“Okay?” Rayleigh asks, cocking her head. “Okay? What is okay?” She turns to Finn. “Do you know what okay is?”
The man looks down at the Squirrel Girl and shakes his head. “I have a feeling.”
“That’s not okay.” Rayleigh says, folding her arms cross her chest. “But I’ll have to assume it’s okay. Okay?”
“Okay.” You say again, mainly to yourself. “Gather your things you’ll need and meet outside. We need to discuss a few things.”
“Why can’t we talk in-?” Rayleigh starts before cutting herself off as Ophelia nods her head, rabbit ears twitching. The Squirrel Girl’s eyes go flat and she sighs before standing up and nodding to Finn. “Fine, let’s get our stuff I suppose.”
Your party breaks away to head upstairs and get their gear, though the guards give them dubious looks as they return with weapons. Thankfully none of them give you any trouble, so you assume Murdocka either has them all on a tight leash, or they think you might have justice on your side. You’re incredibly confident it’s not the latter.
Meeting out back of Sophie’s manor, you motion for the others to walk a short distance in a evening gloom before reaching an area that Ophelia assures you is free of Monsters, for now. While the possibility of a Monster with incredibly good hearing, stealth, or otherwise is non-negligible, it’s the best you’re going to get.
“Okay.” You say, feeling comfortable enough to start.
“Cut the crap, kid.” Finn says, though you feel it’s not totally due to your word choice. “You’ve been dancing around this for awhile and now we’re at a point where we need to know why we’re risking so much. I do not like disobeying orders but sometimes you have to set priorities.” He folds his arms across his chest.
“And at the moment, there appears to be a clear winner on what has priority.”
“A fair point.” You say, nodding your head. Taking a look around to those who are privy to the reason of your adventure, they all nod in affirmation. Finn and Rayleigh have shown no signs of betrayal and they’ve both fought with you in situations where they easily could have turned on all of you. Unless they’re playing the longest, most confusing con in the world, you believe you can trust them.
Exhaling, you stand up straight and say, “The purpose of this mission has always been to contract Hevensferth so that we may gain his support to stop Phallia from destroying her sister and the world as we know it.”
The two Order members stare at you. No one says anything as a cool, night wind blows by, letting silence descend over those assembled. Finn sets his jaw and continues to stare at you while Rayleigh gives you a confused, perhaps even worried, look.
“Uh…” She begins before shaking her head. “Wait, wait, wait. I’ve heard Illusionists are a little off in the had, but this is some crazy shit. You expect us to believe that? What the hell kind of shitty fiction is this? Did a group of autists get together to make up this story?”
“It’s quite real.” Alice says, looking pensive. “I’ve seen Phallia’s meddling firsthand. I’ve fought side by side with those who have seen her. I know it sounds crazy but…” She shrugs.
“Finn, come on.” Rayleigh says, turning to the man. “You can’t seriously believe this.”
He is silent for a few moments before asking in a low, cautious voice, “The Lord Commander knows of this?”
“He does. So does the Grand Wizard and the Monster Lady. We were all privy to the meeting which determined this course of action.”
“Why were we left in the dark?”
You look him straight in the eye as you say, “Because I had to know who I could trust with such sensitive information. I’m sorry it took so long for me to tell you, but I have no doubts in my mind that you two are true to your words and the Order.”
Rayleigh looks down and folds her arms before breathing out a deep sigh. “Uggghhhh. Do you even have any proof of this?”
“At this time I only have my word and the word of all others assembled here.” They nod to the Squirrel Girl, who bites her lip.
“Ugh… if the slut queen believes it though, I guess I’ll have to go along.” She looks back up to Finn. “However…”
“I understand.” Finn says, leaving it at that. “But what will you do in the face of this current predicament?”
You look at the man, surprised for a moment. Does he believe your answer? Or did he always have his suspicions and just wanted confirmation. You’re constantly surprised at his level of professionalism to his job and tasks at hand.
“Of course we’re going to get to the bottom of this.” You say, planting your hands on your hips. “While the task ahead of us is important, probably one of the most important things we can do, rescuing our comrade is also important. Besides, there’s clearly entities out to get us, we might not make it home if we don’t handle them first.”
A small smile comes to Finn’s face at that. You suppose he would like that answer, wouldn’t he?
“Very well. Where do we start, leader?”
“Smart-ass.” You say, knowing quite well you’d like to use that line if you could. “We have little to work with but it’s something. Our main goal would be to find and interrogate the witness, or find whoever left that stench.”
“It’s still in my nose.” Ginelle says, shuddering. “I’m not going to be able to sniff out much of anything for awhile.”
“Which I’m sure was the intention. Something like this can’t be too hard to conceive of, so I’m sure a potion seller might have info on who bought it.” You pull out the vial and look it over, sniffing it again but only smelling the distinct flavor of refined semen. There’s no marks on it of any value, unfortunately.
“Though tracking it down will be difficult.”
“You know…” Clarissa says, musing. “Weren’t all the potion bottles different that we bought? I mean, sure for different varieties, but even health potions were different between potion sellers, right?”
“Huh.” You say, looking in your bag for the potions. Sure enough, you needed to visit multiple places to get everything but yeah, the potions are in different vials. “Might be that only one place uses this kind of vial for something, and if it belonged to the same person who left that stench, it’s a start.”
“Makes sense.” Finn says. “What else do we have?”
“Well, I assume the Chat Noir will find us soon enough.” You say, nodding to Clarissa. “In which case we don’t have much else to work with though…” You trail off while looking to Ophelia. “You remember when you cycled through signals and found one that connected?”
“Yeah.” She pulls out the device and holds it up. “You think it might be related?”
“Coincidences exist, I guess.” You say, shrugging. “But it doesn’t hurt to check it out. Can you trace the signal if you find one?”
“Yeah… I think so.” She says, musing. “Actually, yeah, I can. I’ll just need a separate signal to triangulate it.”
“Well then gang.” Alice says, clapping her hands. “Looks like we’re going to split up.”
“Is that a good idea?” Clint asks. “I think my aim is steady but I don’t know how much fight is in me. I know those two can’t be much better.”
Finn shrugs and Rayleigh sighs. The Squirrel Girl says, “I do want to sleep, but I can manage. I always get a little pep when I drink a mana potion anyway.”
“Gee, thanks for thinking about me.” Ginelle says, to which Clint rolls his eyes.
“Please, Ginelle. You can take a nap after being hit by a leyway and be fine.”
She sniffs, “Just because that’s true doesn’t mean anything.”
You shake your head at the conversation. “Oh, speaking of which, here Rayleigh.” Digging in your bag, you hand a rather large handful of mana potions over to the Squirrel Girl, her eyes lighting up with delight.
“Ohhhhhh.” She says, holding in her little arms more jizz than she can possible hope to drink, a phrase you never thought you’d even imagine, even after that time Saya did-
“Splitting up should be prudent.” You say. “We’ll have one group look after the vial while the other chases down that signal.” Looking between the groups, you nod your head in decision. “I’ll head up the vial team with Ginelle, Clint, and Rayleigh. The signal team will be Ophelia, Alice, Finn, and Clarissa. Any questions?”
“Seems solid enough.” Ginelle says. “I like doing a shakedown every now and then anyway.”
“Gee, and to think we’re trying to clear some good names.” Ophelia says, shaking her head. “Alright, let’s get going then.”
She tosses you one of the communications devices and a list of frequencies to use before heading off toward with her group, the de facto leader you guess, though you’re sure Finn will take the reins eventually. Or maybe Alice? They’ll probably not… butt heads…
Leading your team through the night, you make a beeline for potion sellers. Unfortunately most are closed at this time of day, and they are rather uncooperative when you bang on their doors.
“Go away, I’m- ahn! Preparing ingredi…oh… oh! Working!”
Ginelle seems both keen on listening to the sounds and breaking open the door, but Clint pulls her away as you consider. “That’s the third one, I think unless we break in we’re going to have a hard time getting any answers.”
“And we don’t even know if it’s the correct place.” Rayleigh sighs, popping the cork off a vial of [Mana Potion]. “I need a pick me up.”
Shaking your head, you’re about to keep walking when you do a double take and shout, “Don’t slurp that semen!”
Rayleigh nearly chokes as you grab her wrist and stop her, a sticky mess splattering her face. Fire appears in her hand as she growls, “What the hells is wrong with you?!”
“The vial!” You say, plucking the half-filled, sticky vial from her hands. “It matches the one we’re looking for!”
Rayleigh’s eye twitches as she stares at you before huffing and wiping the potion off her face.
“Uhm… let’s see, that potion…” You say, trying to remember. “I think it was the Arachne alchemist we got this from.”
“Oh good, spiders.” Ginelle says. “Gotta love spiders.”
You walk through the city at night on your way to the shop as you remember. As you pass through, your heart sinks as you hear mumblings from the passersby.
“Did you hear that the Monster Lady’s daughter murdered someone?”
“I hear it was one of the opposition that died.”
“So the queen is using her daughter now as a catspaw. Disgusting.”
“Didn’t she take in the daughter of the Lord Commander? You don’t think the Order is-“
You can visibly see the agitation on Rayleigh’s face as you pass by a group discussing the last one. Implications such as this are incredibly dangerous for the health of the two nations and Rayleigh seems one to take personal slight at insults to the Order. Clint keeps up a stoic face, but you can tell he’s worried by what people are saying also. Ginelle is… Ginelle.
The Arachne alchemist’s shop is built into her home, the bottom floor filled with a variety of potions showing from behind windows installed sometime in the last twenty years, you suspect. Looking in the window, you see the rack of [Mana Potions] you pilfered earlier and, sure enough, the vial matches the ones in your possession.
“Did she have anything like that stench potion?” Ginelle asks you, sniffing.
“I don’t remember, I wasn’t exactly looking for that.” You mutter. No candles or lamps on, can’t tell if she’s inside either. You might need to make a break for the inside and possibly-
The device at your belt hisses some static as it comes to life.
“Tobias? I need you to give me your coordinates, over.”
“Uhhhh.” You say, clicking the button. “We’re sort of southwest side of town? Over?”
“Got it, over. Change frequencies to the one I mentioned before, over.”
You do so and hear a static again before switching back to the other channel. Ophelia’s voice comes again, “Alright, I think I have a better picture of where to go, over. Looks like… southeast side of town? That’s a more influential area of town if I recall, over.”
“Check, we’ll see you later then, over.”
Shaking your head, you turn back to the others in time for Ginelle to pull you away violently as a large shadow descends from the side of the building. Clint readies his magitek rifle while fire plays along Rayleigh’s hands as a figure emerges in the magicked blaze.
“Can’t you see the shop is closed?” The figure, an Arachne, says. Her spider abdomen is large, brown, and fuzzy while her more human half has brown, chitinous arms and eight eyes set upon a gorgeous face. She’s also wearing cute, fuzzy pajamas.
As she pulls her to full height, she blinks and leans down to look at you. “Didn’t you come by earlier today? What, do you want a refund? Or perhaps you’d like to sell some sperm?”
“That all belongs to my wife.” You say, not fazed by her. “I’m actually here to ask some questions.”
“Trade secrets. Not going to go into details on how I make my wares, it’s quite a competitive market you know-“
“Do you make potions which create a noxious smell?”
The Arachne pauses and looks all of you over. “What’s this all about? I’ve done nothing wrong.” She shows her fangs to prove somehow that she’s innocent.
“It’s nothing you’ve done wrong, this is about one of your clients.”
“Huh? You can’t be serious, I don’t remember everyone-“
“You remembered me.”
“You’re a human with a handsome face an excellent taste in clothing. Arachne silk, yes?”
“Of course, I would never buy a suit without it, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”
The alchemist huffs and leans back on her eight-legged torso. “Can’t blame a girl for trying. But I don’t think I want to get involved in whatever is happening here, so I’m going to just go.” She begins to move backward toward the wall and gets one leg on it before Ginelle grabs her arm.
“Oh no, I insist you stay.”
“I-I’ll call the guards.” She says, worried.
“They’ve sanctioned this.” You lie, holding out your badge again for a moment, short enough in time that she can’t read it.
It does the trick and she sighs, re-settling on the ground. “Listen, I don’t want any trouble.”
“Answer the questions and you won’t get any.” Rayleigh says, extinguishing her flames.
“Now then, about stink potions?” You ask, to which the alchemist waves her hand.
“Yes, yes. I’m about the only one in town who makes them. Quite useful to hide your tracks or mess with sensitive Monsters. Mostly a prank really.”
“Has anyone purchased one recently as well as mana potions?”
“Well it doesn’t sell that well, so let’s see…” She considers. “There was one who bought both of those things. A Kikimora if I recall. She seemed a little smug for some reason.”
“What was her name, can you tell us anything more about her?”
“Didn’t give a name and she looked… like your average Kikimora? Wasn’t wearing maid garb though, instead wore a killer bodysuit. If only I could fit into something like that…” She sighs and bounces her massive breasts. You only notice a little. Maybe you can convince Saya to do something like-
“I see. Did she say or do anything else that could be noticeable?”
“Not really. Oh, she said to bill her stuff to the Galmathorian embassy, though those jerks have yet to pay up. I’m thinking I might need the guard on this one to get my damn money.”
The four of you turn and look at each other. Galmathorian embassy? That can’t be a coincidence. If the Kikimora who bought these things was also the Kikimora who was the witness, then…
“By the way, do you know where the embassy is?” Rayleigh asks.
“I think it’s southeast part of town, in that more influential section if I recall.”
“Thanks.” You say, digging out some silver coins to toss her as you wave to the others. The Arachne pockets them down her pajamas and shakes her head, muttering about out of towners. Thank the Gods Deleorian currency works up here!
Getting far enough away from the shop, you pull out your communication device and say, “Ophelia, come in, over. We have suspicion that the Galmathorian embassy might be where the signal is leading, over. If you are there, do not engage, I repeat, do not engage, over.”
Nothing but static comes back to you. Worried, you try again, but get nothing. Staring at the device for only a moment, you say, “Come on, we need to go.”
The others don’t argue, and you run through the streets of the Monster Nation capital, the odd few passersby giving you stranger looks than usual. It takes some time to reach the other side of the city, time you’re afraid you don’t have. Ginelle asks the location of the embassy from a local and you arrive nearby to find nothing. No signs of a battle, no scuffle, nothing. Hiding in a nearby alleyway, you look up at the building and study it.
The embassy is about three stories tall and made, like all things, of the ancient granite. This one has a few alterations of course, mainly with crystalwork, one of the products Galmathoria is known for, as well as magitek lights around the property, showing off their ability to produce the technology. The gates are currently barred, but some lights are on in windows, so obviously they’re home.
“Ginelle?” You ask the Badger Girl.
She shakes her head. “Still can’t smell much.”
“Which is why you didn’t notice us.”
Turning around with a gasp, you see Ophelia standing behind you, the others of her group following down the alley as well. Rayleigh nods to Finn as if she too didn’t get spooked while Alice saunters up and shrugs.
“Took you long enough.”
“Where did you come from?” Clint asks, surprised as well.
“We saw you coming and followed up before you could enter.” Finn says. “Once we realized where the signal lead, we decided to lay low until you arrived.”
“I was ready to go in and kick some ass, but the big lug stopped me.”
“Fortunately.” Finn sighs. “Imagine if I wasn’t here to keep her in check.”
“I know exactly what that’s like.” You say, nodding with sagacity before sighing. “Why didn’t you respond when I messaged you?”
“Oh no.” Ophelia says, worried. “I should have sent a message beforehand warning that the comms might be tapped when we figured out where this is.” She bites her thumb. “This might be a problem.”
“How so?” You ask.
“They might be torching evidence or trying to run. We can’t rely on getting the guards here.” Clint says, shaking his head. “Not that they’d enter anyway. Looks like we might need to do this quick.”
“How do we know they’re still there?”
“They are.” A familiar voice says.
Being taken unawares for like, the fourth time today, you look up to see the Chat Noir agent from before hanging languidly to the wall. How she did so in such a quiet way, you have no idea, but there she is.
“No one has gone in or out since we heard of the murder. We managed to follow a Kikimora here, but no one has left.”
“Why… haven’t you gone in to deal with them?”
“Because it’s an investigation still and wouldn’t it be really… bad if the secret police of the Monster Lady were found directly antagonizing the Galmathorian embassy without justified cause?”
Rayleigh cocks her head. “Secret what now?”
The Cat Girl shakes her head. “Either way, it looks even worse for the Monster Lady and her daughter. However, if Deleorians manage to sniff it out then…” She shrugs.
Clint looks back at the building, then over to you before nodding his head and shouldering his weapon. “Looks like we’re out of good options. Do we storm the place or sneak?”
Ginelle and Alice crack their knuckles. “Let’s cause some havok!” they day in unison.
Ophelia and Clarissa both look at each other nervously. “Perhaps… stealth is better?’
“Well then, leader of this group.” The Chat Noir member says before seeming to melt into the shadows.
“What will you do~?”
A warm wind blows in the silence that follows.
“What just happened here?” Ophelia asks, confused.
“There’s a cat watching our every move to use us for political gain.” Alice says, shrugging. “The usual.”
Ophelia makes to say something but opts instead just to shake her head. Instead, Clarissa puts her winghands on her hips and says, “So what are we going to do about this if the officials won’t do anything?”
“We’ll have to get the evidence ourselves.” You say, frowning as you look to the building. Was that movement near one of the windows? Did they notice you?
“Aww yeah.” Alice says, cracking her knuckles. “Let’s do it!” She begins to walk forward when Finn grabs her by the back of her armor and drags her backward. She huffs and crosses her arms as he does so.
“I believe we’re going to do something else.” He says, looking to Ginelle, who also deflates a little.
“Well, while a frontal assault would be fine there’s something else…” You trail off as you look to the communication device at your belt. Cocking your head, you think through a few plans before smirking. “Ophelia, they might have been listening in, right?”
“Yeah, I think so, which is why we might need to hurry.”
The Rabbit Girl looks surprised as you power the device, conveniently leaving it on. “Alright, then we need to hit them hard and fast. I believe our best option is to crash through the front door before they can react.”
Ophelia looks at you, horrified as you continue. “I think if we leverage our armor we can get in okay without trouble and then support from behind. We’ll also torch the back to make sure no one gets out alive.”
Your team looks very confused as you pull out a pen and start writing on the envelope for the [Monster Lady’s Missive] that they thankfully handed back to you. Clint seems to figure it out first and says, “I think it might be best to keep an overwatch, you know? Shoot anyone who gets near the windows or tries to flee.”
“Good thinking.” Alice says, stepping in front of you to block anyone’s view. “We’ll be able to keep them pinned by doing so. Fresh for the slaughter.”
You finish writing your instructions and hand them off to Ophelia, who scans the paper before nodding and pulling aside Clarissa and Ginelle. As they do so, you stand up and walk on the other side of Alice, facing the building while she goes as well. Pointing directly at the building so your shadow shows against the wall in the moonlight, you say, “Oh yes, and when they’re all dead, they’ll answer any question we want.”
“Let me at them.” Finn says, cracking his knuckles. You’re surprised at how well he pulls it off. The man is full of surprises it seems.
Looking over your shoulder, you notice the girls are gone. Good. Now to keep the act convincing.
“But maybe we’ll make them sweat a little.” You say, gesturing with your hand, which still plays shadow puppets. “They know we’re coming, so let’s get them really nervous, make them feel like the walls are closing in before our blades do.”
Clint makes a hand signal to show that two people are at the windows behind you. Chuckling, you pull the [Farsight Goggles] from your bag and strap them on before turning about in a flourish and looking out. Sure enough, two figures, Monsters though of what kind you can’t say, stand at the second-floor windows, looking out directly at your alley. The moment you turn around however, they vanish.
“Come then, let us prepare!” You say, throwing up a fist before turning off the device with your other hand. A moment later, you crouch down and pull back as Clint whispers,
“That was quite foolish.”
“You think? I was going for foolhardy. I’ll get in the dress rehearsal.”
“So what do we do now?” Rayleigh asks, cocking her head. “And where did the others go?”
“They should be infiltrating the place right about now…” You look up to see a dark shape in the night sky through your goggles. It’s Clarissa holding Alice, the two looking down, then nodding to each other before descending back toward the third-floor windows. Guess there isn’t a roof entrance after all.
“Clint, I need you to go provide overwatch after all.” You say, to which the man nods and looks about before heading around a nearby building. If you don’t miss your mark, he’ll try to ascend and get to the rooftop at least if possible. Good, if things go wrong, you want him overlooking things.
Waiting from your place in the alleyway, you continue to watch through your goggles, adjusting them to see the windows. As you feared, they’re still watching, even from the third floor. You’re afraid the team on the inside won’t be able to do their job unless you can drag the watchers downstairs… ah, but you did promise them an attack, right? Hopefully they’ll be so busy looking after you, they won’t notice what’s going in inside.
“Alright Rayleigh, I need you to make a smokescreen.”
“I’m a pyromancer, why would you assume I know how to make a smokescreen.”
“Can you not?”
“Ugh.” She says, readying her magic. “Honestly, couldn’t we have just gone through the front door?”
“I don’t think they’d react well to us knocking and asking for them to allow us to poke our noses where they don’t belong.” Finn says. “They might even politely ask us to leave, though I’m not certain how effective making ourselves known to everyone like this will be.”
“The Galmathorians are still watching from up top. I’m afraid if we don’t create a distraction, they’ll never give us an opening.”
“I see.” Finn says. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Me too.” You say, in a half-whisper.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s get this started I guess.” Rayleigh says, letting out a wave of magic from her hands. It coalesces and forms a warm rush of black smoke that drifts from her hands to obscure the front of the building. Once it reaches a large enough screen, you say to the Squirrel Girl,
“Alright, now use [Project].”
“I’m a Pyromancer!”
“Ugghhhh.” She says, weaving the cantrip of a spell.
The sounds of the alleyway magnify as you shout, “LET’S GET EM!” before stomping your feet as if to charge the gate.
Finn gives you a tired look before drawing his sword and shouting while Rayleigh lets lose sparks of Pyromancy. It’s a convincing light show, if nothing else. Hopefully convincing enough to utterly distract the people inside. You did say you’d be attacking, right? Of course, you need to make this quick or else people are going to start asking a few too many questions and drawing a little too much attention. Hopefully it’s enough time for the team inside to get in and get out.
The smoke begins to dissipate and you look with your goggles to see the people gone from the windows, but don’t see anyone present behind them. Confused, your attention turns to the top window as something dashes through and shatters the glass outward before rising into the air, getting caught in the smoke, then practically nosediving over the gate and toward you.
Cursing, you step back as Finn grabs the person-sized missile in his gauntleted hands, slowing their descent. Readying your magic, you turn to see… Clarissa?
The poor Crow Girl is coughing from the smoke, clothing something in her wing-hands. She’s covered in scratches from breaking the glass and other, deeper wounds, which look like getting raked by brambles. You help her get her wind back and pat her saying, “Clarissa! What happened?”
“W- *cough* we found something but we were attacked.”
“What? How did they know you were there? Did they hear you?”
“The… plants. There’s *cough cough* plants everywhere in there. I thought I was crazy when I saw one of them moving but we headed *cough* into a room with some filing cabinets when this big racket sounded outside and everyone left for downstairs. Ophelia was able *cough* to find these, but before we could do much else, we were ambushed by a wave of these *cough* vines.”
She holds up the files to you, a bunch in a folder marked, “ledger.” You don’t have time to go through it as Clarissa stands herself up and coughs up a little more. Though you make to help her, she holds up a wing-hand and says, “Ginelle managed to break me and Ophelia free. I tried to escape with Ophelia, but she pushed me forward and went back to help the other two while I delivered this.”
The Crow Girl shudders. “This woman, she reminded me of that Chalan we fought before *cough*. She still had Alice last I saw. I don’t know if they’ll be able to make it out of there.”
This evidence you have in your hands could be enough to incriminate the Galmathorians if you can get it to the right people… such as the one hanging out over you. Then they’d have proper reason to rush in and apprehend them. On the other hand, if it turns out to be circumstantial or not enough evidence, it won’t hold up and the Monster Lady, and Sophie, will face extreme backlash.
On the other hand, you can rush in yourself and try to save the infiltration team. It might be dangerous, but you’ll get any other information you need… you hope. Either way, you need to figure out what to do and quickly before Ginelle and Alice are overwhelmed, or the authorities arrive to find you trespassing. Neither is a particularly enticing option, you’re afraid.
The first thing you do is throw open the ledger and read through it as fast as you can. While your eyes are well trained to look over documents for just about anything of relevance, you quickly realize that you have next to no proficiency in accounting. In fact, you’re only able to pick up information such as payments for small things and maybe a mention or two of names, but it means nothing to you. Perhaps with time you could figure it out, or perhaps Clint or Ophelia, who had more training in such things due to their upbringing. You had already left to become and Illusionist before you really got that far in your studies at home.
Slapping it closed, you groan. “Well that was useless.”
“How so?” Finn asks.
“I can’t make heads nor tails of this. I don’t know if it’s enough information to bring in the Chat Noir.” Holding it up to the air, you shout, “You can have it anyway!”
A hand reaches from the shadows to grab the ledger, leaving you to drop down next to Clarissa and tend to her wounds. A simple [Health Potion] is enough to heal the worst of it, being that they were just some lacerations, but you make certain the Chat Noir member, who probably sees everything anyway, is watching. These aren’t exactly normal wounds, after all.
“W-wait.” Clarissa says as you administer the potion. “You need to get going, now!”
“I need your help.” You say, helping her up.
“I need you to deliver Finn and Rayleigh into the third floor.”
“Rayleigh I can do, but Finn? He’s way too heavy!” She shakes her head to which the big man just shrugs. Makes sense, really.
“Fine.” You say, handing her the [Farsight Goggles]. “Give these to Clint on your way, he should be in this building to the left and just take Rayleigh.”
You turn to the Squirrel Girl and say, “I need you to cause some havok. Controlled burns, however.”
“Yeeeaaaah, about that.” She says, coughing. “Well, we’ll see.”
“Let’s go!” Clarissa says, leaping into the air. Rayleigh jumps and Clarissa claps her arm before flying toward the third floor again. As she does so, you turn to Finn and nod.
“Alright, it’s our turn to bust in.”
“You’re certain about this?”
“I’m afraid the time for uncertainty has passed.” You say, taking in a deep breath before pulling from your bag one of the crossbows you had. Already loaded too, how fantastic. “Do you think the gates are unlocked?”
“Only one way to find out.” He says, charging forward.
Running through the dissipating smoke, you hear a loud sound followed by a spark of metal before you as a bolt of energy destroys the lock on the outer gate. It swings open, allowing Finn to crash through them, gaining you entrance into the courtyard. Nothing attacks you, so next you head toward the front door, where another bolt obliterates the knob.
A scream echoes from the other side right before Finn crashes through the door with his fully armored charge and slams someone into the stone behind it. They don’t seem to retaliate. The moment you enter though, you hear the sounds of shouting and smell smoke. It seems Rayleigh has begun her assault.
Two Monsters on the stairs look at you in horror as you enter, clearly not expecting something like this as they head upstairs. One of them casually trips and falls for entirely natural and not perceived reason, landing into the other as they hit the landing where Finn knocks them senseless. Another dashes into the room but you fire a bolt from your crossbow, both jarring you and knocking them flat on their ass. Or they could be dead. Either result is good.
Rubbing at your shoulder after forgetting how these things kick, you load another bolt before nodding to Finn and searching your surroundings. The first floor is, or perhaps was, a nice reception area with meeting rooms to the sides. Anywhere they could be put, however, you see abundant and rather exotic plant life.
Unable to appreciate further, you head upstairs to the next level. Another group of Monsters, this time with weapons, ambushes you, but you’re able to take them out without much difficulty. Unfortunately, the shouts are getting louder, and you’re certain you hear cries of pain! Making to head up the next flight to the third floor, you pause as you hear another, distinct scream nearby
“Shit, she’s on the second floor!” You shout, searching about the floor filled with what looks like living quarters and more plants. Gritting your teeth, you shout to Finn, “You go ahead, I’ll rescue her!”
“Are you crazy?”
The man blinks before shaking his head and dashing upstairs, leaving you with your crossbow and a stiff shoulder. Remembering where the screams came from before, you run toward them and find yourself in front of a bedroom where Ophelia kneels as a Kikimora drives her bird-like heel into her back.
The Monster looks up as you approach and smiles, pushing the jacket covering her black bodysuit back to reveal the formfitting outfit. She chuckles and says, “Well, well, look what the cat dragged in. Or should I say, the Kikimo-“
You fire your crossbow bolt directly at her chest. Before it can reach, however, it burns up into nothing as a localized wall of fire appears before the Monster. She blinks a few times before frowning and saying, “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes, a little.” You say, dropping the weapon. It’s not going to be of any use anymore you suppose. “Let go of the rabbit.”
“Or what?” She asks, fire dancing in her hand. “You’ll tell the guard on me? You’re the aggressors here, they’ll believe this is just self-defense on foreign soil, because it is.” She leans forward, giving you the most aggressive shit-eating grin.
“Face it, you have nothing, and we now have more than we bargained for.”
“Is that so?” You say, shrugging as you pull something out of your jacket. “Then you won’t be needing these, will you?”
The Kikimora’s expression becomes confused for a moment before realization strikes and she hisses. “How did? Where did-?”
“Is it really that important?” You say placing the documents, or well, appearing to place something document shaped into your jacket. “Then the Chat Noir will be very interested in reading it.”
She growls, “Don’t fuck with me, boy!” Grinding her heel into Ophelia’s back, the Rabbit Girl lets out a very uncomfortable noise of pain. She lowers the fire toward Ophelia as well. “Now then, give that back or the rabbit gets it.”
“I dare say I’ll get the rabbit back after the guard have a good look at this document.” You say, waving it as you walk around the room toward the window facing the street. “You’re the one in the lower position.”
“You’re bluffing.” She says. “Juniper has seen through it all, you won’t be able to defeat her either, or whatever is happening there. We just remove the evidence and then, tragically, the troublemakers from Deleor are seen as inciting within the Monster Nation against Galmathoria. How do you think people will react?”
“Better than when they see your arboretum or whatever is going on here.” You say, lining things up. “Do you really think Juniper has your best interests at heart?”
“She is sent directly from the homeland. Her word is above ours, it doesn’t matter if she has our best interests at heart, she just wants to bring us victory over you Deleorian swine.”
“The same swine you want to fuck, right?” You say, staying put and gathering your magic. “I don’t think most men are that willing when you call them such nice names, though I guess everyone has their kinks.”
“Hah, I’ll show you!” She says before throwing fireballs at you.
Ducking quickly, you avoid the projectiles as they shatter through the window and scorch the wall behind you. You pull the knife from your belt and dash in, knowing your form isn’t the best, but you doubt hers is good either. Unfortunately, you forget about her fire wall until the last moment and roll backward when it flares to life, thankfully singed more than anything.
She laughs and summons more fire before letting out an ear-piercing scream and staggering forward while looking down, pushing you out of the way. Ophelia lays there on the floor, mouth coated with a thin sheen of blood as she spits something out before smirking.
“You bitch!” She shouts, raising power to cast a large spell, presumably to kill you horrifically, when a bolt of energy flashes outside before zipping into the room and destroying the Monster’s head.
The headless corpse wobbles a few moments before slumping to the side, lifeless.
“Damn Ophelia, I was going to illusion you doing that.” You say, helping her up. “Aren’t you an herbivore?”
“Don’t fuck with a cornered rabbit.” She says, wiping her mouth. “Tastes like chicken though.”
“You good?’ You ask, retrieving your crossbow and loading it before handing it to Ophelia, who takes it graciously as you pull the second one out of your bag.
“Yeah, I’m ready.” She says, popping her back before nodding her head. “I’d hoped Clarissa would be able to get you, I tried my best to get away too but she caught me.”
She holds the crossbow at the ready. “Time to teach those bitches a lesson.”
Dashing back to the stairs, you head up into a veritable jungle. The room is covered in pulsating plant life that seems far, far too much for how many pots are there. Magic thrums in the room, making your teeth chatter as you look around to see Finn hacking at a wall of vines. Running up to him, he turns as you ask, “Finn! What’s happening?”
“Way is blocked, but I can hear them. I think Ginelle might be down, but Alice is still fighting.” He slams his hand on the barrier. “Damnit! And I haven’t seen Rayleigh!”
“I got this.” Ophelia says, pulling a [Mana Bomb] from her bag. She primes it and everyone runs back as the device explodes, destroying a section of the roots and the wall next to you, exposing you to the warm summer night air.
As the debris falls around you, something tickles your nose, making you sneeze as you rub your eyes, allowing you to see properly. The area around the blast is destroyed as multiple vines squirm about the floor, trying to reconnect themselves to the larger body. Beyond this you see Ginelle on the floor, Alice standing above her, sword glowing with arcane energies as vines swirl around her.
She’s covered in scratches on her unarmored face, her armor itself looking fine, but curiously the area around her is coated in a thin veneer of a powder. Infact, as you look about, you see the same powder kind of settling around everything. It makes you sneeze as you think about it, distracting you from the other form in the room, who is currently holding Rayleigh by the neck in her hand.
She appears to be a beautiful woman with long, blond hair and gorgeous features, wearing a tight fitting, red dress with an open back that drifts down to her legs. At your intrusion, she looks to you and you notice something else. A thin line separates out from behind her, growing larger and larger as you realize they’re thin wings spreading out. Beautiful arrays of green, red, and yellow play out before, dazzling you for a moment before Alice shouts,
“Don’t get distracted!”
Shaking yourself, you drop to the floor as a flow of vines appear where you were just standing. Ophelia shouts in surprise as she gets caught by the flow and then thrown backward into a wall. She lets out a cry of pain and tries to struggle, fruitlessly you see.
“Oh?” Juniper says, her eyes flashing green. “I thought Clair may have been able to keep the bottom floor occupied. I’ve been a little busy here.”
“And I thought you were supposed to be a woman.” You say.
“Do you need me to show you my breasts? I will, if you want.” She shrugs and looks to Rayleigh who is glaring at her. “Honestly I should thank you for the light show, you’ve made this all much easier for me.”
“Unhand her!” Finn says, holding his sword. “I don’t care if you’re a Biomancer, I’ll slash all these vines apart!”
“Finn!” Rayleigh says before turning to the Butterfly Girl or whatever the fuck she is and closing her eyes. Juniper looks surprised as the Squirrel Girl appears to glow momentarily before bursting into flame and nearly exploding her captors arm. The force of her internal explosion throws her across the room, where Alice catches her and sets her on the floor, the Pyromancer’s eyes spinning as she tries to catch her balance.
Juniper looks at the remains of her arm, which are burning, before growling and cutting it off. As she does so, you notice vines worming through her flesh, seeking to reconnect with the missing piece. Her burning dress she rips off, dropping it to the floor and revealing that she is both not wearing undergarments and that she is indeed, a woman. As far as pain? No, of course not, she seems utterly unfazed by it, merely frowning before throwing out a wave of vines from the pants around her.
Alice gasps and tries to shield Rayleigh, but Finn runs in first, blocking the blow with his sword. The vines squirm around him, trying to move through but he sweeps his sword and cuts them apart. Juniper doesn’t seem all that disturbed by this however, the opposite of Chalan, though the way the vines in her flesh squirm as her arm begins to regrow makes you see them as exactly the same. Gods, if she becomes what Chalan did, you’re in for some real shit in these confined space.
“Alice!” You shout, “Help me fight her!”
“Uh, about that.” She says, almost slipping. “You smelled that dust, right?”
“Hmph.” Juniper says as the vines bulge and a new arm shoots forth, though it is a little more veiny than before. She frowns at it and says, “It’s a little late for you now.”
“What are you talking abou-“ You let out another sneeze, this one far more violent than before, almost staggering you. “The hell is this?”
“Butterfly Girls like myself can shed scales, or didn’t you know?” She shakes her head. “Most other species find it incredibly irritating. I, on the other hand, find it convenient.”
Alice stands and wobbles some, though you’re sure it’s not from her words. Gritting your teeth, you look to Rayleigh, who is still wobbling, Finn standing over her protectively. If only you had Ginelle, you’re certain she could hold her in place enough for Alice to chop her apart. As it stands, you’re left with about one option: Get Rayleigh to light her up.
And for that, you’ll need time. Though your head is starting to swim, you summon up your courage and swiftly fire the crossbow straight at her head. It thwacks forward and slams right into her head, straight into one of her eyes. You blink in surprise, think you killed her as she staggers before she turns to you and says,
This is enough distraction for Alice to dash forward and slash with Energieschwert. Despite all the opening in the world, she sneezes at the last moment and her slash goes wide, just making a long line across the Monster’s chest, spraying Alice in blood instead of vivisecting her.
Juniper grabs Alice and begins to pull her in as the area Alice slashed open violently blooms with flowers that try to tear swarm over the swordswoman. Reaching out with your power, you make Alice’s arm seem to jerk, freeing her in reality from the grasp and letting her fall to the floor, out of reach of the plants. The butterfly girl flaps her wings as the plants retreat within her, and she lifts into the air, sprinkling a wave of dust that makes you cough and sneeze.
“A valiant effort.” She says, tearing the bolt out of her head as a trickle of blood and green ichor dribble down. “But I just have to not lose and I win.”
She’s right, of course. Though the plants roil about you, both of you know that they are what will bring victory for her. What will change the course of this battle is the guard coming in and finding the devastation wrought here. Unfortunately she’s a biomancer, everything here is reasonable if explained, even her strange appearance, assuming she doesn’t heal by then. Which means you’re running out time.
Finn sneezes also as Rayleigh finally seems settled. Unfortunately, while the ceiling isn’t very high, he’s at a disadvantage with his sword. If she noticed Rayleigh rallying as well, she’ll all out assault, or do whatever it takes to keep her fire out of play. Given the scorch marks around the room, you assume the plants covered those as well.
Your train of thought is stopped as another wave of plants reach up to grab you. Dropping the crossbow, you roll out of the way but cry out as one grabs your leg and drags you. Sneezing, you hack at the vine with your knife and release it just in time to see a flower in front of your face. You cock your head to the side as it opens up to reveal a series of sharp, teeth like needles.
Cursing, you push out of the way as it, and many other like it, snap down toward you. Leaping for the others, you land in a heap behind Finn, who is battling vines of his own. Alice hacks and slashes as well, and it quickly comes to you that you might be losing this battle all of a sudden. This realization has you flip to Rayleigh and shout, “Can you make the fire yet?!”
“Huh? Wh-wh-ACHOO!” She sneezes violently and wobbles before looking at you. “Where’d the bird go?”
That… is an excellent question, but not one for right now. Gasping, you push her down as a vine grabs you around the neck and pulls you backward. You choke out, “Burn the fucking bitch!” As you’re thrown across the room to slam into a stone wall, hitting hard before rolling to the ground. Head swimming, before you can do much else you’re swarmed with plant life pinning you down. Illusions aren’t going to help you here, you’re afraid! Looking up at Rayleigh, you try to shout at her, but a vine covers your mouth and all you release is garbled nonsense as she continues to look about, dazed.
A deep sense of panic and desperation comes over you. Oh Gods, you can’t die here, not like this! You have a family at home! A loving wife and two daughters who need you! You can’t be turned into fertilizer for some shitty plants! If you can get her to drop her control of them then you can get out of this. But how? The only thing you can do is force an illusion onto her, something strong, something that will have severe repercussions, you’re sure.
Sorry Saya, looks like you’re coming home a little less stable than before…
Before you can unleash the magic though, something flies through the ruined section of wall and throws something into the room. You see which shock as Clint flies through the air, hits the ground and rolls, before coming up and, in a fluid motion, pulls the trigger on his rifle.
A bloom of blood and ichor sprays from Juniper’s chest as the magic missile explodes her chest, causing her to gurgle and drop to the floor in a heap. The control on her plants fades and they grow limp, allowing you to tear yourself out of them and pull yourself out, spitting out leaves as you collapse forward, dizzy. The backflow of power you’d looked to release, coupled with the scales, has left you dazed, the world spinning some.
“Rayleigh…” You croak, throat sore from the plants. “Please…”
She just cocks her head, eyes unfocused.
Finn, however, recovers incredibly quickly and dashes forward, his sword readied. As he reaches the prone Monster, he switches his hands to hold it point down and drive it into her. The blade drives forward and into her neck. You’re certain you hear a sickening popping sound as he twists the blade and pulls it from her neck. Blood flying off his sword. He pants heavily as he stands over her, watching with sword in hand. Nothing happens for a long while and you blink in surprise. Did he kill her?
“Finn! Watch out!” Alice shouts as Juniper, her head sitting at an unnatural angle, jumps from the ground, plant life blooming from her chest, neck, and arms. She pushes him to the ground as the vines reconnect her head lopsided, her eyes glowing an intense green as wickedly sharp thorns sprout from between her breasts like a mouth, opening forth to engulf Finn’s head.
The man stares at the horrific site for a moment and lets out a defiant shout, showing no fear as it makes to devour him. The maw gets within an inch of his face before a wave of fire lashes forth, engulfing the creature.
Juniper, or perhaps the thing that was Juniper, leaps backward and screams in pain as it burns, plant life bursting out of the skin to cover it up and isolate the burning areas. But the fire continues coming, burning more and more, faster than it can recover. It lets out a scream and a wave of magic, plant life bursting out around to strike Rayleigh, but it too bursts into flame as a corona of fire appears around her, catching the floors in an inferno and singing the hairs on your arm while poor Ginelle accidentally goes alight as she lays her.
You, Clint, and Alice drag her backward, putting out the fire as Rayleigh, her eyes filled with malice stalks forward, an empty vial melting as she drops it from her hand. “LET. HIM. GO!”
The thing that was Juniper roars in anger as Juniper’s face slips forward, her eyes coming into focus as she says, her words raspy and slurred. “S-sthop tghis. The rabugh…”
You turn your head and gasp as you see Ophelia, who had long since gone unconscious, is grabbed again by the plants surrounding her. They begin to squeeze on her violently, waking Ophelia up in terror, screaming as her joints begin to pop.
“FUCK THE RABBIT!” Rayleigh shouts, unleashing a torrent of flame that washes over the twisted Butterfly Girl, singing her wings to nothing as her flesh and the plants underneath it burn in an intense inferno, along with everything around her. Including Finn.
“Rayleigh, stop!” You shout, dashing toward the Monster. As you get close, you feel your skin begin to burn from the heat, but you push forward against the agony, seeing the hair on your forearms begin to alight. Literally burning, you grab her shoulder and cry out in agony as you pull back and punch her straight across the jaw.
The fire around her and her eyes goes out as she drops like a sack of bricks to the floor, unconscious. You do the same, rolling around to put out the flame, crying despite yourself. Oh Gods it fucking hurts!
Finn runs up to you and digs through your bag, which is likewise singed, pulling out a health potion and applying it to the burns on your arms and hands, soothing at least some of the pain. Both of you look up though at the other side of the room as a gurgling scream is let loose.
In the smoke and haze of the burning room, you see what’s left of Juniper stagger, spraying blood and ichor that vaporizes before it has a chance to hit the floor. It holds out an arm toward you for a moment before collapsing and not moving.
“Shit.” Alice says, leaping forward into the inferno. Despite the heat, she grabs Finn by his jerkin and pulls him forward toward the relatively unburnt section of the room. His armor is red hot, but you’re not certain you can do anything about that at the moment and his face is…
Around his eyepatch is burned, the thin layer of cloth covering his missing eye lost, revealing the empty socket and the horrific scarring around. Clint curses and begins to apply potion to that as well, saying to you as he does, “We have to go. The fire is going to reach us soon and there’s not much we can do about it without the Pyromancer.”
“But the evidence!” You shout, pointing to the room next to you filled with filing cabinets. A room which is now conveniently blocked off by fire. “Shit.”
“Wait, didn’t we buy some fire resist potions?” Clarissa asks, rummaging in your bag because it’s public access now you guess, and pulling out. She hands the vial to Clint. “Drink this and go! You probably would be able to get files better than me!”
Clint looks at the vial of [Fire Resist] potion and nods his head before drinking. He shudders and shakes as his skin seems to glow a soft color of red. He looks down at himself and dashes through the fire, somehow not catching ablaze.
“Come on.” Alice says, turning to Clarissa. “Can you carry her outside?”
“I can try. She’ll be a little hard to move like this.” The Crow Girl says, grabbing Ginelle in her talons. She pulls herself to the hole outside and leaps forward, dropping for a moment but managing to recover as she flies to the ground and deposits the unconscious Badger Girl before flying back up and repeating the process with Ophelia, who had likewise fallen unconscious.
Clint dashes from the room through the spreading inferno, coughing as he hands pats his jacket. “I think this is going to work. But we have to get out of here!”
“What do we do about him?” Alice says, nodding to Finn. “I can’t exactly drag his ass down the stairs, not without burning myself or breaking his neck.
Finn nods and hands you his rifle before grabbing the man without seeming to feel the heat and hoisting in over his shoulder. He staggers a few steps and you stabilize Clint and he nods to you. The four of you depart down the stairs and outside, where Clarissa meets you.
“We’re in trouble, the guard is nearby and-“
“Tobias Shady!” A familiar voice calls out. Your heart sinks as the chief of the guard stands inside the grounds of the embassy, her Imp arms crossed. “You’re under arrest.”
Too tired to care, you slump to the ground as a wave of Monsters flow in to apprehend you and your party.
“Mr. Shady, get up.”
Sighing, you push yourself up from the cot you were resting on in your holding cell, the same one you were in before, wincing at the burns on your hands. You walk over to the bars of the cell and say in a tired voice, “Can I help you?”
“Chief wants to see you.”
The Lamia guard opens the cell and you look over your shoulder at the sleeping form of Clint, Ginelle, Alice, and Clarissa. The others had been taken for medical treatment, again. Of course, you’d have liked some, but some discoloration of your skin and a lingering burning sensation along with that damn itch seem to be the side effects of your encounter after you used the potion. Oh, and you no longer have arm hair, but that’s fine, not like you had much anyway. At least your head is mostly fine, nothing a haircut can’t fix.
Following the guard into the chief’s room, you’re not at all surprised to find Murdocka and one of the Chat Noir standing there. The chief nods her head from her desk and you about collapse into one of the chairs before sighing out, “How bad is it?”
“The embassy is lost. It wasn’t worth trying to put out that fire and everyone was already dead. The Monster Lady is stuck with the impossible duty of figuring out how to word this to the leaders of Galmathoria.”
“I see.” You say, running a hand through your hair. “What of Sophie and Patricia?”
Murdocka sighs. “They’re still in custody. It’s morning already and the people in town are gossiping. Some are up in arms over everything and it’s taking all our manpower to keep things from rioting. It’s a miracle we haven’t just strung you up already.”
“Not a miracle.” The Chat Noir agent, the Cat Girl you’ve dealt with before, says. “But it might as well be one. The files you and your associate gave us are quite… intriguing.”
“Yes…” The chief says, worried. “I would have almost preferred if you hadn’t given me those before we took you in. It would have made things less complicated.”
“But good that he did.” The agent says. “The ledger wasn’t particularly important. While it detailed information pertaining to purchases, including a potion meant to obscure scent tracking, the only other thing it mentioned were some names and payments relating to a specific faction in town.”
She lays out the ledger as she says this before pulling out the other documents. “You got lucky pulling these out of that inferno. There must have been a ton of files in there, but the other boy toy must have a keen eye for these things. This details involvement in rallies against the Monster Lady. Perhaps circumstantial if it wasn’t for the seal of the embassy affixed to it.”
You blink, surprised. “You’re saying they were actively trying to rile up support against the Monster Lady?”
The Cat Girl smiles, “That’s how it looks to just about anyone, yes.”
Nodding your head forward again, you feel tired, yet relieved. “So the intrusion into the house? The murder?”
“A set up made by Galmathoria against agents they saw as compromising of their mission. When their embassy was raided, a fire started and unfortunately all the Galmathorians were killed.”
She wipes at her eyes. “A tragedy.”
“However you have to spin this.” You say, sitting up straighter. “But does that mean Sophie and Patricia are free to go?”
“Sophie may have some issues, however the Wolf Girl is free to go.” The Imp says. “But things might come to a head here in a few days. I just pray we can hold together.”
“I see.” You say, standing up again, though your legs protest. “Then I’d like to speak with my team.”
“They’re being gathered into the medical room. I believe the injured have awakened by now as well.” Murdocka says. She makes to lead you away as the Chat Noir says,
“We’ll continue to have our eye on you, Tobias Shady. Good luck.”
Not missing a step, you continue forward, wondering about what that means as your lead to meet the rest of your team. As soon as you step foot inside, however, you feel an awkward tension in the room and the source is unmistakable. All eyes try not to look at Rayleigh, so sits in the corner, legs drawn up to her chest, looking despondent.
When you enter, everyone but she looks at you. Nodding to Murdocka, she takes her leave, returning the room to that awkward silence. After a few moments you say in a soft voice, “Well, this is a familiar sight.”
No one laughs, not that you expected them to. You cough into your hand and look to Finn, Ginelle already on her feet because, as mentioned before, she can take just about anything and be fine. Ophelia lays in bed, wincing as she rubs the bandages around her chest and arms. She got it bad this time, unfortunately. The man looks at you, his burned face now just a new scar, a new eyepatch covering most of it. Some of his hair was cooked however, though you’re not certain when that will reappear.
“Right then. The files Clint found are enough to exonerate Sophie. We’re in the clear, for now.”
A collective sigh comes across the room as some of the tension is relieved. Clarissa is the first to speak up, asking, “So what do we do now?”
“We rest.” You say, nodding to the others.
They look about between each other, an uncomfortable silence returning to the room. It’s Clint to speaks up first to say, “Tobias, last time we rested, we almost burned to-“ He cuts himself off and looks to Rayleigh before coughing. “Anyway, maybe it’s best to just be on our way.”
You look over to Ophelia and ask, “How’s your chest.”
“Are you coming on to me? Boy will my mother be happy.” She says before coughing into her hand. “But to answer your question, not great. Health potions don’t fix broken ribs all that well.”
“I didn’t think so.” You say, turning to Finn. “And you?”
The man looks down before shaking his head. “I’d be lying if I said I was feeling fine.” He stretches and then winces. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Like that’s all…” Ginelle says, looking to Rayleigh. Her gaze drifts back to you before wincing and looking down at your disapproving look.
Clarissa coughs into her wing-hand and says to you, “Alright then, I suppose we can spare some time to recover. My lungs are still a little smoky.” She turns about to the others before nodding to you. “So I guess we’ll rest up here? Kind of drab if you ask me.”
“Only those who need a bed will stay here.” You say, nodding your head. “The rest can return to Sophie’s place.
“The place that Monster died? Seems like an odd choice.” Clint says, scratching his head. “But alright, beats staying here. You sure these two will be fine?”
“I doubt Finn will let anything happen. Besides, all the Galmathorians here are dead as far as I’m concerned and I’m sure the Chat Noir are keeping tabs.”
“Alright.” Ophelia sighs, leaning back in her bed. “I hate being injured though, it’s so boring!”
“Then build some bombs or something.” You say, shrugging. She holds up her bandaged arms and you nod to her. “I concede the point. Very well then. Everyone else, come with me.”
Clint, Ginelle, Clarissa, and Alice gather up their things and make to head out the room. You prepare to head out after them as well before pausing and looking down at Rayleigh. The Squirrel Girl hasn’t moved at all since you first saw her, just staring at the floor and doing nothing.
Alice notices you looking at Rayleigh and makes to say something before shaking her head. “Hey, we’ll meet you there.” Clarissa gives her an odd look as Alice pushes her away, leaving you with Rayleigh, Finn, and Ophelia.
The Rabbit Girl looks to Finn and shrugs, though she winces in doing so. The man grits his teeth for a moment before saying, “Tobias…”
“Yeah.” You reply, not needing him to finish. Walking over to Rayleigh, you kneel down to her and say, “Well? You going to just sit there doing nothing?”
She makes no reply. Sighing, you shake your head and reach over to pick her up. Now, you aren’t exactly strong, however if you can pick up and carry your wife around, you can do the same with this slight Squirrel Girl. She doesn’t respond, just going limp in your arms.
“Thanks.” Finn says as you walk out of the room, fluff in your face. You don’t mind it though as you just go about your way through the halls of the holding facility, getting a mix of questioning and scandalous looks from the Monsters within.
The early morning sun greets you as you leave the building. You wince for a moment at the sun before looking about for a place to sit down. Luckily there is a nearby café which appears to have opened for the morning, where you sit Rayleigh down, the Monster almost slumping out of her seat as you do so.
“Ah, I know that look.” A Hellhound in a rather revealing Deleorian style serving outfit. “You two had a very… ‘happy evening’ hmm?”
“If you call burning a building down to the ground and almost killing everyone around you happy, then yeah. Very happy evening.”
The Hellhound blinks twice before chuckling. “Mmm, I’ll get you two some tea then.”
You shake your head as she walks away before turning back to Rayleigh. The Monster looks despondent as she sits there. Sighing, you tap on the table and ask, “So, what happened back there?”
No reply. She seems devoid of life and vigor. All of it is gone, dead, consumed in the fire.
“Is this what happened to get you sent back to the Hero’s Hall?”
She winces. A simple emotion, but it’s more than nothing. Pressing this you say, “Rayleigh, I read your file. I don’t recall seeing specifics about why you were sent back. Did you happen to hurt-?”
“No.” She says, her voice close to a whisper. “But I almost did.”
Sitting back in your chair you fold your arms and tap your arm. Birds, perhaps some of the more Monstrous variety, tweet about you as you let that hang for a moment. Letting out a breath, you say slowly, “Rayleigh, I’m not here to admonish you. I just want to understand what happened.”
“I almost killed Finn.” She whispers, drawing herself into a ball again. “That’s what happened.”
She winces again. “I was so focused on killing her that I let loose and I didn’t… notice who else was around me.” Her ears sag along with her tail as she says, “I just wanted to let the fire loose.”
“Collateral damage.” You say, nodding your head. “The report states you were sent back for too much collateral damage.”
“Do you know what it’s like to be a Pyromancer?” She asks suddenly, making you blink in surprise. When you shake your head she chuckles softly and says, “Fire intrigues most people, one way or another, either with fear, glee, or respect. For a Pyromancer it’s all of these things. It’s part of who we are, almost as if there is a fire in our blood. It makes us impulsive, drives us to unleash our magic at every opportunity, and sometimes the release is…” She shudders,
You consider this for a long while before slowly nodding your head. “I think… I understand, a little.”
She cocks her head and looks at you before clicking her tongue. “Of course, you’re a practitioner too. Sometimes I forget.”
“I try not to use my power unless necessary.” You say, shrugging. “I too am aware of what the potential is of my magic, however I am quite aware of the costs. It’s not just me who gets hurt if I use it too much.”
Rayleigh puts her hands together before sighing out. “Gods, are we really having this chat?”
“I think we need to have it.”
“Yeah, yeah I guess it’s just…” She looks off to the side before swallowing. “Are you going to send me back too?”
She blinks in surprise, as if not expecting your answer, or at least the rapidity of it. You close your eyes and say, “You’re one of the strongest Pyromancers I’ve seen. Your power is incredible, but you know what your fault is. You’re emotional and lose control easily, and those you love get hurt in the crossfire.”
Each word seems to drive a stake into Rayleigh’s heart. She cringes inward, face miserable, almost on the brink of tears, when you ask, “Do you want to go back?”
“No…” She whispers. “I don’t want to be cast aside for a third time.”
“Well then.” You say, standing up and walking to her. Kneeling down, you put a hand on her shoulder and say, “I think you know what you need to do.”
“I’m sorry.” She whispers, looking to the side.
“I don’t think you need to tell me that.”
She looks at you with curiosity when you say this before taking in a deep breath of understanding. Nodding her head slowly, she makes to speak when the Hellhound returns with two cups of tea, giggling behind her hand.
“Oh my, in broad daylight too. How scandalous! Are you two going to fuck also? This table is pretty sturdy.”
Rayleigh’s eyes go flat and you feel magic surge within her. You gently put a hand on hers and she stops, blinking before blushing and looking down. “No, I think we’ll just drink our tea.”
“Boring.” The Hellhound says, leaving you two to enjoy your drinks.
You regroup with the others a little later at Sophie’s manor, pleasantly surprised to find the lady of the house and Patricia in attendance. The group decidedly does not sit in the sitting room, instead retiring to the dining hall where you sit as Sophie thanks you.
“I understand there was a little scuffle and some of you were hurt. Thankfully nothing serious?”
You turn to Rayleigh to looks abashed, but at least not dejected. “Nothing time won’t fix.” You hold up your hands. “Akela can practice her make-up skills on my hands I suppose.”
“Hah, that little Anubis of yours? Ah, it’s weird to know I have a niece already… I feel old.”
“You haven’t even gotten laid, you can’t feel old yet.” Alice says, to which Sophie stiffens.
“Excuse me, but I do not offer myself to every man who comes along like someone I can name.”
“Oh? Who might that be?”
“Ladies, please, you’re both pretty.” You say, though they both smile, neither taking it seriously.
Patricia bows her head as well. “I’m sorry for the trouble I caused. Once again people are hurt because of me.”
“If Ophelia were here she’d say, ‘you get used to it.’” Clarissa says, holding up a wing-arm.
“Well then. Despite some setbacks, it seems everything may have worked in our favor.” Sophie says, nodding her head. “If you must know, I’d been trying to lure out opposition to mother. Living away from her was both convenient and something I’d wanted anyway. So it all worked out, though I didn’t expect such an elaborate set-up.”
“I suspect Juniper was the one who set off the stink-potion and knocked on the door.” Ginelle says. “She smelled a lot like that potion, though honestly I don’t know if I still had that shit in my nose.”
“And the Kikimora, Clair, set up that member of the opposition party to be a martyr.” You say. “She turned out to be a pyromancer as well.”
“I see. And if what you say is true about their involvement in the politics of the Monster Nation, then they infiltrated the opposition, or even had a hand in shaping it. This is going to give mother much leverage in the coming days.”
“Well that’s helpful.” You say. “It will likely help her keep her power and help solidify some support against Galmathoria, but it doesn’t really solve the root cause of her power issue, does it?”
Sophie cocks her head. “Root cause?”
“Men, the desire and the drive for men.”
The Cat o’Nine Tails frowns. “Well, yes, that is certainly a cause for concern, however-“
“What does your mother… well, our mother, plan to do about this?”
Sophie frowns and begins to speak when another voice says, “Hmm, I’m not certain. Do you have an idea, dear son?”
All eyes turn to see Selene sitting at the far end of the table, her seven tails swaying languidly behind her. She wears an ornate breast plate that functions to push her breasts up while her bottoms barely cover more than her usual garments, showing off a tremendous amount of tanned bronze skin. A tiara of gold sits upon her head of red hair as well and she leans forward, elbows on the table, a feline smile on her face.
“Oh please, do go on.”
“M-mother!” Sophie says, surprised. “When did you arrive?”
“Just now. After what happened last night I figured I should see my darling daughter and son-in-law.” She nods to you. “Now then, what was this about the root cause of my problems?”
You falter for a moment as Rayleigh fish-mouths while Clarissa blinks in surprise at seeing the Monster Lady up close and personal. Gulping and regaining your composure you say, “I was talking about the shortage of men and a proposal to uh… alleviate that.”
“Well, I could always use more proposals.” She says, waving a hand. “You may continue.”
“Smart-ass.” You mutter under your breath, to which Sophie and Selene’s ears twitch, the former looking shocked while the latter merely smirks. Coughing into your hand you take a moment before saying, “Leyways.”
“Leyways…” Selene muses.
“Ley…ways.” Clarissa says, confused. “Why are we saying leyways?”
“Because it’s the answer to a problem, or at least the illusion of an answer.”
“Ah, politics.” Selene says, smirking. “Such a young age to grasp the essence of them.”
“I am a noble, after all.” When she concedes the point, you continue. “If the main issue with the Monster Nation is a shortage of men, then the remedy is to import more.”
“That used to not be an issue since men could be imported by force. However it was my intention to remove that issue and this is happens rarely. As such, men don’t often tread here anymore and there are plenty of lonely Monsters in Deleor.” Selene says, waving a finger. “A leyway won’t fix that.”
“What if there was a system connecting Deleor, Ectria, and the Monster Nation?”
Selene pauses and cocks her head. “Go on.”
“Ectria, despite being in harmony with Monsters for centuries, still has a large human population and many of them are desperate to get out of Ectria, while others have the wealth to try and bring exotic fare into the country. There is both a demand for Monsters willing to suck a little cock and men looking for new lives. In parts of Deleor, especially in the west, this is likely true too.”
“Mmm, but what of Galmathoria? They don’t take kindly to losing men like that.”
“Fuck Galmathoria. Doing this shows an alliance against such a nation and solidifies essentially the whole continent. Galmathoria would be cut off and about the only other country of annoyance is Danusreal, but they’re too far to affect Galmathoria meaningfully.”
“You assume, anyway.” Selene says. “Intriguing and bold, dear Tobias, but you forget a few things.”
She holds up three furred fingers. “One: Ectria’s leylines won’t be restored for years if we’re lucky. Reaching out the Monster Nation is incredibly far and so any proposal there will have plenty of time to be quashed. Two: While relations between Deleor and the Monster Nation have improved, things are currently rocky and a proposal for Deleor to utilize one of its foremost technologies to make a direct line to a historically hostile nation won’t sit well with much of the nobility especially. And three…” She sighs,
“We lack magitek engineers here in the Monster Nation. The world is changing, but the Monster Nation is slow to embrace it. It seems a big leap from twenty years ago but it really isn’t. You’d have to import engineers from Deleor and the country has a vested interest in making sure that won’t happen. Your DSS should certainly have informed you of this.”
“They… did not.” You concede. She shrugs.
“A little naïve of a proposal, but I like where your head is at. It is… something however. Perhaps a vision I can impart to the people.” She rubs her chin with one of her tails. “It’s something to think about, at least. Thank you.”
She smiles at you and you blush. Not like because she’s beautiful, but because you never really had a mother who said those sorts of things to you. Maybe when you were very little your birth mother did but… it’s been awhile. Makes you feel embarrassed, heh.
“Ah, but look at the time.” Selene says, standing up and walking over to Sophie. She languidly drapes her arms around her daughter’s neck and nuzzles her head. “I’m afraid I can’t stay too long. Don’t want people to come looking for me, even if they know I’m already here, don’t you?”
A Chat Noir member steps into the room from another door. “Sorry.”
Selene sighs. “Well, I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re safe, all of you. Necessary preparations have been added to your wagon, ready for you to leave as soon as you can.” She frowns, “Your task is important, of course.”
Rayleigh nods her head. “Of course.”
Selene looks to you and smirks before using her tails to ruffle everyone, including Clint and Ginelle’s, heads. Before they can react she steps back and says, “I look forward to hearing about your adventures going forward. But duty calls, I’m afraid.” She leaves the room with the Chat Noir member, leaving all of you stunned.
Shaking yourself out of it, you call out, “Can you get us a bunch of [Fire Resist Potions] and some crossbows?!”
You don’t get an answer. You assume she heard you right? Right?
“Well.” Clint says, smoothing out his hair. “That was… something.”
“How embarrassing.” Sophie says, cheeks red. “But that’s mother for you.” She chuckles, “So then, when do you depart?”
“You sound like you don’t want to come with?” You ask, surprised.
Sophie chuckles. “As fun as that might be… it is Sylphie’s calling to adventure. I know my place and it is helping mother, and our nation. Besides, your group seems plenty large as it is. I fear I won’t get the attention I deserve.”
“I feel that way too sometimes.” Clarissa says, pretending to wipe a tear from her eye.
“I as well.” Patricia adds, also shedding fake tears.
“It just doesn’t fit.” You say, rubbing your chin. “No one declines joining the parties, that’s not how the stories go…”
“This isn’t a book, Tobias.” Rayleigh says. “This is reality, one we need to face.”
You nod, serious again. “You’re right. And we’ll all face it together.”
Standing up, you address the assembled group. “We’re setting out tomorrow to the observatory. It’s time to do what we came here to do.”
“Got everything loaded up?”
You turn and wipe a thin sheen of sweat from your brow atop the wagon. Nodding to Clint and Ginelle, who are also loading up crates, you leap down from the wagon to meet Finn, the man being helped over by Alice. It doesn’t escape your notice that Rayleigh gives sidelong glances to Alice, but she keeps her distance as well.
“Last one.” Ginelle says, lifting up a crate like she didn’t just get injured multiple days in a row. Clint finishes loading it and sighs, lifting his hat and wiping some sweat as well. Despite it being cooler here than in Deleor, it certainly is still summer, isn’t it?
“All supplies accounted for.” He says before tapping a crate next to him. “This one just appeared out of nowhere though, there’s two weird crossbows in here and a lot of potions.” He looks to you, raising an eyebrow.
“What? They’re useful potions.” You say, leaving it at that, though you’re certain you see Clint glance to Rayleigh. Moving along, you say, “Weird crossbows, you say?”
“Uh, yeah.” He says, lifting one up. “It’s a little smaller than what we’d see in Deleor.”
“Well, most Monsters are women sized.” Ophelia says, arriving with the help of Clarissa. “I think I could even use one of those effectively. Looks like I can even fit my foot in there to load it up.”
Clint tosses you the crossbow and you put it down, using the stirrup. You manage to pull the string back with less effort than the last one, which makes you feel plenty strong until you notice Finn’s smirk. Pouting, you return the string to neutral and give the weapon back to Clint, who also smirks. Assholes, both of them. Sighing, you turn back to Ophelia.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I got slammed into a wall by plants and had my ribs broken.” She says, wincing. “But I could be worse. I don’t think I’m going to like riding in the wagon.”
“Sure you don’t want to stay?”
“What, and miss all the fun?” She chuckles. “Besides, I have to have lucky feet or something, because I’ve avoided certain death like, at least twice now. Maybe I should invest in that crazy Wizard’s maid constructs.”
“Woah, let’s not be crazy here.” Clint says. “There’s a difference between risk taking with investments and throwing money in a fire.”
“Yes, yes, we can discuss the finer points of being bourgeois later.” You say before turning to the side. “Patricia, you ready?”
The Wolf Girl places a book back in her bag and stands, stretching out her long, canine limbs. “Ready if you are. I’d like to see this place. Besides, I feel if we stay any longer we’ll run into trouble.”
“More trouble?” Clarissa says, blanching.
“The city isn’t going anywhere.” You say, waving your hand. “Trouble will be waiting for us.”
“Like Rose…” Finn says, frowning.
The party becomes quite at that, feeling a sense of nervousness. Despite everything burning, you know in your heart that Rose wasn’t in that fire, if she’s even here. If you have experience with these things, and you kind of do, you have no doubt you haven’t heard the last of her.
“Hey, let’s not get focused on that.” Ginelle says, stretching. “We’ll just beat her down like all the others if we need to.”
“Heh.” Clint says, ruffling her hair, not that she minds. “That’s why I love you.”
“Oh? Just that hmm?” She smirks, to which Clint clears his throat.
“Alright you two.” You say, waving your hand. “Everyone load up, we’re headed out.”
Getting the wounded into the wagon and everyone ready to go doesn’t take very long. While you do, Sophie exits her manor where your wagon is and nods as you finish up.
“I see you’re ready to go?”
“No thanks to you, princess.” Patricia says.
“I didn’t see you helping either.” Ginelle sniffs.
“I had to finish a few things after breakfast.” Sophie says, though you’re certain she just wanted to get out of moving also. “But I wish you luck on your venture.”
“Well, we do have lucky rabbit feet.” You say, thumbing to Ophelia, who waggles her rabbit toes. “But we also have skill. We’ll be able to do this.”
“Mmm. I suppose.” She says. “If Saya chose you, then I’m certain you can do just about anything. Just make sure you don’t hurt her, okay?”
“Yes, yes, sis.” You say, to which she smirks.
“Fine, bro.” She chuckles, extending a tail which you shake from atop the wagon.
Everyone waves to her as Clint gets the horses moving, the wagon pulling away and out of the manor grounds and back into the city. You get the looks from before, perhaps even more, as you move through the city, the whispers of the Monsters a little too loud. Ophelia’s ears go haywire flipping about as she tries to listen, her expressions mixed and curious. It seems as if opinions are split within the capital, a day’s time allowing the residents to argue amongst themselves. Hopefully Selene and Sophie will be okay…
When you approach the edge of the capital, a group of guards checks your wagon and clears you, having been informed beforehand that you’d be leaving. Once clear, Clint drives you out into the wide expanse of fields leading off to the mountains.
While there is no true industry in the Monster Nation, the open fields and fresh air feel wonderful after the tension of the past few days. With nary a cloud in the sky, you sit in the front and bask in the warm summer air as cool winds drift down from the mountains from time to time. The spirits of the others seem to rise, even Rayleigh’s.
Speaking of which… she sits next to you on the driver’s seat, her size thankfully not enough to make it cramped, even with yourself and Clint. The man next to you gives her looks every now and then, but neither say anything. Even with a day of rest, the group still feels awkward around her, huh?
“So, what do you think we’ll find?”
Rayleigh blinks in surprise at the sudden question from you. Frowning, she shrugs and says, “I don’t know, bugs?”
“Like, giant bug girls?”
“Or like, big roaches or something.” She says, rolling her eyes. “It’s an abandoned observatory, not an inn. I doubt anything is living there.”
“I don’t know.” Clint says, frowning as well. “I heard some places deep in the mountains still have some ancient Monsters living there.”
“What does that mean?” You ask, curious.
“Ancient Monsters are those who were old long before Dollora’s Great Transformation.” Patricia says, drawn in by a history discussion. You wonder how she heard before you remember, right, wolf ears.
“They are incredibly powerful Monsters, some of them even having resisted the change or even have control over it. Similar to the creature that Alice spoke of.”
“The Crocodile out in Ectria?” You ask, to which she nods.
“Yes. I’ve heard tales of ancient Dragons who live apart from the rest of Monster society, but who knows what else may live out here. There are places even Monsters before twenty years ago dared not venture.”
“Hmm.” Rayleigh says, tapping her chin. “Well, we’ll just have to deal with it when we come to it, right?”
“That’s exactly right.” You say, looking off toward the mountains.
Later in the day, Clarissa flies about overhead, giving more room in the wagon as you ride along, taking in the sun. She keeps you up to date on the paths ahead, giving great news on the roads being clear. While there are some outlying farms, even the Monster Nation needs agriculture, they’re out of your way and nothing to worry about. Patricia and Ophelia, when they aren’t sleeping, are listening for anything else that could come, giving you a wonderful defense system.
Going from Patricia’s information, you get a better bearing of how to proceed, Clarissa finding you a path of which to follow, though she informs you the road starts to fade away into nothing. You figured you wouldn’t get so lucky going forward, but Clint is a great driver so you doubt you’ll have much issue.
And that’s exactly what happens. Nothing of much interest occurs in the next three days of traveling, though thankfully Finn and Ophelia begin to feel better, if not 100%. You feel very thankful you got the book back from that Cat Girl because between Patricia and Clarissa, you’re able to pinpoint where to go. Driving your wagon further into the mountains, the air becomes cooler despite the time of year. By the end of the third day, Clarissa spots the lake mentioned in the book. Thankfully it didn’t go anywhere in all this time.
The next morning you head toward the mountain lake and, nestled into the trees on the side of the mountain, Ginelle finds evidence of a human structure.
Arraying yourself outside, you take a look at the building. It doesn’t look like much that you can see, being built into the side of the mountain. A large dome the color of the stone around it sits intact, covered in layers of moss and vegetation while sharp stone corners do the same. Clarissa sees no one else around and neither Patricia nor Ophelia can detect any other Monsters present. As far as you can tell, the place surrounding the structure is empty.
Still… something feels off about the place. As you study the structure you feel a deep unease, like you’re standing before a great beast, afraid to awaken it. The others sense it as well, but you’re unable to place what it is. It’s neither magical or magitek as far as you can tell but… maybe it’s just your nerves.
“So it’s really here.” Patricia says, placing a hand on the structure, feeling the stone. She looks over at a set of large, stone doors that stand slightly ajar, vines and roots growing in between the cracks throughout Gods knows how many years. She nods her head. “I have to see what’s inside. Even if Hevensferth can’t be contacted, I have to enter.”
She turns to you and give you the most serious expression you think you’ve seen from her. Feeling her sense of resolve from Patricia, you give her a reassuring nod before turning to the rest of the group. They nod back, a similar resolve on their features.
“Alright.” You say, hands on your hips. “Let’s go speak with the heavens, shall we?”