Wizardquest 3 Part 11: Under the Sea


Chapter 28

                It’s been over twenty years since your first time. You’ve done this plenty of times since then but you always remember your first time the best, eh? The gentle motions, the uncertainty of your position as the world rocks around you. The smell of fish and the taste of sweat on your lips. Yes, you could never forget your first time, and it’s gratifying to see that even after all these years some things stay the same.

                Sailing is seriously boring.

                “Are we there yet?” You ask Baha has you lounge on the deck. Using a fan made of paper, you try to cool yourself off without using magic, but it’s not very effective. Sighing, you create a localized [Cold Blooded] and shiver in relief from the heat.

                “Not yet you insufferable ass.” Baha says, gritting his teeth. “Don’t you have something better to do?”

                “Not really. Sylphie is asleep and the constructs are doing who knows what.”

                “Then talk with your damn horse.”

                “Mr. Ed?” You ask, turning to look at the horse. Despite being a larger vessel with cargo holds for livestock downstairs, he chose instead to stay topside and make a literal poopdeck. At least he’s nice about it.

                “I don’t know, I think I’d be poor company for him also.”

                “Grah.” Baha grunts before turning to you. “Very well then, just sit there and be quiet.”

                “Yeah, but I’m bored.”

                “Are you a child?”

                “My wife wonders that sometimes too.” You say, stretching before leaning back against the railing again and looking up at the cloudless sky. It’s beautiful, in a way, but damn if it isn’t warm in your robes. Still, they’re kind of your only clothing option so you have to wear them.

                “Hmph.” Baha sniffs, turning back to the wheel. He makes a small course adjustment before frowning and looking at something in the distance. You make to ask what he’s seeing when he shouts to the crow’s nest. A crewman up there replies back something you can’t make out, but which makes Baha smile. He barks a few more orders to the rest of the crew before turning to you.

                “Well, it looks like it’s both our lucky days. We made better time than expected and we’re here!”

                Excited, you stand up and look around to see… nothing but open water.

                All around you is a never-ending spread of open ocean, no islands or anything in sight. Frowning, you turn back to Baha, but the man is already making his way to the rigging with a few other men. The sails are hoisted up as the ship’s speed slows to a crawl. As more crewmen come topside, other passengers follow in their wake as Baha orders the men to drop the anchor. The ship continues to drift forward on momentum for a few moments before it grinds to a halt, causing you to almost lose your balance.

                Confused, you walk down the steps and look around, seeing similar expressions on the faces of your party. Sylphie walks up to you with a worried expression while Harmony and Chaika merely assess the situation.

                “Uhm.” Sylphie asks, scratching her head. “We don’t seem to be anywhere. How did the anchor stop us?”

                “Must be shallow here.” Harmony says, shrugging. “But I don’t see anything.”

                “This your first time in Fillothia then?” One of the other passengers says, a captive you seem to recall from the naval base. She’s a tall, powerfully built Monster similar to a Sahaguin you’d guess, being that her limbs have green scales and are slimy. She smiles at you with much more personality than the Sahaguin you’d met before, however.

                “Uhh, yeah.” You say. “He says we’re here but I don’t really see anything.”

                “Oh, but we are here.” She says, nodding her head. “This is the entrance to the city, at least above the water.”

                Sylphie looks down at the water before turning back to her. “So… is it under us then?”

                “Indeed it is.”

                “How are we supposed to get down there?”

                She shrugs and walks over to the railing before sitting on it, a bag held over her shoulder. Smiling, she says, “Well, there’s about two ways. For myself, I just swim!”

                With that, she falls over backward and into the water. You look over the railing and see no sign of her. More splashes catch your attention as other Monsters, and even a human or two dive in. Worried about your stuff getting wet, also having to swim at all, you turn to Baha to see the man walking over toward you.

                “We’re ready to dive. I’d hold onto something.”

                “What are you talking about-“

                The boat suddenly groans before the floor falls out from under you for a moment as the boat falls.

Before you can say anything, you’re underwater. Panicked, you prepare to cast magic to try to get you out of this death trap when you realize that you can breathe just fine. And that you’re not wet. Also, you’re not dying.

Confused, you look over to Sylphie, who has made the same discovery, as well as the constructs. A shimmering barrier surrounds your vessel, giving you pockets of air and creating an isolation within the sea. All of you look about in amazement as the crew around you act like nothing is wrong while they go about their duties as you sink down farther and farther.

“Woah…” Sylphie says, tugging your shoulder. You blink in surprise and then follow her gaze before letting out a remark yourself.

“Now that… that’s something.”

Fish of all shapes and sizes swim around your vessel in this undersea world. The light above filters through the water, casting everything in a shade of blue that grows darker the farther you go. The passengers who leapt off the boat before you sank swim by, the large Monster waving at you as she swims by a shark while a moment later a Shark Girl swims up and gives you a sharp toothed grin before waving at a crewman who blows a kiss at her.

All around you is an undersea bounty, something you’d never be able to see or experience otherwise. But that isn’t the most amazing part. What your gaze is drawn to above all else is an immaculate structure that approaches closer and closer the farther down you go.

Nestled in the middle of a valley in the ocean is a city made of white stone. Intricate towers rise up as if reaching for the surface while buildings of myriad shapes that mimic the flowing waves. In the distance you see a palace the size of which would rival the Royal Castle in Deleor while what appears to be a cathedral as large as the Grand Temple of the Twins dominates in another district. You’re unable to get a good look at much else before you sink underneath the skyline, but you do notice one other distinctive fact about the place.

Surrounding the city is a bubble much the same as your own. Casting a quick [Farsight], you’re able to see Monsters freely entering into this barrier while fish, both large and small, swim into or around it, but suffer no ill effects.

“It’s… beautiful.” Chaika says, her voice unit crackling. She shakes her head a moment later and says, “Maybe I should ask for tears to be installed into my face plate for moments like this.”

“I as well.” Harmony whispers. “This is nothing short of impressive. To think this has been under these waves for centuries.”

“Longer than that.” Baha says, staring out at the city himself. “Filiothia has been around for nigh on millenia, in some shape or fashion. Greatest city in the world I say.”

“Greater than Sanctifrond?”

“Pfff, don’t kid yourself.” He says, chuckling. “But you’ll see in a moment.”

He points toward an area that your ship is being dragged toward. It takes you a moment to notice that the anchor is attached to something moving and when you look down you notice an extremely large crab pulling you along. Did it… did it drag you down here also?

A few other crabs moves other ships you notice, and the closer you get the more you see. A veritable dockyard of Deleorian, Islander, and other vessels you’ve never seen before litter the sea floor, anchored in place in multi-colored docks sharing the same barrier head toward the city. It is at one of these that your vessel is pulled in by the crab, who jams the anchor into the sand before, and you shit yourself not, it waves at you with a massive claw and scuttles away.

“Uh… huh.” You say, watching the event. “What do we do now?”

                Baha stares at the city, his eyes locked onto the Palace. He smirks and ignores you until you nudge his shoulder. He blinks as if not remembering you before clacking his tongue. “Oh, right. Well, we better get you put up somewhere.”

                “Can’t we go see the Sea Queen?”

                “Hmph. I’d need to see if my own hide isn’t to be tanned before I can get you an audience.” He says, shaking his head. “No, you better wait it out, enjoy the city maybe? Anyway, I’ll get you settled in a little bit, I need to get this cargo offloaded.”

                You exit the boat with your possessions a little while later, waiting on the dock as Baha completes his unloading. Despite being so close to the city, you hang back on the strange dock, realizing it to be some kind of dense coral under your feet. Sylphie is fascinated by it while Mr. Ed attempts to eat the stuff before sticking out his tongue and nudging Sylphie for feed.

                Around you, other dock workers, men and Monster, move cargo to and fro. It surprises you in one way and doesn’t in the other to see that even under the ocean, commerce is commerce. If Hudson is a hub of exotic trade, you wonder how great this place will be? Your interest is certainly peaked when you see an eastern-looking shrimp mermaid sliding along the coral without trouble as eastern men transport cargo.

                Once his unloading is complete, Baha takes your party to the edge of the city where Sahaguin guards stand, spears in this hands. They nod at you as you approach and you watch in fascination as Baha walks through the barrier as if it wasn’t there. It shimmers and ripples as he does so, like he just walked into a pool. The guards eye you with suspicion, but you put a hand to where the Sea Priestess marked you and step through the barrier.

                A cold waves washes over you while the rune marked area flashes hot, but the next thing you know, you open your else to find yourself inside the city. The others follow a moment later and all of you gape at the inside just as you did the outside.

                All around you the buildings you saw loom tall, bathed in the shimmering light that filters down from the surface. Outside it seemed darker, but somehow the small amount present is magnified through the barrier so it shines bright and mimics the day, warming your skin and making you feel like you’re in some kind of underwater fairyland. Well, you kind of are except Fairies don’t live underwater. You don’t think anyway, Tobias would know better.

                Surprisingly, the city is dominated by canals which crisscross like roads while smaller walkways exist for those who prefer to walk on two feet. Well, beyond the Centaur-like monsters with frills and scales you assume to be Kelpies, but that’s just a small detail. Either way, most of the Monsters prefer to swim through the city while others hop out easily and slide across the coral flooring without any difficulty.

                You shake out of your stupor as Baha leads you down a main throughfare where Monsters and men participate in commerce as sounds of bartering and smells of cooking food drift through the area. It feels so alien and yet perfectly normal, like the markets in any city in Deleor. It always amazes you how similar cities can be, even if they’re figuratively worlds away.

                Mr. Ed gets a few surprised looks as he walks through the streets, but even more attention is paid to Baha. The man receives praise and adoration from most people, the others merely poking fun at him about how much trouble he is in with his wife. He’s jovial about it and does his best to interact without wasting time as you travel. Eventually, you reach a building with a motif of a mermaid strumming a harp carved into the stone.

                “Arr, well here’s your lodgings for now.” He says, scratching his beard. “I best be finishing up with me crew and then heading back home.”

                “Sounds like your wife misses you.” Harmony says, to which the captain snorts.

                “Hope I’m not missing an arm when I next see ye. I’ll send word if you can get an audience. Otherwise, enjoy the city. There’s plenty of sights including Fish Bait Row for food, the Grand Cathedral of Filios, and even the Flowing Gardens.” He leans forward and chuckles, “Don’t worry, your coin is good down here.”

                “Thank you.” You say, nodding to the man. “We look forward to hearing from you.”

                He waves to you as he leaves and you enter the inn, getting settled in your room by a Mermaid who looks very similar to the one out front. Mr. Ed is put outback in a room used for Kelpies if they decide to stay there, the horse immediately falling onto a lavish bed not at all meant for him and neighing in delight. Once the Mermaid leaves you to your room, you sigh and sit on the bed adorned with kelp before looking out a window lined with seashells.

                “Waiting, huh?” You say, worried. How long will that last, you wonder? Days?

                “Well, not much else for it.” Sylphie says. “But things seem peaceful here. It’s out of our hands at the moment so we might as well enjoy ourselves, right?”

                “Sounds like a great idea.” Chaika says, pumping her fists together. “How about we tour the city, huh?”

                “Not much else to do, though the cuisine has me interested…” You say, smelling some cooking fish in the distance. “Well, might as well do something rather than just sit around.”

                Sylphie chuckles, “Very well Dad, what do we do?”

                “Might as well go see what this place is all about.”

                Stretching, you tidy up your clothing and look at your hood before frowning. “Hey Chaika?”

                “Yeah?” The Construct asks, donning her own outfit.

                “Think anyone would recognize me without the hood?”

                “Well, you are one of the most important men with a widely distributed book and marriage to the ruler of Monsters. So… probably not.”

                “Huh?” Harmony asks as she accidentally tears her own outfit. She huffs and looks through the hole at Chaika. “Are you being sarcastic?”

                “Probably.” Sylphie says, donning a traveling cloak of her own instead of the large black cape. “But this is all relevant on the surface. I doubt most of the people down here even know what ‘Wizardquest’ is.”

                “A damn shame.” You say, shaking your head. “I spent so much blood, sweat, and tears in the making of that book. So many typos, so much anguish.”

                “Yes, a true shame that more people did not enjoy such a brilliant work.” Harmony says, nodding her head.

                “Are we done?” Chaika says, pulling over her cowl. “And for the record, I was only being half a smart-ass, just put on the hood and lets go, shall we?”

                Chuckling, you leave the inn and head out into the city. Again, the dazzling brilliance of an undersea world has you staring about in wonder before you shake yourself and continue onward.

Despite the serenity of the city’s architecture, it has all the hustle and bustle you’d expect of a major city. People and Monsters going about their business, with few even bothering to take notice of you. While you’re certain travelers aren’t common in the city, it’s also going to cause less of a headache to wear these clothes than explain to people why constructs and a Cat-o-Nine Tails is wandering around down here.

That being said, a few surface dwelling Monsters can be seen here and there, their eyes watching you curiously as they smell your scent, something seemingly lost on most of the aquatic Monsters. You assume underwater though, they’d easily tell you don’t belong, but thankfully that’s not the case. Though at some point you’re going to have to go outside, if nothing more than to test your new spells.

“Although…” You say, looking down a back alley.

“Dad, no.” Sylphie says, wagging a finger at you. “We can’t cause trouble here, we have to be on our best behavior so we can see the Sea Queen.”

“Tsk.” You say, crossing your arms. “What are you, your sister?”

“Wow, low blow dad.” She huffs. A moment later the two of you snicker while Harmony sighs.

“I wish a real adult was here.”

“Mr. Ed is still stabled.” Chaika says with a shrug.

                Your travels would normally take you to the markets first since they’re nearby, but you decide to hit those on the way back. While you’re very interested in what they’re selling, you’re also very keen to see some of the more cultural landmarks of the city. Ah, if only Selene were here with you. Maybe you can convince Baha or that Sea Priestess to let her down here? Of course, maybe it’s not the best idea to bring another monarch into the domain of the Sea Queen…

                The area surrounding the Grand Cathedral of the Sea Queen is intricate and old. The buildings seem well kept, but also of older designs while the canals are narrower. Possibly this area was the first built in the city, and you begin to wonder if maybe Filliothia began life as a worship site for those who revered Fillios. But could Monsters really have built all of this?

                “Hey! What where you’re swimming!”

                You turn to a commotion happening upstream from you. Walking to the edge of the bridge you’re crossing, you blink in surprise as a Shark Girl swims past quickly, pushing aside slower traffic. A Mermaid mother holds her daughter tight and shouts the other Monster dives past, throwing sprays of water up the sides. When the Shark Girl passes under your bridge, you get a glimpse of her expression and see a lack of emotion on her face as she heads toward whatever destination she has in mind.

                “Huh.” Harmony says, hand on her hip. “Wasn’t that the Shark Girl we rescued from that cult?”

                “Oh yeah.” Chaika says. “Who knew she was such a jerk.”

                “Kindered spirit?” Sylphie says, shaking her head.

                “Is this how you speak to someone who used to change your diapers you little brat?”

                The two play bicker as you shrug and head toward the Grand Cathedral again. Guess you get jerks in any city, huh? Maybe you should have left her with that cult if she’s going to be like this. Oh well, you return your focus back to the area around you as you approach your destination.

                Looming above you is a building that could rival the Temple of Solos in Sanctifrond. The place is utterly massive and made of the same, white stone as the rest of the city but the design is practically archaic. Perhaps you recall something in the archives the other Wizards had made but it just doesn’t ring a bell to you on what the style is called. It would irk you if you weren’t so inspired by it.

                All around the building are statues of sea creatures and Monsters in motion, carved so well you’d thinking them lifelike. Scenes of flowing water decorate the outsides as if to match that outside, while the gentle light filtering through the barrier shines upon the white stone, giving it a rather holy appearance.

                It almost feels sacrilegious to step inside, but Sylphie takes your hand and leads you in, the other two following behind.

                Inside is no less grand than outside. Following canals into the cathedral, you watch as they head into the main hall to create islands within the room where human and aquatic Monsters can comfortably worship. Light filters down through stained glass windows depicting scenes of what you can only assume is Fillios giving succor to the Monsters of the deep. One depicts her bringing water to the bone dry land while another has her holding out her arms like a mother to all the children of the ocean. In fact, as you look into the main hall, you see at the far end a statue of Fillios in a similar position.

                It’s strange though, the depiction of Fillios here varies from the one on the surface. Where the small idol you saw before showed her with a trident, this statue gives off an air of tranquility and calm. Her body is small, in stature, is divinely proportioned, as all Goddesses are, and she has a look of utter calm that is absent in both depictions of Dollora and Phallia. If you had to guess by looking at the three, you’d guess her to be a mother, instead of the two twins.

                “Ah, surface dwellers.”

                You turn to view a Mermaid similar to the Sea Priestess on the surface swim up toward you in one of the canals. She bows to you, her habit marking her as one of Fillios’s chosen.

                “How-?” You ask, but she merely giggles.

                “We can tell by your sigils. Also-“ She points to Sylphie’s feet. “It’s quite obvious you’re not from around here.”

                Sylphie pouts as you breathe a sigh of relief. “Oh good, I thought it was my shoes.”

                “No, but it could be. Fins are much more convenient.” She giggles again. “Should require assistance or wish to offer a pray to Fillios, please do not hesitate to ask.” She bows away and you wave her off as she swims into the main hall.

                Without any pressing need, you look around the building, viewing various artifacts of the faith, though none of them are magical that you can tell. The others walk about as well, and you can tell that Chaika especially is engrossed in all of it, what with her history and all. You’re glad she’s enjoying herself, at least.

                Looking up from a golden fishing rod that apparently was once wielded by someone to catch the largest mouth bass ever, you notice the Sea Priestess you were talking with before holding her hand on a Crab Girl’s claw, the other Monster seeming distraught. She whispers something to the Priestess who nods and takes her to a back room in the Cathedral. Cocking your head, you shrug and head over back to the others as they convene.

                “So as I was saying, apparently Fillios swam the oceans in the past with the Monsters of the sea that they eventually came to love her as their mother over Dollora, who spent most of her time on land. Eventually Fillios spread herself out to all the oceans and even other bodies of water, but she found this spot her favorite and ordained that this chapel should be built here.”

                “Uh huh, that’s lovely.” Harmony says as Chaika gushes. Sylphie merely shrugs as you approach and asks,

                “What’s with that face?”

                “Oh, nothing. Just coincidence, I could have sworn I saw the Crab Girl we rescued from the warehouse down here. She was crying to a Priestess.”

                “It was a traumatic experience.” Sylphie says, looking down. “Well, anyway, let’s head on and get some food! I’m starving here!”

                You shrug and head out of the cathedral. Taking some directions, you head toward the section known as “Fish-Bait Row.” The area is said to be filled with all sort of food from local to abroad. Of course, this reminds you of the islander fare and your stomach turns a little remembering Otit’s leering smile as he made sure you ate all of the eggs.

                As you loop around the city, you decide to take a quick detour and view the Palace of the Sea Queen. It’s not too far out of your way and you might as well see it outside since you can’t very well go in.

                It’s just as imposing as you saw on your way in, with towers in a more modern style compared to the cathedral. Given the styles, you suspect that it’s similar in age to Sanctifrond… which really puts into perspective just how old that city is also. Still, it’s a rather intimidating structure, yet the motifs of waves kind of put you at ease also.

                The large walls and armed guards, on the other hand, do not.

                They watch you warily as you walk by, your outfits not exactly doing you favors. You’re totally not casing the place in case things go poorly with Baha. Nah, that wouldn’t be anything that you would do if you’re forced into a corner.

                “Good foundation, nice security.” Sylphie mutters as you walk by. “Be hard to get into.”

                “Are you discussing breaking and entering as if it were routine?” You ask, mildly amused.

                “I kind of did this for a few months. Completely for justice, mind you.” Sylphie says as you move past and continue on your way to Fish-Bait Row. “But yes, it would be a difficult heist if we had to get in and steal the trident.”

                “But you have a way?”

                “I’d probably need a little more recon time but I’m sure I could find it.”

                You merely shake your head as you make your way to the resturants. It’s easy to tell when you’re getting close by the smell of food cooking, and you’re glad to see it’s not just a seafood you smell. That being said, you can’t help but buy a skewer of plump, marinated shrimp that had just been cooked on over a fire.

                They taste divine, and you share them between Sylphie, who also had never had seafood like this. Unable to help yourselves, you hit up a few other stalls, sampling their wares with reckless abandon. The food in Hudson is good, but this! You didn’t know that tuna could be cooked like that! How can cod be made to taste so divine?!

                As you and Sylphie tear into some octopus balls made in an eastern style, Harmony merely sighs and sits down, watching the sights. You’d feel bad for a moment about eating in front of her, but both of you had long gotten over that issue. Turning away from her, you go back to the balls when someone bumps you and you drop one. Annoyed, you turn around to face the person who did it and find yourself facing the large Sahaguin you’d rescued alongside Baha.

                “Woah! Oh hey, it’s you.”

                She looks at you with a cold expression, her eyes devoid of any recognition of you. Frowning, you wave a hand in front of her face and ask, “Uh, are you okay? Something wrong?”

                Turning her head from you, she merely continues on her way, crushing your food under her webbed foot as she enters into a nearby restaurant, one which seems rather high class by the sign.

                You rub your head and look to Sylphie, who shrugs as well. This day is just getting stranger and stranger, isn’t it?

                Chaika watches the affair and hums, tapping her foot but doesn’t say anything, merely following behind you as you try to forget the experience. Your mood is a little soured, but nothing that another snack can’t fix!

                “Get your Golden Minnows here!” A Mermaid with whiskers of all things says, ringing a bell. Before her are baked snacks which look like yellow fish. “Best snack in the world! Golden Minnows!”

                “Tch.” You say, as you pass, holding up a hand. “This bottom feeding swill? Please, Golden Minnows are chum for plebians.”

                “Excuse me?” The vendor says, sliding quickly out of her stall and in front of your face. She sniffs you, her whiskers, or perhaps barbels, sliding across your face. She pulls back and sneers at you. “You smell of heated bread pouches. Disgusting.”

                “Ex-fucking-scue me?” You say, indignant. “Heated bread pouches are the king of culinary treats, a gift from the Gods themselves and I will not hear them besmirched!”

                “Ahaha… uh, Dad, maybe we should go?” Sylphie says, looking nervous. A crowd is forming around you as you fight with the Catfish Mermaid.

                “The simplicity of a Golden Minnow gives it it’s power. From this base, an endless variety of flavors can be created!” The vendor says, holding up three different flavored bags.

                “Hah!” You pull three heated bread pouches out from your [Pocket Dimension]. “There are more flavors than I can count with the heated bread pouches. But you know what, you know what I really hate about Golden Minnows?”

                “Oh, do tell.”

                “Golden minnows are just edible crack, and any pleasure from them is gone just as quickly. No, eating any food should be an experience, a journey, an Odyssey, into the realm of flavor, something which Golden Minnows cannot grant their eater.”

                With that, you take a bite of a heated bread pouch and chew it slowly.

                “Oh you son of a-“ The vendor begins until Chaika blocks her while Harmony drags you away.

                “Oh my Gods, I forgot you’re such a fucking idiot over snacks.” Sylphie says, hiding her face, though she is wearing a cowl. “I’m so fucking embarrassed right now.”

                “She’s wrong!” You say, shrugging away from Harmony and walking on your own. “Listen, I had to set the record straight.”

                “Yeah well you can set it straight back in the room.” Chaika says, walking back up to you. She gives you a look, not that there’s any emotion behind it, before saying, “Idiot.”

                Grumbling to yourself, you walk back to the markets, only having to dodge a gang of young Kraken children firing ink at each other. Sylphie looks like she’d want to play, but you take her long and avoid their little turf war as you head into an area which isn’t aware of your reason, logic, and evidence.

Some people call it, “outburst.” You don’t agree.

At least the markets are a good distraction. As you walk through the stalls you see wares of all shapes and sizes, from Deleorian to local. Despite seeing some fantastic magical implements imported from the east, the prices drive you away. Also, you really have nowhere to put them. What if they get damaged in your [Sack of Holding +1]?

You do something productive though, buying about six [Gilly Potions], the sort that will allow you to breathe underwater for a short period. They’re pretty common down here thanks to humans wanting to go outside with their lovers from time to time, so you’re pleased to have them on hand for later when you’re practicing spells. It’s not like you’ll need them for anything else.

                As you finish paying for these potions, and a few more health potions, you notice Sylphie watching something. Following her gaze, you see another of the Monsters you freed from the naval base, a Sea Serpent who is speaking with a seller of produce and flowers from the surface. She whispers something in the vendors ear before flashing some gold coins. The vendor nods and the two head to an alley behind the stall.

                “This is just getting weirder and weirder.” Sylphie says. “I didn’t exactly mean to eavesdrop, but it sounded like she was going to talk about a new and profitable deal or something.”

                “Not really our business, is it?” You ask, worried. Really, it isn’t. Really.

                “Come on.” You say, putting away the potions. “Let’s head back to the inn for now.”

                The rays of the sun, meager as they were, being magnified through the barrier have already begun to fade away. Nightfall comes to the city as you walk back to your inn, but you’re surprised to see light still in the city. At every corner street, even some buildings, is coral that glows a soft, blueish glow. You watch in fascination at it, though the dwellers pay it no mind at all. Would they find your lanterns similarly astonishing, you wonder?

                Returning to the inn, you ask if any messages had been left for you and find that no, nothing has been sent. Which means you’re stuck waiting. Well, if you look at it like vacation, you can spend tomorrow sightseeing too. Of course, you can’t wait too long…

                “I don’t like it.” Chaika says, standing up from where she was sitting.

                “Huh?” You say, breaking from your thoughts. “Don’t like what?”

                “The behavior of those Monsters we saved. It’s utterly different from what we saw when we rescued them.”

                “Uh, they were captives. Of course they’ll be different.” You say, frowning. “Still, I know what you mean. It’s not exactly our business though.”

                “Maybe.” Chaika says.

                “Do you want me do something about it?” You ask, to which she shrugs.

                “I don’t know, I just wanted to speak my mind is all. I guess I’m fine just going about the city also.”

                Sylphie shrugs as well. “Same. I’d like to visit those gardens too, if we can.”

                “Well, we’ll look into getting some sleep tonight and figuring it out in the morning.” You say, yawning. “It’s been a busy day. Good night everyone.”

                Sylphie waves to you goodnight and leaves to take care of Mr. Ed as you prepare for bed, snuggling into he surprisingly comfortable sheets. Who knew kelp could feel nice? As you drift off though, you begin to feel uneasy. This place is peaceful, perhaps a little too peaceful. Since when has that ever happened?

                Well, perhaps you should count your blessings and thing about what you should do on the morrow.

 

Chapter 29

Morning is a strange sensation in this city under the waves. Unlike the rays of the sun which normally would tickle you awake, and to which you would subsequently pull the covers over your head, only a soft gentle beam of the enhanced sunlight comes. When you awaken you feel curiously refreshed, something you’re not certain you’ve felt for awhile. You’re not certain you enjoy it, but you damn sure know you have to try to get Selene down here.

Breakfast is a simple affair of more seafood, but the variety of sauces makes it quite enjoyable. Your Mermaid host doesn’t seem to know who you or Sylphie are, but your daughter does wear her cloak to hide her tails, just in case. Figuring it best to leave the constructs behind, they tend to Mr. Ed until you’re ready to hit the town.

Ostensibly you’re tourists viewing the wonders of the city, but something about last night still bugs you. Could there really be something to all those coincidences? And some of their expressions, no it doesn’t sit well with you…

“Dad? Hey, Dad?”

You blink out of your thoughts and turn to Sylphie, who looks at you quizzically from under her hood.

“Uh, you alright there?”

“Just thinking.”

“About Mom?”

“If I say anything but, ‘always and forever,’ she’ll know and be mad at me.”

Sylphie giggles, “I’m sure she would. Anyway, we were discussing where to go first. Getting to the gardens early might be nice so we can spend a lot of time there?”

“Yeah, that’s fine I suppose.” You say, shrugging. While your appreciation of flowers and such has improved over the years, a necessity with having a wife and daughters, you still don’t care much about gardens. They’re kind of boring, right? But if YOUR precious little flower wants to go, then you might as well. Besides, you’re at the bottom of the ocean in Fillios’s domain. It’s unlikely a garden will cause an issue.

She gives you an odd look before shrugging and going to ask directions. As you stand there you hear chatter at a nearby café where two Monsters are chatting over breakfast.

“So I heard Lord Baha is back.”

“Ohhhh, he was gone for quite some time, wasn’t he?”

“Mhm, the Queen didn’t even hear him out, just tossed him in the cage in front of the palace again!”

“Oh no, I would never treat my husband like that.”

“What husband, you’re single.”

“I-I’ll get one someday! Besides, you don’t have one either flat chest!”

“How rude, I’ll have you know that my breasts are-“

You turn away from their bickering as it devolves into basically a penis showing contest, though without the penises. Well, you sincerely hope anyway. Breast showing contest? No, that has a totally different connotation, doesn’t it?

“Well that’s interesting.” Harmony says, crossing her arms as she watches their conversation too. “Baha got thrown in a cage? What did he even do?”

“He was late coming home. I know that feeling, though I suppose when you’re married to the Sea Queen for long enough sleeping on the couch isn’t the same punishment.”

“Heh, I remember after that fight of yours when Saya…” She stares at you with those cold, emotionless eyes as she trails off, her vocal unit synthesizing a mocking tone that her face plate cannot. You narrow your eyes at her, but she stands up straight and continues without missing a beat, “But I do pity the poor man, he can’t be comfortable in there.”

“Even worse.” You groan, “He can’t get us into the palace.”

“Alright, got the directions!” Sylphie says, walking up to the two of you. She looks about between you and frowns, “What?”

“We may have hit a snag in our plan.” You sigh as you motion for her to lead the way. “Baha is in a marital spat with his wife.”

“Oh, like that time after that fight between you and mom after Saya-”

“Please, not you too.” You groan. “I feel like I accidentally raised copies of myself.”

“Nah, I don’t like mountain elixir that much.” Sylphie says, shrugging. “But Baha was our way into the palace, what do we do about it now?”

“Not much we really can do.” You say. “We might need to get a little underhanded here… or wait until she lets him out of the cage. Can’t be more than a day or two, it’s not like she wants him to die or anything.”

“Still pretty brutal.” Chaika says as you continue walking. “I’ll have to write that one down for future reference.”

Sylphie blanches, which only makes you chuckle. Well, tit for tat and all of that.

——————————————————————————–

Your walk to the garden is blessedly uneventful. The strange events of yesterday are nowhere in sight and the people seem to be in high spirits as they go about their daily, undersea life. Of course, this doesn’t stop you from checking out the canals every now and then, as if anticipating something to happen. All you get for your troubles, however, is a mother Kraken holding her child to her breast, giving you a worried look as she swims away.

Amplified sunlight shining overhead, you reach gardens in good time. While Sylphie and Harmony discuss the finer points of how they get fresh water down here, you walk over to the wall around the gardens, looking around for a way in. The wall is made of the same material as much of the city in a style similar to the palace, such as it is. Maybe they’d been made around the same time?

A large, wrought iron gate stands sentinel with a small gatehouse next to it. Peering through the gate, you see a row of planters filled with what appears to be varieties of large, red, yellow, and blue coral structures shaped almost like topiary you’d see back in Sanctifrond. While beautiful, and not exactly plants, you don’t see what you’re really looking for: anyone present beyond the gate.

Rubbing your chin, you look about to see a guardhouse nearby. There’s no one present either, only a small sign that says, “Don’t make waves, come back tomorrow.”

You frown and wave to a passerby, asking when the gardens normally open.

“Huh, that’s weird. Normally the place is open very early in the morning. I haven’t heard of anything that would close the place.”

Thanking them for their time, you return to your party and break the bad news.

“Oh. I see.” Sylphie says, looking crestfallen. “Well, if it’s closed, maybe I can just hop the fence and-“

“I swear, when did you and your sister trade personalities?” You sigh, shaking your head. “Sylphie, we do not break and enter.”

“I’m not planning on breaking anything.” She huffs, ears flicking. “And didn’t we just break into a naval ba-“

“Okay fine, well we shouldn’t do it again.”

“Won’t we possibly have to break into the Sea Queen’s Palace?”

“I-“ You pause and then turn to Chaika and Harmony. The two exchange glances before turning away, making a crude simulacrum of whistling through their vocal units.

Defeated, you slump your shoulders and shake your head. Sylphie stands tall and pats you on the head, though you can’t help but notice the smirk on her face as she does so. Maybe she does take more after her mother after all.

“Well, that’s that then.” She says, hands on her hips. “I suppose we’ll have to find something else to do.”

“It is strange though.” Harmony says, looking past the gate. “Such a public area suddenly closed and people don’t know about it.” She points to a small family of Crab Girls scuttling away in disappointment from the gate. “You’d figure in such an… isolated community that they would know what the problem is.”

“I don’t see any groundskeepers either.” Chaika says, peering through the gate. “Seems a little weird, right?”

You look to Sylphie, who shrugs. “I thought we weren’t supposed to be breaking and entering. Besides, if we got caught then we’d be in a mess of trouble trying to get into the palace, even with Baha’s help.”

“Fair enough.” You mutter. “Well, speaking of which, we might as well go speak with the man. He’s probably lonely in that cage.”

 “Poor guy.” Harmony says. “Well, we can keep an eye out for anything else odd as we go.”

You nod and make to head to the Palace square in front of the palace, which is thankfully quite close by. As you depart, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up while Sylphie’s ears perk up. Both of you turn about to look at the gardens behind you, but you see nothing having changed. Frowning, you open your [Mage Sight], but see no pulses of magic, only faint enchantments you can’t place, but are probably necessary to keep these kinds of plants alive down here.

Both of you exchange looks before turning back and continuing on your way.

The lively activity of the city greets you again as you make your way through the streets. Despite having toured the day before, you’re not surprised to see more spectacles. The Palace square, one of the largest meeting areas of the city, is filled with all sorts of stalls, vendors, and entertainment. On one corner is a Kraken juggling twenty balls while at another spot is a Mermaid performing the ancient art of mime. You’re fairly certain you also hear a dramatic re-telling of the tragedy of the Big Man, or one of its derivatives.

Your party’s eyes take in the sights with interest and delight, but your eyes are drawn to a structure that dominates the square, despite being a rather small part of the whole. It’s a platform made of stone, a fixture in the square, but a large, wooden pole rises from the center where another pole juts out, holding an iron cage. While there are two other such poles, only the one in the center is occupied but a single man with grey hair.

“By the Gods…” Sylphie says, finally noticing it. “That’s… I didn’t think it was like this. You don’t think that they put prisoners in those cages, do you?”

“Of course they do.” Chaika says. “It wouldn’t be unless it was used. Despite Fillios being a Goddess of temperance, it’s well known the Sea Queen’s temper. It doesn’t surprise me that such public means of humiliation or even death would be used.”

Sylphie shudders. “And the people here just accept this?” She waves to the crowds who don’t even seem to notice the structure. “They just live with this looming over them?”

“Well, it’s not like there isn’t a stockade in the Monster Nation.” Chaika says. “Wasn’t used much as law was a fairly nebulous concept back in the day. Most disputes would be immediate death or trial by combat.”

“And the gallows exist in Sanctifrond.” You say. “Though at least we pretend to be civilized enough to keep it away from the castle square.”

“Oh… well I suppose things like that existed in Ectria too, it’s just…” She shakes her head.

You put a hand on your daughter’s head and ruffle her hair before heading over to the cage where Baha sits. At your approach, the man cracks open an eyelid and looks down at you with a muted expression before shuddering, and then starting fully awake.

“Well now, this is embarrassing.”

“I’ll say. Here we thought you could get us into the Palace, but instead you’re in the dogfish house.”

Harmony gives you a look that her static faceplate, for once, can accurately approximate. She never did appreciate the majesty of your puns.

Baha, bless the man, laughs. “Haha, everyday I hear it but it’s still amusing. Still, sorry about the trouble. Wife barely let me inside before putting me up here. At least I know the comfy spot on the cage to sit.”

“Are you really alright in there?” Sylphie asks. “Here, let me check.”

 “Ah-! No lass, I’m fine.” He says, smiling while waving a hand. “Besides, if I look a little beaten up, it makes the make-up sex that much better.”

“Aha… I see.” Sylphie says, backing away from him. Worry creeps into her expression but she hides it soon enough and turns to you. “Well, I suppose we’ll just have to wait until he’s out then?”

“Seems that way.” You say, hiding your own concern. “How long do you reckon that will be?”

Baha watches the two of you with a critical eye before shrugging, “Well, maybe three days or so. She’ll cool off by then. Might as well enjoy the city while you can!”

“We will do so- oh!” You say, snapping your fingers. “Do you know why they would close the gardens? We tried to visit earlier but it was closed.”

“Arrr, well, they close it down for maintenance every now and then.”

“I see. Well, enjoy your cage, I suppose.” You say, motioning for the others to leave. They follow you through the crowded square on your way out, ignoring all of the stalls. You chance to look back over your shoulder at the structure raised in the air and you swear that Baha is watching you until you leave the square and arrive on a quieter street.

“That was odd.” Harmony says.

“Yeah…” Chaika agrees.

“What did you see Sylphie?” You ask.

Your daughter sighs, her ears twitching. “Baha isn’t a sorcerer, right?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then why did he have magic signatures? It feel like his body was suffused with it, but mostly his head.”

“Could you read the signatures?”

“Not really, but it kind of felt like biomancy.” She shudders. “Reminds me of the Grand Temple of the Twins.”

You grit your teeth, remembering the battle there between the priestesses of Dollora and Phallia. If she felt that signature then that would imply that Baha had been touched by something, though the man seemed perfectly fine earlier, right? Of course, you never scanned him before, did you?

“Ah shit.” Chaika sighs. “So you’re saying our ticket in might be compromised?”

“Maybe.” Sylphie says. “We should do more tests to find out-“

“No.” You say, halting her in her tracks. When she turns back to look at you, you just sigh.

“If that’s the case, then I’d need direct contact to remove anything and that’s not going to happen while he’s in that cage. Returning will just create suspicion.”

“Well, what do we do then?” Harmony asks.

“I’m starting to wonder if the coincidences we saw yesterday weren’t exactly coincidences. I’m starting to get a bad feeling about all of this.”

“The weird behaviors, the gardens being closed… yeah, this doesn’t add up.” Sylphie mutters. “But what’s the goal? You don’t think all of the people we saw are like this, do you?”

“I don’t know, but a little more investigation might be at hand. Thankfully Baha wasn’t in the palace for long, but we may only have three days until he returns.”

“Unless he’s lying.” Chaika says, raising a finger.

“Then we don’t have time to lose.” Harmony says, nodding.

                Citizens of the undersea city walk by, giving you and your assembled land lubbers strange looks as they walk through the relatively quiet street. Your cloaked constructs wait for your response while Sylphie’s tails twitch underneath her own cloak. As for yourself, you weigh your options carefully before shrugging and saying,

                “Welp, not much we can do really.”

                “Eh?” Chaika asks, her vocal unit quirking. “What was that?”

                “I’m saying there isn’t much we can really do about this situation at the moment.”

                Sylphie considers before snapping her fingers. “I get it, you mean because of how well he’s watched, it would be best to come back when we can hide more readily and get more information.”

                “Oh, I see.” Harmony says, crossing her arms and nodding. “A good plan, mister Grand Wizard.”

                “Uhhh. Yes.” You say, looking at your daughter as she gives you an innocent look. “That is entirely my plan that I thought of all by myself.”

                “Alright then, genius boy, what’s the next part of your master plan?”

                You think for a moment. “I’d say we just crash this place with no survivors but I doubt that would end well. So I suggest we fill the time until nightfall.”

                “Hmm.” Harmony says, looking up as she thinks. “I’m still a little suspicious of the other activity we’ve seen around town.”

                “Me too.” Sylphie say, frowning. “If we’re going to check on Baha later, then we should make sure the rest of the town is doing well. What if he’s not the only one who brought something from the surface?”

                “Makes sense.” You say, nodding your head. “But we saw them at the markets, that restaurant and the Cathedral. They’re kind of in different places of town.”

                “And I think doing at least a little snoop of the gardens would be warranted.” Sylphie says, raising a furred finger. “But you’re right, that’s a lot of ground to cover to do investigative work. And it would draw attention. It might be better to split up.”

                “If we break it down then we can finish easily… hrm how else to spend time then?” You ask.

                Your daughter shrugs. “Well, I practice magic when I’m bored. Don’t you?”

                “When you have kids of your own, you’ll realize that it’s hard to go out and practice magic whenever you want to.” A smirk comes to your face as you lean over and say, “By the way, isn’t it about time you got a boyfriend?”

                “Boyfr-“ Sylphie stutters, caught off guard for a moment. She regains her composure quickly however and counters, “I’m afraid I’m far too busy saving the world for such things, father.”

                “Oh my, but if your mother doesn’t see grandchildren her world will be ruined.” When she pouts at you, you chuckle and hold up a hand. “I’m joking anyway. No man is good enough for my little girl anyway.”

                “Eh, Rommel seemed a nice guy.” Chaika says. Your scowl makes her chuckle. “But let’s get this show on the road. I’ll head with the kid over to Cathedral and the gardens again. We’ll meet you around nightfall near the square.”

                “I swear to the Gods, Chaika, I’m not a kid anyway.”

                “Whatever you say, kiddo.” The construct says as she walks toward the Cathedral, a fuming Sylphie in tow.

                “The more things change.” Harmony sighs. She turns to you and chuckles, “So, you want grandkids hmm?”

                “Oh no, I’m being bullied.” You say as you turn about toward the markets. “Come on, let’s see if we can’t scare up some more information at that stall we saw the Sea Serpent go to.”

                The two of you travel through the streets to the markets. More cititzens appear as you get closer to the busy streets and the sights and smells of the city once more greet you. Though the hustle and bustle of such places is fun, there’s something comforting about your little place back in Havenforth. That thought suddenly makes you long to return home and sit outside with Selene by your side as you enjoy a glass of cool mountain elixir.

                “Oh, this time you really are thinking of Selene.” Harmony says, breaking you out of your thoughts.

                “Huh? Oh.” You say, shaking yourself out of it. “How could you tell?”

                “Wizard, I am one of your oldest and dearest friends. I know more about you than perhaps you know about yourself.”

                “Yeah but really, how did you know?”

                “You have a distinct smile when you think about her.”

                “Oh.” You say, surprised at the answer. Honestly you thought it might have been something sarcastic but that’s actually fairly insightful. At the same time, you feel a little warmth in your chest at being told something like that. How strange it is.

                “You’ll see her again.” Harmony says as you enter into the main street of the markets. “Both of you just have very important work that needs to be done.”

                “Sometimes I get tired of working.”

                “Then do it for them.”

                You pause as Harmony continues into the crowd, her cloaked form being sucked into the press as you stand there in surprise. Chuckling, you follow after her, still easily taken off guard by how heartfelt her words are.

                Nothing much seems different about the markets that you can make out. The stalls you saw before seem much the same, though you do stop at a stall selling a variety of enchanted goods. While most of them are fairly mundane, for you at least, there are a few pieces that catch your eye.

                “[Mage-sight Goggles]?” You mutter, looking at the eyewear. “There’s been a shortage of these recently, how did they end up getting sold down here?”

                “Hey, I found the stall.” Harmony says, nudging your shoulder.

                Quickly paying for the goggles (a rather steep fee to be honest), you put them in your bag and follow after the construct. You arrive on the other side of the street to see a Mermaid selling the variety of produce and surface plants. She smiles as you walk up and says, “Welcome! Are you interested in our exciting assortment of exotic plants?”

                Looking down at her assortment of plant life, it’s fairly… mundane as well. Well, to be fair, this stuff is probably very exotic and unique under the ocean where most plant life is seaweed. And coral. Though again, is coral even plant life? You’re not certain. Probably should ask Franklin at some point about it.

                “Well, it certainly is quite the spread.” You say, looking back up at the seller. “But I’m wondering, do you have anything… new?”

                She quirks an eyebrow. “In what way?”

                “From the surface, anything that’s come in the past day or two?”

                “All of my product is fresh. The better to enjoy.”

                Harmony sighs and asks, “He’s trying to ask if you’ve spoken with a business associate, a Sea Serpent.”

                The Mermaid’s eyes become hard and she says, “No, I haven’t dealt with anyone like that.”

                Harmony cocks her head as you open your [Mage Sight] and scan the wares. Again, it’s all mundane and on the up and up, but one thing catches your eye. A stack of roses which glimmer with magic aspected heavily toward Biomancy.

                “What about those?” You ask, pointing at the flowers. “How much for those?”

                “They aren’t for sale.” She says hurriedly, putting a hand over them. “You might as well leave before I call the guards.”

                People around begin to watch with interest, murmuring to themselves. You and Harmony exchange looks before backing away. As you do so, you scan the merchant with [Fast Scan] and frown before turning about and walking away.

                “Well?” Harmony asks as you push through the crowds.

                “She’s infested with plants. The roses are laced with it too.”

                “Shouldn’t we go and stop her then?”

                “And end up in cells like Baha? We’ll never get what we need then, or worse, we’ll drive the others underground. No, we’ll have to accept this for now.”

                Harmony looks over her shoulder before stopping herself and shaking her head. “I see. So we’ll come back later then.”

                “We might have a long night, yes.”

                “This is all starting to become a little more than we bargained for, isn’t it?”

                “When has it not?”

                “Fair.” She sighs. “I suppose we’ve outstayed out welcome in this area. We should check out that restaurant.”

                “I’ll do a few scans as we walk.” You say, eyes still open with [Mage Sight]. A surprising number of magically attuned individuals appear as you walk by, though a cursory glance only gives you the knowledge that they have mana crystals or magitek on them. You happen to notice one person with a rose like at the stall, the item permeating that magic. They seem to be a kind of Sahaugin dressed in a formal robe, chatting with other stalls before they vanish back into the crowd. Are they someone important?

                “What did you buy back there anyway?” Harmony asks as you make your way to Fish Bait Row again.

                “[Mage-sight Goggles].”

                “Why would you need those, you already use a better version of [Mage Sight].”

                “Because only one facility makes these and their production is quite limited. Even I have trouble getting these and there’s applications for them even for me.”

                “Such as?”

                “Well, for starters, I can set up a remote sentry behind these and then I can see through them, getting benefit of the filter.”

                “I see.” She says.

                “Though that will take a little prep-work but will be fine with a [UFT].” You say. “Alternatively I can install them into your optical units, allowing you permanent mage sight.”

                “I think not.” She says. “I’d imagine it would be uncomfortable. Can’t you just make a setting or something?”

                “Not really, these use a special kind of glaze and damn if I haven’t tried to squeak the secret out of that bastard who runs the facility in Sanctifrond.”

                “Guess the Grand Wizard doesn’t get along with everyone, shocking.”

                “Not with other Wizards, no.” You sigh. “Anyway, you can hang onto them for now if you want to try them out. They should work alright through your optical units.”

                “Oh, very well.” She says, picking them up and placing the goggles before her eyes. She gasps as she does so and then pulls them down before putting them back on.

“By the Gods.” She says. “Everything looks the same.”

“Harr, harr.” You say, creating a small wisp of magic over your finger. “Look at this.”

She does so and makes low whistling sound. “So that’s what that looks like. Amazing.”

“Yep.” You say as you cross past the snack vendor from before. It’s tough, but you’re able to contain yourself from continuing your discussion from yesterday. Golden Minnows your fucking ass that smug piece of shit.

“Oh, we’re here.” Harmony says, still wearing the goggles as she points at the restaurant.

The high-class establishment appears to be moving customers at a decent pace, due to it being around lunch time. Both you and Harmony walk up to the front, where a Crab Girl wearing a tuxedo and a tiny bow tie on her crab half bows to you.

“Good afternoon. Table for two…” She trails off as she looks at your robes and her cloak. The Crab Girl wrinkles her nose as if disgusted and says, “Well then. Table for two?”

“Uh, sure.” You say, looking to Harmony, who shrugs. “I could eat.”

“Well, I suppose it is fortuitous you came to a restaurant then.” She sniffs, leading the two of you inside.

The inside of the restaurant is decorated with fine, wood paneling taken from the surface. Small clusters of the luminescent coral sit at tables, giving an ambient glow to the dim lighting of the restaurant, giving a sense of ambiance. It seems like somewhere you’d take Selene on your anniversary which is…

“Harmony?”

“Two months.”

“Thank you Harmony.” You say as the Crab Girl seats you at a table. The chair, which looks rather old, creaks under Harmony’s weight. The Crab Girl gives her an odd look before scuttling away as a Kraken wearing a rather alluring dress arrives with multiple bottles of wine and menus. You hold off on ordering any alcohol and order a chowder. She sniffs in disdain at you also before leaving.

“Well this is a nice place.” Harmony says, looking about, [Mage Sight] goggles on. “I don’t see anything abnormal though, and the staff seem clean.”

                “I would suspect that it would be the food that is infested, but you’re right, I don’t see any of the other patrons food being abnormal.”

                The Kraken arrives a little later with your meal, which you determine to be both free of anything suspicious and bursting with flavor. You’re not certain you’ve ever had seafood of this quality before! Well, you’ll just have to bring Sylphie here later so you can both gloat at her sister. Of course, then you’ll have to treat her too, but that’s what happens when you have two daughters.

                “Is there anything else I can do for you?” She asks as you eat your meal.

                “I’d like to pay my compliments to the chef.” You say, smiling. “Is it the same one who was here yesterday?”

                “No, Chef Bourguignon said she was sourcing ingredients this morning, she won’t be in until tonight. There is an important function of some dignitaries from the court, after all.”

                “I… see. Well, please give my regards to the chef on duty then.”

                “I will sir. By the way, here is your bill.”

                One of her tentacles lays down the paper and you about choke at the price. Harmony leans over and whistles as well. That much for a damn chowder? Maybe you won’t be bringing Sylphie here after all…

                Paying the bill, you leave the restaurant into the mid-afternoon. While you’ve found more information, it seems splitting up has been… a little too effective. While you could go find your daughter and Chaika, you suppose a little independence isn’t a bad thing. Given what you’ve seen before, it’s unlikely any large moves are going to be made now and you doubt Chaika will allow anything to happen to Sylphie. Which means…

                “Ah hells, what are going to do?” You sigh, sitting down at a park bench.

A young Mershark stares at you with wide eyes before chomping on a ball in her hands until her mother drags her away. Harmony waves to the child, the little girl’s eyes widening at the metallic sheen of her arm. She sighs wistfully before turning to you and saying,

“Well, we can go over what we know so far.”

“Fair enough. It seems of the two locations we saw people from the surface go to, one of them has obvious signs of tampering while the other is indeterminate. However, given that Baha appears to be infested as well, it would be assumed that something is wrong with this chef from yesterday.”

“Indeed.” Chaika says. “I’m beginning to believe that those cultists succeeded in their plan all along. It’s almost like they wanted to get caught.”

“I don’t think so, but I do think we were too late. This was a contingency plan.”

“Well it’s working. Our luck is that Baha’s wife overreacts or we’d be in trouble.”

“Right.” You sigh. “But if this is spreading that far throughout the city, it’ll be hard to stop it for good without cooperation of the Queen herself.”

“You could write her a letter about it all?”

“Yeah, okay, because I want to be hung in a cell like Baha.” You sigh. “No, we’d need some definitive proof. But I can’t help but wonder at the endgame here. Is it really just to destroy this city? What do they gain from it?”

Harmony looks up at the shimmering barrier. “You don’t understand just how much this place and the Sea Queen mean to aquatic Monsters. Perhaps things are a little different out east, but everyone know of the Queen, even freshwater aquatic Monsters. It’s also said that Filios looks down upon this place as well and if anything were to happen to it…”

“Then she’d probably be inconsolable, especially if there was nothing she could do to save it. Worse yet, what if the Sea Queen was used as pawn to attack humans.” You grimace. “Even worse than that, if she did try to interfere, then Solos would step in, which could be disastrous for aquatic Monsters in general.”

“Though they give allegiance to Filios over Dollora, it would mean destruction of Dollora’s children one way or another. How terrible if such a thing could be blamed on Dollora herself.”

“No… no there’s no way Filios would believe that…” You whisper. “But I suppose if anything happened to my children, I’d be upset. I’d attack anyone perceived of having hurt them.”

“Indeed.” Harmony says, lowering her head. “Which means we need to inform Filios of the situation as soon as possible.” She claps her hands, “But for now, we need to group with the others tonight.”

“Right, right.” You say, standing up and stretching. “Well, best do that other thing for now.”

“Ah yes, the… other thing.” Harmony cocks her head. “Which would be?”

You smirk.

“Magic practice.”

—————————————————————————————————————

                Water surrounds you as you swim through kelp and bioluminescent coral formations. Though you aren’t the best swimmer in the world, you manage to swim up over a rise and rest there, looking behind you. Sitting down below is the shimmering barrier of Filiothia, the city’s lively architecture a beacon in this dark ocean, lit only by the coral structures around you and the faint light coming through from the surface.

                Harmony swims up next to you, her cloak left inside the city as to better swim, her wing units functioning perfectly to propel her through the water. You’re glad her chassis had been reinforced through the years to be effective against both pressure and leakage. Of course, seeing her glide through the water, you snicker a little as she sets herself upon the rock.

                “What are you laughing about?” Her distorted voice comes through.

                “I just thought you’re like a flying fish.”

                “Harr, harr.” She says, poking you in the bare chest, all your clothes except some swimming underclothes stored in the city. “Been awhile since I’ve seen you swim. Or without a shirt.”

                “Well, I like shirts and Selene and I have been too busy. I did promise Otit we’re going back to the beach at least.”

                “Hmm.” Harmony says, crossing her arms. “Looks like that [Gilly Potion] is working well.”

                “Incredibly well.” You say. “I haven’t drowned at all since drinking it!”

                Harmony shakes her head, though you detect a faint chuckle from her. Maybe. It could just be a water current. “Well, what do you want to practice? And why out here?”

                “It’s not every day you get a chance to practice Hydromancy this far underwater.” As you say this, you form a ball of [Ice] underwater and watch as it slowly rises to the surface.

                “Uhm, that’s Glaciemancy.” Harmony says, watching it head upward.

                “Just an experiment. Interesting.” You mutter before turning to some nearby kelp and casting [Vine Whip.] The plants response how you wish, growing and lashing out, though screams come from behind it. A moment later, a naked man and Mermaid hurriedly swim away, leaving you and Harmony surprised and yet not at all shocked.

                “Well that’s… interesting.” She says, watching them go. “I suppose some of the non-bipedal Monsters find things a little easier in the water.”

                “Hmm. Maybe if Selene had one of these potions she could float as we… no but her tails let her do that already if she wants…” You mutter to yourself before looking at Harmony, who stares blankly (you think) at you. “A-Anyway.” You say, cocking your head. “Let’s try something new.”

                Summoning the mana within yourself, you weave both Hydromancy and Aeromancy to compress water into a point, forming a turbulence in the water. Carefully, and with effort, you drive this line of compressed water through a stack of coral and slice through it without effort.

                “Ohhh.” Harmony says, clapping her hands. “That’s interesting. Where did you think of that?”

                “I’ve seen some compressed water be rather strong before. I never thought by doing so I’d be able to form a weapon out of it. I’m not certain the range will be far, but…” You use the same combo on a rock and it begins to dig into it, albeit much slower. “It might have its uses.”

                “Though on land something like [Flame Lance] would be more useful.” Harmony says, waving a finger.

                “Yeah, but we’re not on land.” You sigh, letting the magic go. You’re a little careless however and some of the Aeromancy in the spell pops nearby, sending a small shockwave that makes you stagger backward and blink in surprise.

                Blinking, you gather your wits, then, against your better judgement, form a bubble in the water again. It pops in front of you and you stagger back, again, dazed. Harmony watches this about two more times before sighing and saying, “Are you and idiot?”

                “Maybe.” You say before holding out your hand and concentrating mana there. You point at a cluster of coral and, with a snap of your hand downward, you collapse the water using Aeromancy and fire a bubble at high velocity. It slams into the coral structure faster than you can see and ruptures, throwing off small chunks of the coral and spreading shrimp and other little fish floating away, dazed or dead.

                Smirking, you turn back to Harmony, who sighs and says, “Okay fine, maybe you’re not an idiot.”

                “Nah, I kind of am.” You say, shrugging. “But I’m an idiot who has a new attack spell.”

                “Underwater.”

                “Guess where we are?”

                “I hope we don’t need to fight underwater at least.” Harmony says, opening her arm to reveal the magitek generator there. Sparks flare up around her arm and she points toward the coral structure. Lightning bursts forth all around her as she discharges it, going wild and dazzling your eyes, though it entirely misses the target. She looks at her hand as you step backward, annoyance in her voice. “Well that’s unfortunate.”

                “Maybe just… a little less power.” You say. She nods and a small flicker of power courses around her arm, heating up the nearby water.

                “Well, I suppose I’m back to punching things then.”

                “Could be worse.” You say, stretching again. “Well, let’s see what else we can do out here…”

                >You learn [Abyssal Point]: By concentrating pressure into a singular area, you create a short range cutting ability with great power. Useable both on surface and underwater.

                >You learn [Abyssal Collapse]: By creating a powerful bubble in the water, you can fire a directional shot which will stun or perhaps incapacitate targets as it ruptures. Useable only underwater

                >You learn [Riptide]: By harnessing currents in the waves, you can manipulate flows of water, catching hostiles and violently moving them toward or away from you. Control is limited however, and it’s not great to use on friend! Most effective underwater.

                >You learn [Water Spout]: An improved [Twister] which sucks up available water, this dangerous vortex draws in any and everything in range. Due to being the Grand Wizard, you can control it’s path. Control lessens with strength of the spell.

 

—————————————————————————————–

                You return to the city as darkness begins to fall, making it rather difficult to see outside. Entering the city through one of the gates in the walls, you return to the lockers you left your belongings (as going for a swim is common practice here) and dress, though the feeling of being covered in salt water makes you feel grungy- not that many citizens here complain about that it seems.

                “Ugh, you’ll need to wash me down later.” Harmony says as she walks with you toward the city square. Her robe sticks to her body, which is caked in the drying seawater, despite her best efforts to dry herself off.

                “I need a bath too. I forgot why I don’t swim much.” You grumble, reaching the edge of the square. With proper nightfall, all the stalls have closed and everyone has gone on their way for dinner or to sleep. The luminescent coral gives off a glow still, making the place seem alive despite the lack of foot traffic. Of course, this is all marred by the man hanging in a cage over it all.

                “Hrm.” Harmony says, looking about to see two Sahaugin guards standing beneath Baha, apparently to make sure he doesn’t try anything funny. Or maybe they’re there to make sure he doesn’t accidentally hurt himself. Maybe his wife does care after all. “It’ll be a little difficult getting to him.”

                “It’s fine.” You say, weaving a [UFT]. “I don’t need to get to him, I just need to observe him. Oh, can I have those goggles back?”

                She hands you the [Mage Sight Goggles], and you affix them to the floating device which sourced materials you’re not certain who what they belonged. When it’s ready, you nod and send the device skyward, hiding in the shadows as you monitor through it.

                “Yeah, he’s definitely infested.” You say, seeing through the spell, and then through the goggles. “If I could get closer I could do a [Fast Scan], but I don’t think I’d be able to rid him of those spores without direct contact.”

                “And a direct bust doesn’t seem wise.” Harmony sighs. “If Sylphie was here she could hide us and we could make a distraction but…”

                “But where is she?” You ask, realizing what time it is. Worried, you send your device around, avoiding detection, but finding no signs of her. “We said meet at nightfall, right?”

                “Yes, and I think she’d be able to detect your spell. You don’t think something happened to her, did you?”

                “No, Chaika is with her, she should be fine… unless they got caught up in something.”

                Harmony grunts, “They said they would investigate the cathedral and then… the Gardens.” She looks up, “Should we go looking for her?”

                Well this is a fine mess. With everything else going on around the city, now your little girl is missing with her chaperone too! You could trust in her like you said you would to return as you investigate other problems in the city, or you could go looking for her. Which is the right decision though?

Chapter 30

 

                “Very well.” You say, pulling away from the square. “Let’s go after Sylphie.”

                “Mmm, for the best, perhaps.” Harmony says as the two of you make your way through the streets back toward the Gardens, your [UFT] scanning around you for any signs of trouble. Thankfully, it finds nothing.

                The night is calm as people go about their business, walking casually through the streets as if nothing was wrong. Through the softly glowing coral they watch you as you and Harmony hurriedly move past, the only ones seemingly with a care in the world. It’s almost as if they don’t know that something is threatening their isolated kingdom in the sea.

                Oh, right.

                When you reach the Gardens you find it as empty as before, the coral softly illuminating the wall around the location. Peering at the guardhouse, it’s also lacking anyone. Some guard, clearly they need a demotion, unless they recently got demoted to dead, which is possibly a promotion. Tasteless jokes aside, the coral structures you saw through the gate earlier also glow softly, giving the place an almost eerie feeling in the night.

                “I don’t hear anything.” Harmony says, tapping her auditory units. “Perhaps they are not here after all? I would assume that Chaika would make quite the racket if she was engaging in combat.”

                “Sylphie can be subtle, but I don’t know if she would be in this situation. Given no one is concerned nor do we hear explosions, I wonder if they’re even here.”

                “Well…” Harmony says, worry in her voice. “What if she’s hurt?”

                “I’d rather not imagine that out-“ You pause in your speech as you feel a twinge of aetheric energy. Someone is casting magic inside the Gardens! You’re not certain who or where, but somewhere ahead!

                “Harmony” You say to the construct, who makes sure the coast is clear, picks you up, and, with a leap of her servos, clears the wall with the two of you, no problem. As you fly over the wall, you get a brief glimpse of a Mershark child looking at you with wonder before you land on the other side of the wall.

                A sea of green awaits you as you touch down. Short trees from the surface grow in carefully cultivated patches while all manner of flowers and hedges are aligned perfectly around them. Multiple water features both fresh and salt water hold a bounty of acquatic plant life too, the waters somehow crystal clear, allowing a perfect view. On air you catch the scent of wildflowers, something which fires up nostalgia for the surface. It is both astonishing and surprising at once.

Both you and Harmony look around in wonder at what was hiding just on the other side of the wall until you shake yourselves back into reality. This is no time for stopping to smell the roses, literally, you suppose.

The two of you walk through the deserted paths, no signs of groundskeepers or guards to tend the plant life. Softly glowing coral and other plants guide your way toward the feel of magic at the back of the gardens, inside a large structure with a glass dome similar to a greenhouse. As you get closer though, you begin to notice the plant life seems richer, more verdant than the outer areas. Their smell begins to grow cloying rather than sweet and you have to be careful with your breathing as not to overpower yourself.

The structure before you has stone walls and a door which is closed while the top half of the building is made of the glass. It’s not like glass you’ve seen before, however, and it seems to glow of its own accord, despite the darkness. Your attention is pulled back to the inside, however, as you feel a burst of magic from within.

“Harmony!” You say, prompting the construct to bust down the door, arms cracking with electricity. You follow in a moment later, [Fire] ready to throw.

“Don’t you dare hurt my little girl you fucking… huh?”

The fire in your hand winks out as you behold a Mermaid fall to the ground with a grunt. Her head lolls to the side and she stops moving, only the slight rise and fall of her chest signifying she’s alive. Of course, with all the bruises and blood covering her body, you might not know that…

Lightning courses at you in your moment of distraction, and you raise your hands in a shield. Harmony intercepts though, forming a wall of electricity of her own, dispersing the attack before shouting, “SYLPHIE YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!”

“Oh fuck, Harmony’s mad- wait, Harmony?!” You hear from across the room as Sylphie looks at you from her cover underneath a ruined planter table. She blinks a few times before narrowing her eyes and then sighing. “Oh thank the Gods, I thought you were her back-up or something.”

“What the hells happened here?” You ask, walking over to observe the ruined greenhouse. Broken pots and surface plants litter the area, soil strewn all about while scorch marks and more line the walls.

“We did a little digging and found this girl.” Chaika says, dusting herself off as she walks over. “She was one of the ones rescued, so we weren’t caught off guard when she attacked us for snooping around. For a fish out of water, she was quite the trouble.”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle though.” Sylphie says, puffing her chest up.

“Uh huh.” You say, walking over and wiping soil from her nose. “Looks like you made a mess of things in here though.”

“Ugh.” Sylphie says, looking around. “Listen, she has those plants in her like before, so she just shrugged off most of what we sent at her. I’m surprised that last blow took her down.”

Chaika shrugs and picks up a ruined fruit from the ground, it’s white milk flowing down her hand. “Coconuts, the perfect weapon no one sees coming.”

“Well, I’m glad to see the two of you unharmed.” Harmony says.

“Yeah, the same- wait a second.” She frowns and looks at you. “Why are you even here?”

“Uhm.” You say, pointing to the ceiling. The two of you look up and see a pleasant light filtering down, something you didn’t even notice when you entered.

“Uh, that’s some enchanted glass. I think it’s like the barrier around the city, except this is magnified to produce more light from basically nothing. Also, the barrier around the city is purely magical in nature from what I can tell and supported by…” She shakes her head and huffs, “Bah! Did you come chasing after me?”

“Sylphie, we agreed to meet at night time near the square, it’s already well past that. We were worried something happened to the two of you.”

“Told you.” Chaika says, to which Sylphie huffs again.

“We had this under control! You don’t have to keep trying to save me all the time, Dad.”

“Sylphie, please.” You say, exasperated. “Bah, I can’t help it alright! Besides, you’re alright and that’s what matters.”

She sighs and shakes her head, “Gods, what am I, a teenager?”

Chaika shrugs, “Well, your development was stunted due to being at home all the time.”

“Aww shut it you bag of bolts.” She growls. “Anyway, fine, fine, I understand. But at least you see what I can do.”

“Hah, I was the one who did most of the work.” Chaika says, holding up the coconut. “You shot fire from your hands, but I had the coconut.”

Sylphie gives her a pointed look as you chuckle, “I know what you can do, but it’s a father’s duty to worry.” Looking down at the Mermaid, you kneel and place your hand on her head.

“Hmm.” You muse, seeping your magic into her. Just like before, her body is filled with these plants which course through her system, fusing to her vessels and in her mind. “I’ll take care of this on her, though can you tell me what she was doing?”

“Well… as far as I can tell she was imbuing the plants here with energy.” Sylphie says, running her hand over a flower that managed to survive the fighting. She shudders as she does so, however, and withdraws. “The plants around here are saturated in magic. I’ve also seem what appears to be the beginnings of a circle being drawn.”

“A ritual, maybe?” You ask, beginning the process of destroying the plants with localized plagamancy.

“Maybe, but I can’t fathom what for…”

“Ah shit.” Chaika says, walking back over with something slung over her shoulder. She gently lays it down and you see the corpse of a man dressed in overalls. “Must have been one of the groundskeepers. Found him in a storage closet. He’s quite dead you see.”

“Dead?” Harmony asks, cocking her head. “Aren’t they in the business of infesting people with these plants?”

“Maybe she wasn’t prepared in time and he stumbled on what she was doing?” Sylphie says as she looks over his body. “Ugh, that’s a lot of stab wounds.”

“The seller in the market didn’t seem interested in selling us her wares either.” Harmony says. “I figured she might have been suspicious of us.”

“Maybe.” You say, nodding as you finish your work. The plants have all been removed, leaving you with an unconscious Mermaid who will have one hells of a headache in the morning. At least that altered physique left her in one piece, though you doubt she’ll survive another coconutting in the future.

“Well, being that we’re all together, what else did you find?” Chaika asks.

You relate your days events and what you found while they give their own tale. The Cathedral did happen to have similar signatures to Baha, and they localized it to a few members of the church. Members who often go to see people in private meetings to talk about their troubles.

“I didn’t feel confident I could remove anything if I tried.” Sylphie says. “So we left them be for now and did a few checks around the surrounding areas before coming here in the late afternoon. We didn’t realize how late it had gotten by the time we got into that fight.”

“Couldn’t just leave it.” Chaika says, shrugging. “But damn, it is late. I doubt that restaurant will be open much longer and that produce seller has to be at home by now. The Cathedral’s doors are closed also, though I hear they let people in late at night if they have some severe troubles.”

“Damn, even though we stopped whatever was happening here, we don’t know what else is going on. There’s too many pieces missing to this as it stands and the longer wait, the more everything will build up around us.”

“But we don’t have any definitive proof.” Sylphie says, exasperated. “There’s no evidence to say the Mermaid did the murder and if we’re not careful, we’ll get fingered for the blame for anything that goes wrong. Gods forbid we cause too much of a scene trying to do anything else.”

“How should we handle this then?” Harmony asks you, waiting for your answer.

 

>What do you do?

You look around the demolished room, taking in everything around you. The ruined plants, the strange potential ritual… and the body. Besides that, you also have the still breathing form of the mermaid next to you. What ARE you going to do about all of this?

“Hmm. Maybe we should dig a really big hole…” You mutter to yourself.

“Sure, because that’s not suspicious.” Sylphie sighs. “Of course, there’s no way we can avoid any of this looking off. Someone’s going to investigate soon, and I doubt that he’s the only dead one.”

“Yeeeep.” Chaika says, dragging in another corpse. “Found a guard in the bushes.”

“You’re like a dog, finding every little buried skeleton.” Harmony says, to which Chaika shrugs.

“Actually, burying them might be best. Buy us time at least.” Sylphie says, walking outside to an earthy patch and using Geomancy to scoop out the earth and form a hole. It’s not very deep, unfortunately, as you both quickly learn that the earth must be imported from the surface and placed over stone.

“My, what a ruthless killer my little kitten has become.” You say as Chaika drops both corpses into the hole while Sylphie covers them up. She pats herself off as you hold up a finger. “Allow me.”

With a spritz of Biomancy, you convince grass to grow over the makeshift grave, allowing it to look a little less unnatural. Of course, as the graves aren’t exactly deep, they poke out a little but… well, maybe they won’t be observant?

Harmony nods her head as she hefts the Mermaid. “What do we do with her?”

“She should be fine now but probably won’t remember any of this.” You sigh. “We should take her to a healer, I’m sure there’s one in town we can reach at this time of night.”

“Undoubtedly.” Sylphie says. “But that’s going to take time and we know there’s other things afoot in the city. Our priority should be to find proof we can bring to the Sea Queen about all of the happenings here, right?”

“Yes, but we can’t exactly leave her here and we can’t take her to…” You trail off, recalling something Chaika said. “The Cathedral, you think it’s infested, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“And they see people after dark, right?”

“Well, yeah, but only if they have severe nee-“ She cuts off as she eyes the mermaid. “Ohhhhh. That’s sacrilegious you know.”

“Yeah well, the Gods can bite my ass.” You say. To make your point, you break up the potential ritual circle, making it look like any other part of this mess.

“What about Baha?” Sylphie asks. “And this restaurant?”

“Eh, their chowder wasn’t worth the price and Baha isn’t going anywhere.” You say. “Let’s prolong how long we have to wait until we break into the Queen’s abode, shall we?”

“Okay, fine.” She says. “So how do you mean to get into the Cathedral?”

—————————————————————————————————————————————

                *BANG BANG BANG*

                A viewport in the sturdy doors to the Cathedral of Fillios opens, revealing a set of harsh eyes that look out into the dimly illuminated night. They look down at two forms in cloaks, an unconscious Mermaid covered in blood and some white fluid held in their arms. A gasp is heard as a voice asks from behind the door, “Goodness, what is this?”

                “We didn’t know where else to go.” A female’s voice says. “Our friend, you see, a man she was with he… we didn’t find her until after he had left but you have to help us!”

                “There is a healer down the street-“

                “Please, she is a devout believer of Fillios and she needs to blessings of her priestesses!”

                The figure behind the door flinches before sighing and shutting the viewport. A moment later the large door swings open, revealing a young Mermaid with a red scaled tail wearing a rather sheer nightgown. She waves the two figures in before shutting the door behind them.

                You and Sylphie remove your hoods as you enter and the Priestess, or perhaps Priestess in training, gasps. Before she can say anything you say quickly, “Hurry, where should we bring her?”

                “T-To the back. A-Are you sure you should?”

                “We have the blessing of an Ocean Priestess, we are able to walk on such hallowed grounds. Please, our friend needs your help.”

                “R-Right.” She says, feeling a little more confident. “This way!”

                She leads you to a back room where a few other citizens rest in beds. A matronly Crab Girl tsks as you set down the Mermaid, waving you away as she looks her over. “A nasty blow to the head, Blood, but no wounds. She must have gotten the better of whoever she was fighting though…” She leans forward and licks the coconut milk. “Must have been an islander. Only they would be so crass.”

                “Sister Julienne…” The younger Priestess sighs.

                “Yes, yes. She’ll be alright, but you two.” She points a gigantic crab claw at the two of you. “It’s best you head home.”

                You and Sylphie exchange looks. Tears begin to well up in Sylphie’s eyes and she gasps before putting her head on your chest and crying. You comfort her in your arms and whisper softly to her before giving a sad smile to the Priestess.

                “I’m sorry, we’re both a little shaken from the events that occurred. She’s our friend and… Oh Fillios, I’m sorry.” You begin to tear up a little too.

                The younger Priestess looks bewildered as she looks about for a way to console to two of you. The Crab Girl puts her claws on her hips and grunts, “Yeah, well, sorry about that and all, but I’m only good at patching people up.”

                “I-I hear the Priestesses here w-will…” Sylphie stutters. “I just… I don’t know who to turn to.”

                “U-Uhm.” The younger Priestess says. “I- I can uh.” She looks again at Sylphie’s pitiful expression before wincing and saying, “I’ll go fetch Sister Rue. P-Please wait in the next room over.”

                She just about swims out of the room, her body getting low to the wet floor as she dashes away. You nod to the Crab Girl and gently lead Sylphie away to the next room over. The two of you sit down in the small chamber, which only has two chairs and a fountain that gently trickles water. It’s clearly meant to be a private room to discuss your troubles with the Priestesses.

                “Damn, you are a good actor.” You mutter as you rub Sylphie’s shoulder.

                “I learned from the best asshole I know.”

                “Aww, thank you for that.”

                “I’m talking about Tobias, I got some pointers from him.”

                “Oh.” You say, disappointed. Well, at least he’s family now too, though you wonder how he’s doing up north? He’s probably already met Selene and maybe even Sophie, though maybe they would have been smart and NOT gone through the capital. Oh well, you’re sure they’re doing better than you are at the moment.

                A rustling is heard outside the door and a moment later it opens to allow the entry of a familiar looking Priestess, the one who helped you yesterday. Where her gentle smile and blue habit adorned her before, now you see cold eyes and undergarments. The younger Priestess holds out her hands in embarrassment behind her, but the door closes shut on her, leaving you alone with the Priestess in the small room.

                She glides over to the other chair in the room and somehow sits down with her tail before looking at the two of you imperiously. “What need do you have of a chosen of Fillios at this hour?”

                You look to Sylphie, who nods and begins recounting a made-up tale involving how her mother used to hang her upside down and beat her. In reality, Selene just blew in her ears and tickled her, but that’s a different story entirely. While this happens, you open your [Mage Sight].

                Magic springs to life before your eyes as you behold the Priestess. She has a subtle touch of Hydromancy, a hallmark of those who serve Fillios, which flows around her entire form. It obscures your view of her body, however, and when you try to probe with [Fast Scan] you can’t find anything definitive. Maybe she’s not infected and is just a bitch when woken up?

                “I see.” The Priestess says, rising. “Tragic, what has happened, but know that, like the sea, such things will rise and fall and that Fillios’s temperance is eternal.” She makes her way to the door. “Sapphine will lead you back outside.”

                No… that can’t be right. You can’t see any sign of her being infested, but a Priestess of Fillios would never act in this manner. Temperance, gentleness, understanding. Even if they can be a little annoyed at times, they would never blow off such concerns so readily. No, it doesn’t make sense. You have to know more!

                As the Priestess brushes past you, you reach out and grab her arm. She gasps and turns on you, eyes flaring with anger. Water from the nearby fountain rushes up and slams into you, throwing you off her and into the wall. You gasp for breath as it’s knocked out of you while Sylphie stands and says, “What the fuck was that for?”

                “He assaulted me!” She says. “I am calling the guards. Both of you are now subject to the mercy of the Sea Queen for trespass against a Priestess of Fillios!”

                “Sy-Syl-“ You try to say, but you’re having a hard time getting your voice back. “In-fest.”

                “GUARDS!” The Priestess cries. “HELP!”

                Sylphie looks between you and the Priestess, unsure of what to do. Her ears perk up and she watches as you reach out toward the Mermaid while trying to stand up. Gritting her teeth, she lashes out with her tails from behind her cloak and snags the arms of the Priestess, throwing her back against the wall.

                “What is the meaning of this?!” She shouts, summoning more water. “You shall not get away with assaulting an Ocean Priestess in this most holy of places!”

                “I don’t think you’re an Ocean Priestess at the moment!” Sylphie says. “You’re just one of Phallia’s puppets!”

                The Priestess’s eyes widen in surprise before she grits her teeth. “Very well. Then I shall have to deal out Fillios’s judgement myself.”

                Water rises from the fountain around her, forming clear spears ready to pierce your daughter. At that range, it would be hard to miss.

                You push yourself up and tackle the Priestess before she can fire, sending her shots wide. They impale the door, breaking the handle and swinging it open. You try to force your Plagamancy into her, but water grabs you and throws you back into he basin, drowning you as her Hydromancy forces you down.

                Sylphie gasps and casts [Fireball], but a wall of water dissolves it. She lashes out with her tails while chaining spells, but on the slick surface of the flooring, the Mermaid dodges the blows, even despite the small chambers. All the while splashing water grows closer.

                For your part, you do your best not to drown. It’s not exactly working well, however. Her Hydromancy keeps you down in the water quite well and you can’t break it with brute force. Casting most magic to stop it would probably kill you as well, which leaves really only one recourse. You slap your hands on the water (which seems silly but you do it anyway) and cast [Dispell Magic].

                The process is actually rather difficult when you can’t see the spell in front of you, but you manage to find the aetheric signature and break it down, freeing you from your watery grave. Coughing and sputtering, you drop to the floor in a heap, the [Mage Sight Goggles] you got back from Harmony dropping from your pocket across the slick floor.

                You look up as you try to vomit out water and see the Priestess sliding in to slap Sylphie with her tail, your daughter unfortunately nowhere near as good with her nine tails as her sister. Sylphie collides into the chair but gets up quickly, though finds herself pinned a moment later as water grabs her arms and tails.

                Thankfully, this leaves the Ocean Priestess occupied just long enough for you to cast [Lightning Bolt].

                See, most people would find this a stupid move. In fact, you’ve been through this song and dance before. And because you have been electrocuted by your own magic in the past, you know how to prepare for it.

                Your teeth lock together as the magic courses through your body. The Ocean Priestess, caught unawares, is unable to prepare herself and convulses as the low voltage you set stuns her. She collapses to the floor, where you stutter over and slap your hand on her neck, channeling your magic. The infestation shows up bright and clear now, doing its best to assert itself over her humours. She writhes as the plants fight back and her eyes fly open, irises glowing green.

                Her hand shoots toward you and grabs your wrist. An insanely powerful force crushes down on your hand and you curse as the pain shoots up your arm. Her veins bulge and pulse as roots begin to pierce her skin, crawling toward your arm.

                Letting out a cry of effort, you push with your plagamancy and the plants recoil as her whole body spasms. The roots droop, then wither, retreating into her skin before vanishing altogether. Her grip weakens and her hand slumps to the ground, the green in her eyes vanishing as she falls unconscious, purged off the infestation.

                Panting, you hold your grip there for a moment longer before groaning and holding up your wrist, wincing in pain as you try to move it. Fucking hells, did she break it?

                “Dad, you alright?” Sylphie asks, dropping down next to you and looking over your hand. “Shit, that’s going to swell up bad.”

                “Yeah, but I’m more worried about what happened here. The infestation is gone and they’re going to think we just beat the shit out of an Ocean Priestess.” You groan, “We need to get out of here before any comes by and-“

                At the doorway is the terrified form of the young Priestess, Saphinne. She slowly lifts the [Mage Sight Goggles] you dropped from her eyes and you see tears flowing there. She says in a tremulous voice as others begin to arrive, “What in the name of the oceans was that?”

                Sylphie’s tails immediately hide under her cloak as she turns her attention to you, awaiting your decision. Do you try to flee, or do you stay and deal with that comes? Given the situation, there’s really only one choice. You look to the Priestess before you, the young Mermaid with a horrified expression and say in a quiet voice, “You know the truth.”

                Three figures appear in the doorway the next moment, looks of outrage on their face. Poor Sapphine is pushed out of the way in a rather un-Filliothian manner as they crowd into the small chamber. One of them, the Crab Girl from the infirmary gasps and places a claw up to her mouth.

                “Sister Rue! By the Goddess, what have you done?! Seize them!”

                The other two sisters, a muscular Sahaugin and a Sea Serpent move to detain you. All you do is raise your hands, showing your palms as they push your face into the perpetually wet floor. Sylphie grunts next to you as the same occurs, but you make no effort to fight back as she too is manhandled.

                “Goddess, she’s unconscious.” Sister Julienne says. She turns her gaze to you and a giant crab claw appears before you. “What did you?”

                Your eyes drift to the young Priestess before turning back to the Crab Girl and saying in a perfectly calm and clear voice, “She was infested with a parasitic plant that had taken over her body. She was acting as a host to influence and infest others in this cathedral and people in the city.”

                The three senior Priestesses scoff. The Sea Serpent hisses, “Preposterous. Who could believe such a tale?”

                Julienne places a hand on Rue’s back and you feel a pulse of power from her. She frowns a moment later and looks to you with annoyance, “I sense nothing out of the ordinary.”

                “Because I cleansed her of it.”

                “This is getting ridiculous, we should hand them over to the guard and be done with it.” The Sahaguin says. “Though as they assaulted a Priestess, we are within our rights to slay them now.”

                “W-Wait.” Sapphine says, walking back to the door.

                Julienne looks to her with annoyance. “You should return to your dormitory, you’ve caused enough trouble this evening.”

                “But…” Sapphine says, squeezing the [Mage Sight Goggles] tight in her hand.

                “But nothing! They are criminals against the Goddess herself, those who have harmed one of her chosen and damaged these sacred grounds with their violence.”

                “They didn’t…” Sapphine begins before blanching. She takes a moment to take in a deep breath before continuing. “They didn’t break the door, sister Rue did.”

                Julienne narrows her eyes. “Is that so? Then she acted in self-defense.”

                “I- I mean, yes, but-“

                “There, then it is settled.” The Crab Girl says, rising on her chitinous legs. “These two will be locked away for now, until we hear out Sister Rue and can inform the guards in the morning.”

                You and Sylphie trade glances as the other two Priestesses grab the two of you and bind your hands with flows of water. Agonizing pain goes through your wrist as it happens, but you grit your teeth and bear it as you’re pushed out of the room. You trade one glance with the young Sister Sapphine and give her the smallest of nods as you’re taken away.

                They toss you into a small room with only a bed present and a sturdy door with one hells of a lock. The Sea Serpent sneers at you through a grate in the door before closing it from the outside. Her slithering soon fades away, leaving you in silence with your daughter.

                “So…” Sylphie says, looking around the room. “Should we just blow the door and leave?”

                “Hmm.” You say, casting [Mend] on yourself. It alleviates some of the pain but it’s still tender. Shit, did she fracture something? “I don’t think we should be so hasty.”

                “Why not? Chaika and Harmony must be worried.”

                “Yes, but being stuck in a…” You look around at the walls to see scratch marks in the stone. “Psychiatric ward, isn’t the worst thing that could happen.”

                Sylphie looks around the room too before frowning. “Ah, I’d wondered why they had something like this.” She shakes her head. “Either way, if we stay here they’re what, going to talk with the Priestess and find she has no memory of the situation? Then where do we sit?”

                “Well that depends on if she was the only one infested. My guess is no.”

                “All the more reason break out of here and go searching.”

                “We’d be searching blindly. I think it’s best to wait.”

                Sylphie sighs, “Wait for what, exactly?”

                A small knock comes at the door. Sylphie looks at you curiously before turning about as the grate opens on the door, revealing the face of Sister Sapphine. She looks around nervously, then whispers, “What did you do back there?”

                Groaning, you sit down on the bed and consider casting [Privacy Barrier], but decide against it. Given the amount of practitioners here, someone would be bound to feel the subtle spellcasting. Instead you merely speak in a low voice, “Sister Rue was infested with a plant that made her act irrationally. I removed it with my magic.”

                “I-I saw something reaching out of her with these goggles but… but that couldn’t have been?”

                “It was. She seemed to act irrationally for a Priestess of Fillios, and she was much different from the gentle soul who showed us around the Cathedral yesterday.”

                Sapphine hesitates before saying, “She has acted… differently as of yesterday. But I thought she was merely on… uhm…”

                “Her period? A possibility, but when it’s my time, I don’t grow plants under my skin.”

                You look to your daughter with an uneasy expression as she says this so casually. Okay, so you manipulate feces into weapons but that’s just gross. Even worse from your daughter!

                The Ocean Priestess blushes furiously. “I don’t either- I mean ah, ahem!” She composes herself. “But if what you say is true, then how did it happen?”

                “A cult from the surface infested citizens of Filiothia with the intention of them spreading it down here. Clearly, sister Rue was one of the targets, but we’re worried it’s spread to others in the Cathedral.”

                Sapphine gasps. “But that can’t be! Many Priestesses speak with everyone in town, even those from the Palace!”

                “We’re aware, which is why this is so serious.”

                “I-I see.” She says, looking down. You hear soft fidgeting outside the door before she asks, “How can I trust you though?”

                You nod to Sylphie who sighs and walks over to the door before placing a hand on the lock. She closes her eyes and pulses a small amount of magic before a “click” is heard. Sapphine gasps again and steps back, looking at the door with shock. You merely shrug and say,

                “You saw the battle. You know we can perform magic, and yet we willingly were lead away. We only mean to help, and you’re the only one who knows the truth.”

                Standing, you walk over to the door and look her in the eyes. “Please, we only want to help you.”

                Though you’re entirely truthful and heartfelt, you do feel a little bad essentially pressuring a young, confused woman. But this isn’t the time to take it easy, you need to do something before more become infested. Of course, there is the issue of how best to handle this.

Chapter 31

                Sapphine looks down and bites her lip before nodding her head and moving away from the door. Gently, you open the door and step outside, your daughter close behind as you stand before the young Ocean Priestess. She looks utterly terrified, standing before you, a sigil of Filios in her hands as she shakes. You hold out a hand and then hesitate before sighing and placing it on her shoulder.

                “It’ll be fine. We’re used to handling these sort of situations.”

                “That’s… terrible.” She whispers.

                “I… yeah, I guess it is.” You say, unable to think of anything else. Unfortunately, there’s no time to think about such things. Looking Sapphine in the eyes you ask, “They can’t have infested too many others. Can you think of any Priestesses who have been acting weird?”

                “Uhm.” She frowns in consternation. “I think… Sister Unagi, an Eel Girl and Sister Fiammetta, a Kraken, left dinner early this evening, saying that their stomachs weren’t feeling well. Sister Julienne offered them a place in the infirmary, but they refused. Come to think of it, they had very strange expressions on their face when they left, ones that looked much like Sister Rue.”

                “Any idea where they might be?” Sylphie asks.

                “In their rooms, first and third past the dormitories.” Sapphine says. “But there will be other Sisters around, you won’t be able to get there and I can’t…”

                “Shhh.” Sylphie says, giving her a hug. “It will be fine. We’ll handle it from here.”

                Sapphine bows her head and wraps her arms around Sylphie. She shudders a moment as tears begin to fall down her cheeks. “I’m so scared. I don’t know what’s happening and my mentors… my friends…” She takes a deep breath and looks up. “Please, help me.”

                Sylphie gives her a smile before ruffling her hair and then nodding to you. You return the gesture and turn to go.

                “Wait!”

                You turn about to see Sapphine looking down, consternation on her face. “The water… we can all feel the ripples in it and tell who is approaching. You’ll easily be felt before you can reach and an alarm will be raised.”

                “Ah hells, you’re right.” You say, looking down. “Maybe we can freeze it?”

                “We’d easily detect the cold… not to mention as the ice melts.”

                “What if we [Build the Wall] over it?” Sylphie suggests.

                “They’d probably detect the Geomancy used so often.” You sigh. Looking down at the ripples however, you frown and hold out a hand, using your Hydromancy. The ripples around you still under your magic. Surprised at the effectiveness, you take a few steps and see that by controlling the flow of the water, you can stop it from splashing, and from causing ripples. Guess your practice today really helped your control.

                >You learn [Calm Waters]

                >Focusing your energies at a body of water, you can stop its flow and disturbance by outside sources.

>This does not allow you to walk on water though. That would be super cool.

                “Wow, look at you dad.” Sylphie says, nudging your shoulder. “Creating new spells.”

                “What did you just say to me you little goober? I’ll have you know that I’ve created thousands of spells and-“

                “Yes, yes, your tired and used rant just changing the words.” Sylphie sighs as she waves a hand and the two of you vanish from sight.

                “I like my tired and used rants, thank you very much.”

                “You’re such a dad.”

                “W-what?” Sapphine says. “Where did you go? Who are you people?” She yipes a little as you pat her on the back.

                “Just a passing father and daughter duo here to save the world.”

                “How embarrassing.” Sylphie sighs, touching the girl on the back as you pass. “But it’s true. Don’t worry, we’ll protect this place.”

                “Thank you, but… who will protect you?”

                By that point you’re already at the end of the hall, heading back into the hallways connecting the infirmary, the psych ward, and further down, the dormitories. Pausing, you look back as Sapphine slides forward down the water, a look of conviction on her face. This is ruined when she almost collides into you, not being able to tell where you are, but you hold out a hand and stop her, making her only mildly panic.

                Taking a deep breath, she sighs and says, “I should come with you. I can keep others away from you as you walk and… help lead you forward.”

                You look to Sylphie, who shrugs. “Very well then.” She leads the Priestess in front of the two of you. Sapphine nods and begins to slide forward at a slow pace, your magic slowly pulsing to keep yourselves hidden as Sapphine glides forward.

You nearly fall on your ass though as, when you turn the corner, the large form of the Crab Girl, Sister Julienne scuttles by, her legs disturbing the waters. She pauses as she sees Sister Sapphine and crosses both sets of arms. “What is this all about?”

“Just… heading back to the dormitories.” Sapphine says, hanging her head.

Julienne narrows her eyes before sighing and saying, “Of course. Hurry up then, I need to return to Sister Rue soon.” She continues walking, but as she walks by you she pauses, as if confused. A moment later she merely shrugs and walks away.

                You catch your breath but feel more confident in your spells, at least. Unfortunately, because of your concentration on the spell, it’s slow going. Thankfully few others appear to be awake at this time of night, so you’re able to move without stopping too frequently. The only other close calls you get are when another young Mermaid carrying a tray of pies for whatever reason comes sliding down the hall, almost colliding with the two of you and a rather large Lobster Girl of all things who barely left any room in the hallway as she passed, compressing you behind poor Sapphine who tries not to be crushed.

                After what seems an eternity, you make it past what appears to be dormitories for the younger Priestesses and arrive before a door made of wood, which of course is quite rare down here. There’s no placard or anything indicating who resides in here, but if what Sapphine said is true, there should be your quarry inside.

                “What do we do?” Sylphie whispers next to you.

                “We can’t just blow a hole into her room, so I suppose we’ll-“ You’re cut off as Sapphine knocks gently on the door. A moment later it opens up and a tall Eel Girl wearing a shift over her rather sensuous body appears, her skin glistening in the light of the coral on the walls.

                “Sister… Sapphine, was it? Why are you here?”

                “I… I wanted to inquire after your health, Sister Unagi.”

                “I am feeling much better. I have work that needs to be done, so if you would excuse me-“

                “I wished to confer with you, on a matter of faith.”

                Sister Unagi pauses and looks at Sapphine. She narrows her eyes before smirking. “Is that so… very well, then enter that we may have a… private, convocation.”

                She steps aside to allow Sapphine in, the two of you slipping in behind her before the door closes. As it clicks shut, Unagi runs a hand through her long hair and sighs, coiling down on her slimy body. “Sapphine… tell me your troubles.”

                The young Priestess looks around, worried, but begins to speak. “It… it’s about you, Sister. I feel like you’re acting strangely and it scares me.”

                “Nonsense…” The Eel Girl says as she slides forward to cup a hand on Sapphine’s cheek. The younger Priestess flinches, but her elder’s hand jerks her face forward again. “Let me share with you a blessing of the Goddess, the true Goddess.”

                Sapphine’s eyes grow wide as Sister Unagi’s eyes flash green before a vine slithers out from her mouth. The younger priestess looks on in mute horror as it slithers toward her mouth, as if to penetrate her. A moment before it can reach, something shifts in the ambient aether as a cantrip is cast. Sister Unagi pulls back as your hand materializes from nowhere to grab her face, pouring magic into her.

                She lets out an ear-splitting cry of agony as the vine retracts into her mouth. Taking the chance, you shout and focus your [Plagamancy] on the plants within her. It reaches inside, destroying those at the outer layer and-

                *Schlorp*

                You blink in surprise as her slick skin slides out of your grip and she drops down before shooting toward the door with her coiled body. Before she can reach, Sylphie appears before her and creates a wall of [Ice]. The Eel with her amazing control of her tail flips about mid slide and coils off the wall before shooting toward you, a corona of water flaring up around her as she shouts.

                Pushing aside Sapphine, you lean backward as she lunges over you, her slime covered body mere inches from you. Reaching up, you grab her human abdomen and push with your Plagamancy, but she slides out of your grasp, slapping you in the face with her tail. You sputter as slime gets all over your mouth and fall on your back, your clothing becoming soaked.

                Sapphine shrieks and hides under a desk as Sylphie fires spikes of [Ice] at the Eel Girl. The infested Priestess pulls up a wall of water and halts the ice long enough to slow its momentum. Her eyes flash green and she shouts, “How did you get in here? Why is no one else coming?!”

                “It’s called [Privacy Barrier] you bitch.” You say as you slap the water before you. Glaciemancy surges through the water in a split second, coating the ground underneath the Eel Girl. She gasps as her already slippery body slides out from under her and she hits the ground, hard. Before she can react, Sylphie creates shackles of ice and pin her down to the ground, halting her movements as the mixture of cold temperatures and force of the bindings prevent her from moving.

                “N-No! You won’t have me like you had the other! Glory to Pha-!”

                You shut her up by slapping your good hand over her mouth. Though plants begin to push against you, trying to force you away, your Plagamancy causes them to wither and die. She spasms and writhes under your magic before the green glow in her eyes dies down and she slumps on the ground, unconscious.

                The water grows still as you stand there, hand over the Eel Girl’s face. Slowly, you stand up, looking down at her as she lays there, breathing slowly. Gods, you have to do this again, huh? Hopefully no one else has been infested…

                “Sylphie.”

                “Yeah.” Your daughter says as she removes the ice, the water in the room swelling some as it melts. The Eel Girl sinks down into the water, her thin shift exposing her body underneath. Not that you’re looking, because you’re busy massaging your injured wrist, which the exertion exacerbated. Damn, you barely even used it.

                “Fillios… what the hells happened there?” Sapphine says. “How did no one hear? What was that plant?”

                “A spell to block out sounds. It’s fairly easy to lean, even for sorcerers.” Sylphie says, helping the Mermaid up. “And that was… what we came to remove.”

                “So they’re doing it via direct contact. Perhaps it inoculates in such a manner and then spreads through the body. It would be more effective than spores which could take awhile to gestate, especially if the individual was lacking in magic…”

                Sapphine turns to you as you muse this over. Realizing you’d gotten distracted, you cough into your hand and say, “But anyway, let us continue forward. We have one more to reach, this Sister Fiammetta, was it?”

                “Ah, yes.” Sapphine says. She waits for you to return to invisibility before opening the door, peeking around, and then waving for you to pass before closing it behind you. The next room is two doors down, so she quickly slides forward and knocks on it, waiting for a response. The three of you stand there, but no one comes to answer.

                Frowning, you place a hand to the water and pulse through it, trying to feel anything within the room. Unfortunately you get nothing back. Does that mean she’s not in her room?

                “I think we’ll have to look elsewhere.” You whisper to Sapphine, you shivers at your voice coming from nowhere.

                The younger Priestess frowns and mutters, “I don’t know where she could-“ She stops mid-sentence and looks up as another young Priestess glides by.

                “Oh, Sapphine, what are you doing here?” She asks, looking curiously at her. “And why is your clothing so rumpled?”

                Sapphine looks down and blushes before straighting out her clothing. “Ah! Sorry, it’s just been a hectic night.”

                “I hear you. I heard some surface dwellers injured Sister Rue! When Sister Fiammetta heard about it, she burst from her room and headed toward the Speaker of the Waves.”

                Sapphine’s eyes grow wide. “W-what did you say?”

                “Yeah, the Speaker of the Waves. I think she was going to voice concerns because she had this worried look on her face. Well, I’m sure it’s none of our business so I’m headed to bed. You better not be out too much later or Sister Julienne will give your scaly butt the snab.” The other Priestess giggles and slides on to the dormitory, leaving you in the hallway with a shaken Sapphine.

                “What’s a Speaker of the Waves?” You ask, to which the young Priestess whispers,

                “She is the foremost Priestess of Fillios. She holds immense power and even has contact with the Sea Queen regularly. If she is infested then… then…”

                “Then we’re in for some shit.” Sylphie says. “Can you bring us to her?”

                Sapphine blinks for a moment before shaking her head. “Yes, of course. Follow me.”

                Her slithering down the hallways takes you from the rooms of the other Priestesses to a larger chamber where a variety of artifacts rest inside cases sealed from the water. In some are weapons while others hold manuscripts or pieces of artwork. Why they’re back here and not where people can see them, you’re not certain, but that’s not important as you come upon a large door wrought with ornate coral workings that glow softly.

                As you approach you find it odd that there are no guards around. No one at all in which to look over all these artifacts. Either they aren’t present at the moment, or people respect this Speaker of the Waves so much they won’t mess with such things. Either way, it’s weird.

                The door in front of you stands slightly ajar, and as you approach you hear soft, moaning noises. Sapphine slides up to the door and looks inside before gasping and pulling away, her eyes terrified. As she does so, a voice comes from inside.

                “Who is that? Show yourself!”

                Sapphine trembles as the door opens and the form of a Kraken wearing a habit with the sigil of Fillios appears. She turns to look at the girl and sneers, “What did you just see?”

                “N-Nothing, I promise!”

                “Nothing, huh? Well, I’ll make sure you never tell anyone anything!”

                The Kraken raises her tentacles and makes to slap the girl, but a moment before they reach she turns to the side and smashes you across the chest, sending you flying backward into the water. Her eyes widen and she looks about in surprise, unable to see you but for the ripples in the water.

                “What in the hells-?!”

                She’s cut off as a block of ice from Sylphie, who appears from thin air pushes her back through the doors and into a desk where she slumps, her tentacles going limp.

                Sylphie picks you up and the two of you dash to the room, leaving the trembling Sapphine behind. You quickly weave [Privacy Barrier] as you enter, magic ready to cast, but the Kraken is already rising from the ground, her eyes glowing a fierce green.

                “Who the hells are you? What do you think you’re doing?”

                “Shut up.” You say. “I don’t have anything to say to a bunch of plants.”

                Her eyes go flat and she chuckles. “Is that so? Well, let this bundle of plants turn you into FERTILIZER!”

                Water bursts up around her and flies toward you in a massive wave. Unable to project a defense in time, you work with your new spell, [Calm Waters] and slow the wave until it gently rolls across both of you, drenching the two of you. Though this surprises the Kraken, she doesn’t seem overly worried about it and sends more spikes of water.

                Sylphie gasps and pushes you out of the way while creating a barrier of ice that is shattered by the blow, but keeps the two of you safe. Well, that is until the Kraken slides across the water and grabs Sylphie, pulling her in the air with her tentacles. She smirks and brings her down to her knee, looking to break her back with he enhanced force of her infested body.

                Before the final blow is struck, Sylphie casts open her cloak and stabs down with her tails, where her knee is the weakest. Her many bladed tails never make it, however as the Kraken gasps and throws her across the room. Thankfully her cat-like instincts have her land on her feet and hands, tails up in the air as she hisses.

                During this time you’re busy enough, creating a [Counter Circle]. This pays off as another blast of concentrated water flies at you, which you quickly block and then send back at the Kraken. Her eyes go wide and she raises her hands as the water hits her in the chest, forcing the air and a spray of water from her mouth. She coughs violently, her tentacles flailing wildly to protect her as she recovers.

                This keeps Sylphie at bay, though she has no problem casting a wave of ice again, freezing the floor and creeping up to cover the Kraken. Her movements, however, keep her from freezing over, but she’s unable to move as freely, though her tentacles keep her upright as she recovers. She glares at you with green eyes and roars as the ice around her cracks in a line that shoots toward Sylphie.

                Your daughter dodges out of the way as the ice shatters from a line of super pressurized water like your [Abyssal Point]. Before she can cast it on you, you dash forward, [Counter Circle] before you. She doesn’t even bother casting magic and instead makes to slap you away with her tentacle.

                Of course, you expected that.

                Freezing your feet over, you stand firm and grab her tentacle. The force of it almost throws you back, but you stand firm, both hands digging into the appendage. She looks at you with surprise as you dig into her rubbery flesh and attack her humours with your Plagamancy.

                “WHAT!” She shouts as your magic wracks her system. She flails and tries to get out of your grasp. More tentacles come to grab you, but Sylphie slides in and matches them one for one with her tails, her magic crackling to stop any spells from the Kraken. This allows you plenty of time to burn through her plants.

                “Damnit all to the hells.” The Kraken says, her voice wavering. “At least… she is prepared. Glory to Phallia-!”

                Her eyes grow dim and she collapses on the floor, unconscious as well.

                The tentacle grows slack in your arms and you drop it to the floor, your muscles burning. Sylphie removes her blades from the tentacles before casting [Soothe] on the wounds. You remove the ice from your feet and sigh, looking around your surroundings for the first time.

                The room appears to be some kind of office or solar. On the walls are various artifacts of Fillios, some which you can feel faint hums of power from. To the side is another door which you believe leads to a bedchamber, but it’s hard to tell. While interesting, you’re more intent on the large desk in the middle of the room, where multiple papers are scattered and a bottle of ink is spilt. Walking up to the desk, you look to the other side to see the unconscious form of a Mermaid with long, green hair and pink scales. She wears a rather revealing garment made of seashells that do little to hide her, academically speaking, amazing breasts.

                Walking over to the Monster, you roll her over to find she has a face to match her body, gorgeous as most Monsters are. As you place her on her back her face shifts and she opens her eyes, blinking as she looks up at you. She stares at you for a moment before looking at her hand, as if seeing it for the first time.

                “Are you well?” You ask, placing a hand on her wrist and casting [Fast Scan]. The moment you do, your eyes go wide and you make to pull away.

                Her hand grabs your face and you feel an incredible pressure on your skull as she begins to crush it. Magic power surges around the Speaker of the Waves and a pulse of water pushes her upright, holding you up as if you weighed nothing.

                “Am I well?” She asks before throwing you across the room to hit the wall and fall to the floor, coughing as pain wracks your body. Sylphie runs up to you and holds her tails up as she tries to help, a look of horror on her face. The Speaker of the Waves, the strongest of the Ocean Priestesses chuckles as her eyes glow green.

                “I think I am feeling better than I ever have.”

                Pain, ah, a feeling you are intimately familiar with. Sort of a side lover, one who comes and visits you every now and then to lay her sweet touch across your body. Of course, if it were actually a lover, Selene would kill it, then you, but at least you wouldn’t feel anything. Then you’d be dead.

                “Dad-?”

                But alas, here she is, snuggling your face, your back, that one spot on your left shin. What a fickle bitch she is, not even caressing your tender areas. Though to be fair, would you want her to? That sounds painful. Hah, you made a joke.

                “Holy hells, Dad, get up!”

                Eh? Who is yell- oh fuck it’s Sylphie.

                Your eyes snap open and you gasp, looking up at Sylphie before you go into a fit of coughing. Holy fucking hells does your head hurt. It’s like she was trying to break your damn skull with her fucking fingers, fucking fuck!

                “Dad, thank the Gods. I know you’re saying the word ‘fuck’ in your mind as much as possible right now, but I need you to stand up.”

                “Fuck.” You mutter as you push yourself up and take stock of the situation.

                Standing, such as it is, across the desk from you is the Speaker of the Waves, the supposedly most powerful Ocean Priestess. Her eyes glow a soft green as her body radiates with magic. You believe it’s Hydromancy, but something else is worming its way in there, something that’s trying to merge, to fuse with her core. The plants inside her are doing their best to make her one of Phallia’s little thralls and damn this city.

                “Hmm.” The Speaker says, looking over her hand. “Is that right? So that is the Goddess’s plan… very well.”

                “What are you talking about?” You ask, slapping your face to get yourself focused. This hurts like hell, but you do it anyway. The pain means it’s working.

                “Hmmm? Oh, you are…” She thinks through something before shaking her head. “No matter, you’ll be dead.” Her eyes go to the Kraken and she sighs. “But she will need to be gifted again. Only a matter of time before the seeds grow large enough to do so.”

                “That’s… disgusting.” Sylphie says, blanching.

                “Nevermind that.” You say, standing firm. “Those plants can’t have been in you for long! If you’re still in there Speaker of the Waves, you have to fight it! Fillios wouldn’t have chosen a weakling to be her speaker!”

                The infested Mermaid’s green eyes look to you with confusion before blinking and returning to their normal shade of blue. She looks around in confusion for a moment before gasping and holding her hands to her head. A moment later the glowing green returns, a scowl on her face.

                “That’s not very kind you know.”

                “Nor is body snatching!”

                “I don’t have time for this.” She says, raising a hand. Water spirals about in her palm, gathering from the floor and the air around you.

                Your eyes widen and you grab Sylphie, dragging her down into the water as the spiral crashes through the wall behind you. Chunks of tone and water explode around you as the water demolishes a hole. Sapphine shrieks as at the explosion, dropping down into the water despite being unable to hear it from the [Privacy Barrier].

                “Tch.” The Speaker says, a look of anger on her face as you pick yourselves up, dripping wet. “I missed.”

                “Still hurt.” Sylphie says, dropping her cloak from her back, the garment torn up by the stone. “Damn, she’s full of magic, I don’t know if we can do this.”

                “We don’t really have a choice.” You say, tossing Sylphie a [Gilly Potion]. “If we leave she’ll just tell everyone the escaped prisoners tried to attack her and who will they believe?” Downing the potion, you drop it to the floor and say, “We have to stop her here.”

                “Hells.” Sylphie says, weaving magic before her. “I just hope Fillios forgives her for roughing up one of her children.”

                At this, a [Wall of Flames] springs up before her and she pushes, the pyromancy scorching across the room. Steam rises as it evaporates the water on the floor, bathing the unfortunate Kraken in the gas. Before it can strike the Speaker, however, it explodes into a cloud of steam that pushes back into your face, forcing you to hold out your hands and cast [Gust] to dissipate it as the superheated cloud heats your skin.

                You sense something before you and gasp, reversing the [Gust] to push you across the slick floor as another spike of magic zooms through where you just were, blowing out another section of the wall. Before you can react, the Speaker fires one, two, three more blasts, forcing you to push yourself across the water, the floor refilling from the fire and allowing you to skirt danger.

                Sylphie fires [Fireball] and [Flame Lance], but the Speaker deftly blocks them with concentrated water before slapping the ground with her tail. Ripples as powerful as shockwaves run through the water, catching your feet and throwing you to the ground to slide into a bookcase where precious artifacts fall onto your head and body.

                Covered in glass, you look up to see the Speaker riding a wave of water she’d conjured before you, her arm covered in a torrent of water as potent as your [Abyssal Point]. You barely have time to slap [Ice] onto the water before you, throwing up a jagged wall of frozen water to hopefully impale her on her own momentum. But of course, it is not that easy, and she neatly leaps forward, pushes off the ice, does a graceful twist in the air, and lands upon her fish tail.

                She smirks at you, as if amused at your little ploy.

                “Damnit, we’ll never get anywhere with all this water.” Sylphie says. “She has too good a control over it!”

                “What do you want me to do, slap [Sigils of Fire] everywhere?” You say, grunting as you push yourself up and away with a use of [Gust], covering your retreat with [Razor Wind] that digs furrows into the ground where the Speaker once was, the Mermaid easily slipping away.

                “No, that’s stupid, why would that work?” Sylphie says. “I don’t even know where the water is coming from!”

                “The whole building leaks water.” The Speaker Says. “Buildings sanctified by the disgusting Priestesses of Fillios constantly draw water from their surroundings and secrete it, keeping the floors slick and useful for these bodies.” She draws a finger down her slick breasts, which had become exposed by the combat. Not like her outfit was really designed for strenuous activity anyway.

                “So… a [Fire Bomb] isn’t going to work I take it?” You ask, said spell in your hand.

                “No, but you better throw that!” Sylphie says, firing off a bolt of electricity. The Speaker easily avoids it, but this puts her in the line of fire of your [Fire Bomb].

                You toss the spell at her, the burning orb gaining in intensity. Her eyes widen as she sees the spell and nowhere to run. Her hesitation lasts but for a moment as she grabs the desk and slams it in it’s side (unfortunately crushing some of the poor Kraken’s tentacles in the process) as the spell detonates.

                The table slides back against the slick floor, pieces of it exploding in the violence. The poor Kraken is tossed into a corner, and you really hope she’s alive after all that abuse. Either way, you pant from the exertion and the accumulated pains as you wait to see what happens next.

                Pieces of charred wood splinter apart from the thick desk. A creaking sound comes from behind and you tense, readying your magic when a sudden burst from behind it comes. The table flies out past you, exploding into splinters that shower both you and Sylphie, cutting your skin. When you look back up, you gasp at what you see before you.

                The Speaker of the Waves, looking utterly unfazed by what just occurred, floats in the middle of the room, the water swirling around her. A vortex of magic appears, gaining more and more intensity as her eyes glow almost violently green. You reach out and try to [Dispel Magic], but it’s simply too powerful. Sylphie’s magic attacks do little either, and not even geomancy can make it to her before being destroyed by the violent waves.

                “See what this vessel can achieve with the power of two Goddesses!” She says as all the water in the room swirls about her, threatening to drown both you and Sylphie in it.

                Perhaps you can counter it, or maybe just use a [Shield Circle], that would be a good call. But more than likely it would break from such powerful magics. You could run, perhaps, but she would likely catch you and again, you have to succeed. Damn, if only Chaika and Harmony were here, but you barely know where you are in here, why would they?

                “Dad! Use your Hydromancy!” Sylphie shouts. “If we can wrest control of the water from her, we can do this!”

                “R-Right!” You shout back, working with the insane plan. Well, there isn’t any feces to work with, so you’ll just have to do things this way.

                The Speaker of the Waves frowns and then growls as you begin to wrest away from of the control from her. The violent waters around her start to subside somewhat as you both press upon her, trying to get an opening. It seems to work, at first, but the constant influx of water from the blessed stone and her gifts of Fillios still working allows to her wrest steady, growing control.

                “Ha! The Goddess of temperance will be your downfall!” The Speaker says. “What irony that her city will be brought down by her own faithful!”

                “I-I won’t let you!”

                The Speakers attention shifts to a form standing in the doorway, that of a young Mermaid radiating with Hydromancy. She thrusts out a hand and begins reciting prayers to Fillios, her words filling the chamber.

                “What foolishness is this, Sister Sapphine you are pathetic and…” Her words trail off as her eyes grow wide. “No… no this can’t be!”

                You feel the shift as well. Sapphine, not targeting the swirling vortex of energy, instead casts her prayers and magic toward the floors, the ones constantly seeping with water. It slows to a trickle, then stops altogether, stopping the Speaker’s energy source from growing.

                “Now!” Sylphie says, shattering an empty [Mana Potion] vial she just drank. Her magic flares and she pushes against the Speaker, forcing the water around her to coalesce, protecting the Mermaid from any attack, but slowing it down in speed. She looks perplexed, until she notices you running toward her. She becomes even more perplexed when you dive into the slowly swirling water.

                “What madness is this?” She says, reaching out through the water to grab you in a tight embrace of pressure. “Are you asking for me to kill you?”

                “I got two more daughters who need husbands before I can die.” You say as the pressure crushes you. “But damn if I don’t do some stupid shit. At least it works.”

                Her head cocks in confusion before she notices your hand pointed toward her, filled with all of your magic. She doesn’t have time to react as you smirk and say,

                “Bang”

                A violent bubble of air rushes through the water and collide directly with the head of the Speaker. Her head snaps back, eyes losing their glow as she goes unconscious from your [Abyssal Collapse]. She, and you, fall to the floor as the water splashes down around you, throwing up waves that cover everything in wetness.

                With a grunt, you pick yourself up and crawl toward the unconscious Monster, knowing she won’t be out for long. Arms on fire, you raise your damaged wrist, the closest one, and slap it on her chest before spreading out your magic through her.

                Her body arcs and her eyes open, glowing green as she soundlessly screams, the plants within her dying from your plagamancy. In moments it’s over and the two of you collapse to the ground, motionless.

                “Dad? Crap are you okay?” Sylphie asks, walking over and turning you on your side. You groan as she does so, pain wracking your body.

                “Sylphie.” You hiss. “I was laying like that because my body feels like it was put through a wash tub.”

                “Well, it kind of was.” She sighs. “You needed a bath anyway.”

                Something splashes in the water nearby and you turn to see Sapphine with her hands on the floor, her body shaking as tears fall from her eyes. She begins to bawl, crying out loud, her voice carrying through the room. You and Sylphie share a glance before you daughter moves to comfort her, whispering softly into her ear about how everything is going to be alright.

                “Your holiness, I have- by the Goddess, what happened here?!”

                Painfully, you roll over in the water to see Sister Julienne of all people outside the Speaker’s chambers. She stares at you with a horrified, then furious expression as she dashes forward, her crab legs scuttling through the water. All you can do is smile at her and say, “We can’t keep running into each other like this.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

                You sit in the cafeteria of the Cathedral sipping tea as you wait anxiously. Sylphie sits next to you, Sapphine dozing on her shoulder as their own mugs steam before them. A tension fills the room, permeating the stone as multiple Ocean Priestesses stand around you, watching you for any signs of trouble.

Of course, this is mostly directed at the two constructs who were brought inside, the Priestesses not knowing what to do with them. You doubt they’ll cause any trouble, though Harmony does sound irritated with you for getting beat up. At least they patched you up a little after the fight, or more accurately, when the Speaker of the Waves woke up.

“I am sorry we cannot speak in a more formal setting, but it appears my rooms have been damaged.” She says, nodding to you. The poor Monster’s beautiful face is swollen in places from the battle, but at least she’s wearing a much less revealing garment, not that that’s saying much.

“It’s no trouble, thank you for not executing us.”

The Speaker smiles before wincing and holding her jaw. A nearby Priestess makes to help her, but she waves the Monster away before sighing and recovering herself. “There certainly is grounds for it. Assaulting Ocean Priestesses within the Cathedral of all places. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking about removing the damn plants in your heads making you try to break the city.”

“Yes…” She says, her expression growing grave. “I was afraid you would say something like that.”

“You believe him, Speaker?” Sister Julienne says, looking surprised. “I know you say to heal him some but… come now.”

“How is Sister Fiammetta?”

The Crab Girl blinks, caught off guard for a moment. “Uh… she’s going to recover, but her tentacles are a mess for awhile. Thank the Goddess there’s no bones there but she’s in a bad place.”

“No trace of anything disturbing within her?”

“Beyond hemorrhage, no.”

The Speaker nods her head. “Well, then I should say that the Grand Wizard does good work.”

The assembled Priestesses gasp and look at you in a new light. They chatter amongst themselves as you shrug and take another sip of your tea before saying, “Rats, my cover is blown.”

“It was made obvious with your daughter. I am not so sheltered under the waves that I don’t recognize a Cat o’Ninetails.”

Sylphie blushes and nods her head. You chuckle and say, “So you figured us out, but why are you being nice to us? I did that to your face, after all.”

“Because, out Goddess is one averse to violence unless it is necessary. She is gentle, but fierce, one who shelters so we can grow. While Hevensferth can perhaps lay claim to knowing the truth of things, I can see clear as water that a soul as gentle as Sapphine’s would not speak so passionately for a falsehood.” She looks to the side and says,

“This is something perhaps we all should keep in mind.”

The other Ocean Priestesses look aside, abashed by her words. She chuckles a moment later and says, “But of course, I also did that to your face.”

You touch your own cheek and wince before smiling. “Fair enough.” The smile fades as you turn to business. “Well now that you know who we are, I will explain our purpose. The plants that were within you and some of your Sisters are part of a plot to overtake the Sea Queen and destroy Filliothia. I don’t know much past that, but it is imperative we warn her.”

“Plants, hmm.” The Speaker says, a worried expression on her face. “Do you believe we were the only targets?”

“No.” Chaika says, shaking her head. “The Gardens were selected as well, along with a certain business and a restaurant.”

“I see, I will help with your efforts and certainly speak with the Sea Queen on your behalf.” She rises on her tail and begins to give instructions when the doors to the cafeteria burst open and an out of breath Priestess shouts,

“T-The Palace! There’s a riot going in the Palace!”

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