Illusionistquest Chapter 2: Gears of Thought


Chapter 8

Sunrise once again comes too early as Richard’s prodding rouses you from your slumber. He reports nothing happened during his watch, so the three of you share a light breakfast before striking camp and loading up. Despite the added passenger, you manage to fit into the small cart without much trouble and once again make your way down the road.

As the day wears on, you begin to see signs of life, including various farms on the outskirts of the town. Despite being only a few days from your home, the farms here seem impossibly lavish, even the poorest looking ones having a sense of style and grace that shames Kasin’s.

The main reason for this is not the architecture, but the plants, which grow in carefully cultivated patterns that seem impossible to occur naturally. Ginelle offhand mentions something about Biomancers and Plant Monsters, but you’re so awed by all of it that you don’t get much more than that.

As you get closer to Loveura you begin to see people, whether traveling by river or the roads, and it soon becomes apparent that you’re nearing a large city. Everyone seems rather well groomed and smiling. They speak to each other in such languid and happy fashions, as if not having a care in the world. No one bats an eye at the Monsters which intersperse amongst them, carrying on as if they their wildly different species meant nothing.

“Strange to think that this place used to be the only major area, excepting whatever they do in Cair, where Monsters were treated like people before the current Monster Lady,” Richard says, waving at a passing Kikimora, a basket of goods in her hands. “But that’s Loveura for you, city of beauty.”

“The Order must not have been happy about that,” you say, watching a rather curvy Sheep Girl pass by with interest. You feel something digging into your back and you turn to see Ginelle huff before looking away. Wonder what that was about?

“Well, they didn’t have a big presence here, that’s for certain. Still don’t really, but since the Great Hero took up as the Lord Commander, relations have gotten better, and the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood has been seen a little more favorably.”

“Is that right?” you say absently, before noticing Ginelle pale and sink down into the cart. This doesn’t work as well as intended, being that the cart is small and Ginelle is, well, a Badger Girl. You turn to what she’s staring at and see two Bee Girls standing off to the side of the road ahead, their eyes locked onto Ginelle. Their wings buzz about in rapid motions as you roll past, their gazes following until you’re out of sight.

“Hey they’re gone,” you say, patting Ginelle’s back.

“Great… now the whole hive is going to know,” she groans.

“Is… that a problem?”

She sighs, “Well, maybe not since you’re around, but they might make things difficult for us…”

You shrug, “Eh, we’ll deal with that when it happens.”

“Right you are,” Richard says, ending the subject then and there.

By the time you reach the city gates the sun is starting to dip below the horizon, but you’re still in awe at the majesty of what you see.

Before you is a long wall made of pure white stone covered in an impossible amount of foliage. In multiple sections you see flowers of all shades blooming while vines coil up and around. You can even spot trees growing through sections as if it was entirely natural without compromising the integrity of the structure. In a sense, it’s breathtaking.

A guard in white armor emblazoned with a rose stops your cart as you approach and walks over, addressing you with, “Inspection and gate tax.”

Richard hands over a sum of money and the man nods before looking over the gear in your cart. He pauses, looking at Ginelle for a moment before shaking his head and saying, “Don’t get into trouble, you hear?” She nods back and he finishes his search, apparently finding nothing of any interest. With this finished, he waves you forward with a well-practiced, “All clear, enjoy your stay in Loveura.”

The cart trundles on past the gates, showing you… well, more than you could have expected. The city isn’t called the “City of Gardens” without reason. Buildings of solid white stone spread out in all directions of the city, covered in a variety of plant-life as well, making what was already elaborate into something wonderous. Here and there you see some glass domes and various plant life within, although the majority of gardens are open access and filled with plants you can scarce imagine.

The Yangrove river flows right through the city and multiple canals punctuate the cobblestone streets, from minor irrigation channels to large canals where boats move people and goods about. While you’re not a stranger to cities, this is something else entirely and you cannot contain your amazement at the architecture, and its inhabitants.

While similar to the folk you saw outside the city, there is one variety of Monster you see in abundance that was not outside: Plant Monsters. From Alraunes to Mushroom Girls, there’s any kind you can imagine living here while being tended to by the people (and maybe a little more than just “tending”). A fact you’re reminded of when you catch a man closing a screen to a private garden as a green-skinned Monster beckons him.

Before you know you it the cart stops in front of a building and Richard stretches, indicating you’re at your destination. A young Wolf Girl runs up, tail wagging as she holds her hands up towards Richard. “Mr. Dennerman! I haven’t seen you in… like, ever!”

Richard laughs and rubs the girl’s hair, “Jeanie! I haven’t seen you since you were this high!” He holds his hand about six inches below her head and she giggles.

“That long? Wow, my mom does say time flies or something.” She looks to you and Ginelle then, eyes going wide, “Oh, oh, is this your apprentice and his girlfriend?”

“She’s not my…” you try say, blushing as the girl giggles.

“I know!” her tail wags and her ears flip up and down in mirth. “Are you staying the night?”

“That’s right. Could you stable Craig for me?”

“Ahhh, I love Craig!” the little Wolf says, rubbing her head onto the horse’s muzzle. He snorts and nuzzles her back, chewing on her hair. “Hehehe, stop it!” She waves a hand to the three of you, “Mom can get you a room inside!”

You just shrug and leap out of the cart, taking your [Rucksack] with you before following your Master inside a cozy looking inn with a sign above it that reads, “The Dancing Wolf.”

As you enter the inn, the distinct smell of mutton fills your nose and your mouth starts to water. It’s only been four days, but the smell of freshly cooked meat is heavenly. Ginelle is openly panting at the smell however, and you have to poke her before she realizes it, quickly wiping at her drool with an embarrassed look.

“Well, well, if it isn’t my favorite customer!” a matronly voice calls, the speaker soon walking around the corner, a mug and a rag in her hands. A tall Wolf Girl with gray fur and piercing yellow eyes wearing an innkeeper’s tunic and apron walks toward you, the clothing hugging her motherly figure, though her face seems quite young.

“Richard Dennerman, it’s been far too long.”

“That nose of yours never forgets anything, does it Hannah?” Richard says, embracing the Monster, who chuckles.

“Oh you charmer you. Best not let my husband hear that!”

“You say that every time I’m in town,” Richard says, winking at her. “Anyway, I need a room for three and a good meal.”

Hannah nods her head, beaming. “Ahh, is this the famous Tobias?” she walks over and sniffs you, a strange custom, but it’s not like you haven’t been around various Beast Monsters before. She smiles wide and then chuckles, “Oh, ho, ho, you have an interesting scent about you. Well, I’m sure you’re as much of a troublemaker as your master, hmm?”

“Ah ha… well, maybe a little, ma’am.”

She rolls her eyes. “Ma’am… bah!” As she says this her eyes lock onto Ginelle and she gasps. Ginelle pulls back, looking ready to bolt as the Wolf Girl grabs her arm, “Oh, no, no, this will never do! Dear you can’t go around Loveura looking like this!”

“But… I don’t have any other clothes,” the Badger Girl says meekly. Hannah just shakes her head.

“Well, you best come with me then. Can’t have you traveling with these scoundrels without some decent clothing.” She turns to the two of you and shoos you away. “I’ll have your room and ready soon enough, now leave us alone.”

As the two of them walk to a back room, you hear Hannah say in an excited tone, “So, you and the boy…?”

You groan, shaking your head as Richard laughs. “Yeah, Hannah is a handful, but she’s the best damn innkeeper in town.” He gestures to the common room and the two of you sit down at a table and just relax, waiting for Ginelle to return or… something. Quickly getting bored, your eyes wander over the other patrons.

The few people in the room seem to be busy with their drinks or meals, although one person sticks out to you. A young woman of average height with short, black hair, and an attractive face clothed in a black jacket and pants, sitting in the corner on her own. You probably wouldn’t have given her a second thought had you not noticed her stealthy attempts at looking around the room with a purposeful gaze, her eyes lingering on you for a moment longer than necessary before dismissing you out of hand.

Weird girl, but she’s not Fiora, you know that for a fact from what you’d been told of her. Richard gets your attention again and you settle back as he tells you all about Loveura, and you begin to imagine what things you might see and experience here.

“This place is so much more… ahhh,” you roll you hand, looking for words.

“Arboreal?” Richard says, smirking.

“Nah, nah.”

“Alabaster?”

“What? No. What? Ahhh…” you snap your fingers, “Grand!”

“That’s a lot more boring than Arboreal.”

“Well, so is your face,” you say, rolling your eyes.

“Oh, such wit. I’ve taught my apprentice well.”

“Shove it up your ass,” you grumble, leaning back and kicking a foot onto the table.

“Well, it IS a grand city,” Richard says, shrugging. “Of course, we aren’t exactly here for a vacation.”

“Well, sure, I guess not, but come on, until it’s done, can’t I just… you know, have a little fun?”

Richard looks at you critically and is about to say something when a server walks up, placing two mugs of ale on the table. He smiles at her and she rolls her eyes, though she’s still smirking as she takes some coppers from his hand. You cock your head as he so casually tips the woman.

“Hey Richie.”

“It’s Richard, you sack of garbage.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Who pays you anyway?”

Instead of answering you, he takes his drink and throws back a huge gulp. You frown at his lack of answer until you notice he’s making a subtle gesture toward the corner of the room where the dark clothed woman is sitting. She isn’t looking at you, not directly, but now that you think about it, she isn’t eating or drinking anything and seems rather intent on… nothing at all.

Richard puts down his mug, making a sound of satisfaction. “Sorry, can’t pass up the ale here, what did you say?”

You shake your head. “Oh, I was just asking about how many times you’ve been here before.”

“Ahhhh. Let’s see, this is trip… five?” He shrugs. “Lost track over the years. Mainly used it as a hub so I could catch a boat, but I always come here. Can’t beat the service, the food, or the beds.”

You raise an eyebrow, taking your own ale and imbibing. Pretty good actually, though you still prefer wine. “Beds hmm? You ever ah… try them out?”

Richard’s smile seems to fade for only a moment before appearing again. “That’s not something you ask of your master, you impudent boy.”

“Ohhhh, I see, trying to dodge the subject, hmm?”

“How about I change the subject then. You know that our room only has two beds, and you just so happened to pick up a stray on our way here.” He leers toward you. “Poor Clarissa…”

“Oi!” you say, face heating up. Crap, caught in your own ruse. “I’ll… I’ll just sleep on the floor!” You groan and shake your head. “And damnit, it’s not like we’re together or anything, cripes. I’m just too nice a person, alright?”

You think about it again before slamming the table, “And I’m not dating Clarissa!”

Richard chuckles as you take another drag of your drink. Oh he’s never going to let you live this shit down. Look, maybe you and Clarissa are friends and you hung out when you first came to Kasin, but by Jackor, he would not leave you alone about it! Of course, now that you think about it, Jackor probably loves this. Fucking piece of shit God.

“But to seriously change the subject, you should probably be familiar with the city at least. There’s a lot to do and making sure you know your way around would be helpful.” He pulls something out of his breast pocket and unfolds it on the table. As you look down, you realize that it’s a map of the city.

Loveura is big. Like, really, really big. You remember hearing once that it is the third largest city in Deleor, especially after Galmathoria became a sovereign nation. Richard traces a circle around the map as he speaks, “The entire city is surrounded by the wall you saw outside, with the various farms around it. However, the city itself is divided roughly into four sections.” He points to one section in the southwest, near where you entered. This section is densely packed with buildings and gardens with few larger canals.

“This is where we currently are, the Residential District. Plenty of housing for the city goers, various gardens, and most of the inns for the city.” He points to a section in the southeast where a long, narrow track runs through more spread-out buildings with a large, open square area and multiple canals leading from the river. “This is the Market District, where most of the, well, markets are. There are fewer gardens here, but the leyway station runs through this area, making it probably the busiest in the city.”

He moves up to the northeast corner, where the river runs through. Many, many canals branch off here, and the area is almost divided into islands where large buildings sit. “Riverside district. Docks and warehouses mostly, it’s…” he flicks a glance to the woman in the corner. “Of interest. Don’t go there alone, alright?”

You nod your head as he continues to the last district in the northwest, the smallest of the districts. In the center is a large tree, where a few buildings are set up, but mainly there is a very, very large domed building. You raise an eyebrow at this as he explains. “The Main District. This is where Town Hall is, along with The Arboretum, the large greenhouse here, and The Great Tree.” He frowns, thinking for a moment. “Hmm, what else was… ah!” -he snaps his fingers- “this is also where The Hive is.”

“The uh… Hive?”

Richard nods his head, “Yes, The Hive. It’s where the Bee Girls live with their Queen. Honey is quite the export for this town, especially from the Bee Girls, so they get some good treatment here from the Plant Monsters.”

“So… I probably shouldn’t bring Ginelle around there,” you say, rubbing your chin.

“Bring her? What, I thought you said you weren’t dating her?”

“Oh my fucking faggot-ass prankster God, will you shut up?”

He rubs your hair, to which you pull back, grumbling furiously. He chuckles and takes another swig of his ale before saying, “Look, I’m just giving you a hard time. Probably would be nice to have someone else around you anyway. I can’t always BEE looking over your shoulder.” He pauses, as if looking for something from you.

You think about it and then groan. “You played a pun on the word, ‘be’ as ‘bee,’ didn’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“I hate you so much.”

He gives you a shit-eating grin, right as Hannah re-appears, a broad smile on her face, “Well, would you look at that, the girl here has the same size as I do! Means she has the best sense of fashion.” She blinks before turning back and, seeing that no one is following her, growls a very wolfish growl. A moment later an audible sigh is heard and Ginelle walks from around a corner.

Her torn clothing is gone, replaced by a white blouse with puffed shoulders and low neckline, and a skirt which ends just past the knees. All in all, a rather simple affair, yet it manages to give a very, “city-girl” feel to the powerful looking Monster. She grumbles a little, looking uncomfortable before sighing.

Hannah laughs heartily and pats the girl on the back. “Well boy, tell her how she looks!” the Wolf says, staring at you with a predatory smile.

“You uh… look nice, Ginelle,” you say, feeling a little off balance.

The Badger Girl looks to the side and a little color comes to her face. “Kind of uncomfortable though…”

“Bah,” Hannah says, putting her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “You’ll get used to it. Can’t have you looking like some kind of barbarian out in this fair city, can we? You’ll have troubles enough I think.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” you ask, furrowing your brow. Hannah waves a hand as she replies,

“Bees.” She thinks for a moment about something before nodding her head, “You know what, I actually need to speak with your dear master for a little while, why don’t you two run off and look around the city, hmm?”

“Hannah…” Richard says, frowning. “He’s not a child, and I don’t think that-”

She slaps the table, yellow eyes staring at him with the ferocity of a predator. “Now, now, just give the lad some spending money and let him be on his way.”

Richard looks to you and sighs before handing you two silver coins from his pouch. “You know, when I said the service here was good, maybe I was exaggerating.”

“Bah, you’re just a whiner,” Hannah says before waving to the two of you. “Go ahead and have a good time.”

You look to Ginelle, who merely shrugs. Standing up from the table, you grab your ale and finish it in one, mighty swig, belch loudly, then walk up to the Badger Girl who groans, “Lovely.”

“Should have warned you about the crudeness factor before you signed up on this crew.”

“To be fair, I’m a Badger.”

“Point taken. Come on, let’s go before the innkeeper pushes us out,” you nod to the front and the two of you walk away. As you do, you look over your shoulder to find the woman in the corner paying no attention to you, instead watching Richard with a curious expression as Hannah plops down at the table beside him, slapping him on the back so hard he almost faceplants on the table.

Yep, the best service in town.

 

Chapter 9

You step outside into the street and immediately hear the sounds of a city after night falls. People still crowd the streets while tones of joy and music come from the nearby alehouses as people drink their worries away from a long day’s toil. Many of the interspersed houses have candles or lanterns shining light from open windows as people enjoy the evening before bed. Even the gardens you can see are a special kind of active, with lamps or luminescent plants casting soft glows over the foliage.

You find it a little overwhelming after living in Kasin for so long, and just stare until someone pushes into your shoulder, almost knocking you down. Only Ginelle’s strong hand grabbing your arm keeps you from smashing into the cobbles.

“You alright?” she asks, seeming a little overwhelmed as well.

“Yeah… let’s keep moving I think.”

The two of you merge with the sea of humans and Monsters, following the press to where you believe the Market District must be. As you walk, you step over a few small irrigation channels where water runs freely to various gardens while other channels force you over white stone bridges. It surprises you how deftly the inhabitants navigate them, as if they weren’t there.

As the press of people increases, your focus shifts entirely on keeping track of Ginelle, lest the two of you get separated in the crowd. You get a break though when you see a large, sunken canal come into view with an elaborate footbridge spanning over it. Atop an archway sits a sign that reads, “Market District.”

With people diverting off to other districts, you finally get a break to look over your surroundings as you cross. There’s an upper and a lower area, with the lower side adjacent to the canal. This area is littered with restaurants where people sit outdoors, enjoying the warm weather as cool wind comes off the canal and boats of all shapes and sizes row past. The streets of the upper level, unlike the cobblestoned Residential District, are well aligned white bricks, similar to the stone of the buildings. Many storefronts line such streets ranging from small, one room shops, to large stores with multiple departments.

There are trees everywhere though, some even growing in between buildings, as if the buildings were built around them. You don’t see gardens like you did in the Residential District, but you do see open areas of grass with a little foliage, dotted with benches and vendors doing good business.

The biggest surprise is when you make it to the Market Square though. A traditional market of stalls and booths line the area with larger buildings framing it. Most are closed for the day, but it’s still active as food stalls sell their meals to hungry merchants, the delicious scents of their fare filling the space. Your mouth begins to water as you look about the exotic foods when you notice Ginelle’s eyes locked onto something. Her belly rumbles despite herself, though she’s so focused she doesn’t notice.

“Hungry?”

She nods her head, eyes still locked on whatever it was. You look over and find her staring at a vendor who is handing a loaf of bread to a someone, the whole thing shimmering in the lantern light as it drips a viscous fluid slathered over the top of it.

“Ah. Well…” you say, rubbing the back of your head. You don’t see any Bee Girls around so… it should be fine, right? With a sigh, you nod over to the line, and she follows you like a puppy. You even swear her tail wags as she does, her eyes shimmering as the two of you get closer to the vendor.

When you get to the front, the vendor, a large man wearing a stained apron, says in a booming voice, “Welcome to Portifon’s baked-gooderies, how can I help-” he stops in his tracks, staring at Ginelle.

“Something… wrong?” you ask, feeling nervous.

The man licks his lips. “Is… is she a…?”

“Badger Girl, yes,” you say, nodding your head. The man groans.

“You’re wanting the honey bread, right?”

“Would be nice.”

He closes his eyes and holds out a hand. “Just make sure she’s away from anyone when she starts into it, alright? I really don’t need any trouble, but ah…” he looks to Ginelle, who is visibly shaking, holy Hells. “But I think refusing would be worse at this point. You’re an insane bastard to be with this one.”

“I’m not with… ugh,” you say, handing the man a silver coin. He breaks it for you into a handful of coppers, and hands you two loaves of bread, coated liberally in honey. He purposefully doesn’t hand one to Ginelle, who stares at you with ravenous eyes. Yikes.

You nod to the man, who shoos you away, which you do, heading over to the one of the parks. The entire time you move, Ginelle tries to rip the bread out of your hands, but you keep evading her through a clever mixture of skill, simple illusions, and blind luck. When you finally reach an out of the way park bench, you sigh and hand her a loaf.

She tears the bread from your fingers and begins to wolf it down, large teeth tearing the meal apart as she barely takes time to chew in her haste. Her face looks positively orgasmic as she eats the stuff, and she barely notices the mess she makes, dropping crumbs and drops of honey into her cleavage. You don’t stare, much, before taking a bite of your own bread. It’s actually quite good, and soon your hands are covered in honey because of it.

You get about halfway through when you look up and see Ginelle staring at you, or well, your bread anyway. You look down, then back up to her before sighing and handing it over. She takes it with glee before chomping away.

“Man, you Badger Girls really, really like honey, huh?”

“Mrrrmph, ifs gwood, grumph.”

“My, what table manners,” you sigh while leaning back and taking a look about the park. Despite the early evening, it’s fairly empty save for a few people like you, trying to enjoy an evening meal. One nearby group of men catches your interest though, so you focus your attention while trying to look covert.

“Sales have been down recently, and I just don’t know why.”

“Oh, I’ll tell you why, it’s the damn mayor. New fucking taxes coming down the line, along with that asinine new project he’s got going on with the gardens.”

“You think? I guess people just don’t want to spend the money, especially if they know that some of their seed stock could be confiscated.”

“Yeah. My dear Nicoletta is terrified they’ll take some of her seeds she’s crossed over the years.”

“They aren’t seeds you and she have ah… crossed together, are they?”

“Gods no! At least… they better not be…”

You frown, puzzling over their words when you feel something grasp your wrist. You blink, confused as a gentle wetness plays over your fingers, causing you to shudder at the sudden sensation. Turning to the source, you choke as you witness Ginelle licking the honey off your fingers, her tongue dancing around every nook and cranny of your hand to lap up all the sticky material.

The worst part is, she doesn’t seem to realize how lewd the gesture is, especially considering that her chest still has sparkling droplets of the stuff here and there. You feel yourself start to get a little red in the face as you say, “H-hey Ginelle, you uh… you might want to”- she stares up at you with almost feral looking eyes, daring you to continue- “oh, nevermind,” you say, just patiently waiting until she’s finished cleaning you up.

When every last morsel of honey, even that within her cleavage and on her fur is gone, she shakes, as if coming out of a trance, “That… that’s it? Where did it all go?”

“You ate it Ginelle,” you say, mildly taken aback. She frowns before sighing,

“Oh, right. It’s been so long since I’ve had any I just…” she blushes, looking up at you. “Maybe we could get another…?”

You look at her flatly and she sighs, shoulders slumping, “Sorry. I just, you know.”

“Really like honey, yeah I gathered.” You shudder at the phantom sensation of her tongue on your fingers. “So, how do you like Loveura?”

“It’s a little stuffy to me, but places like this…” She waves her hand around at the trees. “Are very peaceful. I like it, reminds me a little of home.”

“Which is like, outside of the city.”

“Yes well, it’s still a whole different world.”

“Fair enough.”

“I bet you sorcerers get to see all sorts of things like this though.”

You look about and put a hand on her mouth, “Shhh! Don’t call us that.”

She blinks, taken aback as you remove your hand, “What? Why not, that’s what you are.”

“Yeah but… look, it would be best if people didn’t know who we are, alright?”

She frowns. “As part of your… business?”

“Yeah, let’s go with that,” you say, shaking your head. “It… it would best if we didn’t draw attention to ourselves, not that like that anyway.”

She sighs, “Oh, alright.” Her attention shifts as she scratches her chin and asks, “How long are we supposed to be out anyway?”

“Hells if I know. You want to head back or something?”

“Not particularly, this is fine.” She leans back, stretching her toned body. “I like the feeling of the night air, even in these stuffy clothes.”

“It is kind of nice,” you say, looking up into the sky to see the stars starting to appear. The two of you just stay like that for a little while, other people fading away as the night wears on.

“Hey, Tobias.”

“Hmm?”

“Thanks… you know, for helping me out.”

You wave a hand. “You’ve already thanked us.”

“I suppose, just… most people wouldn’t really do that, I think. I mean, I did show up at your camp in the middle of the night and you just… I don’t know,” she smirks, “well, you and your Master are very nice people.”

“Thank you Ginelle,” you say, finding yourself smirking back before you sigh and stand up. “Alright, we should head back I guess. You ready?”

She nods and the two of you retrace your steps. It’s still busy, but not as busy as before, and you make decent time, even able to talk without fearing getting split up. You find out that Ginelle is the youngest of three sisters and that both of her older sisters had left the area around Loveura years back, leaving her with her mother, though the two of them don’t exactly live together, being that Badger Girls are fairly solitary. She explains about how the Lamia around there make it hard for the rest of the Monsters, as they hoard much of the resources, which was why she had to steal.

“Also, getting to punch a snake in the tits is fun,” she says. You wouldn’t know.

By the time you reach the inn again you’re both a little tired, but happy, and bed sounds great. As you enter the common room, you see your master still sitting there, three empty ale mugs before him as he plays with another, half-full mug, while staring off into space. You fear for a moment that he’s having an episode, so you walk up to him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Richie? You alright?”

He blinks, eyes coming into focus. “Huh? What? Oh! Tobias!” He shakes his head. “Sorry, was just thinking about things, I’m alright.” He looks to Ginelle and smiles, “You kids have a good time?”

“It was fine,” she says, and he chuckles in return.

“Just fine, huh? You need to step up your game, Tobias.”

You grumble at the man before looking around. “Where’s Hannah?”

Richard waves hand. “She has responsibilities and such to take care of, can’t harass me all night.”

“What did you talk about?”

He frowns, looking to the corner again. The woman is gone now, probably having left some time ago. He sighs and waves for the two of you to sit before saying,

“Fiora.”

You take a seat he speaks. “Fiora and I came here a few times together while on business, and she hit it off with Hannah. We were just… reminiscing.”

A pause hangs in the air before the three of you, and you awkwardly break the silence by asking, “What… kind of person is… was Fiora?”

Richard closes his eyes before speaking slowly. “Fiora… was brilliant. There’s so many ways to describe her, it’s hard to pick the best but… She’s likely in her early thirties now I’d say, and she has the most beautiful red hair you’ve ever seen. Of course, her most striking feature is her eyes.” He smirks. “Always so full of life and mischief. She’d manage to get herself into trouble no matter where she went, but she was always able to get out of it with a simple trick or a clever word. And when that didn’t work, she could weave illusions almost better than I could.”

His smile becomes rueful, “She was the model apprentice, who became the best I’d ever let loose on the world. Maybe that’s why she hit this point before I expected her too. I had hoped I’d never have to see it, but…” he shakes his head and drains his ale, “that’s life.”

You don’t say anything, just feeling sympathy for the man. The pain in his eyes is quite real, and you felt that anything you might say would just be mean. Ginelle, on the other hand, does speak very quietly.

“It sounds like you really cared for this woman.”

Richard looks up at her, studying her expression. Eventually he looks back down and closes his eyes. “I think I still do, and always will.” Before an awkward silence can form, he slaps his thigh and stands up to stretch. “Alright kids, time for bed. We have a long day ahead of us.”

“Yeah, fair enough,” you say, following your Master upstairs. The three of you enter your room, which isn’t much to speak of, just a solid, wooden room with two comfortable looking beds, a small table and chair, and a washbasin. At least you have a window with a good view.

None of you say much more, instead Richard takes one bed and gets cozy while Ginelle looks to you curiously. Richard groans and pats the bed next to him. “Come on kid, just no touching.” You shake your head, but acquiesce, relishing the wonderful feeling of a mattress under you while Ginelle snuggles up on her bed, alone, and drifts off to sleep, a place which you too head shortly thereafter.

 

Chapter 10

“Tobias.”

“Hrmmm?” you mumble, feeling something warm and strong in your arms.

“Tobias, please let me go.”

“Ehhh?” you groan, blinking your eyes awake. It takes you a moment to realize what you’re holding is actually your Master. You pull back quickly and blurt out, “Oh whoa, shit!”

Richard grumbles and pushes himself up, shaking his head as your cheeks start to gain color. You hear a rustling behind you and turn to see Ginelle push herself out of bed, rubbing a clawed hand at her eyes. “Mmmm, what’s wrong?” she asks, still half asleep.

“NOTHING,” you say, hurriedly rolling out of bed and making your way to the washbasin, where you slap the tepid water onto your face.

“Tobias just needs some support every now and then,” Richard says, stretching before putting his boots on. Ginelle gives you a curious look but just shrugs, not saying anything, which is just fine by you. Soon enough, the three of you head downstairs to the aroma of fresh-baked bread and bacon.

“Moooom!” You hear echo from downstairs. “I smell Richard! You should put the honey up!”

When you reach the bottom landings, you see the little Wolf Girl, Jeanie, being scolded by her mother, the older Wolf holding a tray of breakfast foods in her hands.

“Jeanie, that’s very rude of you to say!”

“Well yeah, but have you seen a Badger that isn’t addicted to honey?”

“Where did you learn something like that?”

“Ynette.”

Hannah rolls her eyes and smiles wanly as she sees your party. “Oh, sorry about that loves, it’s those Bees, you know? But you don’t choose your daughter’s friends.”

Ginelle shrugs, though her eyes are locked onto a small pot on the tray. “It… it’s fine. We do like honey.”

Hannah chuckles and seats the three of you before serving the other table, a forlorn look in Ginelle’s eyes as she walks away. Jeanie walks up to the table, arms behind her back, look of abashment on her face as she says, “Uhm… I’m sorry Ms. Badger-lady. I didn’t mean to be rude…”

Ginelle blinks a few times, looking somewhat confused before nodding and replying, “I said it’s fine. Thank you though.” She smiles a toothy grin at the girl, which would maybe be a little off-putting to most, but when the little girl smiles back with her own set of sharp teeth, it all seems to be fine. She scampers off as Hannah comes back and puts down a tray before you, chuckling softly.

“She’s a good girl, just gets into trouble sometimes, but that’s a pup for you.” She waves her hand over the tray and your mouth waters a at the spread of bread, honey, some cheese, and eggs. “You probably have a busy day ahead of you, so dig in!”

“Don’t have to tell me twice!” you say, scooping up some eggs. Mmmm. Eggy. Ginelle does the same, but puts a dollop… well, more than a dollop, of honey on top, and makes a pleased sound as she eats, sans utensils.

“Both of you are like children,” Richard mumbles, taking some food for himself.

“Thanks dad,” you say, giving him a toothy grin. He just shakes his head in response before clapping his hands and speaking.

“Alright, alright, let’s talk business while we eat.” You and Ginelle look up at him curiously, though the Badger Girl is still shoveling food into her mouth. Richard seems to ignore this as he says, “First things first, we have to find Fiora. This is probably easier said than done, as she might not even be here anymore, but given some of the rumors circulating through the city, I have doubts that she’s left.”

“Rumors?” you ask curiously, “Like… the taxes and the seed collection program?”

Richard nods his head. “I see you’ve started early, good, good. Yes, the tax increase has put some strain on the outlying farmers, and no one is quite certain what it’s being used for. Hannah thinks it’s for the leyway system, but it came out of the blue about a month ago, and only now have things been escalating.”

He chews on a piece of bread before speaking further. “As far as this seed collection program, it’s strange how little controversy it’s stirring up amongst the Plant Monsters in the city. Many are apparently unhappy with it, but not to the point they would outright refuse, unless it impacted their daughters. Their husbands and caretakers are the ones who actually find it annoying from what I hear.”

“Anything else?” you ask, rubbing at your chin. Richard nods his head.

“Yeah, there’s been more traffic going through the leyway apparently, heading up northwest to Helmscrag. Foodstuffs mostly, but the magitek supplier in town has apparently made a contract up there as well.”

“Helmscrag?” you ask, confused. “Isn’t that a border town with Galmathoria? End of the line for the leyway, right?”

“Correct, however if this magitek equipment keeps flowing up there, either a continuation of the track will be made, or someone’s worried about an Invasion.”

Both of you go quiet at that, thinking over the implications. The only sound is Ginelle chewing loudly, but even she breaks this by asking, “Why would this Fiora care about that?”

“She’s insa-” you start, but Richard cuts you off, shaking his head.

“We don’t know. That’s why we have to find her, and make sure she doesn’t cause any more trouble.”

“Did she… go bad or something?”

“You could say that,” Richard sighs. “Anyway, I think it would be prudent to split our search today to gather more information.”

You nod your head. “I guess Ginelle and I could go around the Market District again. Check out the leyway station or so.” You look to Ginelle and she nods back, finger scooping the rest of the honey from the jar, a look of disappointment on her face as she peers inside for more.

“That should be fine. I’ll spend some time around the residential district then. We’ll reconvene here around sundown. And Tobias”-he grabs your arm, a look of determination in his eyes- “keep your eyes out for illusions, and if you see her, don’t… don’t be surprised by what you see, and do NOT interact with her.”

You nod your head slowly, and he releases your arm with a sigh before finishing off his breakfast quickly and heading off to his task. Ginelle gives you a worried glance, though you reassure her with a smile before finishing your own breakfast, trying not to be too concerned by your mentor’s warning.

If you thought last evening was busy, the Market District during the day eclipsed that handily. People move about in blurs, coins are exchanged for goods at every intersection, and the sounds of chatter and negotiations are loud enough to be deafening. Despite yourself, you’re surprised at the variety of people and Monsters you see, even some from Ectria and the Far East!

Obviously, the Market Square was not going to get you any information, not when you could barely hear yourself thinking, so you and Ginelle push through the crowd on your way to the larger manufacturing area near the leyway station. Here and there Ginelle garners some troubled looks, but it turns out to be mostly beneficial as in the broad daylight, no one wants to mess with a Badger Girl. Thankfully no Bee Girls are around, however…

As you make your way to the leyway station the traffic dies down somewhat. This part of the Market district still has the large canals, but instead of restaurants, the lower areas are filled with loading docks where men transport goods on and off canal boats, destined to the warehouses of the Riverside District or to the manufacturing facilities above making everything from textiles to magitek.

What stands out here as opposed to the other district is the amount of constructs present. You’ve seen the odd one here or there, but around here, they’re much more numerous and in all shapes and sizes. The majority are the large, faceless, and bulky variety used to haul large packages around the districts, or for loading and unloading. Occasionally you see what looks like a nobleman walking with a slimmer model in tow, their frames made to look like beautiful women, though their faces are impassive. You’re pretty sure these models are made as maids or manservants if you recall, much to the chagrin of many Kikimoras.

“Neat,” you say as the two of you step off the main street, hanging near a small garden where a variety of flowers sway in the wind. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

Ginelle shrugs. “Something out of the ordinary?”

“Yeah but, what does that even mean?” you ask, shaking your head. “I haven’t seen any illusions, or anything that just jumps out at me as spooky or wrong.”

“Well, why don’t we look at the leyway then?”

You perk up, excited. “Oh right, the leyway!” The thought starts to get you pumped. You’ve always loved the leyways, ever since they were first introduced about ten years ago. For the most part, they’re just large, boxy rooms linked together and propelled by drawing energy from the natural Ley-lines that connect the corners of the world.

Personally, you think they’re the coolest thing ever, as the technology in them is astounding! The ability to make it from here to Sanctifrond in a mere two days? Absurd! They revolutionized trade and transport in the Kingdom, and you think they’re possibly the Grand Wizard’s finest invention. Even if he didn’t actually invent them. But hey, look, he started the Magitek Revolution so it’s sort of like he… fine, you’re gushing.

You and Ginelle move with renewed purpose and it isn’t long before you hear the sound of a whistle, heralding the departure of one of the massive creations. You bound around a corner in time to watch as the large, blocky construct moves down the track, picking up speed as it does, leaving behind a crowd of workers and well-wishers before disappearing into the distance.

“Soooooo coooooool,” you say, watching it go before your ears perk up as another leyway, going in the opposite direction, pulls into the station, stopping in a cloud of aetheric particles that quickly vanish from sight. People immediately set to work offloading cargo from it while passengers step down and greet others, or head to horse-drawn carriages destined to other parts of the city.

“Hey Tobias, who are those Monsters?”

You blink, realizing Ginelle has said something, and look over to where she’s pointing. Standing amongst a group of workers are two, very tall Monsters with gorgeous features wearing tight-fitting blue uniforms with large stars on their breasts looking over manifest lists. You’d think them almost human if not for the large, pointed green ears and green, slimy looking hands.

“They’re Trolls. The Grand Wizard tricked one into forming a union back during his quest. They actually formed one though and gained enough influence and revenue from taxing people across major bridges in Deleor that they used their leverage to become the de-facto regulators of the leyway system.”

Ginelle merely cocks her head. “I thought Trolls were supposed to be ugly?”

“I think they used to be, but a lot of the union’s revenue goes to beautification spells these days. They keep many Aestheticians basically on retainer,” you say absently, looking about for illusions. Nothing here, not that you’d get so lucky. “Anyway, let’s head around to-”

“You two!”

Both of you turn as one of the Trolls, a beautiful Monster with long, silvery hair and sparkling green eyes approaches, holding a barbaric club in her hand. As soon as she reaches you, the immediate smell of river spunk mixed with perfume hits and you remember that no matter how beautiful they may look, no one has ever been able to get rid of their smell. Ginelle scrunches her nose and the Troll narrows her eyes, speaking in a low, rumbling voice that is much at odds with her appearance,

“You have tickets?”

“Uh… what? No, we don’t.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“We’re just looking around,” you say, a little nervous for some reason.

“Looking around huh, you mean, casing the place?” The Troll slaps her club into her hands. “I think I might have to take you in for questioning. Been quite a few odd events going on recently, maybe you two might have something to do with it.”

You think desperately of a way out when you feel a hand on your shoulder and you turn about to see the face of a mature looking Rabbit Girl wearing a well-tailored, green dress. Well-developed, brown furred legs ending in rabbit feet peak out from under the hem while a furred hand in a white glove is brought to her face.

She speaks in a soft, matronly voice, rabbit ears flopping atop her head of long, brown hair, “Dear me, I can’t believe I lost my employees like that. I hope they weren’t causing you trouble?”

The Troll blanches. “M-Madam Illoma, I apologize, I didn’t know they were with you.”

The Rabbit Girl chuckles softly, “Oh it’s no trouble at all. Keep doing good work.” The Troll bows to her, then to you before walking away rather quickly. As soon as she’s far enough away, the Rabbit Girl turns to you and raises and eyebrow. “Good thing I was here, the Trolls are on edge these days.”

You just blink at her in confusion. “I… what?”

She chuckles, “Oh my, I see you’re a little confused. From out of town, I assume?” She nods to Ginelle. “Seems likely as the Badgers aren’t quite welcome here.”

You nod your head. “That’s right. Here on… business.”

Her face cracks a wide smile as she laces her fingers atop her breasts and says, “Splendid! Oh but I do love finding new faces. After that little kerfuffle you wouldn’t mind joining me for a spot of tea, would you?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” you say, holding up a hand. Why is the name Illoma familiar? “Who are you again?”

“Me? Oh Dollora, where are my manners?” She curtseys to you before speaking again. “I am Emma Illoma, Lady of House Illoma, and the owner of the Illoma magitek Manufactorum.”

She smiles at you again as you stare at her in shock.

“Now then, about that tea?”

 

Chapter 11

You look to Ginelle, who shrugs, obviously quite confused by the situation. To be fair, YOU are quite confused by the situation also. Why would one of the most important Monsters in town want to invite you of all people over for tea? It makes no sense, but you’re aware that rich folk can be… eccentric.

Well, you suppose that this could be an unexpected boon also. Getting in good with a powerhouse in town could let you learn some things, especially why the Trolls are on edge and what her company is shipping out north. Yeah, yeah actually this could work out really well!

You straighten your back, dust off your clothing, and say in your most charismatic voice, “Why thank you for your offer. My companion and I will graciously accept.” You hold a hand to your breast as you continue, “Ah, and my apologies as well, my name is Tobias Shady, and this is my companion, Ginelle.”

She raises an eyebrow, “Companion? Not lover?”

You do your best to hold down a blush and succeed, thankfully. “No Madam, that is not the case.”

She looks you over, seems to make a few mental calculations, then smiles again. “Very interesting! Ah, but let us be off, I can’t be keeping you all day. Or can I? Haha, come along!” She turns about and begins hopping down the road.

You make to set off, but Ginelle grabs your arm and whispers in your ear, “Something seems off about her.”

“What, like she’s going to take me into a back room and rape me for eternity?”

“No, she’s obviously married.”

“How can you-”

“Look, I don’t know much about these things, but for a prey animal, she sure smells confident.”

You look down, pondering what that statement means. Has Ginelle eaten other Monsters before? It’s not like it doesn’t happen but- Your thoughts are interrupted as you notice something out of the corner of your eye.

“Tobias? Is something wrong?” Ginelle asks, expression concerned, “Is there something on my face?”

You blink, looking to her for a moment before turning back to what you were looking at. “Oh? What? No, sorry, I was just looking behind you. That woman from the inn is over there.” You continue to watch the woman, still dressed in dark clothes, as she makes her way to the leyway station. She slips by a Troll without anyone noticing before blending into the crowd and out of sight. What an odd coincidence.

Ginelle looks over her shoulder, but frowns as the woman vanishes. “What, is she following us?”

You shake your head. “No, I don’t… think so? Just a coincidence I think.”

“Tobiiiiaaaassss!” Lady Illoma calls, “Are you coming dear?”

You nod to Ginelle before the two of you continue after the Rabbit, heading to the Manufactorum.

To say the Manufactorum is big would be an understatement.

The building sits on the edge of a canal, with multiple docks on the lower level where materials are brought in and out for transport elsewhere. The building was obviously not built for this purpose, looking as if it had been there for a long time, perhaps as a trading house before it was converted, its pristine white exterior covered in an old growth of vines bearing flowers of all varieties in addition to a large tree that seems to be growing almost out of the side.

A set of massive doors sits before you, open, as a team of men and constructs load up a large container into a horse-drawn carriage. In fact, as you look about you see multiple constructs around, either helping with shipping or tending to the grounds. Traffic is brisk in, out, and about the facility as the workday shuffle absorbs even such a structure as this.

Lady Illoma leads you through the crowds and, as soon as she reaches the facility, one of the constructs turns to her and bows deeply, still holding a massive crate in its arms as it does so. The screech of nails on a chalkboard sounds as a discordant voice emanates from the machine, “Welcome back miiiiissssstress.”

The Rabbit Girl frowns and hops over to the construct, grumbling about something before opening up a panel on its chest, slapping a few things, then sighing, “Number 436, report to maintenance, your vocal converter is broken.”

The construct bows its head. “Asssssss you wish my ladddddy.” It turns from her and stalks over to the open doors, setting its load into the wagon before heading inside. The Rabbit Girl puts a hand to her head and sighs overdramatically.

“Sometimes these constructs can be such a chore to work with.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

She blinks. “Aren’t you quite familiar with constructs?”

“I am from… Kasin, it’s… not exactly that big.”

She gives you a curious look before saying, “Well, we shipped three units of Mk. II servants there recently… but I suppose that isn’t very much, is it?” She chuckles before shaking her head. “But where are my manners? Please, come inside!”

As she hops by the entrance the workers bow to her, giving polite greetings to which she replies with enthusiasm. When you enter you hear the sounds of industry and see men and Monsters working on various projects in a large workshop, blacksmith hammers ringing as they toil at their labors. A wash of heat and sweat pours over you, almost making you gag. The other two, despite having better noses, appear unaffected.

Emma leads you over to a side hallway where the hard floor becomes carpeted and the décor far more luxurious. The sounds of industry give way to the quiet of office spaces the farther you go in. It’s such an odd dichotomy from the workshop out front that you have to wonder if it was planned like this rather than having say, a separate door.

Before you can ponder this much further, a maid unit, complete with a maid’s outfit, steps up and bows to your group. Her vocal unit starts up and a refined voice comes out in a lovely dulcet tone, “Mistress. Would you like some tea for you and your guests?”

“That would be lovely Georgia,” Lady Illoma replies. The unit bows again and turns to go while your host ushers you into a room, sitting you down into some plush chairs before she takes a seat in her own, larger chair. An awkward silence fills the air as the three of you sit there, only the vague ticking of a clock making any noise.

Trying to come up with some small talk, you say, “I noticed that maid had a name.”

“Aha, you did, didn’t you? Well, Georgia was one of the first servant models I had built, and she’s become part of the family you could say.”

“Is that so? She doesn’t have a…”

“Soul crystal? No, hers is artificial.” She shakes her head. “The Grand Wizard’s story makes them seem far more numerous than expected. Thankfully people figured that out rather quickly, for it was quite gruesome at first.”

“I… can imagine,” you say, looking aside. Better change the subject. “You have a lovely place here.”

“My, what a charmer,” she says, chuckling. She continues, getting your attention again, “But you know, I am married with children.”

“Of course, I hope I didn’t give off any untoward intentions.”

She chuckles again, “Oh dear boy, so polite! You must have taken to your manners lessons quite well. I am merely playing with you though, a bad habit of mine with guests.”

“Speaking of which…” you say, coughing into your hand, “I’m not entirely certain why you invited us here. Not to offend, but your offer for tea seemed to be an excuse.”

She waves a hand. “None taken. However, as I said before, I do like to speak with those from out of town. It serves to help spread the good name of the Manufactorum and gain potential clients, as well as being quite entertaining! Why, I even had this lovely woman in a few weeks ago with the most striking red hair-”

A knock sounds at the door and the three of you turn to see Georgia entering. Your conversation goes on hold as she pours tea for each of you, the aroma smelling heavenly. What was that she said beforehand? Damn you already forgot.

“Would you like some honey in your tea, sir?”

You blink, startled to see the impassive face of the maid unit before you, holding a pot of fresh Loveurian honey. You nod your head slowly as she spoons some in, stirs it, then hands the cup to you, which you take delicately. She does the same for Ginelle, who tells her to spoon more and more of the stuff until it’s more honey than tea. Emma just chuckles as Ginelle greedily drinks the solution.

“Oh but it is so rare to see a Badger Girl! My it was so unfortunate what happened to the last one who was in town.”

“Huh?” you ask, looking up from your cup, “What happened?”

“Oh my, I don’t want to spoil the mood, forget I said anything,” Emma says, waving a dismissive hand and taking a sip of her tea.

“The Bee Girls beat her senseless and threw her down the river,” Ginelle says, matter of fact, before taking a sip of her tea. Lady Illoma sputters out some of her own, Georgia moving over to help clean up.

“Well, yes. That was what happened, wasn’t it?”

“It’s fine, I’m tougher than that.”

The Lady’s smile falters. “O-oh, you were the… oh my.” She coughs into her hand to compose herself before the smile comes back. “Yes, well then, always a treat! Besides, it’s wonderful to meet a young gentlemen from out of town. I’m sure my daughter would love to meet you.”

It’s your turn to sputter your tea out. “Hah… daughter? I… uh.” You flounder for a moment, only able to say, “She must be quite a beauty if she’s anything like you.”

Lady Illoma’s cheeks redden, but you can’t help but notice the calculating look in her eyes as she says, “Oh my goodness, what a silver-tongued man you are! My, well I almost feel a little faint after a compliment like that!” She waves to the maid. “Georgia, would you terribly mind fetching some crumpets?”

The maid nods her head. “Of course, mistress.” She bows and exits the room, returning the room to that awkward silence. You look to Ginelle, who frowns at the Rabbit Girl, although on her face it looks more like a scowl, but you don’t feel any particular anger or anything. Which would make this more like… jealousy maybe? What does she have to be jealous about? Bah, women are complicated.

You sigh, trying to remember what Lady Illoma said before you were interrupted. Something about a… ah damnit you forgot. Well, you might as well ask about something else for the moment, it’ll come back to you.

“So, if you don’t mind me asking, what was the trouble that has the Trolls on edge?”

Lady Illoma takes a sip of her tea before answering in a calm voice, “Thefts, I am afraid. Though our city is quite lovely, there are always malcontents which run around and cause trouble. Personally, I blame the taxes the mayor has levied, driving good folk to crime.”

“What are they stealing?”

“Weaponry for the most part, though fair amounts of food shipments have gone missing also.”

You blink, not expecting this. “Weaponry? Like, swords and such?”

“Mostly. The most curious thing is no one has ever seen anyone taking the items. They vanish under people’s noses, like a Ghost!” She chuckles, “Of course, there are no Ghosts here, not for the past seventy years anyway.”

“Foodstuffs too…” you say, brow furrowed. “Why would they take it from the leyway though? Does it happen anywhere else?”

“No, not particularly. Of course, the things loaded onto the leyway are magically preserved. Good for storage for later use.”

Interesting, very interesting. “So, they thought we were some shady looking criminals I suppose?”

“I suppose so! Though how they could think that of such a dashing young man, I do not know.” She looks to Ginelle and blushes. “Though, I am afraid profiling does occur for your kind, I hope you understand.”

Ginelle shrugs. “It’s…fine.” You look to the badger and frown. She always says that when people bring it up. Is it really fine though?

“Yes, well, at least our magitek shipments have been protected thus far,” she says, sighing. “I do worry though, we just made such a large contract with Helmscrag, I would hate for anything to go missing.”

You perk up at that. Oh right, that’s why you’re here! “My lady, I do not wish to pry, but why would they suddenly make such a contract? Are they ordering war units?”

“Yes, they are, however I was assured by the woman who placed the order that it was perfectly legitimate. She bore the seal of the crown and her paperwork checked out, as well as the money for the order. I do not question such profitable orders!” she says chuckling.

You take a deep breath, eyes fixated on the Lady as you remember her earlier words. Woman with striking, red hair. Jackor above, you couldn’t have gotten this lucky already, could you?

“Did… this woman give you a name?”

“Hmmm. Yes, I believe she did. Now let’s see.” She taps at her chin, “Fe…Fo…Fi…ah, Fiora! Yes, that was her name.”

You and Ginelle exchange looks and you begin to ask about Fiora excitedly when the door opens and a young Rabbit Girl is ushered into the room by a rather insistent Georgia. The Monster turns to the maid and frowns, crossing her arms under her above average breasts.

“Georgia, I swear, if you were any other unit, I’d re-wire your legs to your arms.”

“Now, now, dear, that’s no way to speak in front of guests,” Lady Illoma says, taking a sip of her tea, a hint of a smile on her lips.

“Introduce yourself to the handsome, single, man.”

 

Chapter 12

The Rabbit Girl grumbles and turns to you. She’s a little above average height with a slender build and accentuated curves hidden under trousers and a brown leather jacket covered in oil stains. Her fur is the same shade as Lady Illoma’s and, as she removes a pair of goggles she wears over her eyes, you realize they’re very much the same as your host’s, with a similar, if younger, face. The only real difference is the way she holds herself and the long hair tied into a bun behind her head.

“Yeah, I’m Ophelia Illoma, pleased to meet you or whatever.” She turns to her mother before sighing, “Can I get back to work now? I’m almost done with this Mk. IV’s visual matrix and Suzanne needs me to make the solid-state drive so she can enchant it.”

“Dear! You could at least say hello to this young man here.”

The younger Rabbit turns about and groans before walking over to you and shaking your hand, smearing grease on it, though her hand is quite soft. “Hey there, thank you for visiting the factory and keeping Mother company and all that.”

You feel a little taken aback as she shakes your hand, as if you were thrown into cold water without warning. Searching for a lifeline, you notice a symbol on the breast of her jacket and you leap for it like a raft in the ocean. “So uh, you work on the Yeldenmere line?”

She blinks, taken surprise by your statement. “You… you know of the Yeldenmere line?”

“Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I? It’s a famous line that runs through Sanctifrond with some of the most powerful cargo cars on the leyway. I hear the new A7 line is quite the powerhouse though, able to lift…”

“300 tons of cargo, yeah! Not only that, but there’s a luxury line associated with it that runs-”

“Directly to Cair, yeah, yeah, yet it’s always eclipsed by the Dendre line.”

“Ugh, I can’t stand that line, it’s so overblown!”

“I know right! And the-” you start to say, getting really into the conversation when you hear Lady Illoma cough into her hand. The two of you stop, looking into each other’s eyes before hurriedly looking away, embarrassed that someone saw you talking so passionately about leyways of all things.

Lady Illoma merely has a coy smile on her face. “Oh my, you two seem to have a lot in common, don’t you? My, why don’t you join us for tea then dear?”

Ophelia rubs the back of her head, getting grease all in her brown hair. “Yeah… no, I need to get back to work, Mother.”

“Well then, why doesn’t our guest join you?”

You and Ophelia trade a glance, although hers is more of a, “I sincerely hope you don’t do this.” You cough and shake your head. “That’s quite alright, there’s more I’d like to discuss with you about-”

“Nonsense!” Lady Illoma says, setting her cup on her saucer with more force than necessary. She has a wide smile on her face that has no joy in it at all. “I will not allow my seventh, unmarried, child-bearing aged, daughter to be so rude to such a handsome, well spoken, well-bred guest.” She looks directly at her daughter, whose little cotton tail shudders under her mother’s stare. “Now then, be a good girl, and take the man to work with you.”

The two of you trade uneasy glances again, both feeling the weight of the Lady in her high chair. You hear a rustling next to you as Ginelle sets her cup and saucer on the table. She looks about the room and frowns. “What am I supposed to do?”

Everyone in the room turns to Ginelle, who merely looks at you and shrugs. “I mean, she didn’t ask me to come along, should I just… go home?”

“A fine idea!” Lady Illoma says, her long ears flopping back and forth. “Not that we don’t appreciate your presence, it’s just the workrooms are ever so small, and people always end up rubbing against each other…” She winks at you, prompting a shiver down your spine.

“Mother!” Ophelia huffs, crossing her arms. “He might have an interest in the leyways, but come now, having someone in the workshop can be dangerous! We are working with some serious magitek here!”

Lady Illoma waves a hand. “Well, then I’ll just have to send Georgia in.”

“Ugggh!” Ophelia says, throwing her hands into the air. “That’s even worse!”

“I’m not taking no for an answer, young lady.”

The younger Rabbit Girl pinches the bridge of her nose before sighing out deeply, “Uggghhhh. Whatever!” She turns about and points at you, an annoyed look on her face. “Come on then. She is INSISTENT.”

You look between the smiling lady and the annoyed engineer and decide that this is not a situation you want to be in. Assuredly, this is not a situation you want to be in ALONE. Still, this could be another golden opportunity to get some great information, such as what exactly Fiora is ordering, and why. Ophelia might not know, but if you manage to schmooze up to her mother enough through whatever charade she’s playing, you might get some answers.

Thus resolved, you summon all the etiquette and acting training you’ve had and, standing up, delicately take Ophelia’s hand before bowing and kissing it, grease and all. She blinks a few times, confused as the Hells before pulling her hand back, ears standing up and face going red.

“I apologize for my previous behavior, but if your lovely mother wishes that I attend you, who am I to say no? Her magnanimous hospitality has been quite amenable.” You flash Ophelia your best smile, practiced before the mirror for hours upon hours, because if you didn’t, then Richard would make you sit through another lecture. Who knew these stupid lessons would pay off?

“Besides, I am quite interested in being shown the ropes by such a charming lady.”

“C-charming,” Ophelia says, lip twitching upward as she stares at you with incredulity. Lady Illoma puts a hand to her face, cheeks going a rosy as she chuckles,

“Oh my! I believe I’m blushing.” She fans her face with her ears while waving you away. “You two should be off before I embarrass myself any further, oh!”

“Ah, but I am afraid…” you say, turning about to face her as you layer on the charm. “That my companion should come along. I assure you, she will cause no trouble, but she does get quite lonely by herself.” You stop a few feet before the lady, smiling bright enough to reflect the sun.

“You wouldn’t want a lady to be lonely, would you?”

Her smile fades as she looks over to her daughter, then to Ginelle. You can practically hear the wheels turning in her head as she thinks it over. Alright, time to turn it up a notch then. You take another step toward her and trip over a conveniently scrunched section of the rug. In reality you just trip over your own two feet, but the little details don’t really matter as you come crashing down to land at Lady Illoma’s big, fluffy feet, hands outstretched to caress them. They… are really soft, aren’t they?

You look up at the lady, a decidedly cheesy smile on your face, one that looks really, really, fake. She looks in your eyes, blushing furiously before looking down at your hands, which you quickly pull away. You push yourself up and chuckle in a way that makes your heart cringe, but it’s all part of the act. The final blow is delivered when you say, “Haha… oh dear, I guess this means I’m going to get quite lucky, aren’t I?”

“Uh… wha?” Ophelia says, face going scarlet. Now why is she- ohhhh. You didn’t intend for that double entendre, but here you are. Maybe Rabbit Girls find feet extra lewd or something too, not that you’re really in the mood to find out at the moment.

Lady Illoma is practically steaming with embarrassment, her face is so red. She covers her face with one hand, waving you away with the other. “Oh… oh! T-take the badger, I… Oh dear, I have much work to be about!” She stands up and accidently brushes past you, to which you may or may not cop a feel. She jumps into the air, stares at you, and then runs out of the room.

You clack your tongue, turn to Ophelia, and cough lightly into your hand. She fumbles with words for a moment before taking a deep breath to calm down and saying, “Yes… well, despite that rather, embarrassing turn of events, we might as well get going. The sooner we go, the sooner my mother can let us be, haha.” She eyes Georgia, who stands there impassively, before shaking her head and walking to the door.

You follow close to her as she walks down the plush hallway. She notices this and starts walking a little faster, to which you match her pace. She looks over at you with suspicious eyes before walking even faster. Her pace might as well be a jog now, but you do your best to keep up with her, not willing to be left behind her cute little bunny-butt. Well, it actually is cute to be fair, but you aren’t noticing that, no siree.

“Hey, you’re moving quite fast, is something wrong?” you ask, doing your best not to seem like this pace is taking effort to maintain.

“Not at all,” she says, looking forward. “The workshops are a distance away, I just want to get there quickly is all.”

“Mistress,” Georgia, whom you realize is keeping pace with the two of you easily, says. “We have passed your workshop.”

Ophelia stops abruptly and you keep going a few feet before screeching to a halt, turning around to realize that you left the plush, carpeted area and entered a rather utilitarian hallway of stone lined with doors marked in various colors. The Rabbit Girl looks about, then grumbles and enters one colored yellow. You suppress a snicker before entering the room after her, Ginelle and Georgia in tow.

As you enter the workshop you stop for a second and stare at everything. The room is small, like Lady Illoma said, but it is packed with tables lined with all sorts of tools and implements of whose purpose you can only guess at. In the center of the room is a tall workbench where an older human woman sits, tapping the table. As soon as Ophelia enters she stands up and groans,

“Damnit all to the Hells Ophie, what did your blasted mother want this-” she pauses, looking over you and Ginelle before blanching at Georgia. “Oh… hello… Georgia.”

“Good afternoon, Enchantress Unale.”

The Enchantress looks at Ophelia with a scared expression until the Rabbit Girl sighs and walks over to pat her back. “It’s fine Suzanne, you’re just stressed. Look, let’s just get back to work, alright?”

“What about…” she says, waving toward you and Ginelle.

Ophelia rolls her eyes. “Mother is being pushy again.”

“Well, you are the only one of ten daughters who isn’t married…”

“Ugghhhh! Not you too!” the Rabbit Girl groans, placing a hand to her face. “I swear, no one is going to leave me alone about this!”

“I’m sorry, but whatever could you two lovely ladies be speaking about?” you ask, doing your darndest to act dumb. Both of the employees look at you, then to themselves before huddling together, whispering too low for you to hear. You look at Ginnelle, who shrugs, then to Georgia who nods and says,

“Enchantress Unale is telling Mistress Illoma that you’re ‘rather attractive.'”

“Oh my Goddess!” Ophelia shouts, face red as a beet. “Damnit Georgia!” She plops down on a stool at the workbench and takes up a small orb. Face still red, she slams down her goggles and begins going at the device with a chisel. “Stupid Mother… I don’t have the time for things like that.”

This is almost amusing. Gods you can bully her so hard, and honestly you really should for your faggot ass God. Still, she seems like a nice girl and you don’t have anything against her. Besides you really should be probing her for information… You weigh the two choices in your hands before sighing. Not bullying wins out, but only by the barest of margins.

Which means you should bully her only a liiiiittttllleee.

You make to walk over to her, but Ginelle takes your arm and looks you in the eyes as she asks, “What is happening here?” Her expression is very similar to before when you thought she might be jealous. Of who though, Ophelia? Why should she be?

Patting the Badger’s arm, you say, “It’s fine, I’m going to just ask her some questions is all, nothing bad is going to happen.” You smile to her, to which she looks skeptical, before letting your arm go, allowing you to walk over to the workbench and squat down on the other side of the table from Ophelia.

“What do you want?” she asks, not looking up at you as she carves something into the orb. The object looks like it’s made of reflective green crystal, and as she moves her tool over it, she makes what appears to be runic sigils with expert precision. Let’s see, if that’s the case then that makes this a core for a construct, right? Well you don’t know the finer details, but you know enough to make some convincing bullshit.

“I’m just amazed, the way you inscribe formulae is almost magical. Your hands are quite skilled, I wonder if the rest of your handiwork is as delicate.”

She stops mid-rune before slowly setting her tool down and looking up at you. You smile at her as she growls, “What’s your game?”

“Game? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” you say, looking perplexed. “Nice goggles by the way, they must be quite useful to have to hide those brilliant eyes of yours.”

Suzanne chuckles, though she goes quiet as Ophelia throws a glare at her. She grumbles and looks back to you, cheeks still red. “These are [Magesight Goggles], enchanted to allow someone to see the flows of magic so NORMAL, HARD WORKING, DEDICATED, people can DO THEIR DAMN JOB.”

You hold up your hands, looking abashed. “I apologize if I seemed rude, I was just curious.” She sighs, shaking her head before picking up her tool again.

“I mean, you do this job so well, I wonder what other jobs you’re good at.”

She growls furiously and almost slams the orb down onto the table, stopping herself in time to not damage it. Pushing her goggles up onto her forehead, she glares at you with great intensity. Well, you might have overdone the whole… mild bullying thing. She grinds her teeth and Suzanne puts a hand on her shoulder, “Now, now, he’s just being nice…”

Ophelia waves her away as she growls, “No, really, are you some kind of noble my mother is trying to tie into the family? Or is she trying to find some excuse to force me out of the workshop and into some damn nursery, huh? Well, I think you can remind my DEAR MOTHER that I’m the only one who can make the cores to these precious Mk. IV Blitzer units she’s shipping en-masse up north on the request of some royal bitch.”

You try to hold up a placating hand, but she just points the tool at you, face getting even redder. “I bet this contract is a fucking ruse too, because there is no way she makes enough money off these things to offset the costs. Plasma-cannons? Does she even know how much magitek goes into one of those? Not to mention pure adamantium plating, lightning casters, and a cognition core!” She holds up the device. “Not even the Great Forge in Sanctifrond makes these stupid things, and I’m finishing up an order of twenty! You could conquer Cair with just five of these things!”

“So,” she says, leaning across the table. “What. Is. Your. Game?”

You lick your lips, feeling that messing with her at this point would be quite the mistake. It’s high time to take the information you’re given and get the fuck out of dodge before shit gets real. You look to Suzanne, who rolls her eyes, then to Ginelle, who shrugs, a smirk on her lips, damn her to the Hells. Taking a deep breath, you look Ophelia in the eyes and put on a serious face as you ask,

“Ophelia… Do you smell smoke?”

 

Chapter 13

Ophelia narrows her eyes but sniffs the air cautiously. Her expression suddenly changes to shock as she turns to a corner and gasps, dashing over to a large, cylindrical shaped object while flapping her arms about in panic. “No, no, no, the mana capacitor! Damnit Suzanne, did you leave it on?”

The Enchantress looks utterly startled as she says, “N-no! I didn’t even channel magic into it! Besides, it’s been working just fine since testing!”

“Well get the fire control unit, we need to put this out now!” Ophelia screams as Suzanne runs out of the room. She points to you, “Get out of here, there’s been an accident!”

“Oh Hells!” you shout, pulling on Ginelle’s arm, leaning in to whisper in her ear, “Just pretend there’s a fire.” The Badger blinks a few times before waving her clawed hands in the air.

“Ahhhhh, firrrreeee.”

You groan. What a poor performance, an utter lack of emotion, but the show must go on! You push the Badger Girl out the door and make your own way out when a metallic arm shoots out to block the doorway. You step back in confusion as Georgia shuts the door on a startled Ginelle, then breaks off the handle before turning to Ophelia.

“Mistress, I do not detect the presence of any mechanical failure in this room, nor any indications of fire.”

Ophelia turns about, waving her arm at the very convincing blaze, if you do say so yourself. “Georgia, it’s right here! Look at it! It’s going to burn out this whole room!” The construct shakes her head in the negative. The Rabbit Girl looks flustered for a moment before looking back at the fire, then quickly putting her goggles on and gasping.

Ohhhhhhh Hells. She spins toward you, grabbing a hammer from the table as she stalks forward. A growl escapes her lips as she touches the metal to your chest, “What. The. Hells. Are you? Are you the Phantom Thief?”

“Uhm,” you say, looking over to Georgia, who stares at the two of you dispassionately. “Would you believe I’m just a tourist?”

Ophelia screams and raises her hammer to strike you when Georgia grabs her wrist, keeping the Rabbit Girl’s arm locked. She struggles about, protesting, but the construct doesn’t budge despite her best efforts.

“I am afraid I cannot allow you to harm another potential suitor.”

“Are you daft? Damnit Georgia, execute operation Rabbit Hole!”

The construct stops moving for a moment before issuing a series of beeps, followed by her saying, “I am afraid I cannot comply with this operation, mistress.”

Ophelia looks shocked. “W-what? But no one knows about that operation!”

“Pardon mistress, but your mother has overwritten this operation with one of her own.” She reaches into a pocket of her outfit and withdraws a small vial of pink liquid.

“Uhm… what is that?” you ask, growing nervous. You can hear Ginelle banging at the door, but obviously it’s made of some really stern stuff, and it’s not showing any signs of snapping. A crackling sound comes from somewhere in the room, and both you and Ophelia look up to a speaker in the corner as a familiar voice plays over it,

“I’m sorry for doing this dear, but I’m afraid that I just can’t allow you to take your time any longer. You’re twenty-four for Dollora’s sake! I had your eldest sister when I was eighteen!”

Ophelia blanches, “Mother, why are you doing this?”

There is a pause before Lady Illoma speaks again. “Do you know how embarrassing it is to have an unmarried child at this age? One who has no interest in sex and just plays with machines all day?” She sighs, “No, if you won’t date, proactively or otherwise, I will make you do so.” The voice crackles and then takes on a gentler tone. “Besides, young Tobias here is quite the strapping young lad. If I was twenty years younger and wasn’t married… well, I’m sure he’ll make you quite happy.”

Her voice takes on a serious tone again, “Georgia. Execute Order 69.”

The construct nods her head and pops the cork off the vial, which quickly pervades the room with a sickly-sweet smell. She holds it toward Ophelia, who tries to pull back, eyes wide in panic. “Mistress, please imbibe this aphrodisiac. If you do not, I will be forced to become aggressive.”

Ophelia looks at you with a terrified expression, her eyes begging for help. You stand there, stunned by the sudden activity, and look to the door, which is obviously not going to be opened by any easy means. You gulp, thinking furiously.

The Rabbit Girl struggles against the iron grip of Georgia, unable to free herself from the grasp of the construct. With almost comical slowness, the maid unit brings the vial of aphrodisiac towards Ophelia’s mouth, her protests doing nothing at all to stop the inexorable advance of the solution.

You grit your teeth as you watch it happen. Damnit all to the Hells, you never knew Monsters when they were super-strong rape machines, but even they will admit that deep down, raping is still a tradition they hold dear. Ophelia seems like a nice girl, but if she gets super randy because of that potion, things are certainly going to get high-impact in here. Not to mention her mother trying to tie you down afterward. Well, only one thing to do…

You take a deep breath, then quickly step forward and put your hand on the vial. Both Ophelia and Georgia look at you, one with an expression of relief, the other with… well she only has one expression.

“Tobias, oh thank Dollora,” Ophelia says. “Help me get out of this!”

“Please do not interfere,” Georgia says, her lifeless eyes staring into yours. “If you would like to assist, you may start removing your clothing.”

“Georgia, please,” you say, shaking your head. “Do not force Ophelia to drink that, she clearly does not wish to.”

“I am ordered to make her drink, however.”

“Well, what if I drank it instead?”

There’s a pause in the room. Ophelia’s eyes look like they’re about to bulge out of her head, she looks so shocked, and you hear Lady Illoma’s voice play over the speaker again, “Oh my! I knew you were a lusty one, but to go so far? My, you will do just fine as a son-in-law I think.” She chuckles before saying in a commanding voice, “Georgia, give him the potion.”

You remove your hand from the solution and Georgia lets go of Ophelia, who staggers back from you, looking utterly horrified. You wink at her, which makes her eye start twitching, and you hold out a hand to receive the vial. Alright, time to smash it on the ground, then you can think of a good way out of-

Your scheming is cut short as Georgia grabs the back of your head, tips it back, and then drains the thick liquid down your throat. As it slides down, you get the vague taste of raspberries and cream before you remember that the vast majority of potions have semen as their base. Before you can contemplate further, Georgia slams your mouth shut and forces you to swallow before letting you go.

Staggering to your knees, you wait to feel something, but nothing really… happens? Sure, you have this disgusting feeling in the pit of your stomach after drinking that, but otherwise you don’t feel half bad. Actually, you feel kind of good now that you think about it. Heh, guess this stuff doesn’t work on men at- wow Ophelia is really pretty, isn’t she?

Huh, you noticed before that she has really nice legs and fantastic curves, but you never fully appreciated them before. Damn does she have a lewd body! Now if only you could see her without her clothes- oh fucking Hells.

You put a hand to your head, shaking it to clear your mind. Fuck, that potion is working far faster than you thought it would and, of course, you’ve popped one Hells of a boner. Ophelia stares at your pants in horrified fascination, and you can’t really blame her. What Rabbit wouldn’t want to get a carrot like you have in your pants and- FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Georgia lifts you up and pushes you toward Ophelia, causing you to catch her shoulders to avoid colliding. Her face is utterly flushed as you look into her eyes, and you feel yourself breathing a little heavily. Gods, she smells nice, doesn’t she?

“Tobias…” Ophelia asks shakily. “You’re not going to…?”

You lean in closer to her, taking in her scent. The faint hint of sweat and grease, the smells of a hardworking woman. Damn that’s hot. Still, you have enough lucidity to whisper into her ear as you do, “N-no, but I need you to play along.” You move your mouth to her neck and gently place a kiss there. That’s what you do in these situations, right? She shivers like she likes it anyway. “Can you deactivate Georgia?”

“N-no,” Ophelia stammers as you slide your hands to her waist. “You’re taking this a little far you know.”

“I can’t help it…” you murmur, “You’re just so damn sexy…”

“T-Tobias!” She yelps as you squeeze her tight ass. Damn that’s nice.

“Sorry… sorry, this is really hard to fight off.”

“Yeah, I can tell by your uhm…” She fidgets as your pants brush against her thighs. “This is getting dangerous.”

“Maybe a little. Look, if you can’t deactivate her, is there something we can use to bust down the door?” As you say this, you might uhm, grind yourself a little against her.

She makes a small sound that might be close to a moan, although you think your addled mind might just be interpreting it that way. She fidgets against you, but you’re pressed pretty close, her warm body against yours. Wonder what she’d feel like without the clothes in the way? As you think this, she looks off to the side and whispers, “I think so. The lock is broken but… Where is your hand-?!”

You pull your questing fingers away, smiling. “Sorry, naughty guys have a mind of their own.”

“A-anyway. There’s a lightning caster that I could use to break the door, but…”

The speaker crackles to life again. “Georgia? Are they making cute little grand-bunnies yet?”

“Not yet Mistress,” the construct says. “The young Master is engaging in foreplay.”

“Good on him, but push them along if they don’t get started soon. I want to hear some screaming young lady!”

“This is so messed up,” Ophelia whines before whispering again, “Tobias, what are we going to do?”

“Might as well give Georgia a show…”

“Tobias! L-look, you’re a nice guy and you’re kind of attractive b-but!” she stammers as you chuckle and start to slide her jacket off her shoulders. She whimpers, but doesn’t fight you, oddly enough, until the clothing drops to the floor, revealing a white, sleeveless shirt that strains to keep her endowed chest in, though you can clearly see two rather hard nipples poking the cloth outward.

“No undergarments?” you ask, chuckling. “My, my, it’s like you’re inviting me.”

“It’s too hot to wear them!” she protests. Her voice becomes pleading as she whispers, “Tobias, please…”

Damnit, she’s right, you have to fight this! Now is not the time to just rip that thin cloth off and grip those beautiful breasts in your hands, feeling the pillowy softness between- No, no, focus! It takes all your effort to ask through grit teeth, “Where is the weapon?”

She nods off to the side of the room, past where Georgia is standing. On a side table is a long, heavy looking, rectangular object with an indentation at one end. From what you remember reading on the Communion Matrix, lightning casters channel lightning via charged mana crystals to create energy blasts. Should be more than adequate to blow down a door like this.

Getting past Georgia though, you’ll have to think of something convincing. If only illusions worked on her! Well, then you wouldn’t be in this situation, with your hands on the soft arms of a gorgeous Rabbit Girl, boner hard enough to shatter diamonds! Damn constructs! You grit your teeth and look to Ophelia as you say,

“I’m going to need you to moan.”

“Eh?” Ophelia says, her lip twitching. “Wha…ah!”

You start running your hands up her waist and under her shirt while simultaneously licking her neck. She lets out a rather convincing moan as you do so, and you start pushing her toward the other side of the room, as if your passion is starting to get a little out of control. Of course, it kind of is, and you’re having a really, really hard time controlling your hands from just jumping up and grabbing her breasts.

The two of you make it about halfway across the room, a little past where Georgia is standing, when you reach the danger zone, your fingers brushing the underside of her breasts. You look into Ophelia’s eyes, both of you breathing heavily, as she’s apparently getting into the act quite nicely. A much better actor than Ginelle, that’s for certain! Ophelia lets out a shuddering moan, then grabs your head, pulling you into a kiss.

You flail about, shocked. Shit, she’s REALLY getting into her role, isn’t she? It’s just… an act, right? Over the speaker Lady Illoma laughs like a madwoman at the lewd sounds the two of you are making, and you feel both of you collide into a table, the lead taken from you as Ophelia takes charge. Various magitek items clatter to the floor as she explores your mouth.

Your mind starts to get hazy as you fall into the rhythm with her, feeling the softness of her lips and warmth of her mouth. You start to get a little light-headed from the intensity of the kiss, and you realize your hands have lost the control you had before, as they are firmly grasping her breasts, squeezing them.

She lets go of your head and the two of you look into each other’s eyes, breathing heavily, faces flushed. Her hands raise to place upon your chest and you know that as soon as she does, you’re just going to fucking lose it. Self-control is dead, it’s time to, pardon the cliché, fuck like rabbits. She places her delicate, furry hands onto you, and then pushes you back, violently.

Staggering backward, you fall to the floor, mind going black with shock. Wait, what? You blink, looking utterly stupefied as Ophelia turns to the table she pushed you against and grabs hold of the lightning caster. She holds it before her and points the device at the door. A sound like birds chirping fills the air as the device begins to glow a faint purple, runes on the side of it glowing hot.

“What is that sound?” Lady Illoma asks over the speaker. “Is that a lightning caster?”

“Affirmative,” Georgia says, taking a step toward Ophelia.

“Sorry Georgia, I’ll patch you up later! Clear the door!” Ophelia shouts, slamming her goggles down over her eyes. As the construct gets within arm’s reach of her, she clicks something on the device and a blast of purple energy shoots from the indentation at the tip. The beam slams into Georgia, tearing her apart in the middle, sending sparking halves of the construct into the air before the remainder of the blast hits the door, breaking it off its hinges and sending it flying across the hallway to crumple to the floor.

The Lightning Caster gives off a few sparks before slowly whirring down, and the only sounds in the room are the gentle sparking of magical energy from Georgia and the heavy breathing from both you and Ophelia. She sinks down to her knees, lowering the weapon and chuckling before outright laughing, fist raised to the air.

“Fuck me, it worked! Hahaha, take that Mother!”

You push yourself up from the floor, legs shaking. Ophelia turns to you and flashes you a quick smile. “Sorry about the push, but I needed a clear line of fire.”

“Oh. That’s fine,” you say, reaching her and putting a hand on her arm, feeling your blood burning even hotter than before. You move your face toward hers, feeling your inhibitions fleeing, “Now then… how about we pick up where we left off?”

Ophelia’s cheeks redden, but before you can reach those glorious lips, you feel a strong hand take your shoulder and flip you about. You stare into the depths of emerald eyes and realize that Ginelle, who is far, far more attractive than you remember, is holding your arm. You smile at her, to which she merely raises a fist and slugs you across the jaw, throwing you backward with a yelp of fright from Ophelia.

You hit the table behind you, scattering more magitek, and sending your head spinning. “Owww! Fucking Hells Ginelle! What was that for?” you ask, rubbing your chin. “You almost broke my damn jaw!”

“Do you feel like fucking the Rabbit Girl anymore?”

“What? No! I feel like I got punched in the-” you blink a few times, looking to Ophelia. She’s still super attractive, and you still have one Hells of a boner, but… you don’t feel like jumping her anymore. Still rubbing at your chin, you shake your head and say, “No, I guess not… huh, guess Richard was right. Sometimes I do just need to be smacked back to my senses.”

Ophelia sighs out in relief, wrapping her arms under her breasts and looking to the side, though she’s still blushing furiously. “Wish I thought of that before he started getting handsy…”

“Young Lady!” Lady Illoma shouts over the speaker. “What have you done?!”

Ophelia rounds on the speaker, pointing at it, though you’re certain her mother can’t actually see anything. “Stopping your little games, Mother! I will choose my own damn husband when I feel the time is right!”

The speaker is silent for a moment before a defeated sigh plays into the room.

“Fine. Come to my office.”

The three of you look at each other before Ophelia growls, pushes her goggles back to her forehead, and stalks out of the room, leaving you and Ginelle alone.

“Were you really… going to have sex with her?” Ginelle asks, her face unreadable.

“Well… I probably would have tried,” you say, coughing into your hand. “Thanks for ah… you know.”

“Glad to help,” Ginelle says, pushing past you to follow Ophelia. You rub at the back of your head, watching her as she goes. First Ophelia kisses you out of nowhere and now Ginelle is acting weird. Honestly, you’re having a hard time separating reality from the act. Maybe that’s just Monsters for you? Still, you follow in the wake of the other two as Suzanne runs in with another construct in tow, shouting about a fire, and freaking out when she doesn’t see one, but instead a broken Georgia and one Hells of a mess.

 

Chapter 14

Ophelia rabbit-kicks open the large doors to her mother’s office, revealing a plush space with beige carpet and a large desk where a variety of tools of magitek origin sit. On the desk is a metallic box with a speaker on it and, as you enter, Emma pushes it aside before leaning back into her large, throne-like chair.

“I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“I could say the same to you, Mother,” Ophelia growls.

“I was, for a little bit,” the older Rabbit Girl sighs, starting to look her age. She reaches into the desk and pulls out a bottle of something amber colored and a glass. She stares at the glass for a moment, then shrugs, opens the bottle, and drinks straight from it. “Damn but you’d have had cute little bunnies.”

You blush a little at this as Ophelia rolls her eyes. “Mother, I think you owe both of us an apology.”

Lady Illoma sighs, “Sorry for trying to get my daughter to rape you, then advocating you raping her.”

“That sounds… a lot harsher when you say it out loud,” you say, rubbing at the back of your head.

“What’s his deal anyway?” Ophelia says, putting her hands down on her mother’s desk. “He’s some kind of sorcerer, isn’t he? Is he another noble you want introduced into the family?”

You groan as she says this, and Lady Illoma furrows her brow. “Sorcerer? Dear, I have no idea. I just picked him up off the street today. Damn Trolls thought he was the Phantom Thief or something.”

Ophelia blinks. “Wait, you tried to pair me up with random guy off the street?”

“Well, not exactly random, but that’s neither here nor there. You said that ‘no man in this flowery little town’ was good enough for you, so when I saw him…”

The younger Rabbit Girl sighs, “Damnit Mother…”

“Well, you did sound like you were enjoying yourself a little!” Lady Illoma says before slugging back another drink. “Makes me proud to know my daughter a least has SOME interest in such things.”

Ophelia puts a hand to her face, the whole thing gone beet red as she addresses you, “I am so sorry about all of this. I wish there was a way to repay you for the trouble.”

“I could think of a way…” her mother says, taking another drink before Ophelia snatches the bottle from her hands and takes a drink of her own.

You and Ginelle look at each other before you cough into your hand and say, “Actually, there is something I think you can help us with.”

“Hmm?”

“You see, we’re actually quite interested in this Fiora you were dealing with. Anything you could tell us about her would be quite useful.”

Emma looks at you quizzically. “I told you a little too much as it was earlier, but I sort of assumed you’d become part of the family.” She sighs, “I think if I said anything else, I might get in trouble with the Crown, and I can’t afford that.”

“Oh come on Mother! He could charge us for attempted rape and take everything. Besides, I still don’t think she was official,” Ophelia says, sniffing.

“Attempted rape… bah. Anyway, her money was, and that’s what matters.”

“We’re losing money on this deal and you know it!”

The two Rabbit Girls glare at each other before Emma relents. “I know we are, but she assured me that if the Mk. IV’s we send out north perform well, then we’ll get a massive contract!”

“What do you mean by performing out north? Is there a war coming?”

Lady Illoma waves a gloved hand. “No, of course not. I’m assured this is just to reinforce the fortress up there and give the Galmathorians a scare to keep them in line. Most of the functions on these Blitzers are on lockdown anyway, they aren’t even that threatening, and the client assures me it’s fine.”

She shrugs. “I don’t have a reason to doubt her, she seemed quite trustworthy after we started talking.”

You rub at your forehead. Great, she must have used some fancy talking and good illusions, though how she managed to do so while insane, you have no idea. Well, she was Richard’s greatest pupil you guess. “Is she still in the city?”

“I think so, she wanted to see the last ones, make sure the order was complete, although five have already made their way up north to Helmscrag. The rest are…” She looks to Ophelia, who grumbles,

“On their way, though it will take some time.”

“Do you know where she might be staying?” you ask, hopeful.

Ophelia shakes her head. “Bitch… I mean, the client wouldn’t say. I saw she that she had a canal ticket in her pocket when she was here though. Looks like it was for the Riverside District.”

You and Ginelle exchange looks before nodding to each other. “One last thing, what do you know about this, ‘Phantom Thief?'”

The younger Rabbit Girl shakes her head. “Not much, as far as I know, it’s just one person, though some people say it’s a whole gang. Personally I think that’s crock, the patterns are always the same.”

“You take way too much interest in these things,” her mother sighs.

“Well, when they target weapons, and we MAKE weapons, maybe it would be good to be interested.”

“They have yet to touch our shipments, so why worry? They just go after food and more mundane weapons.”

Ophelia huffs, “Sounds like someone’s stocking up for something. I wish the city guard would find the damn person already, but given the way things go missing, I doubt they can.”

“How is that anyway?” you ask, curious.

She shrugs and says, “I don’t know honestly. From what I hear, one moment cargo is there, the next it just… ‘vanishes.'” She holds up a finger. “However, I have heard someone saw the Thief once, and that it was most assuredly a woman, though they didn’t get much more than that.”

You nod your head. Yeah, this is all starting to get a little more serious than you expected. “Thank you for your answers, you’ve been a big help.” You bow slightly to Ophelia and say, “I’m sorry about the trouble I caused as well, I wish you luck on your further endeavors. It’s always nice to see someone who appreciates magitek.”

She blushes and looks aside, to which her mother raises an eyebrow. “Well then… Ophelia, might you escort our guests out?”

Ophelia sighs and nods, leading you out through the carpeted area and outside, where the sunlight that streams out nearly blinds you for a moment. You squint before shaking you head and turning to the Rabbit Girl.

“I’m sorry for my mother,” she says, holding her arms behind her back, fidgeting. “I know things got a little… hectic back there, and uhm… I apologize for suddenly ah… you know.”

You wave a hand. “It’s fine, you were just acting, right?”

Ophelia blushes, “Yeah! Acting…” She rubs at the back of her head, floppy ears waggling. “Look, if you need anything while you’re in town, just let me know, okay? As an apology.”

You smile at her. “Sure. Thank you.” She looks down and smirks before turning about and walking back, a distinct little hop in her step as she does so, leaving you alone with Ginelle again.

“Well,” she says, stretching. “You still have a boner.”

“Thank you for that,” you sigh. “You alright?”

She looks to the side and shrugs. “I guess. Everything turned out alright in the end, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” you say, nodding your head. “I think the Riverside District is our next bet?”

“Isn’t Richard there?”

“Yeah, we can meet up with him, if not we’ll just head back to the inn.” You look up at the sky, seeing that you were there longer than expected as it was already mid-afternoon, “Got some daylight left anyway, so first there’s something I need to do…”

“It’s the Phantom Thief!” you shout before pulling back into the crowd as people looks to where you’re pointing on the busy leyway platform.

Everyone immediately turns to see a construct walk into a side alley, holding a crate of cargo in their arms. The bystanders look confused, obviously seeing nothing out of the ordinary. However, two Troll guards who see the commotion freeze in their tracks before pulling out large clubs and jumping upon the construct, beating it first and asking questions later. Naturally, one of them is the bitch who tried to take you in earlier.

You snicker, dropping your illusion, the image of black and white stripped clothing upon a woman with a mean face vanishing as you fade further into the crowd, making certain no one pays attention to you. As soon as the Trolls find they are rused, they look about, confused as multiple workers run up to them, pulling them off the severely damaged worker unit, making quite the commotion as they do. This turns into a fight of course, which becomes an outright brawl as more Trolls and workers rush into the fray.

Feeling yourself unable to fully contain your snickers, you make your way out of the crowd before meeting back up with Ginelle, who’s standing a distance away, watching with an odd expression as you burst out into laughter.

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” she says, watching things get out of control. “But you obviously do, so, whatever. You had your fun?”

“For now,” you snort, giggling as you watch people leave the scene, one of them being the woman from the inn again, an annoyed expression on her face. “Jackor damnit, I’ve been straight laced for too long.”

“Well, whatever makes you happy.”

“What makes you happy?” you ask offhand to Ginelle.

She looks at you for a moment, hesitating before muttering, “Honey.”

“Right…” you say, scratching your chin. You could have sworn she might say something else but, eh, whatever. “Well it’s about lunch time, why don’t we get something to eat on our way to the Riverside?”

She smirks before nodding and heading off before you, badger tail waggling.

“Sure.”

 

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