Wizardquest Part 16: A Cold Night at the House on the Hill Pt.1

Chapter 151

 

You set off on the road the next morning, feeling the chill around you as the trees become more piney and sparse. The road ahead is rough and seems quite old and overgrown with grass at the sides, obviously not used to much travel these days. Overall it’s really quite quiet, which always scares you. Bad things seem to happen when it’s quiet.

Shivering, you recede into your cloak at the biting wind. Everyone but Tabitha and Saya seem to feel it as well. You seriously consider making a pair of warm underwear for yourself if it can keep even a cold-blooded Lizardman warm. Ah, well, at least Saya seems to do well with the weather, either from her clothing or her own biology. You’re just glad she seems comfortable.

It doesn’t escape your notice that Veronica still gives sidelong glances to Saya while she polishes her mace. She doesn’t appear to have any malicious intent, but you feel like those looks are not happy looks. Clenching your jaw, you make to go question her when you hear a distant, blaring sound.

Blake stops the wagon abruptly and everyone looks around in confusion while readying their weapons. Hala’s ears twitch first and she growls, as they go flat against her head. Soon enough, you too hear a thundering sound off in the distance, approaching from all sides. You narrow your eyes, trying to recal what this is… It’s a very regular, very familiar sound, like-

“Reindeer Girls!” Shouts Blake as he leaps up and draws his blade. You blink in surprise as the others ready to pile out, but in mere moments the Monsters are on top of you, circling your wagon while sounding their trumpet. You have no idea how many are out there but Blake has a serious expression on his face as he tracks the assailants while they make a circle around your wagon.

While you have difficulty seeing most of them, you notice that some have spears while the others hold bows. Not relishing getting shot again, you refrain from doing anything rash.

“Travelers!” Shouts one of the Reindeer Girls, her voice going in and out as she paces around the wagon. “Come out and lay down your arms. This is a standard highway robbery.” Straining to look out the back of the wagon, you see as she passes that the one speaking has an eyepatch over her right eye, but that’s about all you can glean before she’s out of sight again.

Blake grits his teeth as he replies, “What if we refuse?”

“Well, then we kill your women and take you and your supplies with us anyway.”

You share a look between everyone in the wagon and nod. These are very uncharitable terms indeed, and gosh if you don’t like that.

“Daddy, what are we going to do?” Asks Saya, tugging on your sleeve.

You squeeze her hand firmly and nod, picking up your new weapon, the [Dark Spear]. Looking around at your assembled party, you speak softly as you eye Blake out of the corner of your eye.

“Listen up. These bandits have no idea what they’re in for, but let’s try not to kill them if we can help it.” You cough as Tabitha gives you a flat look. “Anyway, I’m going to cast a shield around us, stop the arrows. After that we’ll have a defensive wall and, if they want to press in, well, it’s not like we lack for skilled warriors.”

Veronica grunts. “Fine by me, but usually with bandits the easiest way to stop them is to make them run. Preferably by taking out their leader. Pretty cowardly in most situations.”

Tabitha cocks her head, “I didn’t take you for a traveler to know these things.”

Veronica narrows her eyes, “Shut it lizard tits, we have classes on the subject.”

Tabitha rolls her eyes and you cough as you see Blake start to tense up, the tempo of the hoofbeats rising as well. You slowly stand up as you hear eyepatch call out again.

“Alright this is tiresome, you have until I count to five to get out here or we attack, got it?”

“One…” She begins

You look to the others and nod before putting a hand on Saya’s head. “Hey, think you can do daddy a favor?”

“Two!”

“Uhm, okay? Do you need me to kill them?”

“Three!”

“Uh, not uh, look, daddy needs you to sneak up on the one with an eyepatch while we have her distracted, okay?”

“Four!”

Saya nods and you turn to the side of the cart and take a deep breath, channeling your will through the excited Chaika. Guess you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.

“Five!”

You vault from the back of the wagon and quickly form the [Shield Circle], creating the magical framework in seconds. Without knowing exactly what you’re doing, you slap in a fixation rune and adjust the angle on the northward circle. A hum of power snaps in your mind and around you a feeling of solidity appears as your allies pile out behind you.

Arrows begin to rain down but with minimal effort you adjust the angle of the shield and create a domed barrier. It’s rather taxing to do and you begin to feel some strain as more and more arrows pelt your shield. You look back to your companions and see Saya hiding in the back, looking about for a good opportunity to sneak out. You probably shouldn’t encourage this behavior but… good girl.

It does occur to you that you should have told Blake and Hala, who are sitting at the front of the wagon, about this plan, but he’s a big boy, he can take care of himself. Of course, as you have this thought you turn around to see one of the Monsters charging you with a spear.

You curse and pull back as Harmony thunders forward, dropping your barrier in the spot where the charge is coming with a quick adjustment on the circle. As you do so you feel an imbalance in your mind and you grunt. The damn book wasn’t kidding, this is a good spell, but it isn’t to be taken lightly!

The Reindeer Girl, spear leveled, aims directly for Harmony’s heart. She yells a mighty reindeer warcry before the end of her spear slams into Harmony’s chest. It promptly shatters the shaft into a million splinters, the reindeer’s arm being snapped back mercilessly as her forward momentum carries her into an awkward spiral and she crashes to the ground, skidding across the dirt face first. Her momentum managed to push Harmony back but in the end, she got the worst of it. The prone Monster twitches before a blow by Harmony’s fist causes her to go still.

The other Reindeer Girls instantly focus upon Harmony and a hail of arrows fly toward her, all bouncing harmlessly off her body. As she stands there, immune to their punishment, the leader growls,

“Oh, got yourself something fancy there eh? Well once we rough you up, it’ll be ours for the taking!”

Blake replies, his sword held in one hand, shield in another, “Stop this! Just turn around and leave before this ends in more bloodshed. It should be obvious that you’re outclassed here!”

The leader snorts like a horse. “You just don’t understand.” She looks to her band and waves her spear. The others nod in reply and begin to assault again.

 

Chapter 152

 

Arrows fly all around, mainly targeting you and Blake. You’re fine with your [Shield Circle], but Blake has to duck and block with his mundane shield. Hala thankfully is able to dance about easily, although her eyes have a look of restrained bloodlust, like she’s dying to go after such ripe prey. She hangs back however, making sure none of them try to sneak up on Blake.

Three spear-wielding Reindeer Girls charge into Harmony. The construct stands her ground firmly as they approach from three sides. You feel a mild sense of alarm. Even though you’re certain they can’t pierce that armor, if she were to be knocked down…

Before your fears can become true, Veronica and Tabitha dash forward to swing their weapons right before the reindeer hit the Harmony. The sword cleaves the spear in twain and the backstroke cuts deeply into the arm of the reindeer who screams as she veers off, while the mace slams heavily into the chest of another, causing the Monster to grunt and fall, hitting the dirt hard before vomiting in pain.

The last one, coming from the front, veers off track before hitting, realizing this would be a futile gesture on her own. You smirk, thinking how silly these reindeer were when you feel a powerful jolt from the side and you stagger to one knee as you head begins to pound.

{Hey! Get your damn head in the game!} Growls Chaika. You look over to see a Reindeer Girl pounding at your shield. Apparently her charge was more of a body slam, because her spear is intact and she is currently using it bash your shield, her efforts emboldened by your staggering. You growl and drop the section of shield before raising Chaika and channeling a [Lightning Bolt] through her.

The power isn’t as strong as it was with Harmony, but that’s fine as that would have killed the poor girl otherwise. It’s plenty enough to push the Monster back however, a patch of charred skin showing at the spot the bolt hit. She twitches and trashes as the power courses through her, before dropping to the ground with a groan. With that settled you quickly look behind you to make certain no one is coming when you realize that Saya is gone!

Your heart pounds furiously as you look about, but you can’t spot her. You start to lose concentration when Chaika growls, {She’s fine you idiot, now look to your right!}

Blinking, you turn to find two more of the damn Monsters charging toward you. Where the hells did they keep coming from? Well, whatever, you prepare to open the barrier again and fry the two when you notice one of them hefting her spear to throw. Damn, if you open, she’s going to impale you. That would not be good for your health.

The other Reindeer Girl begins to hammer away at your shield like the one you dropped and you feel her crazy Monster strength start to tear a hole in your mental defenses. You grit your teeth against this to find the others of your party besieged again. Well shit, okay you might have to do something reckless here.

You heft Chaika with one arm, a little awkward because, well, you haven’t done this before. With the other arm you point toward the reindeer with the spear raised and stare her down. If you drop your shield, you can probably fire off another [Lightning Bolt] AND impale the other one at roughly the same time.

It’s an arrowproof plan.

You drop the shield and toss Chaika, who doth protest too much for your taste. As she sails through the air toward farther Reindeer Girl, you you throw out a [Lightning Bolt] to the closer one. Well, “toward” is a strong word, because wow, you’re bad at this. Chaika flies fast, true, but she’s about five feet to the side of the Reindeer Girl, who stares at the spear then back to you with a flat expression, as if insulted. The other Monster thankfully wasn’t as fortunate as your magic causes her to convulse into a heap.

The one you missed rears her legs in the air and charges toward you, spear leveled. You prepare to fire another bolt, but out of the corner of your eye you see yet another Reindeer Girl coming in. This causes you to hesitate just long enough to miss your chance, and your eyes go wide as you fumble to put your shield back up- but it’s too late.

The spear drives toward your face, but stops short as a voice booms, “Gahhh damn it! Surrender!”

You blink, steel mere inches from your head as the Reindeer Girl looks over her shoulder. Carefully edging around the spear to get away from the point, you peek at where she’s looking.

The bandit leader stands there, hands in the air as Saya presses a knife melded into her hand to the Reindeer Girl’s throat. Now that you have time to inspect her, you can see that she’s a tall one, even for something with a lower half of a deer, and her dark brown coat of hair stands out from the others.

Her upper torso is that of a muscular woman, clothed in a leather jacket that she wears open to expose ample cleavage. Her face is hard and lean, with a serious expression seemingly stamped on there. Despite that, she’s still gorgeous, her visage marred only by missing her right eye, which is covered by an ornate eyepatch. Atop her head, nestled in her long, black hair, is a pair of long antlers that hang out from either side of her head. She shakes them gently as Saya tenses with the knife.

“Bah, damn you, sneaking up on a bandit. That’s not right!”

“Would you like I slit your throat?” Asks Saya, her eyes twinkling, and you frown. Might need to work on that attitude, but you’re so proud of your little girl!

The other Reindeer Girls grit their teeth and drop their weapons as the leader nods her head. They back up in a circle as your group closes in, their hands in the air. You retrieve Chaika from the grass and she proceeds to give you a string of curses that would blister the backside of a goat. Aww, she so cute when she’s angry!

{Fuck off Wizard!} She grumbles.

{Love you too snakey.} You reply before looking back to Blake as he walks up to the leader of the bandits. He folds his arms and begins to speak.

“Alright, let’s start off with something simple. Why did you attack us?”

The leader snorts, “Because we’re bandits and you’re travelers, it’s pretty obvious.”

“Very well, then why are you bandits?”

The leader looks down at Saya and rolls her eye, stamping one hoof. “Because ones has to eat somehow.”

Blake nods. “True, but I have never known of Reindeer Girls to be bandits, even with the limited amount of information in these parts. Your band is pretty skilled with your weapons, but let’s be honest, you’re not killers.”

The leader blinks as if taken aback before narrowing her eyes. “What would you know about us? You’re not one of the villagers from around these parts and you don’t look like you’re from the fort, so don’t pretend you know us.”

“Well, why then?”

She snorts and stamps a hoof again before grumbling, “We were forced out of our home.”

Blake blinks before adopting a serious expression. “What do you mean, forced?”

“I mean it like it is! We used to live up near the base of the mountains, but more and more strange Monsters have been arriving, attacking those who won’t fall instep, saying something about, ‘their duty to the Lady!’”

She laughs, “As if we’d go along with that bitch! The damn Ladies have done nothing for our people ever, so why should we help them?” She begins to shake her head but stops, looking at Saya again who bares her teeth.

You sigh, “That’s enough Saya, I think you’re good.”

Saya blinks and looks to you before looking back at the reindeer and then slowly pulling her blade-hand away. The leader looks at her curiously as she retreats to your side but doesn’t say anything. You rub her head gently as the other Monster begins to speak again.

“You’re one strange, strange group, you know that? Just our luck that our first mark would be this.” She sighs and rubs at her eyepatch. “Damn it.”

You look up the Reindeer Girl and ask cautiously, “So, the path ahead is… full of Monsters?”

She raises an eyebrow. “Well, yes, you’re almost in Monster territory you idiot. However, it’s more than normal, and I wouldn’t advise you following this road much further.” She seems to think about something for a moment. “Wait, why are you here anyway? The towns around here have all been raided and ahead is the Monster Nation. Why would you bother?”

Blake coughs, “That’s personal information. However, your information of the road ahead is personally helpful. I suppose we’ll have to look for a way around I guess.”

The Reindeer Girl snorts, apparently a habit of hers, “Oh, sure there’s a pass into the mountains, most don’t know about it.”

“Could you point us to it?”

The Monster rubs her chin. “I could… But you know, you just stopped us from collecting our meal ticket…”

Veronica rolls her eyes, “Ugh, we’ll pay you.”

The Monster chuckles and raises a hand, “Oh that’s cute, but no, we need actual supplies. Gold doesn’t mean much up here.”

Veronica folds her arms, “Well you’re not getting ours, go to the fort and ask real nice.”

“Don’t be trite with me you little-” The leader cuts off when she sees Blake raise an eye brow and she coughs into her hand. “Ahem, well, look, I know somewhere else you could get some stuff for us. All the farms around here are down since everyone left, but there’s one place further up, a rather large house that always seems cold. There’s a Monster there who has plenty of supplies. Get us some and we’ll send you on your way.”

You look to the others and frown. “Why don’t you just raid it yourself?”

The Reindeer Girl snorts, this time in amusement, “Oh no, fighting her would likely not be a good idea and, as you can tell, we aren’t really built for stealth. However, I bet your resourceful group could do it…”

Veronica laughs, “What, and leave our supplies alone for you to steal? I think not!”

The leader shrugs, “It would probably only take one or two of you to be honest, we don’t need THAT much, just a little something before we go off on the search for greener pastures.” There’s an implied, “or greener travelers” in there.

“What… kind of Monster are we talking about here?” You ask carefully.

“Some kind of spirit I think, never really seen her.” The leader rests a hand under her chin and she appraises all of you.

“So, what’s it going to be?”

 

Chapter 153

 

Blake furrows his brow in concentration, thinking it over. It’s a tough call, all things considered. Do you go forward with this plan, or waste time trying to find some nebulous pass? Do you even trust these bandits at all?

“You uh… you okay there Blake?” Asks Hala as she waves a hand in front of the man’s face. He wavers for a moment before putting a hand to his head and shaking it slowly.

“Yes…yes I’m quite fine. Sorry, must have taken one of the blows a little hard.”

Hala sighs and pats his head with one of her fluffy hands. “Jeez, you looked like you took some of the Wizard’s leaf!”

Everyone else gives you odd glances and you shrug. “What? I swore off alcohol. I have to have something.” You rub your head as they continue to look at you, “Oh come on, hey look if you want some just ask! We can pass the pipe or something.”

Tabitha coughs into her hand, her expression embarrassed. “Please never use that expression again.”

You cock your head and she looks to the side. “It’s… a Lizardman tradition and it’s… rather…” She fumbles with the words, which you find adorable and surprising. It’s quite rare for her to be so self-conscious, which means it’s obviously something lewd, a fact that Hala can’t get over as she chuckles behind her hand.

Veronica coughs into hers, “Tabitha’s apparent prudishness notwithstanding, what do we say about this? Personally, this smells like a set-up, and even if it isn’t, we’d be no better than common thugs.”

You raise a finger, “Thieves, actually. Thugs would walk in and beat her up, they are implying something else.”

Veronica grunts as Tabitha begins to talk. “If what they say is true about the usual route, and I have no doubt that it is, then we could spend days looking for a safe way into the mountains. This may be our only option here.”

Blake looks down in consternation. “This doesn’t sit well with me, but we can’t afford to lose that time. Besides, the longer we search, the more likely it is that we end up running into more Monsters.”

Hala pipes up, “Perhaps we can parley with whatever this is? Purchase supplies off her? Not like money will mean much up in the mountains, but it might down here?”

Everyone looks at her in surprise, even Harmony, and she stamps her foot. “Oh Gods damnit, why does everyone do that when I say something?”

Blake pats her head as she pouts, “Because they are shocked by your wisdom dear.” He looks back up and nods. “That may well be our best goal. Should negotiations fail… We’ll have to think it over from there, but we may well have to infiltrate.”

He looks to Saya who blinks and then blushes before moving next to you. You put a hand on her head and say, “Sounds like something we could do.”

Rubbing your daughter’s hair gently you say, “You did good today, by the way. I was worried when I couldn’t find you earlier.”

She beams and you faintly hear Hala sighing as she looks at you and Saya together. Solos, these Monsters and their hormones, yeesh. Well, you suppose it does feel good to have a little bundle of joy around who could come up behind people and stab them. Actually you don’t really know how you feel about that last part. Parenting is hard.

Blake nods and looks to the construct next to you, “Does this sound alright to you miss… Harmony, was it?”

Harmony nods in reply, “Indeed it is sir Hero. I follow the Wizard.”

“Of course. Alright, we’ll go along with these reindeer for now. I don’t overly trust them either, but we’ll see what we can do here.”

He turns about then and speaks with the leader who smiles amiably and rounds up her band. As she does so, you load into your wagon before following the herd of Reindeer Girls. Delilah stares with a flat expression as you sit down and you realize that Bubs is sleeping on top of her head. Aww, look at him curled into a little ball on top of her head, making her hair into a nest. So cute.

“Your rat is a nuisance.” She says as the wagon starts to roll forward. Veronica raises a finger in agreement from the other side of the wagon.

“Aww, but he’s a cute nuisance.” You say, scooping the little guy up. He yawns and blinks his eyes before crawling down into your pocket and rummaging about , going to sleep soon after. “And that means he likes you!”

“Well, be that as it may, I could use a little less liking from him. Besides, I cannot believe you left me again, it is interminably boring.”

“Well, I’m sorry that you’re only a head of an undead Monster who tried to kill us. Would you like some ink or something to draw while we ride?” You say, smiling like a jackass.

“No I would not, thank you kindly.”

“Would you like a puff of the pipe? Huh? Maybe pass the pipe a little bit?”

Tabitha throws up her hands and then buries her face in them. Oh Gods this must be one lewd ritual the lizardmen have, wow. The Dullahan head looks up at you with flat, dead eyes, and says in a monotone, “Why would I want to do that?”

“Because it would be funny, besides, it might help take the edge off.” You say as you pull your [Pipe] and some [Green Leaf] from your bag.

“Edge off of what?” She asks as you stuff the pipe between her teeth and light the bowl with a small fire spell.

The Dullahan blinks and grits her teeth on the stem, glaring daggers at you before she takes a puff. Smoke flares out from under her neck and she blinks, and then takes another puff before narrowing her eyes at you.

“Hmph. Not bad.”

You smile and take the pipe, puffing it before passing it back. Tabitha is utterly mortified by this point and Hala can’t help but harass her about it. Chuckling, you lean back as your fragrant smoke drifts out of the wagon.

Saya pulls at your sleeve. “Daddy, can I try?”

“Maybe when you’re older sweetie.”

“Dad, I have the essence of an adult, homicidal spider and two grown women inside me.”

“Maybe when they’re older.”

She huffs and rolls her eyes before crossing her arms and pouting. You chuckle and rub her head gently. Without much else to do until either the Reindeer Girls attack, or your reach your destination, you take one more puff of the [Pipe] and pass it back to Delilah, who takes it with relish, before you address Harmony.

“How are you doing?”

She looks up and taps her chest. “Pretty good actually. Didn’t feel a thing when I got attacked, although that’s not a new occurrence.” She looks at her hand, flexing the fingers. “It’s odd having these still, but in combat it was instinctive to just make a fist, you know?”

You nod your head, “Aye, I do.”

“Actually, for a moment there, I thought I felt something else, like there was another system in this body that could be utilized.” She waves a hand, “It felt… Sort of familiar, like a current.”

You rub your chin. “Maybe these things had ancillary attack systems or something? It’s not like I had a manual or something.”

She chuckles, “And don’t I know it. Anyway, I saw that you’re using the staff again, with an… addition.”

You look to Chaika who brims with overconfidence as Harmony fixates on her. The two don’t say anything to each other so you cough into your hand to break the silence. “Yes, well, felt like it could be useful, aye?”

If Harmony could raise an eyebrow, she would. “Uh huh. Just be careful, the staff does amplify attunement and she is very… attuned.”

You look down at Chaika who oozes innocent charm.

{Who, me?}

Eventually the leader, whose name you never received, slows down in pace with your horses next to Blake. They converse for a few moments before she pulls away. Looking behind you, you can see the band of Reindeer Girls stopping and soon enough they fade into the distance. Blake explains that they don’t want to spook the inhabitant of the house coming up, so they’re leaving your party on their own.

You still don’t trust them, but as you turn to look out the front of the wagon you see in the distance against the afternoon sky a lone house on the side of the road. Despite yourself, your skin crawls and you shudder. Sometimes tells you it’s going to be a cold night. 

 

Chapter 154

 

Perhaps house is the wrong term to use, because this place is huge.

It would be better to call the place a mansion. Even from this distance you can see that it’s made out of white stone that stands out from the sparse forest around it. You aren’t an admirer of architecture or anything so you don’t quite know the style, but it seems… old. Like, something you’d see in Sanctifrond old.

As you approach, you notice a wrought-iron fence that runs the property, gated with cold steel. Speaking of cold, you begin to feel the temperature drop the closer you get. Although nothing seems frozen or frosted, you still notice that all the trees and other foliage on the property that aren’t evergreens are dead. There’s even a large fountain in the middle of the grounds that seems to be slowly spewing a trickle of water down into a moss coated basin.

Your wagon pulls to the front of the gates, which are closed. Looking about, you notice a small placard next to the gate which reads, “Juliant Manor: The service knows you’re here.”

“What does that mean?” Asks Veronica as she narrows her eyes.

As if in response, you hear a grating sound as the gates swing open upon their hinges. Your party looks about but see no one. They just… opened themselves? You feel a shiver go down your spine as you ponder how that could be possible. The wind? Yeah, yeah that was it. The wind.

“Uh… Okay.” Says Veronica, clutching her mace. “Let’s just head inside.”

Blake nods and drives the wagon into the grounds and toward the manor. A few moments after the wagon fully passes you hear another grating sound followed by a crash of metal. You spin around to see the gates closed again.

“Okay, what the hells.” Says Veronica, who is visibly clutching at her mace. “I don’t like this place at all.”

“Me either…” says Tabitha as she looks about the silent grounds.

“I like it.” Says Delilah with a decidedly creepy expression of contentment on her face.

You shiver as a cool wind brushes past and it practically feels like you’re in a cavern. Looking about the grounds, you hear nothing but the rustle of wind and the flow of water beyond your wagon. Your breath comes out a hazy mist as you rub your hands together for warmth. Veronica was right, this is weird.

“You know…” Says Hala, shivering from the cold, “If the Reindeer Girls had never been to this place, how do they know anything about it? Where would the supplies have come from anyway?”

Everyone looks at her with that same, surprised look and she growls. “I swear to the Gods I will bite every last one of you.”

Blake just pats her head again as you pull up to the front of the manor. When your wagon comes to a stop, Mr. Ed lets out a long neigh and stamps a hoof. You narrow your eyes and look out at the front of the house to see a large set of heavy doors set into am ornate frame carved with snowflakes. On the second level sits a balcony and from a window there you swear you see someone looking at you before they abruptly vanish.

“Uh… did anyone just see that?” You ask, pointing up.

Tabitha looks up, not overly affected by the cold thanks to your gift, and frowns. “See what?”

“Hmm… Nothing, I guess.” You murmur and begin to dismount. As soon as your boots hit the ground, you hear a clack of metal followed by a creaking noise of metal hinges and you look up to see one of the heavy wooden doors slowly swing open. This time however there is a figure standing behind the door, but you have to blink a few times to make sure you’re seeing it correctly.

Inside the doorway stands a Monster of average height dressed in an ornate maid’s outfit, her hands placed before her in a polite gesture common to house staff. After that though, things get weird.

First off, her body appears to be made of a thick, black gel that connects with the clothing she wears, blending with it while other parts seem to ripple and shimmer off her body. She has tentacles where her feet should have been and for some reason you feel like you can see things in them that aren’t right. Her face is average enough in proportion, but her eyes are a deep yellow and when she smiles you realize that her teeth are sharp and pointed.

“Oh my.” She says in a sweet, almost dulcet voice. “We have guests! Oh it’s been so long since we’ve had guests, oh do please come in, the Lady will be delighted!”

All of you trade glances between each other. “I have no idea,” Mouths Blake before he smiles amiably at the maid.

“Many thanks! We are glad to be hosted by your Lady, but we wish only for a brief visit. Perchance a few of us may stay outside to look after our wagon? Dangerous times I am afraid.”

The maid’s smile never wavers as she bows. “As you wish master, however there is nothing to fear here, my Lady would never allow it.”

Everyone’s spine tingles at that, you’re certain of it. Veronica and Tabitha elect to stay back at the wagon and you, Blake, Harmony, and Saya all enter the manor. Hala was asked politely, yet firmly, to stay put. You feel hesitant about bringing Saya into this, but if things go south then you want her close at hand. Besides, even though you know Tabitha would never let Veronica hurt her, you’re still not comfortable leaving her alone like that. No, best to stay with you.

The maid leads your group inside the manor. As soon as you cross the threshold your mouth gapes in wonder. At your feet is a plush, red carpet over a sea of marble that spreads out to a large staircase which flows up with a balcony overlooking the entire first floor.

There are two side hallways which lead to more rooms on the right and left. Down the hallways you can see statues and busts of various Monsters and humans. Paintings hang every place they can along with armor of styles that you barely knew existed. The paintings are of all sorts of things: landscapes, portraits, etc, but the common theme is ice and snow.

You stare in wonderment at a rather large piece of a woman with delicate features and white skin alongside bluish hair. She has a strikingly beautiful face, but her unnaturally blue eyes are severe underneath the calm exterior. The artist, whoever they were, really knew how to capture someone well.

“This way, if you’d please.” The maid says before bowing and leading you to one of the side hallways on the right and into a large tea room with soft, plush couches. Taking a seat, you watch as the maid bows again.

“The lady should join you soon. Please excuse the wait while I prepare tea.”

She closes the door and leaves the four of you in silence. None of you say anything for a long while, the eerie quiet stretching on and on and on. A slight creaking is heard as Harmony shifts on the couch and everyone stares at her, to which she holds up her hands.

“Sorry!” She says, fidgeting.

You cough into your hand. “So…”

“Yeah.” Says Blake.

“Why is everyone acting weird?” Asks Saya. “Is it because of the maid? I thought she looked pretty normal.”

You scratch at your chin. “Sorry honey, it’s just a little striking to see uh… Someone else like you!”

“Woah, you’re saying that someone else made someone like me?”

You look to Blake who shrugs. “Possibly.” He says. “Can’t rule anything out as it stands, but I think we should conclude our business here shortly. I have a feeling the resident Lady is a Yuki-onna and-

You whip your head around as you hear the door knob turn, then slowly open. Standing in the doorway is the same woman from the portrait, every detail the exact same. She wears a light blue dress that accentuates her skin well and flow all the way to cover to feet. A delicate smile touches her lips, and you can see a hint of amusement in her eyes as she studies you and Blake.

“Oh my, Xanthia did say we had guests, but not such handsome ones.” She puts a hand to her cheek.

“Oh dear, this is so embarrassing.”

 

Chapter 155

 

Blake stands and bows politely. “Thank you for your kind words Lady…”

“Juliant. Hilda Juliant. And you are?”

“Ah, forgive me, I am Blake Boudreaux, and this is lady Harmony, Saya, and the Wizard.”

She raises and eyebrow and looks at you. “Oh my, a Wizard? I haven’t seen your like in ages. Oh dear, it has been too long since I have entertained guests.”

“Please ma’am, take a seat.” Says Blake, waving his hand.

“Such a gentleman!” She coos before sitting down on the couch directly next to him. Blake looks slightly uncomfortable at that, but she gently smiles at him.

“Is something the matter, dear?”

“No, of course not.” He says, keeping his cool and his million-gold smile.

You hear a slight knock at the door and a moment later it opens to admit the maid, carrying a tray of tea. She gently sets it down on the table and then bows before pouring some for everyone, asking if they’d like sugar or milk. She hands the first cup to Saya, then to you, then Blake, and finally the lady, who takes her tea black.

As soon as it touches her fingers though, the vibrant steam flowing from the ornate teacup vanishes, as if snuffed out. She takes it to her blue lips and slowly drinks of it, her eyes closing in ecstasy as she savors the taste.

“Mmm, an excellent brew indeed Xanthia.”

The maid bows, “I live to serve, my Lady.”

You take a sip as well and find if piping hot and quite enjoyable, even if you don’t drink the stuff often. Saya makes a face but drinks it anyway since everyone else is doing it, though you can tell she hates it.

Lady Juliant smiles and places her saucer and cup back onto the table before leaning close to Blake. “Well now… what can I do for you today Sir Boudreaux?”

“We were wondering if it were possible to procure supplies from you. Foodstuffs, mostly, however we did wonder what else you may wish for trade.”

The Lady purses her lips thoughtfully. “Hmm… Supplies you say? Surely travelers such as yourselves did not come all this way just for such?”

“We are acting as intermediaries, unless you know of a way into the mountains?”

She laughs, “Ah, of course. The mountains into Monster territory, how bold of you! My, I should have figured that you would be such daring adventurers. Unfortunately, I do not know of such a way.”

She steeples her fingers on her lap. “You wish for a trade then, yes?”

Blake nods, “We have plenty of funds to pay for-” Blake is cut off as the Yuki-onna gently puts a finger on his lips, causing him to shiver as she coos,

“I don’t want your money. All I ask is that you and yours stay the night, and then you may have all your heart desires…”

You and Harmony exchange looks. What does that mean?

{Oooooo, someone’s going to get raped!}

You frown in consternation and stare at your knife-stick, which is what you’re calling the [Dark Spear] now because you find it funny, and reply back,

{I’m sorry, what was that?}

Chaika brims with excitement as she reiterates. {Someone. Is. Going to get raped!}

You mentally sigh. {Yes yes, I got that the first time, but who is going to get raped?}

{Oh, the Hero of course, which is a good call, he’s quite delicious after all, but perhaps you too if you’re not careful.}

{So…} you begin, a little hesitant, {You think this is some kind of trap?}

{No, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate invitation by a reclusive and horny ice spirit in a mansion with an abomination for a maid.} She says in a flat tone.

{Oh good, because I thought-}

{Of course it’s a fucking trap you dunce!} Chaika shouts, exasperated. {Are you an idiot or something?}

You mentally smirk and Chaika bristles with fury. {Asshole.}

{You know you love it.} You reply smugly to which Chaika only sighs back.

{While true, that doesn’t change the situation. Staying the night would probably be a bad idea. I don’t know what her game is, but I certainly know she has one.}

{Why’s that?} You ask, curiously.

{Have you noticed a single chair in this entire place?}

You pause, confused. {Uh… No, but what does that have to do with-}

{It’s not natural!} She hisses and you recoil from the power of it.

Shaking your head, look over at Lady Juliant and see she’s leaning on Blake at this point and he’s doing this damnedest to not look uncomfortable. He would be succeeding quite well, except his eyes, you can see it in his eyes, the poor bloke.

You sigh mentally and rub your head before replying, {Okay, okay, I’ll be careful.}

{You’ll be raped!} She replies and you roll your eyes. Yes, true, you’re very nervous about all of this now, but at least you have your own psychopathic killer snake to help you in this situation.

You cough loudly into your hand to try and get the Yuki-onna’s attention. She either doesn’t hear or is ignoring you, and you are forced to speak loudly,

“Lady Juliant?”

She turns her gaze on you and you can feel the temperature around you drop precipitously, even though she has a smile on her face. You can’t help but notice it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. You gulp as she asks, “Yes, sir Wizard?”

“Uhh.” You begin, taken aback some, “You see, uh, well, that is-“

“Yes?” She asks in the same tone, although you feel a wave of impatience come over her.

“Wizards!” You blurt out, sweat starting to trickle down despite the cold. Dear Gods she’s scary.

Lady Juliant raises an eyebrow. “Wizards?”

“Yes… Wizards! You said that you had dealings with them in the past, yes? I was wondering what uh…that entailed?”

She blinks and then looks to Blake who coughs and says politely, “If you would be so kind, milady.”

She purses her lips and pulls back from Blake. As she does you see his eyes grow calmer. She arranges her dress carefully before placing her hands in her lap as the maid pours her more tea. Calmly taking a sip, she then looks at you with a cool expression.

“True, I have had dealings with Wizards long ago. They used to travel quite frequently and were such wonderful guests.”

“Did they… ever have a reason for being out here?”

She touches her lips, “None that they would say anyway. But it was so long ago and most always left instead of staying the night.” She shakes her head, “These lands have always been dangerous for those who travel around at night.”

That chill comes down your spine again and you gulp. “And of those who did stay the night?”

She smiles broadly, “Why, they received their heart’s desire, of course.”

You and Blake trade looks before you ask slowly, “What exactly does that entail?”

She smirks and takes a sip of tea slowly before answering, “Answers, artifacts… experiences.” She puts a hard emphasis on the last part.

“I… see. What sort of artifacts do you mean?”

She waves a hand, “Such matters can wait until the morning along with those supplies you would like. I’m afraid it’s getting quite dark outside and your poor companions must be rather cold.”

You narrow your eyes at the dodging of the question but you restrain yourself after Blake gives you a firm shake of his head. Gritting your teeth, you nod back before taking a deep breath and putting on your best, fake smile and putting your arm around Saya.

“Well then! My DAUGHTER and I would be deeeeelighted to stay the evening, wouldn’t we dear?”

Saya looks up at you with extreme confusion and you nod her head slowly with your hand. The maid cocks her head, studying you curiously while Lady Juliant purses her lips again and then looks to Blake, who smiles back. “Yes, my MATE and I would love to take up your hospitality.”

The Yuki-onna narrows her eyes before finishing her tea and handing the cup back to the maid. The rest of you do the same and the Yuki-onna stands slowly before nodding. “Indeed. Please, do see yourself settled in. I shall have Xanthia make room arrangements for you and begin to prepare dinner.

You blink and cock your head. “Surely that would take more than just yourselves, where are the others who live here?”

Lady Juliant turns to you and smiles softly, “Others? My dear Wizard, we are the only living here.”

 

Chapter 156

 

“I don’t like it.” Mutters Veronica as she finishes stabling the horses. Tabitha secures the last of the wagon’s supplies before she grunts in reply.

“Nor do I.”

The Aspirant nods to the Lizardman and then frowns toward you. “Why’d you have to go and say we’d stay the night here?”

You raise both of your hands in a defensive gesture, “Hey, hey! Don’t pin this all on me, the big lummox helped too!”

Hala lifts her nose indignantly, “I’ll bet he did, he helped himself all over that whore.”

Blake lifts a finger, “Hala, mind your manners around our host.” He looks a little sheepish, “Besides, she’s the one who came onto me.”

Hala throws her hands into the air, “That’s what you always say!”

Tabitha rolls her neck. “No sense in arguing, what’s done is done. Besides, it feels like something bad would happen if we tried to leave this place now.”

Veronica nods slowly before looking back at the entrance gates. “Did you notice the gates before? How no one was around to open and close them?”

You shrug and tap your head, “Well, it wasn’t magic. I scanned around this whole place and didn’t see anything.” Which is true, you don’t sense any magic, but at the same time you feel… wrong. Like there’s was something here, dancing in the edge of your senses, avoiding you.

“Look, things may happen tonight, namely the Yuki-onna will probably try to rape Blake, but we just have to survive until morning. And if I need to burn a house a to the ground, then so be it.”

Everyone nods in agreement while Hala grabs onto Blake’s arm tight. As you all ready to go, you hear a loud clearing of a non-existent throat and you turn back to see Delilah staring at you.

“Oh! Sorry Delilah, forgot you were there for a moment.” You say, a little sheepishly.

“Oh, no, sure, it’s nothing.” The Dullahan says with a flat expression. “No, I’m fine out here alone all night. Again.”

“Uhm…” You rub at the back of your head and look between the others. Blake shrugs and you sigh, “Sorry… did you want to come in with us?”

She snorts, “Hells no, I’m fine out here in this atmosphere.” She quirks an eyebrow, “But if you could leave me that pipe…”

You roll your eyes and produce your [Pipe] and some [Green Leaf]. As you do, Delilah catches sight of your [Brown Leaf] and raises an eyebrow.

You ponder it quite seriously before shrugging and placing some in the bowl. “Well, if you promise to guard the wagon.” You rub at your head and look back to her, resolute, “Now, Delilah, this stuff is supposed to be super potent so-“

“Yeah, yeah, just light it up.”

Blinking at her out of character forcefulness, you place the pipe into her mouth after lighting the bowl. She takes a few test puffs and then looks up at you, her eyes going wide.

“Woah.”

“You… you okay there?” You ask, to which she nods slowly.

“I think. I am very okay.” She says slowly in response.

Yow narrow your eyes and are about to say something when you hear Tabitha calling you. Turning to go, you give one last look over your shoulder after a few steps and see the Dullahan with the widest eyes you’ve ever seen and a goofy expression on her face. It would be charming if it wasn’t also mildly disturbing from a severed head with glowing red eyes. With some mild misgivings about what you’ve done, you join the others in the manor.

————————————————————————————–

Dinner is a simple affair of roasted chicken, potatoes, cheeses, two kinds of bread, assorted fruits, and vintage wine. You scan it all with your [Mage Sight] before eating and it all seems to check out okay. You can’t help but feel something is off though, but as it doesn’t seem to kill Hala, the first to dig in, you figure it’s fine. Good thing too, because the food is delicious!

Even Tabitha compliments Xanthia on the food, causing the Monster to blush. This effectively turns her black goo into more of a purple goo, but it’s actually quite adorable. For Lady Juliant’s part, she is quite amiable, however you notice that during the entire dinner, no question anyone asks her garners a straight answer. Even a simple question such as, “where do you get all this food from,” is answered with misdirection. It gives you a distinct sense of unease.

When the meal is finished you’re shown to your rooms on the second floor of the manor, three in total. You share a room with Saya and Harmony while Tabitha and Veronica are pillow mates again. Blake’s insistence has him paired with Hala and you feel a little easier knowing that at least he has his hypervigilant guard dog along for the ride.

You rub at your face and lean back on your bed, staring up at the dark ceiling lit only by a small candle in the corner. Yawning, you work up the courage to start setting wards. You’ve already installed [Remote Sentries] above the doors of the other’s rooms, which are annoyingly down the hall quite a ways away, but you need to form a barrier in this room. A shame you can’t keep multiple barriers up, but at least your room will have advance warning when, not if, shit goes down.

The bed creaks and you look up to see Saya smiling above you. Smiling back, you say in a tired voice, “Hey there.”

“You know, I think you said we wouldn’t be getting comfortable beds anymore.”

You chuckle, “Well that’s fortune for you. Still, I don’t think we’ll see much after this place.”

Saya sighs, “You’re right, the mountains are a dreary place, nothing but snow and rocks.”

You blink and look at her seriously. “Saya?”

She seems a little startled herself and rubs at her head, “Oh… Oh, sorry that was… I guess it was something from Victoria. Must have remembered the mountains before she uhm… Yeah.”

“Saya…” You begin slowly, “Are you able to recall anything else from Victoria?”

She frowns deeply on concentration. “There’s… a stone building… A fortress over a large cliff and… A lake, but…” She puts a hand to her head. “I- I don’t see anything else.”

She looks at you, a little downcast, “Sorry.”

You push yourself up and embrace the girl in a hug. “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay. Thank you for trying.”

She nods her head, beaming again and you ruffle her hair before turning to Harmony. The construct looks at you with a nod and you stand up, stretching.

“Alright, so let’s get this room warded. I have a feeling something’s going to try and get in here and I don’t want to be unprepared, alright?”

She nods and the two of you quickly form a circle around the room. Bubs, the lovable bastard, plays with Saya the entire time, apparently feeling less than useful. Poor guy, you’ll need to give him a Bubsy snack in the near future.

You smile in appreciation and are about to activate the circle when you feel something move in front of one of your [Remote Sentries]. Your spine stiffens and you quickly switch your focus to the one in front of the women’s door. At first you don’t see anything and you wonder if it’s just the maid who passed by but then, as you concentrate more in the dark, you begin to see something… something indistinct, but something…

You furrow your brow and concentrate on it. It begins to come to you that in the darkness of the corridor a face is staring directly at your ward. Your heart starts to pound furiously, but you can’t look away. It feels like whatever is there is looking through the sentry and into your soul!

Unable to watch any longer, you divert your attention to the sentry in front of Blake’s door and see nothing. When you turn back to the other one, your heart lurches as now the distinct form a short woman with long, black hair and pale skin stands closer to your sentry, still immobile.

You gulp and break concentration, picking up Chaika in one hand and quickly turning to the Harmony and Saya. “Hurry, there’s something outside the door to Tabitha and Veronica’s room! We need to head over there, now!”

 

Chapter 157

 

The two don’t argue and you quickly scoop up Bubs and dash out of the room, magic primed as you run down the hallway. You quickly check your sentries, an act which almost trips you as switch concentration like that, but you’re shocked to see that the woman is gone! In fact, as soon as you reach the end of the hallway where their rooms are, you find nothing in the illumination of the candle light.

You look around, scanning with your [Mage Sight] but get nothing more than a chill running down your spine as you do so.

“Where is it?” Asks Harmony in a low voice.

“I… I don’t know.” You say, stumped. What the hells? There surely was someone there but- You rub at your head and sigh. “What in the name of Solos?”

{Mmmm. I wonder…} Mumbles Chaika from her perch on the staff.

You cock your head, {What’s that?} you ask, but before she can answer, the small candle Saya is holding flutters and then gutters out, plunging you into total darkness. Saya gasps and you close in next to her, quickly summoning light to come forth from your staff.

You jump back as, directly before you in the light of your staff, stands Xanthia, characteristic smile on her face.

“Oh dear, what have we here? Have you become lost?” She asks in a very slow and not at all disturbing voice.

You shiver and then cough into your hand. “Y-yes, sorry. You see my daughter here needed to use the chamber pot and we all decided to go together. It’s quite scary for her, you see.”

Xanthia cocks her head, the smile still present. “Oh dear. There is a chamber pot located in your room. Please allow me to escort you back there. I wouldn’t want you to get lost…”

You looks nervously between the other two and then take Saya’s hand, squeezing it before smiling and answering, “Of course, of course… thank you.”

She turns about and starts walking down the hallway in the small light of your staff. This seems odd to you because normally you produce much more light than this. You stare in confusion at your staff, but in the periphery of your vision you feel as if something is moving in the shadows. Whenever you turn to see it however, there’s nothing there.

You grind your teeth at all this spooky shit, but you are quickly lead back to your room, Xanthia opening the door for you. You usher in the other two and then look at the maid’s unchanging face.

“Thank you…” You say slowly, and she bows.

“It is my pleasure. I do hope you refrain from wandering the halls again. It can be very… dangerous.”

You stand up straight as she bows and steps away, back toward the foyer. You close the door before instantly firing up your wards and rubbing at your forehead. Oh Gods, you’re sweating, despite the chill. Saya sits next to you, concerned, but you give her a reassuring smile before cleaning yourself up.

“What was that?” Asks Harmony, concerned.

“It’s… I don’t know. But I do know that I’m rather afraid of that maid.”

Saya nods her head, “Me too…”

You rub her hair gently and then sigh deeply, looking over your sentries again. Still nothing in the hallways. Nodding to Saya, you say “Hey, get some sleep for me, alright?”

She gives you a pleading look like all children told its bedtime, before nodding her head slowly and crawling into the bed. Despite her misgivings, she’s asleep quickly and you’re left waiting with Harmony, the two of you staring out at the door.

————————————————————————————–

Harmony taps a metallic foot and then shakes her head after maybe an hour of nothing occurring.

“This is going to be a long night.” She says in a monotone voice.

You take in a deep breath to reply when you feel another movement from a sentry and you steel yourself to see what it is. It’s the women’s sentry again, but this time you watch as Tabitha of all people slowly opens the door, dressed in naught but her under garments. She looks around the hallway and then up to your sentry before looking down at her hand and walking down the hallway, away from your room.

You blink, trying to make sense of this. What the hells just happened there? Tabitha would never walk around like that, and how did Veronica just let this slide? You frown deeply as the other sentry pings and you look in horror to see a naked and disheveled Hala leave her room. She stares up at your sentry with a strange, almost maniacal expression before turning and sprinting down the hall to the foyer.

It’s about that time that you start to hear something, like a faint scratching against your consciousness. You snap your focus back toward your room. Outside your door you hear a scraping noise, like nails on limestone, and it rings against your mind in a way that makes your legs weak. You grit your teeth and endure as you feel something press against your wards and then stop suddenly before a low, horrible wailing fills your mind, forcing you to press your head in pain.

And just like that, it’s gone. You blink in confusion and look about to see Chaika humming with power, a feeling of annoyance radiating off her. You try to ask her something but she cuts you off, seeming focused. It’s a short while later before she speaks in a low, annoyed tone.

{Damnit. I was afraid there might be Ghosts here.}

{I’m sorry, did you just say, ‘Ghosts?’}

Chaika seems to regard your question as pure idiocy as she sighs, {Yes, Ghosts, and I’m afraid they’ve come to possess your little party.}

{That doesn’t sound good at-}

{And probably rape you before killing all of you in a fit of fury, yes.} Chaika says, cutting you off.

You frown before sighing, {Yes, thank you for that.}

{Any time.} She replies nonchalantly.

{Right, okay then, so… Ghosts. That means… spirits?}

{Ehhhh, sort of? More like spirits with lingering attachments to this world who become, well, a little insane until their desires are met.}

{I’m going to guess by desires you mean…?}

{Sexual, usually, although even more mundane reasons often become corrupt to the point of sexual insanity. I think it has to do with lingering magic from the Great Awakening that Dollora performed…} She seems to muse on this for a moment before you continue pressing.

{It sounds like you have intimate knowledge of them there, Chaika.}

{Eh, I tried to make the place in Varruck haunted once, didn’t really work out and instead I got a pack of zombies.} She chuckles. {Hehe, ever seen a zombie rape someone? No door can save you from their power and their lust is ennndddlessss.}

You grunt before pushing yourself up from your sitting position. {Yeah, that’s nice you little psychopath, but what do we do about this situation? Are they going to try and get in again?}

She considers this. {Probably not, your barrier made it not worth their while to try and get in, however if we go out, they’ll probably find us in quick order.}

You twitch before walking over and kneeling down next to the sleeping form of Saya. You can’t allow her to be in danger from these spooky happenings. Still… you can’t abandon everyone else and now that the Ghosts have possessed Hala and Tabitha, you’re concerned that Veronica and Blake might be in danger.

You stroke Saya’s hair softly before you plant a light kiss on her forehead and then stand back up. Harmony walks over to you and puts a delicate, yet forceful hand on your shoulder and asks, “What’s wrong?”

You sigh. “Ghosts.”

She is silent for a few moments before saying in a monotone, “Ghosts.”

“Yes, Ghosts.”

You feel Bubs stirring from your pocket as he pops his head up out. When he had crawled in there you have no idea, but you watch as he starts to shiver.

{Did you just say, G-G-G-Ghosts?!}

{Yes, Ghosts, this place is haunted.}

{Uh oh… Look, maybe we should skedaddle out of here, maybe get some food or something? Yeah that sounds great, let’s do that.} He says, a little frantic.

{Are you afraid of Ghosts?} You ask, curious.

Bubs shivers some more as he looks about nervously, {Ha, what? Me? Afraid of G-Ghosts? Nooo! It’s not like I had a run in with a Ghost in the sewers once or anything, nah, nah, I’m fine. How are you?}

You sigh and Harmony speaks up again, “What’s happened?”

“I think Tabitha and Hala are possessed and I’m afraid for them and the others. I think we need to brave it outside to get everyone together.”

“Well, that probably sounds fine, but Ghosts? Come now Wizard, that’s silly, there’s no such thing as ghosts.”

{Uh oh, she’s one of them.} Sends Chaika, mentally rolling her eyes.

{Quiet you!} Sends Harmony over the mental net in your head. She huffs out loud before continuing. {It’s simply not possible for a spirit to just, linger around after death.}

{Aren’t you the spirit of a dead Monster lingering about in a construct body?} You think back.

She waves a hand in a dismissive gesture. {Ugh, no, it’s totally different and- Look, we don’t have time for this. At the very least, the Lady and the maid are dangerous. I support grouping with the others and… we’ll see about your Ghosts.}

{Okay miss prissy pants.} Chaika spurs back.

Harmony delicately bends her constructed ass and slaps it, making a hollow, metallic sound. {At least I can wear pants.}

Chaika devolves into a fit of furious swearing and Harmony laughs audibly, a farce that’s entirely opposite to the situation occurring around you.

You look down as you hear Saya stir and then slowly open her eyes, blinking.

“H-huh? What?” She asks blearily.

You rub her hair and whisper, “It’s time to get up, looks there’s some scary stuff happening and we can’t stay here.”

Saya nods her head slowly and pushes herself up from the bed, rubbing at her eyes before shaking her head and taking a deep breath. “Right, I’m ready to go.

You smile and say, “That’s my girl,” before nodding to the others. “Alright. We’re going to move quietly over to Veronica’s room and make sure she’s safe.”

“What about the Hero?” Harmony asks as you prepare to break your circle.

You sigh, “I don’t think Blake is in immediate danger at the moment, but we’ll get him next. I’d prefer not to split up if we can help it.”

Placing your hand on the circle, you summon forth some concentration and break the magic running through it. You take a deep breath and grab the doorknob before turning back to the others.

“Things are about to get very, very spooky.”

 

Chapter 158

 

You open the door to find nothing immediately before you. Ushering them forward, your little group quickly and efficiently moves down the dark and distressing hallway.

Despite having been down here once before, the air feels oppressive, and you can’t help but feel that someone is watching you. You have no choice but to press on though, keeping a wary eye out for Ghosts. You don’t actually know what you’ll do if you see one, but you’re fairly confident that they could be hurt by magic. Surely the Communion Matrix didn’t lie about that, right?

Well, regardless, you don’t see anything Ghost-like on your way to women’s room, but in the very dim light of your staff, so as not to attract the attentions of Xanthia, you notice that the paintings on the walls seemed a little… different? You could have sworn there was a woman in the painting of the lakeside there and one in that terrace… Oh well, whatever, you don’t have time to think about that.

Soon enough you reach the room and you look to the others before nodding your head and slowly opening the door, magic ready to cast. The door swings open without resistance but it makes a slight creaking sound that sends Bubs to shivering again in your pocket.

Inside the room, in the small light of your staff sits Veronica, wearing only her shift while bound and gagged.

You curse and usher the others inside before closing the door again behind you. As you do, you feel something through your [Remote Sentry] and your spine stiffens as you see Xanthia suddenly outside the door to the room. You can hear her breathing loud and regular, the rhythm an exact match to your heartbeat, increasing in rate in time. You make a silencing gesture to the others as you freeze in place, watching her stand there through your sentry.

She stays for what seems an eternity before turning to the side and disappearing down the hallway again. When she’s gone for at least a few seconds you slump down, letting out a long breath. The others look to you with concern and you wave your hand slowly.

“It was just… just the maid. Go ahead and check on Veronica.”

Saya and Harmony trade a glance before nodding and moving over to the bound woman. Once you’ve settled down you catch up, casting more light while fearing the worst. Thankfully, she seems to be alive, just unconscious, and you sigh in relief as the others remove her bindings, which appear to be made out of bedsheets. Did the possessed Tabitha do this?

“Hey, daddy, there’s something written on her chest here.” Saya says, pointing at the shift.

You narrow your eyes and read what seems to be written in blood, although you’re not certain whose. It reads:

 “Good girls should keep their mouths shut.”

You look at the other two before taking a deep breath. “Can we wake her?”

Harmony shakes her head. “She’s not responding to anything. Something really got her good, see?” She holds up a hand sticky with blood. “Back of her head is a mess.”

You grit your teeth and perform a [Fast Scan] to see that her humors are thankfully in place, and she doesn’t seem to have permanent damage- that you can tell anyway. You perform a quick [Soothe], healing the wounds on her head before looking to Harmony.

“Think you can carry her? I don’t know why she wasn’t possessed like Tabitha, but I don’t want to leave her here.”

Harmony nods and scoops up the woman before looking over at the pile of meticulously cleaned armor in the corner. “What about her armor?”

You grit your teeth. The armor is a great artifact of the Order and you feel that losing it would be terrible but… if Veronica can’t don the armor, then what’s the point? You’ll just have to just come back later for the, there’s nothing else for it.

“Can’t I just wear it?” Asks Saya as she wanders over to the armor, reaching out to grab a greave.

Your eyes go wide and you hiss, “No, stop!” But you’re too late. As soon as her hand touches the holy steel, she gasps and recoils back sharply, her hand steaming and melting.

Her eyes go wide as she looks down at her hand, which bubbles with melted flesh. Tears form in the corners of her eyes and she starts shaking. You grab her quickly and hold her tight as she tries not to cry out in pain.

“Oh Gods, honey, are you alright? Shh, shh, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, shhh.”

She sniffs again, “Ah…ah… It burns, it burns!”

You hug her again and watch as her hand slowly forms back into place and her shivering subsides. You hold her for a little longer after that that before pulling back and tugging her face to yours. “Hey there, are you okay?”

She sniffs and looks down at her hand before nodding slowly. “I-I think so.”

You bow your head and sigh in relief, “The armor is a holy artifact against Monsters. I was afraid someone like yourself might be hurt by it, especially since it’s not being worn. Please don’t scare me like that again.”

Saya nods and wipes at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”

You hug her again before helping her up. “It’s fine. We’ll leave it for now.”

{Why not just put it in your damned sack?} Asks Chaika, as if it were obvious.

{Because, the magics involved in that armor would probably not sit well with the other magics in that bag, I don’t want an explosion in magical space, alright?}

She groans. {Fine, whatever. Ugh.}

You roll your eyes as Harmony hefts Veronica in her arms like she weighs nothing. Checking your sentries again, you find the coast to be clear so you quickly dart out of the room into the hallway, moving the opposite way to see Blake. As you do so, you hear a loud, echoing wolf howl thunder through the house, shaking your very bones. It obviously came from outside, and you’re damn certain it was Hala who did it, but dear Gods, has she ever been so loud?

Shaking your head, you continue forward but stop to notice that another painting seems different. In fact, this one seems to have now gained a person. You didn’t memorize all the paintings before, but you know damn well that each one you saw only had one person, if it had any at all. You narrow your eyes and stare at the painting, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, but still…

A strange idea comes to you and slowly reach into your [Sack of Holding +1] to pull out the [Darkness Attuned Compass]. The bone inside it swings wildly back and forth before coming a dead stop, pointing directly at the painting. Your eyes go wide and you look up to the see the additional person smiling widely before she suddenly pulls herself halfway out of the portrait.

 

Chapter 159

 

You step back in a panic as the Ghost’s semi-corporeal body flows out of the painting without sound. Fumbling for your magic, you’re interrupted as Chaika hisses, {No! Don’t blast it, or you’ll alert that thing! Let me handle it!}

You feel a pulse of power flow through Chaika and your compass starts to swing about wildly as she focuses. The Ghost’s expression turns confused, and then outraged as she presses forward, her features becoming taut and horrendous. You raise your knife-stick in reaction and from it a soft, purple glow emits. The ghost freezes, spasming before distending its jaw horrifically and dashing away through the wall.

You put a hand your chest, trying to calm down. This shit here is going to give you a premature heart attack, holy shit. As you catch your breath, Chaika mutters, {Damn, looks like all I can do is drive them off. We’ll need someone like the Aspirant or that Dullahan to exorcise them.}

{Delilah? She can do that?} You ask, confused.

{Probably. Look, you can’t stay here, get going.} She says, rushing you.

You nod and get the others moving again, looking out for further dangers. Thankfully no other Ghosts seem to be present as you hurriedly dash into Blake’s room and close the door. You wait again to see if Xanthia appears, to which she does not, before you sigh in relief.

“Uhm, Wizard, you should see this.”

You turn about and your mouth goes slack as you see that all over the walls, written in messy letters and in dark, red fluid, is the same message over and over again:

I love you very much.”

It covers all the walls in varying scripts. You shudder to think where that much blood came from. Hesitantly, you look over to the bed to see Blake laying there under the covers. You slowly remove the blanket from him and, to your surprise, find him totally fine. The fucker is just sleeping there, fully clothed!

You narrow your eyes and poke the man. He immediately jumps up, grabs your arm and forcibly throws you to the ground, pinning you there as he snarls, “Take that you Ice Queen!”

“What the fuck man!” You shout as you try to struggle out of his grasp.

He grits his teeth and then blinks in confusion before letting go of you in shock. “By the Gods, Wizard, is that you? What are you…” He pauses as he looks around the room, taking the sight in.

“What the…” He whispers as you groan, pulling yourself up.

“Yeah, I should ask that of you, asshole. How the fuck did you sleep through this?”

He blinks, still looking stunned, “I didn’t hear anything, I was just asleep and-” He turns about quickly, looking around. “Where’s Hala?”

You sigh and put a hand on your head. “She’s not here. We think she was possessed by Ghosts.”

Blake turns back around, his eyes narrowed. “Wizard, I swear to Solos, if you think I’ll buy into that Ghost story again…”

Saya holds her hands up, “Wait, wait, he’s telling the truth! There actually are Ghosts here!” She points to Veronica, “One possessed the lizard lady and she attacked Veronica here.”

Blake looks over to Veronica and his expression softens. “Oh Gods, is she-?”

You wave a hand, “She’s fine, but we aren’t going to be if we don’t do something.”

Blake frowns and crosses his arms, “Like what?”

“Well, it sounds like we need to get the hells out of here for one thing, but I’m afraid that if we aren’t careful, we’ll run into the lady and her maid.” You shudder at that thought.

“Besides that, we now have Hala and Tabitha running around possessed with Ghosts everywhere and no good way to fight them.”

Blake draws his sword from its scabbard and shrugs, “Lionsedge should be more than effective at cutting Ghosts.”

“Yes that’s all well and good, but getting into a fight with them could end up poorly. Besides, do you really think you could cut Hala if she attacked you.”

Blake’s face pales some as he considers. “So then, what do we do?”

“It sounds like we either need Veronica or Deliliah to help with an exorcism. Sadly our resident Aspirant is unconscious.”

Blake grunts, “So that means going back to the cart while these things are around… great.” He thinks for a moment, “Do you know where those two went?”

You shrug, “I think Tabitha went further into the mansion but Hala… might be outside.”

Blake frowns. “Well then group, I think our best bet is to split up.”

{Ruh-roh, that sounds like a bad idea.} Send Bubs, starting to shiver again,

You sigh and rub your head. “That sounds pretty dangerous Blake, I don’t think we’d be in a good shape if we were attacked.”

He shrugs, “If we travel in a large group then we are likely to attract the attention of the Lady and the maid, no? This way we can find both our missing members and be more stealthy.”

You think about it for a moment and then sigh. “Very well then…”

Blake nods head. “Alright, you go with miss Harmony and grab Delilah. I’ll stick with Saya.”

You bluster back, “What? No, I’m not leaving you alone with my little girl!”

Saya huffs and walks over to Blake, putting a hand on her hip. “Daddy, I think I can take care of myself, especially if Mr. Boudreaux is here.” She smiles up at him, “Right?”

He nods before looking into your eyes like a man trained in the art of smooth-talking fathers. “I promise nothing shall befall her.”

You grind your teeth before you sigh and kneel down to look Saya in the eye. “Peel back the flesh on one of your fingers, okay?”

She looks at you, a little confused, but does so until the bone is showing on her right pointer finger. Using a knife, you delicately carve the [Sigil of Light] on it and infuse if with magic. In no time the finger bone glows with a bright light, causing your little girl’s face to light up.

“Oh, wow, thanks daddy!” She says, forming and removing the flesh to turn the light off and on.

You smile, rub her head, and fish Bubs out of your pocket before handing him to Saya. “Bring him with you, so we have some kind of link, alright?”

Saya nods and you look back at Blake, making a gesture with your two fingers to your eyes, then pointing back at him. He nods, unimpressed, and finishes putting his gear on, muttering a question about why are all of Hala’s clothes scattered on the ground.

You nod to Harmony and she continues carrying Veronica as you head to the door. Taking a deep breath again, you open it before everyone piles out and the two groups head down their separate ways, soon losing each other in the dark hallways.

 

Chapter 160

 

Despite only be separated for a few minutes, you constantly check through Bub’s eyes for anything untoward or spooky affecting Saya, but thankfully you see nothing as you come upon foyer.

You approach slowly and look about, making damn certain the maid isn’t here- thankfully she isn’t. As you look down to the first floor though, you notice something odd. In the center of the room, surrounded by a sea of rose petals, sits a chair. Not an ornate chair by any means, but a sturdy, functional chair. It’s currently empty, but as you stare at it, Chaika begins to hyperventilate.

If that’s possible.

{Oh Dollora, where did that come from? There’s no fucking chairs in this place, why is it there? Where did the rose petals come from also? Why is there a chair there?!}

{Calm down!} You mentally chide as you make your way downstairs. You even check the compass and see no big spookiness, causing you to frown. {Hrm, nothing here…}

{Wizard…} Chaika hisses. {This isn’t right, I know it.}

{Yeah, well, it’s not going to kill us yet, so we’ll deal with it later.} You say, heading to the door. You give a wide berth to the chair though, just in case. Harmony does the same behind you, effortlessly gliding past the petals while carrying Veronica. Focusing on the door, you open it and slip outside into the cold night.

It’s cold. Like, it was chilly before, but this is practically subarctic now. You huddle up at the cold and then realize that Veronica is half naked. Poor girl, but there’s nothing to be done for it.

You trudge through the cold and darkness of the grounds, lit only by your staff. The dead trees sway and creak in the night wind as the flowing sounds of the fountain eats into your soul. Every now and then you feel like you can hear a moaning in the wind and you shudder. Ugh, fucking Ghosts.

Looking to your compass as you move, you see a sudden spike in direction and your eyes snap to the mansion to see the face of a young woman staring at you from the window. She slowly puts a hand to the glass. Then another. Then another. Then more and more and more and more until the whole glass is full of hands. And then they’re gone and the compass returns to normal.

 FUCKING GHOSTS GODS DAMN IT.

Of course, seeing this, you basically begin to run through the grounds until you reach the stables. Thankfully you find the wagon where you left it and you rush to the back for Delilah. She’s still there, eyes closed as she smokes delicately from your pipe, an expression of serenity across her face. As you approach she opens her mouth slightly to say,

“Go away Mr. Snuggles, I won’t fall for your tricks twice.”

“That’s nice Delilah, have you come down yet?”

She blinks and looks up at you before grumbling. “Oh, it’s just you. Yeah, I guess so, was a little miserable for awhile, but damn was it nice while it lasted.” She seems to reflect fondly upon something,

“Even when the Mushroom King told me he loved me.”

You look to Harmony who shrugs, not wanting anything to do with this. Sighing, you shake your head. “Look, Delilah, we need your help.”

“Probably with those damn Ghosts, huh? Yeah, they’ve been abit of a pest until I showed them otherwise.”

You release your breath and nod to her. “You can exorcise Ghosts?”

“Well, as part of my duties I sometimes have to forcibly escort souls to Nerg, so yes, in a way.”

“Well Hala and Tabitha are possessed, so we need your help to free them.”

She frowns and considers this for a moment. “I don’t know, it’s not like I have that much power really, what with being merely a starved head in a wagon, abandoned by everyone-“

“One, you asked me to leave you here and two, what do you mean by starved?”

“Haven’t had a semen recharge in ages, which really-“

She’s cut off by a loud howling and you flip around searching. That sounded crazy close. You flip out the compass to see that there’s something directly ahead of you. Your eyes go wide as you hear a loud, crashing noise and then out from the bushes lopes Hala on all fours, moving fast.

You cry out and raise Chaika, but Hala is upon you in an instant, slamming you back against the wagon and knocking aside your knife-stick. She presses her naked body against your form as she growls softly, “Hello Wizard, fancy seeing you here tonight.”

She sniffs you before dragging her tongue against your neck. “You look good enough to eat.”

Of course, that’s right when Harmony two-handed hammer blows her across the back of the head, dropping the wolf into a heap that quickly rolls away from you, growling in full battle mode, her hair bristling as her smooth skin glistens in the fey light of your staff.

She barks and then charges Harmony, teeth bared, but the construct stands firm as a wall. When the possessed Monster charges her, she barely budges, and folds in on the wolf, awkwardly trapping her.

The Wolf Girl struggle in vain, spouting curses. You panic, looking for something to do about this when Delilah screams, “Press my head against hers! Quickly!”

Without hesitation you do so, grabbing the head and quickly pressing it to the other Monster’s. You watch in fascination then as Delilah shifts her position and presses her mouth against Hala’s, causing her eyes to go wide.

Delilah’s mouth moves in quick, rhythmic gestures and soon Hala’s struggles slow down as her eyes start to roll back and she begins to moan, lost in the passionate embrace of lips initiated by the Dullahan. Delilah jerks a few moments later and you pull her back, a string of saliva connecting to Hala’s mouth dripping downward.

You feel a strange stirring in your loins at the sight but decide it’s best not to dwell on that. Slowly, Hala’s body begins to convulse and shake while Harmony holds her, keeping the Wolf Girl still as she jerks about. When Hala’s thrashings appear to hit critical mass, her eyes fly open and from her mouth she vomits out a string of what looks like clear mucus which congeals on the ground before you. Hala begins to cough as Delilah nods, impressed.

“Didn’t think I still had it in me.”

You look at the goo and frown, “Is that uh…?”

“The Ghost? Yes, or what’s left of it anyway. Damn things are always such a mess when they’re destroyed.” She turns to you. “Well I had enough energy to save your wolf, but if you need anything else, I’m kind of tapped.”

You frown and look to Veronica, grunting. Damnit, well maybe once you find Blake again he can take one for the team. Speaking of which, as you have that thought you hear a message from Bubs.

{Uh, hey big guy? Blake thinks he sees something.}

{What do you mean?} You send back, concerned.

{Well, he says he saw movement ahead and shut off the light. He’s moving very slowly and… No wait he just stopped and- something is moving ahead, making a soft noise and… Giggling?}

{Bubs… What are you talking about?}

He’s silent for a long time before shouting back, {Oh Gods it’s the maid, oh fuck, oh shit, oh fuck, she has the hero and-!}

You feel Bub’s panic and squeak before his essence dulls in your mind. You stare down at the recovering Wolf Girl and you feel a tightness in your chest. Oh Gods, Xanthia has your little girl and Bubs! Oh and Blake too, but whatever.

Then another thought hits you. Now it’s up to you to deal with Tabitha- and her sword was missing from her room.

 

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