Illusionistquest 5: Make Up Your Mind


Chapter 24

Turns out the guard station is located in the Main District, who would have thought, eh? It takes you the better part of an hour to head over there though thankfully foot traffic through the Riverside District has basically vanished except near the taverns. By avoiding them, you manage to make good time to the other side of the city.

Above a large canal bridge you see a familiar-looking sign, proclaiming this as the “Main District.” This sign is a little different from the those in the other three districts, because it’s covered in various plant-life and even in the wan light of the street lanterns, it still looks beautiful. Nodding to Saya, you both enter and, upon seeing the scenery, you have to remind yourself that you’re in a city.

While there is a small, cobblestone road large enough for a carriage, the majority of what you see is meticulously kept areas of plant-life. You see everything from grass, bushes, flowers, to trees and exotic ferns as you make your way down the road, finding buildings interspersed between the plants. A bush of white roses grabs your attention, but when you go to investigate, Saya grabs your hand and shakes her head furiously.

“Not if you don’t want to join your master in custody. The Main District is very ‘look, don’t touch.’” Of course, she does admire the beautiful plants as well, just with more delicacy.

Guards are more populous here, as they should be, with even some Plant Monsters hiding out in various areas of foliage, wearing city livery and stopping you to ask what you’re doing here. No one detains you, thankfully, and overall they seem rather cheery to have you go about your way rather than cause a commotion. How could anyone think about stealing in such a lovely environment?

You pass by an off-shoot of the road which leads to a massive, wrought-iron fence that is literally overgrown with plant-life. A sign which you can barely make out through the tangle of vines, has the letters, “Abor…um.” Past the gate appears to be a massive dome-like structure, but you can’t really tell much else about it due to the darkness of the evening.

Soon enough the road opens up and your steps slow as you admire what’s before you. The cobblestones spread out into a large, circular area, ringed by tall buildings of the white stone you’re used to seeing, but in more elaborate styles. The central building is the largest, with a multitude of pillars before it, leading up to two, massive doors. This seems to be the City Hall, but it’s not the most interesting thing here, oh no.

That award goes to the utterly massive tree in the center of the square.

You’ve never seen a tree like this before, especially not one so… tall. It has to stand at least fifty feet tall, with branches that spread out so far that they cover nearly the entire square with their leaves. The bark on the tree is smooth and from the ground, where the roots are pushing up through the earth, you can see it spiraling upward, as if two trees merged together to form one, massive being.

A soft whistle escapes your lips as you appreciate the thing. “That, that is a big tree.”

“Your powers of observation are masterful.”

“Thank you, Dick always says it’s important to get proficient at observation.”

Saya cocks her head. “Dick?”

“You know, Richard, Richie, whatever. I’m going to call him Dick for awhile.”

“And… why are you doing this?”

You throw your arms up and say, “Come on! He easily could have gotten himself out of custody, and yet here we are, my organs a mush-”

“Your organs are not a mush.”

“Whatever, mush like oatmeal, having had a near run-in with the big-bad herself, and he just lives the good life!”

“Pretty sure being dragged off by the guard isn’t the ‘Good Life.'”

You wave a hand dismissively. “Phah. Look, either way we have to get him out.”

In the corner of the square is a building where people in uniform come in and out, lanterns burning brightly outside. You point up toward it and say, “There, that must be the place.”

“Seems like it. So, we’ll just go in and-”

“Way I see it,” you say, rubbing your chin, “we’ll have to go in through the back, look for an entry-point they aren’t expecting, and then locate the cell they’re in. I’ll distract the guards while you look for their cell and melt the bars, releasing them so we can escape the way we came in.”

Saya rolls her eyes. “Or, we could just go inside and ask about them?”

You nod your head. “Hmm… that could work… alright, I’ll need a picture of the mayor so I can impersonate him-”

Saya sighs and puts her hands to her forehead. “No, seriously, that’s a stupid idea.”

You throw your hands up. “Well we can’t very well go with my other plan, because I don’t know about you, but where am I going to find a cravat at this time of night?”

Saya looks at you with a flat expression before waltzing right up to a guard near the front of the building, speaking to him in a soft voice. You groan and run up to her, giving another guard the briefest of waves. They growl at you and you turn about, whistling softly.

“Huh? Looking for a man and a Badger Girl?” The guard says, rubbing his head. “Yeah, I think one of those was brought in earlier.” He looks over to another guard and asks, “Hey, what’d they do with that badger?”

The other guard shrugs. “Badger? I hear her and the guy they came in with were released from questioning almost as soon as they got here. I think they’re still inside, talking to the captain.”

You and Saya both exchange looks of surprise, which quickly change to anger, though you both school your faces into masks of neutrality. At a gesture from the guards, you enter the premises and, as you do, you hear the sounds of laughter. Both of your faces get more and more neutral until emotions are impossible to be seen as you reach a desk where an amused Succubus in the guard uniform is writing. You hear someone say in the room behind her, “So I SATYR her, ‘That’s not a wineskin, that’s my ballsack!'”

The room explodes into laughter, the Succubus before you going into snickering fits. She looks up as you approach and coughs into her hand, trying to school her expression. “Aha… ah, excuse me, what can I help you with this time of night?”

“Yes. We are looking for our idiot uncle and his Badger Girl servant, have you perchance seen them?”

She quirks an eyebrow. “Idiot? Well, he does have some funny jokes.” She holds out a hand and says, “Give me your bag there and I’ll let you through.”

You sigh and hand over your [Rucksack], figuring you don’t really need it at the moment anyway, before walking past her to a large, barracks-style room where a plethora of Guards are sitting around, faces red, while a central figure stands before them, hands on his hips and a smile on his face. It is, of course, your master, The Great and Mighty Dick.

As you enter you see a man in a more elaborate guard uniform put an arm on Richard’s shoulder, wiping tears from his eyes as he chuckles, “Oh, oh that’s a good one Mr. Ublensnach, haha. Wineskin, pfff.”

Richard shakes his head before noticing you, his eyes catching yours, then sliding off, as if forgetting the fact that you’re there. He turns to the man on his shoulder and says, “It was one Hells of a wild ride sir, if you catch my drift.”

“Oh I do!” he chuckles again before noticing you and coming to attention, the other guards doing the same, though their faces are still red. “Who are you?”

You roll your eyes before sighing, “I am Kirk Ublensnach, nephew of that bumbling buffoon you’re speaking with there. I have come on orders from my father to return him to our rooms before he makes more trouble.”

The guard captain calms down some. “Now, now son, your uncle has been a good sport. I’m sure you’ve been worried about him since that incident at the leyway station, but he’s perfectly fine. No charges made, he’s just been here, telling us all about his adventuring days, the scamp.”

Richard shrugs. “Oh well, you know, I always wanted to travel a-broad.” He winks. “Or two.”

The guards laugh again and you sigh, “Look, we really need to go home.” You look around the room then, frowning. “Where’s your maidservant?”

Richard doesn’t show any outward signs of discomfort, but you can tell that you said something he didn’t want you to say. The guard captain cocks his head, “Now that you mention it, where is that Badger Girl?” He looks about the room before looking at Richard with suspicion.

Richard merely shrugs and points to a side hallway. “You didn’t see? She left to relieve herself, poor thing. It’s all the honey I’m told.”

“Did she take an escort?”

“Of course she did, we are not fools, despite what my nephew says.” Richard shakes his head, leaning conspiratorially over to the guard captain. “I’m afraid that he has difficulties at times, his mother, you see.”

The captain nods his head. “Ah, of course, of course, I understand.” He looks at you with pity. Fucking Hells, Dick. He points to a Guard, a short woman with short-cut, blonde hair. “Go check on the girl, make sure she’s fine.”

Richard coughs into his hand. “Actually, can my idio-, I mean, charming nephew go with her? You see, they have this relationship that… well, if I speak anymore it would be impolite. Needless to say, she might be a little shy for anyone else.”

The captain thinks this over before shrugging. “Oh, very well. Go on.” He waves toward you and you look at Saya, who shrugs before tapping your shoulder and mouthing, “Special relationship.” You grumble under your breath as you push through the room. Richard tugs on your arm as you pass and whispers,

“We’ll talk later, find the girl.”

And with that, you finish walking past. The Guardswoman waves you along to follow her, giving you an odd expression as Richard starts up another tale. Your stomach hurts, your back aches, and now you’re once again stuck wondering what in the Hells you’ve been roped into this time.

“Come on kid, let’s go find your girlfriend.”

You jump a little and look over to the Guardswoman escorting you. She snickers at your reaction and you have to cough and adjust your suit before saying, “She is not my girlfriend.”

“Oh, I see. She’s your ah, ‘illegitimate lover,’ hmm?”

“No, she’s not… ugh, we don’t have that kind of relationship!”

The woman cocks her head, looking at you curiously before her eyes go wide. She puts a hand to her mouth and whispers, “No, you can’t be saying that…”

“Really?”

She shakes her head, cheeks going red. “Oh my, you nobles and your… hobbies.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

She raises a hand. “Oh, never mind, never mind. It’s not my business.”

You huff, “Of course it isn’t, NOT THAT ANYTHING IS GOING ON.” With a shake of your head, you control yourself. “Look, just show me to the facilities so I can get out of here.”

She chuckles softly, though you honestly have no idea what’s running through her head. You do hear her mutter, “threesome” a few times. She… she isn’t talking about Saya as well, is she? Well, regardless, she leads you through the stone interior of the complex, which seems rather sparse, the majority of people seemingly captivated by Richard’s story. It makes you wonder why he’s bothering to do so, unless he has something up his sleeve? Ugh, this is really ruining your night, and you already got punched in the gut, so that should be telling as to how bad it is.

You arrive in front of a wooden door with a simple placard upon it denoting this as the privy. The Guardswoman looks around as you approach, frowning. “Where’s the guard she came with?”

Ah, right, of course there was never a guard, how could your lovely master Dick have forgotten such a detail? As you say that, you remind yourself never to use “master” and “Dick” in the same sentence again, although your bigger concern is that your master probably made this some kind of crazy test for you or something, he’s always doing that. “Find the Girl,” yeah, what a load of crock. Regardless, you’re pretty certain Ginelle isn’t in the privy, and if she is, did you want to find out?

You look to the guardswoman and shrug. “Maybe he had something he needed to do?”

She shakes her head. “No, no, we aren’t allowed to have people here without escorts.”

“Ah well, let’s get her then,” you say, ignoring what she said before knocking on the door. No answer. The Guardswoman frowns deeper and moves to knock on the door when she suddenly recoils, grabbing her hand before shaking her head, cheeks reddening. You look at her and cough into your hand. “Well, I think she uh, is having some… difficulties.”

“Is that what you call that?” she says while pinching her nose, eyes beginning to water as your illusion of… well, you best not say what you’re forcing the poor woman to experience. She gags, putting a hand to her chest. “Oh Gods, it’s like a skunk died in a Troll’s hair!” Her eyes begin to flutter and she staggers to the side of the hallway, resting a hand on it.

“Hey… hey are you alright?” you ask, shaking her. She slumps against the wall, before going fully unconscious from the smell. Well, the illusion of a smell anyway. You honestly feel terrible for what you did to her, but getting in trouble with the law seems less than advisory at the moment. You sigh and carefully drag her unconscious form into the privy before looking about and closing the door. To your credit, the place does smell like incredible ass, so at least if things go wrong, you have a believable cover story…

It dawns upon you then that you’re now on a mission to find a Monster inside what is essentially hostile territory. It’s just like that one Eastern Theatre you watched before, you know, the one with the… exact same situation? Eastern Theatre is so progressive. Anyway, with that thought in your head, you begin to walk forward through the complex, checking every intersection before you pass, turning corners with flair, preparing to take down opponents with the class and skill expected of an agent of the Crown!

Actually, you feel really, really, really stupid doing this, but you’re fairly certain no one is around to see you, so you’re safe, right? If anyone happened to see you like this, well, you might actually feel shame for your actions, but until someone does, you’re good, right? Right.

This building is much larger than you expected it to be, with various offices and stairs leading to what you assume are cellblocks. Did this town see more crime than you thought? Well, it seems empty still, thanks to the time of night and Richard’s distractions, but the further you go, the more you realize that Ginelle has to be looking for something. But what? Places like this are mostly barracks for guards, some administration, and detention cells. Is she like, springing someone?

As you ponder this you forget where you are and you suddenly walk into a large, open room where rows of desks sit. Fortunately, most of them are empty, but as you survey the room, one guardsman, a tired-looking older gentleman, looks up from a stack of papers, and your eyes go wide. You dive forward behind a desk, hiding there as you hear his chair scrape against the floor.

“See now, what’s all this then?” he says, footsteps getting close to you. You panic and begin to crawl past to the next desk, avoiding his gaze. He harrumphs and says, “Guardsman Jimmins! If that’s you, I’m going to be very cross!”

Crap, think, think, think. What did they do in the Eastern Theatre? Kill the guards of course, but that wouldn’t fly here. You need to find a way to- oh, right. You’re an Illusionist, riiiigghhhht. You throw out an illusion of a desk being bumped in the corner and the sounds of footsteps stop as the man says, “What’s this? Another rapscallion? Bah! Well, I’ll deal with you first Jimmins!”

Craaaaap. It’s not easy to make an illusion when you can’t see your target either! You continue to crawl, doing your best to get to the other side of the room, so you can continue down the hall. The desks near you creak as you roll forward to another one, feeling your poor body scream in agony for doing so, but the footsteps seem to go away as the man grumbles something. You wait a moment before sighing and crawling toward last of the desks. As you reach it, you slowly rise and prepare to run, when you see the old guardsman standing there, his wonderful mustache wiggling.

“Well then! It seems we have us a-!”

You promptly illusion yourself invisible. The man starts, looking around everywhere, hand going to a sword at his belt. Why he is wearing a sword inside, you have no idea, but he stumbles forward toward you, and you sidestep him as he looks around the desks. He scratches his head, eyes filled with bewilderment. “I say, where did he go?” He looks around for a few more moments before snorting, “Bah, next time I see that Jimmins! Oh what a show I’ll what for him!”

His words make zero sense to you, but you take the opportunity to slip out of the room and back down the hallway, moving faster. In fact, you move so fast, that you barely notice the slightly ajar door, and have to stop and go backward to inspect it. Getting close to the room, you hear someone inside as well as the sounds of papers being shuffled about. You frown and look up at the door to see it has the name, “Cornelius Justician, Captain,” on a placard. Weird, the captain is off being seduced by your Master, so who could be in there?…

Ginelle, obviously. Which is what you discover when you open the door, finding Ginelle facing away from you, staring at a pile of papers. You casually cast an illusion to hide the sounds of you entering, and you hear Ginelle mutter, “Why did he send me to do this? He should know I can’t read…” She pauses then and flips around, eyes going wide as she notices you.

“Hey there pretty girl,” you say, waving your hand toward her. She takes in a deep breath before visibly relaxing and putting a hand to her chest.

“Dollora, you scared me Tobias.” She smiles at you before blinking and shaking her head. “Wait, wait, why are you here?”

“Richard sent me to find you.”

“He did? Ah, no wait, how did you find us?”

“Uh well, after you two so rudely got arrested, I got punched in the stomach by the Phantom Thief and was almost discovered by Fiora, who would have raped my mind and then killed me, not necessarily in that order.”

She moves to you and gives you a big hug, which crunches your already mangled bones, forcing you to gently tap her shoulder until she lets you go. She blushes, cheeks red. “Sorry about that, I was just concerned. I told Richard we should go after you, but he insisted you’d be fine and you wouldn’t do anything ‘incredibly stupid’ without him.” She looks up and you and you can swear there’s a hint of a tear in her eye. “I was worried.”

You sigh back and put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, I’m fine. Well, no, my stomach is killing me, but I’ll live.” Your hand squeezes on her shoulder. “I was worried about you two though, glad to see you’re not in a dungeon.”

She chuckles and puts a hand on yours, lingering for a moment before gently moving it away. “Well, we almost were until that smooth-talker got his way out of it. Apparently they thought we had something to do with the theft of cargo from the leyway, although as soon as they realized that everything was actually accounted for, they let us go.” She turns and looks over to the papers, which are now scattered all over the place. “Of course, as soon as he realized where we were, he had me, ‘look for anything incriminating.'”

You frown and scratch your head. “Does he know you can’t…?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know, but he should.”

You move and sit down at the table, looking at the documents. Most of them are boring duty reports, various patrol rosters, and other, mundane articles. You sigh and look up to Ginelle. “Did he say anything else to look for?”

“No, I figured I’d just scoop everything up and leave.”

You roll your eyes. “That’s not going to work, you know that, right?”

“Why not? We can read them later!”

“Shhh!” you hiss, looking to the door. “Look, they’ll know if you take too much, but if we take just one or two things…” you trail off as you find a paper labeled, “Mayoral memo.” You frown and scan over the paper, eyes going wide as you do. “Holy Hells.”

“What is it?” Ginelle asks, looking over your shoulder before frowning. “I don’t know what I expected to see.”

You wave the paper. “This is a notice from the mayor’s office to the captain, ordering him to divert guards from the Riverside District to the Main and Residential Districts, ordering them to search for various seeds and… spores?” You look over the list, though most of the names are unknown to you. One does catch your interest though and you look up at Ginelle, face going pale.

“Dear Gods, one of the ones on the list is Matango spores.”

Ginelle frowns, “Matango…?”

You read over the list again before shuffling through some other papers, finding records of what Guards have brought in. Nothing particularly eye catching, and definitely no Matango spores brought in, that were recorded anyway. “Yeah, Matango, a type of mushroom-like Monster that reproduces with spores. Makes men into idiots who want to fuck em silly, Monsters into super horny rape-beasts, and women into… well, more Matangos.”

Ginelle blinks. “Wow, how have I never heard of them before?”

“Well, they were mostly eradicated ages ago. I mean, the Grand Wizard ran into one once, but it was a surprise and he killed it so…” You shrug. “Well, anyway, I haven’t heard of any others found…” You read through the papers again. “Looks like everything is being brought to the City Hall? Shit.”

“So… we bust down the door to the mayor’s place?” Ginelle asks, hopefully.

“Uh huh, no. No we don’t,” you say, shaking your head before organizing the papers. “We go to see Dick again, get out of here, then tell him what we found before I kick his ass.”

“Dick?”

“Richie.”

“Oh.” She shakes her head as you put the files away. Thankfully she didn’t break anything, but she could have. You stand up and tuck the memo away in your pocket before nodding to Ginelle.

“Right, let’s get out of here.” As soon as you say this, however, the door to the room slams open, and the old Guard from before stands there, sword drawn and mustache swishing.

“I say, I did spy a rapscallion! Submit to the law or else I shall be left no choice but to use force!”

 

Chapter 25

Everyone freezes as the guard bursts in. You stand there, papers tucked in your breast pocket, Ginelle standing beside you, and the both of you looking guilty as the Hells. Your mind races as you try to make sense of the situation. Clearly, the man must have heard your ruckus earlier and decided to come investigate. Given the state the guards out front, of all the people in this place, it’s your luck that he is the only one with a sense of duty.

Everything snaps back to real time and you put a hand on Ginelle’s shoulder, more to keep her from breaking him than to keep her safe. She gives you a startled look, but you calmly take a deep breath and look to the man, who has yet to move from his position in the doorway, his mustache wiggling as he looks to be thinking over the situation as well.

“Hold your hands up in the air where I may see them, and submit peacefully, or I shall be quite cross with you!” the guard says with a mild harrumph. “I swear, rapscallions, here? Whatever has happened to our fair city?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” you say, shaking your head slowly before looking to Ginelle. Oh, poor thing, you feel bad for the embarrassment you’re potentially about to put her, but mostly you, through. Still, you’ve prepared for this via your hobbies, so you know what to do in this situation.

The guard stiffens and takes a step forward. “Now then, don’t make me get violent here. I do not wish to cause a scene in the captain’s office.”

You hold up a hand. “Calm yourself guardsman, I am afraid we have a misunderstanding.”

“Quite right, this misunderstanding is that you are breaking the law and have yet to submit.”

You chuckle and reach into your breast pocket. “No, not that sir. I’m afraid it’s something a little more complex.”

As you do so, the guard rushes toward you, but before he reaches you, you whip out something and show it before his face, stopping him in his tracks. He blinks, looking at it critically before staring up at you, face confused. “You can’t be serious.”

You tuck the papers back into your pocket. Of course, what he saw was not the proof of your highly illegal actions, but instead, a badge embossed with the sigil of the Crown itself. You smile ruefully at him and run your hand through your hair. “Yes, I’m sorry we had to have this run in, but as you can see, I am an agent of the Crown.”

The Guard blinks a few times before stepping back and muttering, “Agent of the Crown? Agent… of…” He begins to shake more and more violently and you think that perhaps he might be going into a furious rage at your duplicity, but when his mustache starts quivering and a snickering sound issues from his lips, you’re fairly certain he’s just laughing at you. In fact, that’s exactly what happens. He puts a hand to his chest as he gives a rather dignified chuckle of a belly-laugh. “Agent of the Crown? Hahaha, oh my dear lad, you, pfff haha, that is the one of the most ludicrous stories I’ve heard in my forty years of service!”

You sigh and just let him have his laugh. It’s possible to just… walk past him while he’s debilitated, or even assault him, but you don’t want to hurt the man, he’s just doing his job.

Besides, there’s a glint in his eye that says he could lash out with that sword at any moment if he wished to. You look over to Ginelle and she sighs,

“Oh, just tell him the truth.”

“The whole truth?” you whisper, to which Ginelle shrugs. You roll your eyes. Oh very well then. Rubbing the back of your head, you look to the man and bow. “Alright, alright, fine, you’re right, I’m not an agent of the Crown.”

“Damn right you’re not, fakest set of credentials I’ve ever seen!”

That actually hurts you very much! You tried really hard to make it believable! But you just fight off the urge to sulk and instead pout a little. “Look, sir, I’m just a very rich and successful son of a slightly less rich and successful nobleman who’s poor uncle was mistakenly taken in by the Troll Union for aiding in a robbery.”

The Guard nods his head. “Ah, Mr. Ublesnach, of course.” He doesn’t sheathe his sword, but he seems a little more relaxed. “Well, that doesn’t explain why you’re back here.”

You look toward Ginelle and you manage to put a blush on your face. The Badger Girl’s expression is one of confusion at your supposed embarrassment, though her own cheeks flush some. You’re acting, for the most part, but Ginelle isn’t a great actress so… she really did get embarrassed from you looking at her?

“W-well, you see, my ah, well haha.” You cough into your hand. “You see, I was wondering where my…”

Ginelle looks to the side and mumbles, “Acquaintance.”

“Yes! My acquaintance here, was. You see, I had heard she had gone to the facilities, but had not returned, and wouldn’t you know it, she wasn’t there when I went to check on her!”

You huff and cross your arms. “Of course, not seeing my… acquaintance there, I went to go find her.”

The Badger Girl looks down and mumbles, “I’m sorry… my escort took me to the wrong place…”

“Yes, quite.” You put a hand on her shoulder and shake your head before looking back to the guard. “You see, when I found the poor girl, she was so distraught that she ran into this room here and I had to comfort her.”

The guard sniffs the air. “Hrmph. At least you did the pants-on style of comforting.” He sheathes his sword before rubbing his mustache. “A possible story, but why this room?” He looks over the cabinet where the files are stashed before grunting and looking to you.

You shrug and open your suit, showing him the illusioned badge, which he snickers at again. Finding nothing incriminating on your person, he searches Ginelle, though he does so as a perfect gentleman. He finds nothing on her either and steps back, rubbing at his chin and rolling his hand. You stand up straight and look toward Ginelle, who moves in close to you and holds onto your arm as she murmurs, “Because the symbol on the door looked safe. I… I can’t read you see…”

You give the man a sympathetic look. “She is quite sensitive, you understand.” She snuggles in closer to you, and man, she’s really gotten better at acting… that is what this is, right?

The guard sighs. “Very well then. I shall escort you back to your uncle, however… I am quite concerned with where your escorts went.”

“Well, I lost mine near the facilities…” you say, shrugging. The guard nods and ushers you out the door and through the building. As you go through the empty room with the desks, the guard sighs. “Slackers, all of them. Too busy listening to tall tales rather than do their duty.”

“Well then, I’m glad this fair city has people like you to care for it.”

He chuckles, “Is that so? Well, glad to see there are still citizens with respect for the law!” He looks to Ginelle, who is still clutching your arm. “Even if they have… hobbies.”

“A shame, I’ve heard such rumors about unsavory things recently.”

His mustache twitches and you stop, looking over your shoulder at him as he asks, “What do you mean by, unsavory?”

“Well,” you say, looking uncomfortable, “I’ve heard that the guard is raiding seeds from people. They wouldn’t be doing that, would they?”

The guard narrows his eyes. “Where have you heard this, lad?”

“Well, you know, from the maid staff. The rumor-mill and all.”

He sighs. “Yes, though I hate to admit it. I am not in support of such actions, but it is not my place to go against the orders of my superiors. I am a career lawman!” He stands tall and proud before wilting. “I am getting old, however…”

You give him a sympathetic look and he comports himself, shaking his head. “Ah, forget the ramblings of an old man. I just am not comfortable with having to take things from people. Too many seeds gathered already, though once we bring them to City Hall, we don’t have any idea what happens to them after that.”

You’re about to ask some more about it when you find yourself approaching the facilities again. As you do, the door opens and your escort guard stumbles out, putting a hand to her head. All of you look over toward her, shock on your faces as she grunts. She looks up to you and her face goes pale. “Oh… uh… hi there.”

The older guard ruffles his moustache, “Guardswoman Thomanian! Care to explain yourself?”

“I… you see Sergeant Fellows, I was with this, and well the smell and…” She sighs and looks down. “I have no excuse sir.”

He harrumphs and leads you back to the room you came into, stopping as you see Richard with his arm around Saya, chuckling as he addresses the crowd. “So, I run into this little lady’s mother after I ate the pie, and I say, “Cherry? I thought it was apple!”

The crowd erupts into laughter, people falling off desks, the captain turning absolutely red in the face. You have no idea what he said, but it was both embarrassing as the Hells for Saya and complete and utter bullshit. You… you learned from the best after all!

Sergeant Fellows groans before saluting. “Sir, I have come to deliver our guests. Perhaps it’s time we returned to work?”

The captain wipes at his eyes, tears falling from them. “O-oh! Fellows! That’s where you were! Oh, oh very well.” He stands up, which seems very difficult, before sighing and nodding to his men. “Alright, time to get back to work.” Everyone groans and gets up, saying farewell to Richard before wandering off to work. The captain shows you outside and apologizes about the trouble before going back in, leaving you alone in the muggy night air.

Richard puts his hands in his pockets and stretches, walking a little bit away from the station before looking over to you. “So, did you get anything?”

You frown and stare very, very hard at your Master. It is not a nice stare, it is not a pleasant stare, but it is a stare.

Richard returns said stare. It is not a mean stare, it is not an unpleasant stare, but it is also a stare. The two of you continue this for perhaps a minute before your eyes begin to water and you’re forced to blink first. Richard smiles softly as you grumble to yourself. You’re damn sure he didn’t use an illusion on you, though he used to whenever the two of you would have stare downs. It was a very good way to train one’s facial expressions he always said. While he was right, you’re not really in the mood to praise his virtues.

Sighing, you pull the paper out of your pocket and wave it in front of his face. “Of course we didn’t! Why would this piece of paper with rather interesting info on it be in my pocket?”

He tries to take it from you, but you pull it out of his reach, prompting him to give you an odd look, his hand still in the air. You continue frowning at him and he pulls back, standing straight as his face takes on a look of neutrality. Saya and Ginelle both look a little uncomfortable watching the two of you, both of you waiting for the other to speak first. You may not be as good at stare downs as your master, but when it comes to a tense silence, you could do that with the best.

Eventually, it is his turn to relent, and he crosses his arms. “Tobias, what’s wrong?”

Okay, you lose it a little at that. “What’s wrong? Holy Hells Dick, what do you mean, ‘what’s wrong?’ Saya and I were stolen by the Phantom Thief, I’ve probably got internal bleeding after she punched me in the stomach, oh and we nearly got mind raped by your dear old friend Fiora, who seems to be so desperately looking for DICK!”

Ginelle puts a hand on your shoulder, but you shrug her off, pushing the paper into his chest, growling, “And then, when we manage to get out of there in one piece, we find that you got arrested of all things! I was worried sick you know? What if they’d hurt you or Ginelle, huh? But hey, then I find you talking it up after having been released so our ILLITERATE badger friend could find WRITTEN EVIDENCE.”

You look to Ginelle before swallowing and looking to the side. “Sorry.”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “It’s fine.” Her face doesn’t say that she’s fine though.

Richard takes a deep breath, his arms still crossed as you press the paper against him. “Tobias…” He closes his eyes and considers something before opening them again and speaking with more conviction, “I’m sorry you got hurt. I didn’t mean for things to go like this, but resisting the authorities would cause more trouble than it would save. Besides…” He shakes his head, “I thought that you’d be able to protect yourself from the Thief, especially with Saya along.”

You narrow your eyes. “Oh, but you’re forgetting Fiora, she was supposed to be there, you knew that, and you know damn well that I’m not up to fighting her. I needed you.”

Those words seem to pierce something within Richard, and he winces, hand tightening on his arm. He seems to have difficulty formulating the proper words at first, but he swallows and says, “I thought… that Fiora would come to me if I made enough noise at the guard station…”

You search his eyes as he says this and slowly it dawns upon you. Eyes widening, you take a step back, the fight draining from you. “Master…” you whisper, still looking into his eyes, “You…are you?”

He closes his eyes before exhaling deeply. “Let’s talk about this later in private, alright?” He doesn’t name the reason why, though Saya’s look of concerned suspicion makes you feel terrible for bringing it up. This is supposed to be a very personal thing for Illusionists, and here you are saying it out loud. You suddenly feel very tired and painful, wanting nothing more than to lay down to bed and sleep.

You hand the paper to him and he takes it gently before scanning over it and grunting, handing it to Saya who reads it over herself, her eyes going wide, mouthing the word, “Matango.” When she finishes, she looks up at the two of you. “We need to discuss this further.”

“Yes, we do,” Richard agrees. “Not here however, let’s return to the inn where we can rest.”

You just nod your head, feeling too drained, emotionally and otherwise, to respond any other way.

 

Chapter 26

Your group makes its tired way back to the inn, all of you congregating once again in your room. Hannah insists on bringing you food, bless her wolfy soul, and the four of you take a moment to rest before even bothering to speak. Saya insists on seeing your wound, but you’re too tired to make a smug comment on her wanting to check your abs.

“Gods, that’s one Hells of a bruise,” she says, running her fingers over your bare chest. Her fingers are oddly cool, which feels amazing on your stomach, though the pain from it being touched sort of cancels it out some. She sighs and looks up at you. “Could have been worse though. I’m no Hospitalier, but I think you’ll be alright. You’re not coughing up blood are you?”

“No.” You do wince as she pokes a spot on your abdomen, checking for something.

“Works for me. Now button up your shirt.” You sigh out, wishing she’d just lay her cool hands on you longer, but you do as she says, buttoning up the fancy under-shirt for the suit. Only after you finish doing so do you think over the implications of what you were thinking beforehand. Honestly there weren’t any lewd thoughts to it, you just like how her hand felt.

Richard rubs his face, looking tired himself. “Can you tell me about what happened?”

You and Saya look at each other. Slowly pushing yourself up, you begin to explain everything that happened up until Fiora appeared. He stops you at that, frowning.

“Your vision of her… shifted?”

“Yeah, it seems like she was using an illusion or something, but she couldn’t have known we were there, nor even where we were, but when everything shifted I… I don’t know what I saw but, it wasn’t human.”

Saya nods her head. “I was wearing the [Magesight Goggles]. She clearly isn’t human, but I have no idea what Monster she could have become. I’ve never heard of one with purple skin and tentacles for hair.”

Richard strokes his chin. “Nor have I. Please, continue Tobias.”

“Well, she wasn’t pleased that the cargo was lost. She seemed unconcerned with losing her other warehouse full of weapons, saying that some other plan is going well, whatever that is.”

Ginelle speaks up. “Could it be related to all these seeds being stolen?”

“Potentially,” Saya says, nodding her head. “Though I fail to see why she’d need a mana cycler.”

Richard snaps his attention to Saya. “What did you say?”

She blinks, looking a little taken aback. “A mana cycler, that’s apparently what was in the cargo.”

Richard looks down, his eyes moving back and forth, appearing as if he’s trying to piece something together. “A mana cycler?… but that’s just crazy, there’s no reason, unless…”

“Unless what?” you ask, concerned. He looks up at you, blinking.

“No, it’s probably nothing. She likely needs it to distill fuel for those warbots. I’m no magitek engineer, but I think those mana capacitors need infusions every now and then, especially those with intense energy needs.”

Saya nods. “That’s true. Generally a mana capacitor will absorb mana around them, but occasionally they need a direct infusion. It’s a frustration Dad’s never been able to figure out since all the old records he found never explained how the really old constructs could operate indefinitely, while his replicas needed to be maintained.”

“Alright…” you say, wondering what else Richard was going say. “Well, anyway, she told the Phantom Thief that she needs to bring her one in the Main District tomorrow or uh, bad things would happen. The Thief seemed utterly terrified of her.”

“Fiora has always been… hotheaded,” Richard says. “But clearly, she sounds a little unhinged.”

“Yeah, maybe more than a little. She kept going on about how she was ‘freed from Jackor’ and how she wanted to free you from him as well.” You shift a little uncomfortably at that. “I really don’t know what it means.”

“I don’t either. No one becomes free from the Trickster God. He’s a God after all, it would take something just as powerful to break that kind of control.”

Saya’s eyes widen. “You don’t think… Dollora?”

Richard sighs, “I think we’re getting into some very dangerous theological territory here. I think it’s better to focus on what we know so far.”

“Speaking of which, how was she able to cast such an illusion when she couldn’t see us?” you ask, still worried about that fact.

“Well, it’s something you can do also, but it’s very taxing, trust me.”

You blink in surprise. “I mean, I’d heard about something like that, but I honestly didn’t think it was real.”

“[Project], aye. It’s difficult to use, but you can exert your magic around you to create an illusion that affects everyone within about… thirty feet or so. You can make it wider or smaller based on the effort you want to put into it, but it’s dangerous.”

“Might be useful to learn though.”

“Perhaps,” Richard says, clearly not as enthused as you are about it. “But it would stand to reason how she can appear outside without a fuss, though she must have to create one Hells of a bubble to do it.”

“Of course, if she’s ‘free of Jackor’ then her insanity isn’t really an issue, is it?” you say snidely.

“Perhaps, perhaps not, but it would explain how she’s been so… lucid.” Richard leans back and sighs, eyes clearly lost in thought.

Saya coughs into her hand. “Richard… I don’t know this woman very well, but she way she talked about you, I have to wonder. Where the two of you… intimate?”

Everything goes quiet. You and Ginelle both look to Saya, then to Richard, expectant for his answer. He returns her gaze before nodding his head slowly. “Can’t beat a woman’s intuition I guess. Yes, Fiora and I… had a relationship for awhile, though when she decided to go travel the world, I thought that was the end of it all.”

He closes his eyes before sighing out, “I should probably tell you that the one who actually sent me the report on her location was almost certainly Fiora herself.”

“But… why would she do that?” Saya asks, unable to comprehend it. “She said you’re the only one who could stop her, why would she purposefully bring you here?”

“Don’t try to comprehend it,” Richard says, looking tired. “You can’t possibly understand what’s going through her mind any longer, none of us can. All we can do is react to her movements and try to beat her to the punch.”

Saya nods her head. “The mana cycler.”

“Aye. Saya, do you think you could track one down tomorrow?”

“Yeah, shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as something like that is fairly rare. I can also inform the guard as well, so they can hopefully help out.”

Ginelle frowns. “They don’t really seem all that… competent though.”

“There is one,” you say, waving away another damned mosquito. The others look to you and you stop quickly, continuing, “Sergeant Fellows. I think he’s good.”

Richard nods his head. “Alright, I’ll trust your judgment on that. We’ll make a plan on this in the morning, and tomorrow we’ll strike again. For now though, everyone get some rest, it’s been a long day.”

Saya nods and turns to leave when Richard holds up a hand. “Ah, actually, Saya. Would you mind if Ginelle stays with you tonight?”

The two Monsters look toward each other and Saya shrugs. “Sure, it’ll be like a sleepover.”

“What’s a sleepover?” Ginelle asks, curious.

Saya chuckles, “It’s where we get together in our pajamas and stay up talking about boys and stuff. Of course, I never really did that, but my sister Sophie is pretty popular, so…”

Ginelle blushes at the mention of boys and you notice her eyes look over at you before darting to the floor. You don’t want to admit it to yourself, but you’re pretty sure Ginelle has a crush on you at this point. On one hand, you feel pretty elated about that, but on the other, there’s so much going on, not to mention Saya being around. Man, the Communion Matrix was right, this is complicated.

Still, as Ginelle gets up to go, you gently grab her wrist and whisper to her, “I’m sorry about before, I really hope you know I didn’t mean it as an insult.”

She lingers before smiling softly. “I know. Please don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’re safe is all. Have a good night.” You let go of her wrist and she walks out the door as Saya begins chatting with her.

You and Richard sit there in silence for a few moments before he sighs out and rubs his face. “They’re nice girls, they really are.”

“Yeah, I’m glad they’re helping us.”

Richard nods his head. “You’re going to find that having friends is probably one of the greatest assets to you in the life. It’s probably a lesson I learned a little too late.”

“Is that why you pushed me toward Clarissa?” you ask, raising an eyebrow.

He chuckles, “Well, maybe I had other reasons too, but no man is an island, Tobias. Not even the Grand Wizard could have done what we did without the help of others.” His smile turns rueful for a moment before he looks down, eyes filling with something akin to regret. “I… I’m sorry about earlier.”

“Richard…” you begin, before shaking your head. “I’m sorry too, I wasn’t thinking straight, I didn’t mean to say that about… well, you know.”

“No, you were right. I clearly wasn’t thinking right either.” He puts his hands together in front his mouth as he takes a breath through his nose. “I’m trying my best to appear strong and in control, but…” He chokes up some. “It’s getting harder, so much harder every day. If something had happened to you because of me, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m so sorry.”

You’re speechless as you watch your Master begin to sob softly. You’ve never seen the man cry before, and you didn’t think it was possible, but here he is, weeping. What do you do in this situation? You become paralyzed as you try desperately to think about how to help him, but you can’t seem to come up with anything, so you sit there for what seems an eternity before whispering, “Richie… please. Please don’t cry.”

He looks up at you, eyes red and watery. You clench your jaw, fighting back tears of your own as you raise your chin, trying to force the emotions down. “Richie, you’re important to me also. You’ve been that solid pillar throughout everything for these past years, the one constant I could count on. Whenever I’ve been in trouble or doubted myself, you’ve always been there to help me out, even if your lessons were less than savory. This mission, I understand how it important it is now, what she means to you and what stopping her means for the world.

“I can’t imagine how hurt you are over this, but… you’re the pillar that’s keeping this group together. The foundation that’s going to see us through this.” You grit your teeth. “And when it comes time to end Fiora, I’ll do it, to spare you. I’ll take on the burden so you don’t have to. You already have too much on your mind, so please… just don’t cry. I don’t think I can handle it.”

Richard searches your eyes with his own before he takes a shuddering breath and begins shaking, a wispy chuckle coming from his throat. “Damnit kid, who taught you how to talk like that?”

“Who do you think, Richie?”

“The name is Richard, you little bastard.”

You both smile at that.

You awaken in the middle of the night to complete darkness. Ugh, your damn back and stomach still hurt. You’re in Ginelle’s bed, figuring that she won’t mind you sleeping there for tonight. Of course, it still smells somewhat musky, but that’s a Badger Girl for you. It’s not an unpleasant scent, although you keep that little factoid to yourself in light of her probable feelings for you. Ugh, you’re too tired to think through that right now.

It hurts to do so, but you roll over to your right side, sighing over as you look toward Richard’s bed, where you hear him mumbling something. You frown as your eyes become adjusted to the darkness. Something isn’t quite right with the situation though, but you can’t put your finger on it until another dark shape resolves, sitting between you and Richard.

You gasp and try to sit up, but as soon as you do, something… rubbery and gross presses firmly against your mouth. Normally you’d struggle, but you feel something bladed scrape against your lips. If you move too much, it’ll cut you, intentionally or not. Instead, you look toward the source and, with widening horror, you see Fiora, fully in her Monstrous form, looking at you out of the corner of her eye. She puts a finger to her lips and looks back to Richard, who is fast asleep. Gently, she strokes his face with the fingers of her other hand before breathing out in a shuddering gasp.

“Oh… my darling Richard. Why did we have to part? I’ve missed you so. Ah, but your predictability is one of your wonderful traits, always using the same inn. You did it for me, didn’t you? So I could come see you.”

You begin to sweat, but she doesn’t even look at you, still transfixed upon Richard. “I do so wish to make you happy though. If only she could free you too, but I’m afraid that’s not possible. The only solace I can give is death. But not here, no this isn’t right, I’d never accept it.” The tentacle around your mouth retreats, but you’re too stunned to say anything. “The time is coming soon though, my love. I hope you’ll be ready for it, because I’ll do anything for you.” She leans over Richard and kisses him on the lips before rising and walking slowly to the door, the world shifting as human Fiora opens it and walks out, closing the door behind her with a soft, “click.”

You spend the next hour shuddering in bed before you have the courage to wake up Richard and tell him what happened. He stares off into the distance, taking a long time to contemplate what you’ve said before he sighs and turns to you.

“I think it’s time you had a supplemental lesson.”

“After that?”

“Because of that.”

You go silent at that, thinking over the implications. Eventually you take a deep breath and nod your head.

“Well, we aren’t going to get back to sleep anyway, are we?”

“No we fucking are not,” Richard sighs before running his hand through his hair. “Now then, remember how I was telling you about [Project] and [Eye of Fear]? Well, the first things to remember when using these techniques…

 

Chapter 27

Morning comes and the two girls find the lock to your room still working, meaning Fiora must have stolen a key. They seem to be in good spirits however, dressed in their normal clothing instead of their dresses. They chuckle between themselves, apparently having had a good time. Wish you and Richard could have said the same. Even sleep deprived, the man is a slave driver, sheesh. But the lesson gave a sense of normality, in a way, something both of you could appreciate. Not that either of you got back to sleep…

The four of you share breakfast, but both you and Richard refrain from speaking about your experience last evening. No point in scaring them. When you finish, Saya waves goodbye, taking the [Magesight Goggles] at your insistence. She places them in a rucksack of her own with her, “emergency items,” and sets out on her recon mission, leaving you with time on your hands. You’re tired, pained, and really, really unsettled, but at least you can take a moment of respite before you confront the Thief, and possibly Fiora, again.

“Well, she should be gone for awhile,” Richard sighs. “Probably should find something useful to do ourselves.”

“Well, we could always get another pair of [Mage-]”

“No.”

You cross your arms and puff out your cheeks. “Damn you, you stingy bastard, won’t shell out for something to help our magically disinclined friend here?” You wave toward Ginelle and she blinks a few times, looking confused.

He rolls his eyes. “Kid, I’m not made of money. I’m not even sure how YOU afforded that suit, nor why you’re wearing it in this heat.”

“Cause it breathes well and I look amazing in it, right Ginelle?”

“Huh? Oh, uhm. Yes, you look nice.” She looks like she doesn’t want any part in this conversation.

You stick your nose in the air. “See? She agrees. Now then as for what to…!” You feel a sharp pain in your ribs as you go to move your arm and put a hand to your chest, taking in a sharp breath. Ginelle puts a hand on your shoulder, her expression worried as Richard moves toward you. You hold up your other hand and shake your head as you say, “I’m fine… I’m fine.”

“Like the Hells you are,” Richard says, poking your ribs, and making you gasp. “Damnit, you really did get beat up worse than you were letting on.”

“I’m fine…” you say, gritting your teeth. Damn, this really does hurt…

“Tobias,” Ginelle says, her worried expression transforming into one of seriousness. “You need to look after yourself.”

“Oh come on, you went around with deep cuts like nothing was-”

Her paw tightens on your arm and you cut off as she stares into your eyes before saying, “Tobias, you’re not a Monster. This could be something serious and I… we can’t afford to have something happen to you.”

You feel ashamed as she gives you that stone-faced expression. You’re unable to find any good words to counter her argument and, honestly, you should start thinking about such things more critically. Didn’t you just say you should take things seriously? Well, this might be a good time to start.

“You’re right… you’re right. I should see a healer.”

Ginelle smiles, and you can feel some of the tension leaving her. “Good. Now then, uh…”

She looks to Richard. “Where’s a healer around here anyway?”

“Does this hurt?”

“Yes.”

“How about now?”

“Yep.”

“Good.”

You groan as an older gentleman in a small healing clinic pokes at your shirtless ribs. Apparently Richard knows the guy, having visited him in the past, so you get a decent standard of care for the price. You have to wonder exactly what kind of troubles Richard got into to need someone like this guy, but at the moment, you’re more concerned with the fact that he’s poking his boney fingers into your ribs.

“Yes, yes, I see, I see,” the healer says, rubbing at his stubble of a beard. “And you say that you were, ah… ‘punched in the gut by a crazy invisible Lizardman using servos?'”

“Yeah, that’s my story.”

He merely nods his head in a sage-like fashion. “Not the craziest tale I’ve heard. Richard-boy, didn’t you say you once got stabbed with a hoof-knife by a hooker missing a leg?”

“She was missing an arm actually, and her left eye.” Your master shrugs. “That was one Hells of a night.”

“And it was one Hells of a healing. These old bones are having trouble too, you know!” He stretches and you hear his back pop. “Oh ho, that was a nice one. Anyway, so it looks like nothing’s broken as far as I can scry. Seems like those trendy clothes saved you. Arachne silk is rather absorbent!”

“Is that so…” you say, rubbing your chest. Something occurs to you then, “Wait a second, you Scryed me? Why did you need to poke my chest then?”

He smiles a snaggletooth grin. “Because it’s fun.” You think highly about decking the man when someone enters the room and the healer turns about, grinning wider. “Ah, Esmeralda! Just in time.”

The someone is a Kikimora, dressed in an outfit similar to a Hospitalier: a white, form-fitting outfit with buttons down the front and a modest skirt with a cross-patterned cap on her head. She bows and hands the healer a tray with a wand and some mana crystals, which he takes readily. “As you requested, Healer Obony.”

“Mhm, mhm, good.” He turns to you. “This will only take a second.” He presses the wand to your bruised flesh, and you shiver as a wave of cold flows over you. The mana crystals hum faintly before winking out and you feel something enter you and… well, you feel tired but… the pain is gone.

You take a deep breath and sigh, feeling much better. He smiles and nods his head. “Seems to be you’re looking good. If you run into anymore ‘crazy invisible Lizardmen,’ let me know, alright?”

He’s making fun of you, isn’t he? Well, whatever, you stand up off the table and put your shirt on, finding that the bruising is gone, which is rather impressive. Ginelle coughs as you put your shirt on, though when you look to her, she blinks at you, face impassive. “Good to see you’re feeling better.”

“Uh, yeah. It was a good idea, thanks for forcing me into it.”

The healer chuckles and pats your back. “Ah, glad to see your girlfriend put some common sense in ya boy. Glad to see it! Now then, let me go speak to Richard about payment…” He nods to your master, who rolls his eyes, but follows him out, speaking amiably enough to each other. You do hear the words, “spoon in lung” but you probably don’t want to know. Esmeralda bows to you and Ginelle, putting a feathered hand to her mouth before giggling and exiting the room, leaving the two of you alone.

You sigh and lean back, stretching out. “Well, guess that’s that at least. Think Saya found anything?”

Ginelle blinks and looks over to you. She’s been spacing out a lot recently, hasn’t she? “Hmm? Oh, I suppose.”

“Is… everything alright?”

She frowns, seemingly thinking something over before closing her eyes and shaking her head. “I’m just… thinking about how much things have changed for me since meeting you and Richard. I never really could have imagined being with such wonderful people, even if we’re doing something so dangerous.” She blushes again, looking off to the side, trying to hold onto her strong-girl attitude. “It’s… it’s a little overwhelming at times. I feel like if I blink, you’ll be gone and I’ll return to how things were and I just…”

She takes a deep breath. “I just don’t want to lose either of you, or even Saya, the first girl friend I ever really had.”

“Ginelle…” you say, gently taking her hand. “Hey, I’m glad we met you too. You’ve been a great help and good company.”

She smiles at that, looking down at your hand. “Thanks Tobias, that means a lot.”

“L-lewd,” a voice says from nearby.

You both look up sharply and hear an “Eeek!” before someone dashes out of sight, a trail of feathers in their wake. You look into each other’s eyes, startled, before taking your hands from each other, feeling a little embarrassed. Neither of you speaks to the other until Richard steps into the room. He puts his fingers through his belt loops and looks around to both of you, raising an eyebrow.

“Ready?”

You end up getting street vendor food on your way to the Main District. It’s just simple bread with some meat in between it, though there is honey on it. Apparently, people like honey on everything in this town. After leaving the clinic, you decided with Richard to see if you could contact Sergeant Fellows, perhaps meeting Saya around there since she might have already tried to do so.

The Main District was impressive at night, but during the day, it really sparkles. You couldn’t appreciate the colors of all the plant life last evening, yet as you walk down the road today, you see the array of dazzling flowers, which makes even Richard’s face light up. At one point you stop to watch an Alraune tell a story to a group of children in a garden, the little tykes laughing and seeming to have fun. What a nice place.

Of course, despite all the good things, you begin to see more Bee Girls, and they immediately notice Ginelle. None of them do anything, thankfully, but you can see her become visibly nervous as more and more turn to stare at her, some even seeming to know she’s there before you even turn the corner. You heard the Bee Girls could communicate quickly with each other somehow, but this is ridiculous.

Richard also appears more agitated as you go through the Main District, whether or not due to Ginelle’s worries, or because he’s on the lookout for Fiora, you’re not certain. You both agreed not to tell the girls about your little incident last night, but you can tell it’s weighing on his mind. Honestly, with both of them on edge, you start to feel jittery as well. Probably a good idea to just leave the tip for the good sergeant and get this over with.

“So, how are we going to do this anyway?” you ask as you reach the Main Square in front of the giant tree.

“I figure one of us can go in under a disguise and request the sergeant so we can drop the tip,” Richard says, shrugging. “Seems easy enough.”

“Can I opt out?” Ginelle says, looking about with a concerned expression. “It’s not exactly my thing…”

You frown and look about, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, just more Bee Girls staring at her. “Well, it’s either me or Richard then, and I guess I could do it pretty quick…”

“Actually, let me,” Richard says, taking your [Disguise kit] out of your [Rucksack]. He leans in and whispers, “Stay with the girl, she’s clearly more comfortable with you around.” He straightens and rummages through the kit before deftly using it, apparently familiar with working make-up. When he finishes, he looks like a totally different person, and the two of you look at him in shock.

He winks and nods his head, handing you the kit again before speaking in a totally different voice as well, “Alright, I’ll be back soon.”

You and Ginelle look to each other and nod your heads. “Be quick.” He rolls his eyes and heads into the building, leaving the two of you alone again. Sighing, you cross your arms, looking at the wonderful scenery before looking over to Ginelle, who is now very agitated. You furrow your brow and whisper, “What is it?”

She growls out softly, “Fucking Bees.” You cock your head and look up to see a swarm of five Bee Girls walk up to Ginelle, their exoskeleton-clad legs clicking softly against the stone of the square. You tense up, standing closer to Ginelle as they form a circle about you.

They all look the same to you, all about 5’7″ or so, with average, human female torsos, but with three pairs of black, chitinous arms and legs of the same material beginning at the knees. Where many Monsters have tails, these Bees have large, yellow and black striped fuzzy abdomens with wicked looking stingers at the end. All have a pair of glossy, insectoid wings coming from their backs as well.

They all look at you with a pair of large, insectoid eyes that glitter a soft red in the sunlight as antennae dangle from their short-cut, black hair. You stare them all down for a long while before one steps forward from the others, crossing two pairs of arms while pointing another at Ginelle. “You. What are YOU doing here?”

The Bee Girl’s voice buzzes slightly as she speaks, but Ginelle merely frowns and growls out, “I’m here on business that doesn’t involve you.”

“We remember what happened last time. We do not forget what badgers do. We have tolerated your presence long enough. You are not welcome here.”

You frown and cross your arms back at her. “And what are you going to do about it?”

“We will remove her, forcibly, if necessary, such is the orders of the Queen.” The other Bee Girls nod their heads at this.

You narrow your eyes. “Oh, buzz off.”

They all stand up straight at that, looking at you in unison, which is… unnerving, to say the least. The one which spoke before hisses, “What was that, human?”

Ginelle groans, taking a step closer to your side, allowing you to feel her tensing up next to you. The Bee Girl’s wings flutter in various spurts, their alien expressions still seeming to convey annoyance and insult. You… might need to think of a way out of this.

The Bee Girls walk in closer, their wings flitting in apparent agitation. You watch as Ginelle clinches her fists, preparing to fight, though she starts to sweat a little. You’re damn certain it’s not from the heat, and you want to spare her from having to go through that again. They could actually kill her this time! No, getting into a fight wouldn’t be good at all. If you have to swallow some pride to get this done, well, then so be it.

You take a deep breath and put a hand on Ginelle’s arm, nodding to her. She stares into your eyes before returning the gesture and taking a step back, obviously trusting in your plan. You turn your gaze to the main Bee Girl, staring into the depths of her insectoid eyes. She grits her teeth and readies her six arms, preparing for violence. You take a deep breath, nod your head, and hurriedly cup a hand to your mouth to shout, “Guards help! Guuuuuuuuaaaarrddssss!”

The Bee Girls stop in their tracks, looking at you curiously as you give your most high-pitched wail for help. Hells, you can see some guards staring at you, clearly within range of your shrieking. You could live with looking like an idiot, drawing some attention to yourself. It’s not like Fiora doesn’t know you where you’re staying or anything. As your voice leaves you, you look to the Bee Girls, a smug expression on your face.

You find them giving you an even smugger expression.

Blinking, you look around you to find that the guards nearby haven’t taken a step toward you. In fact, they aren’t looking at you at all, even that woman guard who you made pass out in the toilet! You turn all about, seeing people walking away, averting their eyes, or otherwise not acknowledging your plight. It dawns on you fairly quickly that no one is coming to help you.

“Is that your plan?” the lead Bee Girl asks, crossing her arms again. “You should remember where you are.”

Ginelle shakes her head. “Tobias… the Bees might not officially run this town, but in truth, they do.”

“So, what, they can kill us in broad daylight?”

“No,” the Bee says, shaking her head. “But we can rough you up and no one will care.” She smirks, and snaps to the others who walk toward you in unison.

“Wait!” you shout, holding up a hand. They actually do stop, looking rather annoyed however. “Wait, wait.” You take a deep breath and shake your head. “I didn’t want to bring this up, but I’m afraid your lack of conduct has forced my hand.”

“Eh?” says Ginelle, looking hopeful.

“Eh?” say the Bee Girls close to you, looking worried.

“What,” says the lead Bee Girl, looking annoyed.

You lick your lips and reach into your suit, causing the Bees to tense up, but before they can reach you, you cast an illusion and flick something upon your face. They blink in shock, taking a step back, their faces locked in confusion. Even Ginelle is confused!

Yes, you stand there, arms crossed, projecting an illusion to all five Bee Girls, an illusion of large, thick-rimmed spectacles. You narrow your eyes and hiss at them, “You’ve forced me to call out your privilege.”

“Eh…” says Ginelle, looking crestfallen.

“Eh?” say the Bee Girls close to you, looking confused.

“What,” says the lead Bee Girl, still looking annoyed.

“Yes. You see, I have been sent here as part of a special interest group to stop the unjust persecution of badgers in certain areas of this Kingdom. This display of shitty, heterosexual, BIGOTED, RACIST, HATE SPEECH, is disgusting. Do you even know what year it is?”

“The current year?” one of the Bee Girl says.

“Yes, it is the current year, and in this time, I would have hoped we could have gotten past all this bigotry, but here I am seeing a pack of Bees use their privilege on a poor, defenseless badger? I mean wow. Fucking wow.”

The lead Bee Girl cocks her head, one eye twitching. “What are you talking about?”

“Uh, wow. Can you not interrupt me???” You say, somehow implying multiple question marks through your words. It hurts you to do this, in fact, it’s incredibly painful to do so. You feel part of your soul being ripped from you, but fuck you if it doesn’t seem to be working. Or… something.

Ginelle whispers in your ear, “What are you doing?”

“Helping you, you poor, poor, disenfranchised Badger,” you say out loud, patting her head. “Look at her, look at what your fucking privilege has done to her? She can’t even speak out for herself without her internalized Monsogony getting to her.” You put a finger to her mouth before she can speak. “Poor thing, I shall be your words!”

The lead Bee’s wings flutter in annoyance. She grits her teeth, walking up to you and putting hands on your very nice jacket, lifting you into the air. “Stop talking.”

Your first reaction in this character is to shout “RAPE!” but sadly this won’t go well for you. Hells, if you were on the outside looking in, you’d want this idiot to get raped. Gods you hate yourself for doing this. Well, anyway, you shake your head and look down upon her. “Uh, wow. You know, I thought you were just privileged, racist bigots, but now you’re violent? That’s way too problematic.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, I’ll just have to send a report to my superiors to start a campaign against the Bees of this town. Others like me will flood here and boycott your products. You won’t sell any honey anymore, SHITLADY.”

The Bee Girl looks disgusted, like someone had shit in her cereal, and she holds you in the air for a few moments longer before dropping you. She turns about, the other Bees wheeling around in unison. She looks over her shoulder at you and narrows her eyes. “You’re not worth the trouble, and I have too much to do today. Don’t let me see you around again, or I’ll really show you ‘privilege.’” She flutters her wings before flaring them and leaping into the air, flying off to another part of the Main District, her groupies in tow.

As they leave, you realize that the square has been quiet up until now. You look around, seeing people staring at you with unreadable expressions. Feeling embarrassed, you take Ginelle’s hand in yours and walk away, the sounds of the square returning to normal around you.

You reach the base of the giant tree in the middle of the square and sit down on a ring of stone around it, though it had long since been disrupted from a normal shape by the massive roots of the tree. Groaning, you rub at your face before looking up at Ginelle, who has her arms crossed under her breasts, looking away from you.

“Ginelle, I deeply and profusely apologize for that.”

“Why? Bees are assholes.”

“Yeah, but I never should have done that.”

“It’s fine. I’m just glad you stuck up for me, even if it was a little foolish.”

“Yes, but it was so embarrassing.”

“Hey.” She turns to you and raps your shoulder with her knuckle. Actually that kind of hurts a little! You wince, pulling back and frowning as she says, “You at least did something, alright? It worked out, and even if it didn’t… thanks.” She gives you a soft smile as she trails off.

“Thanks… I’m still sorry I had to submit you to that. Monsogony? I got way too into that role.”

“Huh? What?” Ginelle says, blinking in confusion. “Wait, you were talking about your little shitshow there?”

“Yeah, I mean, shit, that was miserable!” you say, holding your arms up in the air.

Ginelle looks at your blankly before groaning and putting a hand to her head, then shaking it violently. Apparently you’re on two different wavelengths here, but nothing to be done for it. You sigh and lean your head back to see a smiling face above you.

“Oh-holy-fucking-shit-balls-in-the-Hells-basked-in-marmalade!” you shout, leaping off the stone and scrambling around, fumbling at your [Hunting Knife] while preparing your magic. Ginelle picks up on this and leaps toward you as well, looking up at whatever spooked you.

“Hehehe,” the face giggles and, you realize with shock, that it came from a head sticking out of the tree! You blink in confusion as you try to figure out what you’re seeing.

The upper torso of a young woman appears out of the bark of the Great Tree, features made of the same wood. As she pulls herself more and more out of the tree, the bark begins to fade into soft, pale flesh, with delicate features and rather well endowed, bare breasts for such a small form. Long bark-hair resolves into vivid green locks laced with leaves and a moment later a wooden face melts to reveal a lovely, feminine features. Though some bark remains on her body, she overall looks very human, but as you look into her unnaturally green eyes you shudder. No, this creature is not human.

“Wow, you guys are totally funny,” she giggles again. “I love how you handled those Bees! Are you a mummer?”

You blink, taken aback by her friendly demeanor. Utterly confused, your voice cracks as you ask, “Uh… who… uh… what are you?”

The Monster blinks before turning her head back and forth. “Oh! My bad, I forgot to introduce myself. Name’s… well, you can’t pronounce my name, so we’ll go with Ulala. I’m a Dryad, and this whooooole tree is my body!” She waves a hand and the boughs of the twisted tree shake about you.

“Who are you?”

“Uhm, I’m Tobias.” You nod to your companion and say, “This is Ginelle.”

“Coooool. So, so, I saw you guys last night and I thought you were kind of interesting, but the City Hall doesn’t like me yelling at people at night.” She pouts. “They can be so mean sometimes, but what can you do about such children, right?”

“Chil…dren?” you ask, cocking your head.

“Yeah, well, when you’re five hundred years old, everyone is a child, you know?”

You put a hand to your head. “Wait, wait. You’re a five-hundred-year-old Dryad in the center of a city, who just so happened to speak with us?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Because you looked interesting! And besides, I get sick of those Bee Girls sometimes.” She shudders and blushes as she whispers, “When I go into bloom, they always get so… handsy.”

Ginelle clacks her tongue while you hold up a hand, still confused. “Well, thank you for the compliment, but aren’t you like, really important in town?”

She shrugs. “Eh… I mean, I have my roots all over town, but no one really talks to me much anymore, only for festivals and the like.” Ulala sighs, “So I spend most of my time watching people, and I tell you, you’re an interesting one. Sorcerer, right?”

You blink, taken aback. “I… uh… how did you know?”

“Come on kid, I’ve been around the block a time or two.” She rolls her eyes and says, “You’re doing some weird stuff, but weird things have been going on in this town anyway, the people in charge are acting different.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, the mayor used to be really nice, but now he’s just so distant.” She puffs out her cheeks. “Even asked me to help him locate certain seeds in the city. I told him no and he hasn’t spoken to me since.”

You and Ginelle trade glances. Turning back to the Dryad you ask, “You can search the city for things?”

“Well, sort of, wherever my roots are linked anyway. The Arboretum, parts of areas near the river, nothing too special.”

You rub your chin and nod your head. “That’s interesting…”

Ulala puffs out her cheeks again. “Aww, you’re not thinking nice things, are you?”

“Woah, woah, woah, hey there,” you say, waving your hands. “I wasn’t thinking that. Well, okay, I was, but I wasn’t going to ask anything of you, I mean, we just met.”

She visibly relaxes. “Oh. Thanks.” A sad chuckle escapes a moment later as she says, “I just… haven’t talked to anyone not interested in using me in awhile.”

Ginelle smiles and holds out her hand. “It’s fine. Nice to meet you Ulala.”

The Dryad turns to Ginelle, beaming as she shakes her hand with a root. “Oh, thank you! I’m sorry about what happened to you last time you were here, poor thing. I’m should have done something…”

The Badger Girl blinks in surprise. “O-oh. Thank you for your concern.”

“Well, at least you’re doing well for yourself! Look at you, palling around town with such a funny boy! Of course, then there’s that other girl that was with you.” She looks to you and cocks her head to ask, “Hey, which one are you with anyway?”

“Oh, oh, I wish to know the answer to that too,” a strange, high-pitched voice says.

All three of you turn to see an unfamiliar man before you, shit-eating grin plastered on his face. It takes you a few moments to realize it’s Richard in disguise, your surprise turning to a scowl. “Oh come on Richard, what’s with this?”

“Richard? Who is Richard?” he says, chuckling. “I don’t know of any Richard.”

Ulala giggles, “Oh, it’s you! I remember you, you’ve been around here a ton. I saw your lover around town, but you haven’t been with her, did something happen?”

You exhale in relief as the attention shifts to Richard. Damn, that could have gotten messy for you! Ginelle sniffs and looks to the side as Richard crosses his arms and asks,

“You’ve seen Fiora?”

Ulala nods her head. “Yeah, she comes through here a ton, always heading either to the Arboretum or the City Hall. She never really stays the night in either place though, but man, she gives off such a weird vibe these days, when she used to look so happy…”

Richard has a look of pain on his face at those words. Ulala jumps in panic at his expression, waving her hands as she says, “Uhm, uhm, uhm, I mean, uhm, you can do so much better than her! Yeah! You’re such a comical guy, full of spunk and such, she’s missing out!”

He merely seems more pained, but he holds up a hand before Ulala can freak out more. “It’s fine, thank you for your concern. You wouldn’t happen to know where she is now, would you?”

Ulala cocks her head as she concentrates. “Hmmm. I think she’s in the Arboretum right now… yep, she’s there.” Her roots quiver as she speaks, and it takes her a moment before she starts with a gasp, “Oh! Oh no, I said I wouldn’t do these kinds of things…”

“Well, if you’d like, we can do something nice for you in return,” you say, smiling at her. “It’s only fair, after all.”

The Dryad’s eyes sparkle. “Really? Ooooo, well how about-” She’s cut off as a figure dashes up to you, quickly grabbing your attention.

Saya stands before you, looking no worse for wear, despite the sweat on her brow. Damn her slime lungs or whatever she’s got going on to keep her from panting.

“I found a mana cycler. The workshop that makes them shipped out the last ones, and most places have no use for something like that, except one.”

You frown and think about it for a moment before snapping your fingers. “The Manufactorum.”

Saya nods her head before wiping her brow, as if only now remembering she can sweat. “Right. I don’t know if she’ll strike so soon, especially not with people using those goggles, but she seems pretty desperate, so who knows? I was on my way to go to drop that anonymous tip when I saw you and-” she pauses to look up at the Dryad, just noticing her- “oh, uhm. Hi.”

Ulala waves a hand at her while smiling as Richard says, “I dropped the tip that someone would be searching for a mana cycler. The sergeant seemed very upset about that fact and wanted to question me more, but some agitation outside drew his attention. He was stopped by his colleagues when he tried to intervene, however.” Richard looks at you askance as you whistle softly.

Saya nods her head. “He’ll figure out it’s the Manufactorum I bet, but can we count on support?”

“I don’t know,” Richard admits, shaking his head. “But we might know where Fiora is right now.”

Saya looks up to Ulala and frowns. “Should we really be discussing this…?”

Ulala giggles, “Too late! Oh, this is so much fun! Let me watch you, okay? That can be my payment, oh I haven’t been this entertained in a while!”

Richard shrugs. “Works for me. Alright group, let’s figure out our next step.”

 

Chapter 28

“So, we have two options then,” you say, holding up two fingers. “We could either go after Fiora now or stop the Phantom Thief.”

“We could end this all now,” Saya says, looking to Richard. “We… can end this now, right?”

Richard looks deep in thought as Saya asks this before eventually grunting, “Potentially, but this is her home turf at this point. It’s not the best for us, especially if the Thief appears while we’re fighting her.”

“Speaking of fighting, how were you planning on doing that?” you ask, causing everyone to stop and look to Richard inquisitively. “I mean, you do have a plan, right?”

He crosses his arms and sighs, looking down at a knife on his belt. “We’ll have to kill her, same as everyone else.” He mutters under his breath before shaking his head. “It’s what we have to do.”

Saya shrugs. “I’d love to take her in for questioning, but her magic is so dangerous, I’m not certain it would be wise.”

Richard looks at her with a serious expression. “You’re damn right it’s dangerous. If the chance comes, I want all of you to promise me that you’ll kill her. To let someone like that linger on is cruel to everyone.” He looks at all of you in turn and you nod your heads gently before he exhales. “I’m sorry, I just… Well, anyway, the plan when we face her is for me to bear the brunt of her illusions. If I can handle it on my own, I’ll have all of you sit it out.”

“Bullshit,” you say, growling. “I’m going to help you fight her.”

Ginelle nods her head as well. “I decided to help you out, so I’ll do what I can.” She flexes her arms, which looks a little weird in her city girl clothing. “If you need heavy lifting, I can do that.”

Saya shrugs again. “It’s my duty to stop whatever she’s doing, and you three aren’t so bad.” A smirk crosses her lips as she says that. “So, I might as well stick with the plan here.”

Richard looks between the three of you before shaking his head, smiling the whole time. “Children, all of you are damn children… but thank you. I never wanted anyone else to have to do this. Hells, I always sort of thought Fiora would be the one to… well, anyway.” He takes a deep breath and stands up straight.

“We still haven’t figured out what to do.”

“I dunno, sounds like stopping this thief would be a smart move,” says Ulala, her arms crossed under her breasts, head nodding in a sage-like fashion. Everyone turns to look at her and she blushes, her body sinking into the tree a little. “I wanted to join in… sounds like fun, even if you’re going to murder someone.”

All of you blanch at that comment, but Ulala merely shrugs. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen a murder around here, won’t be the last. Besides, I feel like a conspirator now, this is much more fun than just being a witness.”

You cough into your hand and say, “Magical tree girl-”

“Lady. Magical tree lady,” Ulala says, huffing.

“Magical tree lady, my bad, notwithstanding… she might be right.” You look to Richard who motions for you to continue. “It’s a good opportunity to attack Fiora, but like you said, it’s not on our terms and there’s too many variables. Besides… she got really mad when she was denied this the first time, perhaps she would slip up if we denied her again?”

Coughing into your hand, you mumble, “Or maybe kill us in our sleep…”

“What was that?” Saya asks. You quickly continue speaking.

“So, I think we can go to the Manufactorum then. If we need to know where Fiora is…” You look up to Ulala who shrugs.

“I dunnnooooo. I mean, it’s not something I’m supppoooosssed to do.”

Ginelle frowns. “Didn’t you say no one really cares about you?” Ulala’s eyes go wide at that statement and Ginelle gasps, throwing her hands up. “Oh! Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean to… ahhhh shit.”

Ulala’s eyes begin to water, which looks like sap more than tears. Saya rubs her temples before shaking her head and walking up to the girl, gently taking her hand. Ulala blinks sappy eyes and looks down at Saya before sniffing. Saya gently pats her hand and says in a calm voice, “There, there, she didn’t mean it like that. Ginelle was just trying to say that you have a lot of freedom is all. Freedom which you can use however you want. If you can’t help us, that’s perfectly fine, no one is going to force you to do anything.”

The Dryad sniffs again before wiping her eyes. “Yeah… you’re right.” She takes a deep breath, which seems weird for a tree, before smiling again. “Sorry, you get emotional when people don’t talk to you very often.”

Saya smiles back. “I know how that can be.”

The Dryad considers for a moment before saying, “You do, don’t you?” Saya blinks, taken aback, but Ulala merely laughs, patting Saya’s hand with her own. “I told you, I’ve been around awhile. Besides, I could feel it in your hands, though they aren’t exactly yours, are they?”

Saya looks down for a moment, her eyes filled with some emotion you can’t put a finger on, before she looks up again with resolution. “Think on it, will you? We’ll need to be going.”

“Oh, alright,” Ulala says, a hint of sadness in her voice as she retracts her hand. “I can’t see much in that part of the city, so uhm… come back any time you’d like, okay?” She looks at you with a wan smile that hurts your heart a little.

“We’ll do that.”

The Dryad nods and closes her eyes, sinking back into the bark, a gust of warm wind swaying her boughs. You gaze at the tree for a moment before turning back to the others.

“Alright, let’s go visit the Manufactorum again, shall we?”

Your trip through the Main District was uneventful and, to save time, you decide to hitch a ride on a canal boat through the Riverside District into the Market District. Slogging through all the people would just be a pain, and a canal boat could take you right to the place anyway, so Richard deemed it worth the money.

It feels a little weird to be on the shallow vessel, your weight pushing the edges of the hull dangerously close to the water. Once you’re secured, your ferryman, or woman in this case, as she is a short, quiet Mantis Girl, takes a long pole and starts pushing it through the water to propel you forward. Ginelle, odd as it is, seems much more comfortable in the water than anyone else, lazily drifting a hand out the side of the boat into water.

“Please don’t do that,” the Mantis says in an emotionless voice. Ginelle retracts her hand and shrugs, turning her attention to Saya.

“Thank you for your help back there. I… didn’t know what to do.”

Saya chuckles, “Oh, don’t worry. I’m used to things like that, what with being big sis to two young troublemakers.” She smiles with nostalgia. “I miss them sometimes.”

“I wouldn’t know, my sisters weren’t around much.”

“Well, they’re kind of annoying, make such crazy messes, and can be a real pain in the ass, but… ah, I love them all the same.” She leans her head back, closing her eyes. “Maybe I should go home after all of this and visit them.”

You cock your head and ask, “Your sisters live with your parents?”

“With my dad anyway. Mother is in Sanctifrond most of the time, speaking with various delegations at the Embassy. I see her more than anyone else.”

“Sanctifrond, huh?” you mumble to yourself. Saya looks up at you, raising an eyebrow.

Richard sighs. “He’s from Sanctifrond.”

“Is that so? Are your parents still there? You should visit them, it’s not that far via leyway.”

You look down at the water. “I’m sure they don’t care.”

“Bah, I’m sure they do, maybe when all this grisly business is over you should seek them out.” Ginelle nods her head in affirmation while Richard just watches your reaction.

You wave a hand dismissively. “Anyway, onto different subjects, what did Ulala mean about, ‘not your hands?'”

Saya grows quiet, her previous mirth vanishing. “Perhaps… a different subject.” You frown at this, but Saya sighs, looking at the ferrywoman, though she doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything. She looks down at her hands and seems conflicted before shaking her head.

“Maybe later…”

The boat grows quiet until Richard coughs. “Right then, so you’ve been to the Manufactorum before?”

“Yes,” you say, still looking at Saya, who is staring at the water, expression still mute. “We have.”

“Rabbit tried to hook Tobias up with her daughter. Got explosive results,” Ginelle says, shrugging.

“Pffft.”

All four of you look to the ferrywoman, who doesn’t seem to have changed in her mannerisms in the slightest. She just continues to steer the boat, and Richard gives her a sidelong look before shaking his head. “Anyway… well, if they remember you, it might make our time easier.”

“Oh, I think the daughter remembers him…” Ginelle says, perhaps a little bitter. Saya gives her a curious look, but you wave your hand.

“It hasn’t been terribly long. I’m sure if we tell Ophelia, she’ll help us protect their equipment until the sergeant appears.”

“Does he even know where to go?” Saya asks, to which Richard merely shrugs.

“He’ll figure it out.” As he says this, a few guards run by along the upper levels of the canal. “Maybe that’s them now?”

“Perhaps,” Saya says before shaking her head. “I think one thing we haven’t figured out is what to do about her invisibility. We have only one pair of goggles.” She holds them up for emphasis.

Richard seems like he’s about to say something, but thinks better about it and looks up at the ferrywoman, who shrugs.

“I’ve seen people fuck each other on the boat. I don’t care what you do.”

Ginelle snorts. “First the tree, now a Mantis. We’re on a roll for getting people involved in these things.”

“Aww, but Ulala is nice,” you say, waving a hand. “She’s just a little lonely I think. Besides, she was very helpful.” You look at the ferrywoman and chuckle, “You’re useful too.”

“As long as you pay me, I can be anything you want me to be.” She pauses, facial expression never changing. “That came out wrong. Continue.”

“Right… well anyway, leave that to me. I’ve got a little bit of practice finding things that aren’t there.”

“What does that even mean?” you ask, giving him the side-eye.

“It means I’ve been doing this for a lot longer than you, you little shit.”

“Boys, please, you’re both pretty,” Saya sighs, rolling her eyes.

You smile toward her but jolt as the boat slows and bumps against a canal dock. The Mantis ties a rope onto the stonework before nodding her head. “We’re here. Thank you for your patronage and the show.”

“Show?” Saya asks, frowning.

“This was a hilarious mummers show. That’s all it is,” she says with the same, neutral expression, however she gives the most awkward wink in the world. The three of you merely exchange glances before getting off the boat and heading up the stairs to the upper levels, finding yourself before the Manufactorum.

It’s busy as ever, people and constructs moving about, but you don’t see any guards around here. Wonder where they were off to then? Ah, well, you head toward the main doors, but as soon as you approach, two large constructs hold up hands.

“Halt. Identity.”

“Uhhh, Tobias Shady and-”

“Identity confirmed. Tobias Shady. Contacting administration.” The construct hums softy, a small light flickering on its shoulder. The doors open a moment later, and Ophelia steps out, looking rather cross, her clothing disheveled.

“What the Hells G489-02? You’re supposed to contact the business staff when people come up to the doors at this hour, there’s no reason to contact administration unless someone important shows up, and we don’t have any fucking appointments to…” She trails off as she looks toward you and her eyes grow wide while her cheeks turn red and her little bunny tail stands up. She steps behind one of the constructs and returns a moment later, hair slightly less disheveled and a smile on her face.

“Tobias! What a pleasant surprise!

She moves to take your hand but looks at it, frowns, and wipes some oil onto her jacket before sighing and shaking her head. “The stuff never comes out… Ah, but what brings you to the Manufactorum?” She blinks and looks around at your other companions, her gaze lingering for a moment upon Ginelle before turning back to you. “And who are your friends?”

“This is my master, Richard, my associate, Saya, and you already know Ginelle.” You point to each of them in turn, and they nod toward Ophelia, though Ginelle’s is a little curt. You figure there’s no time to play around with the girl, best to get down to business.

“We’re here because I think there might be a theft about to occur in the Manufactorum.”

Ophelia narrows her eyes. “What do you mean, theft?”

“You have a mana cycler, yes?” Saya asks, to which Ophelia nods slowly.

“Yes… we do. Are you saying someone is out to steal it?”

“That’s what we think,” you say before taking a deep breath. “Last evening we had a run-in with the Phantom Thief. They tried to steal a mana cycler, but was unable to before the shipment left via the leyway. The workshop which makes them doesn’t have any more and-”

“We’re the only other place in town,” Ophelia says, looking thoughtful. She’s quiet for a moment before exhaling deeply. “Damnit, Tobias, look I know I said you come here if you needed something, but this is just ridiculous. The Phantom Thief? Coming to steal a mana cycler of all things?” She shakes her head.

“First off, I don’t think that the Thief could even get into where it’s stored, and second off… I just don’t know, putting everyone on alert for something that ridiculous would have serious repercussions.”

You frown and think for a moment before snapping your fingers. “Well, what if we didn’t have to get everyone else involved?”

“Eh?”

“The Thief, she can be seen with [Magesight Goggles], or whatever bullshit Richard is on. We don’t need everyone on high alert, we just need to be situated near the mana cycler and then we can defend it.”

Ophelia bites her lip. “I don’t know…”

“Please? For me?” She and Ginelle both stiffen, much to Saya’s confusion/interest before Ophelia sighs and rubs her head, ears flopping back and forth slowly. Eventually she groans out,

“Fine. At the first sign of mischief though, I’m calling in security and having all of you arrested, alright? I don’t want any trouble, but we also can’t afford to lose that mana cycler, not if we want to finish that order of Blitzers.”

“About that…” Saya starts before Richard cuts her off with a curt gesture, though his death glare is focused on you.

“Lead on, miss Illoma.”

Ophelia gives Richard an appraising look before nodding her head to the side and leading you forward through the plush halls, moving a liiiittttllee too quickly past her mother’s office, before reaching the workshops again. You pause as you walk past the room you were trapped in before, and Ophelia blushes slightly as you notice the door doesn’t fit quite right into the frame.

She coughs into her hand. “Temporary fix.”

You see less and less people as you walk down the corridors, eventually reaching a larger chamber with two, very large metal doors. Ophelia looks over them for a moment before taking out a key and opening the doors, ushering you inside.

Inside the room is a large, circular chamber. Around the walls are arrayed various work benches, empty at the moment, but due to the scuff marks on the tiled floor, the place obviously sees a lot of use. The walls are the same unpainted, sturdy metal as the doors. Perhaps you really don’t have anything to worry about. As you think this, you watch Ophelia walk over to the center of the room where a large, tubular structure sits, quietly humming while emitting a soft blue light.

She nods her head and adjusts a few dials on the device. A moment later a metal sheath slides down, revealing a glass tube on the inside. It’s currently empty, but you can see where pipes lead from the chamber to a series of vials, awaiting to be filled.

“Well, everything looks in order,” Ophelia says, adjusting her goggles down before running over the machine again. “I don’t see an issue with this device, and honestly, those doors and walls are thick enough that even one of my Blitzers would have trouble getting through it.”

“I suppose,” you say, grunting. “The Thief’s biggest gimmick is her ability to turn invisible. Some kind of Lizardman, ahhh… what was she called?”

“Chameleon?” Ophelia suggests offhand while adjusting the machine, apparently feeling more comfortable while tinkering.

“Uh, yeah, that’s right,” you say, caught a little off-guard. “How did you know?”

“Well, when you work in a field like this, you meet all sorts of people, read all sorts of things, have to spend time on the Communion Ma-” She cuts off abruptly, ears standing up. “U-uh, anyway, so I don’t really think we have anything to worry about here, I was mostly checking for good measure.”

“Fair enough,” Saya says, sitting on a bench and fiddling with her [Magesight Goggles]. “Place feels kind of familiar, you know? A lot like ho… I mean, the Nine Tails Workshop.”

Ophelia spins and leaps over to her in a rabbit hop before taking Saya’s hands in her own. “Did you just say the Nine Tails Workshop?”

“Uhhh, yes?”

Ophelia’s eyes twinkle. “Oh my Gods, I’ve never been but I hear it’s sooo cool! It’s the Grand Wizard’s own workshop, named after his wife, the Monster Lady, and it’s where the Magitek Revolution began, and it’s where all the cool new stuff comes out and anyone who’s anyone has studied there for abit and I mean, I mean…” She takes a deep breath. “That’s so awesome!”

Everyone, even Ginelle, looks taken aback by Ophelia’s sudden shift in behavior. She blinks, looking around the room before slowly retracting her hands, standing up straight, and walking back to the mana cycler while trying to preserve her dignity. She looks over to you, her face red as a beet before saying, “This is your fault, you know? Things have been weird since you came here.”

“Uhhh. Sorry?” you say, scratching your head, not knowing exactly what she’s talking about.

She waves a furred hand at you. “Nevermind, Mother’s just been a pain is all, keeps putting a hand to her mouth whenever I walk by, chuckling to herself and giving me this strange expression.” She huffs. “I don’t know why though, it only happens when I mention you- ah, you see, because of the damages and such.”

“Ophelia, I’m sorry about all of that, but I think we need to focus on the task at hand.”

“R-right. Sorry, I guess I was boring you with trivial… things.” She looks a little crestfallen at that last part. “Business, that’s why you’re here. Like I said before, she’d have to have to bust down those doors to get in here.”

“Yeah, by then the guard might have arrived.”

“The guard? You told the guard there might be a theft?” Ophelia groans. “Tobias! That’s going to be a headache of epic proportions! Ugh, at least they’re busy with that fire down the street, but when they finish with that…” She puts a hand on her hip and shakes her head.

“Fire?” you ask, concerned. “What do you mean, fire?”

“Yeah, someone started a fire around here it seems. Looks like it could have been an accident, but I don’t know. Seems deliberate, and big, designed to get attention. If the guard weren’t close by for some reason…” She gives you an offhand look. “It might have forced us to evacuate some of the more important parts of the building.”

“Like… this room?”

“Yeah, this mana cycler is important enough that we’d evacuate it, sure.”

“So, theoretically, if anyone wanted to steal something from in here… they could just wait until someone came to open… the… door…” You take in a deep breath and straighten your back as Saya slams down her goggles and hurriedly pulls a knife from her belt, readying it to throw.

Without thinking, you grab Ophelia, pulling her tight against you, and throw both of you to the floor as Saya’s knife flies through the air just past you, and you hear the sound of metal on metal, followed by a curse.

You look up from where you and Ophelia had crashed to the floor, scanning the room to see Saya dashing after nothing. Richard appears to be in deep thought, as if considering something, though you can’t detect him using magic, while Ginelle looks on, her teeth clenched together in anger at her inability to see what’s going on.

With a moment to catch yourself, you turn to Ophelia, whom you’re straddling apparently, to see her face red, her breathing a little heavy. Rabbits… Anyway, you grunt and roll off her, shaking her shoulder before saying, “Ophelia, the Thief snuck in with us, we have to stop her!”

 

Chapter 29

“T-that’s crazy! How could she hope to take on all of you?”

You hear a faint hum of energy, followed by the smell of ozone, and from nowhere, a crackle of electricity appears, which slams into Saya’s chest, causing her to exhale sharply before screaming as a current runs through her body. Horrified, you watch as her facial features begin to distort and her skin starts to turn black and gelatinous. She staggers backward, but slips as her legs can’t support her weight, her expression, what’s left of it anyway, looking stunned.

“W-what the fuck is that!” Ophelia shouts, eyes wide, her voice terrified. “What the Hells happened to her, that was just an Electro-shock gauntlet, what the fuck!”

You grit your teeth, rising as the humming burst of power flickers off, hiding the Thief once more. Damn, Saya is down, hurt even, the Thief somehow preparing for this kind of eventuality. Seems she’s smarter than you gave her credit for. That’s not a good thing though.

“I’m going to borrow these,” you say, quickly ripping the goggles from Ophelia’s head. She yelps and slaps her forehead as you do, but you’ve already rolled away and thrown the goggles to Ginelle crying, “Catch!”

Ginelle turns to you and leaps through the air to catch the goggles, but something collides into her, sending her flying through the room and into one of the workbenches, where she bounces and rolls on the floor before picking herself up. She growls, nose flaring, before roaring and dashing toward something, swinging her claw to an audible gasp. Even if the Thief did something to mask her scent, the stench of that gauntlet discharging could easily be found by Ginelle!

Despite this though, she doesn’t seem to be landing any blows, likely because she can’t pin-point her target. She takes scratches and wounds here and there from the Thief’s attacks, but is ignoring it entirely. Shit, either Ginelle’s gone into some kind of berserker mode or… the Thief isn’t wearing the same servos? How was she expecting to get the damn thing out of here then?

“Aww shit, I’ll think about it later!” you say, scrabbling over to pick up the forgotten goggles. Ginelle would be way more effective with them, but you need to give her an opening.

“Richard, can you slow her down?!”

Your Master seems to snap back into reality, and he shakes his head before nodding furiously. “Yeah, of course!” His eyes focus upon where Ginelle is fighting and suddenly you feel a surge of power as your master’s eyes flash.

The Phantom Thief gasps before staggering into view, and you see that she looks the same as before, wearing those same arm-mounted servos. She puts a hand to her head right as Ginelle connects with a major hook, throwing her a few feet back. She puts a hand to her face, where a long gash from one of Ginelle’s talon-like claws drips blood.

“Gaaaah, you fucking Illusionists!” she cries, gritting her teeth before fiddling with her servos, the blue light upon them switching to red. “I swear to Dollora, you people are more trouble than you’re worth, but I’m way more afraid of Fiora than I am of you.”

“As you should be,” Richard says. “But right now, you have us to deal with.”

The Thief clicks her tongue before rolling to the side and producing a knife, throwing it toward Richard. He dodges out of the way, but before he can recover, the Thief has gone invisible again. Of course, during all of this, no one seems to have noticed that you’ve crawled around the room up to Ginelle, handing her the goggles. She looks at you with a confused expression as you hurriedly wave toward her before it clicks and she quickly puts the goggles on. She blinks once, then looks over and gasps right before her head snaps sharply to the left, staggering her backward.

Your eyes go wide and you shout as another blow strikes Ginelle in the abdomen. She chokes out a cry this time, the blow much more powerful than before. Unable to focus on your magic, you move to the only thing you can think of in an emergency. Your hand shoots to the bag at your side and you throw a handful of [Pocket Sand] toward the Chameleon. Your fingers tingle as the sand flies forward, sprinkling gently through the air before settling upon the outline of the Thief. In a moment, this too vanishes however, as her natural invisibility takes it in. You gulp and take a step back when suddenly the Thief cries out, appearing into view once again.

“GAHHHHHHHH! MY EYES! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY EYES?!” she shrieks, scrabbling at her face, actually managing to scrape away some of her skin as she does so, her powered servos hurting more than helping.

You look down at the sand on your fingers before bringing it to your nose to sniff. Immediately you pull your hand away and wipe the sand on your pants. Fucking Hells, this sand is basically crushed peppers, no wonder she’s crying out in pain!

“Ginelle!” you shout, taking the moment to check on your friend. She’s already moving, seemingly ignoring the bruise forming on her cheek. With a snarl, she kicks the thief, sending the Chameleon flying across the room and into one of the workbenches, scattering tools and papers everywhere.

“Fu-fuck this,” the Thief says, turning the knob on her servos despite her eyes being closed and watering. The light switches back to blue and she holds up her hands as lightning powers around them.

Ginelle, having taken no time in waiting after kicking the Chameleon, is already lunging forward, claw extended, when the gauntlets discharge. She barely has time to gasp before being thrown backward, her body convulsing as she hits the floor.

“Gods damnit, my fucking eyes!” The Chamelon says, rubbing at them again. “When I find you, you little shit, I’m going to break your legs then give you to that bitch Fiora so she can mindbreak you!”

Well, all things considered, that is not an empty threat. However, with Ginelle on the ground and Saya a puddle of goop, you’re left with yourself and Richard to take her down. Lovely.

“Richard, can’t you do something about this?”

“She’s a fucking Lizardman, kid and she knows what to look for, illusions aren’t going to work so well this time!”

“You’re damn right they aren’t!” she shouts back, eyes swollen, but half open. You see her snarl before vanishing out of sight again, which is not great for you.

Your hand goes to your pouch again, but you move to the knife instead. The same trick is unlikely to work twice and who knows what you’ll pull out of it this time. Best to prepare yourself for doing this the old-fashioned way, though it’s been years since you actually had any combat practice and knives weren’t exactly in vogue in the capital.

Doing your best to slow your breathing, you listen for any sounds of the Thief coming toward you. Unfortunately, over the sounds of Ginelle’s shouts of pain and anger, you can’t hear anything. Which means you’re sitting duck for-

A drop of blood appears on the ground five feet in front of you. Reacting on instinct, you slash with your knife toward where it came from, only for your blade to hit something hard and metallic, followed by fist hitting you in the gut.

You wheeze in pain and double over, the air driven out from you. Damn… did she rupture organs with that punch? No… no it hurts, but no worse than getting socked in the gut by Richard after you pulled a stupid prank.

“Tch,” you hear from the air in front of you. “I forgot to change the stupid setting. Well, whatever.” The air in front of you begins to smell like ozone as the gauntlets charge, though you can’t see anything.

Something large and metallic flies through the air, striking the thief and causing her to stagger while returning to visibility. A wrench clatters to the floor and you see Ophelia standing from where you left her, breathing heavily, eyes wild. “H-hey bitch!” she shouts, grabbing another tool from the workbench next to her. “Get the fuck out of my workshop!”

“Fine, you want to die that bad?” the thief says, pointing the charged gauntlet at Ophelia. She discharges it without hesitation, and the arc surges toward the Rabbit Girl who… is unphased.

The thief steps back, confused as Ophelia smiles back, her hair standing up and teeth chattering, but otherwise unaffected. Though her body spasms, she holds up a rod which is tethered to a contraption in the nearby workbench. She chuckles, which is far more spastic than it should be, and says, “W-what, d-did you think w-w-we wouldn’t have s-safety measures in p-place for this kind of t-t-thing?”

The momentary confusion is all the time you needed to catch your breath. Springing forward, you tackle the thief and drive her to the ground. She tries to push you off, but you pin down her arms, thankful yet again that Monsters aren’t as strong as they used to be. The gauntlets start to charge up, but you, the trained Illusionist, apprentice of the great Richard Dennerman, do the sensible thing and use your head.

By slamming it forward into hers, of course.

Your vision swims again as blinding pain wracks your brain, causing an instant headache. However the Thief’s attention is down long enough for Richard to reach you and, with a solid hook, knocks the Chameleon unconscious.

The gauntlets on her servos power down and you shudder, falling backward off the unconscious Monster. Your head and stomach hurt something fierce, but you’ll probably avoid another trip to that kooky healer. Probably.

You breath out a sigh of relief before remembering Saya. Quickly, your vision snaps over to her to find she’s almost fully recovered, her facial features nearly finished sliding into place. One of her eyes, her right one, shifts from a red, insectoid eye to her normal, brown one. She stumbles over to Ginelle, helping the Badger Girl up as the paralysis from the gauntlets wears off. Richard leaves to help them as well while Ophelia stumbles to your side.

“W-what the fuck just happened?” Ophelia asks as she helps pick you up, her body still twitching. “I know I just threw a wrench in her plans, uh, literally, but what the fuck?”

“It’s… complicated.” You shake your head and shrug to Ophelia. “Sorry about all of this.”

She blinks a few times and then starts shaking more, chuckling softly before breaking out into a full-on laugh. “Oh hahaha! Wow! This was so much cooler than just blowing down a door!” She snickers a little longer, her cheeks red while a goofy smile is plastered on her face. “I haven’t had a thrill like this since I hot-magicked that leyway capacitor!”

“Wait, doesn’t that normally cause explosions?” you ask, incredulous.

“Yeah, normally, but I’m me, so of course it worked out fine.” Ophelia bends down and does something to the servos on the Thief, releasing them. “I was wondering why I was thinking about our little encounter so much. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time! Maybe Mother was right, maybe I do work too much- ah, there.”

The servos click and Ophelia lifts them off the Chamelon Girl, looking them over before whistling. “Wow, three function servos using a Halcyon mana capacitor. Doesn’t last horribly long, but damn is it efficient. I told Mother to invest in these things, but noooo, she let the Unlaki firm monopolize it.”

“Well, I’m glad things turned out alright, though I was afraid we were screwed for a moment.”

“Good thing you have that bag of whatever that is. How did you know it would blind her?”

“Uhhhhh. I didn’t.”

“But didn’t you put that stuff in there?”

“Uhhhh.” You pull out another handful of sand and… well shit, it’s the same stuff as before. She looks at it curiously, her little bunny nose scrunching up. Well, it looks like a human nose but… whatever. She gives you a sidelong glance before shaking her head, obviously thinking you’re trying to keep some kind of secret from her. Well, it would be easier than explaining that you have a magic bag of random sand…

“Anyway,” you say, rolling the thief onto her back. She groans, her face looking like shit, eyes swollen and red, tears and blood flowing down her attractive features. You shake her awake and ask, “You alive?”

“Ugghhh.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” The others gather around you as you crack your knuckles. “So, why don’t you tell me where you were planning on meeting Fiora today?”

She coughs, obviously pained as she does so. “Ugh, do you really think I’m in any state where your pathetic knuckles scare me?” Ginelle cracks her knuckles, the sound reverberating around the room, and the Thief grunts. “Fair enough. Not like I could even lift the stupid thing now, so I’m as good as dead.”

“We can give you to the authorities, keep you safe in the dungeons,” Richard says.

She barks out a laugh before coughing. “Hah! As if she doesn’t control the law at this point. I suspect everything confiscated will return to her at some point. Scary, so very scary she is.”

“Where were you going to meet her?” you ask again, a little more forcefully.

“I heard you first time.” She grunts before taking a shuddering breath. “Supposed to meet her inside the Arboretum in about two hours.”

You frown and look to the others before sighing. “Thought so. What’s she doing in there anyway?”

“I don’t know. Looks like she’s setting up a shrine or something, but it could be a fucking laboratory for all I know, what with the equipment and those fucking abominations.”

“Uh… what?” you ask, cocking your head.

“These Plant Monsters of hers… I don’t know what they are, don’t ask me, they just… are weird.”

“Well shit. Why doesn’t she meet at the City Hall?”

“Easier to hide in the Arboretum, of course. I don’t really know anything much other than that the mayor is in the palm of her hand, probably with that stupid magic of hers.” She grunts. “Look, can you just kill me or something? This is really painful.”

You turn to the Richard, who nods his head. Looks like you got the answers you needed. Taking a deep breath, you turn back to the Thief.

“Nah,” you say, waving to Ginelle. She grins and walks forward, raising a foot into the air.

“Fucking Hells,” the Chameleon Girl says before the badger’s foot knocks her back into unconscious.

“You able to clean all this up?” you ask Ophelia as you walk out of the Manufactorum.

“Yeah, isn’t too much to clean, and I can get Georgia to take care of things.” She cocks her head. “You going to be okay with that?”

You look over to Ginelle, who has the Thief slung over her shoulder, still unconscious. She nods her head and you shrug back. “Yeah, I think so. We’ll find a guard and get her taken care of.”

“Alright. Good luck with that, and good luck with this Fiora. I knew she couldn’t be trusted.”

“Are you going to cancel the order on the war units then?”

Ophelia’s ears twitch and she rubs behind her head. “For now… no, but it will be a bit before we finish construction anyway. I’m just sad that some of the units got out already, I hope they don’t cause much trouble…”

“We’ll stop her here, so it won’t be an issue,” you say and everyone nods their heads. “Thanks for the help again.”

“Hey…” she says, dragging a foot while holding an arm. “You think I’ll uh… see you again?”

“Possibly,” you say, giving a non-committal answer, still staying professional. “Have a good day.”

You turn about to go when you see someone run up in the white of the guard. It takes you a moment to realize it’s Sergeant Fellows, and you put a hand on your hip as he reaches you, huffing and puffing.

“Good day, sergeant!”

“I say, what is this?” He blinks, looking about. “You’re the lad from yesterday, what are you doing here? I was told there might be a theft occurring here today!”

Maybe it’s the lingering scent of peppers and the niggling sensation of tingles upon your fingers, but you feel incredibly spicy right now. You take a deep breath and cross your arms before giving Sergeant Fellows the smuggest look you can possibly muster.

He furrows his brow, mustache wiggling as he asks, “Why are you looking at me like that, boy? This is a serious situation!” He blinks then, seeming to notice the bruised pulp of the poor Chameleon Girl over Ginelle’s shoulder. “I say, what happened to that woman?”

You walk up to the sergeant and gently tap his shoulder. “Sergeant, Sergeant, Sergeant.” You hear Saya groan something about, “He’s fucking doing it again,” but you don’t care. You’re in the zone, and because you’re in the zone, you raise one eyebrow and look the man in the eyes. “I think this situation is taken care of, sir.”

“What are you talking about? All I see is a smug young man who doesn’t respect authority and a woman who needs medical attention!”

“Woman? Oh Sergeant, she’s not just a woman, she’s a thief. In fact, you could even say she is a… Phantom Thief.” Richard groans in sync with Saya at this, though you may have heard Ginelle and Ophelia snicker.

Fellows narrows his eyes. “Phantom Thief you say? What nonsense is this?”

Ophelia piques up, “Ah, yes sir, this is the actual thief. She infiltrated our facility and these fine people helped apprehend her.”

“You are Miss Illoma?” he asks and she blinks, nodding her head, clearly surprised he knew of her. He rubs his mustache, not looking pleased. “Yes, I have worked with your mother before, you bear a striking resemblance to her. This city holds your family in high regard, however if what you are saying is true, then this is vigilante justice, and I’m afraid that the law does not look favorably upon such acts!”

You shake your head, still smug as a bug in rug. Or was that snug? Whatever. “Oh no, this wasn’t vigilante justice, this was the work of a Royal Agent.”

The Sergeant’s face heats up as he turns to you. “Boy, if you keep up with this nonsense, I will have to take in you in for obstructing justice!”

You wave a hand. “I’m sorry I had to lie to you before, but you wouldn’t accept my badge and I couldn’t afford to be caught.”

“Bah, next thing you’ll say that the young Badger Girl here is an agent of the Monster Lady who you have a secret affair with, I’ve seen the plays.”

“Oh no, that’s actually the woman over there.” You point toward Saya and her face heats up. You wonder what’s got her so worked up before it clicks. “Ah. Right, not that last part.”

Fellows grips his moustache before growling, “That’s it, I’m taking you in, all of you are coming with me.” He reaches to take some chain cuffs from his belt when you nod to Richard.

“I think you’ll want to wait until my superior explains the situation.”

Richard sighs before taking something out of his pocket, or well, nothing out of his pocket, holding it up before the Sergeant. “I’m afraid my subordinate is a fool, but he gets… results.”

Fellows looks the illusory badge over before grunting and stepping back, looking around, yet seeing no one other than constructs and yourselves. “Damnit, that one’s real alright. Bloody Hells…” He looks over you and Richard before shaking his head. “Damnit… so this is really the Phantom Thief? Doesn’t look like much.”

“She’s a Chameleon Girl, able to make herself invisible,” Saya says, nodding her head toward the unconscious thief. “She’ll be trouble to cage up, but I think handing her over to you would be the best option.”

“Of course, of course,” he says shaking his head. “I will bring her in, where we’ll get more answers from her. I am glad no one was injured…” He looks at Ginelle, who coughs and turns aside, hiding her bruised cheek. “However, had not that fire been here, I might not have been able to come.”

“Why?” Richard asks, folding his arms. “That seems a little strange to me that no one would be sent, even on suspicion of a crime.”

“Yes, I thought so as well, however my superiors told me not to bother, that it was just a hoax. When I tried to push for it, they told me that going would have repercussions!” He chuckles. “Of course, I don’t fear such things, for I work under the purview of the law, however…” He shakes his head. “However, I don’t wish to inconvenience my family if I can help it.”

“I understand,” Richard says. “Although…”

“Hrm?”

You cough into your hand. “Sir, have you noticed strange things happening around the city? Odd orders that don’t make sense? New taxes? These odd thefts that no one really seems to take much stock of to stop?”

The Sergeant narrows his eyes. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that perhaps all is not well in Loveura. We have evidence which may suggest the mayor is corrupt, that he’s under the thumb of someone else who is using the good people of this city for something that threatens national security.”

“Good heavens,” the Sergeant says, his face going a little pale. “That is some grave accusations… you have to understand, I can’t just take your word for it on such a matter.”

“We understand,” you say, sighing. “However, we have information that the ringleader behind all of this might be in the Arboretum and was awaiting the arrival of this thief with a mana cycler. If we can corner her and take her out…”

“Arrest her you mean? Yes… I could gather a strike team to take her out, right here and now!”

Saya steps forward, shaking her head furiously. “No, no, no! Sergeant I admire your zeal and sense of justice, but didn’t your superiors stop you from coming here to stop the thief? If they knew what you were doing, they’d stop you again, and make sure we didn’t get in the way.”

“Bollocks, you’re right…” He rubs his mustache fiercely, eyes moving back and forth. “I’m not certain what to do then.”

You rub your chin, thinking things over before nodding your head. “If you really wish to help… can you get us into the Arboretum?”

He gives you an odd look. “It’s a public building, you don’t need me for that.”

“Not normally, but for this purpose, I bet she has the entrances being watched, and likely has cleared it out somehow. If you could get us in a back way…”

The Sergeant grips his mustache. “Perhaps… yes, there is a back entrance used for emergency personnel. I can get you in through there, and we can take her down!”

Ginelle grunts, “What about her?” She shifts the Chameleon on her back, who groans slightly. “Can’t very well take her with us.”

“No, you can’t.” The sergeant says, grunting. “Damnation, I’ll have to take her in. Would you be able to wait for me?”

“I’m afraid not,” Richard says, waving his hand. “Once your superiors find out about her, they’ll raise a ruckus. It would be better for you to play this down. If you could open the door for us though…”

“I get it, I get it,” Fellows grunts. “What a day this is turning out to be. First, I am accosted by some fellow with a silly voice, then I can’t serve justice, and now this…” He sighs before taking a deep breath. “Very well then, let us be off. I’m not looking forward to this, but it wouldn’t be right not to get those wounds treated.”

“Can I inflict a few more?” Ginelle asks, a little hope in her eyes. “I mean, they’re going to be healed, right?” His flat stare makes her look down and mutter something about how life was never fair before trudging on off to the Main District after Sergeant Fellows.

You look over to Ophelia, who has a look of bewilderment on her face, yet the hints of a smile betray her true feelings on the matter. She nods her head to you before adjusting the goggles she took back from Ginelle. “Good luck with everything, alright? Come back and see me… err, the Manufactorum.”

“I’ll try to,” you say before nodding to her and leaving with Saya to traipse after the others.

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2 thoughts on “Illusionistquest 5: Make Up Your Mind

  1. Can u make another full wizardquest or somesutch after ur done with illusionquest cuz these two series have been the best ive read in a looooong time.

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