The next morning is rather straightforward: You awaken, you remember yesterday, and you feel like crap. This doesn’t really make for a great morning, but it is what you’re left with.
Your companions fare the same, all shuffling about in their night clothing, apparently too concerned with their own thoughts to remember you’re in the room until Ophelia, who has yet to learn her lesson, looks at you and breathes out, “Oh Gods damnit.”
You give them some privacy and order breakfast, simple fare for this part of town, and the gruff innkeeper moves to serve you. As she makes to enter the kitchen, she stops and turns to you, giving you an odd look. You cock your head and ask, “Uh… can I help you?”
“No, not really. Just wondering what you did to that poor Fullvora kid.”
“You… you knew who he was?”
“I know who everyone is, Shady.” She shakes her head. “He looked pretty grim when he left. Better not have done anything too crazy, or you better do something about it, eh?”
“Yeah… I guess,” you say, remembering what Clint had done last night. You should probably find him and speak about everything that happened, because you’ve been there… and recently at that. If you didn’t have Saya, Ginelle, Ophelia… Hells, even Abigail around, you don’t know where you’d be.
Thanking the woman, you head upstairs and place the large platter of food down on the table for your ravishing, and ravenous, Monster companions. They waste no time in digging in, including Abigail, making quite the mess of the platter. Mostly Ginelle, but Abigail sure is giving her a run for her money.
You watch as the little Fairy shoves a berry into her mouth, which seems to expand her whole head before she swallows, and it comically hits her belly then… she deflates. Seriously, what the Hells is up with Fairies? She isn’t what you thought a Fairy would be, that’s for certain. Without even thinking, you shake your head and sigh out, “Abigail, I’m sorry.”
She pauses, another berry pushed to her mouth and blinks, jaws distended. She slowly retracts the berry and cocks her head, looking confused. “Eh? Sorry? You feeling alright?”
“No, but that’s part of this. I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention to you beforehand.”
Abigail blushes and waves a hand toward you. “Oh my Tobias, so forward with your giiirrrrlllfrriieeend right here!” She giggles before looking at Ginelle and frowning. “Oh, right. Well, whatever brought this on?”
“Last night. You tried to warn me, but I wasn’t listening. This could have been avoided if only…” Your eyes drift to Ginelle, but you quickly look away. “Anyway, I don’t want to run into that again, I want to be prepared.”
Abigail’s eyes sparkle. “Oh, ho, ho, so you’re jonesing for another hit of that power, huh? I thought it was pretty wonderful too.” She flexes one of her tiny arms, smirking, “Oh yes, that’s right.”
“Yeah… not really. Still not a fan of murdering people.”
“Nor should you be,” Ophelia says, looking down at her plate, her ears drooping. “But last night was… scary. To see what an Illusionist can really do when their chains are broken…”
“I’d say it’s what happens when the chains come on,” Saya says, shrugging. “From what Tobias says, the madness they go through… I can’t imagine it.”
“You don’t want to,” you say, scratching at your arm, which is uncomfortably warm. “You really don’t. What we’re doing… it’s helping them, in a way.”
“Is it really helping them though?” Ophelia asks. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else that could be done? Surely you don’t… don’t have to…”
“If they’re already past the brink, what can be done? We can’t expect a Dryad to be around for everyone.” Ginelle says, not looking as disturbed as the others, but you can tell that she’s not happy-go-lucky either. “It seems the least cruel method.”
“She’s right you know,” Abigail says, retrieving her list of Illusionist targets, dropping it to the table and tapping a name. “You can’t fall into the trap of letting them go. You saw the devastation one can cause. Now look.”
All of you look down at the table and frown as you see the indicated name: “Harriet Pillona.” The four of you pull back and look at each other, confused. Saya sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.
“I have no idea who that is.”
“Me either,” Ophelia says, nodding her head. You look to Abigail and she shrugs.
“I don’t know, I just know the names.”
“Well… can’t you work like a compass or something? Show us toward her?”
“Uh… uhhh.” She rubs her head before looking off to the side and pointing. “I dunno, somewhere over there?”
Saya cocks her head. “Uhh, well, being a circular city… I still guess that way would point more toward the middle district? It’s kind of… not helpful.”
“Well fine, guess I won’t try to help,” Abigail says, huffing and crossing her arms.
You roll your eyes and pat the little Fairy on the head, causing her to look utterly confused before crouching down and pulling on her hat. “Ahhhh, what are you doing?”
“Making sure you understand that your contributions are appreciated.”
She looks at you, horrified. “Oh by Jackor, have you gone insane already?”
“I don’t know, have I?” The others chuckle softly, although they sound a little strained. It’s enough to make Abigail shiver before fluttering into the air.
“I get the picture you bitches.” She moves to fly off but stops and swoops to grab her berry, shoving it in her mouth and saying to you, “Ohf, youse bashtard.” That said, she flies off again, leaving you to your devices.
“Well, that was fun,” Ginelle says, smirking. “But, I guess we should figure out our next move.”
“Yeah, I suppose so…” you say, looking at her. She gives you a curious look before smirking and shaking her head.
“Hey now, don’t give me that. I’m not 100% yet, but… I’ll be fine sticking around.”
“What about Clint?” Ophelia asks, and Saya gives her a dark look, making the bunny very confused.
Ginelle chuckles. “There’s nothing with Clint, he was just nice to me when I needed it, that’s all.”
“If you say so,” you say, looking down at your hands. “I was hoping to speak with him again today, after all that happened last night. I was wondering if you’d like to come with?”
Ginelle blinks, a little taken aback, but she stutters, “Uhm… yeah, sure I can, but what about…?” She gestures to the others, but you shake your head.
“I believe The Monster Lady will wish to speak with Saya today anyway, and Ophelia, you have more play dates, right?”
She huffs, “They aren’t dates you know, but yes, I do have a few things to do, especially after last night.”
Saya nods her head as well. “Yes… There will be fallout, and I have things to tell Mother.”
“Good,” you say, standing and nodding to Ginelle. “Let’s be off then, I have a feeling I’ll know where to find our good friend.”
Clint strums his guitar, hat pulled low under the overcast sky. Though it’s high noon, the sun is obscured by clouds, which helps hide the man’s face even further. As you approach, he plays one last, mournful tune before laying the guitar down and leaning his head back against the statue of the Hero.
“Howdy,” he says, looking very tired in his leathers. “I should have expected to see you here.”
“Creatures of habit, we humans are,” you say, nodding your head.
Clint smirks before sighing out, “A shame you brought the little lady here to see me like this, I’m rather embarrassed.”
“Don’t be, I see Tobias look depressed every day.”
“Wow, thank you Ginelle,” you say. She chuckles, to which Clint joins in.
“Still able to smile huh? Well there’s always some silver lining to everything.” He takes a deep breath before looking up at the sky, which grows and more overcast. “Rain huh? Seems fitting, given everything.”
“You… freed him last night, didn’t you?” you ask quietly.
Clint doesn’t say anything for a long while before he swallows harshly and says, “Yeah. Yeah I did. Got to say my goodbyes and everything.”
“You did the right thing,” Ginelle says, walking up and putting a hand on his shoulder. He reaches out and takes her hand in his, squeezing it while keeping himself from crying.
“I know I did, it just hurts, you know?”
“I do,” you say, in a soft voice. “I know exactly what it’s like to lose a father figure to this.” You lean down, getting eye level with the man before saying, “I know that what you need now is to not be alone.”
“Yeah. That, and a good bottle of whiskey.”
He snorts but a smirk touches his lips as he does.
“So, when he let me down, he said to my mother, he said, ‘No, I don’t know where your shoes went!'”
You and Ginelle break into laughter, the latter slapping the bar, her nails digging into the wood. Of course, being that there are other Monsters about, this doesn’t really seem to be the first time it’s happened. You point your glass toward him and he clinks it with his before Ginelle slams her drink in. The three of you laugh and down your drinks, breathing out as the harsh liquor flows through you.
Clint clinks his drink down on the bar before sighing out. “Gods, that was one Hells of a summer. Ol’ uncle Horatio, he knew how to have fun.”
“Sure sounds like it,” you say, feeling the inebriation. It was your idea to come to a bar, but damn, you didn’t expect to drink so much. You blame Ginelle and Clint, both of them could put it away like nobody’s business. Well, he seems happier anyway, telling tales of his uncle’s escapades from when he was young. Apparently Horatio was quite the guy, and the stories bitterly remind you of Richard, but you endure.
Clint sighs and taps the bar. The Dog Girl bartender walks over, pouring him another drink with a smile on her face. Of course, when Ginelle asks for another, the smile turns positively murderous, though she still pours the drink. Clint picks his up and swirls it about for a few seconds before speaking again, in a softer voice,
“I miss him.”
“They would have killed him themselves, you know? What he did… the petitions started immediately. Five dead, twenty in conditions that will take the Hospitaliers months to re-habilitate, the rest shaken to their cores. One of them was a High Lord too…” He takes a drink. “We have to pay a ton for this, and answer to a tribunal from the Crown about why we hid such a dangerous sorcerer.”
“That sounds… rough,” Ginelle says, but Clint shrugs.
“This is politics though, part of the reason I left. Couldn’t take all the false faces and the backstabbing, found things far more enjoyable trying to live for… something.” He waves a hand.
“I helped people, you know? Kept them safe enough to build themselves up, yet the moment I come here, my uncle he…” He rubs at his eyes. “I wish he’d told me…”
“Would it have changed anything?” you ask. Clint looks up, staring into your eyes before looking back down and whispering,
“No… I guess not.”
“What will you do now?” Ginelle asks, and he shrugs.
“I don’t know, try to skate through all of this for now, maybe just return to the west if I can.”
“If you can?”
He smirks. “The real reason I was brought in wasn’t to see my sick uncle, but instead to take his place when he died, since everyone was banking on him doing so.”
“You… sound like you don’t want to,” you say, and Clint slams down his drink.
“Hells no I don’t want to! I don’t want to be trapped in such a life, I want to be free to do what I’d like, to help fight against all these injustices in this world the way I’m best at!” He puts a hand to his chest. “The nobility is important, but tell me Tobias, tell me, do YOU miss it?”
You don’t even hesitate to say, “No, I don’t.”
He sits back and breathes though his nose, nodding. “Of course not, why should you?”
You look down at your glass before squeezing it and sighing. “Clint… it might not be the best time, but I’ll ask once more, then let you be.” You look up at him, your eyes confident. “Will you join us? Help us with our task and help others like your uncle?”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before tapping his glass a few times. Ginelle puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Clint, you don’t have to feel pressured to this. I won’t blame you if you don’t want to be part of this, it’s… it’s very dangerous, people like us without the defenses that Tobias or Saya have… it can go very wrong, very fast.”
Clint lowers his head and looks you in the eyes, a strength smoldering in there you hadn’t seen before. “You know what? At first, I was amused to see what kind of trick a Shady was trying to play on me, especially as you became more insistent, but after last night…” He shakes his head. “You’re a good man, Tobias Shady, and I’m sorry the rest of this damn city can’t see that.”
You blink in surprise as he thrusts out his hand toward you. “Let’s do this then.”
Looking down at this hand, you pause only a second before taking it firmly in yours, both of you shaking while looking each other in the eyes.
“You got yourself a deal.”
He smiles, pulling back and nodding to Ginelle. “Looks like I’ll be traveling with your group again. Maybe I can treat you to a proper dance at some point.”
Ginelle blinks a few times before blushing at looking toward you, then down at her glass and downing it. You roll your eyes before waving toward Clint. “We’ve found another rogue Illusionist in town, name is Harriet Pillona, you know her?”
“No, can’t say I do,” he says, rubbing his chin before pulling out a pocket timepiece. He clicks his tongue before standing, not looking phased at all by his drink as he puts coins on the counter. “Afraid I must be going, nobility waits for no one.” He grabs his rifle case and his guitar before looking outside and frowning. “Damn, raining. Well, if you find her, let me know. Might be able to solve this from a distance, though in his weather…” He shakes his head before nodding and leaving out into the pouring rain.
You run through the rain to inn as it pours outside. Even though you tried to help cover Ginelle with your jacket, you both get soaked, and thus you limp into the inn dripping water everywhere, much to the innkeeper’s chagrin. Sheepishly, you climb upstairs into your room where Saya sits, going over a letter. She frowns as you enter and sighs, waving it toward you.
“I asked some people to do some digging, and I found Ms. Pillona easily enough, but you won’t like this.”
You frown and take the letter from her, scanning it before dropping it to the table and leaning over, placing your elbows on it as you groan out, “Why? Why can’t we get a fucking break?”
“What does it say?” Ginelle asks, looking the letter over. Saya sighs and takes it back before neatly folding it and sliding it into a pocket.
“It says that she runs an orphanage for Monster children in the Outer District.”
Ginelle frowns, her expression growing contemplative as she gently puts a hand on your back, though you barely feel it. Jackor, you piece of shit, you knew you’d get the last laugh in this assignment, didn’t you?
“What’s an orphanage anyway?”
Saya looks over at Ginelle, who honestly doesn’t seem to know the word. “It’s a place for children who don’t have parents.” Saya says, and Badger Girl’s expression becomes instantly crestfallen.
“Oh… oh wow,” she says, slumping down into a chair.
“Damnit, if it was just about taking out the orphanage director, this would be easy, but the children… I don’t know what to do with them. They literally have nowhere to go.”
“I checked around and all the other orphanages are full to capacity,” Saya says before sighing. “There’s also the issue with murdering someone known to people in the area. As far as I know, you don’t actually have a sanction, do you?”
You look at her sheepishly before grumbling out, “Not really…”
She pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs. “Damnit Tobias… alright, you need to go speak with the Royal Accountings then.”
“That sounds really, really boring. Can’t I just go speak with the King?”
Saya looks shocked. “T-the King? Are you daft? Of course you can’t go speaking with the King! You’d get laughed out or even killed, especially after what happened yesterday!”
“Maaaaaan,” you groan, hanging your head. “I know you’re right but… ugh.” You put a hand to your head, thinking about where the Royal Accountings was. Let’s see, it’s near the Castle, around the Royal Mail and…
You blink a few times as you think about that. The Royal Mail, huh? Ginelle cocks her head, giving you and odd look. “Uhh, Tobias, are you okay?”
“Hmm? Oh, sorry, I was just thinking about a friend of mine who works at the Royal Mail.”
Saya raises an eyebrow. “Friend, huh? Only people who work at the Royal Mail are Harpies and the like.”
You wave a dismissive hand. “It’s not like that, but you’re cute for thinking it. She’s just a friend from Kasin. Been abit since I’ve talked to her, maybe she’ll be around.”
Ginelle shrugs, looking to Saya who’s looking to the side and muttering to herself, “Cute…”
The Badger shrugs before waving a hand. “Well, we at least have that to do, but what about the children? I’d hate for them to be homeless but… if she snaps like he did, they might just be dead soon.”
“I know, I know…” you groan before rubbing your forehead. “If only we knew someone with a large house that liked kids.”
“Uhhh, well, there’s always Madam Xanthia, but that’s-”
You stand up quickly and grab her hands, eyes sparkling. “Xanthia you say? The Shoggoth who took a plasma blast and survived?”
“Y-yeah?” Saya says and you smile wider.
“She might come here and take care of these children?”
“Cause that would-” You blink a few times before cocking your head. “Sorry, what was that?”
“I said no, she wouldn’t.” Saya sighs before shrugging. “She’s kind of… attached to the Juliant Manor.”
“Well, it’s not like it’s going anywhere…”
“No, I mean she’s literally attached. She’s rooted to the grounds of that manor by the same magicks that brought her into this plane of existence.”
“That’s… what?” you say, blinking a few times. “Plane of existence?”
“I don’t understand it, you’d have to ask a scholar like fucking Patricia or something. All I know is that she isn’t of our world, which is why Shoggoths are so rare. Regardless, she can’t go anywhere outside of that manor.”
“What if you summoned her here then?” Ginelle asks Saya and the smaller Monster opens her mouth before frowning and closing it, her brow knit in concentration.
“She got you there,” you say, chuckling, though Saya elbows you in the ribs, causing you to wince and step back, rubbing at your chest. “Owwww.”
“Shush you baby,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Look, this could feasibly work, I guess, but to summon her would be… I can’t even fathom what that would take to do.”
“Well shit. What about your mother?”
“Oh Hells no. She’s already in a political morass, I have no idea how she’d cope with orphans also.”
“Ooookaaaaay… what about people who leaned under Xanthia, like you? They should be fine, upstanding people now.”
“Yeah, fine upstanding teenagers and people in their early twenties.”
“You’re really bringing me down here.”
“I mean… it’s not an easy situation, is it?” she says, patting your head. “We’ll figure this out though, alright?”
“Alright…” you say as you feel her cool fingers run through your hair. It feels really, really nice. “Well, let’s run by the Accountings then, get this settled. We can think on this later after we case the orphanage.”
“You make it sound like a robbery,” Saya says, chuckling.
“Well, we are robbing them of their caretaker,” Ginelle says, causing the rest of you look down, a little depressed. Well, all of you expect for Abigail, who breaks into a fit of snickering.
“I hate that Fairy,” Saya says, frowning toward the little flying pest who makes rude gestures toward her. “I really, really do.”
“It’s a temporary thing,” you say, swiping at Abigail, who flies out of range before chuckling. “Ah, whatever.”
You stand up and stretch, heading for the door. “Let’s get some lunch and get this over with.”
“Welcome to the Royal Mail!” A cheery human woman says, her smile wayyyy too broad. You look behind her at the desk to see people carrying mail and other packages, preparing to sort/attach them to Harpies, Crows, and even a few Thunderbirds, along with other, exotic flying Monsters. Is… is that a Manticore?
“How can I help you?” The cheery human says, snapping you back into reality.
“Oh uh, right, I was wondering if a certain Crow Girl was here, her name is Clarissa.”
The woman thinks for a moment before pulling out a list and reading over it. “Hmmm, Clarissa, huh? Kasin route… no, she’s not here until 2pm.”
You pull out your [Pocket Timepiece] and frown. “It’s 1:59.”
“Well, that’s not two, is it?” She smiles broader, making your eye twitch.
“No… but it will be in…” You make a few gestures before snapping your timepiece shut. “Now.”
You look past the woman to see a small, black winged form land down inside the loading area, sighing as she deposits a bag full of mail and parcels onto a table for sorting before rolling her neck, shaking water off her wings, and walking toward you, though she doesn’t seem to know you’re here.
“Hey Tobias,” Clarissa says, walking a little more before stopping in her tracks and flipping about, her eyes going wide. “Oh my Gods, TOBIAS?”
“Hey th-gah!” you cry out as she jumps you, wrapping her wings around you in a tight hug.
“Oh my Gods, Tobias, I never thought I’d see you again! What are you doing here? How did you get here so fast? You were in Loveura and…” She blinks a few times before pulling back, her cheeks flushed red. “O-oh, sorry about that I just… uhm” She looks off to the side, scraping her taloned feet along the ground.
“It’s alright,” you say, chuckling. “I missed you too.”
“You did? I mean uh, of course you did!” She smiles before looking behind you to Saya and Ginelle. “Uhm… who are…?”
“Ah!” you say, waving your hand toward your companions. “This is Ginelle, a friend I met outside of Loveura, and this is Saya my-”
Clarissa’s eyes go wide as her jaw drops. “S-Saya? Like… like the storybook, Saya?”
Saya rolls her eyes, “Oh Gods, not you too.”
Clarissa beams before shaking Saya’s hand the best she can with wet wing-hands. “Oh wow, meeting a celebrity like this! And with a friend of mine, oh wow, this has been one wild day!”
“You’re a little more spunky than usual,” you say, chuckling. “It’s nice.”
Clarissa blinks before looking down and blushing. “Oh, well uhm… I’m just a little excited is all, and I can get like this when… uhm.” She looks around again before frowning. “Hey… where’s Richard?”
Everyone goes quiet and Clarissa’s eyes go wide. “Oh… oh no.”
“He’s alive,” you say, raising your hands. “He’s just… a little sick right now. We’re trying to help him.”
“Oh! Is there anything I can do?” the adorable Crow Girl asks. You rub your cheek, feeling like you should give her a task, anything that might be useful, or else you might break her poor spirit. Of course, as you look to all the mail, you think of something, an idea coming to your mind.
“Hey… Clarissa, how long do you think it would take you to get to Fort Carlsbad?”
“Huh? Oh, well that’s not my route, but I dunno.” She scratches her chin, “With the right winds, maybe a little under a day? If I hit crosswinds, a little longer.”
“What about the Juliant Manor?”
She blinks a few times before frowning. “Why would I want to go there? Only creepy Phillis, the Black Harpy ever bothers to run that route.” She looks at you critically, adjusting her red, “Royal Mail” cap.
“What’s this all about?”
You scratch your cheek. “Oh well, you see, I kind of wanted to deliver a letter to Madam Xanthia there, you know, I thought of you as the fastest person I knew, so I came here to-”
“To use me.” She sighs and slumps her shoulders. “Of course you did.”
“Hey now!” you say, putting a hand on her wing. “I didn’t mean it like that! I really did want to see you again, but this is kind of really important. I wanted to ask someone I trusted before I went off and gave this task to someone else.” You look into her eyes, unconsciously putting on the charm. “Please, for me?”
She looks at you with an expression of awe before mumbling to herself and nodding. “I guess… for you.” She takes a deep breath and holds out a wing. “Present the letter!”
You blink a few times before coughing. “Oh uh… I need to write it really quick.”
Clarissa gives you a dumbfound expression before putting a wing to her face and sighing, though when she lowers her wing, you can see a smile.
“You don’t change, do you?”
You wave goodbye to Clarissa as she stows away your letter off to Xanthia, and she takes off, quick as a wink, leaving you there to watch her go. As soon as she’s out of sight, you feel a great pain on your arm and you gasp, looking to Ginelle, who has an annoyed expression on her face.
You’re about to say something when you feel another pain on your other arm, and you turn to see Saya, also looking annoyed. Both Monsters huff and look away from you in unison.
“Uhhh, I just uh…” you say, rubbing your shoulders, which hurt like the Hells. “I don’t think I did anything bad, right? She seemed happy to take the letter.”
“Hey, dumbass,” you hear from your jacket pocket. You look down to see Abigail, who says, “They’re mad because you didn’t tell that poor girl you’re involved with someone.”
“Oh for fuck’s-” you say before cutting off and shaking your head, addressing the two. “Look, it didn’t come up, alright? I’ll explain things tomorrow after I’ve spoken with her, alright?”
They both glare at you and sniff before walking outside, looking none so much like dignified ladies, though technically one of them is. You look after them dully before rolling your eyes and following in pursuit, off to the Accountings…
“We have been here three hours,” you say, your head in your hands.
“Yes,” Saya says, her legs crossed, reading over some papers.
“We haven’t moved at all.”
“I do not believe so.”
You groan and look to Ginelle, someone who could offer support, but find she’s not standing next to you anymore. Blinking a few times, you look around, but Saya says, “She left to go find something better to do.”
“I envy her,” you say, bitterly, but Saya merely shrugs and pats your head.
“There, there, my little baby, things will be fine.”
You desperately hold yourself back from making a crude joke about babies and instead look off to the side. “Is this really necessary?”
“It’s called bureaucracy for a reason,” she says, flipping a page. “Just be patient, it will work out in the end.”
You groan again, but as you do, you hear someone say, “Number seventy-four!”
Excited, you look down at your number to see… number ninety-two. Oh Gods, this is where you’ll die, isn’t it? Not in battle, not going insane through combat, but going mad inside the Accountings. You wish you were near a wall so you could slam your head into it, but before you can decide to get up and kill yourself, a man in an official looking suit, flanked by another, shorter man in robes, walks up, adjusting shaded spectacles on his face. He looks at you curiously before wrinkling his nose and asking, “Tobias Shady?”
“I am here to speak with you about your… situation.” He frowns deeply though. “If you think you can try any of your tricks, however, you will be punished accordingly.” The man next to him cracks his neck and you get the distinct feeling that the rings on his fingers aren’t just for punching people. They’re for punching people with MAGIC. Still, this beats the line, so you nod your head and rise, motioning for Saya, but the man shakes his head.
“No, just you.”
You and Saya exchange glances, but she nods for you to go. She squeezes your hand before you find yourself being led down corridor by the two, and quickly shuttled into a small room with only a desk and a few chairs. You frown at the ring of light cast by the small lantern in the center of the room but sit down in the relative darkness as the man with the shaded spectacles sits across from you, folding his hands on the table, just staring at you. With nothing else to do, you just… stare back.
This goes on for a good eternity before the man leans back and says, “You have the eyes of a killer.”
“I don’t think I do.”
“No, you don’t, but if you want the role that Richard Dennerman had, then you’d better.”
You grit your teeth and say, “I don’t want this fucking job, but I don’t have much of a choice in the matter, and I know that you need someone to keep things like Horatio Fullvora from happening.”
The man narrows his eyes. “You think you’re the one in charge here?”
“I think I’m the one who knows a thing or two about illusions.”
He sniffs before leaning back again. “Perhaps so, perhaps so. What proof do you have that you’re the student of Dennerman anyway? How do we know he’s… indisposed?”
You reach into your jacket pocket and pull out Richard’s letter, looking it over before gently putting it on the table. The man reaches over and takes it, carefully reading over the words before sniffing again. “This is his handwriting, yes.” He sniffs the paper then before nodding his head, “This also is his scent.”
“That’s… how do-?” you start to say before the man crosses his fingers and speaks.
“Fine, we know of your involvement in the Fullvora incident, how you likely subdued him, and had a hand in his eventual murder.”
“Uh well, I didn’t exactly-”
“We will pay you accordingly.”
“I murdered him, yes.”
The man smirks and pulls out a coin pouch, plopping it on the table. “Think of it as an advance. Since you are no longer in Kasin, we will keep future payments here for you to retrieve or have sent wherever you choose based on mail correspondence.”
“Oh, that sounds good, so-”
“However, I will not tolerate sloppy work. Your job is to end problems before they get out of hand, you understand? It was something Richard was generally good at doing.” His expression is critical, though with those spectacles on, you cannot see his eyes.
“Can you do that?”
You gulp under his intensity. “Of… of course I can! I actually have someone I have to remove from the Outer District as we speak.”
He smirks. “Good, good. As far as your information about this… ‘Fiora’ you spoke of in the report you submitted, while disturbing, it is also something we will need to discuss further before making rash movements. Your contributions in this are noted, however, and we will take this into consideration when formulating a counter action.”
“Can’t you like… I don’t know, do something a little sooner? She has kind of some crazy plans going on, so maybe-”
He leans forward, tone going cold. “We will take this into consideration and contact you with further information.” He takes an envelope from his pocket and hands it to you along with Richard’s letter. You take them with hesitation, and he nods to you to leave, which you do, slowly. As you open the door, you hear him say, “Oh yes, Tobias?”
You turn around to see those shaded spectacles honed right on you.
“The name is Specialist Anderson. Don’t forget it.”
“So then he said, ‘The name is Specialist Anderson. Don’t forget it.'”
Ophelia rolls her eyes. “Sounds like an asshole.”
“Yeah, but he’s an asshole who pays well,” you say, holding up the bag which contains a decent amount of silver coins. “If this is the stipend, this should do very nicely.”
“I suppose,” she says, shrugging while wearing her improvised hood. “So, why are we wearing this ragged clothing, in the Outer District, at night?”
“Because,” says Ginelle, moving through the streets without difficulty, though it has begun to rain again. “It’s ‘casing.'”
“Do you know what that means?” Saya asks, and Ginelle shrugs, smiling,
“We’re scoping this orphanage out to see what kind of person Harriet is.” You say nodding your head. “And Ophelia, you can go back if you want to.”
Ophelia shakes her head and shivers against the rain. “Well… if this is important, then I might as well go. Besides, you never know when you’ll need a wrench. Or a screwdriver. Or an aetheric convertor.”
“Something I wish I had,” she says, smiling broadly, though the only way you can tell is by her white teeth in the darkness. This part of town has very few lamps and lanterns at night, being that it’s fairly poor, all things considered. Still, you trudge on through the wet streets, your clothing covered by ragged linens and canvas you found lying around with minimal piss on them.
“Sounds pretty cool,” you say, referencing the map you were given, though it isn’t very good, considering the small price you paid for it. “What about like, weapons like Clint’s rifle, only more magical?”
“What does that mean?”
“I mean like, you know, weapons that utilize the magic of a caster, or something to shoot… magic.” You frown then as you realize what you’re saying. “That’s stupid, isn’t it?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Okay, okay, but have you ever built a rifle before or… or like, a smaller version of a rifle? Something you could draw easily?”
She sighs. “No, I’m afraid not. Parts for such weapons are only manufactured in Sanctifrond by the Royal Foundry. We can make larger weapons, but small-scale things are only for the military or the connected, and no, we aren’t that connected to get such privileges.”
“I bet you really want to though.”
“Oh my Gods, I would do anything to make one of those.”
Saya coughs. “You might not want to say that in this part of town. Or really any part of town.”
Ophelia looks confused for a moment before blushing. “Oh… sorry. I wasn’t thinking about, you know… lewd stuff is just…” She blushes harder and pulls her hood lower. You chuckle before stopping an at intersection and looking at the map again. Off to the right, next to a makeshift street sits a small, unassuming building with the soft glow of light coming from a window.
You nod to the others and all of you slink down, moving toward the building, pausing as you reach it. A soft sound comes from one of the closed windows, one of the few you notice with anything resembling glass, the others just closed by shutters. Slowly, you creep toward the window, keeping out of sight, when the sound comes to you louder, something like… a song?
Frowning, you get right under the window and hear lyrics to a common children’s song from a woman’s voice which sounds young and hale. Before you can identify it further, the song cuts off and you go quiet as you hear some rustling, and then nothing. You look to Saya who nods her head before you slowly look up into the window, surveying the room inside.
This particular room appears to be a bedroom, where multiple beds of Monster children sleep. The beds don’t look overly comfortable, but they’re something. The children are all fast asleep, their little expressions too hard for you to make out, even with the candlelight, however you do notice a central figure sitting in a rocking chair, holding the candle, and the source of the song, you’d bet.
The woman appears to be in her early thirties, her face serene and calm as she rocks gently in the chair, her outfit of rather pious robes making her look far older than her years. Her eyes are closed as she sways front and back and you hear a slight humming coming from her as she sits with the children, gently lulling them to sleep. Honestly… it looks like what you’d expect an orphanage to look like, nothing out of the ordinary. You frown and slip back down, nodding to your companions to move away.
“So, what do you think?” Ginelle asks, and you shake your head.
“Looks normal to me. Maybe she’s not that crazy?” You look to Saya who seems concerned, and you frown, asking, “What’s up?”
“It looked normal but it felt… tense, somehow. Are you sure you didn’t sense anything?”
“No, not really, but… tense, huh?”
“Yeah, like I got this feeling that something wasn’t…” She shakes her head. “I don’t know. Look, I’m going to check around the place, get some better information if we have to infiltrate it, but I don’t feel too good about it.”
“Alright, good luck.”
Saya vanishes into the night to look the place over again, though the rain is really picking up. You shiver despite the season and make to move to a more hospitable area when a gust of wind knocks over some refuse, causing a horrible clattering noise. The door to the orphanage opens, as Harriet stands there with the candle held high. She looks about before spying your rag-tag little band. She gasps and waves a hand toward you.
“You poor things! Hurry up out of the rain! Come inside, come inside!”
You freeze as Harriet addresses you. The rain picks up again and, as the wind howls, you shield your face, panicking. She didn’t see it, did she? No, there’s no way she could have, it’s too dark, the rain too fierce. Still, you can’t help but turn around, pulling Ophelia and Ginelle in close to you.
“Let’s get out of here,” you say to them, hurriedly pushing them along. Thankfully, neither protest, but they look at you with confused expressions as you slosh through the muddy streets. You hear Harriet crying to you from behind, but her words get lost in the rain and you’re reasonably certain she isn’t following you, though you don’t look back until you’re two streets down and around a corner.
Once you’re certain you’re clear, you sigh deeply and slump against a wall, rubbing at your forehead. Ginelle looks around the corner and shakes her head before turning back to you. “What was that about?”
You shiver, mostly from your soaked clothing. “Saya’s right, something feels wrong.”
Ophelia cocks her head, “Feel? Uh… what?”
“The whole place just felt… wrong, the calmness mixed with the knowledge that she’s insane, it doesn’t… it just doesn’t add up.” You shake your head, “Going in there would have been a mistake.”
“You could have just killed her then and there,” Ginelle says, shuddering. “Would have been nicer than being out here in the rain.”
“Ginelle that’s…” Ophelia sighs, and you know her ears would be down if she wasn’t wearing that hood. “I wonder sometimes if we’re too callous about murdering people.”
“I’m not callous about it,” you say, frowning. “I don’t like this, I really don’t. You think I want to kill the owner of an orphanage? You think I want to scar those children forever?”
Ophelia blanches before looking down and whispering, “No…”
You put a hand on her shoulder and shake your head. “Ophelia, I know what you’re saying, I really do. Just… it has to be done.”
“I know,” she says, pulling in on herself. “I don’t like it though.”
“You don’t have to be here,” Ginelle says, but Ophelia shakes her head.
“No, no I know what I got myself into. This is all to stop Fiora, to make sure things don’t happen like yesterday, right?” She looks up into your eyes, her expression pleading for something.
You close your eyes and nod your head. “Yeah.”
Before anything else can be said, you hear a wet, thudding sound and look to the side to see Saya rising from where she dropped down, a puddle of water being disturbed by her fall, though she doesn’t look perturbed in the least. You look up to see the housing complex next to you that she jumped from, mildly surprised when you see that it is five stories tall.
Saya shakes some mud off her before frowning at you. “Would you mind telling me why you left me alone there?”
“Tobias is afraid of the big, bad nanny,” Ginelle says, but you wave a hand.
“We’ll discuss it all later. Let’s get back to the inn so we can get out of this.” You look up at the sky and see a bolt of lightning, quickly followed by the crack of thunder. “I think we dodged a magic missile, so to speak.”
“Do you know the worst part about being a male in a group of very attractive Monsters?”
“Nope, sure don’t.”
“It’s the fact that, even though we’ve seen death together, saved each other’s lives, and have this sort of deep connection, they won’t let me stay in the room while they’re changing.”
“I mean, I’m not a sack of shit, so I don’t know, but it sounds rough.”
You look down at Abigail, giving her your nastiest glare as she looks over her nails, her last, very biting, comment lingering in the air. “Yeah, yeah, whatever, but come on. Dripping wet bodies full of youth and vigor…”
“You’re only digging a deeper hole,” she says before pointing at the door. You look behind you as the door opens, an annoyed looking Ophelia standing on the other side. Blinking once, you smile at her.
“Hey there, all changed?”
“You’re quite the pervert sometimes, you know that?”
“Some people find it flattering.”
“Smart-ass,” she says, sighing, though you think there’s a hint of pride in her voice. Ah, Monsters, there’s some things that are constants. No matter how prudish they are, no matter if you turned them down before, they all like knowing men think they’re attractive. This may be true for women in general, now that you think of it.
Despite her demeanor, she leads you into the room where the other two Monsters sit, rubbing their hair with towels. Saya and Ginelle each give you knowing looks and you cough into your hand before sitting down in a chair and smiling broadly.
“Sooooo, how is everyone feeling?”
“Cold and wet,” Saya says flatly. Ginelle nods her head in agreement.
“Ah, indeed.” You scratch at you face before sighing. “Damnit, fine, let’s just get this out of the way. Saya, what did you find?”
She shrugs, not taken aback in the slightest. “The building isn’t as old as I thought, but it’s still pretty cheap. There’s multiple leaks around the periphery, but it’s mostly sound. It’s two stories with an attic atop it. There’s one door on the back, one in the front, and about ten windows, only three of them with glass. The attic has latched window leading into it, which does not appear sturdy.”
“It would be child’s play, forgive the metaphor, to get in there and assassinate anyone.”
You nod your head. “It seemed that way. Hells, she even presented herself to us, but…”
“But you’re worried about the children.”
“Of course I am!” you look down, feeling a familiar sort of pain. “I don’t want those innocent kids to suffer not having anyone around for them.”
Saya’s expression slips for a moment before she sighs and leans back, rubbing at her forehead. “Well, like I said before, the Monster Embassy can’t do much here, and the fact that they’re in the Outer District means no one in the other districts will care. The only thing we can do is… wait for a reply from Xanthia, I suppose?”
“I suppose,” you say, looking outside and frowning. “Though with that kind of weather, I hope Clarissa is alright.”
Ginelle snorts. “Speaking of this Clarissa…”
You groan. “Look, she’s just a little shy and I may have been one of her only friends, alright? And maybe Richard kept trying to play matchmaker, alright? She’s a nice girl and I don’t want to-” You cut off as you feel a furred hand on your head.
“It’s fine, we’re mostly teasing you,” Ophelia says, her tone mostly convincing. “Still, you should break it to her gently when she returns. Maybe a little more gently than last time.” She coughs into her hand and looks to Ginelle who rolls her eyes.
“Does she like mead?”
“I uh… I don’t think she drinks.”
“She’ll be fine then,” the Badger Girls says before laying back and stretching her muscular body on the bed. “So we’re in a holding pattern then unless you want to get Clint to pop her between the eyes at distance.”
You wave your hand. “Same problem, though that might be effective.”
“Not in this weather.” Ophelia says, sniffing. “The weapon is effective, but with that much electricity in the air, not to mention the wind, there could be interference.”
“Really? That’s kind of… a design flaw.” Ophelia shrugs and is about to go into a tirade you might find incredibly interesting at any other point than right now, so you interrupt her, “Bottom line though, is that I’m worried for those kids.”
She pauses before rubbing her neck. “I suppose. I just hope she isn’t hurting them.”
“Well, we can always go observe in the morning, see how things are. The kids have to get some time outside, right?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” you say, nodding your head. “And hopefully if the storm is abated, Clarissa will be back by tomorrow, so we’ll know what to do!”
Everyone nods their heads in agreement. You have a plan tomorrow and everything will be ooookay.
“Is… is she having those kids play in the…?”
“The rain? Yes, they are playing in the rain.”
You look upon the scene with a hint of worry as you lay underneath a rough cloth next to Saya, both of you observing the orphanage. The rain didn’t let up last night, and even though it’s roughly around noon, the sky is still dark, the rain still falling under the cloudy sky. For all sane people, going outside would not be smart, but clearly, something else is happening here.
From your hiding spot, you observe the small play area behind the orphanage as the children, their clothing stuck upon their little frames, play about in mud, or on the swings, apparently unconcerned by the rain in the slightest. They honestly look like they’re having the time of their lives, as if it was a clear summer day and they weren’t, well, orphans. The most distressing thing, however, is Harriet, standing in the middle of them, her own clothing soaked as she watches the children play, a small smile on her face. It doesn’t look… natural.
A shudder ripples across your skin, though you’re not certain if it’s from the weather, your concern, or the stinging sensation prickling you every so often. “Yeah, this isn’t good. Sure, Monsters are hardier than other children, but they’re going to get sick from all of this, not to mention what’s happening inside…”
“Wait,” Saya says, putting a hand on your shoulder before pointing. “See that little girl over there?”
You look where she’s pointing to see a dog-like Monster with tanned skin. An… Anubis? Those are very rare in this part of the world. How did one end up here, and not be adopted? That’s… that’s really sad. What makes it even sadder is that she’s the only one who isn’t playing with the others, instead she’s sitting off to the side, trying to hide underneath an overhang in order to keep herself dry, though she shivers and looks a little pale to you.
“I thought so,” Saya says, shaking her head. “This is getting to the kids, isn’t it?”
“I mean…” you say, looking at the poor little girl as two others approach, a Cat Girl and an Arachne. They try to get her to play, but just sort of end up bullying her before running away, giggling. You grit your teeth, wanting to just jump in there and help, but you restrain yourself. “We… can’t do anything yet.”
“I think we’ve found out enough. Let’s get back and meet Clint. Ginelle should have spoken with him by now, I’d imagine.”
You give one last look to the children playing, their minds clearly addled, before you shake your head and follow Saya from your vantage point. As you leave, your cloaks pulled over your heads, you pass by a strange looking woman, or well, you think it’s a woman, clad in a long overcoat. She passes by you without looking at you until she reaches the orphanage, stopping to knock on the door. A moment later, she steps inside, though you know that no one could have answered, before disappearing inside.
“Saya, did you see that?”
“Hrm. Maybe it’s a potential parent?” she suggests, shrugging. You both know that’s not true, but what can you do about it? It’s going to be hours before Clarissa arrives and you need to go speak with Clint and the others. Best to just let it go for now and wait for your plans to come together, right?
You watch for a while longer, looking for signs of any issues within the orphanage from the woman, but you don’t see or hear anything. “Come on,” you say to Saya, who nods her head, keeping up with you as you trudge back the long way to the inn. As you walk, you notice her seeming distracted, almost running straight into a giant ass before you stop her.
“Oh… sorry,” Saya says after the cart driver, his donkey snorting in annoyance, drives past. “I was thinking about those kids again.”
She looks down, a little blush on her face. “I mean, I might be like this, but I’m still a woman. Seeing those little kids so happy down there, even in the rain… I don’t know.”
You feel heat come to your own cheeks. Oh geez, that’s one Hells of a conversation, and the two of you haven’t even kissed. Wait, can Saya even have children? Ah, but this is a dangerous topic, maybe for another time. You just nod your head blankly and try to change the subject.
“Yeah, they are kind of cute, though I feel bad for that little Anubis.”
Saya smirks and gives you a side-long glance. “Oh? Some fatherly instincts stirring within you? That’s kind of cute you know.”
Your blush gets even worse and you pointedly don’t look at her. “Aww come on, I’m just worried about her health. No child should look like that, and besides, she didn’t seem to be having fun like the other children.”
“Think she could be immune to the illusions?”
“I… doubt it, but she could be. I don’t know much about her race, but she might be able to…” You try to remember your lessons on different, resistant Monster races but end up just shrugging. “Of course, it could also be the fact that she looks sick.”
“Maaaaybe~” Saya says, sidling up to you, pressing herself against your side. “But I still think it’s cute you’re so concerned about those kids. I’ll even forgive your behavior earlier because of it.”
“Behavior ear-oh, Ophelia blabbed, huh?”
Saya chuckles and takes your arm in hers. “No, but I figured you said something like that.” She looks up at the rain and then pulls down her hood again. “Not quite romantic weather, but let’s enjoy the walk, shall we? The orphanage will be there when we get back.”
“The children have gone back inside.” Saya says, hiding in your spot again. You nod your head, looking out at the empty play area, then into the orphanage, as far as you can see anyway. It’s been about two hours since you rendezvoused with Clint, and sent the other two to wait for Clarissa, but you’re glad they’re not still outside as the rain hasn’t stopped yet.
Across the way to another building you see the faint hint of Clint hidden there, his weapon readied to fire at any time. Ginelle explained things pretty well to him, but you made sure to give the finer details and he’s fully on board. Somehow you feel a little safer with him present, despite what Ophelia said about interference from the weather.
You turn your gaze over to the orphanage itself, homing in on one of the few windows again, candlelight shining softly inside. You’re surprised to find that it’s the bedroom again, the children all asleep in their beds, from what you can see from your vantage. Try as you might, however, you can’t see Harriet though.
“Saya, can you…?”
She rolls her eyes before slipping out of your cover and almost gliding down to the floor, stalking in the darkness to check the windows. She makes a negative sign to you before moving toward another window on the other side, pausing there for a moment before finishing her loop. As soon as she returns to you, she shuffles under the cover, getting close to you while shivering.
“That woman is still there, and it is a woman. I’ve never seen her before though, but she and Harriet seem to be talking with each other about something, and Harriet doesn’t look like she’s fully in charge of the conversation.”
“That woman is still here?” you ask, a little surprised. “Did you catch what they were saying?”
“No… They were talking too quietly, but it seemed serious.”
You rub at your forehead. “Damnit, I wish we had more information on what’s going on, but I don’t want you in there unless I can help you, and at the moment we don’t know enough. If only we had someone on the inside.”
Saya looks a little sick before saying weakly. “There was… one child who wasn’t asleep.”
You look at her, a little taken aback before drawing in a sharp breath. “The Anubis?”
“She was curled up in her bed, shivering, but she looked more frightened than sick at that point. I…” She closes her eyes for a moment. “I think she might be willing to speak with us.”
You nod your head slowly and look to the window overlooking the bedroom. Taking a shuddering breath, you steel yourself before signaling to Clint, then the two of you crawl down to the orphanage window. Saya gently works the window up, apparently the place was too poor to have locks for them, not that it would likely do much given how cheap the frame is.
Slowly, she crosses over the threshold and you peek inside, keeping a watch for anything as Saya creeps toward the little Anubis. You can’t make her out very well in the distance, but she seems afraid of Saya for a moment, your girlfriend gently placing her hand over the girl’s mouth and whispering until the little Monster looks visibly more relaxed. She looks over to where you’re crouching before the two of them slowly walk over to you, and you get a better look at the girl.
She looks as though she can’t be more than nine years old and has long, black, hair that would be gorgeous if it didn’t look so unkempt. Her light brown skin seems odd in this country, but most of it is covered by loose fitting, rough spun cloth that drapes her form, unable to fully hide her black-furred hands and canine-like feet.
The Anubis gives you an odd look, her piercing red eyes seeming to judge you even though her face looks weary and sick. Her dog-like ears twitch atop her head and you see a slight swishing of a tail before she gently nods her head toward you and says, her voice slightly accented, though you don’t know from where,
You smile at her and say back, “Hey there. My name’s Tobias, and this is Saya.”
“She told me,” she mumbles before saying, “My name is Akela.”
“That’s a really pretty name.”
She looks to Saya before looking down. “She said you wanted to talk to me, about… Ms. Harriet.”
“Yes, we did. Akela, have you noticed anything… odd about her?”
Akela gives you a strange look, furrowing her brow as she seems to go over your words critically. “Who are you?”
“We work for the King,” you say quickly, before Saya can say anything. “We heard that there might be trouble here and wanted to come help you.” You lean in a little closer. “It’s very important that we learn what’s happening here, please.”
Akela frowns, but she appears too tired to summon up much strength, instead crossing her arms and looking down, shivering somewhat. “Ms. Harriet has… been different lately.” She pauses for a moment before going on. “When I first came here, after I was freed from some very… bad men, I was very scared, but Ms. Harriet was so nice to me, she was nice to everyone who lived here.”
She takes a deep breath and continues. “But recently, things have been different. She’s been serving different food, having us play at different times, and sleeping more than usual. Everyone seems to like it though, a lot, but for some reason I… I see it, but I can’t…”
Saya gently puts an arm around her and the girl looks more relaxed, nodding up at her before continuing. “I don’t know what it is, but some of us have gotten sick from it, I know, though they don’t seem to notice much, and just keep playing.” She rubs at her eyes before shuddering. “The worst part though is the nightmares.”
“Nightmares?” you ask, confused as you look over the other children. They look peaceful in their beds, but… as you look closer, some of them are sweating and appear almost feverish as they lie there, looks of pain on their faces. You look back to Akela, who nods her head slowly.
“They’ll wake up screaming sometimes, but Ms. Harriet will come back in, smiling as gently as can be, and help them back to sleep. In the morning we just… forget the nightmares.”
She sniffs. “Most of them, anyway.”
You look to Saya, who hugs the poor girl. You wish you could too, but climbing inside would be too much of a risk. Akela sniffs back tears, but folds in Saya’s embrace. You hear the muted sobbing as Saya gently strokes the girl’s hair, soft words of comfort coming from her lips.
Both of you smile at her, though you ask, “Akela, do you know the lady that Ms. Harriet is speaking with?”
Akela frowns, her ears swiveling for a moment. “Oh, that’s Chalan, she’s Ms. Harriet’s friend who started coming by recently. Some kids say she might take some of us away with her, but I don’t think so.”
“Recently, like when this all started?”
The little Anubis blinks, the connection coming to her as well. “Oh. Possibly.”
You and Saya share a look, but before she can say anything else, one of the children, a Harpy, starts screaming at the top of her lungs, which is rather powerful, given she’s a songbird. Saya sends Akela off to her bed before she leaps out the window, shutting it quickly as footsteps sound from down the hall. You watch from the corner of the window as Harriet appears, this Chalan in tow, the two of them moving to the Harpy to calm her down.
A subtle shift of power comes from Harriet as she rests her hand on the child. Being this close, you know she’s using an illusion on the poor girl, sending her slowly back to sleep. A content look spreads the poor girl’s face as she drifts off, illusion well in place. Harriet sighs and tucks the Harpy in before looking back to Chalan, who nods and pats Harriet on the shoulder. She says something, but you can’t hear it. Pressing your luck, you lean in closer to the window, but you quickly pull back as Chalan flips about, looking almost exactly where you’re hiding.
You lick your lips and motion to Saya, the two of you crawling back to your vantage point as fast as possible and hiding there, hearts pounding furiously in the afternoon downpour. As soon as you’re certain the coast is clear, you sigh out deeply and rub your face, slick with rain and sweat.
“Shit, that was a little frightening.”
“That woman didn’t seem concerned at all by the illusions,” Saya says, concerned. “The Hells is she?”
“Not sure, but I knew it, going in there without a plan would be suicide. We’re going to have to wait for Chalan to leave, or for them to go to sleep. I think trying to kill Harriet while she’s awake would be a very bad idea.”
Saya sighs and leans into you again. “I think we’re going to be here awhile then.”
“Has it been awhile yet?” you ask, blearily as you continue to watch the orphanage.
The rain stopped about an hour ago, but the skies are still dark as it approaches night and, in the summer air, the rain has turned to heavy humidity, making it unbearably hot.
The children had awoken from their midday nap a little while after you went back to your roost and they went out to play a little bit more outside before being ushered in, presumably for dinner. This Chalan was there the entire time though, and even though Clint gave you a signal he had a clear shot, you denied the order. Killing her in full view of the kids wouldn’t do, not now anyway. Dully, you wonder if Ophelia and Ginelle would be here anytime soon when you notice something happening at the front door.
Saya notices as well and the two of you watch as the door opens and Chalan walks out. She looks about for a moment and walks off, Harriet closing the door after her, and you watch the woman carefully, trying to get more details on her, but can’t due to her hood.
You and Saya both look at each other, trying to figure out what to do next, but before you can act, you hear a gentle beating of wings and you turn to see Clarissa, of all people, land deftly on the roof next to you. She looks about down on the street for a moment, frowning as she’s unable to find you, until you hiss her name and she homes in on you, her eyes going wide.
“Woah, what are you doing there Tobias?”
You quickly motion for her to be quiet and to drop down, which she does, crawling up to you. She stops as she notices Saya, her bird brain working feverishly until you cut her off, saying, “I thought you wouldn’t be back until later. Didn’t the rain slow you down?”
She sniffs, a little too loud. “Hah, a little thunderstorm can’t keep me down. Besides, I’m the fastest flyer they have! Well, except for Jillian. I don’t like to talk about Jillian.” She mumbles off to herself before pulling out a letter from her bag, which she hands to you. “Your friends said you’d be around here and I flew as fast as I could. They said they’ll be here as fast as they can, which is pretty fast considering one’s a bunny and they can hop, hop, hop, right?”
You gently tune her out as look at the intricate wax seal with the letters “XJ.” Motioning for Saya to watch Chalan, you pop the seal and read the contents, your eyes going wide as you get the gist of it. You put it down and say to Saya, “She’ll take the kids!”
“She will? Ah, Xanny- I mean uh, Madam! I knew she wouldn’t let us down.”
“I didn’t read the details, but we can do this now. We have to be able to do this.”
The two of you look at each other as night begins to shroud the city. You both feel the twin anxieties of this mystery woman, her form fading quickly into the night, and the assassination laid out before you. Both of you steel yourselves for what is to come, and you know that it will be one Hells of a ride.
“Uhm,” Clarissa says, looking at both of you with a worried expression.
“What are you talking about?”
You watch the woman, Chalan, move farther down the street, and you grit your teeth. You don’t know a damn thing about this woman, but she seriously makes your skin crawl. Anyone who randomly goes into a creepy orphanage and leaves unscathed is not a good person in your books.
“Still some time I’d imagine until Harriet will be asleep…” you mutter, tuning out Clarissa’s questions. You watch Chalan walk for a little longer before you make up your mind and you turn to Saya, saying, “We need to learn more about this Chalan woman.”
Saya nods at you, as if expecting you to say something like this. “Alright, I suppose we’ll need to head out soon if we want to follow the woman.”
“Follow someone?” Clarissa says, leaning in to be part of the party. “I can follow anyone anywhere! Well, as long as they don’t go inside or anything.”
You look to Saya, who seems a little annoyed by the sudden appearance of the Crow Girl, but she sighs, throwing Clarissa a bone, so to speak. “Alright, how about you carry me over to the side there so we can follo-oh!”
Her words are caught in her throat as Clarissa hops in the air, picking Saya up in her taloned feet and leaping off the roof, your girlfriend yelping as they drop from the rooftop. You looked over the edge in a panic, searching for the two, but your fears are allayed as you watch them slowly ascend, Clarissa looking only mildly burdened. She sticks up her nose and tries to flex a wing while carrying Saya, though it sort of falls flat as she has to work to maintain her flight. Obviously Saya is light or Clarissa is stronger than expected.
You look to Saya, who has her arms crossed, her face looking less than amused.
“Having fun up there?”
“It’s a lot more fun when I’m flying with my own wings,” you and Clarissa blink at that, a little taken aback, but she just rolls her eyes and points to Chalan. “Come on, we need to go. You coming?”
You nod at her with vigor before turning to Clint who, you’re pretty damn certain, is smiling like a fucking idiot, and making a gesture to him. He gestures back in what you assume is the affirmative and takes up position on his rifle again. He’s clearly not going anywhere, and that suits you.
It takes you maybe five minutes to make it down, but that’s enough time for both Chalan and your companions to vanish out of sight. You do your best to retrace their steps, looking up to the sky to see your flying friend, but you begin to panic as you can’t find her due to the tall tenements and other shanty buildings. As you turn around a corner through, you feel something pull at your arm and you whip about, preparing to cast one Hells of an illusion, but stop short as you see Saya standing there, finger to her lips.
You nod your head quietly as she points down the street and you look to see an indistinct shape moving in the darkness with another one perched upon a shelf, almost invisible in the shadows. It couldn’t be… Clarissa? You frown, but Saya pulls you to follow her, trailing after as you hop between cover, slowly coming closer and closer to Chalan, eventually passing under Clarissa, who waves at the two of you before dropping down and speaking in what passed as a whisper for her.
“I heard her muttering to herself about planting something. Kinda creepy, right?”
You put a hand on Clarissa’s shoulder and give her a brief smile. “Thank you for keeping an eye on her, it means a ton to me.” As you say that though, you think of something else, and smile widely.
“Actually, I have one more thing you can help with.”
Saya steps forth from the shadows before Chalan, startling the woman. She frowns, staring at the young woman before her, obviously wondering if she’s some kind of vagrant that lives here. Saya doesn’t make a move, merely standing before Chalan, her body posture relaxed, yet brimming with a hidden sort of danger that makes Chalan click her teeth.
“Out of the way little girl, before I decide to move you out of the way.”
Saya smiles, the shadows seeming to coalesce around her for the moment, and Chalan frowns deeper as she takes a step forward, preparing to remove this insolent little threat, when the sound of rushing wind comes from behind her. She turns around to see you standing behind her, a cloak of blackness draped around you as you stand up, the dark streets obscuring you, wings appearing from behind you as you hold out a hand and say, voice gruff,
She grits her teeth then before hissing out, “Who are you? If you’re looking for a fight, I swear to the Goddess that-”
You step forward, darkness coalescing about you as you say, your voice deep and rough, “SWEAR TO ME.”
She steps back, startled again, and is taken completely unaware as Saya slides up behind her, a knife coming to rest against her neck. She stands stock stiff then, not daring to move an inch. You walk up to her, darkness covering your form, as far as she can tell anyway, and hold out a hand.
“No!” she hisses, suddenly lashing out with an arm toward you. As far as you are concerned, the blow should be way off target, your illusion keeping her out of reach, but as her fist connects with your mouth, you begin to think that maybe, maybe, you might be wrong about that.
As you fall to the ground, Saya moves to cut the woman, but she cracks her head back against Saya’s skull, stunning your girlfriend for a moment, long enough to drop down, her body posture becoming incredibly tense, her hand open and… rather much larger than you’d expect from a human hand. You look at it curiously, wondering why it’s twitching so strangely when Chalan hisses, “Who are you?”
“Cut the shit Chalan,” you say, standing up straight. “Or should I say, Fiora?”
Chalan looks surprised for a moment before a sly smile comes to her face. She chuckles then, her voice rich and melodious, though utterly devoid of any real mirth. “You think I’m Fiora? Truly? If I were that bitch, you’d already be dead.”
Your eyes narrow as she sniffs, gathering herself while keeping a good distance between the two of you. “Your illusions are admirable, but ultimately useless, Tobias, and yes, I do know who you are.”
She shrugs then, “I can’t really afford to get hurt here, so I think I’ll see my way out. I already did what I came to do at the orphanage and I have more ripe seeds to tend elsewhere. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.” A wicked smile comes upon her face. “And when that happens, I’ll kill you for the glory of the Goddess. Until then, ta-ta!”
You make to strike toward her, but she seems to… you don’t really know how to describe it fully, but she bends unnaturally, her legs seeming to swell before she leaps down the street far, far, farther than any human should be able to, then running off out of sight. You don’t bother chasing her, even with Clarissa carrying you, you’re certain she’d find a way to lose you.
Saya and Clarissa walk back up to you, concern on their faces, yet you just shake your head and sigh. “Well, this could have gone a lot worse.”
“I suppose.” Saya says, looking concerned. “I don’t like this Tobias, I don’t like it one bit, and we still have to do… you know.”
Clarissa cocks her head, looking utterly confused. “I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Breaking into the orphanage was easy. Distressingly easy.
You move in as soon as you’re certain everyone is asleep. Saya helps you crawl in through a window, the two of you walking through the hallways of the orphanage, doing your best to keep quiet. Ginelle and Ophelia had returned by that point, but you instructed the two of them to look after Clarissa. You’ve done some fairly terrible things in their presence, but… there are some things you’d like to keep from them, preserve whatever goodness is in their hearts as long as you can, though if they choose to follow you down this path, you’re not certain how long any of you can keep from becoming jaded. Richard… how did he do it?
As you walk through the dark orphanage, you feel a certain sense of dread the farther you go, as if something malign is crawling over your skin. You know, from an intellectual level, that it’s due to the residual magicks of the illusions being cast from the woman, causing the children’s nightmares, and your own dread, but you can’t seem to fully dispel the feeling. The atmosphere of this place at night is just… just too much.
Still, nothing attacks your thoughts, nor that of Saya’s, so you make your way upstairs, moving toward a door with a colorful sign on it proclaiming, “Ms. Harriet’s room!” You stop before it, feeling a little pang of guilt before the two of you nod your heads and slowly open the door.
The room is pitch dark, yet you already know something is wrong. The bed is empty, the sheets untouched. Both of you immediately move to battle positions as you scan the room. You hear a soft, scraping sound, and from a table in the corner, a light appears, cutting through the darkness, almost blinding you from its sudden appearance. The light takes you off guard as it moves gently to a lantern, the device flaring to life as the fire from the lighting stick begins to drink of the fuel.
“I thought something felt strange,” Harriet says, waving out the stick before putting her hands in her lap. She sits at the table calmly, wearing a nightgown, though she obviously had no intention of sleeping. You pause, looking to Saya for a moment, before turning your attention to the woman, who smiles demurely. “Are you here to rob this place? There isn’t much to take, you know.”
You close your eyes, wishing the woman had been asleep, before you open them again, steeling yourself as you step forward and say, “No, we’re not here to steal from you.”
“Oh, are you here for the children then? You look quite nice, but I’m afraid they’re all asleep. I’d have to ask you come back in the morning, yet all of them are quite wonderful children, you’d make them happy to take them as daughters.”
You walk up and take a seat at the table, her posture not changing as you look into her eyes. Her expression seems… distant, as if she’s here physically, yet her mind is wandering somewhere else, not fully in the conversation. You frown at you look at her, yet she makes no obvious moves to attack, or do much of anything, which is far worse in and of itself, you fear. Taking a shuddering breath, you say,
“Yes, we met one of them, the Anubis. She’s quite an intelligent little girl.”
Harriet smiles. “Ah, Akela. Tragic, what happened to her, but she’s been doing well here. Still, I don’t think she’ll really open up until she finds parents who love and protect her.” She turns her gaze to Saya, giving her a wan smile. “You’re infertile, is it?”
Saya’s eyes go wide and her knuckles go white against the knife in her hands. You always sort of suspected this may be a sore spot with Saya, but… you didn’t think she was so concerned about it. Being the only one of her kind, unable to know if she was able to produce children or not… it must be terrifying for her. You want to hold and comfort her, but before you can, Harriet swings back to you, that smile never changing.
“And you, so locked into your conventions of adventure, that you’re afraid to settle down. Or are you afraid of the fact that you’d hurt any family you’d have? That somehow you’d do something so horrible that you’re scared of truly being intimate with anyone?”
Her words worm their way into the pit of your stomach, causing you to curl your hands into fists, knowing this is an attack on you. She didn’t guess at this, no, she must be lucid enough to know what she’s doing from years of reading people and children, figuring out how they work. Magic isn’t everything, is it? Yet if you allow it, it will be what destroys you.
You grit your teeth, putting a hand to your head as you say, “Harriet… do you know what’s happened to you?”
“Happened to me? No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
You lean across the table, trying to pull this to your advantage. “Do you know that you’re an Illusionist?”
She cocks her head, looking a little lost in thought. “Chalan said I was something like that, that I had some magic within me. I didn’t pay it much mind, at first, but the more she pressed, the more it made sense, all the strange events over the years.” She shrugs, smiling. “Ever since I accepted her words, my children have been so much happier, don’t you agree?”
“No,” you whisper, hanging your head. “No, they aren’t better at all. You’re hurting them Harriet, you’re sick.”
She falters for a moment, a little confused. “I… no, they’re happy and fine. Certainly, one of them has a little nightmare every now and then, but they laugh and play like never before, eating the meager food I can produce as if it were gourmet!” She leans forward, her eyes a little wild now.
“They are happy!”
“No!” you say, growing angry. “They aren’t, and I hate to say it, but it’s because of you! You can’t even see that they’re getting sick! Their little bodies can’t sustain what you’re doing to them.” You look down and take a shuddering breath. “Why couldn’t you just have been asleep?”
Harriet’s eyes go wide as she stands, but before she can do much else, Saya appears from behind, putting the knife to her throat, the pressure making the intention clear, and Harriet knows it. She begins to cry, her body shaking as she knows her death is coming for her. Looking into your eyes, she whispers, “What will happen to the children?”
“We’ve made arrangements for them, don’t worry.” You hang your head and wave to Saya as you whisper,
Harriet drops to the floor a moment later, blood spilling from the wound in her neck, pooling down her throat as she drowns on her own fluids. You can’t watch, feeling like you’ll vomit if you do, until her thrashings quiet down and eventually go silent. All you can do is take a shuddering breath, feeling the oppressive atmosphere vanish around you as it happens. A moment later you’re left in a dimly lit room with your girlfriend and corpse, the two of you just staring dispassionately.
“I hate this,” Saya whispers, and you nod your head slowly, rising to comfort her in your arms.
“Me too,” you say before sighing. “Come on, let’s finish what we started.”
“Alright, read the ritual again.”
You frown and take out Xanthia’s letter, reading it carefully.
It is a pleasure to meet a companion of one of my oldest students, and I am quite happy to hear she is doing well. I trust the two of you have been observing proper etiquette for a young lord and lady? Ah, but to see the youth of nobility in love again! Still, I do so assume you’re treating her kindly.
As to your inquiry, I feel for the plight of such children in a situation as thus. I understand implicitly what you are dealing with over these past twenty years, as I have grown to understand the dealings of children. I would be quite humbled to care for such young ones, until such time as they find families of their own may occur.
You are correct that the distance is a concern, as I am unable to leave the grounds of my Lady’s manor without certain rituals beings observed. Of course, you could transport such children to my estate, or you may perform the following:
- Obtain fresh blood, the fresher, the better, especially if obtained from an unwilling source. Human blood, mind you!
- Paint the blood in a circle around a corpse, preferably one that the blood came from, and draw lines of force connecting in a star shape through the circle.
- Draw the following runes:
A string of things that make your eyes water follow and you feel yourself start to gag as you read through it, getting to step four with your lunch intact.
4) Speak the words, “Shogala noct hi’gnath, umphalanos, Xantharis, undai.”
Then I’ll appear! Well, hopefully this reaches you well, and I look forward to meeting you!
You look up at Saya, still feeling sick, yet she shrugs, looks over the list, and begins the preparations, using Harriet’s corpse. Something feels terribly wrong with all of this, like you’re breaking the natural order, but before you can get too concerned, you feel a warmth stirring against your chest, and Abigail bursts forth from your jacket, glowing bright in the night.
The Fairy whirls in the air before smiling brightly before you. “Oh, ho, ho! You did it, you did it again, you sick fucking murderer!” She holds out a tiny hand for a high-five, yet you just stare at her, your eyes hollow. Frowning, she rolls her eyes and says, “Ugh, you’re no fun. Well, whatever, let’s have your prize then.”
She zips to you and kisses you on the lips again. Vaguely, you’re aware of Saya shouting, “What the fuck?!” as you feel power flow into you again. It feels familiar this time, and yet different, as if some of the power from before was mixed with that of something greater, something larger than you can fully comprehend. It washes over you, yet sticks near your throat, where you feel a gentle warmth pulse, and you feel… commanding, in a way. Silly, you know, but something feels like if you gave an order, people would listen!
>You’ve gained <Battle Voice>
>The Order and Law of Solos, honed into a precision instrument through the strength of Sveth, your commands carry extra weight, as others instinctively recognize your authority and are more likely to obey you.
The warmth fades about your throat, and you look back to Abigail. Alright, now you’re sure she definitely looks larger than before, almost two feet tall now, though as you’re about to say something, she shimmers and becomes her normal size again. You give her an odd look and she just smiles, pats your cheek, and flies back into your suit. Sighing, you look back to Saya, who has an annoyed look on her face, her hands covered in blood.
“Uhhh. How’s it going?” you say, but she merely sniffs and continues drawing eldritch runes in the blood of your murder victim. What a catch.
Soon enough however, it’s done, and you both stand back as Saya chants the words, an unease coming over both of you as the lantern goes out suddenly, the room becoming intensely dark. The shadows seem to… stretch and grow in the room, and you wonder briefly if you made a horrible mistake. Of course, when the tentacles burst from the circle of blood, you don’t really have a chance to go back.
They seem to appear from nowhere, these purplish tentacles made of a dripping goo that rip at the corpse, dragging it down into the floor, a pool of the same goo appearing to devour it. You begin to feel sick as the process occurs, though Saya takes your hand, giving you a reassuring smile. It helps… some, yet this is all clearly fucked up. Still, you watch as the corpse is finally taken down into the dark and, a moment later, a form seems to coalesce in the goo: a face, tearing forth, it’s features indistinct and terrifying.
You hear the sound of screaming, as if from a distance, as the face pulls itself up, the sound growing louder in your mind, until you have to put your hands to your ears, though it doesn’t much help. Sweat pours from your brow as shoulders and arms appear, pulling out of the murk, resolving into something vaguely female, yet not becoming anything fully recognizable until it reaches the torso, when features begin to appear, almost too rapidly. In one moment, there was a horrifying mass, the next, a pretty maid, giving you a large and gentle smile. The creature opens her mouth and says, her voice far, far sweeter than it should have been,
“Saya! Tobias! How good to see you!”
Saya smiles and walks over to the summoning circle, Xanthia holding her arms out to hug to the girl. She beams and says, “Madam Xanthia! I’ve missed you so much!”
“And I, you! Ah, it has been so long, hasn’t it? You’ve grown up so nicely, my lady.”
Saya waves a hand, her body language utterly at odds with the entire situation. “Oh, you don’t have to call me lady, we’ve known each other long enough.”
“I apologize, but you know I must.” She smiles and looks to you, “Ah, but you must be Lord Shady. A pleasure to meet you, ah and thank you for summoning me here.”
“Uh… I uh…” You gulp before shuddering and reaching to your rucksack, fishing something out. “You uh… ate her corpse and uh…”
“Ah, well, that’s just part of who I am.” She nods her head, beaming wider. “You’re not afraid, are you? I would understand if you were.” The random eyes appearing and vanishing, along with the various mouths on her person sort of… reinforce all of this, but you just take a deep breath and hold out your copy of [Wizardquest]. Sure, there’s a lot of shit going on, and you need to figure out what your next steps will be, but for now…
“Would you sign my book?”36733 Views