You forget your interaction with the strange fellow in short order and head with your luggage off to the “town.” Due to the hour you don’t really expect to see many people about, but as you approach the lone inn, you hear quite the ruckus from inside and, as you open the door, you’re startled to see the entire place packed with surly looking men huddled around tables, booze in hand, expressions dark.
Every eye in the building turns to you as your group enters and they look over your party with evident annoyance before turning back to their drinks, mumbling angrily. Your party looks between each other with confused expressions (Except for Ophelia who has been lost in thought this entire time, almost running into a wall once). You just shrug and head to the human innkeeper, who also has an annoyed look on her face, grunting at you as you reach the desk.
“What do you want?”
“Uh… do you have any rooms?” you ask, startled at her rudeness.
“Rooms? Ha, rooms. I got rooms but not for you lot.” She points to the door, “Either buy some beer or get out.”
“What the Hells, that’s just-” Saya says before Clint puts a hand on her shoulder, his face looking serious as he eyes the crowd, his other hand on his rifle case. Saya gets the vibe and backs up, nodding to you as you sigh and scratch your head.
“I see, are there any other establishments in town with lodging?”
She snorts. “Oh anyone who could put you up is surely right here drinking, not like they got much else to do.”
You really, really want to ask what that means, but instead you merely thank the woman and turn about, gathering everyone to walk outside. As the last of you make it out, you hear the grumbling of the men again, louder than before. Geez, who got sand in their dicks?
“Well… that didn’t go as intended.”
“That bitch was rude!” Saya says, grumbling. “Did you see the way they looked at us?”
“It was kind of scary…” Clarissa says, rubbing her wing. She looks off into the night toward the leyway station, watching as the leyway that brought you here leaves to its next destination. She sighs and asks, “So does that mean we’re sleeping outside tonight?”
“I suppose so,” you say, frowning. “Well, it can’t be that bad, right? Sitting under the starry sky? Yeah, yeah, we’ll be fine, we’ll make a camping adventure out of it.” You smile at the others, doing your best to reassure them, and they start to perk up when Akela blinks and holds out a hand, looking upward. You follow her gaze and a droplet of water hits your cheek. In moments, rain starts to fall and your party huddles against the shelter of the building, the warmth and safety of the inside so near and yet so far.
“I guess we could just buy some drinks and wait it out,” Ginelle says, shrugging. “Though it’s not that hard a rain, it wouldn’t be so bad in the rain cloaks we brought.” She’s referring to the ones bought in Sanctifrond on the orphanage hit, but as she does, you hear the low rumbling of thunder in the distance.
“So much for that.”
“No choice,” Saya sighs. “We’ll go inside and see if we can’t make the innkeeper feel a little better about our situation.” As she says this, the door opens and a man steps out, an umbrella in his hand. He’s an older man, perhaps in his mid-forties, with black hair starting to turn grey. He looks between all of you with a surprised expression before looking up at the sky.
“Oh dear, I knew it was going to rain, but not like this. You poor travelers, you don’t have anywhere to go, do you?”
“No sir, we don’t. We were planning on staying here but…” You wave your hand and he nods his head with a grim expression.
“I’m sorry about that, everyone here is a little on edge after some recent events and they aren’t quite a fan of anyone at the moment.” He looks between all you before sighing. “Oh… I suppose it would be ungodly of me not to show you mercy. I have a little room at my house or my barn, I suppose I could put you up for the night…”
You hold up a hand and shake your head, “I don’t want to impose upon you sir, please, we’ll be fine.”
He shakes his head forcefully. “Now, now, I can’t be letting a group of women and a child at that go cold and sick in the night.”
You look between your party and then down at Akela before you nod your head with more conviction. “Alright, thank you. Is your place far?”
He chuckles. “Far enough that you’ll be getting more than a little wet, but I’ll make a fire for you.” He looks out in the storm and hands his umbrella to Saya to hold over Akela, the rest of you putting on the cloaks, handing Saya’s off to the man, who wears it gratefully, and all of you make your way following him to his abode.
True to his word, the place was much farther than expected and by the time all of you pile into the small door of the household, you’re soaking wet. Of course, when the sky grows illuminated by lightning, you don’t complain and instead pile thanks upon the man.
“Now, now,” he says, holding his hands up. “It’s what anyone would have done.”
“It’s what most people SHOULD have done, dear,” a feminine voice says, and all of you raise your heads to see a tall, very shapely Holstaur enter the room, an apron straining against her impressive chest. She smiles at all of you and says, “Oh dearest me, you’re all soaked, come along, let me help you ladies out of your clothes and get you some towels.”
“Dear, I think they can manage-” the man says before the Holstaur interrupts.
“David Jebbidah Gerkins, we will show these people all the courtesy we can. Now then, you go and help these two gentlemen.” She shoos the three of you away before she bends down and says to Akela, “Well hello there dear, would you like me to get you something warm to wear?” Akela nods her head and the Holstaur chuckles and stands, walking out through the door saying, “Very well then. My name is Bethanie, what’s yours?”
Their conversation drifts off as the Monsters walk out of sight, leaving wet foot/paw/talon prints on the wooden planks of the small farmhouse. David chuckles and shakes his head, “Ah, I can’t argue with her, I never win.”
“She’s your wife then?” Clint asks, and he nods his head.
“Aye, we’ve been together these past twenty years. Had two daughters who’ve gone on their way already, making their way in the world.” He sighs, a smile on his face as he goes to fetch some towels. “Ah by Solos do I love her.”
You cock your head at that and ask, “Solos? Strange you’d speak of him exclusively even though you’re…”
“Well, way I see it, Solos made all the Gods and they made all of us, so clearly, he’s fine with Monsters.” He shrugs and hands you a towel. “If he wanted to purge the world, wouldn’t he have already done it? I think as long as we give praise to him and be good to each other, then we’ll find a good rest in Nerg’s realm.”
You take the towel from him, nodding absently as you think on his words. Clint is obviously doing the same, and you both change in silence, doing your best not to look at him as you do. You will say that the bastard has amazing abs, the piece of shit. Soon enough you finish changing and David takes up your towels and clothes to dry, of which you’re quite thankful. Of course, as he wanders off to dry the suit, the water seems to just fall from it, and he stares in confusion before going to hang it up anyway. Damn if that isn’t an amazing suit, though Abigail was nowhere to be found within it.
He directs you into a small dining room and you both sit, chatting amongst yourselves until you hear the sound of feet tromping on by and a door opens to admit the rest of your party, the girls in fresh changes of clothing, their hair combed and neat, though still wet. This is true of all the girls, except for Ginelle, who doesn’t care that her short, white hair is unruly, though the way Saya chides her, you think that it was a struggle that was eventually futile. The real interesting thing to see is Clarissa, who startles you for a moment as you behold her with straightened hair. She blushes a little as she catches you staring.
“W-what?” she stammers, taking the seat that David hurriedly brought in for her.
“Oh, it’s nothing I just… well, I haven’t see you with your hair straight in, uh…” You think for a moment. “Ever.”
“Well, I mean, with the flying it just gets messy anyway so I just stopped trying,” she says, running a wing through her hair. “I never gave it much thought.”
“Well, I think it looks nice.” She looks down again, cheeks a little red and you smirk before commenting then on how cute Akela is in her little dress. You’re all taken aback then when Bethanie walks in and sets down a large pot on the table, and you look about in confusion, holding up your hands. “Oh, ma’am, we couldn’t ask you to-”
She holds up a hand, forestalling you like she did her husband, and she says, “No, you’re going to eat this stew I lovingly crafted, and you’re going to enjoy it.” She smirks as she lays out some bowls, a little mismatched due to the number, but nice and sturdy. “Besides, I always make too much and my dear hubby’s waistline suffers from it.”
“Well, when you make me eat that much, I always just have to find a way to work it off, right?” A wide smile grows on his face as he says this and his wife huffs, blushing furiously. The rest of you smirk and chuckle, though Akela looks around at everyone, confused. Saya gently pats her head and says it’s a grown-up thing, to which Akela rolls her eyes.
Everyone is served a decent portion of the stew, laden with beef and vegetables, served with some freshly baked bread from that day, and you dig in with relish after saying grace led by David. It takes all of you, beyond Clint anyway, off guard because it’s a custom very rarely observed in the cities, or even many of the larger towns. You heard the smaller places though, more steeped in the older religions, paid more attention to Solos, but due to the large amounts of Monsters here it’s even stranger. Still, you all take it well and dig into the food with gusto.
“Oh my Gods,” Ophelia says, snapping out of her thoughts for once. “This is wonderful!” She digs into the food and Bethanie blushes, waving a hand toward the bunny.
“Oh you do go on!” She giggles slightly, causing her whole body to jiggle.
“No, this is very good ma’am,” you say, meaning it. The creamy texture of the broth and the perfect cooking on the beef is wonderful. You wonder just how much you’ve missed out on being from the city, and even in Kasin. You do look at the stew askance for a moment before clearing your throat and asking, “Ah… Ma’am, I was wondering though, this is a beef stew and you’re, ah…?”
She cocks her head and looks to her husband before it dawns on her. “Oh my, haven’t met many Holstaurs, have you? Yes, while I do love to chew my greens, I have no trouble eating meat, and while technically I am descended from cows, the distinction is the same as rabbits and Rabbit Girls.” She waves to Ophelia for emphasis, who shrugs.
“I’ve had rabbit before. A little gamey for me, but it’s not like I’m eating Rabbit Girls.” She points to very human looking teeth in her mouth. “Besides, why would I have these canine teeth otherwise?”
Ginelle chuckles, showing off her own chompers, and you notice there’s more sharper edges, but it’s fairly human in appearance. Even Akela gets into it then and everyone laughs at the exchange, eating their meal with relish, though you wish there were seconds to be had.
You find over the course of the meal that Opphenheim has been a cattle raising town for generations, the land lush and great for grazing, if not much else. Due to this, it became a natural place for Holstaurs to congregate, and many of them looking for work (or husbands) would go to various farmers and agree to sell their milk in exchange for living on the various farms. Because they have wills of their own though, they cannot be kept in one spot, though rarely a Holstaur will find another farm more to their liking and go to work there. For the most part, they don’t seem to want to force relationships and the human population has remained, often sort of adopting the Holstaurs who work for them into their families.
As the meal concludes, you set down your spoon and sigh contentedly before nodding to your hosts.
“Thank you kindly for taking us in and giving us this wonderful meal. You have done us more kindness than you could know.”
“Well, we do our best,” David says, patting his stomach. “A shame what happened to you in town though. I hope you have a better reception in the morning, though honestly I have stayed up far too late, haha.”
“Oh hush, we have guests,” Bethanie says.
“I was curious about that though,” Clint says, rubbing his chin. “Has something happened here in town?”
David looks a little uncomfortable, glancing to his wife before saying, “Well… many of the people town are a little disheartened because of a shift in labor recently.” He shakes his head. “You see, a certain man in town has suddenly come by a means to entice many Holstaurs from the other’s farms and he’s almost ruined some of the nicest people I’ve ever known.”
Bethanie sighs, “Portia and Grendel just left yesterday, two twins who were doing good work on the Bundy farm. I just hope young Reina and Willamina stay with us.” She shuffles her breasts, “I don’t think I could pick up the slack if they left.”
Saya frowns and asks, “Is this man’s name Robert Beardlington?”
They both look a little startled and David says, “Why… yes, it is. How did you…?”
“We had a run in with him at the leyway Station. The man was busy groping a pair of twin Holstaurs before us and… I think it might have been this Portia and Grendel.”
David groans and rubs at his head. “Solos have mercy… I don’t know what he’s doing, but he was never that persuasive before. Sure, some strange things happened with him and he was quite the town jokester growing up, but generally he kept to himself and he couldn’t attract Holstaurs very well, even those who were a little desperate to make calves.”
“Well, it’s nothing to worry about,” Bethanie says, shaking her head. “I think it’s time for bed after all, let me see to getting some blankets for all of you.” She moves to stand and David goes with her, the two speaking with each other in hushed tones in another room. The rest of you look about to each other before shrugging and helping to collect the dishes, taking them to the kitchen while your hosts bring out blankets for all of you, getting you set up to sleep.
The lights doused, rain still falling outside, you tuck Akela into bed, the others sitting and preparing to sleep as well. The only one who doesn’t feel sleepy is yourself, and you sigh, getting out of your makeshift bed to walk into the dining room, sitting at the table with your [Rucksack]. Not wanting to make too much noise, you open your bag in at the table, and are disappointed to not find Abigail. Where could she have gone? In the end you content yourself to rub at [Bearsy], who feels a little warm in your palm.
As you sit alone, you have time to think about everything that’s happened. Invariably, your thoughts drift to Richard, and the terrifying moment when Fiora took him away from you. As that thought comes to you however, you hear the voice from [Bearsy] again, and you look down to see your arm covered in mosquitoes.
You drop the little bear as you back up, shaking your arm in panic when your shoulder blades begin to twitch, a severe feeling of paranoia playing upon you. Panic begins to set in and your breathing gets heavier as you drop to the ground, the stinging sensation now becoming a burning and the feeling of eyes upon you, getting closer, closer, oh Gods it’s-
“Geez, you’re useless without me, aren’t you? Come on, snap out of it.”
Something taps your head and you gasp as if surfacing from a lake into fresh air. The sensations vanish and you find yourself huddled in a ball on the floor, shivering. Your eyes go to a small ball of light hovering in front of you, creating the only source of illumination in the dark kitchen. In a stuttering voice you ask, “A-Abigail?”
The ball of light shifts before resolving into the form of the Fairy, who crosses her arms as her butterfly wings hover her before you. “Who else would it be?”
“Where have you been?” you ask, pulling yourself up to the table again, trying to regain your composure. “I was worried we left you on the leyway!”
“Oh, you did,” she says, nonchalant. You blink in startled confusion and she chuckles, shaking her head. “I’m joking you dunce, I was here the whole time, hiding out in the bunny’s luggage. Well, I was hiding in the goo lady’s dress, but once the rain was coming down, I decided not to put sand in her cooter and went to hide elsewhere.”
“Abigail, you know why she did what she did, right?”
She rolls her eyes. “What, because I kissed you? Oh come on, it’s the only way to give you the power.” You give her a level look and she exhales, throwing her arms up. “Fiiiiine, it isn’t the only way, I just…” She sighs, fluttering to the table and shaking her head. “Look, when the power flows into me from Jackor, I feel so full, as if I’m going to burst. It feels wonderful, but I get so hot and worried and I just…” She looks at your face before turning her gaze down and closing her eyes.
“I don’t mean anything by it.”
You sigh yourself before putting out a finger and rubbing the little Fairy’s head. She blinks in confusion before sinking down to the table under the pressure, not bothering to fight it. As you do this you say, “It looks bad to Saya, and I don’t want to hurt her, you know? I know this life is rough for you, but we’re both stuck here until we’re finished, alright? I know we don’t always see eye to eye, you little murderous Fairy thing, but we’re partners, right?”
She looks up at you, her cheeks puffed out some before she exhales again and throws her arms up. “Oh, very well then, crazy-pants. Speaking of which, that was the worst of your little outbursts I’ve seen. Are you feeling alright?”
“Huh? Oh, that… actually it feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve had any episodes like that.”
She flits up to you and cocks her head. “You really haven’t noticed, have you? I suppose you wouldn’t, after awhile since they’ve become mundane to you. The way you scratch at your arm, look about as if someone is behind you, or wave away things that aren’t there, you used to notice it, but not anymore, right?”
“I… I mean, sometimes I-“
“It’s fine,” she sighs. “It’s better this way, perhaps. There was no way you would come out of this unscathed.”
Reaching out a hand, she bops your nose. “I guess I’ll just have to be around for the big ones, can’t have you stripping naked again and running through the streets singing the national anthem.”
“Wait, when the fuck did I do- hey, you’re fucking with me, right? Right?”
Your only reply is a wicked smile, which you reciprocate by trying swat her out of the air. It is oddly comforting though to know that despite some rather… unsettling… changes, some things stay the same.
“Harr, harr. But since I have your attention, why are you getting bigger when you kiss me anyway?”
“Huh?” Abigail says, cocking her head. “I don’t know what you mean. Bigger? I mean, getting bigger would be neat, but only Titanias are larger, and only a very few of them exist, by the grace of Jackor.” She shakes her head.
“You’re just seeing things.”
You frown, but don’t make any further points, merely nodding your head. “Alright. So, since we’re on good footing again, who is our target here?”
“Oh, yes, that.” Reaching into her pocket she pulls out a smaller version of the list. “His name is Robert Beardlington.” As you groan she says, “Well, I’m sure it was obvious when you met him at the leyway station, but yes, that’s him. Hoping for someone else?”
“He didn’t look all that insane.”
“Those are the dangerous ones, aren’t they?” she says, flying up and resting on your shoulder. “You should go to bed, you have a long day ahead of you.”
Giving the Fairy one last look, you scoop up [Bearsy] and put him back in your [Rucksack] before heading back to bed, feeling exhausted, if not altogether ready for sleep.
The morning comes, bright and early. You somehow awaken before the others, stretching before getting up to head into the kitchen, seeing if there’s water to be had. All you find however are cups, so you take one and head outside to a waterspout where you drink your fill, relishing in the cool water and the warm morning sky. As you bask in the morning sun, you hear the sound of hurried footsteps coming toward you and you’re startled as David runs up, sweat beading his brow as he pants out,
“Bethanie, have you seen her?”
“I… no, has something happened?”
David hangs his head. “She was out this morning to help turn out the cattle and milk the girls, but when I came back to check on them, all three were gone.” He looks about again before plodding away and muttering, “Solos, please let her be alright.”
“Do you want us to help look for them?” you ask, worried. “Clarissa can check the skies and Ginelle has a good nose.”
David nods his head to you, thankful, and you rouse the others, telling them the situation. They all prepare to go looking but it doesn’t take long before Ginelle catches her scent, as well as another she’s smelled before. She crosses her arms as she addresses both you and David, saying,
“Smells like that beard guy from yesterday.”
Your eyes go wide, but David’s quickly narrow and he growls, clenching his fists. “Is that so? Thank you very much.” He makes to stomp off and you watch him, feeling incredibly concerned. But in this situation…
Yeah, this can only go badly. You quickly run up to David and put a hand on his shoulder, the man turning about with a furious look on his face as he growls, “What?”
You’re startled, seeing the man who was once so jovial suddenly furious. You get over the start quick enough and grip his shoulder harder, saying, “Stop for a moment and think this over. What are you about to do?”
“I’m about to go over there and kick Beardlington’s ass if he’s touched a hair on my wife’s head!”
Nodding your head slowly, you say, “Sir… David, if he was able to abscond with your wife, clearly he must have something that has allowed him to do so, something that might make it dangerous for you.”
He shakes off your arm and growls, “He can have the power of the damn Grand Wizard for all I care. I’m going to get Bethanie.” He begins to stalk away again and you groan, putting a hand over your face before waving to Clarissa. You nod toward her and she gets the message, leaping into the air and grasping your shoulders with her talons, which only mildly hurts, oww. She flies you through the air to drop in front of the man, who looks startled at your appearance.
“Alright, look, you’ve been good to us, so I’ll have to come clean with you here,” you say, Clarissa letting you go, the gust generated by her wings rustling your hair. Looking the man in the eyes, you say in slow, deliberate terms, “We are here to investigate strange behavior in town, and apparently it’s Beardlington. We will deal with him and you will stay here until we return.”
The man steps back, as if slapped across the face, and he looks like he want to say something, but then the energy leaves him, and he slumps his shoulders, looking defeated. He whispers in a soft voice, “I barely know you, but please… bring her back to me.”
You put another hand on his shoulder and nod reassuringly before turning back to your party. Clarissa lands next to you, walking alongside with a sad expression, looking like she wants to say something, but is too afraid to do so. She ends up staying quiet until you reach the others before bursting out with,
“Tobias! Do… do we have the kill the beardman?”
You look around between all the others who give you grimly resolved looks before you sigh and nod your head. “I’m fairly certain we do. I don’t know why he suddenly chose to use his powers in this way, but Abigail doesn’t lie, so far as I can tell. All I know is he’s done something terrible here and he needs to be stopped one way or another.”
“Aye, rustlin another man’s Holstaurs, and his wife to boot.” Clint shakes his head, looking disgusted. “That would get you flogged, if you were lucky, out in the border. I think here I’m just going to put a shot in his head.”
You wave a hand dismissively. “No, Clint. Your enthusiasm is appreciated, but the chances of hitting one of the Holstaurs might be too great. I think for now we need to investigate what’s going on.”
Saya steps up at the suggestion and you shake your head. “Sorry, but I think I’d rather have Ginelle for this one.” Everyone looks at you with a surprised expression and you shrug, “Her sense of smell is going to be very important, and I’d pit her against a Minotaur any day.”
Ginelle looks surprised for a moment before smirking and cracking her knuckles. “Well, looks like the bossman has spoken, you’ll all be fine, right?”
Saya looks a little miffed but instead goes over to Akela, rubbing the little Anubis’s head, though she still looks half asleep, while Ophelia merely mumbles a few things, looking at Clint’s rifle case, the man shifting away from her uncomfortably. While keeping an eye on her, he says, “Very well then, we’ll hold down the fort here, see if we can’t get some intel on the man from the townsfolk as well.”
You nod your head to him before walking up to Saya and whispering in her ear, “Are you sure you’re alright with this? I’m sorry if I offended you…”
She sighs and pats your head. “No, no you’re fine. We’ve done too much skullduggery together anyway. You have a nice time with your friends dear.” She waves you off and you roll your eyes before looking down to Akela, who rubs sleep from her own eyes. You kneel down and say, “Hey there princess, you stay with mom for today, alright?”
Akela blinks a few times before nodding. “Sure… alright.” She yawns a big, toothy yawn before rubbing at her eyes again. “You’re spoiling me too much allowing me to sleep late like this.”
“Nah, I’ll properly spoil you when we’ve settled down from all of this.”
“Goodness, I’ll be worse than a rotten apple in that case,” she says, a hint of mockery in her voice. “Still, I wonder when that will be…”
You look up at Saya, who gives you a saddened look, and you merely shrug, knowing you can’t keep secrets from Akela very well. “I don’t know. Soon, if I can help it.”
She looks into your eyes for a long while before smirking and waving for you to kneel down. When you do, she pats your head with her soft, fluffy hand, and says, “At least you’re learning. Now then, go and come back to us.” She shoos you away in the same manner as Saya.
“You heard the boss,” she says, trying not to giggle, and you narrow your eyes before sighing and looking to Ginelle, who’s talking with Clint, the man looking a little concerned.
“It’s nothing to be worried about, I can handle myself,” she says, sniffing indignantly. “You can stop babying me after the wheat field.”
“It’s not babying it’s…” he says before sighing. “Ahh, Gods, look I’d feel bad if you got yourself hurt, alright?”
She gives the rifleman a queer expression before shrugging, then turning and bounding up to you in some loose clothes she picked up from Sanctifrond, ones you know she is going to tear up somehow. Well, whatever. You nod to her and then wave to the others before setting off back toward the town, filled with purpose. As soon as you’re out of earshot of Ophelia however, you turn to Ginelle and say,
“Shit, I have no idea where we’re going.”
The Badger Girl looks at you with a surprised expression before snickering, putting a long-clawed hand to her mouth, and doing her best not to burst out into full on laughter. She is only moderately successful, but you don’t protest, merely standing there and taking it as she gasps for breath, shakily pointing out to the north. You follow her hand and roll your eyes, leaving her behind, though she catches up quickly, a grin still on her face.
“Oh come on, you know you deserved that.”
“Yes Ginelle, I know.”
“It was utterly ridiculous.”
“I had no choice but to laugh.”
“You don’t have to keep repeating it.”
“But Tobiiiaaasssss!” she says, huffing, “It’s been ages since it was just you and me! Let me have my giggle.” You give you her a sly look before sighing and shrugging.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. We’ll have our hands full anyway.”
She frowns and looks serious as she plods along next to you in silence for a long while before asking, “Why do you think he did it anyway? Gather up all these Holstaurs?”
“I’m guessing he had a thing for them, and his love became an obsession, especially if it was denied him for so long. It’s strange he didn’t use his powers to persuade or trick them beforehand, by David’s accounts, so perhaps he had more sense than to do something like that, but when pushed too far, he let go of his inhibitions and became what he always thought he wanted.”
Ginelle nods and looks thoughtful for a long while. “It’s weird though… these people who go insane as it is, they do things they want, yet they don’t appreciate the consequences, right? I wonder how it must feel, to be liberated from such concerns.”
Something wiggles in your breast pocket, Abigail, you suspect, which reminds you of your discussion from last night. You shudder and whisper, more for your own benefit than Ginellle’s,
“Not good, not good at all.”
You arrive at the place about an hour later, both of you sweating and looking a little surprised it took so long, but seeing as the entire area is one massive cattle raising operation, it’s pretty much a given that most of the land would be uninhabited except by the staring, cud chewing, delicious tasting beasts.
It doesn’t escape your notice that there aren’t any Holstaurs out in the fields at the moment, but you know you’re at the right place when you find two sitting in front of a gate, wearing rather skimpy clothing that shows off their ample breasts and butts to the best degree possible.
As you approach, they look up at you and stand to attention, thrusting out their hips and chests, saying, “Hello there! Have you come to pay tribute to Lord Beardlington?”
You and Ginelle look between each other before you cough into your hand. “Uh, we just sort of wanted to talk to him a little about-”
“Oh, I’m sorry then, if you’re not here to give tribute, then we’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Ginelle cracks her knuckles, grumbling, “Oh they can try…” You forestall her by holding up a hand.
“Oh, I apologize, we actually DID mean to pay tribute to him. My mistake.”
The Holstaur who addressed you before looks dubious, rubbing her chin as she assesses you. “Waiiitttt, you’re not trying to trick me, are you?”
“I promise I am not trying to trick you,” you say with a face so straight it could be used to cut wood.
The Holstaur looks at you before crossing her arms under her ample breasts and groaning, looking hard in thought.
“Hrrrrrrmmmmmmmooooooo. I… okay,” she says, finally seeming to come to a decision. Nodding her head firmly, she points up to a house in the distance. “Alright, prepare your offerings and head to the palace! Oh, if only I wasn’t stuck here and could join you, so I could bask in his brilliance!”
You look at the Monster with a stunned expression, growing very concerned. How did the man have such influence over these girls without being anywhere near them? The illusions should have faded from this distance, so why were they still fawning over him like this? He can’t have put on an illusion to last when he’s not around? But even so, this is akin to mind control…
“So, what do you like about this guy anyway?” Ginelle asks, her lack of decorum one of her most charming features. The other Holstaur blushes and stammers for a moment before saying,
“H-he’s just really nice and sweet and care for us Holstaur better than everyone else in town.” She blushes even further and says, “He also has the best milking hands. I’m so ashamed we never noticed until now, always thinking him some kind of strange weirdo.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Well, he came into town one day, looking rather dashing and asked if we’d want to work for him instead. He said some very flattering things and I thought, why not? It was only going to be temporary but…” She places her hands on her cheeks, looking red as a beet. “Ahhh, he’s just so gentle when he needs to be, and rough when that calls for it too! He really knows how to treat a Holstaur!”
Ginelle steps back, her eyebrows raised as the two heifers titter at each other, and she looks to you, giving you the same startled expression you’re giving her. Holy shit, this guy isn’t actively using an illusion on them, they’re fucking hooked by the residual illusion, or perhaps even some natural charm! You think briefly about Ginelle’s statement about lack of inhibitions then and wonder just how true that was.
Well, as they continue to titter, you both walk past, heading toward the house where you find a congregation of Holstaurs milling about, working on various household chores and looking rather pleased about themselves.
“Tobias,” Ginelle says, looking disturbed. “We… have to kill this man, right?”
“Yeah…” you say, frowning deeply as you do. As you approach the house, a very thickly shaped Holstaur walks up, putting hands on her hips and asking,
“Can I help you? Oh, are you here to pay tribute to the Lord Beardlington?” She beams at that thought before you even say anything, and she points off to the barn. “He’s over there, doing the mid-morning milking. He has quite a lot to go through you know!” She chuckles and moves about her own two udders, sighing. “A shame I’m on the afternoon milk today, because my tits are fit to explode.”
You feel Ginelle gently turn your head away from the swaying fun bags, and you shake said head before smiling broadly at the Monster and saying, “Ah, thank you ma’am.” Both of you walk off as the Holstaur behind you mutters about being called an old lady.
As you move toward the barn you see even more Holstaur lazing about and you realize there must be dozens of them. How long has this been going on for? You have no idea, but given the tensions in the town, you wonder just how sustainable this, “Let the Holstaurs decide” thing is. With that thought in mind, you open the door to the barn and stop in surprise at what you see.
Sitting upon a decorative chair of middling wood, adorned with a so-so cushion, is Robert Beardlington, smiling broadly as he uses his hands to milk an improbably large breasted Holstaur kneeling before him. She moans soft moos as he kneads and pulls on her breasts, jets of white, thick milk spraying out to be caught into a bucket laying nearby, though in her shaking, some gets on the floor and all over the man’s hands, not that he seems to take notice, merely continuing his work with evident glee. You’re no expert, but the way she seems to get rather sexual gratification from the act, you’re thinking that he’s actually quite good with his hands.
The other Holstaurs about the room have their own chests bared, a few with hands hovering about their crotches, and the unmistakable scent of sex lingers in the room, even as milk dribbles out. It seems to take quite some time to finish the process, but by the time he’s finished, the Holstaur is faint of breath, her cheeks quite warm, and she staggers back, her hooves thumping against the dirt as the others pull her away. They chitter amongst themselves, eager to see who he chooses next for the milking.
Beardlington lounges back in his “throne” and licks the creamy milk off his fingers, slowly enjoying the process before sighing contentedly and looking over his adoring herd. He holds up a hand, and they all silence themselves, looking upon him with adoration. He smirks and says, addressing the crowd, “Bring in our new family, that they may have their first milking!”
The other Holstaurs, seeming at once disappointed and excited, make way as three Holstaurs are brought forward, two you haven’t seen before and one very familiar Holstaur. The two younger ones carry the third between them, though she does her best to try and struggle out of their grasp. They manage to drag her before Beardlington, dropping her to her knees in front of him.
Ginelle gasps as she realizes who it is, and you grit your teeth as well.
Bethanie kneels before the throne of Beardlington, defiant eyes locked onto his face.
The two younger Holstaur look at the man with a sense of apprehension, yet eagerness, their cheeks flushed, apparently having gotten excited from watching the others milked. Bethanie, on the other hand, does not look amused, and she shrugs off the other two before standing and planting her fists on her hips.
“Robert Tunsley Beardlington! I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but I would never have expected this of you!” She snorts and paws at the dirt of the barn with a hoof. “And the rest of you should be ashamed for coming here and fawning after him like this! What are you, calves on their first heat? I’m glad none of you are married or I’d have your husbands whoop all of you.”
None of the other Holstaurs look abashed however, instead they merely cry out, “Let him milk you and find out!” “You have no idea, he’s the best!” “Join us Bethanie!”
The matronly Holstaur frowns at them before looking over to the man, who sits upon his throne, leering at her with an air of superiority, as if he is so confident in his power that nothing can stop him. You notice her blush faintly before turning and facing him, and you and you can feel a tense power permeating the room, at once knowing it’s the work of an illusion. She visibly becomes red-faced and sighs, releasing her top and letting her voluminous breasts spill out before the man.
“Fine then, show me what you can do and I’ll judge if I shouldn’t shove my hoof up all these girl’s asses.” The other Holstaur cheer as she kneels down before the man, a fresh bucket being placed as he leans forward, lecherous grin on his face.
“Oh how I’ve wanted to do this for so long. You’ve always had the right kind of body for me, you know? All those wonderfully THICK curves and these massive tits. It’s like they were made for this.”
“I was made for my husband,” she says flatly before letting out a great, gasping, “MOOO!” as Beardlington attacks her breasts. You and Ginelle both watch uncomfortably as he moves his hands in expert precision, seemingly knowing exactly how to knead the doughy flesh of her breasts, causing the proper flow of milk to appear. Her mooing becomes more breathy and her face grows heated as he extracts her juices, which slop everywhere, apparently not caring about collecting it anymore. He milks and milks, going at it until nothing more is released and, when they stop, he lets her breasts fall as she collapses into a heap, panting.
“Well?” he says, licking the milk off his fingers. “Was I better than your husband?”
She looks up at him, her chest a sopping wet mess. Breath ragged, she breathes out, “My husband is… is far better at this than… than you.”
The barn goes silent as all the other Holstaur put hands to their mouths, looking utterly shocked. Beardlington stares down at her, his eyes grown very wide, and everything goes still for what seems an eternity. Eventually, he takes a long, shaking breath and says,
The Holstaur look about, confused, until he rises from his chair and shouts, “OUT!”
They look at him with wide, scared eyes, and bolt like… well, like cattle, creating a massive clamor as their hooves kick up dirt on the barn floor, leaving without even covering up.
In moments all that’s left is Beardlington, the shaking form of Bethanie, Ginelle, and yourself. The two of you look at each other as the man descends from his throne to stand over the Holstaur. He says, growling, “Did you just disrespect me in front of my subjects?” When Bethanie doesn’t respond, he reaches down to grab her hair, but before you can react, Ginelle spring forward, growling,
“Alright, that’s far enough buddy!”
“W-what are you doing here? How did you get in here?”
“We came to pay tribute,” Ginelle growls, cracking her knuckles. “I think I’m going to pay you with a fist to the face.”
“F-for what?” he stammers, pulling away from Ginelle. “Tell me what I did to deserve this?”
“You’re a sick little fuck who steals away people’s Holstaurs and then makes them into weird little slaves of yours, that’s what!” She points to Bethanie. “Dear Gods man, she’s married!”
Bethanie looks up and says, “Don’t worry about me, I’m not falling for his damn tricks. He might be a God to some unlaid little calves, but for someone like me, he’s always second best.”
Beardlington flushes and shouts, “Many of them ARE LAID NOW! They loved every minute of it. I don’t know what crazy accusations you’re throwing about, but ever since I got counseling by that lovely woman, I realized just great I was! I used to be a fat loser who couldn’t get even the horniest Holstaur, but she said I had a gift! A talent! I never noticed before, but now it’s all so clear! I bring joy and love to these girls, so why do you begrudge me this?”
He points at you and shouts, spittle coming from his mouth, “You’re just jealous that I have everything I’ve ever wanted, and what do you have? I bet you have NOTHING!”
You begin to grow alarmed as you feel his power shift, forcing you to prepare your mental defenses while stepping forward to defend the others.
He shouts, sending forth bolts of… wait, milk? You’re so startled by the strangeness of it that you forget to outright ignore the absurd illusion, and you fall over in a sticky heap as you’re drenched in a torrent of white liquid. You sputter and spit, trying to get your wits back together, though this doesn’t take very long thanks to <Battle Focus>. Good thing you do, because you have to roll out of the way as a bucket comes down where your head was just moments ago.
Clearing the illusion of milk from you, you realize that the bucket of milk that almost crushed you head is quite real! The man makes to throw it at you, but his arm is caught in Ginelle’s, and she savagely twists, yanking the man away from his assault and throwing him to the ground where he rolls about in pain, crying out for help. At once, a herd of Holstaurs pour in, forming a topless shield about him, their eyes filled with protective rage as they scrape their hooves against the ground.
He picks himself up, wiping at his chin and staring at the trickle of blood there. He quivers in rage for a moment before pointing at you, his voice booming,
The Holstaurs make to charge you and you come to a grim realization that there’s too many for Ginelle to stop, and that their advance will likely trample both of you unless you’re willing to hit them with some powerful illusions, or use your knife. You shudder and draw the weapon, preparing to use it when from outside a mighty braying is heard and all the Holstaurs suddenly stop, looking in confusion as a younger Holstaur enters the barn, panting furiously.
“L-Lord Beardlington! The commoners, they… they’re coming!”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“They’re coming with torches and pitchforks, shouting for your head!” She practically wails, “My Lord, they wish to see you dead!”
All of you stare at each other as the situation dawns upon you. The townsfolk must have found out about this latest insult and decided to form a mob, as you had feared, and now they’re here to take Beardlington’s head for themselves. You watch in mute horror as Beardlington snarls and points outside, “Girls! Prepare to defend what is ours!” Even more disturbing, they don’t hesitate to obey, preparing for battle themselves and almost totally forgetting you. They leave, dragging Bethanie with them, all except for the three that stand before you, cracking their knuckles and looking far surlier, and less inclined to let you go free, than the others.
“Well shit,” Ginelle says, crossing her arms.
You stare at the muscular Holstaurs before you, almost large enough to be considered Minotaurs (and you secretly think the one in the middle IS a Minotaur who lucked out in the breast department). They snort and paw the ground with their hooves, making it very clear that you aren’t to interrupt Lord Beardlington in his plans.
You toss a look to Ginelle, who flexes her clawed hands, psyching herself up to go Badger all over them. Yeah, you have zero worry that anything will happen to her. Your actual concern is for the Holstaurs themselves, whom you’re fairly certain would DIE for Beardlington. If you recall correctly, you see familiar trappings here to what you saw with those Plant Monsters back in Loveura. This clearly is cult-like behavior which means this could get very messy, very fast as long as the object of their adoration is still in charge.
Basically, this means that Beardlington must die.
Sighing, you look directly at the Holstaur and say, “A lot of people are going to get hurt here if you don’t stop this.”
“Who? Those villagers? They took us for granted all these years and now they’re pissy about the fact that we found someone who treats us right,” the totally-not-Minotaur says, sniffing.
“Are you so sure about that? What exactly did they do to you to earn such mistrust?”
She pauses, looking taken aback for a moment. “I… well, I mean, Lord Beardlington told us that they don’t appreciate what we do, and that not servicing us was a crime.” She blushes. “He called us the most lovely names as he tenderly…” She blushes even further, putting hands on her face as she recalls something rather pleasant, the other two Cow’s cheeks going red of their own accord.
Uhhhh… Alright, sure, why not, you can work with this. “So, he took you as lovers, huh? He’s that passionate, hmm?” As you speak, you [Project] illusions into all of their minds at once, drawing upon your <Cupid> ability, making them feel warm and tingly, driving up their lusts for the man. You walk up slowly to them, and speak, your voice sounding as deep and manly as possible.
“I bet as Beardlington puts his hands on your breasts and caresses them, he works those rough, firm fingers into your doughy flesh, using his mouth to draw forth your milk, hmm?” You see one of the side Holstaur begin to look visibly flustered, her hands drifting to her lewd parts as you notice her nipples starting to strain against her farmhand’s garments.
“Once he’s gotten a taste of your lovely juices, I bet he lays you down on your chest before taking a firm grasp of your jiggling ass, squeezing on those cheeks like they were made of rubber before giving you a firm slap, sending ripples of pleasure through your body.” As you say this, one of the Holstaur jumps slightly, as if being smacked in the ass, her expression growing incredibly lewd as she tenderly rubs her posterior.
Ginelle gives you a very flat look, but you see that she’s also flustered, apparently turned on by your words, even if your illusion isn’t being projected to her. You feel that if you’re not careful, she might get too into this also, but you turn your attentions back to the Holstaur, all of whom look like they’d melt into puddles at the drop of a hat. You lick your lips and continue, pulsing your power through them, glad to have the strength of the Monster Goddess to help you with this. Working one last push, you say in a command, though it’s almost as a whisper,
“Go get him.”
The Holstaurs’s eyes go wide from the command, their pent-up sexual desires keeping them from being able to think through this rationally, and they turn their heads in unison to the exit of the barn, dashing out in a stampede to jump Beardlington’s junk. Somehow, you don’t think he’ll hate this in the slightest, but at the same time you’re kind of ashamed you had to do it like this. The pounding headache you get in return for using that magic doesn’t make you feel better about it either…
“Ginelle, we need to go see if we can subdue Beardlington, I’m afraid those three will only be an inconvenience.”
“Hmm? Oh, right, right,” she says before shaking her head, cheeks flushed.
“Something wrong?” you ask, knowing exactly what’s going on. Damn if your trickster nature doesn’t just pop up at the worst moments, even if you’ve done well to school yourself recently. Well, that’s part of your charm, right?
“I, uhm, well, you see,” Ginelle says, getting a little flustered. “They sort of seemed to really be enjoying what you were saying and uh, I wondered how it would… you know.” She covers her face with her hand. “Come on, don’t make me say anything else.”
You smirk and take out the [Chameleon Cloak] from your [Rucksack]. “I know, I know. You really just wanted to get in there and milk them, right?”
She blinks, looking utterly startled. “W-what?”
“Yeah, I know, I know. I really thought about doing an illusion to all of them, making them imagine they were having the best fucking milking of their lives, your soft, powerful hands drawing all their milk from them in an orgasm of-” You cut off as Ginelle decks you across the face, making your neck go from ninety degrees to your shoulder to zero in less than a second as you topple to the floor.
It takes you a few seconds to blink your vision back and you look up at Ginelle, whose face is utterly crimson, her body shaking as she pants, looking at you with almost wild eyes. You rub your chin, wincing as you croak out, “A little too far?”
“I should fucking say so!” she huffs, crossing her arms under her breasts, face still the color of ripe strawberries. “Talking about using that damn magic of yours in such a l-lewd way. Are you trying to piss me off?” She shifts uncomfortably as she mumbles, “And talking about that when you’re with another woman… how shameless can you be…?”
You groan and pick yourself up, shaking your head before sighing and saying, “Sorry, I just… couldn’t help it.” This is partially true, as you find it hard to ignore all the voices in your head telling you to do things. Wait, hearing voices isn’t a normal thing, is it? Well, your internal monologue about hearing things no one else can has to wait as the sounds of conflict grow louder outside.
“Fuck, we have to get going, get under this cloak with me.” Despite her protests, Ginelle doesn’t question it, and gets under the cloak. The two of you become invisible to the outer world as you walk out of the barn into a din of shouting and braying.
You behold a sight akin to armies lining up for battle as before you a line of Holstaurs stand, armed with random farm implements or their bare hands if necessary, surrounding the form of Beardlington. Across from them, perhaps fifty feet away, stands a line of villagers, armed with farm implements of their own, shouting at the Holstaurs to back off and let them have the man. You can sense the tension from both sides, and you know that at the drop of a hat they could slaughter each other without really knowing why.
Ginelle hisses and points to Beardlington, and you notice that the three Holstaur you sent beforehand are laying before him, prostrate, shaking in what seems like aftershocks of pleasure. There’s no way he could have fucked them, especially not with the legendary sexual appetite of Holstaurs, so he must have used an illusion to subdue them, which is just fucking fantastic. Well, it allowed you to get out here anyway, so you use the chance to sneak closer, doing your best not to be heard, though given the shouting that seems rather improbable.
As you approach, you hear someone on the other side call out, “Beardlington! You coward! Release whatever foul hold you have over them and we’ll let you go!”
The Holstaurs rage and snort, looking furious at this declaration, and they shout things like, “We’re not your property!” and “Beardlington is ours!” and “We’ll never return to you!” This only serves to make the townsfolk more agitated, until Beardlington rises above the crowd, held aloft by three Holstaurs as he surveys the crowd.
“My lovelies! They seek to separate us from each other! Tell me, do you wish to leave me?” They all stamp their feet and bray in sincere devotion, make such a ruckus that Beardlington has to raise a hand to quiet as he turns back to the villagers. “What say you? They have come to me of their own volition! Would you break the laws of this town for your own jealousy?”
The villagers mill about, grumbling and shouting a few curses toward the man, knowing that they’re in the wrong, but having difficulty merely accepting their way of life being usurped from them. That is, until David pushes forward and shouts, “WHERE’S MY WIFE? WHERE IS BETHANIE?!”
This reenergizes the crowd and they begin their furor again, shouting curses toward the Illusionist, until Beardlington looks down from his throne and says,
“She is with me now!”
Oh dear sweet fucking Gods. Throwing all caution to the wind, you spur yourself forward, practically running, dragging a confused Ginelle behind you, the [Chameleon Cloak] flapping wildly in the wind. A Holstaur manages to notice you, eyes incredulous until Ginelle decks her across the face as you run past. She wobbles into the others, who pay no notice to her, thank the Gods. The distance isn’t great, and you reach Beardlington as he’s being lowered by his makeshift palanquin, the man looking almost furious as he rounds upon the prone form of Bethanie.
He commands the Holstaur nearby to raise her as he shouts, “This YOUR fault! You just had to fall in line like the others and you could have told your former husband to back down. Now there’s going to be a battle, and the blood is on your hands!” He seems about to strike her, but he controls himself, apparently unable to harm a Holstaur, even in his madness.
Bethanie, looking drained from her exertions today, merely looks down and says, “I understand now. You’re not to blame for all of this. You’re not the sweet, gentle boy we all knew before. You’re insane, you poor thing.”
The man snarls and turns, opening his mouth to order the Holstaur to attack, when a knife suddenly appears at his throat, and he coughs, stuttering mid-sentence as you smile from behind him. “Hello again Mr. Beardlington, why don’t we have a little chat?”
His eyes bulge in anger and surprise. He makes to order the Holstaurs, but some of them clearly decide to act on their own volition, charging forward. Ginelle decks one across the face before driving her fist into the gut of another, but the driving force in backing them down is you putting your knife to the man’s throat and shouting, “STOP! Take a step further and I’ll slit his damn throat!” This stops them in their tracks, and they look at you with furious expressions, eventually drawing the attention of the other Holstaurs, who look at you with shocked and furious expressions, braying in rage and sorrow.
“Bethanie, I want you to get up and go over to your husband,” you say in a calm, commanding voice as you look over the assembled Holstaurs. “And you’ll let her through without trouble!” They grumble, but end up parting, and Bethanie shakily gets up and trudges her way to the villager’s side, shouts of relief and joy coming from them as David meets her halfway, the two embracing with the passion that could only come from happy years of marriage. This accomplished, you turn your attention back to the man and say, “Order them back, if you’d be so kind.”
He growls, frothing slightly at the mouth, and the sensation of power flows from him, but you gird your mind, utterly focused on him as you trust Ginelle to protect your back. Blinking in surprise at your resistance, he thinks for a moment before his eyes go wide as he says,
“You… you’re one of those she warned me about!”
“We can talk about that later,” you say, pressing the knife closer to his throat. “Order them back, if you’d please.” He looks at you with a mix of anger and fear before ordering the Holstaurs back, who do so with extremely concerned expressions. Distantly, you notice the villagers getting closer, but you don’t let your gaze wander from the man.
“Who did this to you?”
He blinks, looking confused. “Did this? I don’t know what you’re…” he trails off as you frown before saying, “S-She said her name was Chalan! Told me all about how I wasn’t living to my potential! The more I listened to her, the more I began to understand that the gifts I had been toying with before could be put to better use!”
He chuckles. “Yes, I was a little confused and scared at first as I struggled with the concept, but slowly it dawned on me that I was BETTER than the others, than only I could give these beautiful Monsters the life they deserve…”
Beardlington begins to tear up. “I just wanted to give them all the pleasures they could want, I love them all so much and they love me. Is it so wrong?”
You take a deep breath and sigh out, never moving your grip, though you feel him struggle. “Beardlington… you kidnapped another man’s wife and tried to force her into your harem. Don’t you see how inherently wrong that is?”
He furrows his brow for a moment, mind apparently only now processing this information. “No, she… she just doesn’t understand that I’m better for her and…”
“She ran from you the first chance she got. She felt your touch and she still ran to her husband.”
“But… but I am…” He looks utterly devastated then, his eyes unfocused as he comes to terms with the last bits of lucidity he has left. “No… I never meant to…”
“Well you did, and you apparently know the consequences of your actions, as Chalan told you. What else did she say to you? Tell me everything about her.”
“She… she said she’s finding others like me, helping them to realize their potential. She said she’d be back though, when I’m matured, in order for me to go even higher, and to beware of those who would stop our dreams.” He’s about to speak further when you hear David call out, “Tobias! Bring him here to us! We’ll end this without any bloodshed!”
As he says this, you turn your head to look to David, judging how best to get Beardlington over there, when the man suddenly jams and elbow into your chest, driving the air from out of you as he pulls away, running toward his Holstaurs, who all bray in joy, charging toward him.
He raises his arms and you feel a surge of magical energy flow through him and into the horde of Holstaurs, his eyes looking positively mad. Before they reach him, he looks to you with sadness and you realize what he’s about to do. You reach out to him, knowing you can’t… no, you shouldn’t, save him, but you can’t help but try.
Before the tide reaches him, he shouts, “She mentioned Saydinhold! That a sister nearly ripened was there!” Before he can say anything else, however, his words are drowned out in a sea of curvy bodies, the Holstaurs tearing at his clothing as the sounds of intense moaning and sex fill the air.
You stop moving, standing a few feet away from the pile, just watching in mute horror as the man is crushed to death in the throes of absurd lust. Head bowed, a warm feeling spreads against your chest, and a soft light heralds Abigail, who looks up at you from your pocket and says, “He’s dead.” She doesn’t attempt to kiss you, not that you would have stood for it at the moment, and you merely shake your head and close your eyes, turning away as the villagers appear, helping to pull off the frenzied Holstaurs, who look about in confusion as his final illusion wears off. When they notice the corpse, smiling wickedly beneath them, they wail in sorrow, dropping to their knees and covering their eyes.
Despite all the tensions, the villagers merely move to comfort the poor girls, their anger giving way to grief, and they all cry with each other over the body of the Holstaur Lord, who lay broken before them. You feel a hand on your shoulder and turn to see Clint there, looking sullen himself, Clarissa in tow as they chased after David, the others staying back as you requested. Part of you wishes you could be the one to sit these out, but Abigail was right.
You aren’t getting out of this unscathed.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you did,” David says, holding his hands in his lap. Bethanie puts a hand on the man’s shoulder and he looks up at her, the two taking comfort in each other’s presence before he sighs and looks back up at you. “I’m sorry things turned out this way though.”
You nod at the man, looking a little sullen yourself as you sit in the town’s inn, untouched drinks in front of you. Despite the clamor earlier, the place is mostly empty, the other villagers doing their best to placate the grieving Holstaurs. You figure it will take some time before they realize that Beardlington wasn’t the messiah that they thought he was, but some of them already professed their guilt for running away from the people who had worked with and loved them for so long, so you’re sure that the rest of them will eventually find their way back.
“I’m sorry it ended that way too, but at least he died the way he wanted to live,” you say, shrugging. “I can only hope the Holstaur aren’t too shaken up about it.”
Bethanie shrugs. “They’ll cope. We aren’t the… smartest of Monsters, so I’m sure with some convincing, they’ll turn around.” She sighs. “Though I’m afraid he’s done some true damage here, as many of the girls have become discontent with merely being milked, and instead are pushing more for sexual gratification. I’ve heard some of the young men have already been propositioned by many of my sisters, and while it’s wonderful, at the same time…” She drifts off and shakes her head. “This town can’t afford to be a Galmathoria.”
“Well…” Clint says, putting his mug down, the only person to actively be drinking. The others of your party had decided to stay at the farm to rest/look after Akela while you went through the formalities with the town leaders. “I’ll bet you there’s plenty of people who would consider moving to a nice place like this to find wives and make a living for themselves with quiet work. Might just need to go advertising for them.”
“You think?” David says, looking over your group. “I know you’re busy with your work with the Heroic Brotherhood, but we could always use more farmhands and…” He trails off as Clint shakes his head, and he chuckles. “Worth a try.”
You nod at his use of your lie, the words impressed upon the townsfolk to let them try to come to terms with what happened. Apparently you’ve been sent by the Crown and the Order to subdue Beardlington for sedition and wanton use of magic, something that was probably going to make convincing the Holstaurs they’ve been tricked a lot easier too. It isn’t exactly your favorite way to deal with something like this, but it’s what had to happen.
David looks outside at the setting sun and sighs, standing up. “Well, we need to go back and milk the girls for the evening. Thankfully they decided to come back to us without much trouble, but those guilty expressions they keep giving you, Beth…” He shakes his head. “Will you be joining us?”
You look at your timepiece and shrug. “Yes, thank you. Our leyway doesn’t arrive until tomorrow as it is. We’d appreciate the roof over our head, and honestly it’s probably much cozier than the inn.”
The three of you head to the barn as the sun begins to dip low in the sky, a lovely shade of pink in the clouds. The others greet you and you go over what was decided with the townsfolk. Saya and Akela go to help Bethanie prepare dinner while Clarissa and Ophelia seem engrossed over some little metal tube that the Rabbit Girl is carving into, though you can’t really find Ginelle anywhere.
“She’s in the barn,” Clarissa says absently. Both you and Clint give each other strange looks before following David outside to see what’s going on. As you open the barn doors, you hear the sound of a feminine voice yelping, and you walk in to see the two Holstaur on the farm standing there, bare chested as they chuckle toward each other, a half-filled bucket of milk before them. David gives them a questioning look, and they point to a hay bale, where a large pile of loose hay is stacked.
All three of you walk up to the hay and you say, “Gosh, I sure hope no one is hiding in this pile of hay before I put this pitchfork in here.”
From the hay you hear a muffled, “Nope, no one here but hay. Better just leave that pitchfork.”
“Well I guess if it’s just hay, then clearly it won’t care if I use this pitchfork.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” the hay says back, and you chuckle, watching as Clint walks over to the other side of the hay and drives his arms in. A moment later you hear a furious flurry of laughing as hay flies everywhere, Ginelle bursting forth, tears in eyes as Clint tickles the Hells out of her. She falls into the hay pile, trying to push him off, but apparently lacks the energy. You laugh, shaking your head before turning to the smiling Holstaurs, who still stand there without a shred of modesty.
“She said she wanted to see what it was like to milk us, so we said, why not? We were a little a backed up anyway. She’s got some firm, yet soft hands. Feels really nice, though those nails did leave a few scratches.” She points to her chest, and you have to examine, you know, as not to be rude.
The other Holstaur sighs and thrusts her chest forward. “You interrupted her though, so maybe if you’re so inclined…” She waggles her breasts in invitation. Maybe… maybe just a little-
The barn door slams open behind you and you turn to see Saya standing there, tapping her foot with an annoyed expression on her face. You look between her and your hands, raised in position to grope Holstaur, and you groan before saying the most clichéd line in existence.
“It’s not what it looks like.”
Everything gets explained by David, and though you’re pretty sure Saya’s not seriously angry, she does still give you dirty looks every now and then, making dinner a pleasant, if awkward experience. This time the two Holstaurs from outside join in on the meal, apparently spurred on by Bethanie. Really only Ginelle seems embarrassed by their presence, something Clint takes advantage to rib her about, but she doesn’t get mad at the man, merely sighing and doing her best to eat in silence.
Overall, as everyone drifts off to sleep, you feel satisfied that things have come to the best conclusion they could. Your head still throbs from that illusion and you swear you can hear mooing, as if from a distance. You close your eyes sigh, thinking over everything you’ve heard today, worried about what Chalan is doing by driving Illusionists insane and then waiting for them to “mature.” Even worse, what did that mean for this supposed Illusionist in Saydinhold that was “ripe?” Groaning, you roll over in your makeshift bed and open your eyes.
Your breath catches in your throat as you find Abigail there, except she’s the size of a human teenager. All you can is move your mouth wordlessly as she smiles, glowing faintly before touching your nose and then kissing you, the sensation lasting far longer than before and, despite the warm flow of power, you have to pull away from her. You’re about to say something, but she’s suddenly gone, no longer before you, and you lay there, heart pounding furiously as a question you never seriously considered passes through your head.
Abigail is real… right?
>You Gain <Heart of Darkness>
>Double dipping into Dollara’s power, you feel the rogue Goddess’s affinity for darkness, and can become one with it.
>You can become invisible in darkness or very deep shadows at will and your <Battle Voice> trait is more effective at night and against Nocturnal Monsters.
Ahhh forget it, you can’t get to sleep.
All the thoughts of the day’s exertions just keep you awake, no matter how much you toss, turn, or count Sheep Girls. Well, the thoughts of Sheep Girls remind you of the Tucker farm and… it gets even harder to fall asleep.
Eventually you just sigh and crawl out from your makeshift bed, making certain that you don’t wake the others before heading outside to sit on the porch, staring off into the night sky. It’s still odd to you how bright things are out here. Some say that before the magitek revolution everything looked like this, but you were so young you can barely remember such a thing. Sighing, you lean back and fold your arms behind your head, feeling a sense of contentment when you hear the sound of the door creaking open slowly.
You turn your head to see Akela standing there, dressed in her little nightgown, her doll held in her hand. She gives you a curious look, her large ears twitching, and you shake your head, smiling wanly. “Ah, so you heard me, huh?”
She nods her head and says, “What are you doing out here? It can’t be overly comfortable.”
“Oh? Well, why don’t you try it out for yourself?” You make to pat your lap, but stop and shake your head, making room for her to sit. She gives you a grateful little smile before walking up and sitting down next to you, holding her little Wolf Girl up to her chest. You both sit in silence for a long while, looking off across the quiet fields, grass swaying gently.
“This isn’t so bad,” Akela says, still looking forward. “Seems a little boring, but it’s kind of relaxing.”
“Isn’t it? I still think you should go back to bed though. What would your mother say?”
“She’d blame it on you anyway. She’s not amused by your antics with Reina and Willamina.”
You blink a few times before coughing into your hand and looking away. “Uhm… right… Also, you shouldn’t uh…” You sigh and then look back at her, rubbing her head a little forcefully. “Bah, what am I going to do with you, you’re too smart.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so smart,” she says, looking down at her doll. You feel an infinite sadness as she says this, and you know that she’s referring to her past. Sighing, you touch your pocket and pause as you feel something there. Slowly, you pull out [Bearsy] and stare at the little bear, not recalling putting him in there. Ah, must have slipped your mind, but this is a great opportunity all the same.
“Hey, you know, I never asked what the name of your friend was,” you say, nodding to her little Wolf doll. You hold up [Bearsy] to her and say, “This is my little friend, [Bearsy]. Whenever I get a little sad I like to talk to him.”
Akela blinks and gently reaches over to take [Bearsy] from you, turning the small wooden bear over in her furred hand. She looks back up to you and says, “He’s a tiny, wooden bear.”
“Uh… yeah, he uh… he sure is,” you say, not really knowing how to respond to that appropriately. She looks back down at her doll before showing it to you, and you gingerly reach out. She hesitates for a moment before nodding her head and allowing you to take it, which you do with utmost caution, looking it over.
The doll obviously had seen better days, the fur looking worn from constant use and stains, and the left shoulder is frayed, cotton stuffing showing from within. Still, you smile and turn the Wolf toward Akela and say, “She’s rather pretty. What’s her name?”
Akela smiles and looks down, saying, “Shadya.”
“That is also a pretty name. Did you name her?”
Akela shakes her head and says, “No, my mommy did and…” She trails off then, her expression seeming to hang in mid-air for a moment before the neutral expression appears again and she reaches out for the doll. You sigh and hand Shadya back to her. She clutches the doll to her breast, hugging her for awhile before whispering, “I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I was like the other kids at the orphanage.”
You don’t bother feeling the sadness anymore and, before she can respond, you scoop her up into your arms, holding her tightly. She panics for a moment, tensing up before she finally relaxes and you feel her sniffle against your shoulder, wrapping her arms around you and crying into your chest. You hold her there, just stroking her head and whispering comforting words.
“Akela, don’t do this to yourself, you’re too precious to look so sad all the time.”
“But… but I can’t…”
You let her down, looking into her eyes as you say, full of sincerity, “Don’t say you can’t. You’re a Shady now, and we never say that we can’t do something. And if that doesn’t work, then you’re now related to the ruler of the Monsters. You’re not like the other children, no, you’re better.”
She sniffles and says, “Better…?”
You smirk. “Hells yes. Did the other children get to travel by leyway and meet all sort of interesting people?”
“W-well no, but…”
“Did the other children get the chance to meet the Monster Lady?”
“Well, no, but they also didn’t get abused by-“ she cuts off and narrows her eyes, but you just shake your head.
“They were all orphans, I bet things happened to them that we can’t imagine, and yet they ran about smiling and playing, hoping for a better tomorrow.” You look down and take a deep breath before saying, “Besides, I didn’t tell you this before, but I’ve suffered a loss myself, and shortly before I met you.”
She blinks in confusion before saying, “You… you too?”
You let her go and sigh, leaning back and saying, “Yeah. His name is Richard, and he’s my master.”
Akela frowns. “You speak of him as if he’s still present?”
“Yeah well, he’s alive, but… he’s not himself anymore.” You tap your forehead. “Fiora she… she drove him insane. He’s currently in a sort of stasis but… I don’t know, I always thought of him as a kind of father figure, perhaps the one I never really had.” Akela gives you a startled glance and you shake your head, “No, my parents are still alive, but we don’t see eye to eye on anything.”
Akela nods her head and closes her eyes. “I see.” She takes a deep breath before sighing out, “I guess I just got so wrapped up in the past that I forgot about things now, huh?”
You pat her head again before chuckling. “And you said that being smart was a bad thing. I think that your ability to think about these things and still be able to smile is one of your better traits.”
She smirks and pokes your chest. “You’re infectious, you know? Honestly, I see how you’re able to keep all these strange people together. That charisma of yours, you could probably get anyone to do anything.”
“Oh yeah, well want to go cow tipping?”
Akela stops, looking surprised for a moment. “I… what?”
“You know, cow tipping, where you go up to a sleeping cow and push them over. I hear it’s quite the pastime here in the country, though I’ve never done it before.”
You smirk. “Want to try?”
Akela gives you the strangest look ever before she slowly nods her head. “Yes. Yes I do.” You smile and stand, stretching before you go off to find a cow to tip, when Akela asks,
“Do you know how to tip a cow?”
“Damn kids,” David mumbles, coming back from his morning check of the farm. “Can’t believe they tipped three cows last night, even after all that happened.”
“Oh gosh,” you say over your breakfast lovingly provided by Bethanie. “That sounds serious.”
“Not overly, thankfully only one had any bruising, but they didn’t twist their stomachs, thank Solos.” He shakes his head.
“How fortunate,” Akela says in reply, looking utterly like a young child. “I hope whoever did it is sorry, those meanies.” Saya gives you a startled look at this before narrowing her eyes in suspicion, looking directly at you. You resist the urge to sweat bullets quiet admirably.
“Well anyway, it’s all fine now,” David says, digging into his own food. “So, where are you headed next?”
“Saydinhold,” you say, grateful for the distraction from Saya’s stare. “We have more… business to take care of.”
He nods and says, “Well, be sure to pick up some cheese from the general store before you go. I’m sure they’ll sell it to you at a low price after what you did.” He winks. “It’s a town specialty.”
“We’ll be sure to do that. Thank you again for everything, I mean it.”
“Ah well, if you every find your way here again, you have friends.” Bethanie says, chuckling. “Now then, you better be on your way as not to miss your leyway. I’ll handle the dishes.”
With that, all of you finish your meals before packing up, saying some final farewells, and heading back into town. True to your word, you pick up some wonderful cheeses from the general store, as well as some dried beef, and wonder if there would be a nice wine option on the ride to sample them to. The leyway pulls into station around noon, and you all pile into the small cars, getting settled.
As you sit there, the landscape rolling by on your way back through Indin to Saydinhold, everyone else has gone back to sleep for a nap while Saya is pointedly not talking to you. You figure it’s best to let her have her space, and you pull out your [Port-o-Glass] to fire it up, connecting into the leyline under you.
Almost as soon as it powers up and you access your ley-mail, you get a message saying,
“You haven’t been checking this.”