect ourselves?”

Sylphie takes a shuddering breath and nods her head. “You’re right, you’re right.” She takes another breath and says, “Focus. Have to focus.”

You cock your head, listening to what Erwin sends and then nods. “Alright. Let’s do this. Remember, they’re slavers.” Your voice grows cold as you say, “Don’t hold back, because they won’t hold back for you.”

The two nod and Sophie leaps back into the trees while Sylphie follows you. The closer you get, the more shouting you hear, though it’s greatly diminished from before. Damnit, they must have almost finished. As you get close, a guard flies backward and hits a tree next to you, dropping a club as he staggers to his feet. He puts a hand to his head and turns, noticing the two of you with blurry vision.

“Huh?” He says, but before he can fully piece out what’s happening, a pair of tails grabs him, one around his throat, the other around his waist, and he’s pulled up into the trees, flailing. A moment later, the sound stops and he drops to the ground, unconscious… you think. You look up to see Sophie nod to you grimly before pointing and dashing through the trees.

“Damnit! It’s just one stupid beast!” You hear someone shout ahead of you followed by a ferocious cry and then a scream. Turning the corner, you see a group of eight men around a lone Wolverine, her naked form standing defiant as she bleed from multiple tiny wounds, her eyes filled with rage.

A man shouts and throws a net, but she leaps backward, dodging a blow from another’s club. If they’d been trying to kill her, she’d already be dead, but slavers don’t get paid for dead product. Using this to her advantage, she managed to drop multiple men, as evidenced by the groaning guards littered about. The men walk about her nervously, looking for a chance to strike.

“Oh, you’re a fine specimen.” The black furred Monster in the cloak says, appearing at the edge of the circle. She looks over the Wolverinegirl, her eyes sparkling with almost lecherous glee. “Fight more if you wish, you aren’t escaping or saving anyone. I’m surprised we haven’t encountered your kind yet, but it seems a little persistence paid off in the end!” She chuckles that melodious chuckle and says, “No one is going to save you!”

Well that’s a cue if you’ve ever heard one. You turn to Sylphie and look her in the eyes, to which she slowly nods her head, understanding your meaning. Well, you think she does anyway.

Both of you raise your staves into the air and then slam them into the ground before pushing forward with your magicks.

The ground begins to rumble under the feet of the men before you, causing them to stumble back in confusion, along with the Wolverine and the other Monster. They both quickly drop down to stabilize themselves while some of the men fall in surprise and the others shake with unsteady feet. All in all, the main effect of disruption is achieved. The rocks that slam into the heads of two of the men and catch one in the chest also help.

“Nice shot.” You say, raising your staff to point at the men, picking smaller stones to throw. You aim your sights on the cloaked Monster and fire the projectiles with [Rock Throw], but her hood stands up and she dashes out of the way, her earlier stabilizing managing to put her in a position of balance. You curse, realizing your projectiles are too slow.

“You!” The Monster shouts, pointing at you. “What are you doing here?”

“Just passing by.” You say, readying more projectiles. You note with approval that Sylphie is doing the same, but instead of firing, she keeps at the ready as the remaining five men rise and control themselves.

“I should have known there was something off about you. I can smell the magic upon you… Wizard, yes?” Her eyes narrow as the cloth before her mouth shifts. Sniffing? “And the two cats with you… witches.”

“Yeah, so what?” Sylphie says, pointing at her. You can tell she’s scared, but putting up a brave face, her tails twitching behind her and…

Oh.

The Monster’s eyes go wide and she says, “By the Twins… those tails!” Avarice shines in her eyes and she points at the two of you. “Kill the Wizard! But capture the Cat o’Ninetails!”

“Damnit.” You shout, casting [Rock Throw] as the remaining four men charge you. You vaguely recall there being five men remaining, but you have to quickly throw up a [Wall] as they reach you, blocking their path. You push it forward, sending one of the men screaming as he’s flung backward from the force of it, but the others move to the side, and you realize one has a net ready to throw at Sylphie.

A set of tails appears from the trees above and grabs the man, who screams before being flung across the forest, Sophie dropping down and grabbing another man before throwing them down onto the dirt and stomping on his throat. You watch in shock as she does this with a cold, calculating look in her eyes before dodging a club swung by the last man. She makes to strike, but a rock strikes him across the head, spinning him about to hit the ground, unconscious.

The three of you nod to each other before turning back to the Monster who… is being held up by the front of her cloak by the furious Wolverinegirl. Despite being held one handed by an enraged, feral Monster, her eyes seem calm and collected. With an audible sigh, she makes a shrugging motion and then falls to the ground out of the cloak.

The Wolverinegirl looks surprised at the sudden change, and makes to strike the Monster, but before she can, a golden staff strikes her solar plexus and the Wolverine drops to her knees before being hit over the head with the staff and dropping to the ground, unconscious.

“Ugh.” The uncloaked Monster says, shuddering. “It is too cold here.” She turns to you, and you finally get a good look at her.

Her black, canine paws travel up to a toned body of sun-tanned, brown skin. Her clothing is simple smallclothes, made of black cloth held together by golden links, yet seeming to hold up well to her acrobatics and preserve some of her modesty. Large, white tattoos decorate her midriff, a sigil of a star on one side of her navel and a downward arrow on the other. Her face, which is utter gorgeous, looks at you with brown eyes under a silver headdress framed by long, black hair.

“Anubis…” Sophie whispers, her ears going flat. “Careful, rumor has it they’re magically resistant.”

Tall, canine ears upon her head twitch and she places her staff, which appears to be collapsible, upon the back of the unconscious Wolverinegirl. She cocks her head, looking between your group with calculating eyes and says, “You two are going to fetch a high price. I hear the Pharoah was very interested in your kind.”

“What are you talking about?” Sophie asks, her face extremely serious.

“A rumor I heard before I left the desert on this expedition. I wonder if it’s true? All I know is that something has perked her interest in your species, and thus you will fetch a very, very high price.” She licks her lips slowly as five more men appear from where the wagons are, running up to stand next to their leader. “Please, fight back. It makes it more fun that way.”

The Anubis thrusts the staff forward and the men charge at you. Where the others were confused, uncoordinated, these men are fresh to this fight at least. They move with a speed meant to throw you off guard and make it hard to hit them with ranged attacks. Of course, the problem with this is that they missed the part where you controlled the very earth beneath their feet.

Slamming your staff onto the ground, you channel your magic into it again and shout as you cast [tremor], but change the spell, charging it with instability. While the earth does rumble and shake, the pressure you quickly thrust into the earth makes your magic to wild, and the ground fractures and splits, creating holes, juts of earth, and crevices.

None of them are very deep, and nor is the zone very large but the effect is undeniable. The men trip and fall into the holes, stumble over the juts, and cry out as their limbs get caught in the crevices. Because of their charging, their momentum carries them forward, yet the unyielding earth causes one man’s tibia to snap as it gets caught, another to fall and impale his leg on jut of rock, and a third to fall facefirst onto an outcropping. The other two manage to keep from being severely injured, but they do fall to a knee and look shaken by the sudden spell.

>You lean <Inhospitable Ground>

>A derivation of tremor, you can fracture the earth in a small area, causing dangerous terrain to those within the area.

“Sylphie.” You say and she nods, thrusting out her hand and creating a blast of flame that cosumes the two remaining men. They scream and run away, tripping over the rocks and falling to join their friends, rolling to put out the flames.

The fire spills past them, but when it reaches the Anubis, it just sort of… vanishes. Like a wall is standing before her and the flames, it fades into nothing, and she merely sighs, partially in annoyance and partially in pleasure.

“Well that was anti-climatic.” She says, shaking her head. “Fine, I guess I’ll take care of it.”

“Go ahead bi-” Sophie calls, but as she does the Anubis leaps over the fractured earth, appearing in front of you and Sylphie. You curse and hurriedly throw up a wall, but she smashes through it, and you feel your hold on the earth just… vanish. The wall crumbles, but it gives you enough time to back away.

“Tch.” The Anubis says, twirling her staff about to block attacks by Sophie, who dashes in and attacks with a flurry of stabs from her tails.

“She really is magic resistant!” Sylphie says, eyes wide. “W-what do we do?”

You look between her and the Anubis, cursing softly to yourself before reaching out to Erwin. {Where are you?}

{Watching the fight, what are you going to do?}

{Get the kid out of here, she’s too frazzled for this.}

{She won’t leave her sister.}

{Then take her to free the captives or something!}

{Fine, fine.}

You turn to Sylphie and grab her arm, which causes her to jump. Staring into her eyes with intensity, you say, “There’s trouble with the captives. I need you to go with Erwin and save them.”

“What? No! I can’t leave-“

“Damnit girl, would you just listen to me?”

Her eyes go wide, and you see something there that you can’t quite describe. A fear? Yes, yes it’s fear but not of you. Still, she quickly nods her head and ducks back, running towards Erwin who has appeared from the bushes. The fox stares at her for a moment, but she blows past and he shakes his head before following her quickly.

“Wonder where she’s going?” The Anubis says, cocking her head. She blocks another series of blows by Sophie and then kicks out with her foot, hitting Sophie in her chest, causing her to cry out and fly backward. Her tails dig into the ground and keep her from falling, but she still breathes a little heavy.

“Those are pretty interesting tails, but you haven’t really been in a fight, have you?” The Anubis says, shaking her head.

“So what?”

“Ha! Oh my, you Deleorians are so CUTE! You’re going to make a great slave!”

“I don’t think so.” You say, casting [Rock Throw].

The Anubis’s ears twitch and once more, she dodges out of the way, even batting one rock from the air with contemptuous ease. She whirls on you and gives a canine grin before shifting her legs and jumping toward you, ignoring Sophie. Again, you throw up a wall, and again she destroys it, closing in on you before you can cast anything else.

“You smell nice. Are all Deleorian wizards like this?”

You spit in her face and say, “Anubutt.”

This was clearly the wrong move as she snarls and twirls the staff around, clipping your legs and throwing you to the ground before the other end whirls about and crashes into your back. You cry out in pain, but he presses the staff into the small of your back until you think you’re about to pass out. Fortunately, before you do Sophie comes back in, her tails flashing.

“Oh come on…” The Anubis says, hurriedly blocking the blows and then twirling the staff behind her back. “I was having fun!”

“You’re going to have fun in the Hells you bitch.” Sophie snarls, pulling her tails back and latching the bladed ends onto the staff. The Anubis blinks, looks down at the tails, and then drops her staff when Sophie yanks it back. The Cat o’Nintetails looks surprised at the turn of events, which allows the Anubis to leap back and grab something from one of the fallen men.

It’s clear that the lack of experience on your team is a disadvantage. If Sylphie was here, you’re certain the Anubis would have captured her and used her as bait. Thankfully it’s just the two of you, but because of that, it’s JUST THE TWO OF YOU. Sophie might be able to pull it off, but you doubt it. She’s far better than you expected her to be, but this Anubis is something else.

Speed, you need speed. She dodges the projectiles instead of just ignoring them, like with the fire, so clearly she isn’t resistant to the rocks themselves, just the magic animating them. Right? So if that’s the case, then you need to find a way to increase the speed, so that she can’t avoid it. But how? If you push more magic into your projectiles, you can push them faster, but not that much faster.

So that means you need to think outside the box. Come on, come on, what could you do to make this work? Pushing them farther? With what? If only you could control the… wind.

Of course! [Gust]! You can’t make a razor wind yet, but if you accelerate the rocks with this behind it as well, you can make the speeds faster! Of course, so simple.

Not bothering to pick yourself up from the ground, you take in a deep breath and concentrate on a nearby, fist-sized stone. Your geomancy takes hold of it and lifts the rock. Now, the winds. You push your mind into this new form of magic, remembering what Sylphie said before. Free flowing, with the tides of battle…

Winds begin to gather around the rock, gathering behind it, twisting the rock over and over as your fine control is lacking. But you can feel it gathering, the power behind your gust forming like a spring. Once it hits its critical mass, you turn to the Anubis to find her holding something in her hands. Is that… a net?

No matter! You hurriedly cast [Gust] and propel the rock forward toward the Anubis. It cracks forward faster than anything else you’ve cast before, but it’s in coordinated, unable to stay fully on course. It sails past the Anubis, blowing a hole into the tree behind her, showering her in splinters. She blinks, her ears twitching too slow to follow it, and she turns to stare at the tree, then to you before cursing and dodging out of the way as Sophie lashes out at her again.

She rolls, holding the net close to her chest before throwing it at Sophie, who shouts in surprise at the sudden move. The net, weighted down as it was by iron balls at the end, covers the Cat o’Ninetails and causes her to flail in panic as she’s pinned to the ground. The Anubis chuckles at her and searches around for something else, her paw closing around a club.

No! Damnit your idea would work, but you need it to be more controlled! A large object has too much mass, too hard to control with your limited skill. But would a smaller rock do the job? You think back to what that rock did to that tree and nod your head, finding a pebble  about the size of your thumb and quickly casting the same magicks. As the Anubis stands, you throw more and more wind magic behind the spell, causing the smooth pebble to turn upon itself, faster and faster until it’s a blur.

She laughs and brings down the club when you fire the projectile. The club stops halfway from reaching Sophie before dropping from her fingers. The Anubis’s laugh cuts off abruptly and she stumbles backward, looking at her arm in surprise.

There, in the meat of her bicep, is a hole which bleeds red blood around an ungainly looking pebble embedded into it. She blinks a few times at it before sinking down to a knee, clearly in shock. As she does so, you stand up and shout, “Cut the net you idiot!”

Sophie blinks and stops struggling, looking about her before her eyes go wide. She looks at her tails and, with surgical precision, slices apart the net with little effort. It doesn’t take her much time to free herself from the entangled mass, and she growls out at the Anubis, who looks at Sophie with confusion that quickly turns to a lucidity.

“Fuck me.” She says, falling back to dodge Sophie’s attack. Even though she’s clearly in pain and not nearly as fast as before, she’s got plenty of skill, as evidenced by how she leans back and springs with one arm forward into Sophie’s chest with her feet. The blow forces Sophie back, and she hits a tree with jarring force.

“You fucking bitch, I’m going to- Hey what the fuck?!” Sophie shouts as the Anubis gets to her feet and starts running.

“We have to get her!” Sophie shouts, dashing forward. You hold up a hand, a rock spinning near you. She looks at it with some surprise, but you just snap your fingers and the projectile hurtles forward.

>You learn [Pebble gun]

>Directional rotation via wind, stabilization with geomancy. On a small rock, you can create an accelerated projectile to fire at your foes.

>Until you improve your aeromancy, will not work on large objects

The Anubis gets maybe forty feet away before the pebble flies into her leg and causes her to fall, face first onto the dirt with a cry of agony. You nod to Sophie and the two of you run to her, finding the damn Anubis already picking herself up. Twirling your staff, you slam the butt onto the ground and cast [Trench], creating a hole that opens up into the earth. She gasps and falls in, managing to keep herself from fully falling by holding the edge with her one, good hand.

“What the fuck is this…” She growls, looking at the two of you as you arrive. “I come for some easy prey and I get this. Bah, I should have listened to Mother and been an architect.”

Stopping at the edge of the hole, you both look down at her and she snarls. “I don’t need your pity.”

“Good.” You say, stepping on her paw and forcing her to cry out. “You’re not getting any.” You press hard enough that she falls into the hole and screams as her bad leg hits the hard earth. Squatting down, you suddenly feel overwhelmingly tired, and you have to take a deep breath before saying, “Why are you out here?”

“Slaving, of course.” She says while holding her leg. “Isn’t that obvious?”

“Why here though? Why not in your own lands?”

“Please, slavers are a dime a dozen in the Desolation, and with the current things we hear about Deleor, moving out west has been easy, and profitable.”

You frown and say, “You’re awfully free with your answers.”

“It’s not uncommon knowledge.” She says, shrugging.

Sophie grimaces. “How did you bring slaves out of Deleor?”

“Easy. The King doesn’t have much control around here and the people who control the Mountain Pass care only for money. Honestly these are questions an idiot could answer.”

“Fine, a harder one.” The Cat o’Ninetails says. “What do you know about another Cat o’Ninetails that your Pharoah wants?”

The Anubis’s expression changes to wariness. She frowns and then looks over to the side, clearly not wanting to talk about it now that she’s not in control of the situation. Sophie looks at you and then over to the Anubis before asking again. She gets the same reply.

“I’m going to go down there and rough her up.” She says, getting ready to leap into the hole, but you hold up a hand and say,

“No. I’ll get her to talk.” Slowing down your breathing, you wave your staff and cast [Ice] in the hole, coating it with a thick layer of cold. It doesn’t affect the Anubis beyond a mild frosting, but the hole itself has now become a fridge, one she’s trapped in.

It doesn’t take long for her to begin chattering her teeth, her loose garments doing nothing to keep her warm. She shivers, which makes the pain worse, and she glares daggers at you, to which you merely shrug, saying nothing. As things get colder and colder for her, she finally shouts, “ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT, TWINS DAMNIT!”

You and Sophie share smug expressions before you melt away the ice, casting a [Fireball] at the Anubis, which makes her shudder, though it doesn’t hurt her. It’s kind of fun actually! She grunts and thinks it over before sighing and saying, “Look. I just know that a few months ago something exciting was happening in the Capital. The black markets said that the Pharoah had found something and that her prophecies were coming true. Soon enough we got suggestions that being bold and that now was the time to go to Deleor. After the first caravan of slaves arrived, more of us decided we could go and get rich.”

She shrugs, “I don’t know what the Pharoah particularly wants with you, but the name and description of your race was whispered to everyone. Rumor has it, the Pharoah has another, older one of your species, but I’ve never seen any.”

You turn to Sophie to see her boiling with rage. You think about extending a hand, but stop, deciding against that and watching as the Cat o’Ninetails shakes and growls out, “Where?”

“Where what?”

“Where is she? Where is my Mother?”

The Anubis blinks a few times before her eyes go wide in comprehension. “Ohhhh. I see.” She closes her eyes and chuckles. “Of course it would matter to you then. Where is she? I don’t know, probably in the Kingdom of Setet if I had to guess, in the Pharaoh’s palace.”

You look at Sophie, seeing her shake with fear and anger at the words. It would make sense that their Mother would be gone as well, wouldn’t it? Why not just ask her for help, she’d go anywhere for her husband. The only answer then is that she’s been captured too.

Suddenly the enormity of the situation your in weighs down on you. The Grand Wizard could go missing for long periods of time, and no one would care. The Monster Lady though? Proxies could only work for so long, and if it was public knowledge that she was gone, let alone a hostage of a foreign nation…

There would be war. Whether civil or against Ectria, there would be war, and the Galmathorians will reap all the benefits. You take in a shuddering breath at the implications and place both of your hands on your staff before asking in a low voice, “Do you know if a Wizard was seen with her?”

The Anubis, who seems tired now, closes her eyes and says, “I don’t know.”

“I thought not.” You sigh out, and then hold your hand up, magic gathering. She looks at you in confusion as the earth begins to shudder about her and start filling in. Panic fills her eyes and she struggles to rise, but the dirt is filling too quickly.

“Nooo… NOOOOO!” She cries before her screams are cut off, and she’s buried under the ground.

You shake your head and stand up to see Sophie staring at you with wide eyes. She looks back to the fresh earth, then back to you and says, “Was… was that necessary?”

“Slavers aren’t people. They are lowers than insects.” You say, rising from your crouch and stretching. Damn does your back hurt. “She probably deserved worse than what she got. At least she got a burial.”

“I…” Sophie bites her lip, looking nothing so much like a child right there. She takes a shuddering breath and says, “We’re going to have to get used to this, aren’t we?”

You shrug. “Killing is in the blood of your family. And yes, if you understood what she said at all, then you know that this will not end peacefully.” You shake your head and say, “My only regret is that your sister wasn’t here to-“

“NO!” Sophie shouts, looking up at you with horrified eyes. She blinks in surprise at her reaction before holding her hands in front of her and looking to the side, her ears flat. “No… she doesn’t need her first time to… to be like this.”

You look into her eyes before shaking your head. “You can’t shelter her forever.” She doesn’t respond, and you turn your weary bones toward where you feel Erwin, trudging along as the exertion of the day wears down upon you.

By the time you reach the encampment with the wagons, Erwin had already sent you messages about how the area was clear beyond a few wounded men sitting around a campfire. Sylphie managed to take them down with a little geomancy and she smiles proudly as you arrive, pointing at her work.

“Aww yeah, secured the wagons!” She jingles some keys in her hands. “Unlocked the prisoners too, though I think they’re all still unconscious from whatever drug they were forced to take.” Turning to the two of you she beams and says,

“We did it!”

You and Sophie trade looks with each other before she puts on a weary smile and says, “Yes, we did.”

“What happened to the Anubis?”

“Killed. It was the only way.”

“Oh.” Sylphie says, looking a little uncomfortable before nodding her head. “I guess we do what we have to, right?”

Would she have the strength to do what she must if it was her in our position? You wonder as you walk over to Erwin, who is sniffing one of the unconscious Wolverinegirls. He nods as you walk up and squat down next to him, looking her over.

{Looks like this wasn’t their first catch. Seems they had a few Kitsune, a , and even a man, though he seems dressed like some woodsman.}

{They stole a human? Why?}

{Maybe the slut wanted some different semen, I don’t know.} He shakes his head and looks to you.

{How did you do it?}

{Shot her with rocks and then buried her in a pit}

{Brutal}

{You’re telling me}

Erwin pads around and sits down on his haunches next to you, mimicking your posture. You both trade looks before he sends, {You going to be okay?}

{It was just killing a Monster. I’m supposed to do that.}

{The Monster was also a slaver. Did that have something to do with it?}

You grit your teeth and clench your staff. {Yeah. Yeah it might have.} You both go quiet for awhile before you shake your head and send, {I’ll be fine. I’m just tired, alright?}

{Sure. Though these captives aren’t waking up any time soon. We might want to make camp here.}

{Maybe.} You send as Sophie walks up, hand on her hip. She looks as tired as you feel.

{Right.} Erwin sends, getting up and padding away. He stops and turns to you, sending, {Oh, and Sylphie. She did good. Didn’t hesitate as I thought she might.}

You close your eyes and nod your head, turning and opening them to look at Sophie when Erwin sends in a final message, {Oh yeah, she can also talk to animals}.

“WHAT?” You say in surprise, turning to see your familiar scamper off. You make to go after him when you hear Sophie chuckle, putting a small, furred hand to her mouth. Scowling, you look back at her to see a soft smile on her face.

“What.” You say flatly, but she merely waves a hand.

“Nothing, nothing.” She says, controlling herself. “You and Erwin were having an interesting conversation, yes?” When you don’t answer, she continues. “It might be best for us to tie up the men before they awaken and keep watch over the captives. I know none of us are in a good position to sleep, but…”

“But that won’t be a concern.” A new voice says.

The two of you whirl to see a group of strong figures emerge from the brush, and you recognize them as the Wolverinegirls from yesterday. Amongst them is the last Wolverinegirl that the Anubis knocked out, a large knot on her head forming, though she still stands with unsteady feet.

“These slavers have been keeping us from our territory, making us live in fear for months. They stole many of our number last time they came through, but when we tried to fight back, we lost more. We had no choice but to be wary of them.”

She shakes her head, and you see a tiredness in her eyes as well. “However our cousin here told us of the battle, and when she saw the aftermath, she fled to find us, to which we came as fast as we could.”

“Oh.” You say, looking at the Wolverinegirl. “Sorry for not checking if you were dead or anything.”

She shrugs, “No hard feelings.”

The leader smirks. “But with their leader gone, we can handle the men. Use them for breeding stock or such, make them see the errors of their ways.” She looks to Sophie, whose tails are splayed out, not caring anymore, and she raises an eyebrow. “Is that acceptable, my Lady?”

Sophie looks down at her tails and sighs before putting a hand to her head. “Gods above, I am not my Mother.”

“No, but you’ve shown that you care more for us than she has.” The leader says before extending a paw to you. You look up and take it, her firm grip almost crushing your hand. “My name is Erma. On behalf of my people, we thank you for your help.”

“Think you can return those potions then?”

She blinks in surprise for a moment before blushing. “We ah… we drank them all.”

“I figured.” You say, shaking your head.

“At least allow us to round these men up and protect the captives until they awaken. We can guard your group as you sleep tonight as well.” She thumps her chest twice. “No funny business.”

You’re about to decline when Sophie grabs your shoulder. You look back to her, but she says with all seriousness, “That would be most acceptable, thank you.”

“We’ll fetch your stuff, we saw your encampment back along the road, although…” She pauses, and you know she’s about to bring up the wards when Sylphie says,

“It’s okay! Mr. Ed will deactivate them!”

You and Sophie trade a look and then shrug, knowing that the horse won’t tolerate any shit from these Wolverinegirls. Feeling utterly exhausted as the Monsters start to get things moving, you lean back onto the grass and look up at the branches of the dark trees about you, thinking over if there’s anything left to do before sleeping, and whether or not what you’ve learned will change what you do tomorrow. There’s a long road ahead of you until you reach Borne.

Idly you think, Is this what that damn Father of theirs had to deal with?

——————————————

Cold wind rushes by, and you close your eyes, taking it all in. Your bones ache, your head aches, everything aches. But if you sit around and just think on all your hurts, you’ll never get anything done. Besides, if you’re not careful, one of the Wolverines might find you a little more than appealing. That does NOT appeal to you.

Sitting up, you look around for Erwin, and find that he’s fucked off somewhere… east. Not that it really matters, but you’re kind of annoyed he would just leave after that heart to heart. Of course, he just had to leave right after letting you know that Sylphie could talk to animals. Thinking back on it, there were plenty of clues, but it’s just not something you really think about until it’s in your face. You wonder if she’s been able to listen in on your conversations with Erwin, and if so, what has she heard?

You notice Sophie speaking amicably with some of the Wolverinegirls while Sylphie sits on one of the wagons, dangling her feet, staff across her lap. She hums softly as she does so, seeming contented. For some reason that makes you a little… annoyed. Stretching, you stand and walk over to her, and she waves as you approach.

“Hey there Rommel. Looks like things here are going to be okay, huh?”

“Eventually.” You say, nodding to her. She smirks and fiddles with her staff for a moment before asking,

“Did… I do okay?”

“How’s your mana reserve?”

She blinks, surprised by this question. She frowns in concentration before saying, “Uhm… I think I used half my reserves?”

“Then bad. We’re not in a good position if we get attacked.”

“Oh.” She says, looking crestfallen.

“But…” You sigh. “You managed to hold your own and followed orders successfully. Your magic was fairly on point, but it requires control, which is clearly your greatest failing.” You cross your arms and shake your head. “I guess what I’m saying is that you could have done a lot worse.”

Sylphie looks at you with another surprised expression, but you see her tails start wiggling behind her as her ears go up straight. A sparkle appears in her eyes and she starts to crack a smile before she coughs quickly into her hand. “Of course, of course. I’ll do better next time.”

Gods that was embarrassing. You sigh and say, “Alright, alright, I’m too tired for being coy for this next part, but have you been talking with Erwin?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, I have and…” She trails off before clacking her tongue. “Ah.”

“Ah.” You repeat, shaking your head. “You aren’t listening in on us or asking him inappropriate things, are you?”

She furiously shakes her head in the negative. “Nononono! I haven’t! Well, I mean, not like intentionally or anything but-” She bites her lip and then hangs her head. “I mean… yeah, I guess when he looked like he was talking with you I might have eavesdropped, but I didn’t really hear anything you said, just his responses.”

“Uh huh.” You say pinching the bridge of your nose. “And how would you feel if I went around asking about your little secrets with your familiar?”

She blushes with such intensity her face goes scarlet. “T…that would be most inconvenient!”

“Yes. It would.” You say, giving her a disappointed look. “I’m not that angry, and I can’t stop you from speaking to him, but do not eavesdrop again, alright?”

“I… yes sir.” She says, hanging her head.

You grit your teeth, feeling a little pang of something for being so hard on her, but she had to learn this is unacceptable. The most annoying part is that you actually feel something for being this way, and you really can’t understand why. You know you don’t particularly like the girl, but is it because she’s also a practitioner? Like your some kind of mentor and she’s your student, even though she probably knows more than you?

“Great…” You mutter, running your hand through your hair. She cocks her head and gives a questioning look, to which you shake your head. “Don’t worry about it.”

“‘Kay?” She says, looking a little confused. “Uhm… so what now?”

“Now?” You put a hand to your mouth and yawn. “You go to bed and get some rest. Your sister is intent on trusting these Monsters who think they’re your Mother or something and there isn’t much I can do about it.”

“Our Mother?” Sylphie asks, perking up. “Oh, what did that Anubis have to say about her?”

Your expression darkens. “She… might be a captive.”

The Cat o’Ninetails’ eyes drift down. “Oh… I had sort of assumed, but…”

“Assumed?”

She nods. “Yeah, I mean, we received a letter from him about a week ago, saying they were doing fine and were crossing into Ectria. It was dated two months ago though…”

“Kind of a long distance to travel, can’t have been that bad.” She gives you a flat stare and you nod your head slowly. “Alright so maybe it is. Still, if that Anubis was out here with a rumor like that, it must have happened very recently after that letter was sent.”

Her hands tighten on the staff in her lap. “I just… I hope they’re alright.”

“He will be.” You say, nodding to her. “He can’t go dying until I settle my business with him.”

Sylphie wipes at her eye and chuckles, “Yeah, sure.” She shakes her head and sighs before watching Mr. Ed walk into camp, a trio of laden Wolverinegirls behind him. Standing up, she dusts herself up and hops down from the cart to walk toward her familiar. Her feet stop after maybe five steps and she turns to you before giving you a soft smile.

“You’re an odd one, Mr. Rommel.”

“That sounds a little too personal.”

“Yeah, okay.” She says, giving a genuine laughter as she walks away.

The camp is set up and Sylphie retires to bed while Sophie talks more with the Wolverinegirl leader, the other Wolverinegirls either restraining the guards, guarding the campsite, or taking their spoils. You wonder what exactly is different about these Monsters forcefully having their way with these men, but you remember that they’re the slavers here. They gave away their humanity awhile ago, and if they ended up in a relationship with their former captives, then tough luck.

Still, it sits a little uneasy with you and you find it hard to sleep. In that case, you do what you normally do when you have issues focusing. You pull out your [Port-o-Glass] and fire it up, the aetheric attunement weak where you are. Still, it’s enough to connect to the communion matrix, and you’re able to shift through some posts as the night grows still.

“Havenforth absent! Where is the Grand Wizard?”

 “The Monster Lady is actually a DANUKI and this proves it!”

“Hellhounds kill the Monster Lady and blame it on good Kikimoras!”

You read through various weaves, frowning at the rumors. The Grand Wizard hadn’t been gone that long, and he often vanished in his work, you knew that much about him, so there were already rumors. However there recently had been an excessive amount, making you wonder if people had noticed something is amiss. The added rumors about the Monster Lady going missing also make your suspicious.

Yes, there are typically conspiracy nuts who think everything is run by the Danuki (A lot of things are, to be honest), but most of it is just shitweaving. Problem is, in every shitweave, there is a grain of truth, and the more of these stories about the Monster Lady gone missing or the representatives of hers being a front for something, the more things start to get real. Which is a problem.

If people start to actually believe the Monster Lady is missing, someone will figure out that she actually IS missing. Rubbing your eyes, you sigh and figure that it’s still too early for anything major to occur. Besides, things were settling down after that incident in Cair anyway and people had something else to occupy their time.

Not finding much joy in the communion matrix at the moment, you power it off and pull out Geomancy and You! A Beginner’s Guide to Geomancy], flipping to where you stopped before pausing as you remembered what you’d done earlier this evening.

You managed to hyperaccelerate a rock, a pebble in truth, far faster than she’d been able to dodge. Thinking about it, you managed to turn your spells into a clumsy, if effective, magitek rifle. Of course, you doubt a magitek rifle would have harmed her that much because of the magic resistance, so in essence, this became far, far more useful.

What if you had fired a metallic object? Or if you could control a larger one? What happened with the tree was brutal, but if you could harness that power, perhaps infuse fire into the projectile and…

No, no, have to start small. Making shit up without planning and jumping around causes errors and you do NOT need errors right now. Still, it is tempting to jump around to various ideas on how to use this. First things first though, you need to harness your control over the wind, and make the projectile better aimed.

You turn to go and get the elemental magic book from Sylphie, but remember she’s asleep. Well shit. Frowning, you tap the book in front of you and sigh. You can think this over tomorrow, maybe talk with Sylphie about wind magic more. You suspect she’s probably good at it being that she’s a very… free spirit.

Rolling your shoulders, you look down at the book and read the chapter on “Fine particle control.”

“Fine particle control, a difficult, but very rewarding part of geomancy. Imagine moving the sands, dirt, grit, all sorts of particles? Use them as a defensive barrier? Get them in someone’s eyes for self defense? Perhaps polish some metal? All is possible!

Previously, we had spoken about using our magic to spread out into the dirt and using it as a “net” to gather and stabilize the earth. This won’t work very well to control the particles, however! In this method, we need to do the opposite, and focus the magic in a central nexus, and spread it out through the particles, forming a ‘bubble’ if you will. This bubble will entrap and connect the particles to the central point, allowing the ability to move them in a semi-coherent fashion. Further manipulation of the intensity of the core will push or pull the particles closer together based on how much mana is poured into it. In this way, the particles can be directed as a living force.

Adding a spin to the core can creating a vortex of sand, blow dirt away, or be used for many other applications. The one thing to keep in mind about this is the core of magic. Should concentration slip, it can go out of control and explode outward, sending your particles in a random cloud that can hurt you! Please wear goggles when working this kind of magic to protect your eyes!

For further information on the theory behind this magic as well as practical applications read…”

Interesting. You never considered that the magic would work in that fashion. You think about trying out the spell but find you’re just too exhausted. If you attempt this, it might really push you into unconsciousness, and you really don’t need that right now. You’d rather be in control of when you go unconscious, thank yourself very much.

A Wolverinegirl sets up your bedroll and waves to you, to which you frown. She blushes and backs away, but a look from her leader sends her skulking backward, and you get into your bedroll, making sure you’re in good vision. You give one last glance to Sophie, who nods her head, before you sigh and go to sleep.

———————————–

“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!”

You blink your eyes open, holding your breath as you expect to see someone standing over you. All you see however, is a few bladed tails being pulled away and you roll over to see Sophie dragging Sylphie back, the former giving the latter a scolding look.

“Awww what was that for sis? I was just telling him breakfast is ready!”

“How would you feel if someone was standing over you when you awoke?”

“Uhhhh, Saya used to do it all the time, except her face would be melting, so… Not so good, I guess.”

Both of the young women shudder at something, and you groan, rising from bed. Ugh, your back still hurts from yesterday, but at least it’s a dull ache now. Still, not fun at all. Looking about the camp, you see the Wolverinegirls walking about, some with triumphant smiles, others looking bone weary.

The smell of cooking meat pervades the camp, and you feel your mouth water. There really is eggs and bacon, isn’t there? You look to Sylphie and she waves to a Wolverinegirl, who walks up with a tin plate and hands it to you, which you take graciously. You give the girls a look and Sophie shrugs.

“Supplies the slavers had. Figure we might as well have a good breakfast.”

“Beats hard tack and jerky.” You say, nodding but not eating yet.

“I’ll say. Sis cooked them up really good too.”

Sophie waves a dismissive tail before putting a hand on her hip. “Well, it’s not THAT good.” She chuckles and then gives you a look as if she’s insisting on you eating. You do, and your eyes go wide. Damn, it actually is good!

She smirks and gives you a smug expression before turning over to the wagons where the group of captives were sitting, eating as well. Nodding over to them, she says, “Seems the drug wore off. Simple thing to keep them sedate. Using it every so often will keep them out of it, and seems like the slavers had a rather large stash of the stuff.”

In one of her tails is a bottle filled with thick, white substance. You frown at it and she blinks before looking at the bottle and then chuckling. “Oh! No, it’s not semen… anymore. This is an alchemical drug, I’d guess it’s given orally since it’s so thick.”

>You gain [Sleeping Drug]

>An alchemical agent which induces sleep when given orally. Refined well, it barely tastes like stale silver coins anymore.

“Think Sylphie could drink it to recover her mana?”

“Sure, if she wants to pass out for a day.”

Sylphie shakes her head violently at this, and you shrug. “Fair enough. Learn anything from the captives?”

“No, they’re mostly just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She nods to the man who is being fawned on by one of the Kitsune, who clearly is wasting no time. “Seems he’s a ranger for the military, investigating odd rumors when he managed to get captured. I figure they didn’t kill him because they didn’t want anyone finding a corpse.”

“Probably could sell him to some Monster out in the desert and no one would be the wiser.” You say, incredible disgust filling your voice. Both of the twins look at you with surprise but you merely put more eggs into your mouth. Damn these are good.

“Perhaps.” Sophie says, nodding her head. “Well, I also spoke with Erma last night. She says that this was the last group seen in the area, but she’ll do her best to keep everyone else alert. I suspect that with this solider about, he’ll contact his higher ups and something will happen here, though who knows how long it will take.”

“Any of the men talking?”

“The guards? No, they’re just hired muscle from Deleor, only a few are from Ectria, and they don’t know much else. They just were hired to capture some Monsters and bring them back, something these men did with relish.”

“Not surprising, there’s still a lot of people who don’t care for Monsters.”

“And yet, they followed an Anubis?”

“They care for coin more.”

Sophie’s lip curls in a smirk and she tips one of her tails in acknowledgement. “Well, I feel they’re going to find they like Wolverine pussy very soon.”

You shudder. “It sounds so dirty when you say it.”

“What, Wolverine pussy?” Sylphie says, and you frown deeper.

“Now it just sounds like a child is saying it.”

They look at each other and then both adopt shit-eating grins before saying in unison, “Cat pussy.”

You point your free hand at the two of them and make a sigil of Solos. “Begone, ye thots.”

Sophie chuckles with refined mirth while Sylphie cocks her head and asks, “What’s a thot?”

“Nothing, my dear sister.” Sophie says, patting her twin’s head. “Come then, I think it’s time to go soon, yes?”

Looking at the sun overhead, you see it’s later in the day than you expect. “Yeah, I guess we should be on the move if we want to avoid Chaika.”

“About that…” Sophie says, still smirking. “Seems Erma might be able to send some word and run interference for us if she sees Chaika.”

“How?”

“I didn’t feel it was wise to ask questions.”

Fair enough. You go back to eating and in short order, your group is ready to go. You take a few more rations from the wagons, and make to leave. You ask around for the staff the Anubis had, but it got broken in the fight, turning out just to be gilded instead of actually golden. Still, it has a cool motif of a serpent, so you take it anyway.

>You obtain [Broken Staff]

>A collapsible, gilded staff with a snake motif at the top. Broken in half during battle, it’s useless but looks cool

You wish you could take one of the wagons, but they’re just too big and frankly Mr. Ed did not want to team up with any of the other horses. Sylphie says he is adamant that they’re all assholes and that he “has more balls than all of them combined, and he’s a gelding.”

Mr. Ed is seriously hardcore.

Nothing else of value is on the wagon beyond some coins, which Sophie adds to her treasury, and a locket with the picture of an older Anubis inside it. You think it belonged to the Anubis slaver, and you wonder if this is her Mother, since the likeness is uncanny. Feeling a pang of something for the slaver, despite her profession, you take it with you. To remind yourself, if nothing else.

>You obtain [Locket]

>A locket of an older Anubis, made of silver. It’s a lovely keepsake, and you can even remove the picture you want.

With that, you’re on the road again, traveling easily through the quiet countryside, running into no trouble the whole day. You camp and have a restful evening, where you read up more on wind magic, feeling like you understand a little bit more than before, but honestly it’s a hard book to read and you’re still sore and tired. Sleep comes quickly after your watch, and the next day begins as the others do.

It’s late morning by the time you see a signpost in the dirt, a rough-hewn sign pointing to the north-east toward Borne, and another pointing to a little bit to the north toward a place known as “Mordun.” Figuring it’s the village, you continue to head North-east as Erwin scouts toward the place, confirming that it is, indeed, the small village.

{No one’s around though.} He sends, his voice a little weak in your mind. {I haven’t gone into the town proper, but it’s weird here.}

{Weird how?}

{I dunno, I just feel like maybe we just keep going. There has to be another town up ahead.}

You consider this and tell the two about it, who both seem concerned and want to check it out. Doing so would lose you time in which Chaika could catch up, however, and you might get caught up in something again. But they all look to you, wondering about what to do. Guess it’s your decision again.

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