Illusionistquest Chapter 17: Mind War


Chapter 86

You finish your last story about Richard, the one where he found you drinking his bottle of aged Eastern wine, and how he got his revenge by putting spiders in your bed for a month. As you finish, everyone has a smile on their face and good cheer, something that makes your heart sing. It’s wonderful to see people you care about enjoying your stories, especially memories as precious as these. Would that they could meet the man… would that you could again as well.

With a sigh, you look at your timepiece and realize it’s time to head to the station. Geez, how long were you talking? As everyone goes to pack their things, you check out with the innkeeper, who eagerly takes your money, a happy smile on her face. When you question why she’s so exuberant today, she merely claps your shoulders and says, “Oh don’t you be playing me like this boy, I know you came here as our salvation!”

You cock your head to the side to see Khloe trying to tip-toe away, but she catches your gaze and her ears flatten down, looking like a uh… well, a cat who got caught doing something bad. She coughs into her hand before saying, “Aha, well, you know, they wanted to know EVERYTHING and rumors sort of get around and uh…”

“She told me,” the innkeeper says smugly, to which Khloe throws up her arms.

“Oh Gods, come on!” she sighs and puts her hand to her forehead. “Uggghh, yes, fine, I told her. But she needed to know too! Everyone does!” She raises a finger then, smiling. “The executive in town wants to speak with Enochia, maybe make a deal? They don’t feel right about pissing off a Dryad, you see. They’d rather make some kind of uh… tree farm… or something.” She scratches her cheek.

“It’s not my idea, but it’ll probably be okay?”

You sigh and say, “Oh alright then. But I don’t want fanfare, you know what happened out there, it’s nothing to celebrate.”

Her ears droop again and she nods her head. “Yes… you’re right. But at least we have something to look forward to.” She perks up and smiles broadly. “Thank you though… I earnestly hope the rest of your travels are safe and pleasant. Please, if you ever need anything from us, come on by! Sounds like we’ll still be here.”

“You got it,” you say before finishing your check out as the others arrive. With a final farewell to Khloe and the innkeeper, you leave to the station, the town appearing to be celebrating rather than working. You do your best to stay hidden but some people notice you and point, whispering excitedly. Great, thanks Khloe, reaaaaallll great.

As you reach the station, you find a man standing there in a richly tailored suit, flanked by two, larger men who look like dressed up lumberjacks, axes and beards at the ready. As you approach, the man studies you before smiling and raising his arms up into the air,

“Ahh, Lord Shady! A pleasure to finally meet you!”

He walks before you and performs a sweeping bow. “I am Master Honoriant, executive of the Tilluhn company. I have heard of your exploits from our own Khloe, and I wished to personally give you our thanks. I fear we would have lost all our funding had the murders continued!” He chuckles, “But that is not the case anymore, and we may have a rather lucrative business venture in its own right!”

“I see,” you say, nodding to the man and returning the bow, though not quite as deep. “Thank you for your words, but I am merely doing my duty to the Crown. I hope, however, that you keep faith with the Dryad, or I fear the Crown my take more interest in your operation.”

“Is that a threat?” the man asks, smile never wavering.

“No, not really,” you say, shrugging. “Anyway, we need to board a leyway, thank you again for your words, and give our regards again to Khloe.”

“Ah, of course, of course,” the man says, nodding his head. He snaps his fingers and one of the Lumberjacks produces a stack of tickets, which Honoriant takes and hands to you. “These are a token of our appreciation. They will allow you to ride the leyways in style, free of charge, on behalf of the Tilluhn company.”

You gingerly take the tickets, one for each of you and read them over, whistling. The leyways you took before were pretty nice, but with these… well, if you ever go back to Sanctifrond, you’ll certainly have plenty of niceties. You nod to the man and then bow. “Your gift is most appreciated, thank you.”

“Oh, think nothing of it,” he says, waving a hand. “Now then, if you’re ever thinking of increasing the market share of the Shady house into the lumber market…”

You smile at him wolfishly. “You really want the Shady name associated with your company?”

He returns the smile. “Perhaps… perhaps…”

You both stay like that for a long while before Saya coughs into her hand and says, “Uh, gentlemen?” Both of you step back and chuckle before heading off on your various ways. Saya walks close to you and asks, “The Hells was that about?”

“Noble stuff, you wouldn’t-” You pause as you figure she actually might understand. “Uh, guy stuff, you wouldn’t… Noble guy stuff, yeah, yeah that’s it.”

She narrows her eyes at you, but you manage to chuckle it off before boarding your leyway.

Which leyway you’d end up taking was up in the air until you reached the station, but you’ve resolved to head to the detour and quell this “Emily.” Clint looks both relieved and disturbed at the same time when he realizes your intention. You try asking him about this Emily, but he just stays tight lipped and takes his ticket, heading off to the dining car.

Well, time to settle back and prepare yourself for whatever weirdness or drama is to occur on this leyway adventure. There’s a feeling in your gut that something awful is going to happen, something that will threaten all of you. Well, no sense but to settle in as the leyway pulls out of the station…

So, as it turns out, the leyway trip was uneventful. It took you until the first evening for this to sink enough for you to rest easy after the recent excursion and battle. All of you could use it, especially Clint and Clarissa, the two of them looking much improved by the time you leave. Unfortunately, Saya’s offer to “help you relax” had to be tabled as there were no conveniently empty rooms, but you took a rain check. Besides, you’re pretty sure Akela is on to you…

You arrive the day after in the early morning, getting out of the leyway at a decent sized town of no real importance named Jurenburg. The only redeeming feature of this place being that it’s the closest stop to your destination. Disembarking the leyway, the first thing you notice is… nothing.

Not that there isn’t anything there, but that there’s nothing wrong. The people seem positively cheerful honestly, and maybe that’s the confusing part. It’s early in the morning and everyone seems rather happy! Not crazy happy, because you know what that looks like, but just… normally happy you suppose? Still, you frown and speak with a nearby Troll, who also appears content.

She grunts and says, “Why shouldn’t we be happy? Things have been pretty good here for the past few weeks since the so called ‘Queen of the West’ set up shop outside of town. Used to be a lot of feral Monsters round these parts, causing trouble for everyone, but when she started culling ’em. Gathered herself quite a little following of Monsters herself.”

The beautiful Monster chuckles, “Haven’t seen her, but that kind of charisma makes you want to just go out there and join the good fight, huh? Ah, but the Union, gotta keep to my post. You have a good day, and stay out of trouble, you hear?”

You nod to her, seeming rather troubled as you leave the station and head for somewhere to get breakfast. It doesn’t take long to find a quaint eatery and your groups gathers round, listening to the other patrons as they discuss how they don’t have to deal with those feral Monsters taking and raping people any longer. Even a few Monsters give their agreement, talking about how this Queen is fighting with strength and charisma that hasn’t been seen before, and how she’s done so much in only a few weeks.

“Excuse me,” you ask a rather happy group of Harpies sitting around a table. “Where exactly is this Queen?”

One of then, a mop-haired Crow Girl not terribly unlike Clarissa, turns to you and says, “Out in the west, of course. The plains out there are riddled with uncivilized Monsters who still think it’s okay to take what they want, you know, but last I heard from my sis who’s been flying about there, her little camp is… hum, for you landwalkers… a day or so out, right?” The other Harpies nod, and you return to your table, looking pensive.

“I don’t understand it, I know Monsters who stick to the old ways were rife out here better than anyone, but this is just crazy,” Clint says, shaking his head. “Driving them out so violently? What does she hope to accomplish?”

“Dominion, of course,” a voice says nearby.

You turn to see a surly looking Kitsune with short, blonde hair sitting at a nearby table, a pipe in between her teeth. “Bitch is looking to become the next Queen of Blades.”

“Eh?” you ask, but the Kitsune stands, adjusting her clothing, which looks to be a fairly simple top and rough-cut pants, similar to what Ginelle would wear. She finishes arranging her tails, all six of them, before shaking her head.

“Never you mind. My word of advice? Don’t go looking for trouble. Way people tell it, the Black Tails are going to crush her soon anyway. Anyone who looks to be interfering might find themselves with more than they bargained for.” Before you can say more, she turns and walks away, leaving your group a little confused.

“Charming,” Clarissa says before nibbling on a muffin.

When you finish breakfast, you decide that the next course of action is to gather more information. While you have a general idea of where this “Queen of the West” is located, it wouldn’t hurt to know a little bit more before poking what sounds like a war camp. Deciding to meet up at an inn in town, you split up in three groups again to explore and gather information.

Clint and Ginelle head off together again, though Clint seems rather more subdued than usual, while Ophelia and Clarissa head off on their own. For now, you advise her not to fly too far out of town, lest she cause suspicion. Her absolutely pitiful look when you say this would break your heart, if she didn’t use that look on you one too many times when you were younger. No, you won’t acquiesce to that again, not after the incident with the glue…

This leaves Saya, Akela, and yourself. Well, also Abigail, but she doesn’t count. With no defined goal, you decide just to walk down the streets, see the sights with your lovely daughter in tow, her hands being held in between the two of you. If she was older, it would be weird, but she’s young, so it’s cute. That’s how these things work, of course.

It’s a nice place, this Jurenburg, and you find it reminds you a lot of Kasin. The people walk with happy expressions as they go about their daily business, and you find yourself feeling rather nostalgic for the home you shared with Richard for so many years of your life.

Saya chuckles as you stop at an intersection, looking about the area. When you cock your head at her, she just says, “You look kind of happy there.”

You study her, the smile on her face genuine as well, and you think that no one has a right to be so beautiful. “Yeah, it kind of reminds me of home… well, Kasin anyway. It’s very comfy, you know?”

“Yeah, it reminds me of my home too.” She looks off into the distance as she says, wistfully, “I wasn’t there all the time, not like my sisters, since I went to school with Madam Xanthia, but when I was home, I loved walking the streets of town with mom, and sometimes even dad.” She smirks. “Mom would embarrass him to the Hells by flirting with him out in the wide open. It always made me groan, but at the same time, I found it kind of cute.”

“Embarrass him? Like what?” you ask, probably a little too eagerly. Saya lifts her eyebrows and leans over to you to kiss you, but before she can reach your lips, Akela groans.

“Uggghhhh. You know, I used to dream about having parents who’d do this kind of stuff, but now that I see it, it’s really, really annoying.” Of course, the smile on her face sort of ruins the effect, but it’s fine.

“Well, someday you’ll find someone to be an embarrassment with, sweetie,” Saya says, though Akela rolls her eyes.

You make to say something more when you hear a loud argument nearby, taking your attention.

“So you think it’s alright for them to just slaughter Monsters out there?” A Badger Girl says, growling.

“Well they never fucking learned beforehand! We try to make a good name for ourselves and then those savages still take and rape people!” A Centaur scoffs.

“They’re our families! Half of your parents lived out there before that damned Wizard changed us all!”

“For the better! We have lives here and don’t need to live in fear of the next day! Civilization has come, and with it, prosperity!”

“Civilization? You think that fighting and subjugating Monsters who wish to live the way they have for generations to be civilized?” The Badger scoffs, balling her hands into fists. “Way I see it, you’re no better than those ‘savages’ you pretend to fight against.”

The Centaur grits her teeth. “Oh, so what, are you going to join the Black Tails now? Go ahead, get yourself killed! When the Queen of the West comes for you, your kind won’t be missed.” She paws the ground with a hoof and the two Monsters stare each other down for a few moments before the Badger shouts in frustration and turns away, growling furiously under her breath.

The people standing about mutter to themselves as the Centaur sniffs and walks away down the street. You think about asking her what the deal is with these “Black Tails,” but the death glare she gives you makes you reconsider. Instead, you turn to a couple of human women nearby and ask the question. You can make logical decisions every now and then!

“The Black Tails?” one says, a distasteful look in her mouth. “It’s a group trying to organize a resistance against the Queen. I hear they’re a bunch of savages who want to return to the old ways.”

“Aye, they’ve been leaving papers about everywhere in town, trying to recruit people to their cause, but it hasn’t been working too well, so far as I know.”

“Well, we’re not Monsters, so it doesn’t as much affect us, though it does mean our men aren’t getting stolen!”

They laugh amongst each other before walking away, leaving you with a frown on your face. Saya leans to the side and says, “This is sounding worse and worse the more I hear about it. The tensions remind me of something before a Monster Invasion.”

“But it’s the opposite side this time. Why are these Monsters following this ‘Queen’ anyway? That has to be Emily playing some kind of role, right?”

“I don’t know,” Saya says, frowning. “But if she’s surrounded herself with so many Monsters who follow orders enough to kill other Monsters, either she’s a damned good orator, or she’s using illusions, which has to be driving her batshit insane.”

“What did that Fox lady mean by dominion anyway?” Akela asks, and the two of you pause, looking down at her before looking back up at each other.

“That’s a good question,” Saya says, frowning. “Mixed with that comment about Queen of Blades, which is a term some people use to describe mom…”

“What, you think she’s going to usurp the Monster Lady?” you say, shaking your head before pausing. “That’s insane…”

“Yep,” Akela says, nodding her head. “Pretty insane.”

Saya chides her for talking about insanity with such a flippant tone while you think about this. It’s not wholly without reason that this could be her goal. But to be so organized, and so bloodthirsty? Beardlington had a dream of making a harem and used his skills and illusions to bring pleasure to the Holstaurs, but this… you don’t know why they’d follow a human woman, it makes no sense, unless…

Both you and Saya snap your heads up at the same time.

“She’s a Mindflayer!”

“Yeah, she’s not a Mindflayer, not outwardly,” Ophelia says, sitting back down at your table in the inn while placing some drinks before everyone. “From what I hear, she’s going about as some kind of Succubus, as boring as that is.”

“Would be an easy disguise if it’s truly her,” Saya says, frowning. “But most Monsters are fairly distrustful of Succubi, due to their nature of being sluts.” When everyone gives her surprised looks, she rolls her eyes. “When I say Succubi are sluts, I mean way more slutty than other Monsters and…” She frowns and slaps your arm, making you wince.

“What was that for?”

“Entertaining bad thoughts,” she says, sniffing. You have entertained no such thoughts, but you notice Ginelle looking at her hand, then to Clint, then back to her hand before dropping it slowly.

“Anyway, so it sounds like she just appeared a few weeks back, started saving people from roving bands of Monsters, and her deeds attracted other Monsters, though at a suspiciously rapid pace and with a suspicious amount of supplies. She’s been pushing farther and farther out though, claiming swathes of territory for the people in this town, but recently she’s hunkered down.” Ophelia shrugs. “No one seems to know what’s changed, as people don’t usually return if they go out there these days, for better or worse.”

“Same story here,” Ginelle says, shrugging. “Though we heard more about this Black Tails group. Sounds like they tried an assault on the Queen early on but were repelled, and now they’re hiding out, doing hit and run attacks on her. Seems the feral Monsters are organizing under their banner.”

“It’s too convenient,” Clint says, gritting his teeth. “She’s being manipulated into starting a petty little war here, but I can’t figure out what they stand to gain! This place is out in the middle of nowhere with no major exports beyond some textiles and some grains, but nothing major. It has no value beyond being on the leyway system!”

He sighs and pulls down on the brim of his hat. “She’s always been a stuck-up bitch, but Gods damn, she’s not stupid…”

“I…” you say before frowning, a thought coming into your head. “Wait, the town isn’t important, but what about the plains itself?”

Everyone gives you a strange look, but you raise your hands. “Think about it. If she’s being directed to do something to the town, she may have stayed close, but why would she go into the plains? To hunt more Monsters? Plausible, but maybe there’s something out there, something someone needs an army to get to.”

You nod your head in smug satisfaction, feeling pretty good that you figured it all out. Oh yes, you certainly are the brains of the operation. Chuckling, you look up to see everyone giving you annoyed expressions now. Blinking a few times, you ask, “Uhh… what’s wrong?”

“Tobias, dear, that’s stupid,” Saya says, patting your arm. Everyone else concurs and you deflate visibly.

“It’s okay dad, I thought it was a nice story,” Akela says, patting your other arm.

“You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”

“N-no,” she says, eye twitching. She’s such a good girl, loves her papa enough to lie.

“Well fine,” you say, crossing your arms. “I don’t know what we’re going to accomplish here in town though, I think we may want to head out to the plains and actually find this ‘Queen of the West.’ We’ll have to at some point.'”

“Mmmm, but would going now be a good idea?” Clarissa asks, looking outside. “It’s early afternoon, but we need supplies and stuff, right? I’ve never camped outdoors, except when a big storm comes in, and I usually can find a rest-stop somewhere if I’m on duty.”

“She’s right,” Clint says, smiling. “I think this is my forte here, but we shouldn’t go out until next morning. Give us some time to plan how we want to do this anyway.” He stretches and downs his drink before standing. “Time to do a little shopping. We’re not exactly equipped for the outdoors, right?”

Ophelia looks at her bags before sniffing. “It’s all very important things.”

“Things we aren’t bringing. We can probably store it here for a fee,” he says. “Bring the essentials and whatever we can carry on our backs. Hiring a wagon would probably take too much time and the attention wouldn’t be worth it.”

“Fine, fine,” you say, waving your hand. It’s okay to let him show off every now and then, right? You’re still the one in charge at the end of the day, right?

He smirks and takes Ginelle and Ophelia with him, though you’re not certain why the bunny wants to go. You shrug and lean back at your table, thinking about the days ahead when a familiar figure walks up and sits down next to Clarissa, making the Crow jump in alarm. The visitor rolls her eyes before sighing, fox ears twitching.

“You’ve been asking a lot of questions around town.”

You narrow your eyes, sitting up straight as you study the woman, clearly the Kitsune from this morning, though how she knew you were here is a mystery. “Maybe we have.”

She sniffs and crosses her arms. “I’d advise you don’t go around causing trouble or going out to look for this Queen of the West. It won’t end well for you, especially if you’re thinking of joining her.”

“And who would you be to give us this advice?”

“A concerned citizen.” She unfolds her arms and stands. “Don’t get involved in this, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but things are about to get messy here, and it won’t on me for lack of trying to keep you safe. If you go outside, you’ll be a target for both sides, I hope you know.”

“And why are you telling us this?” Saya asks. The woman studies her eyes for a long moment before bowing her head.

“Because there’s too much unnecessary bloodshed as it is.” She turns from you before you can say anything else and leaves, leaving the four of you confused and a little aggravated.

“Should we go after her?” Saya asks, frown evident on her face. “She clearly knows more than she’s letting on.”

“No,” you say, shaking your head. “I doubt we could find her, and it wouldn’t be worth it even if we did, to be honest. I have a feeling she’ll find us.”

“If you say so…” Saya says watching after where the Monster went. “In that case, let’s get our own preparations for tomorrow then.”

 

Chapter 87

Clint returns with a mountain of provisions, sleeping rolls, and other equipment for camping. Where all this stuff will go after this adventure is anyone’s guess, but he can spend his “superior noble” funds as he pleases. With your own preparations complete, mainly updating Anderson on your situation, you go to sleep, fully ready to head out.

And by that, you mean you are in no way ready to head out when Clint wakes you up near the damn crack of dawn, where he basically berates everyone until they’re ready to go.

You head out of to the western side of the city, where a small road leads to a few outlying farms and such. The farther you get, the more livestock you see, and the less homes until everything is just vast fields of grass with some scattered copses of trees here and there. In the distance are mountains framed by wide, open sky. It’s a purity untouched by civilization that not even in Indin or Tilluhn had you experienced before.

It’s kind of weird, to be honest.

Clarissa does a few aerial sweeps, not really noticing anything of much value beyond reporting a lake in the distance, as well some more trees. She wants to go scouting out further, but you hold her back, not wanting her to run afoul of other Harpies in the area where you can’t help her. She sighs, merely content to spread her wings anyway, flying lazy circles around your group as you walk.

Nothing happens the whole day, which is well enough. You didn’t expect to really find anything today, but traveling by foot is… boring, to say the least. When you were in the cart with Richard you could sleep away your time, but this is just hot, sweaty, and tiring. It’s quite the relief then when you stop for the night, as everyone is quite ready for something other than walking, but you quickly learn some very important facts.

The first important fact is that Ophelia has never seen a bedroll in her life. This is amusing, but the more important fact is that Clint can cook, and Akela apparently looooves campfires. As the night grows darker, the man gathers everyone around and tells stories of the west and adventures from the people and Monsters that live there. You honestly knew Clint could speak, but his storytelling skills are superb beyond belief and, by the end, everyone is enraptured in their own fantasies of the western reaches.

“And that, is how the Harpy headswoman brought the Centaur tribe to justice. Not with violence, but with her brain.” He taps his head and Clarissa lets out a little woop, clearly the most invested in the story. He chuckles and says, “Alright, we need to get moving in the morning. Everyone off to bed, and we’ll set some watches.”

“Awww, really?” you say, yawning. “Watches again? Man I don’t miss that.”

“You really want someone to get the drop on us?” Clint asks, raising an eyebrow, and you sigh, rolling your eyes.

“Whatever, wake me up when it’s my turn,” you say, getting ready for bed. Clint shrugs and stokes the fire as you do, making sure Akela and Saya are well settled before turning to bed yourself. Feeling tired after the day’s efforts, you close your eyes and slowly drift off to-

“Wakey wakey…” you hear whispered into your ear.

You groan blearily, opening your eyes. “Ugh… my turn already? It feels like I just fell asleep…”

“Mhm… not quite, handsome.”

“That’s kind of gay, Clint…” you say, turning to look at the man, but you freeze in place, eyes wide. Where you expected to see Clint, instead you find the beautiful face of a black-haired Lamia, her serpentine eyes glittering in the firelight. You make to back away, but her tail wraps around you quicker than you can react, and she constricts you, placing a finger to her lips.

“Oh, no, no, that won’t do. Besides, your friends are enjoying this also…” She turns and points to the others, and you find in dismay that four more Lamias have Clint, Ginelle, Clarissa, and Ophelia wrapped up, leaving Saya and Akela sleeping nearby. You watch as Akela’s ear twitches, but she makes no move to get up, and neither does Saya, making you wonder if she’s really asleep.

You want to ask the Monster what this is about, but she merely chuckles, continuing to constrict you, and says, “It’s rare that men and Monsters come out here of their own volition, but these are dangerous times. How about we escort you to safety? Now, now, don’t refuse, I assure you, things are much… nicer with me. Of course, if you struggle, well… I can’t promise everyone here will be that safe~”

Despite the situation, despite the fact that Clint pulled a Blake, a common saying for someone fucking up their watch, you feel pretty good. Maybe it’s your <Battle Focus>, maybe it’s <Heart of Darkness>, or maybe it’s the hilarity of the situation, you’re not sure. Wild Monsters raping men as they sleep? In this day and age? Honestly, you’d feel like laughing if it weren’t for the fact that you’re being constricted! Still, no cause for alarm, in fact, you chuckle, knowing exactly what to do.

“Something wrong? Oh dear, have you broken already? No fun that way you know.” She sighs and taps her cheek. “Bother, well as long as you get a boner, that’s fine I suppo-”

“N-no,” you wheeze out, to which she cocks her head. “I… I’m ex-” You cough some, and she lets some slack on her constriction, at least enough to allow you to breath. Taking in a few gulps of air, you say, “Thanks, guh. Anyway, holy Hells, getting raped out in a field by a smoking hot Lamia?” You lick your lips and push a little with <Cupid>.

“I’m sure you can feel it, can’t you?”

The Lamia frowns for a moment before her eyes grow wide and her mouth hangs open. “Oh my Gods, it… that can’t be your…”

“Oh yes. You’re not the only snake here,” you say, chuckling. You’d normally get slapped for that, but the way she starts to breathe heavily and her palms shake, you know that it was the right thing to say. Sure, your Godly boon may also be helping, but you wish to believe that this is totally because you’re a smooth operator. You raise your eyebrows a few times and say, “Why don’t you let me down so I can unleash it?”

The Lamia slowly nods her head before letting you go, to which you immediately throw out an illusion. You hear Ginelle rip her mouth free and cry out, “Alright Tobias! Kick her a…ss…” She trails off as you step away, fading into the night from all sight with <Heart of Darkness>. At the exact same moment, the Lamia who had just held you cries out in glee before ripping off the strip of cloth that kept her breasts in place, revealing her rather large chest to the night sky. Without any regard for propriety, she wraps her body around apparently nothing, makes motions to tear something, and then claps her hands in joy before letting out her long tongue.

“Uhh… Trisha?” a blonde Lamia says, the one holding Clarissa. “What are you doing?”

“Mmmphhh, ish thish a triss questhio?” Trisha asks, her mouth filled with nothing. The other three Lamia give each other strange looks, for they clearly see nothing at all, and thus are not paying any attention to you, not like they could. In their momentary confusion, you make your way to Saya and Akela, but when you go to rouse the older Monster, Akela opens an eye and says, “Not yet, they’re watching.”

You blink a few times, wondering how she could see… ah, sound and smell, of course. You frown and look up, seeing the other Lamias looking about in confusion. The blonde Lamia sighs and slithers forward to stop her friend, but you turn to her and strike once more with <Cupid>.

The Lamia’s eyes go wide and she looks down to Clarissa, who seems terrified more than anything. The snake’s cheeks become flushed as she stammers, “W-what do you think you’re doing with those f-feathers?”

“What?” Clarissa squeaks, but the Lamia lets out a cry of pleasure, letting loose the Crow Girl as her coils slip like cut rope. The Lamia falls on her back to the ground, panting as she squirms.

“N-no! I’m ti-ticklish th-ah!” She rubs one hand on a breast while the other hovers near her crotch, where she seems to be holding something that’s not there. To anyone else, it appears as if she’s trying not to masturbate, but to her, well… apparently Clarissa is quite skilled with those wings at providing… relief.

“Okay, what the fuck is going on!” The Lamia holding Ginelle shouts, looking about in confusion. Unfortunately, with her attention distracted, Ginelle shouts and uses her might to burst free of the coils and grab the snake, the poor thing looking utterly terrified as Ginelle snags her top and accidently pulls it off as she does so. The Lamia looks up in terror at Ginelle before you smile like a madman and throw your <Cupid> out again. Teehee.

The Lamia takes in a sharp breath, her more modest chest heaving. “No. P-please don’t hurt me.” Ginelle grunts and leans down, grabbing the Monster’s shoulders and shaking her a few times, causing her to shout, “No….! P-please! D-dooooon’t~”

Ginelle pulls back to slam a fist in her face, yet the Lamia’s eyes twinkle, causing Ginelle to curse and throw the Monster violently back to the ground before leaping back. She readies herself for another attack, but a look of utter confusion comes over her face as the Lamia runs her hands down her torso.

“No, please~! D-don’t hurt me anym…ahn!” She cries out, slamming herself back into the ground forcefully before arching her back and letting out a cry of pain mixed with a moan of pleasure. She twists and turns as she seems to be ravaged by some unknown assailant, yet the way she masturbates, you seem to have guessed right, she totally is a masochist.

“Dad, these are not things children should see,” Akela says, sighing and sitting up before looking over to Saya. “Mom, you should slap dad.”

“Maybe later, when I can see him fully,” Saya says, opening an eye. “I wanted to wait for the right time to strike, but then SOMEONE starts whatever the fuck this is.” She rolls onto her side and waves a hand at the Lamias as the original one, Trisha, cries out, her whole-body shuddering from the hips as something large and hard slams into it over and over.

“Well, it beats having to kill them. Besides, they came looking for some sexual gratification and, well.” You shrug, using all your talent to keep from smiling. “Who am I to deny them?”

“I cannot see you, but I assume you’re doing your best to keep from smiling, which you are likely succeeding at, and it only makes me angrier,” Saya growls, immediately making your smile vanish. Oh boy.

“You missed one,” Akela says offhand, her watching Trisha getting fucked by your illusionary self with a twelve-inch cock that’s harder than diamonds. You’re very glad you aren’t using [Project], because man, this really, really is lewd. It’s starting to make you feel bad for them, but it’s not really different than imagining things, right? Just with magic.

With a flick of the wrist, you do the same on the last Lamia, the one holding Clint, and she too becomes lost in ecstasy. Clint and Ginelle look at each other before walking over to Saya and Akela, the Badger helping up poor Clarissa, who watches with a mesmerized expression. As they approach, Ginelle gently helps Clarissa down onto your bed roll before she crosses her arms and says, “Alright Tobias, what are they seeing?”

You keep quiet for awhile as the sound of snake women having the best sex of their lives occurs. Ginelle narrows her eyes and stares right at you, because of course she would. These Beast Monsters and their damn noses and ears. You still stay invisible though, prompting the Badger to growl out, “Saya…”

“Yep,” Saya says from behind you. You turn about, but Saya grabs for you, catching your arm before hurriedly pulling you into a hold. It takes you all of two seconds of struggling to give up the game and return back to sight. Everyone looks at you with disapproving glares and you sigh, rolling your eyes.

Fiiiiinnneeeee. So look, they wanted to rape us, right? So I mean, I let them! Well, actually it’s mostly the other way around, except for you Clint.” You point to the Lamia who was holding Clint, the Monster having wrapped around nothing again as she seems to hump the air.

“She’s raping you.”

“Har, har,” Clint says, rolling his eyes before pausing. “Wait, what about the other two?”

“Uhhhhh,” you say, prompting Saya to tighten her grip on you. “Ack! Well, uh, Ginelle is apparently very rough and Clarissa has very sensual feathers and- gah!” You cry out as both Ginelle and Clarissa walk up and start a flurry of slapping.

“T-that’s just wrong!” Clarissa says, cheeks scarlet. “You have all this power and you do that?!”

“I swear to the Gods Tobias, I should string you up!” Ginelle adds, her damn nails digging into your arm. “This is one of the most embarrassing things you’ve done!”

Owww, owww, owww! Come on! It’s effective and easy to do! No actual violence EXCEPT WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT NOW, GODS DAMNIT!

“Alright, take it easy,” Saya says, pulling you away. “I need enough left of him for my turn, alright?”

Clarissa and Ginelle relent, the former muttering about how she can’t be a bride anymore and the latter huffing. Saya lets you go and you rub at your arms and chest, grumbling to yourself. Clint walks up to Ginelle and places a hand on her shoulder, to which she looks in his eyes before quickly looking away. A little too quick if anyone asked you, though you believe no one will.

The man sighs and says, “Lamia can mate for hours, think you can uh… speed this up?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess,” you say, snapping your fingers. At once, all four Lamia arch their backs and scream in ecstasy before collapsing into heaps, their faces embarrassing masks of pleasure as their tongues lull out of their mouths. They’re alive though, just… damn, you wonder how good you made it for them. Well, this ought to have taught them a lesson about progress, though part of you wonders as you watch their afterglow, can they ever find satisfying husbands?

Damn you’re good.

Ginelle and Clint set to tying up the Lamias with the significant amount of rope he assured you that adventurers need and, once they are secure, you are put to watching them as the others go to bed. You grumble the whole time about saving ungrateful louts and how it’s all Clint’s fault, but all that happens after that point is you being incredibly bored. Away from a leyline, you can’t use the [Port-o-Glass], so instead you just take out [Bearsy] and turn the little bear in your hands.

Hello Tobias.

You jump, dropping the figurine and staring at it in horror. The little statue doesn’t move or do anything, so you look about in confusion before slowly walking up to the carved bear and gently turning it over. It’s tiny eyes stare into your soul and once again you hear, Well, that was rude.

“Oh no,” you whisper. “I didn’t think I was THAT insane.”

Nah, not really, insane enough to talk with a tiny bear, but not horribly insane.

“I don’t know how to feel about that.” You stare at the bear for a few moments before frowning. “So… have you always been able to…?”

Hard to say, if this is based on your insanity, then I’ve been an inanimate object until just recently.

“What about all that, ‘You have to go back’ stuff?”

Well, maybe you do have to go back

“Where?” you ask, but you get no reply. Frowning deeper, you shake the little bear, but still get no reply. Annoyed, you look down at your jacket and ask, “Abigail, was that you?”

Something shuffles in your pocket followed by a tired, “Was what me?”

You grit your teeth before sighing. “Never mind. Go back to sleep.”

“Okay, whatever weirdo.”

You feel a shifting again and then blink in confusion. Wait, does she always sleep in your clothes? That’s really… really weird. Well, now that you have strange mental concerns and a Fairy that kissed you a few times sleeping in your clothing, you have plenty to keep you awake until dawn.

Just your luck.

 

Chapter 88

As your party awakens, the captives begin to stir, with the first one to awaken being Trisha, a goofy smile on her face. She yawns and makes to stretch her arms, but blinks in confusion before looking down and seeing her bindings. Realizing this, she shuffles about to get her tail to move, but it’s been tied together with the other tails, causing one Hells of a commotion more than anything else. She grits her teeth as the other Lamia awaken and spots you, a mixture of anger and embarrassment on her face.

“Y-you! What happened? How are… what did you?” She shudders. “After all that, you shouldn’t able to stand!”

“Yeah, well, you know,” you say, shrugging. “I have a lot of stamina.” The other Lamia stir and have similar reactions, but Clint levels his rifle and they pause, not seeming to know what it is, but feeling it’s best not to mess with it. You walk about the group of Monsters before squatting down before Trisha and asking, “So, what was that about last night?”

“I… well, you were rather uhm…” She fidgets, cheeks getting red. “Ahh… I’ve never had sex like that before, it was AMAZING.”

You groan and put your hand to your forehead as all the Monsters in your party grunt. Sighing, you look back up to her and say, “No, I mean, why did you attack us?”

“Oh!” the Lamia says, cheeks getting redder. “That…Erm…” She takes a moment to compose herself before staring back at you with an icy glare. “I’d rather die than tell you.” You put your hand to your pants and her eyes go wide. “Uh, uh, I mean, we were told to rough you up a little, nothing much, I swear! It’s just… you know, when we found you here… and smelling so… good…” She trails off, staring at your pants, and you roll your eyes.

“Yes, yes, but who told you to rough us up? Do you work for the Queen of the West?”

The Lamia pulls back, looking disgusted. “NO! Why would you assume that? That bitch is out there killing our friends! Don’t you DARE assume we work for her.”

“Fine, so it’s the Black Tails then?”

The Lamia looks over to the side, and you grit your teeth, grabbing her by her top. She gasps and a smile appears on her face before she realizes her mistake and then she frowns.

“Yes, we are. And we’re proud of it!” She puffs up her chest and stares into your eyes with her green, serpentine orbs. “We serve the Lady of the Tails and we WILL drive out this murderer!”

You pull back and frown, “Lady of the Tails?… that’s an odd name.” Thinking it over for a moment, you sigh, “So, this Lady told you to find us and rough us up. For what purpose?”

“We weren’t told,” Trisha says, looking down. “You don’t look like the kind to join with the Queen though, so why are you even out here?”

You look around to your companions. They give you wary looks, and you nod to them before saying, “Well, we’d like to talk with her.”

“I… see. So then, you’ll bring us in as captives then?” She looks to the other Lamia who all look downcast and a little terrified. “I thought it might happen someday… but we are prepared! At least we had one last, good evening.” She hangs her head.

“Look, I just…” You pause then, going over their words again in your head. These Lamia attacked you on the orders of the resistance, and you’re certain they’re resistance, as their anger is too genuine. But that would imply that the Black Tails wanted to attack you as well as them. But for what purpose?

“Damnit,” you mutter before shaking your head and pulling your knife. The Lamia’s eyes go wide as you walk up to them, knife in hand, but they soon look down with resigned expressions. Saya steps forward, concerned expression on her face.

“Woah, woah, Tobias, what are you-?” You cut off her as you swing you knife, and her eyes go wide as well. Hand going to your side, you watch as the rope holding Trisha hits the floor, releasing the Lamia’s arms. Both Saya and Trisha look at you with stunned expressions as you make to free the other captives, who also give you incredulous looks.

“W-what?” Trisha says. “You’re letting us go?”

“Yep,” you say as you finish with the bonds on the last Lamia and start to untie their tails.

“Why?”

“Frankly, because I don’t need you.” You finish releasing your captives and sigh as you sheathe your knife. “Look, we’re out here for a specific purpose. I don’t want to hurt you, but I also don’t want your boss to keep up this shit.”

You give Saya a look out of the corner of your eye before shaking your head. “We’re going to see the Queen of the West and afterward, well, this will be up to the TRUE Queen of Blades how to handle this.”

Trisha looks at you with suspicion. “The true Queen? The one who never bothered with us out here after she got her little Wizard to fuck and took away our strength?” Saya stiffens at this comment, but the Lamia merely sighs. “But clearly, this is our loss. I don’t fully understand why you’re sparing us, but… thank you.”

“Again, I have nothing against you,” you say, shrugging before quickly pulling the knife and thrusting it before her face. “If you dare attack us again, then I won’t be so kind. Tell that to your mistress also.”

Trisha stares at the knife, then up to you before her cheeks heat up and her tongue slips from her mouth for a moment. “You ah… you’re not actually taken already, are you?”

“Yes. He is,” Saya says, stepping forward, an angry expression on her face. “Now I suggest you slither away before I show you what happens when you mess with another Monster’s man.”

The Lamia’s jaw hangs open. “You? A Monster? What kind of trickery is-ohholyshit.” She stumbles as Saya’s hand explodes into black tendrils. Trisha licks her lips and chuckles,

“Aha… well, if that’s that then, I think we’ll just be on our way.” She nods to the others and begins to slither away when you hold up a hand.

“Before you go, do you know currently where the Queen’s forces are?”

Trisha gives you an incredulous look. “Uh… you’re out here and don’t even know where she is?” She looks between the others before shaking her head.

“A little less than a day to the northwest last I knew. Over near stoneworks I think, though why they’re at those ruins, I have no idea.”

“Ruins?” Ophelia asks, cocking her head. “What kind of ruins?”

“Hells if I know,” the Lamia says, slithering away. “But be warned, if you go there, you might get yourself into something you can’t get out of. I wouldn’t linger.” She leaves with that, moving casually into the grass before fading away in the taller brush.

You look to Saya and ask, “Are you alright?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah,” she says, looking down at her hand before reforming it back into a human shape. “Sorry about that, but she just made me angry.”

“No, no,” you say, walking over to her and pointing to the others to finish breaking camp. When they away, you lean in close to whisper, “Are you alright with the decision I chose?”

She blinks a few times before taking in a breath and nodding. “Ah… that. Well, we’re only out here to kill that Illusionist, right? It really is Mother’s concern about this war, but she surely must have heard of it by now, there’s no way she hasn’t. I just don’t know why she hasn’t sent anyone to deal with this though. I know she’d usually ask Tabitha, but she’s busy doing something else. There’s others, of course, so the only reason I could think of why she hasn’t sent someone is because they’re all busy.”

“That,” she says, looking a little concerned. “Is terrifying in its own right.”‘

You both share a knowing look before nodding to each other and heading to your own preparations.

As the warm summer sun greets you, Clarissa once again flies into the sky to do recon. You have enough to pre-occupy your minds as you move through the plains, but around early afternoon as you’re preparing to set down for lunch, you hear Clarissa call,

“HARPY!”

Everyone stops and immediately goes to ground while Clint draws his rifle, looking out into the sky. There, in the northwest, a solitary form does a lazy circle before two more shapes leap into the air from behind a thicket of trees and follow the original, which appears to be getting closer to you. Clint signals to Clarissa, who nods and flies to the ground, hiding under the cover to the taller grass. Your group waits for what seems an eternity before a loud, avian cry fills the air. Moments later, three shapes fly over your position, their shadows against the sun flowing over you before passing by.

You turn back to watch them swoop about one more time before they pause in the air out of your line of sight, yet you can clearly hear their voices as they argue amongst each other.

“Gods damnit, I thought you said there was someone out here!” A shrill voice cries, sounding annoyed.

“I did you idiot, she must have gone to ground. Damn ferals, getting bolder every day. Well not while I’m around!” replies a deeper, more resonant tone.

“Honestly, you think too much of yourself. You didn’t stop that raid last week,” comes the final voice, more calm and almost bored sounding.

“Shut up! I had something in my eye!” the deeper voice says.

“Yeah, both eyes, at the same time. Also something in your throat.”

“Do I have to choke a bitch?”

“No… ugh, let’s just head back to-” The calmer voice cuts off and you hear the sound of wing beats getting closer. “Hey, did you see that? The grass moved.”

You grit your teeth as you hear the three Harpies land on the ground. The tall grass of the plains shifts as they move their wings through it, clearly on edge. You look about to the others, and both Saya and Ginelle slowly rise before stepping back into the brush.

The sounds of the Harpies get closer when one says, “Wait, wait. Why are we down here if we think there are enemies? It could be a trap, that’s just like them.”

“Uh, because it’s a Harpy, and they work alone as scouts and such. Clearly, she’s not too bright, or she would have flown away.” The deeper voiced Harpy stops and thinks for a moment. “Actually, maybe she is smart, doesn’t want to mess with me, huh? Heh. Hehe.”

Their talons scraping across the dirt and grass, but you keep still, knife in hand. When they pass by you shout, “Now!”

You hear a bunch of squawking followed Saya and Ginelle shouting and leaping out to tackle the Harpies. They use their skills/strength to subdue two, the smaller ones, which appear to be of the common sort, while the third, larger Harpy, an Eagle with a shock of white hair, gets out unscathed. She looks about at the sudden assault and leaps into the air, not even pretending to be courageous anymore, and flies off with a massive burst of speed.

Cursing, you signal to Clint to shoot her down, when Clarissa bursts from the grass and hurtles toward the Monster at speeds you can barely believe. The Eagle Girl turns her head in time for her eyes to bulge as the smaller Harpy slams into her, the two hitting twirling about in the air before Clarissa kicks violently with a talon, sending the other Monster hurtling to the ground, only managing to right herself right before cratering, and turning it into a swooping dive, using the momentum to propel herself further into the air and turnabout, sending out a ferocious shriek before flying back toward Clarissa.

The Crow Girl merely hovers in the air before deftly doing a mid-air flip as the Eagle passes by and comes down with a talon to slam into the back of her opponent, using her full weight, which isn’t much, to send the Monster down again, this time following her and not allowing her to right. The two hit the ground like a comet, throwing up a cloud of dirt which obscures them from view.

“Holy shit!” everyone in the vicinity shouts, including the other Harpies, and you dash toward where Clarissa landed, yelling for Saya and Ginelle to hold the captives in place. You push through the grass until you reach the cloud of dirt, putting a hand to your eyes as you move through it, eventually coming across the form of Clarissa coughing into her wing as she sits on the unconscious form of the Eagle Girl. As you approach, she looks up and waves her other wing.

“I got her!”

“Well, that went better than expected.” Ophelia says as the captives are put into place. “But really, two sets of captives in one day, we’re on a roll you know.”

“Ugh…” the Eagle says, coming out of it. “Did anyone get the number of that leyway?”

“No, but we got the number of that crow that kicked your ass,” the calm Harpy, a tall, lanky thing with long, black hair, says. “They got us good though.”

“Crow… the fuck is…” The Eagle Harpy blinks and looks about to see Clarissa standing there. “WHAT?!”

Clarissa sniffs and puts a wing up to her mouth. “Thought you could beat the best flyer in Sanctifrond? Maybe in another century, ohohoho.” She chuckles a few times before looking about and coughing into her wing. “Sorry…”

“Ugh… beaten by a crow…” the Eagle Girl says before sighing. “Well shit, what happens now? Are we to be brutally murdered by you animals for taking away your ability to be brutal little savages and… uh…” She trails off as she notices you and Clint.

“Wait what?”

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” you say, looking at your knife. “We want to have a little chat with the Queen, and you’re going to help us do it.”

“What? No!” the Eagle says, eyes narrowing. “We would never betray the Queen! She is the greatest and when she’s done with her work here, she’ll be the real Queen, and not just in name!”

You blink a few times as the smallest, shrill Harpy groans, “You’re a fucking idiot.”

“What is she doing here?” you say, pointing the blade close to her. She sniffs and turns her head.

“Do your worst! You can’t scare me! Without us, you’re not getting into camp, because they’ll wonder where we went! So you’re screwed!”

“I can have my girlfriend eat you and wear your bones like a suit to walk into camp without issue.”

The three Harpies pause and look slowly to Saya, who waves her hand and smiles with malicious glee. They lick their lips a few times before the two smaller Harpies whisper to each other and ones says, “Hey uh, maybe we can reach a deal here. You just want to talk to her, right?”

“For now, yes,” you say, shrugging. “We’d like you to get us into the camp.”

“We… can do that,” the tall Harpy says. “But we can’t get you to see the Queen, not unless she wants you in, and honestly with the Black Tails rumored to be closing in, you’ll probably be detained on sight and uhm-” She looks to Saya, who is admiring her skin, which has changed to black. The Harpy licks her lips and chuckles, “Aha, well, we can introduce you as diplomats from uh… uh…”

“From the true Monster Lady,” Saya says.

“Oh! Yes, that would work, she might believe that!” The Harpies look to each other before nodding vigorously. “Yes that will work!”

“Uggghhhhh!” the Eagle Harpy growls. “You damn traitors! What if they’re here to kill the Queen?”

“Ladies, I assure you, our intentions are strictly honorable,” you say, holding up your hands.

They narrow their eyes at you and turn to Clint. The Eagle Harpy says, “Maybe if he said that we’d feel a little more relief. From you it’s kind of worrisome.”

Ginelle and Ophelia snicker while Clint pulls down his hat, though you’re certain he’s smirking. Smartasses, all of them.

Sniffing, you take hold of the ropes binding the Harpies and say, “Well, time to get walking I’d say.” They groan and complain about how slow walking is, but with Clarissa’s prodding, they start making headway toward the trees, and past it, the camp of the Queen of the West.

 

Chapter 89

“There it is,” the tall Harpy says as you survey the camp from a distance. It took you until sunset to reach the camp and, with the changes in terrain, you took longer than expected. Now you lay down upon a rise, looking over the edge toward the camp.

It’s large and fortified with wooden walls, forming a perimeter that clearly has been in place for a few days, especially with the stakes dug around it. You watch as various Monsters of all varieties patrol the outside of the camp in not quite military fashion, but with enough formality that clearly they have had some training. You’d almost think this was a forward camp of the old Monster Hordes if you didn’t know better, which scares you to be honest.

You look over to see rows of makeshift tents, as well as a few more regular ones, with cook fires gently drifting into the night sky. In the back of the camp sits a circle of large, stone pillars, though from this distance you can’t say much else about them. Clearly these are the ruins spoken of beforehand.

“Where did they get all those supplies from?” Clint mutters while looking over the camp, his rifle at the ready. “Look at that, swords, tents… how did this get funded?”

“Not sure, normally a large-scale movement of supplies would easily be noticed but out here in the west, it’s a lot harder to keep track of things,” Saya says.

“Aye.” Clint says, nodding his head. “But we need to figure our move out quick. Looks like the guards are getting restless, they must have noticed our friends missing.”

The Eagle Harpy gives a smug look, though you had the foresight to gag her before approaching the camp. Still, Ginelle bonks her on the head for good measure.

You finish surveying the camp before closing your eyes, decision made. Well, might as well get this started…

Everyone gives you incredulous looks as you stand up from the rise, stretching. “Yeah, might as well be open about it. Skulking about, infiltrating a camp full of Monsters who can hear and smell us from a great distance? Ehhhh, doesn’t sound too appealing, you know?”

You turn back to the camp and nod your head. “Yep, let’s just walk in and talk to them.”

“Tobias, that’s a little… uh,” Saya says, waving her hand about. “Insane, you know?” You give her a sidelong glance and she grunts before shaking her head. “Sorry, look, I know that sneaking in can be hard, but maybe if we find the location of-”

Clint coughs and Saya quiets, looking at where he’s nodding his head. The three Harpy scouts sit there, frowns in their faces as they listen to Saya. Her eye twitches slightly before she throws her hands up in the air. “Oh for fuck’s sake, fine, whatever.”

“Not the brightest idea honestly, but if they have any Badger Girls in there, we’re going to be found out anyway,” Ginelle says, shrugging.

“Come on then,” you say, taking a breath of night air. “Let’s go, and be the most professional you can be, alright?” You look over your group to see Ginelle in her already dirty clothing, Clint in his roughs, Ophelia in casual clothing, and Clarissa in… well Clarissa looks alright in her flying leathers.

“Ayep. Proooofessional.”

“I feel like I was just judged like a piece of meat…” Ophelia says, shaking her head. “Well, I’ll look after Akela then. Not sure what use I’ll be in there, but-”

“Sorry, again, I need you to come with.” Before this fully sinks in, you turn to Saya and say, “I’m sorry, but I need you to stay here again.”

“WHAT?” she says, stiffening up. “Tobias, you know damn well that you’ll need me in there if things go bad. The Rabbit is a nice team player, but Gods damn you if you think I’ll sit this out because you just asked me too.”

“Saya, calm down, I have a reason…”

“It better be a damn good one!” she says, face growing heated.

“Saya, I can’t have you being recognized in there. If they catch wind that you’re present…” You look at the Harpies again before going to take her arm, but she pulls away, looking hurt. You’ve never seen her quite this angry, and frankly it’s scaring you. At the same time however, you need her to stay. The reason you’re giving is legitimate but…

“Saya, please, let’s just… walk over here for a second.” She narrows her eyes before growling and shaking her head. She stomps past you and you briefly glance at the others who quickly look away, trying to seem like they have nooooo interest in what just happened. You sigh and follow after her, holding out a hand.

“Hey, slow down, we don’t have to go that far-”

“Oh yes we fucking do, because I’m going to yell at you and I don’t want Akela hearing all of it.” She takes a shuddering breath before turning about and jamming a finger in your chest.

“I tried to keep cool back with that forest shit, but this is too much. You’re worried about me being found out? I can change my fucking face!” She waves a hand over her face and suddenly the features are similar, yet different. “I’m a master of fucking disguise for the Gods’ sakes!”

“Look, Saya you know they could leverage-”

“Leverage what? They’re GOING to figure it out, I gave all the fucking clues in the world! Someone HAS to be smarter than those stooges.” You both look over to see the Eagle Harpy slam her head into that of the tall Harpy before the smallest steps on her taloned foot and the three start bickering through their gags. She shakes her head and leans in to say,

“Tell me straight Tobias, are you doing this to protect me?”

“I… I mean, no, that’s not the only reas-” you choke up as Saya stands tall and looks down upon you, despite her size. You feel so very small under those eyes, and eventually you look away, to which she sniffs and brushes past you.

“I’ll watch her for now, but when you return…” She shakes her head and rubs at her eyes. “Just go.”

You look at her with a distraught expression before closing your eyes and nodding your head slowly. “Alright.”

As you approach the others, they all stand up straighter and give you worried expressions. You take a deep breath before exhaling and saying, “Come on, let’s do this.”

Ginelle and Clarissa help up the Harpy captives and herd them towards the camp. You shake your head and kneel down to Akela, the little Anubis’s ears twitching softly. Her expression seems as if it could be carved from stone, and it breaks your heart to see that.

“Akela…” you say before sighing. “Be a good girl, alright?”

She shrugs and then walks past you to Saya, who takes the little girl’s hand before looking to you and walking off somewhere to hide. You close your eyes and curse yourself, but at least you know they’ll be safe for this one. With that thought in mind, you stand up and follow the others to the enemy camp.

“HALT!” A Wolf Girl guard says, holding a spear toward you. The weapon looks strange in her hands, but at the same time, she looks like she’s reasonably competent in using the thing. The light armor she wears over what is essentially nothing gives a strange sense of cohesion and legitimacy to her demand.

You stop multiple paces away from the gate and the woman cocks her head, as if seeming confused that someone actually responded the right way. She seems troubled for a long while before turning and whistling to another Guard, a heavily muscled Centaur, and the two converse with each other for a long time before turning back to you and shouting, “STATE YOUR BUISNESS!”

“Good evening, we are diplomats from Sanctifrond, here to speak with the Queen of the West!”

“Sanctifrond? The capi-” the Wolf cuts off before consulting with the Centaur again, lifting her head and pointing, whispering furiously before saying again, “WHO IS THAT WITH YOU?”

“HEY CARLIE!” the Eagle Harpy, her gag removed, shouts, waving a wing. “HOW’S WATCH?”

“Why is everyone yelling…” Ophelia asks, holding her ears. “They’re like, fifteen feet away…”

“WHAT? WHY ARE YOU THREE THERE?”

You give the tall Harpy a look and she swallows before saying, “We’re escorting them! That’s why we were so late!”

The Wolf Girl blinks and then turns back to the Centaur again before flipping back one more time. “ARE YOU SUUURRREEE THEY’RE DIPLOMATS?”

“P-pretty sure,” the tall one says, chuckling. “Would we lie?”

“Yes,” the Centaur says in a flat tone, causing everyone to look at her with hushed expressions until she chuckles. “I’m kidding! They said I needed to work on my sense of humor, you know.”

You all let out collective breaths and walk forward as the guards open the makeshift gate for you. As you pass by, the Centaur gives you a once over and you think you’re out of danger until she shouts, “WOAH HOLD ON!”

You freeze, both from the surprise and from your ears ringing. Turning to her, you ask, “Yes ma’am?”

She snorts and clops forward up to Clint before poking his rifle case. “I forgot, no weapons in the camp. Diplomats or not, can’t let you have that… whatever it is.”

“How about I show you…” he growls, in uncharacteristic anger. You make a quick gesture of your hand and he grits his teeth before handing over his rifle. “Better take damn good care of her.”

“Yeah, yeah…” The Centaur says, taking the rifle and Ophelia’s wrench. The Wolf Girl pats down Clarissa and Ginelle and, finding nothing of value, goes to pat you down. You briefly consider using an illusion to hide your knife, but… well, let’s be on the safe side. You hand over your weapon and she grunts, placing it in a pile with the other items.

“Alright, so you’re diplomats then. I suppose you want to speak with the Queen?” The Wolf Girl asks, and you nod your head.

“Indeed. We have heard of her grand venture here and wish to speak about what this means for the future of Deleor. If the cards are played right, perhaps even the Monster Nation will accept your Queen and help drive out the Feral Monsters.”

The Wolf’s eyes sparkle. “Ohhhh, is that so? About time they figured out how great we are!” She puffs up her chest and slams her spear against it. “Well, allow me to lead you to the Queen!”

The tall Harpy makes to say something, but with a glare from Ginelle, she chokes up and pushes for the other two to walk away as fast as possible. Hopefully you won’t end up needing to kill them. As tiring as they were, they at least had some comedic value. Welp, letting them go, you follow after the Wolf Girl.

The camp is far larger than expected, with multiple units of Monsters sitting around their fires, cooking various foods for the evening. You watch with curiosity as one Lamia waves her arms about and lifts a cook fire into the air, having it fly around. So, this camp even has Monster Witches, a scary thing in and of itself. If this little army has multiple Witches…

As you walk by many of the Monsters point toward you and whisper, surprised as they are to see outsiders, especially men in camp. Though they’re watching you, you’re doing your best to watch them, searching out the enemy’s strength in case you need to fight your way out. It’s strange to see the disparity in the Monsters, half of them wearing military grade armor, while the others wear random clothes that don’t seem to do much in the way of protection.

“Quite the assortment you have here,” you say, trying not to notice the lewd gestures of a pair of Cat Girls outside their tent. “A lot of weaponry too. Where did all this come from?”

“Mmm, well, I don’t know,” the Wolf Girl says, genuine. “The Queen has connections, of course, connections which got me this cool spear.” She holds it up. “I’m not going to question it!”

“I see. Where is the Queen anyway? Her command tent?”

“Heh, like she ever spends much time in there. No, she’s currently at the pillars. You lucked out today my, ‘diplomatic friends.’”

“Pillars? Lucked out abo-“ Ophelia begins before trailing off as she notices what you’re walking toward.

The structures are massive, easily thirty… maybe forty feet in height, made of granite hewn by ancient hands and weathered with age. You count ten of them aligned around a large circle of stone inset into the ground, with various runes scratched into them. The circle slopes downward, forming a depression with the circle in the center. You can’t really sense anything from the place, but it feels… arcane somehow. As if there is power trapped in there that wishes to be freed.

“Ophelia,” you whisper to the Rabbit Girl, whose wears perk up. “There isn’t a leyline out here, is there?”

“Uh… no, not that I know of, why do you ask?”

“Why would there be something like this all the way out here, away from the major sources of power in this world?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know old magic, I know magitek.” She pauses and looks over the pillars again. “Though some of the runes… seem familiar. They remind me of an energy conversion pattern but… hrm.” She goes quiet as the Wolf Girl grows stern and silences you.

“The Queen comes!”

From the circle you see a figure appear, walking forth from behind a pillar which obscured your sight before. Surprisingly, they are alone, and it does not take long until they resolve into the form of a Monster of average height with long, red hair tied in an elaborate tail behind her. She saunters more than walks forward, and it draws your eyes to the dark leather outfit that hugs her well-developed curves and accentuates her tanned flesh. She stops next to the Wolf Girl and runs a claw-tipped hand over the long, curling horns coming from her forehead as she looks over all of you with bright blue eyes.

She scans over your group with curiosity until she pauses, her whole body going rigid. You tense, preparing to cast an illusion, but to your surprise, the Queen puts her hands to her cheeks and says,

“Oh my Gods, CLINTAIN? IS THAT YOU?”

“Oh here we go,” he says as the Monster dashes toward him, small, bat-like wings on her back and spade tail flapping behind her in less than realistic fashion. She wraps her arms around him and buries her face in his chest, rubbing it back and forth.

“Oh my Gods, I never thought I’d see you again! And here of all places? Woaaaaaah.”

“Yes, it’s nice to see you again too Emily,” he says with a forced smile, and the woman chuckles.

“Oh, that’s not my name anymore! I’m The Queen of the West now.” She giggles. “This whole place is my camp, and all these Monsters are following me! I told you that I’d be a Queen someday, and look at where I am now.” She sighs and nuzzles his chest.

“And you’re back here too! Oh, dreams do come true!”

At this show of “affection,” Ginelle grinds her teeth and raises her claws. You quickly put a hand on her arm and shake your head, to which she looks at you and growls a few times before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Emily watches the whole affair out of the corner of her eye before cocking her head and asking, “Who are your friends Clint?”

“Ah, well, I made a trip back to Sanctifrond recently, and I was asked to lead a diplomatic expedition here from the Capital.” He waves to you and says, “This is Tobias, our lead diplomat, as well as Clarissa, our courier, and Ophelia, our magitek specialist.” He pauses as he gets to Ginelle. “And this is… a local bodyguard.”

Emily’s eyes go flat as she looks over your group, and you realize that her earlier joviality was merely hiding a deeper intellect. The Wolf Girl salutes and says, “My Queen, these diplomats wished to speak with you about terms of cooper-“ She’s cut off as Emily raises a hand and stands up straighter, giving off a regal, if rather… lewd… impression.

“Yes, yes, I shall hear them out,” she says, and you feel a wave of something pulse over you, making you stand a little taller yourself, as if you wish to look your absolute best before this regal creature. She seems taller then, and she looks down at all of you before closing her eyes and nodding. “Our work here is nearly complete, so I would appreciate if you would speak your piece quickly.”

“Of course,” you say, bowing to her, which is formality but… seems maybe a little too formal. “Lady, we speak on behalf of the Crown and the Lady of the Monsters. We wish to speak about your plans after you remove the feral Monsters from this region. We are worried about a potential destabilization of the region, especially with Galmathoria so close, and would like to extend an offer to be formally recognized by the Monster Nation-“

“Is that all they wished to speak of?” Emily says, cutting you off. “How trite. Those are the words of subjugation, to make me subordinate to one so much weaker than myself.” She shakes her head. “Are you truly a diplomat? Don’t they teach you to start your negotiations strong? What do I stand to gain from joining? Nothing so far as I see. I have the love and adoration of so many Monsters here, and soon, I will have the power to rival the so called ‘Queen of Blades.'”

“If I may ask-”

“You may not,” she says curtly, and you shut your mouth, looking abashed. Why are you looking abashed though? She’s Queenly, sure, but… it doesn’t make sense to you, and yet it does!

Clint coughs and steps forward. “If I may ask-”

Emily turns to him faster than you can believe and flies into him again. “Ohh, well if it’s you Clint, then of course I can tell you.” She chuckles and points to the stone circle. “We’re priming this ancient circle and, when all is said and done, we’ll have control of the leyline network! I can shift them wherever I want and have total control of all the leyways!” She puts a hand to her mouth and laughs,

“I will control this nation’s transportation and communication. All will BOW to me or everything will grind to a halt! Ohohohoho!”

 

Chapter 90

Your eyes go wide and you turn to Ophelia, who stares at the woman in a mixture of horror and fascination. Her hands begin positively vibrating and you know for a fact she wants to ask every little detail about what this means. Thankfully, Clarissa also picks up on this, and takes the Rabbit Girl’s hand, calming her down.

“You like riding the rails, right Clint? Well, now that you’re here, we can ride a certain rail all night long…” Emily says, chuckling maliciously while the man does his best to hide a groan. Ginelle seems to struggle between wanting to act civil and knocking the Queen’s head off, but now is not the time for violence. That comes later.

“Ah, but for now,” Emily says, her fingers trailing along Clint’s chest. “Why don’t you sit back and watch as I take what is rightfully mine?” She turns back to the stone circle and closes her eyes, slowly raising her hands up, and the whole place suddenly shudders and begins to glow a soft green. She opens her eyes and chuckles, sauntering back into the circle.

“Wait here, if you would be so kind. When I am finished, we will have all the time we could ever want to… negotiate.” She waves a hand as the Wolf Girl guard and two others from nearby turn to stand between you and the ritual site.

The green glow of power pulses from the ancient site, and it makes your skin crawl as you can literally feel the energies coursing through it. You hear the Monsters nearby growing agitated, especially those with magical gifts, who have to look away at first to adjust to the sudden changes in aethertic properties. Thankfully your particular vein of magic is not nearly as close to the source as Monster Witches, but you have to flinch a little as well.

This was not at all what you bargained for here. This was supposed to be a simple mission, get to negotiations, kill her during negotiations, cover it up with an illusion, and get yourself out of there as fast as possible. Ancient ritual site which will be used to take control of the leyways? Yeah, you didn’t sign up for that.

Part of you wishes to leave, to get someone more powerful than yourself. You’ve been in some shit before, Hells, the Grand Wizard himself may have had some trouble with some of what you’ve done, (You’re joking, you think he would have been perfectly fine), however, you wish someone else was here to help. Someone like the Grand Wizard, Selene, Richard… or even Saya. You were a fool to leave her behind, even if it was for good intentions.

In this moment of helplessness, you clench your fists and grit your teeth. Out of the corner of your eye you see the others shift nervously, Clint’s fingers twitching to grab a weapon that isn’t present, while Ophelia and Clarissa stare in mute horror at the ritual before you. You can sense the panic, the unease. Perhaps it’s an illusion, perhaps it’s the overwhelming and ancient power being summoned in front of you, or perhaps it’s just something as simple as fear. Desperately, you search out for something, anything as a lifeline, and your eyes fall on the pillar to which you’ve relied on for so long.

Ginelle closes her eyes before opening them slightly and looking to you. In that gaze you see a single question:

“What do we do?”

Your eyes go wide as you realize that there is no help coming, that while you’d rather run to the higher powers of the land, there’s nothing they can do. At this place, at this time, everyone is looking up to YOU for their salvation. No one else can do this but you, and you suddenly feel at once sick to your stomach and filled with determination. You accepted this task, and you knew it would end with your mind or body in shambles, but that is not to be here, not now. You have business with Fiora, Chalan, and Jackor himself. What is some punk Illusionist to you?

Do it, [Bearsy] echoes into your mind. She has to go back.

“I know,” you whisper.

“Eh?” the Wolf Girl says, cocking her head at you. “What was that?”

“We have to go back,” you say, voice louder.

The guards give you strange looks before the Wolf Girl asks, “Didn’t you want to talk with her about negotiations?”

“What he means,” Clint says, removing his hat, ruffling his hair, and smiling at her. “Is that we need to go back to her. That I, need to go back to her.”

The Wolf Girl looks between the other guards with a wary expression. “I don’t think she wants to be bothered by anyone, not even you.”

“I’m certain she would make an exception for him,” you say, exerting a little bit of your power onto her. “Don’t you remember how she touched him? What she whispered to him?”

“I… I uhm… wait, I’m confused, what did-?”

“She said she’d been waiting for him forever. Don’t you think that a Succubus, in the crowning moment of her ritual, wouldn’t want the power of a lover’s semen? Wouldn’t she want onlookers to watch her moment of ecstasy, our jealousy filled eyes fueling her ascension to royalty?”

The Wolf Girl bites her lip, her thighs shifting uncomfortably. The other two guards look at her with surprise, but when one goes to say something, she lifts a hand and says, “I… I remember now. I remember the way she uhm… right.” She stands up taller.

“O-okay! You may come closer to witness the glory of the Queen’s ascension! And you! Handsome one! You better make her feel good.”

She turns about and leads you away, the other two guards coming with her, though they look skeptical.

The power of the ritual begins to reverberate within your very bones the closer you come. It seems like the others don’t share in your discomfort, but it makes your head hurt and your teeth chatter. Monster Witches back in the camp begin to burble amongst themselves and a general sense of unease grows stronger and stronger.

As you approach, you notice that, stationed at each of the pillars, is a Monster Witch, each of them loaded with multiple vials of semen as they close their eyes and channel magic into the ritual site, fueling it with more and more power. In the center stands Emily, her arms outstretched, head tilted to the sky, eyes manic.

“Emily!” Clint shouts as you approach. The guard bars you from walking farther, but allows Clint to walk toward the woman.

She doesn’t turn around, rather she tilts her head and body backward enough to see Clint, her eyes still open wide. “Clint… darling, didn’t I ask you stay behind? We will have all the time we want when this is finished.”

“I couldn’t wait,” he says, walking toward her at a slow, steady pace, hands out to his side. “After seeing you again, it made me realize how much I missed you, how much I need to hold you.”

She closes her eyes, a smirk coming across her face. Slowly, she turns around and lowers her arms, outstretching them to Clint.

“Come then, to my bosom, that we may never be apart again.”

Clint nods his head and walks up to her, arms held out in an embrace. You can’t hear what he says next, but Ophelia stands up straight as, right before he reaches her, his hand darts down to his boot and he pulls out a thin strip of metal, sharpened enough to cut flesh.

He slashes his arm toward her throat, but the moment before it connects, she whispers something and his arm freezes in place. Surprised, he grabs at it with his other hand, but it won’t budge. She merely watches him with a smug expression, no concern or worry present.

“Clint…” she coos, placing a hand to his cheek, despite the shiv being mere inches from her throat. “You could have hurt me with that… is this how you repay me for all the kindness I showed you? All the good times we had together?”

She begins to dig her fingers into his cheek, nails drawing blood, yet he cannot move. “I know you despise me, I know you left to get away from me. But now, you’re back, and I’ll make certain you never think about leaving me again. As for these… ‘diplomats…’”

Contemptuously, she flicks her wrist at the guards. “Maim them, kill them, do whatever you must, the ritual will be completed.”

The guards stand straight, their expressions of confusion turning to ordered hostility. With precision you wouldn’t have expected from these Monsters, they draw their weapons and turn to cut you down.

The Wolf Girl thrusts her spear at you, the tip aimed right at your heart, but you barely turn out of the way, only to collide into Ophelia, who yelps and falls over, taking you with her.

Clarissa squawks and leaps into the air, flapping her wings just high enough to avoid the sword swing from one of the other guards, a Cat Girl. The final guard, a Badger Girl, swings a mace toward Ginelle, however instead of dodging, the Monster catches the weapon in her hands, arresting the attack. They both stare at each other with grit teeth and begin to snarl as they struggle for dominance.

Not that it’s any of your business, because the Wolf Girl is back, turning her thrust about to skewer you and Ophelia into a nice kebab. Unable to disentangle yourself from the Rabbit Girl in time, you use a simple misdirection illusion, and the spear changes course ever so slightly, just enough to slice across your ribs rather than your gut.

Your jacket had somehow come open during this time, so the spear only tore open a gash in your shirt… and your skin. Immediately, crimson begins to stain the white cloth as a surge of fiery pain makes you gasp.

“What the- ah fuck,” the Wolf Girl says, pulling back her spear to try again. She takes in a deep breath through her nose, getting your scent. Damn, messing with both of those senses would take too much effort, and you can’t do this forever. Something presses on your back and you pause only for a fraction of a second before preparing yourself.

The Wolf Girl readies the spear, but before she can, Ophelia’s powerful rabbit legs propel you forward into the guard, taking her, and you, completely by surprise.

You collide into her, sending her skidding across the ground, your body atop her, spear clattering out of reach. Had this not been a life and death situation, you certainly would comment on how her armor does very little to hide her rather impressive chest. But you digress, in this moment of surprise, you strike first by slamming your first into the face of the Monster.

Her head snaps to the side, but instead of knocking her out, it only makes her angry. She grabs your wrist as you make to throw another punch and her surprising grip strength makes you gasp in surprise and pain. Thus off balanced, she throws you off her to land on your back, air being driven out of your lungs.

Well, though your vision swims for a moment, you might as well see what the others are up as you lay there.

Clarissa tries to fly higher, but when she reaches about twenty feet up, a field of green force appears, forcing her downward. Her Cat Girl opponent takes his opportunity to crouch onto all fours and then leap up in the air, grabbing the Crow Girl’s talons. With a shriek, Clarissa is thrown downward, but before she can hit the ground, she flips about and arrests her fall with her wings, kicking the guard off her as she stumbles to regain her balance. Which is good, because now that she’s grounded, her assailant runs at her with that sword.

Ginelle, on the other hand, tears the mace out away from the other Badger Girl and throws it aside before savagely slapping the Monster across the face. The blow would have killed any human, or most Monsters for that matter, but the guard’s neck bulges and only a minute turn is seen. She glares daggers at Ginelle and returns with a slap of her own, staggering your friend with the force of it. Not taking that lying down, Ginelle leaps for the Monster and they roll on the ground, tearing at each other and hissing in fury.

Ah, but back to your situation. The Wolf Girl has decided to leap atop you and is busy choking your neck. Yes, quite enviable, isn’t it?

“You little shit! I believed you!” she growls while trying to throttle you. “I was fucking tricked by your bullshit mouth and looked like a fool in front of the Queen! Well, now no one is ever going to hear your fucking voice ever again.”

“Are you so sure?”

She blinks in surprise, but her grip upon your neck doesn’t falter. “W-what the fuck? How did you say that? I’m choking you to death!”

“Then how am I talking?”

“S-stop! What the fuck are you doing? JUST DIE!”

“Try as you like, this will not kill me.”

Her eyes grow wide as she begins to panic, your voice and calm demeanor starting to unnerve her. And why shouldn’t they? By all rights you should be struggling to breathe, the pain and asphyxiation causing you to begin to black out.

Oh, haha, wait, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Using the last vestiges of your conscious control of your power, you force your illusion upon her, desperately trying everything to get her to let you go. But it doesn’t work, she instead holds on harder, your illusion causing her to grow wild-eyed, determined to kill you if it’s the last thing she does. That single minded determination is what makes her a good guard. It’s also what makes her a dead guard.

Ophelia cries out as she runs the Wolf Girl through the chest with her own spear, using her powerful legs to propel her lunge forward. Though the Rabbit Girl isn’t very strong, she’s got enough leverage and power from her running start to drive the weapon through her armor and throw the guard off you.

You gasp and suck in blessed, agonizing breaths and begin to cough as your throat opens again. Beautiful air ravages your body as you turn to the side and wheeze, trying to get your bearings. You vaguely notice Ophelia falling on her face after she runs the Wolf Girl through, horribly off balanced by the attack, but she quickly picks herself up and leaps to you, helping you stand.

“Holy hells, Tobias, are you okay?”

“Heh… aha… heh… guess the prey became… the predator.”

“That is not fucking funny!” Ophelia says, voice shrill. “I just killed her! It’s a damn good thing I like you because I was fucking terrified! What if she’d done that to me?!”

“Then you… gah, urk, you’d be dead.”

“Fuck you,” she says, in the most eloquent way possible, before looking up to the other two.

Clarissa is dancing along the ground, using her wings to buffet the guard’s swings and dodge out of the way. Being a fast flier clearly means she’s also good at dodging a sword, because her opponent is getting agitated. Unfortunately, it takes all of her concentration to keep from being slicked turkey and she can do little more than dodge. That is, until she catches her foot and trips.

The Cat Girl’s eyes gleam and she lunges forward with her sword when a massive form collides into her, throwing her to the side in a crumpled heap.

The Crow Girl stares in surprise as she watches the Cat Girl try to rise before passing out under the unconscious form of the Badger Girl guard, her body torn up by the savaging Ginelle gave her beforehand. Speaking of which, you turn to your erstwhile companion to find her clothing all but shredded, her body covered in fresh new wounds, and a look of utter rage on her face. Throwing back her head, she lets out a mighty shout and victory and anger.

“I thought, I said, DO NOT DISTURB ME!”

Ginelle suddenly goes rigid, and then slack, her consciousness winking out as she collapses to the ground in a heap.

You, Clarissa, and Ophelia turn to the source of the find Emily stalking toward you, a look of fury on her face. The Wolf Girl guard, bleeding out from the wound she suffered, reaches out toward her for succor, but Emily only says,

“Die, you worthless cretin.”

The guard takes in a gasping breath before sagging down onto her spear, the spark of life gone.

Emily stands before you, seething with magic power. “The damn ritual has reached the point where outside interference is not possible. The ritual can no longer be stopped, I will take my destiny as Queen, and you will worship me.”

She reaches a hand out toward you and you feel a wash of magic pour over you.

“Or you will die.”

 

Chapter 91

Every fiber of your being screams at you to submit. Her power, her radiance, it is all consuming, all powerful. She is the one true Queen and you? You’re no one, nothing. Just an insignificant worm that should be rotting in the Arboretum. It would be best for you to just lay down and die for her satisfaction, rather than disgust her with your presence any longer.

Slowly, you find yourself kneeling to the ground, your aches and pains vanishing as you take comfort in your impending death. If the Queen wills it then… then… then what?

You’ll be dead, and so will everyone you love. This woman will take over the reign of Deleor, or cause its total destruction. Hells, without the leyways, the confusion at the very least would cause mass panic! Heh, a fine coinciden-

It surprises you that you can come to this train of thought. Weren’t you just preparing to die just a moment ago? Although why would you want to do that when you have such important… no, is it that important? Why is this so confusing to you?

“What?” Emily says, stalking up toward you. “Why do you resist? No, how can you resist? I am the Queen, my word is law!”

That’s… not right, is it? Nothing about this is right. The entire situation is messed up, isn’t it?

Latching onto this one thread, you start building upon it, unraveling the entire situation. Where did all these supplies come from? How did this Emily end up here of all places? What does she truly hope to gain from controlling the leyways?

The more and more you piece together, the more and more control you gain back over yourself. This woman isn’t some divine Queen, she’s just a bitch with delusions of grandeur using her overcharged illusions to make you submit to her will. She’s nothing more than a common whore who’s upset that her boy toy left her for something better. You’re nothing? You’re no one? Well, look at what’s standing right in front of you.

“No, your word is rubbish,” you say, standing up slowly, resisting her illusion. “Your word is just the feeble attempt to feel something other than the yawning void between your legs.”

“Insolence!” she shouts, slapping you across the face.

You stagger back a step, the force of it stinging, but manageable. Turning your eyes back to her, she takes a step back and says, “You- you will kneel!”

“No,” you say, pointing at her and using your own will, your own magic, your own Gods-given gifts. <Battle Voice> and <Heart of Darkness> pour into your words, suffusing them, along with your illusion, to create a commandment that she could not hope to disobey.

“You will submit to me.”

Emily’s eyes go wide and she gasps before staggering to one knee. She shakes violently as her body slowly lowers itself to the ground and her Succubus illusion begins to fade. Gritting her teeth, she thrusts one hand to the ground to keep from outright prostrating herself as she looks up at you, fury on her expression.

“Good girl.”

“Fuck you,” she hisses.

“I don’t see that in his cards any time soon, nor yours.”

Emily’s turns her head slowly as Clint’s shiv appears at her neck again. The man has a stone-cold expression on his face as he presses the blade toward her flesh. Her mouth works wordlessly and tears appear in her eyes.

“N-no… I can’t… it can’t end like this… Clint, not you… not here.”

The energies of the ritual continue to build, but without knowing what to do about it, you have to focus your attention on the task at hand. The Queen of the West is subdued and at your mercy. Which means it’s time to get some answers.

“What made you start this little crusade of yours?”

“I… I met a woman named Chalan. She told me about a power I had inside of me, one that made me liked by others. She helped me channel it and realize my destiny, which I took to eagerly.”

“Chalan…” you spit. “Did she supply you with the weapons and armor?”

“Yes, they came by leyway from the east, regular shipments stamped with the sigil of Loveura.”

Well, that explains all the stockpiling you found, but if the main goal was the Blitzers, why spend all the money and effort to fund this? Unless her and Fiora…

“Did she tell you about anyone else? About another associate named Fiora?”

“Who? Ah, I think she mentioned some bitch named that, but she didn’t seem very friendly toward her.”

Interesting… “What else did she tell you?”

Emily blinks in surprise before looking up, then back to you. She shakes her head and says, “She told me about the ritual and what power I’d gain by performing it.”

“And did she tell you how to control this power? What exactly it does?”

“No, but she didn’t need to. She said I wasn’t ‘ripe’ yet and that she would return to guide me in my ascension. But a true Queen does not need anyone but herself to grasp power. My subordinates and I learned how to tap into the power here and we were so close…”

You stand up and take in a deep breath as Ophelia walks up to you, hands clasped together as she looks down. Despite her claims back in Loveura, she hated this, didn’t she? What she has become forced to do? Well, you hate it also.

Clarissa tries to rouse Ginelle while Clint presses the shiv closer and gives you a questioning look. It’s probably about time to finish this, you have the answers you need and you’ll have to focus your efforts on getting out of here in once piece.

You raise your hand to signal Clint and begin to drop it when Emily’s face turns into a snarl and she throws back her head, screaming,

“No! I will not let it end like this!”

The Monster Witches along the pillars, in unison, tilt their heads back and scream as a surge of magic washes over you. You feel your consciousness waver as the backlash of so much energy hits you. Though you stagger, Emily rises up and surprises Clint, pushing him back out of the way before she explodes in a surge of green energy.

“The ritual! I can feel the magic surging in my veins! I can feel the power of creation in my very fingertips!”

“Feel this, bitch!”

Ophelia, who hadn’t been knocked away, bounds forward to deliver a mighty kick to the woman but, before she can reach, Emily flicks her wrist and Ophelia shrieks before falling to the ground, holding her chest as tears begin to stream down her face.

The Monster Witches in the periphery drop, one by one, their part in this ritual over. With each one who falls, Emily surges with more and more energy, her eyes now glowing with the green power. She smiles and speaks, power radiating from her mouth,

“Ahhh, even though the ritual was incomplete, the power, it surges within me. I have but to unleash it bring this entire nation to its knees.”

Before you can stop her, she clenches her fist and it feels like something cracks. Nothing physical mind you, but something aetheric, something perhaps even esoteric. It’s impossible to describe what you’re feeling but it’s also impossible to deny that you are feeling something.

And clearly, so is Emily.

“Wait…” she whispers, looking down at her own hand. Her eyes widen in horror as she stares down at herself. “No… no this isn’t what she promised me at all. Something is… feeding on the power! Something inside me! G-Get it out! GET IT OUT!”

She lets out a horrific cry and places her hands on her head, staggering backward as the magic surges through her body. With each step she takes, the ground rumbles and the pillars around you quake, their ancient construction unable to accept the tremors. As they begin to fall, the magic barrier around them flickers out as well, sending in a rush of the night air which is now punctuated by screams of rage and terror from the camp around you.

Though your head swims with pain, you’re dimly aware of the Monsters in the camp trying to restore some semblance of order while many lay on the ground, unconscious, as the tents and other constructs fall from the tremors. If some disorder was the worst of it, however, that would be fine, but the Monster Witches you saw spread throughout the camp have gone into fits, unconsciously using their magic talents to cause untold havoc.

Staggering to your feet, you watch as Emily stops moving and slowly lowers her hands from her head. As her fingers pull down her face, your eyes widen as you see bulging vessels under the skin of her cheek, pulsating as what looks like roots crawl up around her eye, which has become red. One arm goes slack to her side while the other presses against her face, digging into the skin, which begins to grow pale.

“I was to be the Queen…” she whispers, though you’re not certain to whom.

“What?”

“I was promised that with this power I would be the Queen. But all I hear is the whisper to submit. To serve a higher power.”

She chuckles and a dribble of blood comes from her mouth. “Is this because the ritual was incomplete? Has the magic which was mine to claim, instead turned to claiming me?” Holding her hand up to her face, she smiles as the skin turns purple, “Ah, but I am no longer human, am I?”

No, she isn’t. With horror you realize that whatever process is occurring, spurred on by the seeds left by Chalan and germinated by the magic of this ritual, is turning her into a Mindflayer, just like Fiora. Control of the leylines be damned, this was a ploy to make another insanely powerful Monster, just like Fiora! And this one has an army at her behest, ready to fight the Galmathorians… or start their own war within the borders of Deleor.

“So that was her plan the whole time,” you hiss through grit teeth, head ringing. “Chalan wanted to use you to gain another pawn Phallia could control. But you just had to be impatient.”

“Pawn?” Emily says, looking at you with one red and one blue eye. She blinks once before her face, distorted and half discolored, contorts even further into a rage.

“I AM NO PAWN!”

She roars and throws her arms to the side as magic cascades off her, making your vision swim as multiple images and sensations flitter in your mind. Panting with anger, she turns to you and points.

“I am a Queen, and a Queen serves no one! Not a man, not a Monster, and not a God! With this power, I will break these shackles and claim my throne upon the corpses of all who will not submit!” She chuckles, sense seeming to flee from her as her world focuses upon you.

“And for my first decree, I sentence you to death.”

 

Chapter 92

Ah Hells.

You pant in exertion as a vice presses upon your mind from the magical backlash of whatever is happening here. Clint tries to push himself up from the ground, but staggers to the side, a cut on his head from his fall dazing him. Ophelia weeps nearby, muted to the world while Ginelle is still unconscious, Clarissa holding her tight, wings trembling with fear.

Haaaah… so it falls to you again to fix this mess, does it? Once more, you curse yourself for leaving Saya behind.

Reaching to the ground, you pick up the shiv that Clint dropped and hold it before you, posture terrible and breathing ragged, but you do stand there, at least.

“Pathetic.”

You stagger as her voice hits you with a nearly physical force. Nausea wells up within you as your vision swims. You haven’t felt Such disorientation since Fiora hit you beforehand. Back then you were overmatched, driven insane, and left for dead.

But that was then, and this is now. You’re not the same person you were before, and you’ll be damned if you’ll be brought to your knees here.

Through sheer willpower, you shrug her illusion off you, causing her to blink in surprise. “You’re still fighting? How? What compels you to keep going on?”

“Something more than myself,” you spit, stepping toward her, shiv still held outward.

“There is nothing greater than yourself,” Emily hisses, sending another illusion that causes your vision to swim. Everything in your body screams for you to submit to her, to realize the truth of her words and stop your pointless struggle.

As if that would work on you again.

You merely shake your head and continue forward amidst the chaos all around you. Sensations and images flash through your senses, but you focus your vision to a razor’s edge and walk forward, step by step, focused upon Emily.

Her body ripples as a tentacle slowly grows from her head, bladed sucker forming at the end. She takes no notice of the changes anymore, her own fury focused upon you as she forces more and more illusions onto you, trying to overwhelm your senses. Trying, and failing.

You stagger before her, shiv held out in one hand. With a desperate cry, you lunge forward, driving the weapon into her neck, spraying hot blood all over you as she looks on in horror before dying in fitful agony, her twisted form writhing against its fate.

Panting, you drop to your knees and stare at the blood on your hands. You… you did it. Despite everything, you did it! Now… now you just need to get out of here, just need to make it back to Saya and… and…

Your thoughts trail off as you look down at your hands and then back to the twitching corpse of Emily. Something… isn’t right about this. It takes you a few moments to realize that the blood doesn’t feel right and her face it… she’s smiling?

“Fuck-“ you try to say before something hits you on the back of the head, making your vision swim as you collide face first into the ground. It’s impossible to tell if the ringing in your ears is an illusion or trauma, but the voice you hear as a foot presses into your back is very real.

“I applaud you for never taking your eyes off my majesty. But such narrow-minded devotion is the purview of worms like you, worms who belong in the dirt. Which is where I’m about to put you, forever.”

You try to rise, but the foot digs in deeper, pressing hard upon your back. Something cold and metallic touches your neck. The shiv from before? No… it’s a spear, the one the Wolf Girl was using. Hmph, so you’re going to die like this, huh? And here you thought you’d grown. If only you could have said goodbye to Saya and Akela…

“GET YOUR SLIMY FOOT OFF HIM!”

Your eyes shoot open as the pressure on your back releases and the metal retreats. A rush of wind passes overhead and, with a struggle, you turn over to see what’s happening, only for your eyes to widen even further.

Standing over you is Saya, dressed in her traveling clothes and with a knife out before her, other hand black and oozing. She growls as Emily steps backward, a look of surprise on her expression.

“If anyone is going to kill this idiot, it’s me, you got that?”

“Saya?”

She flashes you a quick smile before turning her full attention to Emily. “Damn bitch, you’re ugly.”

“Says the spawn of the Grand Wizard. Aren’t you made of shit like the rest of his creations?”

“Tobias, get the fuck up so we can kill this whore.”

“Y-yes ma’am,” you say, painfully staggering to your feet. Saya reaches behind her and tosses you a knife from her belt, which you catch and hold out to your side. “How did you even get in here?”

“Have you paid attention? It’s a war zone out there.”

“I mean, the ritual caused a disruption but-“

“Which gave the Black Tails all the opportunity to move in and start a battle, yes.”

Emily hisses and looks off, outside the circle to see the Monsters of her camp fighting with ones dressed in rough garb, or no clothing at all, a fierce battle ensuing between them. She grits her teeth and turns back to Saya saying, “No wonder none of my subjects came to- what?!”

She cuts off as Saya takes the momentary distraction to rush her, reaching out with her hand to try and melt the demi-Mindflayer. Before she can reach, a tentacle from Emily’s head gets in the way and Saya’s hand eats through it, breaking off the bladed sucker and throwing a spray of ichor, but leaving the majority of Emily’s body intact.

“AHHHH!” Emily shrieks, staring in horror at her body’s new appendage in its ragged state. She waves a hand and Saya staggers, her eyes swimming as an illusion clearly wracks her senses. At this, you rush forward and slash at Emily, your knife making a large gouge in her arm before she bats you away with the spear in her hand.

You pull back to Saya and take her hand before saying with your <Battle Voice>, “Snap out of it!”

She does so, shaking her head as her vision refocuses upon you. Inhaling sharply, she squeezes your hand before pulling out a spherical object from a pouch at her side and leaping toward Emily again, you following behind her. You both dart to the sides, weapons ready to strike at her when your target shrieks and a wave of power, or at least a perceived wave of power, pushes both of you back. Though you’re too startled to do much more than steady yourself, Saya gasps and drops her knife and the orb, which tumbles away through the dirt.

Emily clutches her face with her hand, her breathing ragged as her remaining blue eye becomes bloodshot. “These… these wretches think to overthrow me… ME? I am the Queen of the West, no the Queen of everything! I will master this change and rule all, even the Gods will fear me!”

Her body convulses as, with her final vestige of sanity gone, she allows the power within her to take control. Tentacles burst from her head as her hair becomes thick and dark purple, while her skin turns a lighter shade of the same color. She opens her eyes, which are now both a shining red as a final, third eye splits open horizontally from her forehead. The new eyes centers upon you as she smiles,

“Ah… why was I fighting this? Of course this form is fitting, it is right. A Queen must possess her majesty and am I not majestic?”

Your vision swims as you drop to your knees. You know what’s happening, know it and have fought it off before. But now it’s too powerful, she’s become too powerful. Though she appears somewhat different from Fiora, more like the Mindflayers described by Patricia, her magic power is the real deal.

The contents of your stomach roil as you struggle against the urge to supplicate yourself before her. Saya, who was pushed back on the other side of Emily, struggles as well, but her mental defenses are not as good as yours and she bows to the ground, tears streaming down her face much as Ophelia was before. In fact, the Rabbit Girl huddles on the ground now, her back turned from you as her arms twitch, likely in fear.

The others are awake, save for Ginelle, but they stare in mute horror at the Monster before them. What things must they be seeing, this being their first time witnessing a Mindflayer? Your first time it was overwhelming, but you had Richard as your pillar of strength. What pillar do you have now? Who can you turn to for help?

Clint, a large knot forming on his head from his wound, drunkenly pushes himself up. He spits to the side and says, words slow and deliberate. “Gussy yourself up all you want, Emily. In the end you’re just a little girl who’s scared of rejection.”

The world grows silent as Clint’s words echo through the stone circle. Despite the battle raging on outside, your world is focused entirely on what is happening here within. Emily’s eyes grow wide in shock and you can feel her magic waning as his words, so pointed, so exacting, slice deep into her psyche.

Everyone can feel it, even Clarissa, who breaks out of her shock and stands up before the Mindflayer, legs shaking as she says, “N-No one is going to bow to a crazy bitch like you!”

Saya and Ophelia stand up as well and you follow suit after, a broad smile on your face. Ah, but you did have a pillar here, all along. These people you’ve brought together for a common purpose, your friends. Cliché as it is, friendship really is one of the most powerful things, isn’t it?

Oh, and the magitek bomb in Ophelia’s hands.

The spherical object Saya pulled out before sits in the Rabbit Girl’s hands, glowing a soft blue as it hums, primed and ready to blow. She must have grabbed it from the ground when Saya dropped it and the motions she was making beforehand… ah, you sly little bunny.

She doesn’t look pleased with herself, however, in fact her face appears drained of color as her knees knock in terror at what is before her. But to even have the strength to do this much is commendable, and you will not allow this chance to be wasted.

“Ophelia! Throw it!”

“You dare threaten me?!” Emily shouts, pushing her will upon Ophelia. Despite her efforts, the Rabbit Girl crumples to the ground before she can cock her arm back. The bomb drops from her hand, glowing with more and more light, but Clint dives and snatches it, throwing it into the air where Clarissa swoops in and grasps the orb with a talon.

The Mindflayer exerts power on Clarissa, but not before she swings about and throws it at Emily, the glowing orb hurtling toward her as the Crow Girl drops to the ground. Emily pulls backward as even she understands that this thing can’t be good. Before she can take another step, you reach out with all the power you can muster and force it upon her, rooting her in place. She looks down in horror at the body of the dead Wolf Girl, which is smiling up at her, dead eyes looking into her own as if welcoming her Queen to the afterlife.

The illusion doesn’t last long, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just enough time for Saya to catch the bomb and shove it into Emily’s chest. She turns to run but the moment she does, a bright blue light flashes in your vision, a wash of heat flares up over you, and all you can hear is ringing as you crash to the ground, dazed. Your vision begins to swim as you see Saya, half her body missing, collapsing to the ground in a puddle of bones and black ooze. Emily is nowhere to be seen, to which you give one, brief smile before going unconscious.

 

Chapter 93

“Oh, the cutie is waking up. Inform the boss.”

Your head throbs abominably as you wake up and find yourself staring up at the ceiling of a tent. Groaning, you push yourself up from the bedroll you’re in only to be pushed back down by a familiar looking Lamia.

“Now, now, no reason to overexert yourself. You did just commit regicide after all.”

“T-Trisha?” you ask, still confused. “What the Hells… huh?”

The Lamia smiles at you before chuckling. “We found you passed out along with all your friends in the stoneworks. From what we gathered from the Queen’s forces, you went in there after she started a ritual and then all Hells broke loose. We found her Witches, some dead guards, you, and a smoking crater. I assume that was all that was left of the bitch?”

“I… I guess? Wait, wait what are you doing here?”

“Well-“

“Let me answer that, Trisha.”

The Lamia turns to the tent entrance as another familiar face enters the tent. She pulls out a pipe and begins speaking as she fills it with green leaf and lights it. “Well, well, well, who knew that the strange travelers would end up causing so much trouble?”

“Wait… you’re that Kitsune from the café.”

“Indeed,” she says, smiling as her six tails wag behind her. “Though it doesn’t seem like it, I am in truth the leader of the Black Tails.”

“Well yeah, no shit.”

“I have done well to conceal- wait what? You knew?”

“Maybe don’t act all aloof and call your organization ‘Black Tails’ when you’re a Kitsune,” you groan, pushing yourself up this time without being pushed back down. It’s only then you realize that you’re shirtless and… yep, pantless, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Hmph,” she snorts before taking a long puff of her pipe. She swirls the smoke around in her mouth for a moment before blowing out a ring of smoke and then turning back to you.

“Do you know what you’ve done?”

“The Lamia says we smoked the Queen of the West.”

“Yes. You did. In truth, what you actually almost did was ruin my carefully crafted plan to break down their defenses via raids before finally making a strike to disarm and destroy the pretender.”

“And I’m guessing instead you took the opportunity caused by the chaos to make the job easy.”

“Hmph,” she snorts again. “But yes, we did. I suppose I can begrudgingly thank you for that. Blessedly, the casualties were lessened as well since we took them by surprise.”

“Cool,” you say, looking around the tent, too tired to be worried. “Where’s my friends?”

“Recovering in other tents,” Trisha says. “The Badger and Crow are already awake while the Monster Lady’s daughter is… well, I’m not really sure WHAT she’s doing, but some Anubis we found near the camp said she’s her daughter, so we left them together when the pile of goop started moving.”

You breathe out a sigh of relief. Thank goodness they’re okay. There was some worry that even Saya couldn’t come back from that explosion, but if she’s moving then she’ll probably be fine. “And the other two?”

“Ah, the handsome man,” the Kitsune says. “Hmm, well it was very hard to keep my girls off him as he recovered, though this was made much easier when the Badger Girl awoke. She’s quite protective of him, isn’t she? As for the Rabbit Girl…”

The two Monsters share looks. You look between them, confused. “What about Ophelia?”

“Well,” the Kitsune begins. “It seems there were a lot of metal fragments from some device lodged into her back. All of you had a some on or in you, but she got it the worst, save for whatever the Lady’s daughter is. Our healers have removed them, but she’s still recovering. I’m told she almost didn’t make it.”

“I… I see,” you say. The bomb must have caused shrapnel pieces to fly out. It’s a miracle you’re not covered in cuts from it, but the healers must have seen to you already. “Thank you.”

“Hmph,” she snorts a third time. “After all you did here, it’s the least we can do. Whatever this ritual she was doing, it’s best that you came and stopped it. You did stop it, didn’t you?” You nod to her. “I won’t bother asking what it was then, we have enough to deal with. Trying to restore order out here will be hard, after all.”

“What will you do now that you’ve won?”

She looks up at the tent ceiling and sighs. “Without leadership, the Queen’s forces stand demoralized. They really thought they were fighting to bring modernity to the world, but really they were just being lead around by the nose. We formed the Black Tails not because we loved the old ways, but because we wanted a more tempered approach. None of us want to be the next Galmathoria, but we also don’t want to lose who we are and where we came from.”

“So you won’t go and join the Galmathorians then?”

“Dollora no!” she chuckles.

“What if they were to invade then? Would you join them if they offered you no other choice?”

The Kitsune is quiet for a long time. She takes another puff of her pipe and breathes a ring of smoke up into the air before saying, in a quiet voice, “No. The current Monster Lady, despite her flaws, despite what her husband did to us, is a good Monster. I believe that in time, her decision will be shown to be correct. I’ve come to realize that humans and Monsters are not different at all, merely two sides of the same coin made in the image of the Gods.” She gives a wan smile.

“After all, that’s why I came down here after I was Monsterized all those years ago.”

You stare at her in surprise as she rises and leaves, Trisha leaving after her, which leaves you alone, tired, and confused.

“Is now a bad time?”

Closing your eyes, you lean your head back before looking to the side of the bedroll, where Abigail sits, tall as a human woman, with resplendent, long hair and an outfit of shimmering white silk. She glimmers faintly as she sits there, saying nothing as she awaits your response.

“Was it ever a good time?”

“No,” she says, a wistful smile on her face. “I can barely recognize you, you know.”

“Gee, what a compliment.”

“It is, truly.”

You give her a tired look before sighing. “Well, the same can be said about you, with the same meaning.” Pausing for a moment, you ask, “Why didn’t you help in that battle?”

“You felt the magicks of that place. The raw power of Solos suffusing the very air there was choking me, even after the barrier failed. It was all I could do to keep from passing out, let along thinking about helping.”

“Power of… Solos?”

“Yes it… well, needless to say the Wizards of old were much more esoteric in their places of power than the current ones. And that place was certainly one of power, clearly never meant to be used in that fashion, or at all.”

“No wonder the ritual… failed?”

She shrugs and looks at her hand. “I should be worried that I’m in this form longer than before. And yet I’m not.” Her gaze turns to you and you see tears in her eyes.

“Anyway, time for your reward.”

“Abigail wait-“

She cuts you off by pressing her lips once more to yours. Where the kisses before were apprehensive or at times lustful, this one just feels… sorrowful.

>You gain <Insight of Suffering>

>Stolen from Nerg and threaded through the power of Hevensferth, you are able to confront others of their sins, inflicting a conscience even where is none.

Abigail pulls away, tears streaming down her cheek. You make to say something, but she vanishes in a puff of light, which races out of the tent and off to who knows where. Probably Saya’s clothing.

As you feel the power which roils in your veins subside, you once more look about to tent and feel alone, confused, and tired.

But mostly tired.

Though you should wait for a longer period of recovery after this ordeal, you find yourself bereft of time. This venture already took longer than it should have, and every day you wait is another one which Fiora gets closer to her goal. You know that you did something important here, overcame a hurdle which needed to be stopped, but until Fiora is dead, nothing else matters.

“Which is why,” you say, grunting as the wagon hits another bump on the uneven ground, “we’re in this shitty cart.”

“I get it, I get it,” Clint grumbles, wincing despite the healers having taken care of his injury. “But it still sucks. Ophelia is…”

“Just fine, thank you,” the Rabbit Girl says, sitting with grit teeth as the wagon hits another bump in the road. “I should have known that magitek I didn’t design would betray me. Hmph, you think something as simple as a bomb would just do what was intended.”

“Blow up everything around it?” Ginelle asks, looking no worse for wear despite a plethora of new scars.

“Yea-nrgh,” Ophelia gasps as you hit a rock or something that causes the wagon to bump. “C-can’t you drive this thing any smoother?”

“Sorry, it’s not like there’s any roads out here!” one of the Centaurs hitched to the wagon says over her shoulder. “We’re doing our best, but if you want to get back to Jurenburg in any reasonable amount of time, some sacrifices are necessary.”

“Y-yeah, sacrifices…” Ophelia mutters, looking down at her hands. You can’t help but notice they’re shaking, and it’s not just from the wagon ride. Well, a near-death experience is likely to do that to you, not to mention seeing what she did and being subjected to a Mindflayer’s presence… most people would be broken into a million pieces.

Clarissa puts a wing on her shoulder and smiles, though both of them know it’s just for show. In truth, everyone feels the weight of what just happened here. Even though most of the physical wounds were healed, this left emotional scars for everyone.

“It’s almost over,” Saya says, putting a hand on yours. It doesn’t exactly have the texture of skin like it should, and her face is… a mess, but at least she’s vaguely humanoid. That blast really messed her up, though she’s pulling herself together, literally. She gives you a lopsided smile and ruffles Akela’s hair before turning back to the others.

“All that’s left is Helmscrag. There, we finish this.”

Your party turns to you, looking for encouragement. Turning your gaze to each of them in turn, you see their anxiety, their trepidation, and… their hope? This last emotion surprises and humbles you. Do they really think that much of your opinion? Believe that much that you can win? Well… who are you to disappoint them?

“Of course,” you say, puffing out your chest. “Nothing is going to stand between us and seeing this through. We will make them pay for what they’ve done and we will never allow what they plan to do to come to pass. One last battle, then we can lay this business to rest.”

The wagon is silent for a long time until slowly, a rumbling chuckle rises up from Ginelle, of all people. She snickers and says, pointing a clawed finger at you.

“Gods, you’re such a nerd.”

Despite everything, the rest of you begin to laugh, even Ophelia, who giggles while holding her ribs. The laughter feels good, after everything that happened. You just hope when it’s all said and done, you can laugh together with them again.

“Hey, I don’t know what’s going on back there, but this is about to be a big bump!”

Your laughter is cut out as the wagon dips sharply before jumping up. Ophelia shouts, “FUCK!”

This only leads to more laughter as you trundle back to Jurenburg, and off to your final destination.

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