Wizardquest 2: Chapter 3- Ringing Rocks

{Erwin.} You send, stopping your walking to communicate with him. {You’re on the outskirts of the village?}

{Yeah, the outlying farms. I mean there’s cattle and it smells like people have been here, but the village itself is out of sight.}

{Any signs of damage or a struggle?}

{No, if people left they did so voluntarily.}

You rub your chin and look toward Sylphie, who cocks her head at you. The whole point of stopping was to get more mana potions or maybe some virile farm boy to jizz in a bottle and then be on your way. If there’s no one around, it’s not really worth your time to stick around and see what’s happening, is it? You’re not some kind of Order Hero or anything. And the slaver stopping thing doesn’t count.

{Look into the village proper, we’ll head farther down the path in case there’s no one around.}

{It’s going to take longer if you do that you know.}

{It’ll take longer if there’s nothing there.}

Erwin doesn’t reply and you feel him move away farther from you. Shaking your head, you relay this information to the girls, who both nod their heads in understanding, though Sylphie asks,

“I could just ride out there, get a good look and come back.”

“And what if there’s some kind of actual cannibal there, dear Sister?” Sophie asks, raising an eyebrow. “What if there’s another group of slavers and you run out of magic? Do you like seeing your twin go gray with worry over you?”

“Sis, Mom is like, a millenia old and her tits are perkier than ours. I think you’ll be fine.”

“I think it’s time to drop this subject, because we’re going to wait for Erwin.” You say, giving the two a stern look. Sylphie pouts while Sophie rolls her eyes before walking down the path again. Out of the corner of your eye, you do notice Sophie playing with her breasts and frowning. Women…

You travel for maybe another fifteen minutes before Erwin sends, {WOAH YOU HAVE GOT TO GET OVER HERE!}

The sending makes you pause sharply and you turn towards his sending, though he’s way too far to see. A worried expression comes over your face as you send, {Erwin! Are you alright? What’s happening?!}

{I can’t describe this, but you HAVE to hear… see… gah I can’t word this properly, but you have got to get here.}

{Are there people there? Slavers? Is anyone hurt?}

{There’s some guy passed over next to a barrel, but that’s the extent of any hurting that’s occurring here. And if anyone is a slave, it’s that they’re slaves to the music!}

{Music?….} You send in response to his over enthusiasm. All that you get back in a series of mental humming in time with something and you frown, thinking about just leaving him. Seriously, you have like, 17% of your mind saying you should just leave well enough alone.

But… the other 83% says that you can get what you need from the village and it’s not TOO far away. You sigh and look about for a rock and find a decent sized boulder that you pull to you with <Rock Slide>. The two Cat o’Ninetails give you confused looks as you hop onto the rock and judge it’s balance before saying, “Looks like we’re going to the village afterall.”

“Is it under attack?”

“I think…” You say, scratching your chin. “I think they’re having a party.”

—————————————

“WOOOOOOOO!” Sophie shouts in your ear, her hair slapping your face.

You just keep on looking ahead, powering the boulder forward as it blazes across the landscape, forming a trail in the grassy plains. Originally, you have planned on traveling on the rock by yourself, but Sophie wasn’t comfortable riding Mr. Ed. Apparently she was bucked off a horse once, and even though Mr. Ed has done his best to build her trust, she still gets jitters in the saddle.

Which is why she’s currently pressed up against your back with her arms around your waist, screaming with delight in your ear, and having her now unruly hair fly all over your face.

It’s fine though. It’s… fine.

The ride is short, but quick, with Mr. Ed not letting you outpace him. As you ride, he keeps looking at you out of the corner of his eye, nostrils flaring, a competitive spirit burning in his vision. Honestly, you’re kind of a little afraid of this horse, but damn if you don’t admire his tenacity. It seems this plays in well with his familiar bond, because he’s able to keep pace, and when you arrive at the first outlying farm and find that no one is coming to see the ruckus, he stops, taking little time to catch his breath before he’s good to go.

Wind dying down around you as the rock comes to a halt, you stagger some, feeling a little drained from the effort. You feel something press against your back and you turn to see a mop of hair with a smile coming from under it. With a frown, you take Sophie’s hands off your waist, and she goes about pushing her unruly locks out of her face.

“Hahaha! That was fun! Why don’t we travel like this all the time?”

“Because it’s tiring, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Ed would die of exhaustion trying t keep pace.”

The gelding snorts, and Sylphie pats his neck, whispering gentle words in his ears to calm him down. He turns his head to side and she gives you an exasperated look. Shaking your head, you hop down off the rock and start walking when you hear Sophie clear her throat. Sighing, you turn around to see her raising an eyebrow at you.

“What?”

“A gentleman would help a lady down from a carriage.”

“It’s a rock and you’re not a lady.”

“Actually, she kind of is.” Sylphie says, holding up a finger. “I guess technically I am too, huh?”

“Regardless.” Sophie says, sniffing. “It would do you good to learn a little courtesy.”

“Please, Monsters were stealing and raping men without courtesy for centuries, and now you expect to see some?”

“Things are different these days.” She puts on a sweet face and says, “Please… for me?”

You look at her with utter exhaustion on your face before submitting. Walking back over to her, you hold out your hand, which she takes and then daintily steps off the boulder, down to the grass. She gives you a pleasant smile and says, “There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“Oh, dear Rommel.” Sylphie says from behind you, and you see her put on a face similar to her sister’s, though in her case it looks more like a hurt puppy. She bats her eyelashes at you and you respond with a scowl. She clacks her tongue and then giggles to herself as you walk down the path toward the town.

More and more farms dot the outlying parts of the village, as is fitting out here. People in Sanctifrond need food, and even with magitek innovations, most people still live off the land with simple lives. Considering this area, beyond the occasional Monster raids, you doubt they really have anything to fear. Even then, with the odds balanced in regards to Monster strength, people could defend themselves better, so it was more profitable to live in harmony with the people instead of raiding them.

Thinking on that, you wonder if the Wolverinegirls raided because they liked being bandits, or because they were forced to be that way from the slavers. From their conversations, you think that it is the more likely reason. Pondering this, you don’t notice when the two Cat o’Ninetails stop, their ears twitching atop their heads.

“Is that…?” Sylphie asks, cocking her head.

“I think it is.” Sophie says, nodding.

You turn back to them to see smiles on their faces. “What?”

“Oh, right, HUMAN ears.” Sylphie says, giggling. “You’ll hear it soon enough though. Oh, I’m excited to get moving now!”

They both move at a more brisk pace and you blink in confusion as they seem eagerly drawn toward the source. As always, you hear the sound a little after they do and it comes to you as a thrumming beat. As you approach, it gets louder, and louder, and louder until you hear a rhythm going and you feel your heart start beating faster.

It’s pleasant, and it actually makes you want to move faster toward the source for some reason. You’re not really all that into music, but you don’t dislike it either, it’s just you haven’t found a kind that you enjoy yet. This however… this seems to resonate within your very soul.

“Who… is making this music?” You ask without thinking.

“We’re about to find out!” Sylphie says, pointing to the growing sight of the village.

You arrive to the sound of drums beating, cymbals tapping, and a type of guitar playing. People are laughing and creating a great din, but it’s not until you reach the village square that you see what Erwin was talking about.

All about the small village were people dressed in their everyday clothing, dancing about, laughing, and having what seems to be a great time. Interspersed here and there are a few Monsters, some obviously married by the way they dance with their husbands, others seeming a little friskier. The scene all around you has the signs of a feast day, but none of the preparations are there, making you think it’s impromptu.

Looking about, you spot Erwin standing on a barrel, dancing in time to the beat. Walking away from the dismounting Sylphie, you walk up to your familiar, feeling a certain level of energy in your steps as you reach him.

{Erwin.}

{Heeeeey! You made it!} He sends, giving you a grin. {I didn’t know you could dance.}

{Dance, I can’t…} You say before pausing and noticing that you’re shifting up and down in time with the music. Frowning deeply and try to control yourself, but feel your body wanting to resist and get back to dancing to these beats. Your struggles have cause to cease as the music dies down and everyone in the square starts clapping and shouting for an encore.

Feeling a little relieved, you look over at the center of the square and find a few villagers with various instruments before them. They seem eager to continue playing, and they look to the leader in the center, a Monster who clearly does not hail from this land.

She steps lightly on her taloned feet, cymbals attached to the loose cloth around her red-gold feathers shaking with delicious melodies as if she is unable to keep herself from dancing. While not a tall Monster, her bronzed skin shines with sweat as it slides down the trim, yet sensuous body which is barely covered by undergarments trimmed with nearly transparent cloth. A guitar of foreign make hangs over a strap around her neck, which makes sense as she would have difficulty holding it with her large, feathered wing-hands.

The Harpy pushes aside her long, golden hair from her brilliant green eyes and she chuckles, a sound so rich and full of harmony that you feel your bones quake. Smiling, she turns about the crowd before spotting you and the twins. Her grin grows wider and she says, “My my, it seems we have some guests at our little party!”

Everyone turns to you in unison and feel a little uneasiness until they all start clapping and welcoming you. The strange Harpy dances upon her feet, the cymbals at her hips and legs shaking and she stops to pluck a string on her guitar before saying, “I think this calls for another song, don’t you? We’ve been dancing all day, but let’s keep dancing until we can’t feel our feet any longer! Dance until we all pass out, smiles on our face!”

Her grin turns lecherous then and she says in a lower voice, “Or maybe just until we’re tired enough to start another kind of rhythm going?”

Nodding to the other musicians, who seem to instinctively know what to play, she strums on the guitar and says, “Listen to my music, and let your hearts guide you. Ebe will never betray you, on that, you have my word.” With that, she starts to play again.

The people, some of them seeming a little tired, start to dance again, reinvigorated. Erwin starts shaking his little foxy-tail and you notice your charges joining in, quickly being approached by young men. Something strikes you as odd about how easily Sylphie starts dancing with a tall farmhand though, but you can’t quite place what it is. You should also be perturbed by the fact that Sophie’s tails are unraveled too. Gosh you just don’t know why though.

You feel yourself starting to dance, such as it is, and you barely notice the sounds of the guitar getting closer until you realize that the strange Harpy is right before you, her sun-kissed skin slick and hot, the heat washing over you. With a minor amount of panic and interest, you notice she smells good. Like, really good.

Somehow keeping up the music and dancing, she manages to keep her eyes locked on you as she says, “My, aren’t you interesting. Do you like the music?”

“I…” You say, feeling a little sluggish.

“Or perhaps…” She says with a coy expression. “You’re a little distracted by something else?” She waggles her hips, the shaking of which makes the cymbals clatter in a way that fit the song perfectly, as if it was part of the choreography.

Your mind feeling hazy, you distantly feel that this is wrong, and you turn your head away with effort to see Mr. Ed, standing on the outskirts of the square, his eyes staring into yours. He seems to want something, but what could it be? A deep intensity stirs in there and you vaguely think that he’s the only one not dancing. How weird, it’s so enjoyable too.

“You know…” Ebe says, her feathers stroking your face and turning your attention back to her. “When the party is over, if you’d like a little “private show,” I would gladly perform for you.” She steps back from you, still dancing and playing the music in time.

“Don’t worry about the two you came with, they’ll be quite taken care of as well.” She blows you a kiss and then turns about, her shapely backside filling your vision. You feel a glaze come over you as you start to let go, dancing in time with the music.

As you turn about, you once again see Mr. Ed, his eyes looking into yours and you stop, feeling something wrenching within you. But it would be so much easier just to dance, and her offer seems really tempting though you can’t say why. Still, the unease builds in your chest now that she’s further away and you start sweating, as if in a visceral response to the whole scene.

You can just let it go and enjoy yourself or, ech, heed this weird warning in your head. Not like it’s really that much of a choice, but…

No. No, you just… should probably listen to this weird voice in your head. Sure, you KNOW this feels wrong, but it also feels RIGHT. With some effort, you pull yourself away from Erwin and start moving toward Mr. Ed, your feet tapping in time. You feel like some kind of madman doing so, but at least you’re not absolutely mad, right?

As you walk to him, you pass by Sophie and a young farmhand, his skin tanned from long days out in the sun. She shakes her hips, tails swinging about with dexterous ease as she raises her arms over her head, forming some kind of peacock of blades. One of her tails wraps around the farmhand’s waist, and she pulls him in close, a fire in her eyes. His eyes are fixated on her breasts though, and you only just now realize how scandalous her clothing is.

Oh well, they’re just enjoying themselves. Like you should be. But… no, you need to go forward toward the horse. His eyes bore into you, but you see an uneasiness in them, and he paws the ground, looking over to Sylphie who is dancing with a little less grace than her sister, but better than the muscular farmhand she’s dancing with. He keeps trying to cop a feel, but she coyly steps aside, a smile on her face. Every time he reaches for her Mr. Ed snorts.

“Don’t like the music?” You ask as you stand before the gelding, tapping your foot. He looks at you with a neutral expression before rolling his eyes and stamping the ground. You cock your head. “No?”

Exasperation crosses his expression and he flicks his head toward the Harpy, and you notice the way she can shake her hips at sixty shakes per second. A goofy smile comes over your face until he presses his muzzle into your ear and you frown, backing away from the near wet willy.

“Hey, hey, what gives?” He merely nods back to the dancing Harpy and you ask, “Ebe? What about her?”

He snorts and then nuzzles your staff, which you’re still holding… huh you forgot it was there. Frowning, you look over the staff and ask, “What? My staff? What does that have to do with… ohhhhh no, no, no.” You shake your head with vigor. “I am not giving her my STAFF.”

He shakes his head and then casts a glance over to Sylphie, who is now dancing far more scandalous than before. Growing agitated, the horse nudges your staff again and you really wish you could speak horse.

{Hey Erwin, do you speak Horse?} You send to your familiar.

{Yeah, why?}

{I… wait what, you do?}

{Uh, yeah. I’m a fox, we speak with horses.}

{That doesn’t make… look can you talk to Mr. Ed}

{Nah.}

You pause. {Nah?}

{He’s over there and I’m dancing over here!}

“Oh for the love of…” You growl and tell Mr. Ed the problem. He snorts and then trots over to Erwin, picking the little fox up with his teeth and tossing him onto his back. The little fox squirms from the effort but then finds that he can dance on the back of the horse and continues to do that as they return. While doing so, Mr. “accidently” knocks over a barrel which opens up, splashing the farmhand dancing next Sylphie with water. He gasps and Sylphie puts her hands to her mouth in shock until the man removes his shirt, revealing bulging muscles in a farmer’s tan. They both smile and continue to the dance.

Erwin chuckles in the way only a fox can chuckle and then yips something. Mr. Ed looks like he wants to buck Erwin off his back, but holds his temper as they walk back to you, to which you give a questioning look.

{Yeah, yeah. So what do you want and why aren’t you daaaaancing?}

{I just… feel like something is wrong about all this.}

{But it’s fun!}

{Yeah but, when have I ever danced}

Erwin pauses for a moment, concentration coming onto his face as his tail swishes. {Huh, guess you’re right. Well, no time like the present, right?}

{Mr. Ed has something he needs to tell me, but I don’t speak horse.}

{You should learn.} Erwin says, as if it was easy as that. He yips at Mr. Ed, who neighs out a few sounds, to which Erwin frowns as fox can frown. Turning his head back to you, he sends, {He says that all of you are being controlled and that the music is turning you into nothing more than puppets.} He yips something to the gelding, who stamps his hoof.

{He also says he’ll crush that man’s skull if he tries to soil his delicate little flower.}

{What about Sophie?}

{He has a quota on skull crushing.}

So, Ebe must be doing something with her villainous Monster powers to make all these people have fun. What a cold hearted bitch! Clearly she wants them to break from the monotony of their lives and have a good time in order to do something terrible to them! Like… like have them have an orgy or something and then… she’s going to… she’s going to ah…

Scratching your head, you look to Mr. Ed and ask, “I’m sorry, I don’t see how this is a bad thing. Beyond the mind controlling music.”

The horse snorts. Erwin nods and translates. {She wants to fuck you into oblivion}

You snap on your heels and face the Harpy, fire in your eyes. OH HELLS NO. This bootylicious bird-brained busty-bodied bitch is NOT going to have any illicit relationships with you! Planting your staff in the ground you focus your will and then open your eyes with your [Mage Sight], seeing the world for what it truly is.

Thankfully you have planted your staff, because you almost fall backward at the sight. A multitude of colors drifts about, a rainbow miasma that coats the square. It all draws from a single source, the dancing Ebe, whose guitar shimmers with ever pluck of the strings, sending out waves of music. The drums, cymbals, and other instruments also add to the effect, as if resonating in time with her guitar.

And yet… you can see an inner light resonating within her, something that looks and feels pure. It makes you shudder a little looking at it, and you sweep your gaze to the villagers, who radiate in the throes of pleasure, even if their cores are black as night. This isn’t… what you thought you’d see at all.

Closing your eyes, you let go of your sight, feeling reality rush back in, and you once again are awash in the beautiful music. You almost take a step forward, but limit yourself to just swaying side to side. Damnit, you can’t get rid of the way this music makes you dance, it’s infusing your soul! Besides, you can’t unsee the radiance of it all, burned into your memory. Why fight it?

Because, you tell yourself. It is not natural.

Still… it’s not right to ruin things for everyone else. Biting your lip, you look about and spot a lithe woman swaying her hips in time with the music. She seems to notice your gaze and you feel a sort of magnetism between the two of you, forcing both of you toward each other. As you approach, she begins to dance about, biting her lip as she looks you up and down. 

“Haven’t seen you around these parts.”

“Not from here.”

“I could tell. Men around these parts don’t look half as good as you do.”

You recall the rippling muscles of the farm hand who wants to plow Sylphie and figure she’s just trying to flirt with you. So she can get into your pants. Which is bad. You don’t want this and-

Fuck you need to find a way to stop listening to this music, but you need to get some answers first.

“So, when did all this dancing start?”

“Hmm?” She asks, dancing rather close to you. “Oh, this morning. It’s been a few hours now I guess, but I’m still full of vigor.” She raises her eyebrows at you in a lewd manner and you feel your eye twitching.

“Have you ever seen her before?”

“Hmph, talking about her when I’m right here…” She sniffs and then actually contacts you, sliding her body against yours. You feel the power of one thousand frogs screaming in your veins, but you keep your cool as she pouts and says, “She came into town this morning and started playing music, drawing more and more people in. We’ve been dancing ever since.”

The woman grinds herself against you and you shudder, not in disgust but because it actually feels nice. Gods this is a dangerous situation. She bites her lip and you blurt out, “I’m already having a private performance with Ebe.”

The woman pauses and then sighs. “All the handsome ones are already taken…” Still, she continues to dance, her hips swaying as she goes away. You watch her for a second before shaking your head and slapping your cheeks.

“I need something to plug my damn ears…” You mutter to yourself before pausing. Oh yeeaaaaah, that could work! Looking about the square, you notice a candle maker’s shop built into a cooper’s workshop, and you boogie oogie your way over there, avoiding the predations of a Holstaur with breasts built like a brick shithouse. She manages to find the attention of a bearded man though, and they start to dance as if they were made for each other. Good for them…

Heading inside, you find little relief from the music and search about until you find some raw beeswax. You dig into your [Trenchcoat] and pull out an empty vial, using it to scoop up some of the substance before taking some yourself and twisting it into plugs to put into your ears. As soon as you do, the music lessens to a dull thrumming and… and…

What the fuck, you hate dancing again!

A wave of exhaustion comes over you and you stagger to the side, feeling almost sick as you catch your breath. What the hells? Did her song make you ignore fatigue as you danced? By Solos, you’ve only been dancing for less than an hour! True, you did expend a lot of magic beforehand so that might contribute, but these people are going to be in no shape to do much of anything when the music stops. This must be her plan, damnit all to the hells.

And yet, the brilliance about her…

Gritting your teeth, you look at the vial of beeswax in your hand and then remember your companions ears. Frowning, you place the beeswax into your coat and take a handful of the material from a jar, digging into your pocket and throwing down a few coppers before walking back into the square with a noticeable lack of pep in your step.

From across the way, you see Ebe falter in a step as she stares at you, to which everyone around you shudders as if struck across the face before recovering quickly as she does herself. Biting your lip, you start to dance again, this time unaided by the music. Uhm… how did you do this before? Foot here… then there?

The look of concern on her face starts to fade as attention shifts off you and back to her music, and you can’t help but feel that was close. Boogieing on over to Sophie, you find her basically rubbing herself all over her chosen farmboy, a furious lust in her eyes as her bosom drips with sweat. Yeah, that’s really indecent, you should talk to her about wearing something more lady-like and…

Buh, you’re not her father. Shaking your head, you get close to her and say, “Sophie, I need you stop dancing for a moment.”

She doesn’t hear you, or perhaps just ignores you, and you groan before raising your voice, “Sophie! Listen to me! I need you to pay attention to me!”

She keeps dancing, though the boy clearly notices and he shudders some before saying something you can’t hear. Sophie’s eyes go wide at what he says and she points at you, laughing as if she heard the funniest thing in the world. Feeling your anger rise, you set your staff aside, take two pieces of wax into your hands, and clap them into her ears.

She goes rigid and pushes you away, a look of utter outrage on her face as her ears twitch with furious motion. Reaching up to her ears she pauses, the feline appendages moving back and forth and her eyes go wide as she slowly reaches up and then looks to you, then the boy with horror. A furious blush appears on her face as the boy moves closer and she backs up, unable to look at him as she covers herself up.

You sigh and take her hand, dancing with soft motions as you do so, nodding to everyone else in the area. She looks about with a beet red face and then nods her head before shaking her hips with far less enthusiasm than before. The boy shouts something and then dances a sad dance as the two of you move away.

Sophie says something to you, but you merely shout back, “What? I can’t fucking hear you, my ears aren’t working!” She stares at you, also unable to hear you before she clacks her tongue and looks to her sister, eyes going wide as she seeds what Sylphie is doing.

Her sister has her robe-top off, exposing a chest just as well endowed as her sister’s. Her white small clothes preserve her modesty, but the way she’s pressed up against the slick chest of the man she’s dancing with ruins that. Worse, she has her staff in one hand, a wave of dancing lights shining from the tip. What a waste of mana!

The other Cat o’Ninetail’s eyes flash with anger, and she tries to dash forward, but you restrain her, making your movements flow with what you vaguely remember the beat to be. As you approach Sylphie, the man puffs up his chest but Sophie’s eyes almost seem to glow at she glares at him, and he falters in his steps, allowing Sophie to shove beeswax into her sister’s ears.

Sylphie has almost the same reaction as her sister does, looking down in horror at her almost exposed chest, the pale flesh of her bosom shining in the noonday sun. You turn your head and she covers up her chest hurriedly, dashing over to Mr. Ed to cry into his side.

 Looking back to Ebe, who doesn’t seem to notice you, you back away to the group where Mr. Ed is comforting his Mistress. Erwin looks at all of you with suspicion, and you shut him up with a sending before shoving the wax into his ears too. He blinks and looks around with surprise before frowning.

{Aww come on, it was a good beat!}

{It was MIND CONTROL}

{Well, more like sex control.}

{How do you figure?}

{Gee, I wonder why the balless wonder I’m standing on wasn’t affected by the music.} He taps on Mr. Ed, though the gelding doesn’t notice. Ah, right, right.

“What now?!” You shout, but they both look at you with confusion. Mr. Ed shakes his head and then Sylphie seems to understand. She taps Erwin, who sends to you,

{So this is annoying, but yeah. Sylphie thinks we should leave. She’s super embarrassed.}

Syphie’s face goes even more red and she bonks Erwin on the head to which he squeaks and says,{Yeah, she wants to go, right now.}

{I don’t think we can.} You send back. {That Harpy is watching us.}

{Harpy? Oh, the Gandharva. That’s what Sylphie calls her anyway.} He listens to something for a moment before rolling his eyes. {Well, if we can’t leave, then what should we do?}

{I think… we wait until this is over. I have a feeling as soon as the party is done, everyone will be dead tired, hopefully not literally.}

{And then what, we kill her? We could do that now.}

{No, no, I don’t think she has any ill intentions but…} You shake your head. {I think the only way to find out what’s going on is to ask her}

{And how are you going to… oh. OHHHHHHH.}

Erwin runs around on Mr. Ed’s back, seeming super excited. {Someone’s getting a PRIVATE performance!}

You ignore him, but feel a little worry inside. Damn, you’re going be trapped in this but if you don’t figure out what’s going on then all these people could-

Wait, wait. All these people? You look over the crowd and frown. Do you really need to spend your time on this? It would be easier to just leave it all and get back on the road. They’re having fun dancing, and you don’t want to ruin that, despite the consequences. It could all be a misunderstanding, right? Hells, it probably is.

But… You feel your gut twist and you shake your head. These are mostly humans, people that have no idea what’s coming, if it is. To leave them here, potentially with more slavers… No, no you can’t do it. Though it pains you, you keep fake dancing all until Ebe finally finishes her songs hours later, to the collapsing bodies of the villagers.

She scans the square, a smile on her face until she finds you. Her expression changes some, but the smile returns, and she leaps into the air, her wings propelling her into the jump, and she clacks onto the ground before you, standing up and shaking her head, throwing sweat all about.

“Hey there.”

“Hello.” You say, having taken the wax out of your ears as she stopped playing.

“Did you like the show?”

“Oh it was uh… mesmerizing.”

She giggles and  looks around the square in the afternoon sky. “Well…It seems everyone had such a good time, they can’t dance anymore!” her feathers shake and she says, “But you seem full of energy…”

“Y…yes. I sure am.” You say, feeling that familiar screaming in your veins. “Ready for that private… performance.”

Her eyes glitter and she blushes as her breath rate increases. “Y-you are? W-well, then how about we head over there?” She nods her head toward a larger structure in the village, the sole inn.

You lick your lips nervously but crack a fake smile. “Suuuuurrreee.”

She giggles again and snuggles up to the side of you, taking your arm with your wing. “My voice can hit some very… high notes.”

“S-sounds nice.”

“Mhm… I expect once everyone here gets a little rest, they’ll be making their own music soon.” Her eyes glitter and her chest heaves. “But my show is just for you.” Before you can say anything else, she drags you forward into the inn.

The place is empty, though considering the time of day it would be empty anyway. As you pass by the bar, you snag an open bottle of wine and Ebe’s eyes shine. She chuckles in a slight, “Ufufufufu,” and leads you up the stairs.

You enter the first room, the door unlocked, and she sits you on the bed, which creaks from your weight. The Gandharva, her copper skin shining with her sweat, takes her guitar off and sets it down against the wall before turning to you. You lift an eyebrow at her and she raises her wings in the air before shaking her hips, the cymbals there clinking slowly, forming a slow rhythm.

A fuzziness fills your head as she does, and her body, which was appealing before, suddenly becomes irresistible. You feel your heart start to pound and you begin to forget why you came here. For the show… this show which is just for you. A goofy smile comes to your face as her delicious scent fills your nostrils, and you let it sink in as she dances.

Her wing arms slide down her body, accentuating her curves, and she looks at you with sensuous eyes as she slams her hips to one side, then the other. You lean forward, and pause, looking at the bottle in your hands. What are you doing with th-

Right! RIGHT! You wrench your focus back and look up at her for a chance to enact your plan.

Her eyes on you, she licks her lips and turns about, showing her backside to you. She winks and pulls her wings behind her, beginning to undo the clothing that keeps her breasts covered.

As her wings make slow, delicate motions, you quickly grab the [Sleeping potion] from your [Trenchcoat] and pour it into the bottle before hiding the empty vial back into your coat. The covering slips down and she turns about, folding her wings over her breasts yet somehow exposing more flesh than before. She sidles up to you and licks her lips, showing more and more of her copper skin. Before her nipples can slip, she reaches out with one wing-arm and takes the bottle from you, taking a big drink. Some of the liquid falls from her mouth and between her breasts, making them twinkle with the red liquid.

Licking her lips, she pushes the bottle back to you and she raises an eyebrow. Your hand shakes on the bottle and you “accidently” drop it to the floor. Both of you stare at the bottle that rolls on the floorboards, spilling its contents. You both look back into each other’s eyes and she shrugs, then pushes herself atop you and forcing your back onto the bed.

Trying to pull away, she unleashes her breasts, which hand down before you like ripe fruits, and she pins you down, breath coming in ragged gasps, her eyes unfocused. “I hope you liked the first act… the second is far better and… and…” She wobbles, eyelids heavy.

With a sigh, her topless form topples onto you and passes out. Groaning with the stress of the event and the strain in your pants, you say, “I think it’s time for an intermission.”

—————————-

Ebe wakes up maybe an hour later, a little groggy. Thankfully she didn’t get much of the potion or she’d have been out for quite some time. That being said, her earlier grace is gone as her hair, a disheveled mess, lays down over her face. She looks about the inn room with bleary eyes and then down to her body to find her clothing back on and her wings bound with rope.

“H…huh?”

“Sorry, turns out I don’t like to be part of shows with audience partcipation.”

Ebe turns her eyes to you and they widen as she finds you sitting on the bed with Sophie and Sylphie flanking you, Erwin standing on the floor, and Mr. Ed in the corner. She stares particularly long at Mr. Ed before finally saying, “How did that horse get in here?”

“He walked in.” Sylphie says, shrugging.

The Gandharva looks a little distraught before asking, “W…what happened? Why am I tied up?”

“I drugged you.” You say, tired.

“No wonder that wine tasted like semen. I should have known you didn’t have time to jizz in the bottle. Actually if you had then it wouldn’t have been as fun as that would have been one hells of a quick shot…”

“Yeah okay, whatever.” You say, rubbing your eyes. “Look, what are you doing here?”

She looks down at the ropes, then back to you. “Uhm. Is this a trick question?”

“You know what I mean. Why are you here in this little village? You’re clearly from Ectria.”

“Oh!” She says, blushing. “Nothing bad, I promise! I’d always wanted to see Deleor, but I could never travel on my own, I’m too embarrassed.” Her cheeks go redder. “I kind of always found Deleorian men attractive, you know?”

“I saw.”

“You smell nice, you know? Are you some kind of sorcerer?”

“Wizard, but that’s not important.” You sigh and continue, “So if you were too embarrassed to travel on your own, how did you get here?”

“Well, a group of merchants approached me because of my music, said they wanted to show people our culture. They promised me I could find a nice man out here and all I had to do was play for people!” She smiles. “The people here looked to dreadfully dreary, and then I started playing, they looked so happy!”

“It’s true.” Sophie says, looking out a small window. You distantly hear sounds outside, low moans and the like. “People are reaaaalllyyyy happy out there.”

“See? It’s fine! The people I came with said they’ll catch up tonight, so I’ll ah… just…” She trails off and looks down at her bonds. “Uhm. What happens now?”

“Ebe… did the people you came with have large, metal containers?”

“Uhm… yes, they did. They said it was for their merchandise, so I didn’t question it.”

Sophie makes a tsking sound and says, “Out in the distance, I see some torches coming from the east.”

“Oh, it must be the people I came with. I should go and meet them, so could you untie me? If I don’t speak with Bahiti, she’s going to be super mad and you don’t want to see a mad Monitor Lizardman, especially since it’s a little cold out here.”

Great. All the people out there are having an orgy, and a group of slavers are coming into down while you have a tied up singer who tried to rape you.

You really should have just kept going on the road. But since you’re here…

“Ebe.” You say, going to look out the window. The scene of carnal pleasure out in the square is a little too graphic for your tastes, so you decide instead to look further out the field at the oncoming group. There is little cause to doubt that this Bahiti is anything other than a slaver from her description, and if there’s one thing you hate, it’s slavers and rhubarb pie. Both leave a bad taste in your mouth.

“Huh? What?” The bound Ghandharva asks. She struggles against the ropes and then frowns before asking, “Sure you can’t untie me?”

“No. Now listen and tell me true, what did this Bahiti say she was selling exactly?”

“Uhm…” She cocks her head and thinks for a moment. “I think she said she was selling livestock, but those boxes were empty.” Looking confused, she adds, “Maybe she’s buying from the people here? Ohhhh exotic Deleorian livestock! That’s what’s going on!”

You and Sophie trade flat stares. “She can’t be this stupid.” The Cat o’Ninetails says, glancing her way.

“I think she’s just gullible and naive.” You say, rubbing the bridge of your nose.

“Hey, I’m not naive!” Ebe shouts. She pouts and slumps down. “I know lots of things, like how to sing, dance, seduce men, fish, knit head scarves, and talk to people!”

Sylphie raises a hand. “How do you knit?”

“With my wings.”

The poor Cat o’Ninetail’s expression turns positively stupefied as she puts a hand to her head to try and figure out the implications of that statement. Shaking your head, you turn back to the window and say, “They’re slavers, Ebe. And you just delivered all these people into their hands.”

Ebe’s eyes go wide at this and she stutters, “W…what? I didn’t! You have to believe me, I had no idea about… tha…” She groans, “Metal crates and livestock! Ugh that’s what all the nets were for!”

Her cries turn pitiful as she pleads, “I’m sorry! I didn’t know! I just wanted to make people happy with my music! I didn’t know it would lead to this!” She begins to cry and you see Sophie bite her lip, but you’re made of sterner stuff.

“Well, just be glad we decided to stop by or else these people would be at their mercy.” She sniffles more and then outright bawls. Sophie and Sylphie both give you dirty looks and you feel a mix of annoyance and shame. Damnit all to hells, why did they have to make looks like that?

Feeling a little embarrassed, you rub the back of your head and then walk over to the Gandharva before undoing the ropes. When they clatter to the floor, she looks up at you with an confused expression, her eyes full of tears. She sniffs and looks down, still down. You fidget and then reach out your hand to touch her shoulder in some kind of… reassurance.

She flinches back and your hand, which was intended to touch her shoulder, instead lands on her head. Your eyes go wide, but it’s too late to stop your fingers from gently spreading into her warm hair, smoothing out along her scalp. Her eyes go wide and she turns to you, shocked at what you’ve done. Staring at her in horror, you make to retract your hand, but the tears on her cheeks make you pause and your eye twitches abominably as you force yourself to slide your hand back and forth, in some kind of… petting motion.

Ebe’s tail feathers swish behind her and she turns her eyes down, cheeks growing hot. Her mouth works soundlessly as she sniffs, a look of pure embarrassment on her expression. You continue the patting until a silly smile appears on her face and you quickly retract your hand, feeling dirty for some reason. She kneels back, placing her wing hands over her face as she makes a happy little noise, and you shudder before looking up.

Sophie and Sylphie both stare at you, their eyes wide. Sylphie’s cheeks are burning hot while Sophie holds her skirts in her hands, biting her lip. When they notice you’re looking at them, they both divert their gazes, cheeks growing red. You narrow your eyes between them and then look down at your hands. Their eyes flick to you before flicking back and you sigh, holding your hands up to them. Ecstatic looks come over their faces and they lean their heads in toward you. Moving your hands toward them, you hover your hands over their heads and then…

Turn to the right and start patting Mr. Ed.

The horse snorts in some kind of chuckle, rubbing his head into your hands. You continue to pat him before turning to the two young women who stand there in a frozen tableau, smiles on their faces. Slowly, they stand up straight and then turn away from you. You vaguely notice their tails and ears flicking in furious motions before they turn about in a sudden motion with false smiles on their faces.

“Well then!” Sophie says, her smile positively venomous. “We have to slavers to stop, yes?”

“Indeed my dear sister, indeed!” Sylphie replies, nodding her head. They walk past you and outside, slamming the door shut behind them. You trade expressions with Mr. Ed who does his best horse shrug before pushing further into your hands. Guess he likes it.

“So… I guess we should go stop them, huh?” You say to no one in particular.

“Uwawawa…” Ebe says, still blushing.

“Yeah…” You sigh and turn to Ebe. “Are you lucid.”

“Your hand is so very strong, yet gentle…” She says before making a small, “eeeee” sound.

“Okay, great, glad you like it, but can you let me know the make-up of those traveling with you?”

“H-huh? Oh-oh. Just Bahiti and this Vulture named Je’lu. Everyone else is human mercenaries.” She titters and then asks, “W…would you mind doing it again?”

“No.” You say, stepping to the door. Nodding to Erwin and Mr. Ed, you grab hold of the door and open it when she cries out,

“Wait!”

You turn your head to her and she bites her lip before asking, “W…what’s going to happen to me?”

“We’ll figure that out later.” You say, walking out the door. “Just stay here and try not to dance at anything.”

The group of animals and yourself find the two Cat o’Ninetails near the door. Sophie has her hand over her face while Sylphie watches a couple nearby fucking like animals, a bright blush on her face. You notice that the man in the couple is the one she was dancing with while the female is the one who was hitting on you. You cough into your hand as you walk up to her and say, “You can do better than him.”

Her blush becomes more pronounced and she hugs her staff, turning away from you. Shrugging, you turn to Sophie who’s hand has slipped to her mouth. You smirk and say, “You can be your Mother’s daughter later, we have work to do.”

“Rude.” She says, shaking her head. “So very, very rude.”

The smirk at the corner of her lips says she doesn’t really mean it. Reaching over and grabbing her sister, your party heads over to the square. Amidst the moans, shouts, and squelching sounds, you head toward the group that can’t be terribly far away by now. You see their wagons, illuminated dimly by the torches as boxy structures trundling towards the village and pause at the edge of the square.

“So, what’s the plan?” Sophie asks, helping Sylphie regain her composure.

“Erwin?” You ask, and the little fox nods his head.

{Fortifications. We need to bottle them in. Their strength is probably not great, but we don’t need to be caught in those nets.} He nods to the edges of the square. {Put walls up there to force them in from this angle. We can bottleneck them. Trenches can be used to stop the wagons and make the men cautious.}

{And then?}

{When they’re in range, douse their flames with some wind magic and then rain hell on them!}

A wave of exhaustion courses through you and you sigh, feeling weak. “That dancing took a lot out of me, not to mention the trip beforehand. I don’t know if I have that much power in me.”

“W-we’ll be fine.” Sylphie says, gathering her composure. “I don’t have much magic left, but I’ll use it to support you!”

You nod and turn to Sophie who shrugs. “I feel fine. I’ll take melee support against the ringleader. Magic works just fine on them, but I’ve never known one who doesn’t know how to use a sword.”

“Right then.” You say, tapping your staff against the ground. Two walls appear at the far sides of the square, creating one avenue of attack. Pushing again with some effort, you dig a [Trench] into the ground right before the square. The work is slow, which is fine since you don’t want anyone noticing. By the time it’s finished, the wagons are close by, and your group scatters to hide in range, but out of sight.

The wagons reach the trench you make and stop as confused men walk up and observe the hole. You hear some shouting about and they point toward the walls you’ve made. Some of the men angrily get down into the trench while the others which torches stay nearby the wagons, looking nervous. Observing the time to be right, you whisper to Sylphie, “Now.”

She takes in a deep breath and flicks her wrist, casting out a force of [Gust]. The wind picks up the area in a sharp burst as gravel and dust fly by, making the men shield their eyes as their torchs gutter out. A general panic arises from the group and you ready the pebbles you prepared while hiding. Using your geomancy, you apply the aeromancy you practiced to the rocks, and fire one forward.

A sharp cry is your response, followed quickly by panicked shouts. You close your eyes and activate your [Mage Sight] to get a better view of your targets. One man is slumped against a wagon, his arm a bleeding mess while the others look about in confusion. Powering up your magic again, you watch the way the two magicks interplay before firing another shot. With interest, you watch as it flies not at your intended target, one of the torchbearers, but far to the left, clipping a man’s leg. Good thing it’s a target rich environment…

It’s fast but the aim is awful. How can you compensate for that? Increase the speed? No, that’s stupid, you’re already firing quickly. But what else can you do, but make the wind rotate…

You pause and then nod your head, making the next pebble rotate faster and faster. With an expression of determination on your face, you aim for the torchbearer and fire the stone! It shoots forward and nails the guy next to him, right in the center of the chest. He cries out and drops dead, and the force of watching him die makes your head recoil from the sight, forcing you to turn off your [Mage Sight] or else have something awful burned into your mind.

>Your [Pebble Gun] has improved with <Rifling>

“That’s three down.” Sylphie says, nodding her head. “But there’s a lot left. What should we do?”

“Fire.” You mutter, rubbing at your eyes. “Throw a fireball.”

“Right!” She gathers up flames in her hands and the man cry out in panic, realizing where the threat is coming from. She throws the ball of flame into the trench and it explodes, causing men to run about screaming. Pursing her lips, she says, “Crap, I thought I had more mana than this.”

“You were showing your little boyfriend a light show earlier.”

“He’s not-! I mean! Gah look, that guy is plowing some cow right now!”

“No, that’s the guy with the beard.”

{FOCUS} Erwin sends, and you shake your head from the strong sending. Grumbling, you raise your hand again and make to fire more rocks when you hear something from about you, looking up, you let out a cry as something large slams into both you and Sylphie, scattering the boxes you were using for cover.

The thing drags you along the ground of the square for a good ten feet before throwing you across the square, tumbling head over heels before stopping in a world of pain and disorientation. Groaning, you roll over to find a large, black winged harpy with short, red hair hovering before you, her wing-arms generating a lot of lift. She spits to the side and cries out, “SORCEROR!”

Disoriented, you can’t get out of the way as she flies toward you, talons outstretched. Unable to react appropriately, you hold up your hand but instead of being caught in her massive feet, you feel yourself dragged bodily out of the way but something sharp and fluffy.

The Harpy, Vulturegirl, you guess, flies by and makes an annoyed sound before coming back around. Shaking your head, you look over to see Sylphie, her tails holding onto you for dear life, a look of panic on her face. “Oh Gods, are you alright?” She asks.

“Yeah I’m- oh fuck, get down!” You shout and throw her down as the Vulturegirl makes another pass. Picking up your staff, you think of a spell to cast, but your mind feels sluggish and all you can think to do is [Build the Wall] as she flies toward you.

Oddly enough, this works very well, and you hear her shout in alarm before colliding with the structure, then cursing as she flaps away from it. You let go of your hold on it and turn back to the Vulturegirl, who shouts and you with very, very angry sounds.

Looking about, you pick up a rock, small and easily fired, before rubbing it and putting your magic into the stone. You stand up slowly as the Vulturegirl realigns herself and then cries out, swooping before you. Not taking a single step out of the way, solid as a stone wall, you fire the rock in your hand at the swooping Vulture.

A spurt of blood, a tiny cry, and the Vulture veers off course, hitting the dirt with bone-jarring force nigh feet away from you. A cloud of dust billows through the air as she slides, and you merely pull up your coat before walking away from her.

“By the Gods, is she dead?” Sylphie asks, running up to you. Flicking your eyes back to the Vulturegirl, you see her twitching some and you shake your head. Sylphie lets out a breath and then says, “Right! We need to go finish off the others!”

“Couldn’t agree more.” You say, picking up your weary body before staggering and falling to a knee. Sylphie puts a hand on your shoulder and you wave her away, feeling a momentary pain. Gods damnit, you do NOT have the back for this hero shit.

“Are you alright?”

“No.” You say, being honest. “But I will be.”

{You might want to see this!} Erwin shouts, and the two of you snap your attention to the main battle line, where the remaining men, maybe ten of them, have crossed over the trench and into the square. They stand about in a circle, watching something, and with a start, you realize it’s Sophie fighting furiously with another opponent, a very tall and muscular looking woman.

No, you think. Not a woman, but a MONSTER.

Moving closer, you’re unable to interfere as Sophie dodges a large, broad-bladed sword as the collides into the ground, throwing up a shower of dirt. She throws her tails at the creature, but the merely graze the cuirass she wears, the other  blows striking infectually against the tough scales of her skin. With a shout, the Monster brings the weapon around and strikes Sophie with the flat of the blade, sending her screaming into the clutches of the men on the edge of the circle.

They cheer and throw her back into the circle, where she stumbles about, dazed, until the Monster reaches out with a powerful hand and grabs the Cat o’Ninetails by the neck, holding her up as Sophie struggles for breath. Her tails lash out at her opponent, but the damage inflicted is either ignored, or superficial.

You reach the crowd in time for a man to light a torch and illuminate the scene, showering everyone in blazing light. Some of the mercenaries there are actually women, you notice with a start, but the main thing you see is the full form of the creature holding Sophie.

The Monster is tall, perhaps 6’6″ with a strong, muscular frame that somehow preserves her femininity as all Monsters seem to do. Her arms and legs are covered in rough, scaly skin of mixed black and beige scales while ending in talons. Her torso is covered with a tattered cloth that seems well suited for the desert while her head is bare, showing glowing yellow eyes and a stern face with a scar running down the cheek.

She hisses, her forked tongue coming out as she turns to regard you, long, black hair in the traditional Lizardman ponytail drifting lazily in the night. Narrowing her eyes, she says, “Where is Ebe?”

“She’s not here.” You say, watching Sophie, who has passed out. At least she seems to have taken a few men out with her, judging by the few unconscious men nearby.

“No, that coward has to be around here somewhere.” The Lizardman says, looking about. “She did a nice job with these people though. Would have been quite easy to round up if not for your feeble little defense here.”

She sighs and drops Sophie to the ground, the Cat o’Ninetails collapsing into a little heap. “Well, it’s going to be a pain paying benefits for these thugs and fixing up the bird-brain, but I guess you two will pay the bills nicely.” Frowning, she looks at you and says, “You though… eh sorcerers are a dime a dozen. I think I’ll just kill you.”

You raise your staff into the air and channel some magic, readying a strike right at the Lizardman, but she snaps her sword, one-handed, toward Sophie and says, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Grunting, you put down your staff and narrow your eyes as men pick up Sophie’s unconscious form. The hold her to the side as the Lizardman walks up to you, towering a full head over your height while resting her massive sword on her shoulder. She cracks her neck and smiles. “Actually… I think another duel would be quite nice, don’t you think? Beat me and this all goes away, fail, and well…” She chuckles, “I guess it won’t matter, will it?”

You’re tired, your back hurts, and you’re all sweaty. Fighting a duel at the moment would just be awful, but what choice do you have? To a Lizardman, duels are absolute, the alpha and the omega. No Lizardman of any variety would DARE defy the sanctity of a duel, so if she says this will all go away, then she means it will all go away.

But Gods damnit, do you hate this.

Glancing over to Sophie, you stand up straight and crack your back. Sylphie holds up a hand and you shake your head before walking forward into the circle of armed men. They part quickly before you, not willing to incur the wrath the Monitor Lizardman, who snorts and takes a place at the far end of the circle which forms up around you again.

“At least you have the honor to duel.” Bahiti says, sliding a finger along the flat of her blade. Oiled and still ready to fight.

“Funny thing to say from a slaver. I doubt taking people when they are unawares is quite honorable.” You retort, holding up your staff. Forcing some of your will into the earth, dirt rises and attaches to it, forming a sort of hardened club, rather than a sword. Perhaps if you could manipulate metals, which are really just refined ore… But no, now is not the time.

“Phah, slaving is one thing, duels are another. Ectria requires slaves to build its cities and for its populace. Some people aren’t cut out to be citizens, and would be better off as slaves.”

You wave a hand to the village around you. “Is that so?”

“It is.” She says, readying her blade. “Now then, are we starting this?”

“Last question.” She sighs and stays her blade as you nod your head and ask. “Ebe. What is she to you and yours?”

“Continent.” Bahiti says. “The girl has talent in the ways of the Gandharvan magicks, though I doubt she knows it. Thinks it’s just singing and dancing.” She shakes her head. “We send her out ahead of time, get everyone tired, then scoop them out without issue, easy money. It was going rather well until you arrived.”

“So, she didn’t know you were slavers?”

“Does it matter?”

You cock your head, thinking about it for a moment before shrugging. “Humor me.”

“No, she didn’t.” Bahiti says before stomping the ground. “Time for words is over! We duel!”

With that, she races toward you, covering ground with blinding speed. Your staff slams into the ground and the earth shudders as you [Build the Wall] under you, pushing you into the air and giving you the [High Ground]. From there, you stare down at the Lizardman who pauses in her running to look up at you. You shrug and prepare a [Pebble Gun] shot.

She narrows her eyes and flicks out her sword before shouting, “Coward!”

“It’s over before it began, scaletits” You say, leveling the shot at her. “I have the [High Ground].” She grits her teeth and then charges at you, straight up your wall. In a momentary panic, you fire your [Pebble Gun], but she deflects the shot with her large blade, sending it into the chest of one of her men standing around.

You back up atop your wall in surprise, and she lets out a cry of triumph until she realizes the hand you directed the shot with is now pointed directly at her face. With little more than a smirk, you cast [Ice]. It smashes into her face and she cries out in panic before falling backward from your wall and hitting the ground with a dull thud, shuddering and shivering.

Shaking your head, you lower the wall and walk over to her before taking your staff-sword-club-whatever and placing it before her. You say, “Well, that was easy enough-” Your words are cut off as she smashes the staff out of your hand to fly into the face of one of the men watching the fight.

You stagger backward as she rises, heaving in anger while shuddering. Her teeth chatter yet the rage in her eyes is almost feverish and she lets out a loud roar of anger. Slashing out with her sword, you barely make it out of the way before she comes again, slashing downward and shattering the ground next to you. The force of the blow shatters the earth about you and you snap cast [Flurry], sending the earth into her eyes.

“What the fuck!” You shout, dodging her blows. “I thought you were weak to the cold!”

“GRAAAAAAHHH!” She shouts in reply. Well fuck you for all those weaves you’ve read about reptilian Monsters, guess it’s all just a lie, huh? Shit, there goes you plan, but at least she’s blind now, or was as she starts to rub her eyes.

Drawing up your power, you feel yourself waver from the energy draw, but pull up another [Pebble Gun] And fire it, the rock burying deep into the arm she’s holding the sword in. She cries out and falls to a knee and then groans. You flick your wrist, using a wall to toss her sword away from her before using a similar wall to hit her in the chin and make her fly backward onto the ground. She groans and rolls to her side amidst the worried chattering of her goons.

Not wasting any time, you use all the adrenaline in your system to run up to her and kick her in the chest, planting your boot on her throat. Panting, you point your staff at her face, which is crusted in dirt, and you see her eyes flicker through the haze and look at you with rage. She struggles and you press upon her windpipe before growling, “You have lost this fight, stop now and I might be convinced to spare your life.”

Another rage fires in her eyes but it quickly fades as a spark of reason flashes and the energy in her body seems to vanish. She lets out a choked gasp and slumps down, shivering from the blast of cold. You watch her for a moment longer before looking up at the men all around you, seeing if they would avenge their leader. They make no move, but they also don’t take their hands off their weapons. Instead, they watch their leader as she shudders, waiting for her order.

“Tell them to release the girl.”

“Y-you… you’re n-not a Sorcerer.”

“No, I’m a Wizard.”

“Y-you t-tricked me.”

“And I thought Ice would put you down, but here we are.” You frown and repeat, “Tell them to LET HER GO.”

She croaks out the order and the goons look between each other before laying Sophie’s unconcious form down next to you. Sighing, you pull away from the prone Lizardman and check on Sophie to find her healthy, if asleep. You breath out in relief before turning to the slaver and saying, “I should kill you.”

“It is your right, I suppose.”

“You’re a slaver, the worst kind of scum.”

“A life I fell into.”

“Don’t give me that shit.” You say, venom in your voice. “You could have done anything with that skill of yours, been anything, and you decided to take away people’s lives, displace them from everything they know and make them pawns of others. Do you know what that’s that like? What it’s like to those who’ve had the ones they love taken from them?!”

She chuckles, “I’m a Lizardman, one of the desert, true, but I once lived in Blackfire Reach.”

You grit your teeth at her words. Of course she’d have to bring up Blackfire Reach, why wouldn’t she? The ancestral home of the Lizardman tribes, stolen within recent memory by the Danuki and their pawn, the Wurm Queen. Clearly, Bahiti is older than you thought.

“Your silence means you know the truth. Hah, of course you would.” She coughs and then groans.

“You’re not that hurt.” You say, standing up and look down at her with a frown. “I have no sympathy for you. You should have gone and found yourself a husband instead of taking this life.”

“Rules are rules.” She says, shaking her head. “Slavery isn’t a sin in Ectria, it’s a way of life. Just as a Lizardman must find a husband from the one who defeats them in a duel.”

“I’m not marrying you.” You say with finality. “Now get up, call off your goons, and get out of here.”

She chuckles and rolls over before picking herself up onto her knees. “Doesn’t work that way. You know, there are few Spellblades within the Lizardmen tribes anymore, I bet having a child from a Wizard would give one.”

The goons around her ready their weapons, anticipating the order to seize you and you sigh, building a [Pebble Gun] into your hand. You level the rock at her head, right between her eyes and say, “Don’t you dare. Even if I could find it to love anyone, it would never, EVER, be a slaver. You’ll have to change your ways to even think about having a chance with me.”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head.”No, there’s no going back for me. Besides, killing me won’t bring them back.”

You pause, body going rigid. She chuckles before throwing her head back into laughter which subsides after a long while into a grin upon her face. Her eyes twinkle as she says, “I know that look in your eye, the tone of your voice. When did it happen?”

“Shut up.” You growl, spinning the rock faster. “Shut up and leave this place now.”

“Young I bet. Was it your Father? No… your Mother?”

“I said, SHUT UP.”

“Ha, what are you going to do? Kill me in front of my men? That innocent looking girl over there?”

You hear Sylphie gasp from behind the goons having made way for her to see. Moving your head to see her out of your peripheral vision before turning back to Bahiti and hissing, “Try me.”

“You won’t do it.” She staggers to one knee, holding a hand out toward you, “Now then, let’s talk about our future-“

The rock pierces her skull with enough force that it penetrates out the other side.

Her smiling face stares at you, frozen in time as blood dribbled down from the ruined hole in her head. With a sigh of air releasing from her lungs, she slumps and then collapses onto the ground, dead.

The goons and Sylphie stand next to you in shock as you breathe heavily, the strains of the events you just went through finally getting to you. You sink to a knee as the weight of your magic pushes down upon you and you hear the men and women talk between themselves in shocked tones which quickly turn angry. You hear weapons drawn and angered cries, to which you turn your head to Sylphie, your tired eyes locking onto hers.

She backs away, eyes wide, furred hand over her mouth with a look of horror. Well… if you managed anything today, it was ridding the world of a slaver and breaking a young girl out of her naiveté. At least you did something before you die. Summoning the last of your magic, you prepare to create a tremor when a voice pierces the night like a sword through butter.

“Stop!”

The goons look about in confusion as, in a rush of wings, Ebe lands in the circle. Before you can say anything, she wraps a wing about you and looks at the men with a determined look on her face. Blinking in confusion, you notice the way she bites her lip as she surveys the situation. Her eyes flick to you and she asks, “Are you alright?”

“Better than Bahiti.” She looks over at the dead Lizardman and pales before gulping.

“Y…you did what you had to, right?”

“I did what I personally had to.”

“I… see.” She looks troubled for a moment before taking in a deep breath and looking at the assembled goons. They look royally pissed at the whole scene and with their compsure regained, they press in. Ebe takes a deep breath and says, “Cover your ears.”

You fumble to do so as she stamps a foot to the ground next you and thrusts her hip to the side, cymbals clacking. A dull sound of singing fills your ears and you feel a warmth build within you at, dulled somehow. The men all around you stagger, their movements unsure as Ebe’s movements become rhytmic, sensous. You make the mistake of looking at her and become transfixed by the way she moves her hips and sings, radiating in the night like a beacon of beauty.

Weapons slip from the hands of the goons as tears fill their eyes. Their breathing becomes shallow and they look to each other, men’s eyes finding those of women, and they press into each other as the music and her motions fill them with lust. Tearing each other’s clothes off, they fall into their lusts, clearly not expecting Ebe to use her dancing upon them.

Dimly, you notice Sylphie crouching, back turned to the scene, hands over her ears while Mr. Ed stands before her, blocking her from the scene. The dance lasts for maybe a minute, but that’s all the time it needs. When she finishes the final thrust of her hips and closes her mouth, the attackers are too busy making love to fight. Except one guy who couldn’t find a partner and is furiously masturbating in the corner, but he can be ignored.

With trembling hands, you uncover your ears and look over to Ebe who surveys the scene, a sad smile on her face. She turns to you and helps you to your feet, saying, “They’ll be out of it for awhile I think. Probably be too exhausted to chase after anyone. I think we can rest for now.”

“Why…” You mumble.

“Hmm?”

“Why are you helping us?”

She cocks her head and then blushes. “Because I could tell by your hand that you’re not a bad guy. Just a little rough around the edges.”

As she lets you go and stoops to help up Sophie, you look at the scene around you with a dull expression and then chuckle. Not the bad guy, huh?

———————————–

You have no choice but to spend the night in the inn. The sounds of people fornicating outside barely phase you, as you’re able to fall asleep with little trouble after you make sure Sophie is fine. She has little external injuries, so you save the health potions and look after Sylphie, who chooses to stay in a different room from the rest of you. When you try to protest, she just grabs Erwin and stalks off, slamming a door down the hallway.

Despite knowing there’s a Monster there who seemed perfectly willing to jump your junk beforehand, you pass out on the bed, too tired to formulate anything coherent beyond a slurred, “No.”

When you wake up, you do so with sluggishness and look about the room to see the morning sun hitting your face. Grunting, you push out of bed to see Sophie sitting on the bed next to you, hands in her lap. She looks up as you rise and she gives a weak smile.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

The two of you look away, both feeling embarrassed for some reason. Eventually, she sighs and says, “Sorry, I thought I could take her but… She was too strong for me.”

“It’s fine.” You say, stretching. Damn back STILL hurts, fuck. “I took care of it.”

“Did you?”

“Between the eyes.”

Sophie grits her teeth and then nods her head. “I understand. Did…?”

“She saw everything.”

The Cat o’Ninetails goes quiet for a moment, pressing her palms firmly with her thumbs. She takes a deep breath, but you cut her off to say, “She needed to see it sooner or later. We’re not dealing with a pacifists here, and I think things are going to get far, far more dangerous as time goes on.”

“If your sister isn’t prepared to kill, if YOU aren’t prepared to kill, then things could end up a lot worse than they did last night.”

Sophie nods her head slowly and says, “How did it end up?”

You shrug and point toward Ebe, who is sleeping with her guitar on the other side of the room. “Guess I give good headpats.”

Sophie blinks a few times before furrowing her brow and looking down, contemplating what that means. Sighing, you stand up and walk over to her before placing your hand on her head. She tenses up at the touch but as you stroke her head, you can feel her tensions melt away. She lets out a contented sigh and you hear something else, something akin to a purr before you pull away your hand, the lingering feeling of her oily hair clinging to your fingers.

Her eyes flutter open and she blinks a few times before blushing and saying, “O-oh. I… I see.” She fidgets on the bed and then looks outside before standing up quickly and saying, “I should go get Sylphie. Where-?”

“Down the hall.” She dashes out, and in doing so, awakens Ebe, who jumps up with a start.

“Huh? What?” She cradles the guitar in the arms and then notices you, exhaling deep before saying, “Twins, I thought you were them again.”

“No, not quite.” You say, gathering your things. “Thanks for the help last night.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble, I think things would have gone south soon anyway, haha…” Her laugher sounds hollow though, and you frown at her as she plays with her guitar before sighing. “What am I going to do now?”

“You came out here with them, right? What was your plan?”

“I told you, find a Husband, settle down here where it’s cooler, I don’t know.” She rubs at her head. “But now that’s all ruined…”

“You could stay here you know, or fly to one of the nearby cities. I’m sure with a body like yours, someone will want you.”

You expect her to blush, but she merely waves a wing. “No, no. I don’t think the people here will be too happy when they find out I traveled with slavers and traveling alone is…is scary.” She sniffs, “I should just go home.”

Awww geez. Rubbing at the back of your head, you look at your staff and then the sun outside. You really can’t afford to spend much more time on these diversions, or Chaika is going to find you. But you kind of feel bad for the lust devil, and she DID help you. She’s a Monster, but with Sophie and Sylphie nearby, you’re pretty sure you can keep her from doing anything naughty. Besides, her talents might be useful later on…

“Well… we happen to be traveling to Borne and then into Ectria.” You say, coughing into your hand. “If you wanted to come along… that probably wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

She blinks a few times before her eyes go wide. “REALLY?” She says, making to hug you, but you step aside and dodge her.

“I have some rules you have to follow though.”

“Oh.” She says, laying down on the floor. “Poo.”

———————————————————–

An hour later, your group heads outside. Sophie accepts Ebe into the group though Sylphie seems quiet and mounts Mr. Ed as soon as you reach the outside. She trots him away and Sophie advises you to give her some space. Having eaten from the Inn’s stores, you find outside that some of the townsfolk have awoken in a stupor.

 Some have goofy grins on their faces, someone are in afterglow after the events of the evening. All of them look exhausted though, too exhausted to fight you in any capacity, but the ones who seem lucid enough are embassed as all hells, though they don’t stray from their partners too far. Asking about any mana potions, the villagers seem confused as to what that might be until you reach a Monster, a young Kobold, who says she has some due to her “latent magical powers.”

“Of course, you could just use some of the fresh material around here, it’s got to be far more potent than those potions.” She says, not at all embarrassed at her nudity. “Can’t have any from between my legs though, that’s mine now.”

You don’t even grace that with a response, and instead find the vials in her discarded dress. Why she had them in her dress, you have no idea, but it saves you a lot of time and annoyance. Staring at the little vials, you sigh and tuck them away to give to Sylphie, annoyed that you even had to take this little venture. With a little warning to a few more lucid men about the slaver guards, who seem equally as exhausted, you depart, not wanting any part of what comes after. At least you told them to be vigilant in the face of any further… incursions.

Sophie fills Ebe in on your journey, especially after the Gandharva questions about their tails and gushes about how pretty the twins are. The Cat o’Ninetails makes her swear not to tell anyone, and she promises on her Mother’s life that she won’t. You wonder how well that will stick.

Heading back to the main road, you make decent time in an uneventful day before settling down for camp near a small stream. After setting up the wards and making a standard meal, your group rests before deciding on watches. With a fourth person present, you can have a better rotation schedule, so figuring that out needs to be addressed.

As Sophie thinks about it in her head, you glance over to Sylphie, who has been uncharacteristically quiet the whole day. She barely made a sound at lunch or dinner and took the mana potions from you without looking at you. Erwin doesn’t know or won’t say anything to you about her situation, but advises that you give her some space.

————————————————

The watch is decided with you taking first watch, Ebe taking second, and Sophie taking the third watch. Being that Sylphie wasn’t present, it wasn’t a major concern that she was decided to take the evening off. Both you and Sophie agree it’s a better idea let her rest this evening, even if it means allowing your night safety to a new and unusual member.

“Man, I wanted first watch.” Ebe says as the evening meal is cleaned up. “I’m not really all that tired.”

“Didn’t you have watches in that caravan?”

“Sure, but those mercenaries were used to it and it was easy to spread the work around. Bahiti and Je’lu got plenty of sleep all the time and so I did I as we came into Deleor.”

“Speaking of which.” Sophie asks, cocking her head. “What did they do with that Vulture anyway?”

“I think I saw someone dragging her away for some medical help this morning.” Ebe says, tapping her chin. “I kind of forgot about her, she’s always been quiet and brooding. Never really spoke much, but I think she and Bahiti were friends.”

“Friends that fell into slavers huh?” You say, a little bite in your voice.

The Gandharva sighs and leans back, using her wings hold her steady, having the side effect of highlighting the curves of her torso. Sophie frowns over from the corner and mumbles something to herself while looking at her outfit and you just roll your eyes.

“Ectria… is different than Deleor.”

“Uhm.”

She chuckles and shakes her head. “Yes, I know it’s obvious but since being here for such a short time, I can tell that it is very much so. Everyone here seems far more relaxed, living easier lives. It reminds me of the cities, few though they are in Ectria, but everyone enjoys it.”

“I can’t imagine living in a desert is very comfortable.” Sophie says, nodding.

“Well, for having grown up in a small, desert village, it is as comfortable as you make it. The heat can be tough, but I don’t know how all of you stand this cold.” She shudders.

“Put some more clothes on then?” You say, cocking your head.

“But… but then I can’t show myself off!” She says, shocked. When you give her a flat stare she chuckles, “I can see you’re not interested… yet.”

“Rules.”

“Fine.” She sniffs before smirking. “So yes, Ectria. For most of us, life is harder as farming is hard in most of the wastes, especially near the Chasm, where things don’t grow very well. For our village, we did some farming, but mostly hunting of desert creatures.”

“Most people are not wealthy, but some are VERY wealthy.” She says, a soft smile on her face. “The dream of most children, human and Monster, is to eventually make way to the Kingdom of Setet and be able to live there. Most people in that setting are merchants who have found one way or another make coin.”

“Usually by trading with Deleor or the Monster Nation.” Sophie says, nodding her head. “Ectrian wares are popular among the nobility and various rare metals are mined there. Port Dorning and Borne are excellent trading posts because of this.”

“Yes, well, those aren’t the only commodities.” Ebe looks up, her voice becoming melancholy. “Slaves are another way to gain fortune.”

Most people would ask, “How could Deleor work with such a nation!” but you and Sophie both understand the politics of such things. Until only recently, the Monster Nation essentially dealt in slaves and infrequent raids for men still occur in the territory around Galmathoria. When one country needs a resource they cannot obtain, or is in popular favor… well, they’ll ignore certain things up to a point.

“But.” Sophie asks, raising one of her tails along with a finger. “Why are slavers appearing in Deleor?”

“I honestly didn’t know they were slavers.” Ebe says, frowning. “But I’d heard people talking about a decree the Prophet made, that Deleor was open and accommodating now. That we’d be welcome.” She shrugs. “It was certainly true enough as we made our way in through the Mountain Pass and then into Borne. No one really batted an eye when he came through.”

You frown, “The border army didn’t stop you?”

“No, Bahiti spoke with one of their captains for abit and when she came back we were good to go. There’s been so many Ectrians coming in recently that they have their hands full.”

“This… Prophet.” You say, frowning. “I know that Ectria has been ruled by Pharaohs for a very long time. They’re a sort of Monster, right? It’s been a similar line for millennia, right?”

“Ehm…” Ebe says, cocking her head. “I know all the Pharaohs really look alike, but I don’t know much else. The Prophet is has ruled longer than I’ve been alive so.” She shrugs.

“Are they all called Prophet?”

“No.” Sophie says, frowning. “The Pharaohs don’t leave the Kingdom of Setet for any reason, however they do keep in contact with the Monster Nation because of obvious reasons. It is an odd place where the people and Monsters have always seemed to live in a sort of harmony.”

“The most we know about the Pharaohs comes from the fourth Monster Lady, who was an Anubis from Ectria that managed to work her way into the hierarchy of the Monster Nation.” She chuckles. “Of course, her running away with a Hero didn’t make Ectria and the Monster Nation see eye to eye very well. It did, however, open up more trade between Ectria and Deleor.”

Nodding your head in a sage-like fashion, you say, “True, around that time is when there was a boom in the economy until the Harpy-Queen came into power and Gregory the Great stopped her.”

“Woah.” Ebe says, looking surprised. “That’s pretty cool! I hadn’t heard of this Anubis leader of yours! The Monster Nation, what’s it like?”

“Cold, mostly.” Sophie says with a flat face.”Mother took us there once, to visit her actual castle as well as the ancient site where our race used to live.” She goes quiet for a moment before sighing.

“I apologize, that was a little unwarranted.”

“It’s alright.” Ebe says, sitting up  and reaching a wing out toward Sophie, touching her with her feathers. “We Gandharva aren’t many in number either.”

When both of you give her an odd look, she closes her eyes and says, “As you can see, we are quite excellent dancers, it’s in our blood. Our dancing and music can bring people to heights of joy, or to depths of sorrow. It’s just… natural I guess.” She shrugs. “Because of this though, we’ve been favorites of the Pharoahs, and many of our kind are hired by rich merchants for entertainment.”

“Sounds ‘hired’ means kidnapped.”

She grimaces. “I… I don’t know. Either way, my Mother and I were the only two in the village, and she taught me everything I know about how to dance and sing. Many of the boys in the village were enraptured by me, but I wanted to see more of the world! My Mother told me not to, however, as she was afraid I’d get hurt.”

“I uhm… might have left home without telling her.” She pulls her wings back before her and says, “I hope she’s alright.”

“You’ve lasted this long.” You say, nodding your head. “Do you know what kind of magic you’re using when you dance? It’s very interesting to see that people can be influenced like that since mental magic is hard to do.”

She blinks three times and cocks her head. “What?”

“You know, with your guitar and your dancing, you’re releasing magic.”

“Uhm.” She furrows her brow. “I don’t think so? I just dance and sing and people like it. A lot.”

You blink a few times yourself, “You have no idea what you’re doing?”

“I know what I’m doing!” She says, puffing her cheeks. “Dancing and singing is very powerful and reaches people on a spiritual level!”

Sophie stands and claps her hands. “Alright, alright, that’s enough for now.” She stretches and then yawns. “Come on, let’s get to bed before our watches. We have a lot of traveling to do.”

“Okay then.” Ebe says, standing up to follow her. You hold out a hand ask say,

“Wait a second.” She blinks a few times and then puts a coy smile on her face.

“Ohhh? Is that so?”

“Yes. I need to know something.”

“Well, I like berries and walks under the moonlight…”

“What? No, look.” You say, shaking your head. “I wanted to know what you meant when you woke up this morning.”

“Uhhhh.” She says, thinking it over. “Oh, that. I just… got used to seeing Bahiti and them when I woke up, everything just sort of… came together and I jumped some.” She chuckles and rubs the back of her head. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” You say, nodding your head. “One last thing, what do you mean by, ‘The Twins?'”

She looks at you in confusion. “Phallia and Dollora, the Goddesses?”

“Just those too? Not Sveth? Not Solos?”

She chuckles that rich sound again. “Oh dear, no. We know and respect all the Gods, but the twins are the patrons of Ectria. They are both two sides of the same coin, and where one thrives, the other wilts, keeping a balance.”

“Dollora isn’t a Goddess of darkness to you? She isn’t the embodiment of evil?”

“The night is dark, and it’s not evil.” She says with a certain sort of finality. You can’t formulate a reasonable answer and instead sink into thought over the statement. She shakes her tail feathers and then hops over to the tent to go to sleep. They got her a bedroll from the village, but there’s plenty of room in the tent for sleep. You could even go in there if you want to. (You don’t want to).

Sighing, you sit down and look about for Erwin, finding his presence nearby, but not in the tent. You send to him to get his attention and he pokes his head from around a little rock-cropping and sends back, {What?}

{I just want… to talk.}

{Sounds heavy.} He sends, walking up and hopping into your lap. {You’ll have to pet me to get any answers though.}

You groan and then go over yesterday’s events with him, gently stroking his back as you do so. He gives little acknowledgements here and there, and by the time you finish speaking, he looks up at you and says,

{Man, who would have thought traveling would be so rough.}

{You, if I recall}

{Yessire, I did.} He sends, giving you a smug smile. {Still, this whole killing thing. Think it’s eating her up inside?}

{Sylphie is a gentle soul.} You say, sighing. {She reminds me a little of her, you know?}

{No, I never met her.} He thinks about it. {Sorry.}

{It’s fine. It’s fine. That’s the past, it’s just…}

{When there’s a slaver in your face, how is it hard to stop yourself?}

Hanging your head, you shake it and then send, {I do what I have to.}

{I don’t think you had to bury that Anubis in a frozen pit.}

{I… I know.} You send, putting your hands together. {I know, I know, I know. But… but at least it helped Sophie grow accustomed to such things.}

{It was your first time too, no?}

Your silence makes him clack his tongue. {I see. Was that a similar reason for why you did that with the Lizardman?}

{Maybe. At least I can say I gave her a chance to leave, a chance to live. She had to have seen that.}

Erwin looks to the tent and then shakes his head. {I wouldn’t push the issue.}

“I won’t” You say out loud, ending the conversation. He nods his head and stretches before heading into the tent, presumably to snuggle with someone. A moment later, you feel a spike of panic before a contentment from Erwin. He sends a mental image of Ebe’s breasts and you groan.

The campfire crackles as she small stream nearby flows with a quiet rhythm. Looking up at the moon shows that there’s plenty of time left on your watch, and you stretch before searching for something to do. Your mind drifts to the fight with the Lizardman and you find yourself rethinking your thoughts about her sword.

Metal… What really is metal? When you think about it, metal refined ore, found in the earth. Certainly impurities are removed in the process, but it all comes from the ground, laid there by Sveth when the world began. Certainly you have moved trace amounts of metals through your geomancy whenever you do your magic, but you can’t move actual metal products. Why is that?

Because it’s too far removed from the earth. Your magic is focused on the ground, so in order to make it work on metal… you have to focus the metal and it’s connection to earth. If you think of it as a separate entity, you’ll never succeed, but if you think of it as a part of the earth…

Frowning, you look around the area to find a patch of rocking ground. There has to be something in there. You touch the ground and send your magic into it, feeling the earth. Power flows through the rocks and you feel the familiar stability of the earth. It is an all encompassing strength, a homogenous whole that you can wrap about, break up, do whatever you like.

But it’s all the same.

That is…until you dig deeper. Spreading your power out into thin tendrils, you begin to find the differences in the composition of the earth. Dirt, rocks, so many other things present in the earth. As you wash over it all, you feel something different, harder than before. Condensing your power into that spot, you snag it and then part the earth around it, drawing it forth until a ball of greenish ore appears before you.

Copper, you just managed to unearth a handful of raw copper. Looking it over, you find the metal is cool to the touch and coated with the dirt about it. Feeding power into it again, you get a sense for the signature of the metal, and place it back into the dirt, burying it deep. Tapping your arm, you let go of your magic, and then search for it again, finding it readily. Looking around, you find some more copper and pull that together before taking it all out.

>You learn [Survey]

>Pressing your magic into the ground, you can get a feel for the composition of the earth around you.

Digging into your coat, you pull out a copper coin and then feed power into it, feeling it react slightly. Frowning, you press onto the raw copper, feeling it shift and move under your power. Well, as you suspected, the metals when more pure are harder to manipulate, but it’s a start.

>You learn [Metallurgy]

>You can manipulate metals!

>You learn <Copper manipulation: unpolished>

>You can manipulate raw copper fairly easily, but struggle with purified copper. Can sense copper in a small radius around you.

Well, if you ever want to be a thief, you have something to work with. You doubt you’ll be able to do much against iron or, Gods forbid, steel, at the moment, but maybe if you find some raw iron you can start from there. Hells, if you can get some raw gold, you might be able to manipulate that also!

Of course, one of the only places to get raw gold is Blackfire Reach, so that’s probably not going to happen. Iron though… while not in this campsite, you can probably find it easy enough sooner or later. Feeling pretty good about all of this, you stretch again and then look over to see Sylphie opening standing outside the tent.

“Oh.” You say, looking at her.

“Oh.” She says, looking tired.

The two of you sit there in awkward silence for a long while before you say, “Did you listen in on our conversation again?”

She doesn’t answer, and instead looks off to the ball of copper in your hand. Her brow furrows and she says, “Are you going to fire that into someone’s head?”

“Maybe.” You say truthfully. “Would be effective I suspect.”

“There was no other way to do it, huh?”

“Nothing as painless as that was. Dying from fire though? That’s painful.”

She frowns, “Are you saying I killed some people?”

“I know you did.”

Her teeth grit together, but you hold up your hand and say, “Sit down first.” She looks taken aback for a moment before frowning and then walking up to sit next to you. Placing her hands together, she looks at you, expecting you to say something further. When you don’t, she says,

“I don’t want to be a murderer.”

“You don’t have to be one.”

“You want me to become fine with death! I know my magic is powerful and it can be used to end lives but I don’t want to do that!”

“What if they were going to kill you?” She stays quiet as you ask this, and you frown, saying with more force, “What if those men and women reached you to you and decided to kill either you or your sister? What would you do? What if they came to kill me and the only way to help was to kill them? Would you do it?”

She bites her lip. You narrow your eyes and say, “What if we reach your Father and you had to kill someone to save him? Would you do it?”

“I… I…” She says, her hands shaking. Your eyes burn into her with a deep intensity and she says, “Yes…”

“Then why are you in such a slump? It’s not easy to see someone die, nor to do it yourself, but it’s kill or be killed. I’m sorry I’m being hard on you, but if I can’t count on you to have my back, how can I trust you in a battle? How can your sister truly trust you?”

Tears form at the corners of her eyes and she whispers, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

You shake your head and stand, figuring she at least deserves something for being brave enough to talk about it. Walking over to her, you gently place your hand on her head and pat her head.

She goes stiff at first and then melts under your touch, sobbing still, but with less intensity as your fingers massage her head. Her hair curls around your fingers, less well-kept than her sister’s and you feel some extra drag as you move, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Eventually, you sigh and remove your hand to see her sniffling.

“Wh…what was that for?”

“For having the presence of mind to take no enjoyment in killing.”

“T…thanks.” She says, rubbing at her eyes. “That Da-” She stops suddenly and her eyes go wide. You cock your head, not certain as to what she said before she stands suddenly and says, “I should go back to bed. Thanks.” Before you can say anything else, she dashes into the tent, startling Erwin.

“I… see.” You say, shaking your head. You don’t actually see anything.

————————————————-

When your watch finishes, you wake Ebe up and though she’s sleepy, she gets up easy enough. Finding nothing wrong, you head to bed, but as you try to sleep, you hear the sound of chains jingling and you turn to find her dancing, practicing her steps. With a groan, you tell her to keep it down, and, “Practice a dance that doesn’t give people boners.”

“I don’t know any that don’t do that.”

“Then imagine one that fills people with confidence or something. You said it’s about emotions, right?”

She thinks about it as she takes off the tinkling jewelry and you go to bed instead of watching further. When you wake up, you find Sophie has prepared breakfast and all of you have a good meal, though Sylphie looks at you a little awkwardly as she drinks her fruit and semen smoothie to replenish her magic. Ebe says she’s has a dance she’s working on, but is too embarrassed to show it off at the moment.

When everything is cleared up, you break camp and head to Borne. Ebe says it took about 4 days for the wagons to reach the little town, though your group’s pace is faster than hers was. Telling her about Chaika, she occasionally takes to the sky to survey the land, though she doesn’t stay there long, complaining that, “It’s just too cold.”

As the day wears on, nothing much happens, which is fine by you. Midday you reach another signpost and see that there’s a town to the south, but without any need to visit, you just go on by. At lunchtime, Ebe shows her dancing, and while it makes you feel a little happy, you wouldn’t say it made you feel confident. She grumbles and thinks it over as you walk before flying up in the air. When she returns, she says the roads are clear, though she can’t see into the forests.

Which brings you to your current situation. As the late afternoon comes, you have another hour or two of travel but find yourself stopping and viewing an overturned wagon. On the ground all around are broken and dented metal crates, with some blood about, but no bodies or the horses which have been pulling the wagons. Ebe knows nothing about the wagon, and it’s too large for Mr. Ed to pull on his own.

“What could have done this?” Sylphie says, looking at a crate, one of them torn open from the inside. “I kind of have a bad feeling about this.”

“I think we should keep going.” Sophie says, frowning at the crates. “I don’t think this is really our business, but I am curious as to what may have done this.”

Frowning, you rub at your chin and then look to the forest nearby. There’s tracks leading there, nothing definitive, but there are signs of things being dragged away. You really don’t have any business with this but… it is tempting. Still, is it worth the loss of time to go chasing after this?

>What do you do?

 

 

>Story Continue

“We should keep going.” You say, pulling yourself away from the wreckage. The others look at you with a little surprise but they don’t question it. Except for Erwin, he questions it.

{Really now? You’ve been soooo excited to hunt down slavers before, what’s different now?}

{We lost a lot of time you smart-ass.} Shaking your head, you point to the cart. {Besides, whoever is running the cart is gone, if someone or something got out of their cart and dragged them into the forest, it’s not really our business.}

{Oh, fine.} He walks past the crate and sniffs it before frowning. {Odd, there’s no smell coming from this crate.}

 {What do you mean, no smell?}

{Nothing, just a metallic tang. Something had to have been in there though… explosives? No, I’d smell something else in that case…}

You shrug, {You can investigate if you want.}

{Hmmm.} Erwin sends, looking at the trail.{Maybe a little bit. I’ll catch up at camp.}

“Happy trails!” Sylphie sends, and you both turn to her with frowns. She claps hands over her mouth and flushes before turning about and mounting Mr. Ed again. Erwin shares a glance with you before you both roll your eyes and he runs off into the trees, following the trail. The… happy trail.

“Sylphie…” You say, and she continues to look away, whistling. Sighing, you signal to the others to keep moving, despite Sophie and Ebe’s snickering. Mr. Ed seems bored and unfazed, but swishes his tail and continues walking down the path toward Borne.

As you walk, Erwin sends he occassional update, informing you about how the trail goes on for white some time. It’s maybe twenty minutes before he finds the first corpse, a man thrown up into a tree, his body draped over the branches. There’s no sign as to what did this however, as more dragging marks in the ground covers the tracks. This… whatever it is must be very strong.

Deciding to keep this to yourself, you merely walk with the others as Ebe talks with Sophie about dancing and life in Ectria. At one point you see Sophie swaying her hips while Ebe clacks and shakes her head, apparently not liking what she sees. This has the effect of making Sophie pout, which oddly enough seems cuter on her than Sylphie. How odd that.

Maybe ten minutes after the first report, another comes. Three corpses, this time two men and a human woman, piled together in the middle of a glade, the afternoon sun shining down on their forms. While they’re all dressed in mercenary fatigues and light armor, you look through Erwin’s eyes to see holes in their chest where their hearts used to be.

{I don’t like this at all.} Erwin sends, his voice growing faint due to the connection distance. {I can’t get a scent on whatever did this, but the smell of blood and human excrement is palpable. I can follow the trail further but…}

{No, come back.} You say, looking up at the sky. If he was gone much longer he’d be back too late. {Whatever it is has killed only the slavers and is heading away from us. I think we’re fine for now.}

{What do you think it could be?}

{I don’t know, a Shoggoth?} You send, mainly as a joke. When no reply comes from Erwin, you send again, {It’s a joke.}

{I hope so. I’m heading back}

You frown but merely continue forward. Sylphie asks about your little staring session, but she understands when you say Erwin is coming back. When they ask what he saw, you just say, “Nothing we need to worry about.”

And so, nightfall comes and you head a little bit farther down the path, making up some time before camping outside amidst the open sky. Sophie cooks a wonderful meal while Ebe dances for your group. While you feel SOMETHING, you’re not certain it’s confidence. When she shifts her hips and you feel your pants start to get tight, you quickly send a [Tremor] through the earth and she yelps, hopping on her feet in time with the quakes, somehow using it to dance. Eventually she just smiles and you have to let the magic go, grumbling as she shakes her tailfeathers at you in mocking.

“Fiiiiine.” She says, chuckling before plopping down on the ground. “If you won’t appreciate my dancing, then how about a song?”

“I’m going to make a pit under you if you sing anything sexual.”

“You really don’t understand Monster cultures, do you?” She says, quirking an eyebrow. “Still, I think I have something here that might suffice.”

Pulling out her guitar, she takes a deep breath and strums the instrument with her wing. A gentle music washes out from it, making your skin tingle as she begins to sing.

“Sun above and moon below

The heavenly dance, will never slow.

Up and down they trade their place,

One shines so bright while the other glows.

The blazing heat, the chilling cold

A balance we will always know.

Hand in hand the world they view

These Twins in heaven look at you

Smiling down upon the land

The give their blessing by their hand.

A cycle that will never end

Unless by the hand of men.

And so we sing our praise to them

A song of joy and happiness.

So as we lay our heads to sleep

The moonlight lady safe will keep

And when we rise to the sun

A smile greets everyone.”

She continues to strum the guitar for a little after this, the upbeat music pumping through your veins. With a final flourish, she lets a last note hang in the air before smiling and looking out over her audience.

Sophie and Sylphie both have their tails wagging in arcs behind them as their eyes glitter with joy from the song. You have to admit that you too feel your pulse racing from the music. She had to have cast a spell on you, there’s no way it’s just her music and voice that is doing this, no way. Even Mr. Ed looks happy!

“Your voice is soooo pretty!” Sylphie says, beaming. “I’m kind of jealous!”

“Oh, you’ll make me blush.” Ebe says, clearly in a practiced tone. She probably hears this a lot.

“Is that an Ectrian song?” Sophie asks, doing her best to get her composure back.

The Gandharva nods her head. “Yes, it is a lullaby for children.”

“Rather upbeat for a lullaby.” You say, smirking. She gives you a smirk of her own and then says,

“You have to stay upbeat in the desert I suppose. It’s a nice tune, reminds children that the Twins are always watching them.”

Frowning, you ask, “You mean Dollora and Phallia? I can see Dollora with the moon, but Phallia with the sun? Wouldn’t that be more like, Hevensferth?”

“Technically, yes, however we believe that the sun makes things grow and thus is part of her purview.” She shrugs, “Personally it’s a nice symbolism.”

“Most Monsters don’t really worship Phallia except for the Plant Monsters.” Sophie says, thinking it over. “To be honest, worship of Dollora has also declined since Monster integration. What use is a bitter Goddess when you have everything you could ever want?”

Ebe chuckles, “Oh my, bitter? Is that what you think of her? I was told Deleorians were rife with conflict, but I did not know it was so bad.”

“What do you mean?” You ask, confused. “She was cast out of the heavens after she betrayed her sister, everyone knows that.”

“Mmm, yes, that is true. The Chasm certainly is a testament to this, but to say that she is bitter is doing her an injustice!” She shakes her head. “Ectrians believe that she is more sorrowful than bitter, that she weeps for what she has lost. The Second Birth was her wish to regain some of what she lost, of course.”

“The… Second Birth?” You ask, confused.

“I believe she means the Great Transformation, when Dollora made all the Monsters into Monster….girls, I suppose.”

“I always wonder what happened to the male Monsters.” Sylphie says before looking like she bit into something distasteful. “On second thought, no, I don’t want to know.”

“Great Transformation? Hmph.” Ebe says, shaking her head. “So unpoetic… Ah, but yes it is the same thing I suppose. When the great creatures of the Deserts turned from beasts that would kill men on sight into well, us!” She chuckles as do the other two Monsters. You just roll your eyes until a thought occurs.

“In Deleor, the Monsters came together and formed the Monster Nation under the Banner of a Monster Lady, using their power to collect mates. This cycle lasted up until a few years ago, but you said that Ectria had harmony for generations?”

“Ah, yes.” Ebe says, nodding her head. “When the Second Birth happened, originally there was panic and chaos, especially in the nomadic tribes of the waste. The large cities around the oasis were refuge and havens for people running from the creatures. At that time the ruler, the Sultan Amon’duwa, wished to destroy this new threat. His wife, however, did not agree.”

“This was only settled when she left the palace with an escort of her handmaidens out to a holy site of worship to beseech the blessings of the Gods. She was missing for ten days, during which time her husband had formed an army to slay the Monsters and retrieve her. Before he could send them forth, the Monsters backed down as a figure emerged from the dunes, wrapped in ritual bandages and flanked by dog-like Monsters.”

“It was the Sultan’s wife, who had beseeched the aid of the Gods. It isn’t known exactly what had transpired, but when she returned, she did so as a Monster, her handmaidens having become the first Anubis. Her husband was suspicious, but she was able to convince him that the Monsters were no actual threat, but merely an aspect of the Goddess. By extending a hand to them, they came to understand the changes that had occurred, as well as their new urges. I dare say that men found them quite appealing as well.”

Your hands clasped together, you say in a slow voice, “What about the problem with Monster girls not being able to have male children?”

Sophie and Sylphie tense up at this question, clearly something they’ve also thought about. Ebe merely waves her wing and says, “There truly aren’t many Monsters in the desert. Even though some of us live well with humans, most are rather tribal in their own right, and respond only to force.” She sighs. “And in the cities, we are sometimes treated as just exotic women and thus a Minotaur may be as much cattle as a cow.”

“That’s… well.” Sophie says, looking uncomfortable. “It seems we all have problems in our lands. But in time, problems will be overcome.”

“Right.” You say, standing up and stretching as you feel Erwin’s presence approach. Walking over, you de-activate the wards for your tired little friend who promptly walks past you, over to the food bowl waiting for him, and then goes to town, sending you thoughts about how good it tastes. One of these days Erwin, one of these days… zip, bang, zoom!

Shaking your head, you decide with the others a watch schedule. Ebe will take first watch, you the second watch, and Sylphie the third watch. Sophie tries to get Sylphie to reconsider but her sister adamantly states that “I need to do some of the work!” Sophie mumbles about having to get up early anyway to make breakfast but goes for a full night’s sleep regardless.

Feeling your aches from the day, you snuggle into your bedroll and are promptly awoken by Ebe who says something about it being your turn. Feeling like you’ve been had, you nonetheless get up and go to work practicing your [Metallurgy].

You get a better feel for copper, and can even manipulate the copper coins to a varying degree. For fun, you launch one as a projectile and while it’s not really easy to control, it does land in a tree trunk with a solid, “Thunk.” Might be useful in situations where rocks aren’t present…

>Your <Copper manipulation> increases to <adept>

>Small copper objects can be manipulated. Probably fine since it’s mostly used for coinage.

Feeling a little better in that regard, you then spend time practicing your [Pebble Gun]. While you’re able to make progress in getting the spell stabilized, you’re unable to get it as straight as you want. With growing frustration, you fire a small, round pebble and it flies far straighter than before. Confused, you take another rock of a similar shape and fire it, also getting similar results.

You rub your chin and grab another rock, this time with a more jagged shape and then use your magic to break bits and pieces of it off, smoothing it into a sphere. Using [Pebble Gun], you fire it forward and barely miss your intended target, an X drawn on the tree. It thunks into the wood maybe an inch to the side, but it’s a major improvement over what you had before.

>Enhancement to [Pebble Gun] learned!

><Round Shot> increases accuracy of projectiles.

Feeling pretty good about yourself (and tired), you give a final [Survey] of the ground around you and find limited metals. You do find some interesting geodes however and open them up to find some quartz.

>You obtain [Quartz clusters]

>It’s pretty! That’s about it really.

“I should start a rock collection.” You say outloud. No one replies and you feel a little foolish before spending the rest of the evening on the Communion Matrix weaving about this and that. Current politics are the same as before, but you take some time to look over Ectrian legends. As it turns out, there isn’t much there and most of it seems like shitweaving. As far as you can tell, there aren’t Leylines in Ectria, so the Communion Matrix just doesn’t work there.

Oddly enough there ARE leylines in the far eastern islands, and there is naturally occurring mana crystal deposits there, so it’s a question no one has been able to answer. Not like anyone would wish to build a Leyway in the desert anyway, all that sand getting everywhere, desert brigands, no thank you!

Checking the time, you power off your device and go to wake Sylphie, who blearily gets out of bed and goes to guarding. You poke her when she drifts off and she stands up straight, blushing and muttering her apologizes before slapping her cheeks and pulling out a book. The one on Animal Emapthetics, you think. You’ll have to see about focusing her studies, you think. Later though, later.

—————————–

The next morning is uneventful, and so is most of your walking for the first few hours as the sun rises into the sky. Ebe takes wing when it gets a little warmer and flies about before zipping forward ahead of you. Looking a little concerned, the rest of your group travels faster down the road toward her as she circles the sky, then goes closer to the ground. She dips below the treeline for a minute and then comes back to you, landing with graceful motions of her wings.

“Uhm.” She says, looking a little worried as she dances from foot to foot. “Remember that wagon yesterday? There’s another just like in a clearing down the road. There’s… there’s some bodies there but they aren’t moving.

“Slavers?” You ask, growing concerned.

“I… I think so? They all had similar outfits and crates were trashed. I didn’t get a closer look, but there’s nothing there but scavengers. It must have happened last night.”

The twins give concerned looks and then look to you, but you merely shake your head. “If it’s just the slavers then we can’t really afford to feel pity for them. I guess one of their prey ended up being a predator.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Sylphie says, looking discomforted. “But if something could do damage like that, I don’t know if I want to meet it.”

“It’s not present any longer or Ebe would have seen it, and it doesn’t seem to be interested in anything else.” You say with a firm voice. “We just ignore whatever it is unless it attacks us. A dead slaver is a good slaver.”

Sophie gives you flat stare and Sylphie looks a little uncomfortable but nods her head. Ebe shrugs and says, “I should feel more pity, but slavers are not thought highly of in Ectria either. On the same level as predatory merchants. Necessary, but no one would cry over them.”

“See?” You say, shrugging. “Now then, can you see Borne yet?”

The Gandharva chuckles, “No, not yet, but I can see the mountains. They are quite beautiful on this side! I admired them for quite some time when we arrived.” She chuckles, “I kind of wanted to fly over them, but it is a long journey and quite cold. I was much better off on the wagons.”

“Very well then.” You say and make to keep moving when she raises a wing.

“Oh! I forgot! I also saw up ahead some people near this rockface to the northeast. The area seems to be a little more hilly as we get close to the mountains and they were doing something there, but I’m not certain what. There seemed to be a few carts near the road, maybe we’ll run into them?”

Great. Just great. Turns out you do end up coming across whoever this is to find three carts with a horse each driving them and a few lazy looking men sitting around. As you approach, they sit to attention, grabbing hidden swords and shout for you to stop.

Not wanting any trouble, you do and tell them you’re just travelers. A feminine chuckle comes from behind the carts as a short Monster appears, dressed in suit-like attire. You frown as you look at her fluffy calves and ringed tail before narrowing your eyes at the raccoon ears on her head. Gritting your teeth, you hiss the word, “Danuki…”

Her ears twitch and she chuckles, “Ufufufu. An admirer of our species? My, my cheeks are blushing.” They aren’t of course, and she places a hand on her hip before saying, “Sorry for the trouble, I’ve heard this area is rough lately and my guards are doing their jobs.”

“Looks like they were lounging.”

“Well, not much else to do while the others are working.”

“Others?” You ask, look at her with suspicion.

“Ufufufu. Why such a look? I assure you this is a reputable operation. We are merely surveying the area for various minerals for a potential mining investment. Deleor needs all the raw minerals it can get with the demand for magitek, no?”

Her little hands start rubbing together and you frown deeper. Is that really all that’s going on here? Looking around, you see the hillside where the men are working around a spot and you say, “What exactly are you searching for?”

“Ah-ah-ah!” She says, waving a finger. “I can’t go telling you that! This area is unclaimed afterall, I don’t want anyone figuring things out.” Her eyes glitter as she looks you up and down. “If you’d like to talk about a potential investment opportunity in private…”

“No.”

“Ufufufu, it would have been grown good dividends for us both. Well, have a good journey and stay safe.” She turns away from you and heads back to her cart where she pulls out a chart and looks it over. Looking between your group, you continue forward until they’re out of sight before saying,

“I wonder what she’s really after.”

Sophie shrugs, “Minerals are good money, it would make sense for her to be out here, surveying that.”

“If this area was rich for mining, it would have been mined years ago.” You say, frowning. “No, this smells rotten.”

“Does it really concern us?” Sophie says, shrugging. “We’re maybe a day or two away from Borne, but if you want to mess around with Danuki schemes, be my guest.”

Ebe and Sylphie shrug, clearly not caring what you do. You furrow your brow and have a war in your head on what to do.

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