Wizardquest 3 Part 5: It’s Raining

Chapter 12

>The Grand Wizard

Boots wet, clothing soaked, and undergarments squelching, you trump through the gates of Hudson with a sour mood. It didn’t take long to reach the city, thanks to Harmony’s flight unit, but you decided to enter the city on foot so as not to arouse suspicion. Unfortunately, this meant you had to walk through the damn swamp.

                And it’s raining.

                Grumbling as you tug on your Wizard’s hat, you hear a distinctive chuckle from your left. You scowl at them, though their features are entirely hidden under a large, brown cloak. “Think something’s funny, snake tits?”        

                “Who are you talking to, I’m over here.” An identical voice says, making you turn to your other side to see another form wearing the same cloak.

Groaning, you say, “I helped redesign both of your chassis, I THINK I can tell the modulations in your vocal patterns, even when you do this shit.”

Reaching forward, you push back the hood of the cloak of the figure on your left to reveal a dissapassionate faceplate and glowing, red eyes along with purple metallic plating. Letting out a grunt of frustration, you yank the hood back down as both of your companions laugh at you at the same time.

“Fuck both of you.” You grumble, walking further into the city.

Hudson, one of the two largest ports of Deleor, resides at the southwestern corner of the country. It is a major hub for both commerce from the myriad of islands off to the southwest as well as rarely visited, western lands and the largest concentration of Deleorian naval vessels, not that Deleor has much of a navy, despite being a country with a massive coastline. Having your major threat be land and airborne Monsters from the north made that sort of thing a little less than necessary.

While Port Dorning on the south east coast has a very exotic and eastern flare, the architecture of Hudson is a mix of subdued, brown buildings built for utility and to combat the frequent rain, and vibrant, almost festive buildings maintained by the descendants of the islands to the south.

You watch as a Lizardman with rainbow colored scales and wearing what looks like waterproof undergarments laughs and drinks alongside a tough, green scaled crocodilian Monster with pale skin and normal, Delorian clothing. Shaking your head, you marvel at just how different parts of this small country were from each other.

“Hmph.” Chaika says, watching the scene as well. “I’d heard Hudson was another world entirely, but I never thought I’d see it.”

“Well, given its location and all the swamps around it, it’s never been touched by the Monster Invasions.” Harmony says. “The Monsters to the south and the Monsters of the sea are all very nice in this region too. I’m not surprised the people here have taken well to the past twenty years.”

“Humph, well we can marvel at the place later. For now, let’s get us a damn room so I can dry myself off.”

“Aww, someone’s upset.” Chaika says, her chuckling needling you. “How cute.”

“Big talk for someone I had to scrape off the back of a wagon a few months ago.”

“Hey, I was doing quite fine by myself.”

Harmony coughs, though it’s a totally unnecessary gesture for a construct. “Define, ‘fine.’”

“Hrmph.” Chaika says, crossing her arms. “Well it won’t happen again since I don’t have to protect those two little twerps this time.”

“Excuse me, Chaika, did you just call my two precious angels, ‘twerps?’” You ask, batting your eyelashes. She looks to the side.

“I mean. It’s just- ah fuck it, yeah I said it.” She says, still not looking at you.

“You miss them, huh?” You ask as you turn down the rain slick streets. Despite coming down in a steady stream, people still walk the streets, going about their business with either umbrellas or, in the case of some aquatic Monsters, walking about in almost no clothing with happy expressions.

“It’s not that I miss them per say, it’s just… I’ve been looking after them for so long, and now they’re finally gone, living their own lives.” Her voice lowers, “It feels strange, not having those obligations.”

“Yeah.” You whisper, trudging onward without saying anything further.

The three of you walk in silence down the dreary roads as tall, drab buildings tower alongside you. You’ve only been to Hudson once, but you can still remember where you’re going, though it’s on the other side of the town, along the coast. As you approach the west side you begin to see more color in the buildings: vibrant signs written in a mix of foreign script and Deleorian or flags denoting one of the island nations.

Chaika lets out a small gasp from her auditory unit as you walk down a corridor of buildings which opens up, revealing the western extent of the city. Despite the rain you see before you a magnificent sight of a raised seawall spreading out farther than you can see with a rich, sandy beach below. Off to the south you can see large, seafaring vessels at dock while the north holds the naval complex, its docks seeming sparse, likely due to the attempted blockade of Galmathoria.

You stand there, water continuing to soak your abused clothing as you take in the sight of the sea spreading out before you until it reaches the black, stormy horizon. If you were a poet, perhaps you would have thought this was somewhat of an omen. But no, you just say something that fits your character much better.

“Some shitty weather we’re having, huh?”

You’re not certain what your companion’s reactions are, under their all-encompassing hoods.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

                A chime tinkles as you open the door to the inn, your clothing leaving a sopping wet trail as you enter. A human girl with caramel-colored skin and a mop signs and waits for you to squelch up to the desk before she begins to clean up behind you. Chaika gives her a look from underneath her hood, but smartly keeps hidden for now anyway. You can tell she really wants to mop though, what a good maid she’s become.

                A large, shirtless man with skin the same as the girl wearing shorts and a necklace of shark teeth sits behind a counter, fanning himself off. At your approach he looks at you and cracks a smile. “Eyyy, what’s going on brother-man. You looking like a rain cloud, bringing the weather in here!” He laughs, slapping his belly, which jiggles.

                “Uh, yeah.” You say, ignoring the man’s jests. “Looking for a room, Otit.”

                The man’s eyes narrow and he leans forward, studying your expression. Despite his appearance you get the impression that if he needed to, the large man could strike at you in the blink of an eye, a fact of which is furthered by the machete you know if behind his desk. After a moment of scrutiny though he beams at you and laughs.

                “Oh ho! Well if it isn’t my favorite magic man! What are you doing back in the okalili of the west?”

                You pointedly ignore him mixing in words which, you’re fairly certain, aren’t real. “On some business.”

                “Ah, business, business eh.” He says, riffling through something in a drawer. “Last time was pleasure eh? You got that lovely olahu of yours under one of them cloaks?” He leers, “Ah but brotha man, you can’t be having two, that’s unfair!”

                The girl huffs and walks away, taking the mop with her. Otit laughs and says, “She’s just mad her boyfriend went to join the Order. Don’t mind her, she’ll be ulatiki soon enough.”

                “Uh huh.” You say, feeling bad for the girl. Gods, how long was it since you last came. She was knee high, huh? “No, my wife is on business as well.” You peer around.

                “Is empty today brotha man, season barely started and the rain keeping the pahu away.”

                Nodding, you wave to Chaika and Harmony, who pull back their cloaks. Otit laughs, “Oh I see how it is, pleasure units eh!”

                “No.” Chaika sighs. “I keep asking for upgrades like that though.”

                “My hookalaus.” The man says, nodding his head with sagacity. “Anyway, you should dry off and not turn my floor into high tide, eh?”

                “I was wondering when you’d get to that.” You say, removing you hat and shaking your head. “I trust we can get the same room as last time?”

                “I thought you said they aren’t pleasure units?”

                “Smart ass. Look, it’s the most private suite.”

                “Ahaha, I know, I know.” He pulls out a key and places it on the table. “I’ll keep quiet about you like last time my alonahanu.”

                “Thanks, uh… alonahanu?” You say, not certain if that’s even the correct word. He smiles and waves you away before calling his daughter back in to clean the floor.

                Reaching the room, you unlock it and usher your attendants in, the two of them staring around in surprise at the décor. The room is spacious, consisting of a living area and a bedroom. Both overlook the beach and have a large decks-like balconies. The decorum is based on one of the more tribal islands which Otit is from and as such as many tribal masks, spears, etc.

                While there’s only one bed, a very nice one at that, it’s not that much of a concern as Harmony and Chaika, being constructs, have no need for sleep. Stepping into the room, you reach out with your hand and channel your magic, drawing the water off you and the two constructs before tossing it outside the window.

                “Ah, that’s better.” Chaika says, removing her cloak and revealing her feminine shaped, slim blue chassis. “I love the feeling of wearing nothing at all.”

                “You’re a construct, you can’t feel.” Harmony says, doing the same to reveal her purple chassis. A section pops out from her back in a shape similar to wing bones. She flexes it a moment as lights flicker. Nodding, she pops it back in, the sections blending seamlessly into her armor.

                “Hey, my emotions can still feel.” Chaika huffs, crossing her arms.  Turning about the room she asks, “So this is where you stayed when you went on that trip, eh? Seems you two really enjoyed it.” She leans down to inspect a section next to the bed, a furrow cut into the wood.

                Coughing, you say, “Yes well, it’s a good room and Otit can be trusted as far as I can tell.”

                “Oh? Do you judge that on if someone blabs about your sex life? If so then I’m the most trustworthy person you know.” Chaika says, bouncing on the bed while kicking up her feet. Honestly, twenty years later and she still plays with them.

                “Hmm.” Harmony says, putting down the large pack she carries, mainly filled with repair materials for the constructs in case you need them. “Didn’t you answer Sophie and Sylphie’s questions about sex using details from their parents?”

                “Oh. Good.” You say. “So that’s why Sylphie asked why mommy hugs daddy while naked. I can now go to my rest knowing who to blame for that awkward conversation.”

                Chaika hisses at Harmony before turning to you as you go through your [Sack of Holding +1], still functional after all these years. “So, we’re here. Might as well go over what the plan is again.”

                “Plan?” You ask, chuckling. “You know we just make shit up as we go along.”

                “Along a framework, at least.” Harmony says. “Which, if we recall, is to try to gain an audience with the Sea Queen so we can get the Trident of the Sea King.”

                “Right, right.” You say, stretching. “I figure asking down at the docks with the aquatic Monsters should be easy enough. Honestly, we probably got the easiest job out of the three.”

                “You say that.” Harmony sighs. “But it’s never that easy and you know it.”

                Waving your hand in dismissal, you lay back on the bed and stare up at the wooden ceiling as the rain continues to come down outside. Gods you actually miss your wife and kids. Heh, it’s almost painful how much things had changed over the years.

                “Perhaps.” You say. “Perhaps we’ll have an adventure, just like back then.”

                “Oh Dollora.” Chaika groans. “Are you asking to get us killed?”

————————————————————————————————————

                With everything settled into your residence for the trip, you decide to head out to into the city. Harmony advises against this course of action, seeing as it’s still raining, but, as you remind her, it’s easier to hide that way.

                “How exactly are we supposed to hide?” Chaika asks as you wave to Otit on your way out. “You’re a famous person and we’re sleek, top of the line constructs with feelings and emotions. Not exactly common.”

                “Beep boop.” Harmony says from under her cloak. It does an admirable job of hiding most of her features. Well, beyond the glowing eyes, but that’s a minor detail.

                “Harr. Harr.” Chaika says, mimicking her monotone voice. “This unit does not find your attempts at humor to be amusing.”

                “Perfect.” You say, foregoing your own outfit of robes for a traveling cloak as well. To put on the finishing touches, you place a mask you borrowed from Otit over your face. Turning to your constructs, you smile through the wooden depiction of an angry island spirit.

                “How do I look?”

                Both constructs go completely still as they stare at you, their eyes unreadable. Finally, Harmony is the first to snicker and say, “This unit finds your attempts at humor to be most satisfactory.”

                “Tsk, ungrateful buckets of bolts. This will work perfectly, you’ll see.” You say, huffing as you walk through the rain toward the docks. As far as your search goes, the best course of action at the start is going to be getting information on where the Sea Queen is and how to get to the Sea Queen. One is probably easier than the other, but it’s a good place to start. Hells, if you can find a way to get to her, this may be the easiest of the three. Go looking for a Dullahan? Phah! Suckers can do that shit.

                There’s still a fair number of people out and about their daily lives despite the rain, apparently not perturbed by it after living with so much water. Again, there are far more aquatic Monsters out than humans though, especially working down near the docks, your first location to check. The three of you agree to split up to cover more ground. Chaika will check out the warehouses, Harmony to the docks themselves, and you to the dockside establishments.

                Despite feeling like a drowned fish again, you make your way to a series of inns, brothels, and bars set near the docks, meant for either intrepid travelers or sailors on shore leave. The docks are actually quite full, perhaps having been meant for Galmathoria but instead ended up doing trade in Hudson due to the blockade. Many of the sailors probably don’t see the difference between the two countries nor care despite it being over twenty years since it became a sovereign nation of sorts. You assume they’ll just trade with whomever has coin.

                Accordingly, you see sailors walking down the afternoon streets, alcohol in their hands despite the rainwater while fetching aquatic Monsters woo them. How many are actually looking for husbands and how many make a good killing at a brothel, you’re not certain. Either way, there’s plenty of sex to go around.

                You stop before a blocky building named, “The Slippery Eel” to find an aptly named patron sitting at a table under an eave, a pipe held in her hand. At your approach the woman smiles but doesn’t raise a hand in greeting, instead raising her long, slimy tail she has hanging out the in the rain.

                “Welcome to The Slippery Eel. Care to get your eel slippery?”

                “Not really.” You say in a gruff voice, mimicking an actor you saw in the most amazing play you’ve ever seen about a bat themed vigilante bringing justice to Cair. The villain in that story was far superior, but now is not the time for that voice. That might come later.

                “Hehe… haha!” She chuckles, her voice smooth as silk. The woman, this Monster, takes a long inhalation of her pipe and exhales a ring of smoke. It frames her gorgeous face and black hair as it moves toward you before being drowned out in the rain. “You sir, do not have a career in acting. What is that mask supposed to be anyway?” She leans forward. “Ah, you’re staying with Otit then?”

                Well shit, there goes your cover. Sighing, you walk up the porch and sit down in front of her, the Monster’s slimy, eel-like tail pulling back to flop on the wooden deck. You notice absently that, like her tail, the rest of her body, which is showing a lot of skin, is covered in a slick ooze. There’s even some on the planks all around her…

                She smiles, fin-like ears flapping. “Well, if you don’t wish to partake in my establishment’s business, why are you sitting at my table?”

                “I’m here to ask a few questions.” You say, trying not to curse at her condescending voice.

                “Hmm.” She says, looking out at the rain. “Well, it is a nice day out, but I’m afraid I’m almost out of green leaf you see and-“ She cuts off as you place a wad of leaves upon the table. Smiling, she takes it and places them in the bowl of her pipe as you do the same, pretending to use a tool to light it. Of course, you use your magic, and quickly get smoke rising.

                The Eel Girl quirks an eyebrow but says nothing before shrugging. “Well mister mysteriously bad actor. How can I assist you?”

                “I’m wondering if you know where the Sea Queen is?”

                “Filliothia.” She says without missing a beat. When you blink at her in surprise (not that she can see through your mask) she chuckles. “The Queen is always in Filliothia unless someone sufficiently powerful such as the Monster Lady calls her forth and then only for a very good reason. It is underwater city of ocean Monsters, after all.”

                Damn. Too bad Selene is a little busy up north or she could have made this even easier. Thinking of her makes your heart ache though and you let out a small sigh before pressing on.

                “Easy enough. Now then, how does one get there?”

                “You don’t, not really.” The Monster says, shrugging.

                “The fuck is that supposed to mean?” You let slip. “I mean, shit. Fuck. Argh. I can be polite.”

                “Haha.” She chuckles. “I’m sure, if you try really hard. Anyway, I meant in that it’s quite impossible to get there on your own.”

                “Can’t a boat take us there?”

                “Not unless it sank. The city is at the bottom of the ocean, after all.”

                You groan. Greeaaaaat. This just got maybe a liiittttllleee harder. “Alright, that puts a damper on things.”

                “Indeed.” She says before puffing another ring of smoke. “As for a guide, you’d either need to be married to an ocean-dwelling Monster and have the blessing of the Ocean Priestesses, or get the blessing of one of the Sea Queen’s closest family.”

                “Ehhhhh.” You say, feeling tired all of a sudden. “Well this sucks.”

                “A little.” She puffs on her pipe. “And no, I’m not one of her closest family.”

                “Damnit.”

                Tapping the table in front of you before blowing out a ring of smoke of your own, you ask, “Ocean Priestess, huh? What’s that?”

                “The devout of Fillios. They run the chapels not dedicated to Solos here.” She points out past the seawall at a building sitting on a wooden dock. It’s rather large, given the location. “Mostly Monsters go there as Devotion to Dollora is… lax, amongst those who dwell in the ocean.”

                “I see.” You say. “Maybe we’ll talk to one of them.”

                She giggles this time. “You don’t look like a single man. I believe it may be difficult to get their blessing to visit the city unless you’ve brought your wife.” She waves her pipe. “Though I doubt someone who brought their wife would be seen around a brothel, after all.”

                “Fair.” You say, standing up and digging out a few silver coins. She forestalls you with a gesture.

                “No need. This is excellent quality leaf, more than enough payment. Besides…” She looks at you with a predatory smile. “I think you being here will make things quite interesting.”

                “Uh, okay.” You say, feeling uncomfortable. Turning away you pause and ask, “What’s your name anyway?”

                “Oh? And here I thought you said you could be polite.” She shakes her head though, shoulders shaking. “It’s Myra. Come on back if you want to have a chat.”

                She waves with her tail again as you leave the deck, almost slipping on a trail of slime she left with her tail. Shaking your head, you head back about the dock, looking for more answers to the fresh set of questions you’ve been delivered.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

                You meet up with Harmony first, finding the construct being assaulted near the docks by a pack of three rather short Monsters with shimmering, black eyes and long, chitnous tails. They snap little claws set under a set of normal, human arms at Harmony while trying to sell something to her.

                “Pretty metal lady want find good husband? Buy shrimp musk!”

                “Only ten silver!”

                “Wow, what bargain!”

                Despite easily being able to swat them, or at least fly away, Harmony stays put, seeming flustered. When you approach you lean on Harmony’s shoulder and sniff the air. “Ahhh, what’s that smell? Smells like porpoise hork.”

                The Shrimp Girls back away, looking at you with horror.

                “Big scary devil man!”

                “He knows secret!”

                “Runnnnn!”

                The three of them scurry away rather quickly, leaving you with a surprised Harmony. She takes a moment to adjust herself before asking, “How did you know it wasn’t shrimp musk.”

                “Listen, Harmony. Think of what I do for a living. I think I know horrifying smells when I smell them.”

                “But it’s raining.”

                “I’m very good at my job.”

                She considers this for a moment before shaking her head. “I know better than to question you.  Anyway, did you find anything?”

                “Yeah… and it’s not great.” You sigh. “You?”

                “Mmm, not terribly much related to the Sea Queen before I was assaulted there. The sailors were too busy to notice I was a construct, but I met a few who say they’ve been to this Filliothia before with their wives. They were a little hesitant to speak much on it beyond telling me to speak with an Ocean Priestess.” She sighs, “Harmonious never actually spoke with an Ocean Priestess before. They’re rather localized to the coastline, as you can imagine.”

                “Similar information to what I got.” You say, nodding your head. “Seems they’re the key to this unless we find one of the Sea Queen’s family or something.”

                “Oh, like Captain Baha?”

                “Eh?” You say, before clacking your tongue. “Riggghhhtttt.”

                “Hmmm.” She taps her chin. “Some of the sailors were talking about a rather important sailor returning to make port recently. No one knows where he’s staying though. Rumor has it he came into town and then just… vanished!”

                “Huh. That’s weird, must be someone who knows where whoever this is went.” You scratch your chin. “It’s Baha, isn’t it?”

                “I don’t know.” She says, shrugging. “But given the track record of things, yes.”

                “Encouraging.” You say, feeling a little better. If you can find the old geezer that’s one way there, right? “Alright, that’s enough sleuthing for now, it’s getting late. Let’s go find Chaika.”

                As you say, you see a form in a cloak sprint down the road in front of you, kicking up a spray of rainwater as a pack of three brightly scaled lamia slither after, their serpentine bodies making great headway through the water. The figure in the cloak looks over their shoulder and you see a shine of red eyes before something clicks on their legs. Oh no, Chaika isn’t going to-

                A figure drops down from the rooftops in between the two parties, causing the serpents to slide to a halt, somehow managing it well despite the slick road. They gather together, hissing as they hoist improvised weapons like clubs, confused at the hooded figure before them.

                The interloper rises slowly from the ground, their long cloak pulling up like shadows gathering from the ground. They look at the serpents but you can’t see anything underneath the cowl. Something subtle shifts, an aetheric twinge. Surprised, you watch as the figure says, their voice somehow both a low growl and loud enough to carry down the street.

                “You lizards crawl back to your hole, now.” They point at the serpents who hesitate before slowly slithering backward and then away, heading toward the warehouses.

                The assembled people on the streets mutter to themselves as the hooded mystery person sweeps their gaze across the assembled people, stopping on you for a moment before sliding past. Before you can call out to them, they leap into the air far higher than anyone should be able to and land on a rooftop before turning a corner and vanishing from sight.

                Watching with both surprise and amazement, you barely notice Chaika as she clambers up, letting out a metallic sigh. “Fucking snakes, I tell you.”

                “You used to be a snake too.” Harmony says, offhanded.

                “Yes, but I was a LAND snake. Sea snakes, not even once.”

                Turning to her you frown and ask, “What happened? Why were you being chased by those goons?”

                “Ehhh.” She hesitates. “I was looking the warehouses for anyone to talk to about the Sea Queen and I asked those three as they were unloading some cargo. They got really jumpy at the mention of the Sea Queen though and brandished weapons.”

                “Uh… Chaika you could have beaten them easily.”

                “Yeah but I was already making a commotion. Seemed best to leg it.” She sighs, looking down at her legs. “Honestly though, I forgot how fast serpentine movement is.”

                “Well, you made enough commotion as it is.” You look around at people giving you curious looks. “Come on, we’re headed back to the inn.”

                “Alright, alright.” She says, placing her hands behind her head as you walk. “Say, who was that cool person who intervened?”

                “I don’t know.” You say, shrugging despite smiling.. “But if we’re lucky we’ll get to see them in action again.”

 

Chapter 13

                You awake next morning feeling the familiar sensation of bloating and abdominal discomfort. Despite your particular brand of magic and a penchant for heated bread pouches, you still don’t enjoy the sensation. Of course, it was neither of these things which lead to your current predicament and instead it was Otit’s island cooking which you did you in. When he places a spineapple glazed ham in front of you, well, what are you going to do? Refuse it?

                Thankfully, another perk of your position and long term experience in the ways of indigestion is a handy supply of potions to remedy the situation. Grabbing one from your [Sack of Holding +2], you drain the vial before grimacing. Great, this will teach you to buy the cheapest one. Sure, it will work but it didn’t have any added flavor beyond that of “salty cum.” God you hate alchemy sometimes.

                Feeling relief, you begin to dress yourself as Chaika and Harmony stir in the corner. Putting on your undershirt you ask, “Have good dreams?”

One of the upsides of being a construct is not needing to sleep. A downside, however, is that they CANNOT sleep. It began to be something which bothered the two of them greatly, and so you’d managed to form a rudimentary program to help them cycle their functions and go into a dreamlike state.

                Chaika yawns, not that she had the physiological need to, “Yeah. I dreamt I was a spider crawling up a water spout.”

                “Is that all?”

                “Well, the rain came down and I drowned.”

                “Isn’t that charming.” Harmony says. “I dreamed about being able to taste that meal last night.” She turns her gaze to you and you shake your head. Sensory adaptations to a construct haven’t been made yet for touch and taste. You’re working on it though!

                “Rats.” She sighs. “Well, it smelled nice anyway.”

                “Uh huh.” Chaika says, pulling her cloak over her head. “Anyway, what’s the game plan, mister man?”

                You mouth at Harmony in response to this, but she just sighs and shrugs. Shaking your head, you say, “Well, I figure we go talk to this ‘Ocean Priestess.’”

                “Eh? One of those kooky codgers?” Chaika asks. “Only met one of them before, they don’t like going anywhere there isn’t coastline.”

                “Makes sense.” Harmony says. “Can you tell us a little more about them?”

                “Kind of…” Chaika mumbles. “But I never really learned much about Fillios, most Monsters don’t. If I recall right, then those priestesses are universally Hydromancers and they’re unnaturally calm all the time.” She shudders, again, not a normal response for a construct.

                “It’s creepy.”

                “Well, I can out creepy her if needs be.” You say, putting on a slightly less distresses mask. Blue crying spirit should be better than red angry spirit, right?

                On your way out of the inn, Otit tosses a bag of something at you, which Harmony catches without even looking. Cocking your head, you look into the bag to find a nice lunch of leftover from last night. Chuckling, you say, “You trying to fatten me up or something?”

                “Ha! Fatten up he says.” Otit slaps his belly. “You wish you could be as attractive as me.”

                “If you say so.” You say, putting the bag into your [Sack of Holding +2]. Thinking, you ask, “Hey Otit, you hear anything about some legendary sailor in town gone missing?”

                “Ah, I hear something about that.” Otit says, rubbing his chin. “I hear he was last seen in a tavern making an okaluie out of himself, but the next day he was gone.” The large man shrugs before smiling, “Hey, but you know what’s cooler? The Dark Avenger!”

                “Huh?”

                “Yeah, yeah! Some new person going around town fighting crime and such. It’s hokkanikawow!”

                You frown. “Were they about this tall and wearing a black cloak?”

                “Yes! You’ve seen them eh?” He laughs. “All the kids these days keep talking about them but I haven’t seem them. Maybe you’ll run into them again, eh?”

                “Eh.” You say, shrugging. “I don’t really care and I’d rather stay out of trouble.”

                “Oh, then you picked the wrong spirit. U’tachilka not known for her calm skies.”

                Feeling at the mask, you sigh and say, “It’ll be fine enough.”

                “So you say! Well, have a boonkanowie day!”

                “You uh… you too.” You say, not really knowing how to respond to his strange, made up language. Settling for that though, you step outside to find the rain gone, instead replaced with a bright blue sky and humidity so thick you could take a bite out of it.

                Immediately your clothing becomes soaked with sweat, trickles of it making your hair feel greasy. Feeling incredibly uncomfortable, you groan and make your way into the town, your perplexed constructs following you. Well, this is miserable, but if you keep it to yourself, you shouldn’t draw much attention. As you walk through the streets though, it becomes obvious that you’re drawing far more attention than before however.

                “Oh.” Harmony says, noticing. “Isn’t everyone wearing light clothing?”

                It occurs to you then that yes, men are either shirtless or wearing loose shirts with short cut pants while the women wear similar clothing or the barest level of modest undergarments. Some Monsters you feel would be fully nude if they could be, though thankfully there’s some decorum in this town. That being said, you’re a fucking weirdo for wearing a cloak.

                Groaning further, you remove the cloak but keep the mask on. As for Chaika and Harmony… well, they’ll get looks no matter what you do so they keep it on. At least you’re a little more comfortable.

                Trying to ignore the stares of the townsfolk, you make your way toward the boardwalk heading to the large chapel of Fillios over the water. Nodding to the other two, you walk down the planks, finding them surprisingly sturdy and well cared for. Barnacles dot the lower levels of the trunks sunk into the water and coral climbs up the sides, making a rather beautiful display. And yet, while this should have lead to some rotted planks or weakened integrity, you see no such signs of damage to the structure.

                A casual touch to the planks reveals the cause: magic. A sort of magic you’re not quite familiar with, but it reminds you of the holy magic often used by the devout of Solos. Could Fillios be keeping this place like this? What a strange magic if so.

                When you reach the building itself, you notice a series of poles jutting into the water. You figured they were for integrity of the building at first, but now that you look at them, you realize they’re for aquatic Monsters to pull themselves up from the surf if they want to enter. For the building itself, there actually isn’t much to say about it.

                It’s tall, probably has a third story attic, but is otherwise rather plain and made of wood, unadorned with little but a few windows and a symbol of a wave. Looking between the other two, you nod your head and push open the large, double doors, and look around the interior.

                The first thing you notice is that this place smells like low tide at the pier. Now, to be fair, it actually is low tide at the pier, but that’s beside the point. A wave of salt-water and fish assaults your nose and you have to stagger for a moment as your head spins. Harmony keeps you upright and you nod at her before taking in the view.

                Like the exterior, the inside of the chapel is fairly plain and unadorned. Unpainted wood greets you underfoot and you can see cracks between the planks, water dripping between them to the ocean before. You see side passages and stairs leading to an upper level where rows of benches are placed while only a few of the same are on the bottom floor. The majority of the space before you is taken up by two large, shallow tanks of water, both filled you believe with saltwater, same as the ocean around you.

                You stare in curiosity as you walk through the chapel toward the back of the room, where an altar covered in coral sits. A figure sits upon the altar, idly polishing a marble statue depicting a woman with gorgeous features and long, flowing hair, holding a trident in one hand and a motif of water in the other.

                As your feet stamp through the thin later of water on the floor, the one perched on the altar turns to you and gives you a soft, wan smile. You can clearly see she’s female, and not just that, a Monster. Though she has a beautiful smile, long, golden hair, and blue eyes, her sensuously curved human torso terminates into a beautiful, blue scaled fish-like tail, the end of which swishes in the water on the floor.

                “Welcome. Be at peace in Fillios’s domain.”

                Though she didn’t speak loud, you feel an almost physical force wash over you, making you feel calmer somehow. You’ve heard that Fillios is also a Goddess of temperance and calm, but you didn’t think this would extend to her priestesses. Shaking your head, you say, “Nice place you have here.”

                “Oh, why thank you.” The Mermaid says, giggling behind her hand. You absently notice her breasts, clothed only by the thinnest of seashell undergarments, sway as she does so. Harmony, not absently, slaps your side and you wheeze. The priestess cocks her head and asks, “Are you alright?”

                “Y-yeah, just fine.” You glare at Harmony before composing yourself. “Are you the Ocean Priestess?”

                “I am. Have you come seeking the guidance of the Mother of the Oceans? Will you be setting sail soon?”

                “Err, sort of.” You say. “Actually, look, we kind of need to speak with the Sea Queen. I’ve heard you can take us to Filliothia?”

                “I can.” The priestess says, not skipping a beat. “But I won’t.”

                “What.”

                She shrugs and looks up at the statue of what you assume is Fillios. “It is part of my duties to help those who wish to live in harmony under the waves to the Sea Queen’s domain. However, those who do not share their bonds beneath the blanket of the sea shall not receive this blessing.”

                “Yeah but, it’s kind of important.” You sigh. “We’re kind of trying to save the world here.”

                “The world of land is a very large place.” The priestess says. “And yet, it pales in comparison to what is beneath the waves. What one thinks is their world is only a fraction of what truly is and who looks after it.”

                Grunting, you turn to Chaika. “Is she being poetic or pedantic?”

                “I think she’s trying to say that Dollora is a chump and Fillios’s domain is far more important.” Chaika cocks her head. “Thems fighting words.”

                “If so, that’s silly. Sveth has far greater domain due to the earth.” Harmony says, tapping her chin.

                “Argh.” You groan, turning back to the priestess. “Is there anything you can do?”

                She shakes her head. “The laws of the sea are as written and cannot be changed. One most give their heart to one of the sea or be shepherded there by the Queen’s own hand.” Her eyes flash blue. “And you have the smell of land upon your manhood.”         

                “Listen, I’ve bathed since the last time I had sex, okay.” You say. “And it was in a bed which was freshly washed too so there wasn’t dirt, just a few crumbs because I was hungry.”

                The priestess giggles before turning into outright laughter. When she calms down she says, “I had heard the chosen of Solos were an eccentric group, but this I was not aware.”

                “Oh, so you know I’m a Wizard, eh?”

                “Of course. I can feel your essence through the waters.” She points down to the water around your feet and you blink in surprise. “But I am afraid I cannot help you.”

                “Even if I-?”

                “Yes, even if you ask very nicely.”

                “Well shit.” You say. “We have to get down there though, it really is important.” You consider for a moment. “Can you deliver a message to the Sea Queen?”

                “Perhaps, if the tides are right.” She says. “Though I make no promises. The seas are unquiet now, same as the Queen’s mood.”

                “Eh? What does that mean?” Chaika asks, tapping the water tank next to her.

                “It means, that she’s a little pissed off at the moment.” The Mermaid says as the water underneath Chaika forms into a hand that slaps the construct’s wrist.

                “Alright well, tell her that… that the Monster Lady’s husband wants to talk with her, alright?”

                “I know who you are, and I will strive to.” The priestess says, bowing her head. “May to sleep soundly upon the waves.”

                Not certain that was a dismissal or a threat, you nod to the other two and leave the chapel, heading back to dry land. Of course, the moment you step outside again you feel even wetter than when you stood in a small pool of water, but that’s besides the point. Fuck, how do people live here?

                “Well, she was nice.” Harmony says as you walk between building along the seawall. “I don’t think she’s going to contact the Sea Queen for us though.”

                “Doubtful.” You agree. “Well, I guess maybe we should find some other lead then. Or just wait until she maybe or maybe not contacts the Sea Queen.”

                “Can’t we just swim there?” Chaika asks before thinking. “Wait, are we equipped to swim?”

                “Somewhat, yes.” You say. “But not very deep, nor am I overly great at Hydromancy to go searching for some mythical city.”

                “Well, that just means more work for us.” Harmony says. “Adventure, right?”

                “I did a lot more fighting on my last adventures.”

                Chaika cocks her head and looks over toward an alleyway. “Hmm. Maybe you’ll get your chance.”

                Your shoulders stiffen as a female cry of panic sounds before a black cloaked figure flies through the air and lands at your feet. They get up slowly, wincing in pain, and you realize it’s the person from before, this Dark Avenger. You make to help them up and they turn about before ducking their head, hiding their visage from view. Despite their earlier girly scream, their voice becomes that growl again.

                “Ah! Citizen! Never fear!” They pull away from you and turn back toward the city where a Monster with a powerful upper body and a torso that of a lobster with crushing claws walks forward, flanked by the three sea serpents from yesterday.

                “Never fear, huh?” The Lobster Girl says, cracking her human knuckles. “You been snoopin around where you ought not be snooping. And now you’ve gone and brought these fine folk into this.” The Monster nods to you. “Sorry about this, but we’re going to have to rough you up too.”

                Sighing, you reach for your magic, ready to teach these thugs a lesson, when the Dark Avenger thrusts out a black-furred hand and a wave of fire surges forward to engulf the crustacean Monster.

                The Lobster Girl screams and backs away, her powerful shell deflecting most of the heat, but the sea serpents near her are less fortunate, the flames forcing them to retreat down from where they came. Eventually the fire stops and the Lobster Girl, positively glowing red, bellows and runs toward the surprised Pyromancer.

                Before the Lobster Girl can reach, you step forward and create a wall of [Ice] that the Monster slams into, bouncing backward and onto the ground before picking herself up. Cracking your neck you say as you raise your staff, “I think you need to cool off.”

                [Ice] flows from your staff to coat the Monster’s legs, forcing her to shout in panic. Before you can freeze her solid though, she slams the ice with her claws, breaking it apart and allowing her to scuttle back.

                “You piece of shit. You haven’t heard the last of us!” And with that, she runs the same way that the sea serpents went.

                The Dark Avenger, or whomever they are, sighs and adjusts their cloak before turning to you. You still can’t see anything under their hood, but they study your mask for a moment before saying in that gruff voice. “Thanks for the help, citizen.”

                “Uh huh.” You say, crossing your arms. “And what might you have done to piss them off?”

                “Justice.”

                “Pfffffff.” You spit. “What load of shit is this? Do you think you’re some kind of hero?”

                “I am what I need to be.” They say. “This city needs a hero. Needs to be saved from the corruption that grows underneath.”

                “How old are you?”

                ‘What are you, my dad?”

                “Psssh, please. No child of mine would be this edgy.” You say, waving a hand. “Not even Saya.”

                The Dark Avenger pauses and turns to study you once more. You feel they’re about to say something when a horse neighs in the distance. They turn and shake their head before saying, “You’d do best not to tangle with them again. There have been kidnappings in town, even the powerful are not safe. Let me save this city.”

                Before you can say anything further, they dash down the alleyway and leap into the air before landing on the back of a large, bay horse that quickly runs out of sight.

                You stand there for a moment, dazed by the scene. Harmony places a hand on her hip and says, “Well, you got your wish.”

                Clacking your tongue, you merely shake your head.

                “Well, it was something anyway. Kind of cool I guess? Well, whatever, let’s decide what to do now.”

                “Yeah…” Chaika says, watching after the figure, her voice pensive. “No sense standing around here.”

                You watch Chaika for a moment before sighing. “Right then. Well since we’re in an alleyway, might as well talk over what our next move is.”

                “Uhm.” Harmony says. ‘What?”

                Shaking her head, Chaika turns and shrugs to the other construct. “No better time than the present, and no better place than here.”

                “Uhm.” Harmony says again. “What?”

                “Anyway.” You say, breaking this silliness. “With the Ocean Priestess not helping, we’re left with trying to find someone else who can.”

                “Like your wife?” Chaika asks, to which you give her a sour expression.

                “Yes… like her I suppose. But we don’t have that luxury, so we’ll have to figure things out for ourselves.”

                Harmony sighs. “Well, there’s always looking into that missing sailor.”

                “Aye.” Chaika says. “If it’s Baha then we have a ticket there, easy.”

                “And if it’s not, maybe he knows where Baha is.” You say, nodding. “Sounds good without any other leads. What did they say happened to him? He just up and vanished, right?”

                “Yeah.” Harmony says. “And if what that Dark Avenger said is true, then he may have been kidnapped.”

                “I suppose we can just go and knock in some heads.” You say, stretching.

                “No, I think that would cause more trouble than it’s worth. It’s best to even see if they have him and then try to resolve things peacefully. We’re trying not to blow our cover, remember.”

                “Guess we’re snooping out the warehouses!” Chaika says, voice positively bubbly as you sigh in defeat.

                ————————————————————————————————————-

                You wait until the evening before leaving for the warehouses. If last time was any indication, they’ll be on alert during the day for anyone snooping. At night at least you can hide under cover of dark clothing and magic, if needed.

                The mask is forgone this time, though only because Harmony demanded it. You still wanted to wear it because you thought it was be funny to jump someone at night wearing that. Chaika was also in support, but sadly neither of you could ever overrule the straight-laced Harmony.

                For their part, the two constructs turn onto low power, dimming the lights coming from their eyes and other parts of their bodies. The cloaks are helpful, but a glowing set of eyes in the dark does not stealth make. Ah, who are you kidding, stealth is not any of your forte. If worse comes to worse, you’ll just burn the whole place down to the ground. That’s always been a good back-up plan to stick with.

                Walking between the silent warehouses, using localized [Privacy Barriers] to hide your movements, you make your way toward the warehouse that Chaika had her run-in before at. In the distance you can hear the carousing of the sailors, but over here all you can hear is the sea breeze and the scurrying of rats. A pang of pain runs through your heart at that thought. Gods how you missed Bubs sometimes.

                Chaika holds up a hand and both you and Harmony stop, readying yourselves. The lead construct nods and creeps forward slowly, you both following behind until you get a good view in the distance of two haggard looking Sea Serpent Girls.

                The Monsters stand in position near a door, trying not to look like guards, but the swords at their hips make it obvious they’re expecting trouble. One of them, wearing little more than a strap to cover her breasts and a belt, pulls out a flask from a pouch and starts drinking before tossing it to the other, who does the same.

                “Fucking hells.” She says in an islander accent. “First we get scorched, then the boss chews us out. I’m starting to think this gig isn’t worth it.”

                “Feh, we’re just grunts. We accept what others tell us and deal with it.” The second says before tossing back the flask. “Just nod your head and get paid.”

                “Tsk.” The first serpent takes a drink and coughs. “Ugh, that caped idiot to a number to arms. My favorite fucktoy almost didn’t let me rape him.” She hisses, “If I see that shit again, I’m going to tear their arms off.”

                “Pff, if you say so. Let’s hope that the boss doesn’t see them though or there will be hells to pay. He’s getting sick of them interfering in our business.”

                “Yeah yeah. It would mean moving the cargo and that’s a pain in the ass.”

                They both nod in agreement and continue chatting amongst themselves. It’s fairly inane for the most part, so the three of you pull back to discuss under cover of a [Privacy Barrier].   

                “It’s two of them from before.” Chaika says, nodding her head. “Looks like this is the place.”

                “Wonder what they mean by ‘cargo?’” Harmony asks, tapping her cheek. “Could they just be simple criminals?”

                “Maybe.” You say, thinking it over. “Might as well take a look since we’re here.”

                Harmony nods and the three of you go around the warehouses to the back of the one guarded by the Serpents. There are no windows, or you’d just toss in a [Remote Sentry], and there’s only one door, the front. Annoying, you look up and nod to the others. They nod back as you use some of the geomancy you learned from Rommel to raise the three of you from below up to the roof. Once there, you look around and find a skylight built onto the building to let in some light. Moonlight sparkles through the glass as you walk forward and look down into the warehouse.

                Below, you see the typical of a warehouse: a lot of crates piled atop each other amongst some lanterns giving off some faint light. What is atypical about the scene are the forms of three gagged and bound Monsters. You can’t quite make out their species specifically, but you’re pretty sure you’re looking at aquatic Monsters here.

                Around them are a group of Sea Serpent Girls and that Lobster Girl from before, all of them

                “What are they doing?” Harmony asks, her audio unit set to it’s lowest.

                “Not sure. Guess that Avenger dolt was right about the kidnappings though.”

                “Hey, does something look off about the floor down there?” Chaika says, pointing down.

                You frown and notice that in the light of the lanterns, the floor has a circle made of seaweed around the captives, the pieces of undersea plant life making runic patterns you’re not familiar with. Is this some kind of ritual going on here? Shit, are they going to sacrifice those girls?!

                “We have to get down there.” You say, reading your staff. “Chaika, break the glass and cause a distraction, Harmony, swoop down and get the captives. I’ll follow and incapacitate them to-“

                You cut off suddenly as you hear a muffled cry from below followed by a booming sound. Looking down, you see the captives screaming while their captors look about in panic. A moment later, the lanterns go off one by one as an aetheric touch quenches their flame. Only the moonlight shines down now, revealing your shadows looking down from above.

                The captors shout and you curse, forcing your plan into motion faster than anticipated. Chaika busts through the skyline, glass shards tinkling down around her as she lands in front of the terrified captives. Unfortunately she didn’t get the complete drop of them, so when Harmony swoops down, one of the Sea Serpents throws a weighted net at the construct, throwing her crashing to the ground as she struggles to free herself.

                Harmony, on the ground, and Chaika, doing battle with the Lobster Girl, are unable to project the captives. Grunting, you jump down after them, using Aeromancy to slow your fall. As you descend, you point your staff at one of the hooded figures and let loose a [Lightning Bolt] that drops them, along with another next to them. When you hit the ground, you quickly weave a [Shield Circle] and deflect the blow of a Sea Serpent Girl looking to attack the captives.

                One of the hooded figures next to you begins to channel hydromancy at the same time a Sea Serpent moves in to strike with a sword. Before the spell can be cast, however, a [Lightning Bolt] strikes them from the crates above and they drop to the floor, unconscious. This gives you time to drop your defenses and strike at the sword wielder, dropping them in an instant.

                One of those wearing a robe, their face unable to be seen in the darkness, and wearing a chain of seashells and seaweed turns and runs. You make to catch him when another figure lands in front of them, dressed in all black. Oh fucking great.

                “Halt!” They say in that gravely voice. “Take one more step and I’ll subdue you, evil-doer!”

                The figure pauses a moment before you feel… something… pulse from them. The Dark Avenger staggers for a moment before dropping to the floor, hand on their head. The robed figure runs past them and out into the night.

                The Lobster Girl swings at Chaika but the Construct nimbly leaps over the blow and lands on the large claw, looking down impassively at the Monster. When the crustacean screams in anger, Chaika delivers a kick to her head with such force that they drop, immediately unconscious. By this time, Harmony has pried herself lose and is helping mop up, though some of the combatants flee the carnage. Well, whatever.

                Sighing, you turn to the captives and smile, “All of you okay?”

                The Monsters, a Crab Girl, a Mermaid, and a Shark Girl all look at you with surprise. Blushes come to their cheeks and you can’t help but feel dashing somehow through all of this. Selene must never know.

                The Mermaid nods her head. “Y-Yes, I think so. Thank you.”

                “Yeah, no problem.” You say, rubbing at your head. “How long have you been here?”

                “I don’t know. A day or two.” She says. “I’m on a trip from Filliothia for business when I was kidnapped in my inn room.” She shakes her head. “I awoke here.”

                The other two give similar stories, all having been visiting from Filliothia. Frowning, you turn to the captors who are being tied up by Chaika and Harmony. Doesn’t look like they’ll be talking anytime soon. A figure does move in the distance though: The Dark Avenger.

                “Hey… don’t I know you?” The Shark Girl says, peering at you. “Aren’t you that Wiz-“

                “Nope, it’s the moonlight playing tricks on you.” You say as you walk toward the prone figure.

                They let out a groan as they push themselves up, hand on their head. When you approach, you squat down before them and growl, “What the fuck was that?!”

                “H-huh?” They ask in a much more girlish voice. “I-I don’t.”

                “Don’t you give me that shit. You fucked things up here and then let the ringleader get away. This isn’t a game you idiot, people can get hurt here.” Reaching forward, you grab their hood. They panic and grab your hand with their black furred ones and you hear a familiar voice plead,

                “N-no! Don’t!”

                Not heading their words, you pull it back and blink in surprise. The Dark Avenger winces and looks up at you before letting out a pitiful moan. She sighs looks up at you, green, feline eyes catching the moonlight.

                “H-Hey Dad.” Sylphie says.

                “What in the fuck-“ You begin, but cut yourself off, your shock turning back into anger. “Sylphie! What the hells are you doing-? Actually, nevermind, where is Mr. Ed?” Turning to the front door you shout, “ED! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!”

                A moment later a large, bay gelding walks in, his hooves clacking against the stone floor. He stops beside Sylphie and gives her a sidelong glance before turning to you and whickering.

                “Oh don’t you try me, mister. What the hells are you doing letting my little girl act like a Gods damned fool?”

                The horse rolls his eyes. You glare at him in response when Sylphie says, “Dad! It was my idea to do this, not his!”

                “Yes, but he’s the adult here and he should have stopped you!”

                “Dad!” Sylphie cries in frustration, throwing her hands up. “I’m an adult too!”

                “Not after this childish showing.” You say back to your daughter, gritting your teeth. It’s been months since you last saw her and part of you knows you should be kinder, but at the moment you’re so angry at her. “What do you think you’re doing, dressing up like some capeshit mummer and playing hero?”

                “I’m doing good!” She huffs, nodding to the captive Monsters. They stare at both of you in fascination, all three looking away sharply as you turn their way. Sylphie’s tails are standing on end as she speaks again, voice getting heated. “I found out about some shady shit in this town and I decided to do my best to help out! Someone had to do it!”

                “So you figured after one little adventure in the desert where you nearly got killed, it would be okay to be some vigilante?”              

                “And what the fuck are you doing?” She shouts back.

                You blink in surprise at the question, not certain how to answer. Before you can, Mr. Ed inserts himself between the two of you and snorts. He flicks his head to Harmony and Chaika, who walk up to the little scene, both appearing amused, despite their lack of facial expressions.

                “Well well, if it isn’t the little adventurer herself. I knew you said you’d be out west, but I didn’t expect you’d wind up in Hudson.” Chaika says, hand on her hip.

                “Hi Chaika…” Sylphie grumbles, crossing her arms under her breasts. “I just wanted to help…”

                You begin to make a retort when Harmony holds up a hand. “That’s enough. We need to get these captives safely back home and see to their captors. You two can bicker later.”

                Both you and Sylphie trade glances before sighing and going about the work.

                Harmony and Mr. Ed escort the captives out to their rooms while you, Chaika, and Sylphie finish rounding up the new captives. Those in the robes turn out to be humans, mostly men, but you can tell they’re sorcerers, as evidenced by the mana crystals in their pockets. This makes the theory of a ritual that much more enticing.

                As Chaika finishing tying up the Lobster Girl, the large Monster stirs. “Ugh… my head.” She blinks in surprise and then struggles, “H-Hey! What the fuck is this?”

                “Nothing much.” Chaika says, cinching the rope tighter. “Just tying you up.”

                “N-No shit!” The Monster says.

                “Who are you?” You ask, approaching.

The Monster blinks at you and says, “Gilly. What the fuck does that matter?”

“I meant, who the fuck are you to be kidnapping people and doing some ritual.”

The Lobster Girl blinks before chuckling. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Lady, I’ve killed things with many more legs than you in ways far more horrific than you can imagine, just fucking tell me what I want to know or I let the psycho snake in a robot body have fun.”

She turns her head to Chaika, who lets out a soft hiss of static. The Monster shudders and says, “Look, me and my girls were just hired by those robed guys for security and to capture a few unwilling participants.”

“All of them from Filliothia?”

“A-Aye. Listen, I don’t know who they are or what crazy shit they were going to do, alright? They didn’t talk much.”

“We’ll make them talk.” You say, looking at the hooded forms. Turning back, you ask, “Have you kidnapped any more people?”

“No.” Chaika punches her in the gut. “Y-Yes. Three others. We brought them here but I don’t know where they are now!”

“Were any of them sailors?”

“One guy. Of the few times they spoke to us, the hooded woman running the show told us we had to capture him above all else.” She grumbles, “Bastard gave us a good showing too…”

So the figure who escaped was a woman, huh? It’s more than you had before. Nodding to yourself, you turn to see your daughter present, frowning.

“A female huh? I wonder if it was a Monster based on the mental magic she must have used on me.”

“Sylphie… ugh.” You sigh, shaking your head. “Just sit in the corner for now while I think about what to do.”

“No.” She says, defiant. “I found out they were kidnapping people and I helped stop at least two of their attempts. This is as much my work as yours.”

“Like father like daughter…” The Lobster Girl mutters before going silent at both of your withering glares.

“Anyway.” You mutter. “Where would they have gone?”

“I don’t know.” Chaika hits her again. “Fuck! I really don’t! We only ever met here!”

“Ah shit.” You say. “Well we’ll just have to wait until they wake up.”

“Hmph, YOU will.” Sylphie says, walking over to Mr. Ed and mounting him in a single bound. “I’ll find them before you and finish this myself.”

“What the- oh hells no, you get back here little miss-“

She casually ignores you and turns Mr. Ed, who gives you a tired look before carrying them both out into the night.

“She must be at the rebellious age.” Chaika says, rendering the Lobster Girl unconscious again. “Anyway, what do we do now?”

You do what any good father would do. You run to the ruined entrance and shout, “SYLPHIE! Unless you come back here right now I’m going to, with great detail, tell your beloved sister, your mother, and even that autistic rock kiddo how much of a NERD you’re being!”

                Unfortunately, you can no longer see her, Mr. Ed having quickly left the scene you suspect. Even still, you get the faint impression that she’s giving you the bird. In all honesty, you’d probably do the same.

                Grunting in annoyance, you head back to Chaika, whose impassive face oozes exasperation. “So much for reconnecting after the desert, huh?”

                “Bite me, snake tits.” You mutter before running a hand through your hair. Gods above, to see one of your daughters out here, making a fool out of herself no less! Didn’t you raise her better than that?

                A dim part of you wonders about that statement, a part you suppress before groaning. Feeling somewhat empty inside, you sigh and wave to Chaika. “We’ll have to deal with her later. For now, we need to get more information on what was happening here.”

                Chaika watches you for a moment before letting out a sigh. Was she expecting something from you? She kneels down and begins taking mana crystals from one of the robed captives, pulling back to hood to reveal the face of a male islander. As she works, she says, “Sure. Let’s get these rounded up and we’ll see about getting one to talk. Probably don’t have too long before any authorities arrive though. You don’t want to be here when they do, right?”

                “Not particularly.” You say, reaching down and pushing the hood back on another one to find a Cat Girl with islander features too. All in all, there’s five of the robed members, four Sea Serpent Girls, and the Lobster Girl. Curiously, all of the robed ones are islanders, and a mix of humans and Monsters. Only three of them are sorcerers however, with one, an island Kikimora of all things, as a Monster witch.

                She is the first to awaken and she looks about in concern when she realizes she’s tied up. Unfortunately, you’re unable to just pump all the semen out of her, so she has the strength to cast [Water Blades], a high velocity water spell, at you, but you expected this and block it easily with a [Counter Circle].

                “Well that’s rude, aren’t Kikimoras supposed to be gentle souls?”

                “Stick it in your itikitaka.”

                “Oh, that’s a good one.” Chaika says, nodding her head.

                “Uh huh, sure. How about you just tell us what you were doing here and where to find your boss and we’ll be gravy, okay?”

                “Fuck you.”

                “Hey, hey.” You say, kneeling down to face her. “I’m the boss of this warehouse, okay? Tell me what I want to know.”

                “I will never reveal the designs of Mun’taca, the conduit of the great mother!”

                “Oh no, you won’t? Dang.”

                “Haha!” The Kikimora snorts, triumphant. “Silly pahu, you could never understand her great plan! Only Mun’taca hears the voice of the great mother! We are promised glory eternal!”

                “Glory eternal? Oh nooooo. But how, how could this be? No one can have such a thing!”

                “Aha!” She chuckles. “But she does, you hopinawi! She will bring us to the city of the unbelievers and we’ll-“

                “HEY!” One of the other captives says, and islander man. “Stupid the fuck up!”

                The island Kikimora blinks her eyes before they grow very wide and she turns to you, horrified. “You… tricked me?”

                “Uh.” You say, scratching your head. “You kind of played yourself.”

                “Impossible, Mun’taca said my mind was like a steel trap. How could this happen? What magic did you use?”

                Turning to the man who woke up, you ask, “Is she an idiot?”

                “Yes…” He mutters before turning resolute. “But we will say nothing more!”

                “Yeah, I figured as much.” You sigh. “Well I tried- ah! By the way, what kind of Monster is your leader?”

                “She’s a-“ He cuts off before looking to the side the Kikimora laughing at him.

                “So she is a Monster…” You mutter. A Monster witch with some kind of mental magic. Gods, how long as it been since you used your [Inner Guardian]? Does that knight of yours still look the same? For some reason you feel that the years, and your binge watching of eastern theatre recently, have made him look a little more like an easterner, but when you try to focus your mind’s eye on him, he vanishes like a shadow. Neat.

                A shape drops down from the rooftop to land among the glass shards, throwing up a cry of alarm from the captives. You merely turn your head to Harmony as she stands and ask, “All went well?”

                “Yeah.” She says. “They got their stuff and are ready to high-tail it back to Fillothia. Seemed rather insistent on it too.” She looks at the captives. “Get any good information?”

                “Not really.” You say, kicking the Kikimora, who has a smug look on her face. “This one almost spilled the beans but she stopped herself midway.”

                “Pahu.”

                “Yeah, okay.” You say, turning back to Harmony. “How far away are the authorities?”

                “Should be here soon. You ready to go?”

                “I guess.” You sigh, grabbing onto the construct. She nods her head and activates her flight unit, bringing you out and down to the back alleyway while Chaika jumps on crates and out through the broken skylight. The three of you make your way back out of the warehouses while the sound of city guard and potentially Order members make to take the captives. Gosh you hope that Kikimora doesn’t try anything stupid.

                Once you’re far enough away from the warehouse you take a moment to reflect on what just happened. For starters, there’s a group that’s kidnapping people in town and using them in some kind of ritual. Their leader appears to be a Monster who uses mental magic of some capacity and is currently at large. They also all seem to be islanders, for whatever reason that may be. Coincidence, perhaps? Finally, your daughter is caught up in all of this and she’s busy making a mess for everyone and might get herself hurt.

                A pang goes through your heart at that realization. You’re not really mad at her for what she’s doing, you’re just worried about her, right? I mean, yeah, you weren’t totally bluffing about the NERD thing, but… but…

                “Anyway.” You say, getting back into the game. Sylphie will just have to wait. “We need to find the escaped leader. Any ideas where to look?”

                “Warehouse district might be risky.” Chaika says. “A lot of attention from the authorities here. Will be difficult for them to do much now, but they have to be holding the other captives somewhere.”

                Harmony nods her head. “The docks themselves are always full of people too. They’d stick out looking like that and the sailors aren’t exactly kind when they’re drunk. They’d attract unwanted attention from the whorehouses too, especially if they can’t tell they’re women.”

                “So that leaves the city itself?” You ask, blanching. There’s a lot of buildings there, it would be extremely difficult to find anyone hiding out there.

                “Not necessarily.” Harmony says, rubbing her chin. “All of them were islanders, right? If we assume this Monster is also an islander, where would be the best place for them to go?”

                “Ah!” You say, snapping your fingers. “The islander section of town! They won’t stand out there too much, especially if they ditch the robe.”

                “Well that makes things hard.” Chaika sighs. “How do you expect to find them in a crowd like that.”

                You tap your head. “[Mage Sight].”

                “Oh. Right.” She shakes her head. “Well, might as well get going on that lead. Beats standing around here. With that, you leave toward the islander district, making good time through the streets which are relatively quiet at this time of night. The closer you get to the beach, the more people you see about. In fact, it’s quite a few people. A lot more than there should be this time of night.

                You and your constructs slow down as you reach a throng of people milling out in the streets as music plays in the distance. You see torches burning and people dancing, all dressed in traditional islander outfits. While the majority of the people present are actually Deleorians, those performing are entirely islanders.

                Thankfully you had the foresight to don the mask again, this time it not attracting attention as Deleorian children and such wear similar masks. Walk through the crowds, you take in the sights and deeply wish that you both weren’t on a mission, and that your wife was here. Though she may not appreciate how scantily clad some of these island Monsters are, wearing little but shells over their nipples and short skirts made of leaves. Look at them, thrusting their hips out like that, leaning over and shaking their indecent breasts in such a way-

                Harmony gives you a sidelong glance, somehow, and you cough into your hand before activating your [Mage Sight]. The world around you shifts and the colors become more vibrant, the people lighting around you like candles. Some, however, burn brighter than others. These are those with some mana around them and they often carry mana crystals or some magitek devices which you can see with your sight. You can’t tell much about their magic this way, but it does narrow down your field greatly as you push through the crowds.

                You wish Otit told you there was to be some kind of luau today. Maybe he did but you weren’t paying attention, which would fit perfectly with the way you operate. Either way, moving through the crowds is at once a hindrance and a benefit. Sure, you can lose yourself in there and not be as noticed looking about, but at the same time, you can’t move too well.

                Scanning the crowd, you find a few with some magic here and there, and you begin to fear you’ve gone to the wrong place when you see someone flare in your vision. It staggers you for a moment as you try to make sense of what you’re seeing. It’s like the aura around them is shifting and changing, but you can’t get a good view due to all the people around them, though they aren’t wearing a hood as far as you can tell. Clacking your tongue, you nod to the other two and begin to pursue the quarry.

                They don’t seem to have noticed you, but they do push away from where you are, heading to the outskirts of the luau. While delicious smells and beautiful sights play all around you, you try not to get distracted as you work your way through the crowd toward the prey. The flashes you get of them through the crowd reveal conflicting visions. They’re clearly a Monster with their hair looking like tentacles, but why aren’t people paying her more attention?

                Hoping that this is your target, you follow them as they break from the crowd and head down between some of the garishly decorated buildings. You push faster through the crowd, losing the other two, and turn down the alleyway to find your prey walking away from you, wearing the traditional islander garb of barely anything at all. Activating your [Inner Guardian], you straighten your back and shut off your [Mage Sight], only to find an islander woman standing in front of you.

                They stop and turn around to look at you, blinking large, brown eyes. “U-uhm. Can I help you?”

                “I…” You say, taken aback. The hells is this?

“No, but I could swear she was…” You mutter to yourself. Turning back to the woman, you see only a human before you. Maybe the sights of the luau were getting to you and you mistook pig grease for some kind of Monster parts? “Ah… sorry about that.” You say, coughing into your hand as your lower your [Inner Guardian]. “My mistake.”

                “I see.” She says, frowning. “Well, I better be on my way home. Please don’t follow me further.”

                She begins to walk away when a shadow passes overhead and at the other end of the alleyway, Sylphie drops down, her hood still on. She points at the woman before you and shouts, “I found you!”

                The woman steps back as Sylphie summons fire from her hands, the ball of power illuminating the dark corridor. The woman gasps and retreats toward you, pressing against you as she cries out, “Please! Help me!”

                Confused, you look between the woman and Sylphie and then set your jaw. Standing straight, you summon your own magic and say, “Sylphie, stop this right now. She’s not who you’re looking for!”

                “What? Of course she is, can’t you see-“

                “No Sylphie, I can’t!” Frustration creeps back into your voice. “I know you’ve decided to play hero here, but you’ve taken this too far. Incinerating some woman because of some mistake is a step too much and I won’t let you do it.” Your eyes flash as you prepare your counter spells. “Clearly that trip was too much for you. I’m sending you back to Sanctifrond until I finish and then we’re going to have a very long discussion on what it means to use your magic correctly!”

                “Dad!” Sylphie says, frustrated. “You think you can just go and leave me and Sophie basically on our own for years and now, after we saved your ass, you think it’s time to be a good parent?”

                The woman blinks and huddles into your chest, “Your daughter is so violent, please, help me!”

                “Don’t worry, I won’t let her hurt you.” You say, eyes flashing. “Sure, I may have my faults, but at least I don’t make such mistakes.”

                “Are you sure? Are you really fucking sure?” Sylphie says. “Want to take a reeeaaaal good look at who you’re protecting?”

                You narrow your eyes and sigh before looking down at the woman, activating your [Mage Sight]. Yes, she’s possessed of great magical talent, however she’s just a woman and-

                A chill comes over your body as you look into the face of a red-eyes, purple-skinned Monster. A sigh escapes her lips and she says, “Tch, almost got away too. Oh well.”

                Before you can say anything a crippling wave of agony comes over you. Your abdomen pulses with pain and you drop to the ground, gasping. No, not here, not now! Damn you Otit and your islander food! DAMN YOU!

                The Monster rushes toward Sylphie. Your daughter admirably holds her ground, but for a second time she gasps in pain and drops to the ground as the Monster passes by her. She pats Sylphie’s head with a tentacle that grows from her head as hair as she moves by before saying,

“Next time, I’m going to break your little mind.”

She turns the corner again and vanishes, leaving Sylphie gasping on the floor. With a gasp, you suddenly realize that the pain in your abdomen is gone. Did… did you imagine it or… was it an illusion? As you blink in shock, Chaika and Harmony turn the corner, the former running to Sylphie while the latter helps you up.

“What happened?” Harmony asks, looking toward Sylphie. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just… feeling like a dumbass.” A pain worse than that in your gut surfaces as you grit your teeth and push off Harmony to walk toward your daughter, who removes her hood using one of her nine, bladed tails. She runs a hand through her long, brown hair and sighs.

“Damnit, she got away again.” Her eyes turn toward you and they go flat. “What do you want?”

“I…” You don’t really know what to say here. Looking for a moment you lick your lips and ask, “How did you know to find her here?”

“Mr. Ed said he caught the scent of islanders and thought she should check out the luau. I tracked her presence with [Mage Sight] and…” Her lips quirk downward. “What do you care? You’re just going to say I fucked up again.”

“Oh come on-“ You begin but are cut off by Harmony.

“We have more important things to worry about at the moment.” She says, looking down where the Monster went. “We’re probably not going to find her tonight. Let’s put together all the facts we have and continue the search tomorrow. We disrupted one of their schemes, maybe that’s enough for now.”

You and Sylphie trade glances before looking away, both of you huffing, but not dismissing Harmony’s logic. You learned a few very key things today, about the identity of your target and their abilities. Though they’ve surely gone to ground, with a description of the face they’re wearing, maybe you can get better information. Worst case, you go busting down every door you find.

Still, your eyes shift to your daughter, who shakes her head and sighs, tired. What do you do about her now?

Chapter 14

 

                “Well, what are you waiting for?” Chaika asks, hands on her hips.

                “Chaika, she’s gone.” You say, breaking your gaze from your daughter.

                “Like hells she is, she only just got away. She can’t have gotten far and you can track her with that [Mage Sight], right?” She taps her metallic head. “Besides, you know what her tricks are now, right?”

                “Illusions…” You mutter, rubbing at your head.

                “Illusions? Huh, so that explains that…” Sylphie says, frowning. “But if it’s a Monster using illusions who looks like-!” She gasps, placing a furred hand to her mouth.

                “She’s a Mindflayer!”

                “That thing that suit-wearing monkey and Saya fought?”

                “That suit-wearing monkey is kind of your son now, and yes.” Sylphie says with a huff. It’s not like you meant anything by the comment, you kind of like the guy from the limited interaction you had with him. Still, it is your fatherly duty to harass him, especially since you missed the dating phase which, as you understand, was remarkably brief. Illusionists…

                Closing your eyes and preparing yourself, you draw upon your mana to reform your [Inner Guardian]. Again, he eludes you, but you feel his presence. If you need to, you can [Manifest] and draw him forth to protect your mind, but Sylphie…

                “You’d best stay here.” You say to Sylphie as you walk past.

                “Like the hells I’m just going to sit back and stay here!” She huffs, cloak rising as her tails bristle.

                “Sylphie, you don’t have any mental defense spells, do you?” When she doesn’t reply, you sigh. “I don’t have time to teach you right now, we need to be going.”

                “That’s what you always say…” She sighs, shoulder slumping.

                “Just wait here, we’ll be back.” You nod to Chaika and Harmony before lowering the mask again and dashing after the Mindflayer, leaving Sylphie behind you.

                “Well done, jackass.” Chaika says, voice bitter as she runs.

                “It’s safer for her to stay put for now!”

                “You could have dealt with the situation better, you know.” Harmony sighs, though her stride never changes.

                Gritting your teeth, you turn forward and quest out with your sight. Initially you get little back, though a few people passing to and from the luau give you strange looks. You ignore them, quite used to the looks, mask or no. Instead, you run through the dark city, lit by lanterns interspersed along the streets. While the light helps, you’re looking for something that can’t be seen in the brightest of light.

                Something tickles your senses and you turn toward a nearby brick building, unable to see through the wall yet… you feel something is present. Nodding to Chaika and Harmony, you get close to the wall of the building and slide along the side toward a door. Taking in a deep breath, you nod to Chaika, who opens the door very slowly and-               

                A Lobster Girl opens the door the rest of the way, grabs Chaika, and throws her into the wall of a nearby building. She lets out a yelp of surprise, if not pain, and crumples. Blinking in surprise, you ready your magic to cast spells, but find the drain of the [Inner Guardian] a little taxing. As you think about this, a shudder goes down your spine. What are you missing here?

                Harmony dashes forward, but she too is grabbed by the all too quick Monster, and thrown to the ground. She does not rise. You blink in surprise at Harmony and Chaika being brought down so quickly. This… this doesn’t jive. What’s wrong with this-

                It hits you like a wave of cold water and you gasp before reaching out and using [Manifest] as the Lobster Girl goes to snab you. From the shadows of your mind, an eastern man with a sword dashes forward and, in one motion, slices through the Monster. The Lobster Girl wavers before the entire scene before you seems to ripple, and you blink in surprise to see Chaika and Harmony stirring.

                “H-Huh?” Chaika says, checking her plating. “I’m fine?”

                “What the-?” Harmony asks, doing the same.

                You grit your teeth as you nod to your [Inner Guardian]. While you preferred the shining Paladin of cooperation, you suppose that your guardian moved on, even though you hadn’t. Or it could be all that eastern theatre you watched when you got back from Ectria. Surely that had nothing to do with it.

                “Illusion.” You say, taking a breath to stabilze yourself. It’s been so long since you used it spell, you forgot how taxing it is. “The guardian can protect us, but we need to get moving, I don’t know how long it will last.”

                The other two nod and you dash into the building to find it completely unoccupied and utterly dark. Frowning, you light your staff with a trickle of power and search about. The building looks like it’s an office space, with desks in rows and papers scattered everywhere. Given how recently used it seems to be, you’re pretty sure it’s not where this Mindflayer had set up shop, unless she managed to mess with the minds of the workers, but that seems… difficult.

                Though draining to keep your [Mage Sight] and [Inner Guardian] up, you manage to hold on well enough as you scan about. You don’t see anything though. Is this Mindflayer still able to get you, despite your layers of protection? Maybe Harmony was right, maybe it is best to leave and come back later with more of a plan.

                As you consider this, you look up and see a flicker through the floorboards above you. What’s all this then? The other two follow as you head up the stairs, devoting some more power to localized [Privacy Barriers], though you figure she knows where you are anyway. As you reach the second floor, you see a row of offices, and one with an open door. An ominous presence seems to emanate from there, your [Mage Sight] detecting the power of the Mindflayer.

                You head toward the door open door and, with your staff ready, you turn the corner quickly and cast [Lightning Bolt]!

                Though you turned the intensity down to stun the Monster, you fill the entire room with the pulse, sending up bits of paper and debris as your power arcs over everything. Readying for more, you scan the room and see… nothing.

                Blinking your eyes in confusion, you search for her presence in the room but come up with nothing! Aghast, you [Manifest] your guardian, who appears before the naked eye. The guardian looks about before turning to you, frowning. You blink in surprise when you hear a loud sound of metal on metal. Whipping about, you see Chaika throwing a punch into Harmony’s face, tossing the construct across the hall and tumbling down the stairs.

                “I got her!” Chaika shouts! “Did you see that? I got-“ Before she can finish, a whining sound is heard and bright lights appear from the stairs as Harmony dashes through the space with her flight unit to flying tackle Chaika down the hall and into the brick wall at the other end.

                It happened faster than you could see, but your guardian did nothing. It merely stands its ground, hand on its sword and scanning, looking for threats to you. But that would mean that unlike last time, this is an illusion cast only on those two, which means that nothing is currently affecting you currently. Or at least, nothing directly that could be perceived of as a threat…

                You detect magic flare behind you and you whirl about in time to see the Mindflayer’s presence blaze into being as she steps out from behind the door where she was hidden. Before you can so much as yelp, the tentacles on her head grasp yours and pull you in close, face to face. At this distance you can’t help but appreciate how beautiful she is, despite her strange, purple skin. Of course, this complexion is ruined when she breaks out into a grin so wide it seems to stretch the corners of her mouth, her red eyes flashing with an inner madness as she babbles.

                “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? I just wanted to do my lady’s bidding, but you keep chasing me, chasing me, chasing me! Can’t I work in peace? Can’t I have do a good job? I can do a good job, but I don’t need pesky followers. You shouldn’t have followed me, you shouldn’t have done that, oh now I need to punish you, but should I kill you? Oh what should-“

                Before she can say anything further, you let loose the [Irate Frog Song]. In most situations this would drive the opponent away, give you time to strike at her, or at least to get away. However, that would be too easy. Instead, she merely laughs, her off cadence noise creating discord with your song, as if she’s enjoying it.

                The tentacles increase in pressure against your head and she slams her hands against the side of your temples, her fingers pressing tight. Gasping for air as you can no longer keep up the song, you feel magic flare up from within the Mindflayer. Laughing maniacally, she slams her forehead against yours, her red eyes boring into yours. Though your [Inner Guardian] is able to mitigate the effects at first it’s soon overwhelmed by a massive swell of power and then-

                Before you lies Saya, broken in multiple pieces, her gelatinous form melting away into nothingness, eyes dissolving away. Laying behind her are the corpses of Sophie and Sylphie, tears leaking from their lifeless eyes as their naked forms are beaten and abused, covered in semen and blood. Behind them, nailed to a circle is Selene, her entrails open as her head lolls to the side, flies buzzing around her emaciated corpse.

                You watch in slow motion as over and over you see their deaths happening by faceless beings and you feel a great wave of helplessness, unable to summon your magic, move, or do anything but watch over and over. And yet, something tugs at the back of your mind, a faint echo of a shudder from a foreign mind. Within, you see a girl watch as fish-like Sahaguin raid her village, stealing away her friends and family as everything burns.

                And then everything snaps back into being. Gasping, you fall to your knees, eyes wandering as the world spins. You see before you the Mindflayer, who is no longer laughing, merely looking at you with a mix of pity and shame. Tears streaming down your face, you reach out a hand toward her but find your vision growing black until you fall face first onto the floorboards and the nightmare begins again.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

                “-Is he going to be okay?”

                “I don’t know, we’ll have to see.”

                “I’m just glad she didn’t kill him. Damn, how did we fall for that again?”

                You blink your eyes and look up at the ceiling of your room in Otit’s inn. A groan escapes your lips, followed by a series of gasps from around you, and then appears Harmony’s impassive faceplate, a large crack running through it.

                “Wizard! You’re awake! Thank the Gods.”

                “W-what?” You say, closing your eyes before gasping as a memory comes to you. Bolting up in bed, you shout, “SELENE?! SOPHIE, SYLPHIE? WHERE-!”

                “Dad! Dad!” Sylphie says, sitting on a stool next to you. She rushes forward and grabs you, holding you tight as you pull away, eyes wild.

                “No, no, no! I have to save them!” You begin to summon your magic, feeling a desperate need to get away and find your family when furred hands grab your beard and you’re pulled face to face with your daughter.

                “Dad! Dad, I’m right here!” She says, looking you in the eyes.

                Tears streaming from your face, you reach out with trembling hands and touch her shoulders, feeling the solidity there. “This… this isn’t an illusion, right?”

                “No, it’s me.” She says, giving you a rueful smile. “In the flesh.”

                “Oh… oh thank the Gods.” You say, pulling her into a hug. A tightness still pulls at your chest, but you feel an overwhelming sense of relief as well. Shuddering, you pull away and wipe at your eyes. “I thought… it was so real and…”

                “Well, at least you’re alive.” She sighs, placing her head onto your chest. “When Harmony brought me to you, I thought she might have actually… actually…” Tears well up in her eyes.

                “It’s… it’s fine.” You say, wrapping your arms around her. Rubbing at your eyes again, you say, chuckling a little, “So this is what your sister and the monkey had to go through? Damn.”

                “His name is Tobias.” Sylphie says, chuckling as well, though you can see some tears in her eyes.

                Sighing out, you turn to Chaika and Harmony and say, “What happened?”

                “Uhhh.” Chaika coughs, though you know it’s just a vocal tick. “I thought Harmony was the Mindflayer and punched her.”

                “And I thought the same thing.” Harmony says, rubbing at her faceplate and sighing as a piece chips off. “The illusions seem to affect us quite strongly it seems.”

                “Probably because you have rather unique cores. Despite having different sensory organs, they basically function the same. I’m sure with your past lives remembering touch, she could probably make you think that too.” You say, feeling tired.

                “What happened to you?” Sylphie asks, rubbing at her eyes.

                “I…” You begin before pausing and taking a deep breath. “I believe the Mindflayer lured us up there by dropping any illusions hiding her presence. Though [Mage Sight] can see through most illusions, at the end of the day if our perception tells us something is there, we’ll default to that. Likely why I went for the open door instead of noticing the trickle of power behind it.”

                “So she played your perception on what you expected.” Sylphie says, frowning. “That’s not magic, that’s just playing dirty.”

                “It’s the same thing.” You say, shrugging before you remember the next part. “When I noticed her, she was able to get me in a hold and then, instead of killing me she… she looked me in the eyes and I saw, uh.” You gulp a few times and press a hand to your eyes. “Well, the most horrible thing I can imagine. Oh Gods.”

                The other three exchange looks and Chaika rubs your back. “I think we get the picture. Gods, what a frightening power.”

                “Jackor’s imperfections…” Sylphie murmurs. “Gods, from what I hear the last Mindflayer could barely be defeated, even by Madam Xanthia. This makes things difficult for us.”

                You look up to your daughter, managing to keep tears in check as you pull yourself together. “For us? Sylphie you don’t mean to…” You trail off as she looks down, her ears flattening. The rest of your complaint dies in your throat and you lick your lips before sighing out,

                “I’m sorry.”

                Her ears perk up and she cocks her head as you ball your hands into fists. “I’m sorry I flew off the handle like that earlier. I was upset because I was afraid you’d get hurt, and you did, twice. But then I went off on my own and got my own ass kicked. Gods what an idiot I am.”

                “Dad…” She whispers, but you continue.

                “I shouldn’t have made fun of your retarded- err, your adventuring, even if your cape is goofy.” She frowns at this though you keep talking. “The fact that you were able to deduce where she would be and track her down not once, but twice, is impressive. Maybe I just didn’t want to admit that my baby girl was able to be a hero on her own.” You laugh,

“I should have known better. I did know better but chose to ignore it in my anger. Can you forgive me?”

Sylphie looks into your eyes before sighing. “I suppose. Gods, if only Sophie could see you acting this pathetic.”

“I’ll give her the full details.” Chaika says, Harmony nodding in affirmation.

“Gee, thanks.” You say before chuckling. “Ugh, and your mother will never let me live this down.”

“No, but she’ll forgive you.” Sylphie says, a twinge of a smile coming to her lips. “So does this mean you’re going to tell me why you’re here in the first place?”

“Oh, ah…” You say before cutting off as you look into Sylphie’s eyes, annoyance forming. Gulping, you nod your head and tell her everything. When you’re finished, she sits back and blinks a few times, as if unable to comprehend it.

“Well shit.”

“Tell me about it.” You sigh. “So you see how important it is we recover the captive from the Mindflayer so we can potentially get to the bottom of the sea to see the Sea Queen and use her trident to summon the Goddess of the oceans.”

                “Well gee dad, that doesn’t sound fucking retarded when you put it like that.”

                “Hey, language missy.”

                The two of you smile at one another before chuckling. Harmony leans over to Chaika and whispers, “Have you seen the two of them laugh like that in awhile?”

                “Sure haven’t. It’s nice to see again.”

                When you both calm down, Sylphie huffs and balls her hands into fists, tails swishing behind her. “So, what’s our next move?”

                “Well.” You say, rubbing your chin. “We should gather more information. I know someone who might help and if she’s going around disguised as an islander, then we might be able to track down where someone with her description, assuming she hasn’t changed it, might be.” For some reason the vague memory of the island village burning and a girl crying comes to you, but you dismiss it. Too close to the other memory.

                “Otherwise, we should come up with a plan of how to fight the Mindflayer next time we meet her. Hopefully her plans have been delayed some and we can get make use of the interference to prepare.”

                “Alright.” Harmony says, gathering her cloak. “Let’s get to it then.”

                >What do you do?

 

 

                >Story continue

                “Very well.” Sylphie says, nodding her head with sagacity. “But first…” She pats her stomach and blushes.

                “Uhm, think we can get some breakfast.”

                “Organics…” Chaika sighs. “Them and their food obsessions.”

                “Truly, degenerate behavior.” Harmony says with a twinge of amusement in her voice. She turns to you and asks, “Are you feeling hungry?”

                A rumble goes through your stomach and you sigh. “I suppose I can eat. Though I’m pretty sure Otit’s food is going to give me the shits again.”

                “Dad!” Sylphie says, looking mortified.

                “What? You’re an adult supposedly, you can take these kinds of comments.” You stretch and make your way out of bed, perhaps stumbling a little as you do so. Both Harmony and Sylphie support you, though Harmony relents after a moment, to a smirk from Sylphie.

                “Wow dad, I knew you were old, but I didn’t think it was time for retirement yet.”

                “On second thought, I change my worst fear.” You grumble, though of course you didn’t mean that. Still, Sylphie looks to the sigh and sighs before holding your arm.

                “Come on, dad.”

                The four of you head to the common room where Otit’s daughter is serving another group staying in the inn. At your approach she sighs and cocks her head at Sylphie, who is no longer wearing her cloak, but instead a green outfit that hugged her curves at the top before moving to divided skirts she obviously found easier for riding. She does still wear a cape, however, her tails hiding underneath. Otit’s daughter looks between her and you before cocking her head, sighing, and heading back to the kitchen. A moment later Otit arrives, clapping his meaty hands.

                “Alahunora! You got in late last night, eh? Enjoy the luau a little much?”

                “Not exactly.” You sigh.

                “Hah, not exactly he says.” His eyes turn to Sylphie and he chuckles. “Oh ho, who is this little wahuwahi? I’m seeing a familiar presence here!”

                “Ah, this is Sylphie, my daughter.” You say, introducing her.

                “My father has told me much about you. A pleasure.” Sylphie says, nodding her head.

                “Oh! Such manners. Your wife raise her good, huh?”

                “Humph, I’d like to think I had something to do with that.” You say, crossing your arms.

                “Well, no, not really.” Sylphie says, shrugging. “Besides, you were just saying how much this man’s food makes you shit a little while ago.”

                “Oh, is that so?” Otit says, raising an eyebrow. “Well you’ll be eating a LARGE portion!” As he walks by, he grips your shoulder, hard, and you wince before turning to Sylphie, who looks at her nails.

                “I’m starting to think maybe you’re still upset.”

                “Maybe.” She says while Chaika snickers next to her.

                “Damn, and I thought Sophie was the smart-ass.” The construct chuckles as Otit comes back with a steaming tray of some sausage, eggs, and rice. Yours is much larger than Sylphie’s, with extra sausage.

                “Eat up.” He says, eyes shimmering with some emotion you can’t place.

                “Ahaha… yeah.” You say, taking up your fork and digging in. The food is incredible for something which should be such a staple, you just know you’ll regret it later. Thank the Gods you brought potions… though that thought also makes you sick.

                “So Otit.” You say, chewing some eggs. “Got time to answer some questions?”

                “I suppose, you’re some of the last for breakfast.”

                “Do you happen to know of someone called, ‘Mun’taca?’”

                Otit’s fingers slip on the tray he’s holding for just a moment before he recovers himself. Looking about at the other patrons, he whispers, “You got a spell for this?”

                “Ah.” You say, gently casting [Privacy Barrier]. Sylphie’s ears twitch as you do, but she doesn’t stop her eating.

                Otit licks his lips and asks, “Where did you hear that name?”

                “A run-in we had last night. An islander Kikimora said she was some conduit of the great mother.”

                “Kikimora? I see, I see. Not many of those in the city. I wonder if I knew her.” Otit says, frowning. “It would make sense to call her that though, as Mun’teca is the name of an island spirit of revitalization, of doing away with the old and rebuilding something from the ruins. She’s also regarded as a spirit of revenge, many ghost stories told about her. I’d heard the name around recently but didn’t think it was much more than some pahu that learned some island lore for a copper.”

                You and Sylphie exchange looks. She swallows her bite and says, “Well, I doubt there’s an island spirit running around here.”

                “Hah, not on this spiritless rock, no.” Otit chuckles. “But it could be someone using the name for something.”

                “Conduit of the great mother.” You murmur. “In relation to this Mun’teca… perhaps it’s relating to a Goddess?”

                “Eh? But which Goddess?” Sylphie says, concerned. “There’s Dollora, Phallia, and Fillios?”

                Otit rubs his chin. “Islanders don’t take too much stock of the twins. We rely on the water too much, so many worship the Goddess of the seas almost as much as they do the spirits of the islands.”

                “Really? That’s interesting.” Guess with the ocean all around, it’s kind of important to keep in good favor with Fillios. Although that memory with the Sahaguin bothers you for some reason…

                “Oh!” Sylphie says, holding up her fork. “Didn’t you say something about a city of unbelievers they were looking for?”

                “Ah, yeah.” You say, snapping back to the present. “They said this Mun’teca would deliver them there for eternal glory or something.”

                “Can’t say I much know of that. Some say this city is full of heathens, but given that they live here, I’d say most are ungrateful huhowas.” He shakes his head. “But it would be weird to be delivered here if they were already here!”

                He lets out a belly laugh that shakes your table, only stopping when his daughter walks up and grabs his arm. You hurriedly drop your spell as she growls out, “Daaaad, you’re creeping out the customers pretending to laugh like that. Come on, you need to get back to work!” She sighs and turns to Sylphie. “Dads, right?”

                “Tell me about it.” Your daughter says, leaning on her elbow as she eats.

                Both you and Otit look hurt as the latter is pulled away. Harmony watches the scene and shrugs, “Well, we learned something anyway, though how applicable it is will be variable.”

                “Well, we learned that there aren’t many Kikimora islanders, our Mindflayer is invoking the name of some island spirit, and she wants to bring her followers to some city for eternal glory by kidnapping residents of Fillothia.”

                Chaika nods her head with sagacity. “Open and shut, really.”

                “Oh? Do tell.”

                The construct is silent for a long time before saying in a monotone: Power cells low, initiating sleep mode.”

                You and Harmony share a glance before shaking your heads and finishing breakfast.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

                “Uhm, Dad.” Sylphie says, hands on her hips. “Why are we at a whorehouse?”

                You cough into your hand, realizing just how awkward this situation is. After finishing breakfast, you decided to head back down to the docks with your mask on, despite the humidity. As soon as you left your inn however, Mr. Ed walked out from behind a nearby building, giving a soft neigh as Sylphie went to approach him. Together, you made your way down to “The Slippery Eel,” where you realize your critical mistake.

                “I mean, Mom is a little busy at the moment, but to think you’d do something like this…” Your daughter says, hurt. “Here I was, thinking maybe I could trust you again.”

                “Harmony, help me out here.” You plead to the construct, who gives you a neutral expression under her cloak, not that she any other expressions.

                “I’m telling.” She says, to which you groan.

                “Listen, there’s an informant here and-“

                “Ohhh, well if it isn’t my favorite customer~”

                All five of you turn to see Myra slithering out of the front door of the brother, pipe in her hand. “I’m afraid hours of operation are a little later in the day, but if it’s for you, I can make an exception.”

                The other four stare at you. Chaika says, “I’m telling too.”

                “I thought your stupid power cell- Nevermind.” You shake your head. “Besides, do you all think I have the charm or charisma to have anyone other my wife think so highly of me?”

                The rest of your party consider this carefully as you realize what you just said. Actually, no, that’s pretty accurate all things considered. Damn, now you’re sad.

                Myra cover her mouth as she laughs. “That’s enough teasing I suppose, especially in front of your beautiful daughter.” She nods her head to Sylphie. “Mmm, what a body though. Tell me, have you ever thought of a career being a whore?”

                “Uh… uhm.” Sylphie says, her turn to be embarrassed. This fills you with no small amount of glee, while at the same time you’re annoyed that anyone would suggest your darling girl to be a whore.

                “Alright, enough of that Myra, we have some questions to ask, if you’d be so kind.”

                She taps her pipe and glides to a table before leaning back on her tail. “Well, if you have more of that leaf, I wouldn’t mind a little chat.”

                The four of you take seats while you pass the leaf to Myra. Mr Ed starts nibbling on grass nearby, though for some reason Myra takes an interest in his movements. Once you’re situated, she reaches into her cleavage, digging about for awhile, before sighing. “Darn, I have forgotten my match. Might you have a light?”

                You hesitate for a moment before Sylphie snaps her fingers and a small fire lights the leaf in the pipe. Myra smirks, seeming unfazed by this before taking a long draw and then exhaling smoke. “So, you are a witch, hmm?”

                “Ah.” Sylphie says, realizing her mistake before looking down.

                “Pyromancer hmm? Oh and you must be as well sir, though is it possible that you’re a… Wizard?”

                Sylphie tenses, but you remain calm before sighing and removing your mask. The Eel Girl chuckles. “It’s rather hard to hide your presence like that. Well you tried anyway, so that’s something.” Breathing out more smoke, she asks, “So, what can I do for you?”

                “Have you heard of what happened at the warehouse district last night?”

                “Of course. Some ritual was going on but when the city guard came in, they found everyone already tied up. Most people say it’s the work of the Dark Avenger…” her eyes drift to Sylphie before she continues, “But I personally think some other force was at play.”

                “I see.” You say, knowing intuitively this Monster knows far more than she’s letting on. “Those performing the ritual, do you know anything about them?”

                “Mmm, not much. I believe one of the watchmen who came to ‘relieve’ himself after the stress said something about them all being islanders, even a Kikimora.” She blows out some smoke. “Leilani, if I recall right. She’s lived here for quite some time so it’s a surprise to find her involved in this sort of thing.”

                “You know her? Do you happen to know anything about where she lives or where she might be seen usually? Has she been hanging around shady people recently or acting differently?”

                Myra holds up a hand. “This all seems like more than a little interest. Looking into a person’s private life makes it sound like something is going on.” Her eyes flash. “And it sounds dangerous.”

                “A little…” You say, wondering how to work this.

                “Alright, let’s try something different.” Chaika says. “Do you know this person named ‘Mun’teca?’”

                “Hmm, I have heard that bandied about recently. I’m not certain what it means, but there’s been hushed whispers among some islanders that one of their spirits is kidnapping people. Considering three of the missing people were suddenly spotted heading for the beach last night a little after that ritual was busted up, one has to wonder how they are related~”

                The four of you trade glances before Chaika groans and says, “Listen lady, where is this asshole calling herself some island spirit or whatever? She’s kidnapped people and we need to find her before she causes even more harm. ”

                “I don’t know.” Myra says, giving a level look to Chaika. “That is the truth. If this person is to cause trouble to Hudson, then it would be bad for business. I have an interest in putting a stop to this.” She leans forward and blows smoke into Chaika’s faceplate.

                Harmony places a hand on Chaika’s and shakes her head. “We see. But if you had to take a guess?”

                “Well, if this person has disciples, then it might be best to find one of them and ask questions.” She pulls out a piece of parchment from between her breasts and shakes the excess slime off it before writing with a pen she also produces from her breasts. She hands it to you, and you frown at the slippery substance on it before reading an address.

                “It’s the address of your Kikimora. If you hurry the authorities may not have raided it yet. Perhaps you’ll find more information there.”

                “Thank you.” You say, nodding your head. “It’s something to work with at least. I just wish we knew where they were hiding the captives.”

                “One would assume somewhere either no one would look, or no one would think to look.” The Eel says. “Though in this city, that’s rather vague. You may have to think like your mysterious spirit in order to find that out.”

                “That… might be difficult.” You sigh before frowning. “By the way, do you happen to know what this ‘city of unbelievers is’ and why these islanders would want to be delivered to it?”

                “Hmm?” The Eel Girl says. “Where would they need someone else to help bring them to that they can’t reach on their own?” She blows out a ring of smoke.

                “I wonder.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————

                After bidding Myra farewell, you regroup a little farther away to go over your options. Staring at the slightly slimy address, you sigh.

                “Well. We have one possibly solid lead. Why couldn’t this be as easy as it was supposed to be?”

                “Because, that would be no fun.” Sylphie sighs. “Though it would be nicer.”

                “Well, it’s something.” Harmony says. “I don’t know how well we’d be able to guess where an insane person would hide people.”

                “Well, it’s either somewhere no one would look, or somewhere no one would think to look. Maybe she’s hiding right in plain sight?” Chaika chuckles. When you give it some consideration, the construct sighs. “Oh come on.”

                “It’s a possibility. Illusionists are known for doing tricks which require no magic. If she could hide them somewhere no one would think to look then it would be perfect. But where could she go that wasn’t too crowded, but people would still not think to check?”

                “That could be a lot of places.” Sylphie says. “It might be best just to check the other lead.”

                “We could always split up.” Harmony suggests. “Cover more ground? We just need to make sure not to engage.”

                Mr. Ed wickers and you nod in agreement. Looks like you have some decisions to make and the longer you wait, the greater chance that your captives, and possibly your only ticket to Filliothia, might slip away.

                “Nah.” You say, pocketing the address. “We’ll stick together for now. No sense in running into unnecessary trouble.”

                Harmony cocks her head but relents while the others fall in line as you make your way into the city proper. Fortunately in the more Deleorian section of the city, it’s quite organized and you can find where you’re going without too much trouble, though people do give you odd looks for wearing your mask. The price you pay for your anonymity is the fact that it’s scorching hot outside now and the humidity makes it feel like you’re walking through the ocean. Gods that sounds nice right about now.

                Casting [Ice] down your shirt, you shudder in relief. Sylphie snickers next to you, but when you turn to face her, she’s busy looking at her nails. She looks cool as a cucumber though, despite the cloak hiding her tails. Narrowing your eyes at her, you just sigh and consult the address again. As far as you’re aware, it should be around here somewhere…

                “What’s the plan anyway?” Chaika asks, her sudden question surprising you.

                “Uhhh, we break in and search the place for clues.” You say, as if it were obvious.

                “Okay, smartass.” Chaika huffs. “And what if someone catches us?”

                “Then we make sure that doesn’t happen?”

                You get the distinct feeling Chaika is glaring at you, despite being physically unable to. She mutters something about asses and kicking when Harmony says, “How about we stand guard while you and Sylphie check the place?”

                You and your daughter share a look before shrugging. “Sounds reasonable.” She says. “I’ve done my fair share of investigations.”

                “Oh really? And where might this have been?”

                She puffs out her chest, looking smug. “I helped find a missing treasure in a town north of here by following clues. I even laid a trap in another town near the unsettled region and caught someone trying to scare farmers off their stakes by dressing as a monster.”

                Mr. Ed neighs and she laughs. “It’s true, he may have gotten away with it if it weren’t for my meddling and my stupid horse!”

                You blink, surprised at your daughter’s accomplishments. Perhaps you could understand her getting things done with Tabitha around, or even Sophie, but on her own? A part of you feels proud and yet… conflicted on this. Unable to come up with a good response, you ask, “Monster, eh? How big were his fake tits then?”

                “Ugh, Dad!” Sylphie says, huffing and turning away.

                Yeah, reeeaaaal smooth of you.

                Sighing, you look up at the street signs and stop to read the address again. “I think we’re here.” You say, the others stopping to stand next to you as well.

                Before you is a large structure, a kind of packed structure of domiciles known as apartments. These had come into favor since the magitek revolution as people wanted to live closer to the cities but couldn’t necessarily afford their own housing. These small, compact living quarters were ample substitute.                 

                “Mr. Ed” You say, nodding to the horse. “Keep watch and let Sylphie know if anything funny happens. Harmony, Chaika, come with us and watch the halls.”

                Walking into the building, you ascend a flight of stairs up to the third floor. The building is quiet at this time of day, most people likely at their jobs or out enjoying the sunlight. When you reach the apartment you’re looking for, you wave for Chaika and Harmony to watch the corners as you and Sylphie walk up the door. Just to make sure, you try to open it, but find it locked. Well, can’t say you didn’t try.

                “I got this.” Sylphie whispers, one of her tails sliding from beneath her cloak. She places one of her feline ears next to the door and listens, her tail making rhythmic motions until a “click” is heard. She pulls away and nods her head, to which you are impressed.

                “Wherever did my darling little girl learn to pick locks?”

                “Mr. Ed taught me.”

                “I-“ You begin, but then look to the side, not certain how to respond to that. Eventually you settle for shaking your head and looking back at the door, activating your [Mage Sight]. Nothing stands out to you about the place, at least not magically. After taking a deep breath, you put a hand on the door handle and push it open.

                You’re greeted by the fruitest smelling, cleaning apartment you’ve ever been in. The scent of fresh island fruits and flowers physically assaults you while the daylight shining on polished metal dazzles you. Both you and Sylphie have to shield your eyes for a moment from the brilliance before entering and closing the door behind you. With most of the sunlight gone, you can adjust and admire the place.

                It’s small, consisting of a small hearth near the entrance, a chest of drawers, and a well-kept bed in the corner. Infact, the only other room is a small area for a toilet and a closet filled with islander cleaning supplies. Seems you can take the Kikimora from high-class cleaning, but you can’t take high class cleaning from the Kikimora.

                “Well, at least it won’t take long to search.” Sylphie says, her tails spreading out around her as she goes through the room, opening drawers and searching. Both of you look through the chest of drawers and find nothing but lacy undergarments, some of which Sylphie eyes with appreciation, though she puts them back.

                The hearth is also empty and so is the bed. After your quick search you end up with a whole lot of nothing. It’s possible that you were lead to the wrong place by Myra, however you get the feeling that the Eel Girl was genuine with you. Which means that this Kikimora didn’t have any clues. Damnit, looks like you wasted time for nothing.

                Sighing, you fold your arms and say, “Alright, we should go. Looks like this was a dead end.”

                “I guess.” Sylphie says, shaking her head as she turns to close to the door to the little supply closet. As she does so, one of her tails snags a broom and it falls, dragging a while host of cleaning supplies down to the floor. Gasping, you hurriedly throw up a [Privacy Barrier] and wait for anything to happen. When nothing does, you sigh and turn to Sylphie, who looks away.

                “S-Sorry. I know I’m clumsier with my tails than Sophie and Mom but…” She trails off and winces, “Sorry.”

                Closing your eyes, you just shake your head and put your hand upon hers. Her feline ears twitch and she looks up as you smile down at her. “It’s alright. I’m clumsy myself, you know that well enough.”

                She blinks in surprise as you go to clean up the mess of cleaning supplies, the irony not being lost on you. As you do, something slips to the floor from between a stack of rags. Sylphie reaches down to pick it up, a piece of parchment which she reads before gasping.

                “I think this is what we’re looking for!”

                “Oh?” You ask, looking down to see what’s on it.

                In truth, there isn’t that much written. In excessively flowing script, you read the words, “In the shadow of the armed masts, you will find me. Come, and I will open the way to eternal glory.”

                You both look at each other, confused. What the hells is this? Scratching your head you say, “Well, the eternal glory part sounds like what that Kikimora said, but who was she supposed to meet and what does shadow of the armed masts mean?”

                “I suppose it’s a riddle, a calling card maybe?” Sylphie looks on the backside but sees nothing in particular. “Wonder why she kept it.”

                “A momento, perhaps?” You say, not really meaning much by it. “Kikimoras are known to be sentimental toward their masters. Perhaps they saw this note as a gift they wanted to keep?”

                “Ehhhh.” Sylphie says, scratching her head. “Maybe. But it’s more than we had before anyway-“ She cuts off as she cocks her head before frowning. “We should go.”

                Not questioning her, you pack up the rest of the closet and leave, gathering Harmony and Chaika. Before you can escape, however, footsteps are heard, coming from the stairs. Sylphie curses and pulls you in close, casting [Trick of the Light.] She motions for you not to make a sound as two men in city guard uniforms and one man dressed in the Deleorian navy approach the apartment, surprised to find it unlocked.

                Your daughter nods and you cast [Privacy Barrier] to hide your footsteps as you leave, the Kikimora’s paper held in Sylphie’s hand. As soon as you reach Mr. Ed, you depart from the area, sighing in relief.

                “Well?” Harmony asks, curious. “What did you find?”

                “A riddle.” You sigh, showing her the paper. “Any idea what it means?”

                “Hmm.” She says, thinking it through. “I’ll have to devote some processing power to it.”

                “You don’t have processing- ah, whatever.” You say, waving a hand before reaching to your [Pocket Dimension] and fishing out a heated breach pouch. Tossing it to Sylphie, you reach for another and stop to look at Mr. Ed, who gives you the side eye.

                “Oh, you want one, big guy?”

                The horse nickers and swishes his tail. Sylphie snickers, holding the pastry. “He says he’d rather eat grass from the underside of a cow’s hoof.”

                “Hey! These are amazing and fortifying!” You say, tearing into your pouch before blanching. Oh good, you got one of the awful flavors, and it’s cold in the center. Hardinclouse is slacking.

                Sylphie chuckles before biting into hers and making a delighted sound as she chews on the contents. By the looks of it… bbq. Not bad, not bad. Fishing out another and finding it passable, you direct your group to a nearby bench and sit down, chewing on what you learned and what you’re eating.

                “I’m still drawing a blank.” Sylphie sighs, lowering her snack. “How frustrating.”

                “Well.” You say, leaning back. “When we can’t figure out one part of the problem, it’s best to move onto another and come back later.” When she gives you a questioning look, you smile and say, “Let’s say we find where they are and where the captives are. How do we take down this Mindflayer?”

                Sylphie shrugs, “I’ve found fire works pretty well.”

                “Sure, if you’re casting at the right target and not say, Chaika.”

                “Bleh.” The construct says.

                “Oh.” Sylphie says, ears lowering. “Those illusions are so powerful though. I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to stop them.”

                “Nothing impossible.” You say, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We just have to prepare ourselves this time. That’s the hallmark of a practitioner.”

                Sylphie looks into your eyes, surprise there before she looks away and shakes her head. “One of your lessons huh? Gods, it’s been quite some time since I’ve heard one of those.”

                “Hmm, well, I’ve heard you’ve had some decent teaching from that Rommel fellow…” As you say this, you watch her expression, which falls a little before she gives a wan smile.

                “A little. I felt like I taught him more than he taught me at times.”

                “Well, that’s how things are at times. Everyone learns a little something from others.”

                She quirks an eyebrow at you. “Geez Dad, you almost sound like you know what you’re talking about. Are you sure we didn’t pick up the wrong guy from that dungeon?”

                “Listen here you little smart ass cutie patootie, if you sass back at me again I’m going to give Chaika unlimited rights to lecture you on the intricacies of Dolloran votive candle making.”

                “OH!” Chaika says, hands to her breast. “Did you know that they use only the freshest beeswax, straight from the ass of Bee Girls?”

                Sylphie shudders. “Okay, it really is you.” A chuckle escapes her lips as she turns to you and places her hands in her lap, giving you a soft smile. “Well, what do you have to teach today?”

                “[Inner Guardian].” You say. “You’ve seen it before, but I need you to master it and it’s secondary stage of casting, [Manifest]. It’s not a foolproof method to stop illusions, and the illusion must be directed at you for it to trigger the guardian, but it’s something. If it gives us even the smallest opening to attack, our magic is superior. Do you understand?”

                She nods her head. “Good.” You say, taking a calming breath. “Now then, to form your guardian. Concentrate on something to defend your mind, something powerful and unflinching, an unmovable wall which will not allow your mind to be breached.”

                Sylphie furrows her brow in concentration as she does so, and you can feel the magic pouring from her. Eventually she breathes out, “Okay, I see it.”

                “Good. Now then, use your magic and need to protect yourself and push forth your guardian, [Manifest] them into the visible world.”

                Your daughter concentrates further and you feel as pushes her magic outward further, mana crystalizing before you to form the shape of a man with a long, flowing beard of silver blonde hair and brilliant robes. He stands there with his staff, looking down at you with sagacity that seems oddly familiar. Before he vanishes, he gives you a wink, which you have no idea how to interpret.

                Sylphie gasps as she opens her eyes and looks around to you before blushing. “Y-You saw that?”

                “Uhhhhh.” You say, not sure how to interpret that. “Ah… uh, yes! Good job, you did it!”

                “Ehehe… uhm” Sylphie says, coughing into her hand.

                “How did it feel?”

                She blinks a few times before folding her hands together. “It felt like a strong, warm presence was standing beside me, ready to protect me should anything happen. It was reassuring, made me feel like I could do anything really.”

                Mr. Ed snorts behind her and Sylphie pouts, “Oh hush, you can beat up all the physical threats you stick in the mud.”

                “I… see.” You say, feeling something ache in your heart. You’re not quite certain how to put it into words, but it just seems like that very moment you notice just how much your little girl has grown, and how lonely she must be.

                Closing your eyes, you take a deep breath before saying, “Okay. If we use that properly and keep our wits about us, we can get an opening.”

                “Great.” Chaika says, waving her hand. “Now how do we find them?”

                “Excellent question.” You sigh. “At least we solved one problem…”

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