Wizardquest 3 Part 1: The Beginning of the End

Foreword: This story is unedited at this time. There may be spelling errors and the like present as it was when posted in it’s original format. As the other stories are being updated, we’ll reach this one and fix it all up. Thank you for understanding, and please enjoy the last entry in the Wizardquest Saga!

 

Chapter 1

>Tobias

Tall grass rustles gently in the early summer morning as the leyway rushes by. Despite being so large, it is both fast and quiet, emitting only a low hum which quickly fades as it speeds down the tracks toward its destination. Soon enough, the scenery returns to normal, as if it was never there.

           You sit at the window, watching the scenery rush by from within the leyway, sighing in contentment. Despite traveling on leyways quite frequently these days, you never tire of the majesty of the magitek transportation devices. Sometimes you wish you could just live on one of these, especially this Mk.III Raptor special with integrated- well, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Your wife would never allow it.

            Turning your attention away from the idyllic scene outside, you smile as you see an even more beautiful sight. Sitting comfortably in the plush seat next to is a woman of average height with short, black hair and fair skin. Her physique is slim yet athletic and she wears black clothing which hugs her body in ways which are both practical and easy on the eyes. Speaking of which, she looks up when she notices you and you can’t help but smile as you look into the one brown eye and the other red, arachnid one.

            “Oh uh, hey honey.” You say scratching your chin. “You’re doing it again.”

            “Huh? Oh, right, sorry?” She says, rubbing at the eye. It shapes like putty under her hand before coming to resemble the other one. “Better?”

            “Yeah, looks good to me.” You say, nodding your head. “How’s the little one?”

            “Sleeping, for now.” She says, smiling as she looks down at a bundle in her arms.

            A formless, black goop sits in her arms, looking nothing so much like a ball of tar. For some reason it doesn’t slide out and around the blanket it’s swaddled in however, instead jiggling softly as if breathing, but making no other movements.

          “She looks like her mother.” You say, smiling down at the form and gently running a finger over it. It shudders softly in response.

            “Oh, so I look like a ball of tar, huh?” The woman asks, raising an eyebrow.

            “Yes?”

            “How did I fall for you again, Tobias?”

              “Because of my roguish looks and silver tongue?”

               She merely rolls her eyes and you chuckle before leaning over and kissing her gently on the lips. She doesn’t resist, melting (figuratively) into the embrace until you pull back, smiling. Stretching, you lean back in your seat and ask, “So Saya, why did your father want us coming to the capital again?”

               “Not sure.” Saya says, shrugging. “I found it a little odd that he sent a paper letter via Clarissa again as opposed to sending leymail like he did after he got back a few months ago. All that was in it was a request to come into the city to speak with him.” She frowns. “I find it odd he asked that we not bring Akela though.”

                “Despite her memories, she does still like parts of Sanctifrond anyway.” You say, shrugging. “Well, we’ll have to make it up to her when we get back. She’s a big enough girl to take care of herself and Clarissa will drop by every now and then to check up on her.” A mischievous grin touches your face.

                 “I’d say we could make this into a romantic little getaway, if not for this little one.”

                 Saya sighs, looking down at the bundle again. “Well, it’s not exactly like I could leave her with anyone. No one would know how to care for her. Hells, I don’t even know how to care for her.”

                 “We’ll figure it out.” You say, putting a hand on hers. She smiles at it and then frowns as she looks back at up at you.

                  “For a man who is going to meet his in-laws, especially in-laws of such reputation, and going with a small child that will take his wife’s absolute attention, you don’t look overly bummed out.”

                “Well.” You say, realizing you’re smiling like a giddy schoolchild. “I mean, you know, your father was kind of absent from our wedding and then that business in Ectria-“

                 “You brought that book, didn’t you.”

                 “Oh come on!” You say, digging at a bag next to your seat and pulling out a beaten copy of [Wizardquest]. The massive tome has scratches on the cover and the pages are a little worn from flipping through them, but the book is in mostly fine shape. You thump the cover as you say,

                 “I’m only missing two signatures from the story. I’ve been begging to go see him for months now! Now that you’ve had the baby and he’s requested us-“

                Your wife sighs. “Honestly, I wonder if you love him more than me.”

                 “Saya, dear.” You say, putting a hand on hers. “I love you both equally.”

                 She narrows her eyes at you. “Once again, why did I marry you again?”


The leyway pulls into the station in the late afternoon, the trip from Loveura where you’d stopped last evening being fairly short. After unloading, you make your way out into sprawling city.

                Sanctifrond never ceases to amaze you. As the capital of Deleor, it is the center of culture, commerce, and technological development. All around you people travel around the leyway station in suits and dresses which are both fashionable and functional. Large, magically powered lights illuminate the area and display various establishments which are a mix of modern architecture and the solid, white and golden buildings of the past. It’s only been a few months since you’ve been to the capital, but it still surprises you how much things have changed in such a short span.

                Taking Saya’s hand, you walk through the station to a horse-drawn carriage. As the driver takes your luggage, you can’t help but notice the large, metallic constructs at the platform unloading cargo from the train. While nothing but basic hauler units with rudimentary AI’s, the humanoid constructs still make your heart race with excitement. Magitek is just the best!

                “Where ya’ headed?” the driver asks as they help load Saya up into the carriage. Breaking your gaze away from the constructs, you blink in surprise as you notice the driver is a Monster.

                Standing about the same height as you, the driver appears at first glance to be human, but with a few other features. While she has tanned skin from working in the sun all day, this terminates at her elbows and knees, where a mass of grey fur leads into canine paws on the feet and furred fingers. Atop her head sits two, canine ears and a long, bushy tail swishes from behind.

                She growls at you, revealing sharp, canine teeth, and you blink yourself back into focus. Right, right, you shouldn’t stare. You have plenty of experience with Monsters, the all-female beings which share this world with you. Hells, your wife and daughters are Monsters!

                “Sorry, Sanctifrond is always a lot to take in.” You say, rubbing at the back of your head. “Anyway, we’re headed to the Hero’s Hall.”

                The Wolf Girl cocks her head, eyeing you up and down, before shrugging and gesturing for you to enter the carriage. Sitting down next to Saya, you prepare yourself for the infinitely more bumpy ride than the leyway down Sanctifrond’s cobbled streets.

                The sights of the city change from the glitz and glam of the mercantile districts around the leyway station to a quiet, more subdued elegance as you travel further into the city. Despite the changes in technology and culture the country had rapidly adopted in the past few decades, the inner parts of Sanctifrond still radiated an ancient beauty- none more so than the Hero’s Hall.

                The Hero’s Hall is a massive structure designed as part barracks, training facility, and strategy center for the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood. Originally founded to protect humanity from Monster Invasions from the north, the Order had fallen from grace until recently, gaining great fame after the slaying of the Monster Lady Valinthia. With better relations made with the current Monster Lady and the threat of Galmathoria in the west, the Order had grown to be a pillar of justice and military might for Deleor and its people.

                A rigid sentry in blue livery with the emblem of the Order embossed onto his breastplate stands to attention as your carriage stops in front of the gate. Getting out of the wagon, you address the man with a simple,

                “Hey, how’s it going?”

                The guard looks at you with tired eyes, as if inured, yet saddened by what he expects will be a deluge of bullshit. “State your name and purpose.”

                “Oh, you know, we were asked to come. Important business and all.”

                “Like what?”

                “Well.” You say mischievous grin spreading on your lips. “It’s top secret. Only for the Lord Commander himself you see, very important stuff.”

                “Tobias, Gods damnit.” Saya says, exiting the wagon after you. “Stop harassing the man and just show him your badge.”

                Huffing, you dig into the pockets of your fine, Arachne-spun silk suit and pull out a badge with the crest of Deleor on it. The man looks at it and sighs, mumbling something about glow-the-darks before opening the gate for you.

                “Do you have to do that every time?” Saya hisses as you walk into the compound with your luggage.”

                “Honey. Please.”

                “Right, I forgot who I was talking about.”

                In the past the two of you may have attracted a few strange looks, but as society has changed, so has the Order. Monsters of all varieties train alongside humans in the practice fields, going at each other with swords and other weapons while various business people and dignitaries walk the grassy fields or through the open-air corridors. It seems a little busier to you than you last remember, but given the current aggressions from Galmathoria, this doesn’t surprise you in the least.

                You walk down white stone corridors, passing by women in the livery of the sub order of Hospitaliers before stopping at an intersection where a familiar face stands. An older gentleman with the physique of a man twenty years younger and an amazing mustache stands with a spear in hand, his light armor shining as if recently polished. He wears an emblem on his shoulder that denotes him as one of the Order’s warriors, a Hero.

                “Well, I dare say this is a pleasant surprise.” The Hero says, giving you a smile. “If it isn’t the young lord Shady and lady Saya.”

                “Sergeant- I mean, Hero Fellows!” you say, a genuine smile coming to your lips. “It’s been too long! And you can drop the lord and lady thing, we’re not nobility.”

                “I mean, I think I kind of am.” Saya says, tapping her chin with a finger. “Not really as much as my sisters, but basically. Oh and you 100% are.”

                “Nrgh. Anyway.” You say, shaking your head. “A pleasant surprise indeed. I’d like to stay and chat, but we need to be going. We have a meeting with-“

                “The Grand Wizard, yes I am quite aware.”

                You blink in surprise as the Hero cuts you off. He chuckles softly, “I believe I was selected to be your guide due to our previous encounters. I was sent to wait for you and bring you to the others when you arrived.”

                “S-so, he’s here?” You asks, voice trembling. Saya sighs and readjusts the child in her arms.

                “Lead the way, good sir.”

                Fellows leads you down the hallways lined with beautiful statuary and plant life from all over the world. A shudder runs down your spine as you see the exotic plants however, something you picked up after your adventures that lead you to meet your wife. Though you have little experience in such things, it does seem as if the plants are rather unkempt, as if the gardeners haven’t been doing their job properly in keeping them trimmed. Maybe they’ve just been busy with other tasks like the other Heroes recently.

                Fellows leads you to a large set of doors where he raps on the wood once, twice, pauses, then once again. A moment later the door shifts open a hair and the man nods, drawing it open wider for you to enter. Nodding at the man, you follow your wife into the room, the doors shutting behind you. Turning away from the doors, your eyes go wide as you behold the scene before you.

                The room is large and lavishly furnished with a massive table set in the middle. Food of all varieties sits piled on it, looking nothing so much like a banquet. Despite this, it feels more like some kind of war council room, especially with the assortment of people who look at the two of you as you enter.

                An awkward silence fills the room as you and your wife stand there, looking into the eyes of the occupants. A tense moment drags on for what seems an unreasonable amount of time before a powerful, male voice calls out, “Well shit, took you long enough.”

                “Ugh, Dad!” Saya huffs, stamping her foot on the ground. “Could you try to greet us a little nicer?”

                The man, sitting at the side of the table, stands and walks toward the two of you, a Monster sitting next to him rising as well. They both stand before you and your knees begin to grow weak in their presence.       

                The man, Saya’s father and the Grand Wizard, one of the strongest in the world and Hero who saved the world, stands a few inches taller than you, making you feel like some kind of manlet. His physique is that of a man who understand the importance of exercise and he has a medium-length, well-groomed, silver-blonde beard that goes well with his short hair of similar color. His heavy robes, which look more practical at work in a laboratory than wielding magic, are a dark black and grey that gives him an almost menacing appearance.

                At his side is a tall Monster with smooth, tanned skin. She has a lithe, incredibly alluring physique, and long, red hair. Her arms and legs, however, are covered in black fur ending in claws fingers and feline paws for feet. Red, feline ears twice atop her head while seven, long, black tails with blades at the ends writhe like serpents behind her.

                The Monster, the current Monster Lady of the Monster Nation and Saya’s mother, looks at you with imperious eyes as she purses her lips. “Hmm.” She muses. “You still look dopey as ever.”

                “T-Thanks.” You say, feeling utterly embarrassed.

                “So.” The Grand Wizard says, rubbing his chin. “You’re the asshole who knocked up by daughter while I was busy getting locked in a cell and tortured daily, wondering if I’d ever get to see her smiling face ever again, eh?”

                “U-Uh.” You stammer, not sure how to react.

                He leans in close, eyes fierce. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

                Your eyes dart back and forth, heart hammering in your chest. You’ve played a God for a fool and talked your way out of many dangerous situations, but in the face of your father-in-law, you feel like a novice Illusionist again. Gulping, you take a shaky breath and say,

                “Y-Your breath smells like stale bread pouches.”

                The Grand Wizard’s eyes go wide open in time with yours. Your heart skips a beat as the man pulls back and, taking a deep breath, he lets out a full bully laugh.

                “AHAHAHA! You’re right Selene, this guy is a faggot! But he’s a good kind of faggot!”

                “Daaaaad!” Saya sighs, shaking her head. “You’re embarrassing me again.”

                “Come now dear, you know that’s how your father shows he likes someone.” Selene says, chuckling before kneeling down to look at the bundle in Saya’s arms. “So this is my granddaughter, hmm? Gods I wish we could have come to Kasin when she was born, but things have been so busy that I can’t leave Sanctifrond.”

                “Hmm? Ahhh, so this is the little bundle of joy.” The Grand Wizard says, turning away from you before you can say a word. “Gods, she’s adorable. Can I hold her?” Saya nods, handing him the little blob gently and the man who a moment ago intimidated you looks down at your daughter with pure joy. You swear a tear comes to his eye.

                You open your mouth to say something when another pair walk up taking your attention. Standing before you is a tall man with gorgeous brown hair and a radiant smile that gives the forty-something year old man a strong, dignified air. At his side is a well-developed, motherly Wolf Girl with black hair and fur and a mischievous glint in her eye.

                “Tobias, welcome back.” The man says, nodding his head as he holds out his hand. “A pleasure to meet you again.”

                “L-Likewise.” You say, composing yourself as you take the hand of the Great Hero, Blake Boudreaux, the man who lead the journey to slay the last Monster Lady, halting her Invasion. Coughing, you nod to the Wolf Girl. “Lady Hala.”

                “I ain’t no-“ Hala says, blinking in surprise mid-curtsey. “Oh no, he has me trained like a dog to do this now.”

                “I’m very proud of you, dear.” Blake says, nodding his head. He turns to look at your in-laws as they hold your daughter. “It’s not often I see him smile like that. I’m glad he can after everything that’s going on.”

                “Speaking of which…” You say, rubbing at the back of your neck. “What exactly IS going on? Why were we called out here?”

                Blake frowns. “Well, you two were the last two to arrive, so now that you’re here, we might as well get started.” He turns to the Grand Wizard again and catches his attention.

                Selene and the Grand Wizard exchange a look before nodding and handing your daughter back to Saya before gesturing for you to take a seat. You do so, sitting next to a tall man with the silver-blonde hair of a Wizard and a close-cropped beard. His hard, green eyes look over to you for a moment before he nods and turns to speak to the Monster sitting next to him, a Lizardman with green scales and hair tied into a pony-tail.

                “Huh, that must be Tabitha’s husband.” Saya whispers to you.

Whipping your head to her, you whisper, “Wait a second, THAT’S TABITHA? Shit, I need to get my book-“

You’re interrupted as Blake taps his glass with a spoon, getting everyone’s attention. He stands at the head of the table, looking at everyone assembled- a mix of people you knew from your travels, and some you’ve never met, before turning again to the Grand Wizard. The man nods at him and you can feel something in the air shift with your magic, making your back itch.

“Right then, wards are in place.” Blake starts. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we called you out here. I’m sure you’re also wondering why we didn’t use leymail either, as it would have been far faster and more convenient. I apologize for those of you who had to come a long way, but this is important.”

The man next to you nods his head while a familiar woman with silver-blonde hair, much like that of the Wizards, says, “Must have been pretty urgent to call me back from the front-lines, Lord Commander.”

“It is, Alice.” Blake says. Your eyes go up at this. You’ve met Alice before, but since when did she have hair like that? Better question, since when did she talk with any modicum of respect?

“I’m just glad most of us were in Sanctifrond already.” A motherly woman with long, brown hair says on the other side of the table. She nods to Blake and smiles, her expression warm, yet you fully understand how powerful Veronica, the Ascendant is, especially having met her before.

“Yeah, yeah.” A metallic voice says from the side of the room. Two constructs stand there, both very feminine in construction and with impassive, neutral faceplates. The one who spoke, so to speak, has light blue plating and she raps on the shoulder of the purple-plated construct next to you. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the Wizard and his wife here since those two troublemakers of theirs are off seeing the world now. He wouldn’t tell us what’s so important though, so I’m quite curious.”

“Indeed, Chaika, Harmony.” Blake says, nodding his head. “We asked all of you to come here because of the experiences you’ve had throughout these years. Whether by fortune or not, fate has brought all of us together in one way or another to save not just Deleor, but the world at large.”

Taking a deep breath, he looks over to the Grand Wizard, who stands up and coughs into his hand before saying,

“The leylines are compromised. There’s something spread through them like roots, spanning the whole country. It appears to be originating from The Cradle, seat of the Queen Alarune.”

Everyone’s backs stiffen. All of you know from experience exactly what this means. You’re not surprised in the slightest when the man sighs and rubs at his head.

“I don’t think we need to beat about the bush. It’s Phallia, she’s planning something big and I’m afraid we might not have much more time before whatever it is happens.”

The room goes quiet.

No one dares speak at the proclamation. You’re not exactly certain what everyone else’s run-ins with Phallia have been, but it’s clear that they too have seen some strange occurrences. The man next to you clenches his hand, his eyes hardening even more than before. It’s not like a Goddess tried to kill him directly or anything, right?

The first to speak up is Veronica, who seems more confused than anything at this information. “I believe we need a little more information here. Just coming in and saying that a Goddess is planning something is a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” She turns her head to scan the room, frowning. “Though I take it by some of your expressions that this is unsurprising.”

“She said as much.” The man next to you says. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon. It’s only been about six months since we came back from Ectria.”

“She’s had all spring, Rommel.” Tabitha next to him says. “Now it’s summer. A good time as any to put something into motion.”

“Wait, hold on.” Alice says, holding up a hand. “Should we be discussing this? Can’t she just like, be watching us?”

“Unlikely.” You say, shrugging. “The Gods aren’t exactly omniscient. Unless Phallia chose to watch us, she probably doesn’t know we’re here.”

“She isn’t.” The Grand Wizard says, shaking his head. “[Mage Sight] is clear.” He looks to Rommel, who nods his head. Sighing, the man rubs at his beard and continues.

“That’s a lot to drop on people, I know, but you’re all grown-ups and this is serious.”

“Sure, sure.” The blue plated construct says, waving a hand. “But what exactly is she doing?”

“Not sure, Chaika.” Selene says, shrugging. “But too many coincidences are adding up, making us question things. The events at the Ectrian capital and Rommel’s encounter at the Chasm of Regret confirmed it, however. Once we returned to Deleor, we decided to delve into it further.”

The Grand Wizard sighs. “The long and short of our investigation showed what I said before. The leylines are compromised.”

“What exactly does that mean?” Tabitha asks, cocking her head.

                The Grand Wizard looks to Selene, who nods her head slowly. He sighs, looking at Rommel for a moment before shaking his head and continuing. “There’s a few locations which are the epicenters of the leylines, known as nexus points. I’m aware of the existence of a few of them, and tried to get a better feel of the land through one.” He frowns.

                “It was there that I noticed something off. Something hard wormed its way into the leylines and was siphoning not only magic, but information through it. It’s hard to confirm, but I believe whatever is in there is able to read this information, compromising the entire Communion Matrix.”

                Both you and Rommel’s eyes go wide. The Wizard stands up as he says, “You can’t be serious? Is it all the leylines?”

                “Perhaps not the ones in Ectria, since they haven’t connected with Deleor yet, but yes. All of those in Deleor, Galmathoria, and the Monster Nation.”

                “What about the leyways?” You ask, raising a hand.

                “Still operational, as I’m sure you’re aware.” Blake says, raising a hand. “Since leyways draw mana directly from the leylines, they’d have to shut off the flow of mana to stop them, which I understand has its own consequences?”

                “Indeed.” Selene says, nodding her head. “For now we can assume they leyways to be operational.”

                “I don’t understand.” Saya says, shaking her head. “Who would do this, and what does it have to do with Phallia?”

                The Grand Wizard shakes his head. “I traced the magical signature and it resonates with magic coming from The Cradle. I tried to remove them but it’s like nothing I’ve seen. The best Biomancer I know looked into it and he confirmed as much. Oh, and before you ask, no, I can’t just flood the leylines with anti-magic.” Hala lowers her hand and pouts as the man shakes his head. “Anyway, I wish I could look more into it but…”

                “There’s a magical barrier around the entire area that appeared some months ago.” Blake finishes, nodding his head. “Unfortunately, with the events in Galmathoria pushing our soldiers, we can’t spare the effort to address it.”

                You blanch a little. The Cradle, huh? Your mind goes back to the mission that Agent Anderson wanted to you undertake, but declined. Was this a direct result from those events from before? Shit, if your inaction caused something like this to happen…

                Saya places her hand on yours and she gives you a warm smile that puts your heart at ease. Right, you had more important things to protect at the time. You turn your attention back as the purple plated construct begins to speak.

                “So, to lay it out.” Harmony says, holding up a finger. “Something happened in The Cradle and now the leylines are compromised. There’s also been concerns from various events in the country that it has the hallmark of Phallia’s doing. I think the real question we need to answer is why, and-“

                “What are we going to do about it?” Hala growls, punching her hand.

                The room returns to silence as you contemplate this. Not much has really been said, but it’s still a lot to take in. Sure, those plants you’d encountered before seemed to worship Phallia and you’re pretty sure that Fiora had been Monsterized by Phallia, and that the Cradle seems to worsh-

                Okay, you’re not doing a very good job convincing yourself out of blaming her.

                Selene looks down, seeming troubled. “We’d met Phallia before, after Valinthia was killed, under the Keep of the Forgotten.” She draws her lips to a line. “She’d mentioned that we’d done her a great service, put things into motion. I wasn’t sure how to take those words, but I feel like a fool to ignore them so long ago.”

                “Aye.” You say, looking down. “I didn’t want to believe that Phallia herself had any ill intentions, but those worshipping her name tried to do horrible things, tried to instigate the Galmathorians into a mutually destructive frenzy.  I’m just glad we stopped them but…”

                “But it’s become clear that her hand is upon this world more than it should be.” Rommel says, nodding his head. “The plants within those priestesses, the Pharaoh, their hatred towards the Dolloran priestesses. It all lines up with what she told me before she tried to have me killed. She wants her sister out of the picture.”

                Both you and Saya look at the man with shock. You knew something messed up was happening, but wanting to kill her sister? Was that even possible?

                “Solos would never allow such a thing.” Veronica says, shaking her head. “You recall the time before Monsters, yes? When the Gods would interact directly with men?”

                “Vaguely.” Rommel grunts. Veronica gives him a flat look before turning around the room to meet blank stares. Sighing, she pulls a book from her belt, a faded copy of The Book of Creation, the holy book for those who worshipped Solos.

                “Well, since none of you remember your lessons, I’ll have to teach you.”

                “To be fair.” Hala says, raising a hand. “I was raised in the woods.”

                The other Monsters nod their heads and Veronica shakes her head. “Fine, then you’ll all get a lesson in history.” She flips open to a page and says, “The Gods took great interest in the creations of Solos and Dollora. They would often show themselves to peoples of their choosing, and entire cultures would be based around the sighting of a God. In time, this would lead to the Gods growing protective of their chosen people and would lead to war and conflict amongst the Gods themselves.”

                She flips the page. “Solos, heartbroken by this, forbade the Gods from influencing the world directly. This is why their blessings are given to a select few and only with a portion of their power, creatures they’ve created are often rare, or why Solos himself does not touch the world despite great hardships. He does not want conflict amongst the Gods, and the surest way to stop that is to keep them from meddling with mankind too much.”

                “Ah.” Saya says, something clicking. “That’s why he got so upset with Dollora.”

                “Indeed.” Veronica says, returning the book to her side. “It’s also why Phallia would have a hard time killing her sister. Solos is a benevolent God, and if he wished to destroy Dollora, he easily could have. But he didn’t. I highly doubt he’ll allow Phallia to do so either.”

                “Then why is she causing fuck-ups down here?” Alice says, rubbing at her head. “I mean, she’s bound to get caught if she starts some shit. It’s not like Dollora is going to just come out and duke it out with her sister, right?”

                The room goes silent again as everyone looks to Alice. She blinks a few times and then frowns, crossing her arms across her chest. “Oh come on, again? I don’t even know some of you people and you still give me that look?”

                “It’s okay.” Hala says, patting her shoulder. “I know you pain, sister.”

                The Grand Wizard folds his hands together as he speaks, sounding out his thoughts. “If Phallia’s aim is to kill her sister, then the only feasible way to do that is with Solos’s power. Obviously, he’s not going to give that out, so she’d have to make… him… do… it…” He trails off, concern on his face until his eyes go wide.

                “Oh fuck me, she’s going to try to lure Dollora out. If she comes to this plane in full again, then Solos will have no choice but to take action!”

                “That’s- That’s… insane.” Selene says, her expression betraying her thoughts. “She can’t just… just kill Dollora. What will that mean for the Monsters? Losing their Goddess and spiritual purpose, not to mention the being which gave us our current forms…” She looks terrified as her nails dig into the wood of the table.

                “It’s very possible that Monsters as we know them may cease to exist is this goes according to her plan.” Blake says, frowning. He lets that hang for a long moment before asking, “But what could be so terrible to draw the Dark Goddess from her exile?”

                “Another genocide.” Selene whispers.

                Saya and the Grand Wizard look down, troubled at these words. Her husband puts a hand on Selene’s arm and she grits her teeth as she says, “It was timid last time, only a few species removed due to the inherent strength of the Monsters. But with Monsters weaker than they were in the past and technology so powerful, if humans grew of the mind to remove the Monsters, it would be easy.”

                “Shit.” You groan. “If she’d managed to release those spores and drive the Galmathorians into a frenzy, then how would the Deleorians respond when a horde of Monsters comes into their lands? The balance between man and Monster would be destroyed. I can easily see whispers in the right ears leading to an outright slaughter of Monsters.”

                “Tch.” Rommel says, crossing his arms. “Who knows how many people have those plants under their skin either. They could even be in positions of power or pulling strings. I can promise you there are plenty of people who jump at the chance to remove Monsters from Deleor, or the world if they can.”

                “I suppose this is a bad time to mention that Galmathoria is supposedly mobilizing again.” Blake shakes his head as he says this. “We’re really not certain why, but we’re still hurting after what they did to Cair and Fort Islebard. Of course, if they’re being pushed to it then…”

                “Fuck.” Selene says, rubbing her forehead. “And, of course, at this moment the voices of the conservatives in the Monster Nation are gaining ground. Monsters are wondering if it’s not best to return to the old ways. If given a choice, I don’t think if I can keep another Invasion from occurring.”

                “Fucking hells.” The Grand Wizard groans. “Well this is some shit if it’s true.”

                “So, what do we do about it?” Saya asks, looking about.

                The assembled peoples look between themselves, worried expressions on their faces. What can you do against the machinations of a Goddess? You barely even understand what’s going on with the leylines and there’s now talk of renewed war with Galmathoria and Selene’s rule in the Monster Nation is crumbling? Gods you… well, you’re not certain you can count on the Gods anymore.

                Or wait… can you?

                “Hey… wait a second.” You say, furrowing your brow. The others look to you as you muse your thoughts. “The only one who can stand against a God is another one, right?”

                Veronica nods her head. “Yes. As disgusting as it is, Solos would be the one who could end Dollora.”

                “Oh! Oh!” Hala says. “What if we convinced Solos to stop Phallia?”

                Veronica opens her mouth to say something before frowning in consternation. The others consider this themselves, unable to make a proper response. Eventually, Alice sighs and leans back in her chair.

                “It’s crazy, but it might just work.”

                “Come on, how are we even supposed to get his attention? Praying and asking him to look into Phallia’s evildoings?” Chaika says, raising her hands.

                “She’s right.” Selene sighs. “It’s an interesting plan, but the only beings Solos would trust on this would be the other Gods. Prayers only do so much and some of the Gods don’t even have true worship. It’s not like you can just talk directly with…” She trails off as she cocks her head.

                “No, there’s ways.” Rommel says, nodding his head. “Back in Ectria, I spoke with Dollora using a relic mirror.”

                “And we spoke with Nerg through Delilah.” The Grand Wizard says. “He seemed pretty amiable, all things considered.”

                “Wait, you spoke with- well, nevermind. Anyway, so there’s way to speak with the Gods, so… where are they?”

                “That.” Blake sighs. “Is an excellent question. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with all of this. It’s almost too much to handle.”

                “Ancient artifacts relating to the Gods, huh?” Saya says with a mischievous grin. “Oh, I know exactly who would know about that. And it would be the perfect opportunity to introduce little Erica here to her…”

                “Father. Why is she here?”

                A tall Wolf Girl with black hair and fur dressed in a skirt and vest over a white shirt sets down a stack of books on the table, frowning as she smooths out a wrinkle in her clothing. She appears to be the spitting image of Hala, her mother, though the bags under her eyes speak of long hours spent researching.

                “Well Patricia, she thought so highly of you to ask you to come and help with this situation.” Blake says, patting the Wolf Girl on the head. She makes an annoyed sound and mutters something about her being embarrassed.

                “Yes Patricia.” Saya says, giving a very smug smile. “I also wanted to say hello to my best friend in the whole world. Also, to show you my daughter.”

                “She looks like a blob of tar.”

                “Awww, thank you!”

                The Wolf Girl grits her teeth as Saya smugs at her before looking out over the room. “I was told this was urgent. Given the people assembled, I assume there’s something going on?”

                “Yes.” The Grand Wizard says. “We’re looking for methods to contract the Gods directly.”

                “Eh? Why don’t you just pray to them?” She asks before sighing and waving a hand. “Sorry, sorry, I’ve been up for awhile at study sessions with my BOYFRIEND.” She looks Saya in the eye as she says this, which you find a little disturbing due to how tired Patricia looks.

                “Yes, you still have yet to let us meet him.” Hala says, shaking her head. “Honestly, I keep hoping you mean ‘fucking like animals’ when you say ‘study sessions’ but I don’t smell any semen on you. I’m waiting for grandkids you know.”

                “Mother! Gods you just-“ Patricia groans. “Ugghhhhh.”

                “It’s fine, dear.” Selene says, putting a hand on Saya’s shoulder. “We’ll be sure to embarrass Saya in front of you later. For now, we need to focus.”

                “Right, right.” Patricia says, pulling out a book and placing it on the table. You look up as she flips through the pages when someone taps your shoulder. You blink and look to the side to see Tabitha handing you your copy of [Wizardquest].

                “I don’t know why you want all these signatures, but I guess it’s the first I’ve given. Did you really meet Delilah?”             

                “Uh, yeah.” You say, hugging the book to your chest. So close to completion…

                “Hmm. I’ll have to ask more about it later.” She says, tapping your shoulder. “I’ve heard much about you as well. You’ll have to tell me how you managed to convince Saya of all people to marry you.”

                Why does everyone ask that? Well, whatever, you both turn your attentions to Patricia as she starts speaking again.

                “Right then. I’d looked a few months ago when I’d heard that Rommel had spoken directly with Dollora. That mirror had been known of and written about in certain texts relating to the Ectrian worship of the Twins. As for other items, that’s a little more nebulous.”

                “So… you don’t know?” Alice asks, cocking her head.

                “Hmph, who do you think I am?” Patricia says, sniffing.

                “Uhm. I’ve never met you before.” Alice says, scratching her cheek.

                “Well, then rest assured, I can find what you’re looking for.” She taps a page in the book before her. “It seems in the time before Monsters, when the Gods interacted with mankind, they’d made various relics which allowed them to speak with the man. One would assume much of them were lost to time, but some texts speak of a specific few.”

                She picks books from her stack without even looking at the titles, flipping through pages as if memorized until a variety of pages lay open, describing a handful of items. You stand up and look over them as Patricia recites, seemingly from memory.

                “I couldn’t find anything for contacting Solos directly, but the other Gods? I have a good idea of what might work.” She points at the first book. “Filios, Goddess of the sea. Legend has it the trident of the Sea King, a relic of a seafaring culture on the western Deleorian coast used it to commune with her. More recent info would say that the Queen of the Seas has an ancient trident of great power.”

                “Hmph.” Selene sniffs. “I believe I’ve seen it before. Good look meeting with her without someone to vouch for you, she stays under the waves unless she decides to come to land.”

                Patricia pulls another book. “For Sveth… the Heart of the Crags. A relic said to be a gem of immaculate work filled with the heart of a mountain. A warlike civilization who lived near a volcano were said to worship it and take Sveth’s strength.”

                “Volcano?” Tabitha says, frowning. “Only volcano I can think of is Blackfire Reach? But there’s nothing like that around there, the Wurms dug through most everything and anything that big would have been recorded as given to the Danuki.”

                “Hevensferth. Ah, dear, dear, Hevensferth.” Patricia says, sighing. “A difficult one, but there used to be an observatory in territory which is now part of the Monster Nation. A civilization of scholars there reached out the heavens and spoke him.”

                “Observatory?” Selene says. “Hmm. There’s many ancient human buildings in the Monster Nation, some of which haven’t been explored. There is one place I can think of nestled in the hills north of the capital…”

                “Let’s see, Jackor.” Patricia begins, but you cut her off.

                “Jackor talks to people when he wants to. I doubt there’s an item which will make him speak.”

                She nods her head. “Correct. However, there’s multiple writing by people who had performed great feats of gaming or thievery and have spoken to him. So, I dunno. Rob a bank or win a big poker tournament?”

                “Ech.” You sigh. “I really don’t want to deal with him anymore.”

                “Suit yourself.” Patricia says before sighing. “And then… Nerg. There’s plenty of stories of people with near death experiences having seen the face of Nerg, but the real way to contact him would be-“

                “Find a Dullahan.” The Grand Wizard says. “They can contact him. Unfortunately, they only show up in areas with a lot of death, and it’s hard to find a Dullahan who doesn’t want to kill you also.”

                “Well, that’s the info we have.” Patricia says. “By the way, why are we trying to contact the Gods again?”               

                “Oh, to have Solos stop Phallia from destroying Dollora and thus all Monsterkind.” Hala says, poking a book.

                “Ah, I see, that’s a good plan then to have Solos- I’M SORRY, WHAT DID YOU SAY?!”

                Patricia looks at her mother, aghast. Her father sighs and puts a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll fill you in later. For now, we have a good idea of what to do.”

                “So we go and fetch these items, try to convince the Gods, and then what?” Rommel says, crossing his arms against his chest. “What if they don’t listen? And what do we do about the Cradle?”

                “One step at a time.” The Grand Wizard says, looking at the books again. “We’ll gather the items together back here and make them listen. If Phallia is dissuaded, then we can focus on the Cradle first. However…” He taps the book before him.

                “Without communication options of leymail open, we can’t coordinate our efforts. Even worse, I’m not certain we can split and get all five of these.”

                “He’s right.” Blake says, frowning. “As much as I want to go on this adventure, I have to command the Order if Galmathoria attacks.”

                “I don’t have the luxury of going either.” Selene says. “I have to have a presence in the Monster Nation. I can take people north but I’m afraid I have to try to keep the nation from collapsing, I’ve been away too long and my representatives royally fucked things up.”

                “If Phallia gets word of our plans, it would be too dangerous to do this alone and we don’t have time to go all around the continent.” Rommel says, nodding his head. “We should split into groups.”   

                “Even if we do that, we might not be able to get all of these.” The Grand Wizard says. “At best, we should move into three groups and agree to meet back at the Hero’s Hall in a month? That would be a majority of the Gods on the sidelines, allowing us good audience with Solos.” He looks to you.

                “I’ll form a group. Let’s have Rommel and Tobias form one too. That should give us good coverage. Besides, way I see it, you two were de-facto leaders of your own groups in the past, hmm?”

                You and Rommel share glances before shrugging. Rommel says, “Sounds good to me.”

                “Hmm.” You say thinking it over. “Can we form groups however we want?”                         

                “Sure? Ask whoever you trust, even if they aren’t here.” The Grand Wizard says. “This is important, the most people on our side, the better. That goes for all of us. We aren’t fighting for personal reasons here, we’re fighting for the world as we know it.”

                “Wouldn’t be the first time.” Alice says, stretching.

                “I’m sure there’s more questions to be answered.” The Grand Wizard says, stretching. “Ask them now, because once we separate, we’ll be apart, no communication through leymail.”

                Everyone mutters between themselves, but you stand up straight, holding your book to your chest. Saya looks at you before groaning as you walk up to the Grand Wizard, your father-in-law, and ask,

                “Well, we need to determine who is going after what relics and determine a few other things but I had to ask now, or forever lose my chance.” You take a deep breath and off your copy of [Wizardquest] toward him.

“Will you sign my book?”

 

Chapter 2

>Tobias

“You look proud of yourself.”

                “I have my signature! I’ve been waiting so long.”

                “Uh huh.” Saya says, frowning at you. “Are you that was the best time to ask him?”

                “I mean, well, there’s important discussion going on now. I might have missed my chance!”

                “Honestly, sometimes I wonder if you should have just married my father instead of me if you love him so much.”

                You smile and place the book on the table before turning to Saya. “Dear, that’s gay.”

                She rolls her eyes and looks up at the rest of the room. The peoples assembled are chatting amongst themselves, formulating plans on what relics to go after and who to bring along. Frowning, she turns back to you. “Shouldn’t you be making a group too?”

                “Hmm? Oh, well, I figure there’s a lot going on at the moment. Besides, we’ll likely be the last to leave anyway.” A grimace comes across your face. “I was thinking about asking Clint and Ginelle to come along.”

                “Oh.” Saya says, expression worried. “Are you sure about that? You know he’s been-“

                “It’s fine. I’ve needed to talk to him for awhile anyway. Besides, you haven’t seen Ginelle in awhile, right? I’m sure she’d be delighted to see Erica.”

                “Yeah.” Saya says, rocking the little ball of goo that is your daughter. “I just wish… wish that I could go with you but-“

                “I know.” You say, squeezing her shoulder. “I know.”

                “Tobias Shady!” A voice calls, taking your attention.

                You turn to see Alice striding up, hand on her waist. You’re surprised at how different she looks in such a short period of time. Sure, her hair is a completely different color now, but you’re more talking about the way she doesn’t sneer at all the Monsters and generally doesn’t seem like she wants to fuck everything that moves.

                “Alice, a pleasure to meet again. You’re looking well.”

                “It’s hard not to look better than the last time you saw me.” She says, shaking her head. “Anyway, there’s been a decision in one of the groups. They’d like your opinions on your own party.”

                “Right, right.” You say, standing up and nodding to Saya. “I’ll be back.”

                “Sure, but I’ll be watching you. If you so much as appear like you’re going to make out with Dad, I’m going to kill you.”

                “Saya, come on, that’s-“

                “Gay? Yeah, though didn’t you say you made a Cat Girl believe that on-“

                “ANYWAY.” You say, straightening your back. “I have world saving business to attend to.” You sniff and turn about, an amused Alice trailing behind you.

                As you approach the others, the Grand Wizard looks up at you and smirks. You cock your head as Selene flicks a feline ear, giving you a shit-eating grin. Doing your best acting to hide your embarrassment at being overheard, you say in a serious tone, “What’s the decision?”

                “Rommel has agreed on his party already.” The Grand Wizard says, nodding to the other Wizard. The tall man shrugs and says,

                “Lead would suggest Blackfire Reach. There’s bound to be some clues there if we dig deep enough, and it’s not like we don’t already live there.” He nods to Tabitha. “Of course my wife will come along, but we’ve made an arrangement for the Ascendant to come with us.”

                “Oh please.” Veronica says, shaking her head. “It’s just Veronica. While I’m sure Blake would rather have me around to inspire the men or whatever, there’s plenty of priests nearby who can do a similar job.” She smirks and says,

                “Besides, I’m itching for some more combat after my high seas adventures.”

                “Yes. One wonders if we’d have been party to that if we went to Port Dorning.” Rommel says, rubbing his chin. “Of course, I wouldn’t have met my wife so… maybe it’s for the best.”

                “You kind of suck at Hydromancy anyway.” Tabitha says, patting his arm.

                “Three people? Is that going to be enough?” You ask, looking worried.

                “Mmmm, I have a suggestion for one more.” Veronica says, looking to Blake.

                The Lord Commander sighs and shakes his head. “Fine, Bardam hasn’t been deployed yet anyway. If you feel you can trust him on this, then I’ll believe your judgement. You need someone to keep you in line as it stands, so I’ll make the arrangements. “

                Veronica looks indignant as the Grand Wizard speaks up again. “As you’d guessed, they’ll try to contact Sveth. I believe given the circumstances, it would be wise for my group to look after the Trident of the Sea King.”

                “Not a Dullahan?” You ask, cocking your head.

                “They’re hard to find, and unless we run into Delilah, unlikely to listen without a fight. A surer best would be to go looking for the Sea Queen.” He nods to the two constructs. “I’ll be taking Harmony and Chaika with me. All things considered, we’re going to make noise wherever we go, might as well make a lot of it.” He turns to you.

                “How about you, what have you decided?”

                “Hmm.” You say, stroking your chin. “All things considered, I think my talents would be best served up north in the Monster Nation. If needs be, I can disguise myself and scent easy from the Monsters and we can hopefully get in and out. As it stands a month seems a little short though.”

                “Fair enough.” Selene says, nodding her head. “And your party?”

                “Mmm. Well, I was going to look into some former associates of mine, but I was hoping…” You turn to Alice who smirks.

                “Ohhhh, so now you want me around? Well, maybe if you get the cute guy with the rifle-“

                “You know he’s taken.”

                “Phooie.”

                “Anyway.” You continue. “Since I can’t really sling spells if things go south, I’ll check in on my old group and see who wants to come. However, it might be wise to see if we can’t supplement our parties with Heroes from the Order or other Wizards?”

                “No.” The Grand Wizard says, face hard. “I’m sorry to say but I can’t trust other Wizards to keep off the Communion Matrix, nor to keep their mouths shut. Besides, we’re very… selfish people, betrayal is a possibility.”

                You turn to Blake who frowns. “That’s a difficult request. Most of our soldiers are on the frontlines and the rest we have are reserves or on small missions of their own. I’m not sure I have anyone I can necessarily trust for a mission like this, nor those with requisite skill.” He pauses, furrowing his brow. “Unless…”

                “You have one of those looks on your face.” Hala says, shaking her head. “Come on, might as well spill it out.”

                “Well. There are some… problem cases we have. They’re good at what they do, but I’d be hesitant about putting them on frontline duty. This may suit them far better than their other tasks to be honest and at least they’re loyal to the Order, if nothing else.”

                Blake slams his fist into his hand. “Alright. From the parties already organized and what I know about each of you, I believe I can supplement what you have.” He turns to Rommel. “While your combat prowess is strong, you may benefit from a scout. I’ll assign someone to you, a Mouse Girl. I doubt she has any loyalty to Phallia and has been a good soldier, if lazy at times. She’s made an excellent scout in the past however.”

                Rommel rubs at the back of his head. “I mean, I already have my familiar but… He nods to Blake. From what I’ve heard of you, your judgement is sound. We’ll speak with her before deciding.”

                “Indeed.” He turns to the Grand Wizard. “Now for you-“

                “No.”

                Blake blinks. “Uh. Huh?”

                “I said, no.” He says, shaking his head. “I don’t need someone like that slowing me down. Now if my dear had any of her handmaidens to-“

                “A handmaiden of the Monster Lady. Out in Deleor. When there’s strife in the Monster Nation.” Selene says each of these with a dull expression as she stares at her husband. “Dear, are you retarded?”

                “Maybe?” He says, smirking. “Fine, fine, I get it. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine with the three of us.”

                Blake rolls his eyes. “I should have figured. That leaves you, Tobias. What kind of support would you need?”

                “Hmm.” You say, rubbing your chin. “Well, we lack true magical support, and frankly, I think someone who to support Alice would be useful.”

                Alice’s eyes sparkle at this and she leans toward Blake. “Heeeeeeeey, I think I know just the guy~”

                “Alice, please.” Blake says, shaking his head. “You can’t seriously be suggesting we send HIM?”

                “Oh I seriously can. Come on, this is perfect for him. Please, please pleeeeaassee?”

                Blake looks to Veronica, who shrugs. Eventually he closes his eyes, sighs, and says, “Fine. I’ll send him and a mage to you soon. I’ll send a message when they’re ready.” Alice pumps a fist in the air. The more things change, huh?

The other begin preparations and say goodbyes, Hala in particular grumbling about no one picking her. You look about the room of determined fighters, knowing that each of their quests will be both dangerous and important. You’re a little hesitant to leave your family behind as you do this, but you understand the importance of it. Well, you’ve saved the world once, might as well do it again. One thing sticks out to you however as you scan the room. A smirk appears on your lips as say,

                “Wait, I have one other suggestion for my party.”

                “Tobias.”

                “Yes, dear?” You say, turning to your wife as you walk through the streets of the inner city the next day.

                “Why is SHE here?”

                “Who, Alice? Well, she’s very good with her sword and with her hair like that, she can pass for a Monster in the right situations-“

                “I didn’t mean her. I meant the other HER.”

                You cock your head and look to your left where Patricia stands, messenger bag slung over her shoulder. She gives you a wary expression as you cough into your hand. “Ohhhhhh, you mean her! Well, we’re going to the Monster Nation to an ancient ruin devoted to the God of knowledge and the heavens. I figured she’d want to come along. Be useful info dump, eh?”

                Patricia sighs. “Info dump, huh?” She shakes her head and pats the bag at her side. “Well, it would be interesting to see. Besides, I’ve never been to the Monster Nation. It would be informative.”

                “Sure you’ll be able to travel through that terrain Ms. Bookworm?” Saya says, sniffing.

                “I’ll have you know that I take walks every now and then!” Patricia says, indignant. “Besides, I am a Wolf Girl and we are built for such things. I doubt things will be as dangerous as you imply, it’s just ruins. We’ll be okay.”                  

                “Well, unless a Manticore lives there.” Alice muses. “Or one of the older Dragons. Or ancient constructs, or…” She counts off on her fingers, making Patricia blanch.

                “A-Anyway! While they get provisions and travel equipment ready, you said you needed to contact some other people?”

                “Yeah.” You say, looking weary. “I put in for a runner to speak with Ophelia, see if she wants to come while I had a message delivered to Clarissa.”

                “Eh? Dear, isn’t she looking after Akela for us?”

                “Well… I mean, if you can’t go, wouldn’t it be best for you to go home?” You wince as you say this, awaiting anger from your wife.

                Saya merely sighs and nods her head. “Makes sense. Alright, I’ll catch a leyway back to Kasin tomorrow then.”

                “Huh, that went better than expected.” You say, chuckling until she punches your arm.

                “You’re going to get it when you get home though, you hear me? You better not go dying on me up there, Mom will tell me if you do!”

                Alice laughs, “Geez, you two are a regular old couple. I’d say get a room, but we have things to do.” She pauses for a moment. “Speaking of which, why are we in the noble section again?”

                You look up and point at a mansion in the distance. “We’re going to speak with our fire support.”

                The door to the mansion opens, revealing a well-dressed Monster with canine ears and feathered tail. She frowns as she looks at your party, but keeps her voice civil as she bows.

                “Good morning. May I help you?”

                “Good morning to you as well.” You say, bowing to the maid with greatest formality. “My name is Tobias Shady, I wish to speak with the young master of this household.”

                This time, true disdain comes to her face as she says, “Shady? Ah, you’ll have to excuse me, but I’m afraid the young master is busy right now.”

                “Oh come now.” Saya says, shaking her head. “We know Clint is there, just tell him or Ginelle we’re here. They’ll speak with us.”

                “I am afraid they are both busy.”

                Alice growls and puts a hand on her shoulder. “Listen here, just tell the pretty boy we’re present and-“

                “It’s fine, let them in Ulrica.”

                Your party looks up at a figure walking down the stairs in the foyer behind the maid. A tall man with short, golden blond hair and handsome features dressed in a suit similar to your own approaches, a frown on his face.

                “But master Fullvora, they’re-“

                “It’s fine.” He repeats before nodding to you. “Please, make tea for us. We’ll meet in the second tea room.”

                The maid nods before walking away, her scaled feet clacking on the marble flooring. As she leaves, the man shakes his head, running his hand through his hair.

                “Would have been nice had you given me some warning, Tobias.”

                “You probably would have found a reason not to talk to me if I had.”

                “Hmph.” He grunts. “Well, it’s too late now, everyone knows the scion of the Shady family came here anyway. Come on, let’s hear what you have to say since you’re here.” He looks around at the others. “With a blast from the past, it seems.”

                He waves for you to follow and you walk behind inside the ornate mansion foyer. Regal carpets cover white marble floors while paintings of men and women in fantastical clothing adorn the walls. The place is bright and warm, a sharp contrast from Clint’s features.

                You reach a small room where Clint gestures for you to sit down. You do so on plush chairs as the man sits down on a couch before rubbing his face. No one says anything at first, looking awkwardly between each other until the door opens a moment later, the maid from before setting down a tray of tea and sweets. She bows to Clint, who waves for her to get Ginelle before finally speaking after she leaves.

                “So, what brings you all the way out here?”

                “Kasin isn’t very far via leyway.” You say, frowning. “But first, how soundproof is this room.”

                “No one’s listening in, not even Ulrica.” He says, sighing.

                “Good. Then first off, tell me what your problem is.” You say, feeling a little heated. “You haven’t been responding to my leymail messages and now you act like this. What gives, man?”              

                “A lot has happened since we last met, alright?” Clint says, shaking his head. “It’s been rough recovering from that back injury, though I’m all fine now. Other things have come up since I’ve returned home and… well.”

                “Ah, I get it.” You say, narrowing your eyes. “You don’t want to be seen with a Shady.”

                He throws up his hands. “Tobias, you’re a friend, you always will be, but I have to think about the reputation of the Fullvoras. If not fully for my sake then for Ginelle’s. There’s a lot of stigma associated with me being out west for so long, and then to be buddy-buddy with a Shady?” He sighs. “It’s a shit situation.”

                “You can just ignore them?” Alice says, cocking her head.

                “I’m afraid it’s not that simple.” He says, frowning. “Listen, Tobias. I think whatever you came here to say must be important, but I can’t-“

                He cuts off as a knock comes at the door a moment later, it opens to reveal a striking Monstergirl. You haven’t seen her in awhile, but you’re surprised to see the changes in the Badger Girl. Ginelle is tall, about equal height with Clint with a strong, muscular physique. Like many beast-type Monsters, from her elbows and knees down, she has coarse, black hair with terminate into along taloned fingers and toes while a small, white tail protrudes from her backside and black furred ears sit on her head.

                What’s surprising about her appearance however is her hair, which you’re used to seeing short and messy is now shoulder length and well brushed and she wears both a little make-up and a dress with exposed shoulders that reveals part of her bust. She looks around the room and blinks, surprised to see you as well.

                “Tobias? Saya? Uhm… and what was your name again?”

                Alice blinks in surprise at the strong beauty before you cough into your hand and smile. “Ginelle! It’s been far too long since we spoke! Gods, you look beautiful.”

                She smirks and looks to Saya, “Not sure you should say that next to your wife and… hmm? She cocks her head before her eyes go wide. “What’s this?”

                Saya smiles as Ginelle kneels down, despite her skirts to look at Erica. “This is my daughter. We’d sent a message to Clint but… I suppose it didn’t make it to you?”

                Clint looks to the side, eyes narrowed. Ginelle cocks her head and looks at the man. “You’d said they hadn’t been speaking with us much.”

                “It’s… complicated.” Clint sighs.

                “Uh huh.” Ginelle says, reaching out a clawed finger to touch the child. Erica jiggles as her nail touches and the Badger Girl gasps in response. “A child… wow.” She shakes her head. “But I’m certain showing her off isn’t why you came, is it?”

                “No, it’s not.” You say, expression going serious. “Before I speak, I need to make sure that nothing we say is going to leave this room, okay?”

                Ginelle looks to Clint who sighs and nods his head. “Fine.”

                “Alright.” You say, cupping your hands together as you tell them everything you’ve learned and the mission you’re on. By the end of it, Ginelle is gritting her teeth while Clint stares at you with shock.

                “Gods. I mean, after what we went through I’d suspected there was something but… I didn’t think that… Oh Gods.”

                “We need your help, Clint.” You say, nodding your head. “Your skills are exceptional and frankly, you two are some of the few I can trust. I know this is going to make things worse with your standing but if we don’t succeed, the world could change as we know it.”

                “Tobias, you’re asking me to-“

                “Clint.” Ginelle says, cutting him off. The two share a look for a long moment before the man sighs and hangs his head, defeated.

                “Alright, alright. Gods, I’ve been cooped up too long here as it stands. What a shitty friend I’d be to turn you down when it could mean something so dire.” He looks up, determination in his eyes. “I need to make arrangements, but tomorrow we can meet at the leyway station before heading north.”

                “It’ll be fun.” Ginelle says, smirking. “Just like old times. And besides…” She wipes the make-up off her face.

                “I hate wearing this shit.”

                With that settled, you spend a little more time catching up with the two. Apparently, despite trying to appear courtly, the eccentric noble and his strange girlfriend have attracted quite the attention. While it allowed a certain degree of freedom, it also brought scorn upon them, so in turn, they worked together to present the image of the proper Deleorian noble couple. As it stands, they still went hunting, a perfectly respectable noble sport, on a regular basis to get out of the city and keep their skills fresh.

                Bidding them farewell, you head back to the Hero’s Hall, where two familiar faces await you outside the gates. As you approach, one of them blinks and waves a feathered arm at you, confusion on her face.

                “Uh, hey Tobias! Saya! I got your letter, but I’m kind of confused at why-“

                “Come along Clarissa.” You say, taking her arm. She blinks, making squawking noises as you drag her with you. The slight-framed Crow Harpy is too light to put up much of a fight and soon submits, her taloned, bird-like feet clacking on the cobblestones as she walks after you.

                The other shakes her head, brown rabbit ears swaying as she walks aside Saya. “Well, this is going about how I pictured it. Hello to you too, Tobias.”

                Clarissa groans, “Aww, man, why do I feel like you’re trying to drag me into another dangerous adventure?”

                “Because that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss, Clarissa, Ophelia.” You say, leading her onward.

                “But doesn’t something need to look after Akela.”

                “I’m heading back home tomorrow on an express.” Saya says, nonchalant.

                “Oh, lovely, another chance to almost die.” Ophelia says, smirk on her lips. “This should be interesting.”

                You lead both of them to the inner section of the Hero’s hall, back to the room you had your meeting yesterday. Ophelia, dressed in modest dress of blue which reveals her strong, rabbit legs, sits down at the table The Crow Harpy sighs and adjusts her brown leather jacket, emblazoned with the logo of her delivery company, with her wing-arms, black feathers smoothing out the edges.

                “Okay, you deliver a cryptic message to me to meet at the Hero’s Hall and now you drag me in and sit me in a chair in a room in the middle of the complex and say you’re going to go on another adventure.” She sighs. “I’m not overly surprised, to be honest.”

                “I too am not surprised.” Ophelia says, leaning on the table. “But it’s a great excuse to get out of those meetings. Gods, Tobias everyone keeps hitting on meeeeee.”

                “Well, I’m sure your mother isn’t helping.” Saya says, waving a hand.

                “Ugghhh.” Ophelia says, placing her head on the table. “Don’t remind me. She was very upset to learn you had a kid before I did.”

                “Alice.” Patricia says, looking over at the woman. “Are all of Tobias’s friends this strange?”

                “You should have seen our group out in Ectria. That was a cast of characters.”

                “Anyway.” You say, sitting down yourself. “As you guessed, we called you out here because I’m looking to form a group for an expedition to the Monster Nation.”

                You explain to them again all that lead up to this, leaving the two Monsters speechless.

                “Uhm. Hmm.” Ophelia says, looking to the side. “You uh… wow.”

                “K-Kill Dollora?” Clarissa says, blinking rapidly. “That’s… insane.”

                “Yes, which is why we need help we can trust.” Saya says, nodding her head. “Will you do it?”

                “I mean… if you really want me too but…” Ophelia blanches. “I don’t know. That’s a lot to ask, and what is my skillset? Last time I just… caused trouble…” She murmurs, looking down.

                “I kind of… feel the same.” Clarissa says, rubbing a wing. “I get it, I do, but… Well. I’ve delivered to the Monster Nation before, so I’m kind of familiar I guess.” She sighs, “I don’t know.”

                “I understand.” You say, nodding your head. You knew it would be a hard sell for these two, but you figured you’d try. “So then the answer is no?”

                “I… not exactly.” Ophelia says. “Just… let me think on it.”

                “Same.” Clarissa says, nodding. “We’ll let you know by tomorrow.”

                “Alright. Thank you for your time, and it’s good to see both of you again.”

                “Heh, we just saw each other a few days ago.” Clarissa says, chuckling.

                “And I was there after Erica is born. If nothing else, we’re still your friends.” Ophelia says, putting a hand on yours. She sighs and then stands. “Alright. Come on Clarissa, let’s get some lunch and think this through.”

                The two leave, though as they do, Hero Fellows enters the room. “Ah, I thought someone said you’d be in here. I was told by the Lord Commander to bring two people to speak with you about something?”

                “Ah, right.” You say, stretching. “Bring them in.”

                The man nods and looks back to say something. As he does, Alice leans forward and says, “You’re going to like this guy, I know it.”

                “And the other one?”

                “Who cares.”

                You want to say something back when Fellows steps back to allow in two figures. The first is a man of average height with strong, angular features and short, black hair. He wears full plate armor emblazoned with the Order sigil, but doesn’t seem bothered by its weight, a longsword sheathed at his belt. He looks out over your group with a scarred face, eyepatch over his left eye. When he meets your expression he scowls, crossing his arms across his chest.

                Behind him slinks in a smaller form of a Monster. She’s a little under average height, making her seem miniscule in comparison to the armored man. She wears a set of light, leather armor with the Order sigil on it, cape behind her while multiple vials of white liquid sit in a bandolier across her modest chest. She raises brown fur covered arms and rakes a furred hand through her medium-length brown hair before saying,

                “Order Pyromancer Rayleigh, reporting as ordered! I’m told we’re going to burn things?”

                “Calm yourself, Rayleigh.” The Hero next to her grunts. “I’m sure you’ll get to burn something, but I doubt it’ll be Galmathorians, considering she’s here.”

                “Finn!” Alice says, beaming. “It’s been far too long since we last met!”

                “Yeah, and last time, I told you to stop flirting with me, you damn slut.” He growls, hand on his sword. “I’m only here because the Lord Commander asked me to. Something about a special mission?”

                “Does it involve burning things?” The Pyromancer says, blue eyes shining.

                “Possibly, though it would be best not to.” You say, looking the Monster over. Her human features are young and exuberant, while her Monster features proclaim her as another beast-type. She has tufts of brown hair around her arms and legs, the latter of which ending in what you believe to be squirrel-like feet. Atop her head sits two brown, squirrel-like ears that flit every which way, but the thing that clinches it for you is the long, bushy tail behind her that sways behind her excitedly.

                “Awww.” She says, sighing. “They won’t let me onto the frontlines, too much, ‘collateral damage,’ so I was put into reserves for when the fighting gets heavy.” She shakes her head. “The Lord Commander asked me for this mission though, didn’t give me the details.”

                “Me either.” Finn says, looking to you. “You don’t look Order. You DSS?”

                “Yes.” You say smoothly, though you aren’t lying. “I’ll be blunt, we’re looking for members to augment our team moving to retrieve an item from a location in the Monster Nation. This is a top secret mission and communication to anyone about it or using leymail is strictly forbidden. You lean forward.

                “The Lord Commander picked you because he felt he could trust you with a mission like this. Do you believe you have the discretion and skills to do so?”

                Both Order warriors share a look between themselves. Finn sighs and rubs at the back of his head. “Frankly, we should be asking you that question.”

                “He’s quite capable.” Alice says, smirking. “Why would Blake put him in charge if he wasn’t.”

                “That’s Lord Comman- bah, whatever.” Finn sighs. “Fine, I’ll go, but only because of orders. I know how to keep my mouth shut.”

                “Beats being cooped up here all day.” Rayleigh says, stretching. “Monster Nation huh? Mom came from there, might as well see what the old country is like.”

                “Alright, we’ll keep in contact.” You say, nodding to them. “Unless things change, assume we’re meeting in the inner cloister at 0800 tomorrow.”

                The two salute to you before turning and leaving the room. When the door closes behind them, you sigh and rub at your forehead. “Blake wasn’t kidding, was he?”

                “Seems a little strange.” Patricia says. “But I trust father’s judgement. If he thinks they’ll work, then we should go with them?”

                “Yes, yes!” Alice says, eyes sparkling. “Having them will be a huge boon!”

                “Seems you have some decisions to make, finalizing things.” Saya says, smirking at you. “Gosh, a shame I can’t go with you on your adventure. Baby and all, you understand.”

                You just shake your head, trying to figure out how to wrangle this cast of characters together.


 

The next morning comes too early for your tastes.

You spent the entire evening looking over reports and supply figures, trying to piece together exactly how your group dynamic was going to work. You suddenly have a lot of sympathy for Blake, the Lord Commander, knowing he has to do this sort of thing every day. You didn’t even think it would be that important to request things like flint and steel, but Gods above, you have to micromanage all of this. Things were simpler when you were just riding the rails and murdering people.

You’re glad you didn’t say that out loud.

At your request, you received some basic personnel files for Finn and Rayleigh and frankly, you’re not surprised at what you read. Seems that Finn had quite the decorated past, but got transferred to reserve after striking a military officer. Guess Blake saved him from prison time. Rayleigh on the other hand… she’s about what you expected.

A loose cannon transferred from the magic academy in Derrick, she was deemed too dangerous to be on the frontlines until more intense combat was required. You’re kind of afraid of have her on the team, but if Blake thinks she could help… well, he’s the Great Hero and the Lord Commander for a reason. She seems to get along well with Finn, so you guess he can keep her in line?

Rubbing sleep from your eyes, you turn to see Saya rocking Erica back in forth in her arms, the mass of black goo writhing in her arms. She sighs, even sleepier than you from staying awake all night caring for the little Monster. Neither of you are exactly sure how to care for her, but she’s able to absorb nutrients from something Saya makes and she wriggles when upset. That’s good enough for now you suppose.

“You alright?” You ask her, to which she merely smiles, face looking radiant. Stupid… shapeshifting always looking good. On the plus side though, she always looks good.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I should ask you though, you’re the one going on a dangerous journey and all. Sure you’re alright doing this while tired?”

“I’ll be fine.” You say, chuckling. “I’ll be able to get some sleep on the Leyway.”

“Sure, sure.” She says, eyes drifting downward.

You frown, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you sure you’re alright?”

“I-I- I don’t know.” She whispers. It’s only then that you notice her hands trembling, despite Erica’s shaking. She swallows and looks up at you, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “I’m a little scared, you know? Of everything happening, but most importantly, of anything happening to you.”

“Saya…” You say, sighing and pulling her into an embrace. “I’m going to be fine. Everyone I’m traveling with will protect each other. A simple in and out, no problems.”

“And your mind?” She asks.

You pause at that, gritting your teeth. It was always the elephant in the room. Your adventures had left some scars that had you waking at night in a cold sweat while other times you get these niggling sensations when nothing is there. To say you’re a little insane wouldn’t be that far off the mark, but it’s been manageable. Of course, if you have to push yourself to perform heavy illusions again…

Sighing, you lean down and pull Saya into a kiss. She starts for a second before melting, figuratively) into the embrace. When you pull apart from her, you whisper, “No matter what may happen to my mind, I’ll always love you. Okay?”

She takes a deep breath and collects herself before nodding. “You better, or I’ll kill you myself.”

“Ohhh, look at the lovebirds this early in the morning.”

You pull yourself to attention as Alice, Finn, and Rayleigh walk down the halls of the inner cloister. Alice gives you a shit-eating grin while Finn keeps his distance from her, hand on his sword. Rayleigh merely singes a few plants as she walks past them, giggling softly.

Feeling embarrassed, you cough into your hand and say. “Ah good, you’re all here.”

“Yes.” Finn says, adjusting the pack slung over his back. You happen to notice the unstrung bow he has in addition to his sword, as well as a quiver filled with red fletched arrows. “Now then, I assume we’ve been selected, or else you’d have told us and we can go on our way.”

“Ohh, please don’t say that!” Rayleigh says. She too has a standard issue bag on her back, but no ranged weapon to be seen. Guess when you’re a pyromancer, you don’t really need something like that. “I want to go!”

“Well, it’s your lucky day.” You say, smirking. “Because you’re both coming. Welcome aboard!”

“Wooo hooo!” Rayleigh says, sparks shooting from her hands. Alice raps her on the head, making the smaller Monster wince, the sparks going out. “Owwww! Hey!”

“It would be best not to burn the place down before we’ve even left.” Alice says, rolling her eyes. For her part, she too is only armed with her usual weaponry, the magical sword Energieschwert and her medium armor. It still surprises you to see the gleaming silver plates over leather which still has open areas such as her thighs. Well, you can’t argue with her sword skills in it, at least.

“Right.” You say, still a little worried about the Squirrel Girl. “Anyway, we have provisions prepared and being loaded on the leyway we’re taking as well as a few additional pieces of weaponry in case we need them. All we’re left with at the moment is our other members and we’re ready to leave.”

“Other Members?” Finn says, narrowing his eyes. “How many?”

“Four, however they can all be trusted, even if two of them aren’t exactly combat experts.” You look around. “Oh, and Patricia, though she said she’d meet us at the platform.”

“Well, what are we waiting for then?” Alice says. “Let’s get this thing on the road!”

They all nod and turn to go. You watch them for a moment before turning to Saya. She gives you a wan smile and kisses you gently on the lips again before pulling back. “You better come back and in one piece, both mentally and physically, you hear?” She leans forward.

“I’ll give Mr. Hero quite the reward when he does.”

You feel your cheeks flush at that. Coughing into your hand, you turn away and say, “I’m coming back, and I’m coming for you.”

“Pffffft.” Saya snickers. “Holy fuck Tobias, that’s the corniest fucking line I think you’ve ever said.” She sighs. “Still, I’ll be waiting.”

Without further ado, you take up your own bag and head after the others toward your next, and hopefully final, adventure.

                You’re surprised to find Ophelia and Clarissa at the station with Ginelle, Clint, and Patricia, the five of them standing impatiently as you approach. Finn looks over them with scrutiny while Rayleigh bounds forward to introduce herself, seeming to forget she’s supposed to be a member of a highly training organization.

                As you approach, Clint tips his hat to you. He’s changed back into his attire from your travels beforehand, the leather outfit seen more out west along with a wide-brimmed hat. At his back is a long, black case that you know holds his weapon, one of the very rare magitek rifles. What you wouldn’t give to have more of those…

                “Tobias.” He says. “Seems we have some extra members this time?”

                “Seemed prudent to have extra manpower. Gods know we could have used some extra hands back then.”

                “I suppose.” He says, frowning as he looks at Rayleigh. “The guy seems like he knows what’s up, but what about her? She seems a little…”

                “Explosive?” You say, chuckling. “Yeah well, the Lord Commander recommended her. As long as we point her in the right direction, we should be okay.”

                “If you say so.” Ginelle says, stepping forward herself. The dress and make-up are gone, this time replaced with short clothing that hug her well muscles curves and a jacket made of leather similar to Clint’s. She doesn’t need any weapons, because her claws might as well BE weapons in their own right. “I’m surprised you got those two to come along.”

                “Well nice to see you too.” Ophelia huffs. Crossing her arms as she breaks away from Rayleigh. “Honestly, you’d think we didn’t just have tea a few days ago.”

                “Bah.” Ginelle says, waving a hand. “That’s high society, this is battle.”

                “Hmm, fair enough.” Ophelia sighs. She grips a small bag at her side, a bag of holding you’d assume. “Well. We’re here at least. Clarissa and I talked it over and we’ve decided we’re going to go. We know it will be dangerous but…” She sighs. “Well at least we can provide support! I’m well stocked on bombs and have plenty of tools with me!”

                People around you turn and stare at the mention of bombs, but at a look from Finn, they turn and keep walking. “Perhaps.” He says. “We should continue our conversations on the leyway.”

                Everyone nods, feeling embarrassed, before boarding the leyway. This specific route is an express, bound for Cair. Despite the attack recently it’s still operational, bringing in both personnel and supplies while civilian traffic helps to rebuild the city. People really want their center of depravity and sin to stay operational, huh?

                Everyone heads toward the first class section as you check with the Troll in charge of this leyway about your supplies. Making sure everything is loaded appropriately, you join the others, opening up one of the rooms you’d reserved thanks to your connections with the major leyway operators from your previous adventures. Inside, you find Clint, Ginelle, Ophelia, and Clarissa, busying up their bunks. Guess it’d been decided who’s staying with who, huh?

                “I guess the others are in another room, huh?” You ask, scratching at your cheek.

                “Yeah. This seems to work out though.” Clarissa says, bouncing on one of the four beds. “Us four in here, those four in there. And you uh…” She trails off. “Oh. Woops.”

                Oh good, you’re sleeping on the floor. Somewhere. So much for your nap.

                Sighing, you rub at your forehead and say, “Alright, I’ll gather the others in here soon. I’ll be a tight fit, but we need to go over our game plan.”

                “Sounds good.” Clint says, pulling out his rifle to inspect it. Ginelle gives him a sidelong glance as he does, clearly annoyed that he pays more attention to the weapon than her, but she sighs, as if accepting it.

                Moving to the other car, you find a similar scene. Finn sits on his bed while Rayleigh dangles her legs over him, humming while looking around the car with fascination. Patricia reads a book while Alice lays on her back, still in full armor, staring at the ceiling.

                So these are your choices of where to stay huh? Greeeeeaaaaat.

                “Everyone settled already? Good. We’re going to depart soon but I want to make sure everything is in order and that we know what the plan is.”

                “Ah, good.” Finn says, rising. “I’m getting a little tired of being left in the dark anyway.”

                The four follow you to the other room again. As everyone crams together, you close the door and sigh, wishing you could set [Privacy Barriers]. As it is, Ophelia’s ears twitch, listening for anyone trying to eavesdrop.

                Sitting down on the floor, you pull out a map you’d been working with last night and set it before you. Everyone crowds around to peek, which results in some shoving as you speak.

                “Alright. As we’re aware, the first stop is Cair. While there was a terrorist attack recently, they’re still allowing in civilian transports. At this time, being in Order regalia won’t be that big an issue since others are present, however after that we’re going to have to cover you up.”

                “Fine.” Rayleigh says, tapping the insignia on her clothing. “I know a good shop in Cair I used to visit a lot with some Monster fashion. Hopefully it wasn’t damaged.”

                “Terrorists.” Clint spits. “We all know it was Galmathorian insurgents.”

                “Yes, but it wasn’t the best time for a pretext to war. Given that the Monster Lady and the Grand Wizard were missing with musings about war from the East? We had to take it and prepare.” You say, feeling frustrated. “At least the damage was minimal, all things considered. Still, even this far out I expect people to be on pins and needles. We’re going to want to watch ourselves before moving out.”

                Patricia looks at the map as you trace your finger upward. “Fort Carlsbad? You’re planning on resupplying there before heading north?”

                “Would make sense.” You say, nodding your head. “Seeing as it’s the last major outpost north. If Saya were here we could probably stay with Xanthia but…” You trail off, shuddering. “Anyway, we’ll want to move more northeast anyway.”

                “Hmmm. I’m not so sure.” Patricia says, muttering to herself. “A fort like that is very busy and is likely being watched, wouldn’t you agree?” She looks over at Alice who rubs her chin.

                “I guess? Carlsbad always has people coming and going, especially after what happened in Cair.” She sighs. “I mean, we can always avoid the fort, it just means we’ll have to make do with our supplies as is and it might take a little longer.”

                “Alright, we’ll consider that.” You say, writing on the map. “Anyway, the end goal is make it to the main entrance to the Monster Nation, through this road and an outpost there.”

                “Uhm.” Ophelia says, raising a hand. “Wouldn’t a bunch of heavily armed people draw just a little bit of attention? And why would they let us in?”

                “That would normally be an issue.” You say before smirking and pulling something out from within your suit. “If I didn’t have this.”

Beyond supplies and personnel last night, you also had a meeting with Selene. While both of you are going to the same place, at least initially, she can’t exactly be seen traveling with an Order escort. Besides, you’d slow her down too much. She did, however, give you a letter to give to the guards at the outpost leading to the main road through the Mountains into the heart of the Monster Nation. You’re also advised not to open it until it, which you find fair enough.

 “From there, we head to the Capital to await further assistance from the Monster Lady as we head into the foothills to search for this observatory.”

You roll up the map and look about, smile on your face. “Easy, right?”

Ginelle groans, “Why did you have to say that?”

“Something’s going to go wrong.” Clarissa sighs. “It always does.”

“Well, when it does, I’ll just burn them to cinders!” Rayleigh says, beaming.

“Sounds like a plan.” You say, stowing the map. “I’ll go over provision lists with everyone later. I think we have some weaponry that even Ophelia and Patricia can use in a pinch. I’ll count on you to teach them, Finn?”

The man eyes you warily before clacking his tongue. “I see you did some reading.”

“I assume you approve?”

“Hmph.” He says, shaking his head. “Fine. Though you’ve yet to tell us what we’re searching for in this observatory.”

“I think we’ll keep that confidential for now.” You say to an uneasy car of people who know exactly what’s going on.

 The man narrows his eyes before sighing. “You’re in charge. Now then, this isn’t a very long trip if I recall?”

“Should be in Cair by tomorrow evening.” You say, nodding. “For now, try to get some rest and prepare yourselves. We’ve got a journey ahead of us and I’ll be damned if we’re the last ones back.”

“Welp!” Clarissa says, holding up a wing. “Then we just need to get mo-“

                The whole car shudders for a moment as a low hum fills the air. You turn to look at the window as slowly, the leyway begins to move, picking up more and more speed. The vehicle moves silent as it glides over the tracks, pulling out of the civilized beauty of Deleor off onto the wide open plains surrounding it.

                “Huh.” You say, chuckling. You’re not sure if it’s from exhaustion or otherwise but you find it amusing. “Looks like everything’s going to plan already.”

 “Is that all?”

                You look over to Finn, who addressed you. The man still has a cool, even look on his face, but you can tell he’s not a big fan of being crammed into this car like sardines. All things considered, you’re not a big fan of it either.

                Still…

                Looking around your little jester wagon of people, you understand just how in over your head you are. Managing eight people, four of whom have limited to no relationship with the others, is not only difficult, but potentially dangerous. If (and likely when) things get dangerous, can these people be trusted to have each other’s backs? Since you’re not certain, there’s really only one thing to be done.

                “Not quite.” You say, sitting down on the carpeted floor. “I think since we’re all gathered here anyway, we might as well do some introductions.”

                “Are we back in school?” Clint asks, cocking his head. “Tobias, we’re all adults here, I think we can work together.”

                The others nod and you sigh, shaking your head. “Ophelia, you’re an engineer. How would you feel working on a sensitive piece of magitek with people on a project who you have idea their skills or personalities?”

                “Uhm.” She says, ears twitching. “I’d feel kind of nervous and be constantly checking to make sure they’re doing it…right…” Her ears sink down as she blushes. “No offense…”

                Rayleigh and Finn trade glances before sighing. The Squirrel Girl wraps her legs under herself and says, “Well… I guess since we’re sharing, I might as well start. Name’s Rayleigh, I’m an Order pyromancer, and a damn good one if I do say so myself! I like to burn things, write poetry, and then burn things more.” She blinks at you.

                “Is that good enough?”

                “Uh.” You say, scratching your face. “Yeah, that’s good to start, I suppose.” You cough into your hand. “How about I go?” Taking a deep breath, you address the room.

                “My name is Tobias Shady, and Illusionist. My skills allow me to influence the minds of those around us, helping obscure, trick, or even combat others if needed. My reason for gathering this group together is to gather a crucial artifact which may be necessary to save both Deleor, or perhaps the world as we know it.” You chuckle.

                “I feel like an idiot for saying it like that, but from what I’ve seen, from what others have seen, it seems a real possibility. I’m not only concerned for myself, but for my family and my friends.”

                Nodding your head, you look back to Rayleigh and gesture. “Does that make sense?”

                You’re surprised to see the Squirrel Girl looking at you with a more critical eye than before, her joviality from before gone. She frowns before nodding back to you slowly and saying, “Yeah… I’m not sure I understand how important some artifact is, but if the Lord Commander thinks it’s important enough to go with you, then I will do my best.” She raises her hands and fireballs appear over them. “Right, so again, I’m Rayleigh Asternak and, as you can see, I’m a pyromancer. I specialize in frontline assaults and urban combat, though due to my species, I have no trouble getting into small places. Not exactly great for defense, but I can put up a [Wall of Flames] if needed.”

                You smile to the Squirrel Girl and she blushes before turning away. Making to call on someone else, you find yourself surprised to see Clint raise his hand and speak.

                “My name is Clint Fullvora of House Fullvora. I specialize in medium to long range combat with my magitek rifle.” He pats his weapon. “Despite healing well from an injury in the past, there’s periods when I have some pain, but I’m still confident in my aim. My purpose for being here is much the same as Tobias’s. I too have important people to protect.” He turns to look at Ginelle who nods.

                “I’m Ginelle, a Badger Girl as you can see. I’m quite confident in my durability and strength, though I don’t think using a weapon that I can’t bludgeon someone with is going to be a good idea. My reason for being here is to help a friend. If Tobias needs something, then I’m there. I owe him too much otherwise.”

                Clint looks down at her words. Well, he probably shouldn’t have deleted your leymails, now should he? You turn your attention to Patricia, who coughs into her furred hand.

                “Yes, well. I am Patricia Boudreaux, daughter of the Lord Commander. While I have no combat experience, I am quite well versed in many subjects, including cultures of the Monster Nation. I believe I will be most of use at the ruins we are looking for, however I will do what else I can during that time.” She taps her chin. “My reason for being here… is curiosity. Yes, I believe in the importance of this mission as well, but again, not a fighter. Still…” She hesitates,

                “I’d like to do something useful.”

                “Same!” Clarissa shouts, holding up a wing and accidently slapping Rayleigh on the head. She gasps and pulls her wing back, blushing furiously. “Uhm, oh, sorry!”

                The Squirrel Girl blinks for a moment before snickering and waving a hand at Clarissa. “Pffff. You know what birdy, I think you and me are going to get along really well!”

                “Uhm. Thanks?” Clarissa says, cocking her head. “A-Anyway. My name is Clarissa, a Crow Harpy. I specialize in flying, of which I’m very fast, even in the cooler climates!” She beams at this before looking down. “I’m not really… good at fighting on the ground, but I can help in the air. As for my reason for being here I… I want to be useful too. It’s scary, but after our last adventure, I know how bad things can be. If I knew Tobias was out there and I could have helped I-“

                Ophelia puts a hand on her shoulder and nods. “I understand. I feel the same way.” She takes a deep breath and begins speaking. “My name is Ophelia Illoma, a magitek engineer out of the Manufactorum in Loveura. My combat skills are minimal as well, however I am an expert at magitek and have a few devices with me that should help.” She pats the bag at her side. “If safe enough, I can set up a communication device we can use between members if we need to split up, as well as…” She digs a box from her bag with two metal ends on it. Smirking, she pushes a button and sparks of vibrant blue electricity appear at the end.

                Everyone gasps and pushes back at the device, though Ophelia just chuckles. “It’s a device similar to the rechargeable orbs, however it drains charged magic to produce a beam that stuns people. One jab from this and most people, and Monsters, will be out like a light.”

                “Did you bring the bombs too?” Ginelle asks, to which Ophelia nods.

 “I have some pre-made as well as supplies to make more, if we can find some mana crystals with the right frequency…. Oh! Right, reason for being here is the same as Clarissa. Tobias has done a lot for me as well, even if I probably should have died on that journey…” She shakes her head. “Either way, I can’t just sit back at home with my tools and do nothing. Besides, what if there’s ancient magitek out there?”

“Alright, thank you.” You say, nodding to her. “I suppose that just leaves-“

“Oh! Me, me!” Alice says, waving her arm. You just shrug, which she takes as a signal to continue. “Right then, so, my name is Alice Nurem and I’m a Hero of the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood! My specialty is close range combat with my sword, Energieschwert, which can cut through just about anything. As far as my reason for being here…” She trails off before looking down. “Because I too believe in the importance of what we’re doing. Having a goal of something greater than yourself is something I had to learn the hard way, but something I am passionate about.” She looks up to you especially and nods,

“I’m not losing again.”

You blink at her words. Honestly, you never really got to know Alice beforehand, but this is a dramatic change in personality from what you recall. She was impulsive, brash, and a down right slut who wouldn’t go near a Monster, yet she talked just fine with Tabitha beforehand and is sitting next to Rayleigh without any issues. What the hells happened while she was out in the desert?

“That leaves me then.” Finn says as everyone turns to the battle-scarred man. He looks at you and sighs. “You read the papers and yet you’re making me do this. Fine. My name is Finn Doreal, a Hero. My specialties include frontline combat, although I’m no slouch with a bow. I don’t have a magic sword or magitek, but I’m sturdy and that’s gotten me through most issues. As for why I’m here? Because I asked by the Lord Commander, as I’ve stated before.” He cuts off there and looks at you.

“That good enough?”

You frown at him. Finn seems like someone who would take orders very well, however he did happen to strike that military officer… what is he hiding?

The others in the room speak with each other in low voices after Finn finishes, even across party lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start. Everyone’s got their reasons for being here, but they line up well enough, which is good enough for you. Feeling pretty proud of yourself, you make to speak again when Ophelia’s ears start twitching. She makes a silencing gesture and everyone goes quiet, straining to hear.

Footsteps sound outside the door before walking past. Everyone stands there for a tense moment before Ophelia nods her head and puts a hand to her breast. “Right then, just someone passing by.”

“Well, that’s a good place to stop anyway.” You say, stretching. “Why doesn’t everyone just relax, get something to eat, and we’ll be in Cair tomorrow evening, alright?”

“Sounds good to me, although…” Clint begins. “Where are you going to stay?”

Everyone turns to you. Ah, right, that issue. “Well, I only had two rooms booked you see and uh…” You cough into your hand. “Guess I’m sleeping on the floor.”

Ginelle snickers. “The pampered boy in his nice suit has to rumple it on the floor, huh?”

                “Hey!” You say, frowning. “You know this suit is resilient. Never buy anything less than Arachne silk again.” Picking yourself off the floor you say, “I’ll stay in the other room anyway. If anyone needs anything, I’ll be in the dining car.”

                Movement begins in the little room and you open the door to step outside, sighing as you close it behind you. When you turn back around you see a stunning woman in green silk standing at the end of the hallway. You blink for a moment as she sniffs and brushes her long, blonde hair back before walking by you, toward the other sleeper cars. Well that was strange.

                Shaking your head, you move to the dining car and take a seat at one of the tables. It’s quiet this morning, with no one else but a waiter/ bartender cleaning some glasses. They take your order and move away, leaving you tired. Right, you forgot you were sleepy. You start to drift off a little when a rough hand shakes your shoulder.

                “Huh, what-hrm?!” You say, looking around, preparing you magic. When you see Finn standing behind you, you pause, blinking a few times before sighing in relief. “Oh, it’s just you.”

                “I could very well have been an assassin you know.”

                “A murder on a leyway? You’ve been reading too many mysteries.” Yawing, you gesture for the man to sit. “What do you need?”

                “Hmph.” Finn says, sitting at the little table across from you. “I couldn’t say it back in the room after that little exercise of yours, but I have some disagreements with our travel arrangements. Namely, I do not see why we’re moving close to major settlements.”

                You shrug, understanding his prudence. “It’s because I have assurances from a local authority that we will have arrangements. I do not know the exact details, but I am quite certain it will be fine.”

                “Still, you should consider when we get closer not bringing us close so we don’t antagonize the populace.”

                You frown again at the man, interested yet confused at his concerns. Sure, it makes sense, but why bring this up now and like this? Was he trying to bully you into this or was he just helping? Studying the man’s face a little closer, you notice the hard lines and clenched jaw, as if he’s restraining himself.

                “Ah.” You say, something clicking in your head. “I see. So that’s what happened.”

                “What are you talking about?” He asks, frowning at you in turn.

                “Nothing, nothing.” You say, waving a hand. “I’ll take it into consideration.”

                The man narrows his eyes but sighs and makes to stand. Before he goes you hold up a hand. “Ah, Finn? If you have any other concerns that could be beneficial to this mission, please do not hesitate to let me know. I think you have experience no one else here does and we’d appreciate it.”

                The man blinks at you, surprised for a moment before he recovers, his stoic attitude reappearing on his face. “Right. We’ll speak more later. Enjoy your meal.”

                You watch the man as he walks away. Rubbing you chin, you chuckle. “Well, well, Mr. Shady, you’ve assembled quite the odd team, haven’t you?”

                “Uhm.” The waiter says, your meal in his hands. “Who are you talking to, sir?”

                You blush, taking your food from him. “Erm, no one. Sorry.”

                He walks back to the bar, a little wary of you. Sighing, you dig into the meal, thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

                The rest of the day is fairly uneventful, your team interacting with each other without much issue. Alice gets along well with Clint and Ginelle while Rayleigh spent an inordinate amount of time talking with Clarissa, as if they were best friends. When evening comes, you retire to the room you’d designated, though you have difficulty sleeping on the hard floor. Rayleigh’s incessant talking with Patricia about any and every topic also makes his hard to sleep until Finn quiets everyone down.

                The next day is much of the same. You’re quite surprised nothing bad happens to you the entire time you travel, reaching Cair without incident (beyond Rayleigh almost starting a fire). As the early evening settles, you look out the window upon the coliseum city. Pulling in, you can’t see any more signs of damage, the city having recovered quickly, but there’s an increased military presence, including a few Order Heroes.

                When you arrive, you see the normal flurry of activity you’d expect from a place with the reputation of Cair with people leaving the leyway to get to their destination without delay. The Trolls at this station help deliver your supplies from storage, your party helping to store them in the two bags of holding you were able to procure. You’ll need to manage this a little better when you’ve left the city, but for now it’s good enough.

                “Tobias.” Ginelle says pulling at your arm as you finish going over everything. “Did you notice that woman watching us?”

                “Huh?” You say, trying to look around the platform without being obvious. “I don’t see anyone.”

                “She was in a green dress and had blonde hair.”

                “I saw her on the leyway, but didn’t think anything of it. Probably just surprised at our party, some of our members do stand out a little.”

                “Perhaps.” Ginelle says, knowing she’s one of those that stand out. “You’re probably right. Still, this place feels wrong.”

                “Nothing good ever happens in Cair.” You say, gathering up the others. “But if we keep our heads down, we can get a room for the night, get a wagon in the morning, and be off north before anything bad occurs.”

                “I hate when you say that sort of stuff.” She sighs.

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