Stranger In a Strange Land arc one

Archive of original threads: first, second. alts: first, second


    You awake with your head ringing horribly and your eyes blurry. You shake yourself, trying to bring coherent thoughts to your mind. You try to wipe the water from your face but find your hands tied behind your back. Your back is to a tree, sitting you up facing a campfire. You stare at the gently burning fire as blurry shapes meander around, painting black shadows on the surrounding treeline as the flames dance with flickering orange and red lights. The people around the fire, about fifteen of them, bark orders at each other as they move objects around the fire and begin setting up camp. You look to the sky to see the sky quickly changing from a bright orange to a deep purple. You shiver as a cold wind blows through you. Your jeans and t-shirt offer very little protection against the elements. You sigh with relief as your vision clears, but it does little to put you at ease. Your limbs are bound and your mouth is covered. You look to your side to see two more people, both of them seem to be awake but have vacant looks as their hollow, lifeless eyes stare at their own feet.
      You shift and fight against the restraints, trying to get them loose. You frown as you realise the futility in it, struggling only makes the binds tighter. You close your eyes and lean back as you try to remember what happened that led up to this. You are quickly torn from your thoughts as the sound of a charging horse fills your ears. You look to your left just as an armored blur bursts from the tree line followed by a few other people. You stare in awe as a horseback mounted knight runs through a man with a lance. Another man leaps from the shadows and quickly lets two arrows fly, striking the chests of two different rogues squarely. A man on foot wearing heavy armor shouts an incantation and creeping purple tendrils spring from his shadow cast by the fire, coiling three men as he takes his mace to the head of another. A strange looking woman flicks her wrist and lets loose a bluish green bolt of energy into another man before springing two glowing blades from her wrists and diving into the fray. A grey robed old man slowly hobbles from the tree line and raises his staff, letting a blast of white energy loose, washing over everyone nearby. As it washes over you, you feel the air painfully torn from your lungs making you cough and sputter horribly. The rogues suffer the same fate, easily taken down by the others in hand to hand combat.
    The five seeming to be heroes slowly check over the remains of the rogues, “Tie them up,” The horse mounted woman instructs as she removes her helmet. You note something odd about her but cannot place your finger on it in this dark night.
    Another woman that you did not see before is looking at the other tied up people and checking them over, “Rose!” The hemled man called, “Is aught amiss?”
    “No!” The woman wore a dark colored cloak. She put the hood down to reveal her grey hair and round ears on the top of her head. They twitch as you stare at her, still breathing heavily as we try to catch your breath, “We have two people... Oh, three people here,” A tail seemed to flick back and forth behind her. A frown spreads across her lips as she gently shakes one of the dead staring people. 
    You glance at the old man as he approaches the young woman, “Do not cry for them, Rose. We will do all we can for them.”
    “I know,” She sighs as she turns to you, “I just wish this didn’t happen at all,” She put her hand on your arm and shook it gently. You blink at her with confusion on your face as you quickly begin to realise you have no idea where you are or how you got here. She stares at you in disbelief before pulling a knife out and reaching towards you with another hand. You pull away, fearful of what she plans to do, “Let me cut that gag off of you. Please,” She pleads with you, a strange wonder in her eyes.
    The old man steps towards you and leans on his staff, “Is he...?” He taps the staff on the ground making the tip glow a bright white light.
    The woman gently and carefully cuts the rope from your mouth. You pant as you still try to recover from being forcefully winded. You blink hard as the bright light is brought close to your face, “Can you talk?” The woman asks, “What’s your name?”
    You blink at her, your mouth forming into different shapes as you try to bring a name, anything to your mind, “C-Curtis...” You stumble over your words as you try to come up with something. 
    “Let me cut those restraints, Curtis,” The young woman excitedly squeaks at you as you turn and show her the ropes holding you in place. 
    “My name is Arthur Maximillion and this is my companion, Rose Summerfield,” The old man introduces himself slowly as Rose cuts you free, “Can you remember anything?” The two reach down and pull you to your feet as you wrack your brain.

PT2

    As you continue trying to recall what happened, wanting to tell them the truth, the weight of everything just crashes down on you. You just watched a group of people get butchered by magic users and a centaur. You begin to shake nervously as you continue to draw a blank, “D-did you kill those people?” Is all you manage to squeak out as the two give concerned glances to each other.
     “Oh!” Arthur looks taken aback, “Heavens no! We do our best to take down nonlethally. Our techniques with magic and enchanted weapons assures that... Almost no one perishes. Although it seems that our friend Joan stabbed two men through the chest with a lance, they will live,” That did very little to soothe your worries after that display of force and violence.
    “Arthur, what do we do?” Rose whimpers, “We’ve never had a live one,” The two start speaking to each other as you start breathing heavily as a panic sets in.
    “The same we do for the others; anything we can.”
    You maintain a shred of composure, “A-are you a wizard? A real wizard?” You turn to Rose, “A-and what are you? I-Is that lady a centaur?”
    “Curtis,” Arthur speaks slowly, trying to keep you from having a meltdown, “I know where you come from does not have magic or monster girls, but I need you to stay calm.”
    You continue panicking and babbling incoherently until something in you snaps, “I’m dreaming,” You declare with a small chuckle, “Musta got drunk as hell last night and passed out. Or did I smoke a ton and forget it? Or if I did get hit by a truck I must be in a coma!” You continue cackling like a madman, “This... CAN’T be real!” You continue to assure yourself.
    “A ‘truck’?” Rose echoed you in confusion, “You mean a ‘trunk’? Did someone drop a trunk on you?”
    “A dream. If only,” Arthur sighed, “Rael! Come over here!” The wizard called out. The armored man approached followed by the strange looking woman, “Could you use a calming spell on him?”
    “What? No!” Rose protests.
    Rael removes his helmet as he approaches, “I thought you said there was nothing amiss?” He was a large, bulky man in dull grey armor that seems to have been painted purple on a few occasions but the paint had been chipped off numerous times. A large purple eye had been painted on the breast plate. You are slightly shocked as you look at his face. No hair or eyebrows, instead this man, Rael, was covered with dulled lightning scars. The shapes weren’t random, instead they seem to form into shapes, runes and letters. You can’t decipher any of them, “Ah, who is this? Another slaver?” His hand slowly creeps towards the black onyx mace as his slightly glowing purple eyes blink slowly at you.
    “Leave him alone!” Rose pokes a finger at the large stoney faced man, “He’s just scared and confused,” You notice that Rose has the same colored eyes.
    “Let him do whatever he wants,” You shrug, “This isn’t real anyways. I should wake up soon,” You nod as you start desperately attempting to will yourself to awaken soon. Arthur makes a concerned face but does nothing to stop the man while Rose continues to protest.
    Rael nods as he removes one of his gauntlets. His lightning scars glow a slight purple as he begins to murmur to himself. You watch smugly as he jabs two fingers into your chest as his volume rises. The purple light transfers into you as his words increase in volume, “Dad!” Rose shouts, grabs his other arm and starts tugging on it.
    You fall onto your rear as the feeling of chilling, moist tentacles creeps into your mind. Rael cuts his chanting short as Rose continues to berate him on his use of magic. He puts his gauntlet back on and walks away, Rose chasing him, “Query: are you well?” A digital, robotic voice asks in an oddly calming voice as a helping hand is offered.
    You look up at the strange woman. Her skin is a ghostly pale and her hair is a platinum color. She wears no more than a simple black leotard. She has a small shoulder mounted flashlight trained on you. Her eyes are a blueish green that stare at you with a blank expression. You sniffle a little bit as you hug your legs into your chest, “I want to go home. I just want to wake up in bed and pretend none of this happened. I want to wake up from this nightmare.”
    “Encouragement: do not cry,” She offers you a soft reassuring smile, “Rise up and face the trials before you.”
    Even though you DO feel like crying, the strange woman’s tone and smile did much to comfort you. You reach up and take hold of her hand but quickly pull away as you feel the stange, rubbery texture of her hand. She frowns sadly at you before you try again. The warm, rubbery, fake skin seems to be covering some kind of hard, tough plastic or polymer, “Thank you,” You mumble at her as she pulls you to your feet.
    “Are you starting to remember anything?” Arthur asked you, still focused on business.
    You shake your head slowly, “I might have been hit by a truck before waking up here. But that might be wrong, I don’t feel like my bones are shattered.”
    The wizard stroked his long dark grey beard, “Mayhaps something will come to you. Tilde, could you do a quick physical check up on him?”
    Wordlessly, her hand opens up and slowly changes form to a blueish green glowing light coming out of her wrist. She grabs your wrist gently and firmly and runs the cold light over your arm, “Analysis: I detect no injuries so far,” She murmurs emotionlessly as she does the same to your other arm, “I doubt he was struck by a large force. Limbs break easily.” 
    “Arthur. We need to move soon,” The centaur had somehow silently snuck up on you, startling you with her commanding voice. You stare up at her, probably more than seven feet tall. Her armor shined and inlaid with equally shiny gold. You glance at her weapons, two swords on her left hip, one on her right and a lance strapped to her back, “This is the live Other Sider?”
    “Declaration: Yes. Note: his biological signatures are quite different to anything I have examined,” Tilde mutters, “But still completely human, of course. Humor: perhaps more human than Arthur or Rael,” She breaks into a small smile as the ‘humor’ fails to land.
    “No matter,” The centaur brushes it off, “My name is Lady Joan Orwell. You would do well to remember it. Arthur, again, the guard is on their way. You know how I detest them. Eric is bringing the cart over now to load up our spoils,” Her long blonde hair falls gracefully over her shoulders as she speaks haughtily to the wizard. She stomps off leaving you alone with the wizard and robot.
    “Analysis complete: no major injuries,” Tilde announces, “I do detect liquor in his system and a blow to the back of his head. Recommended treatment: subject seems to not be in any pain. No treatment necessary. Comment: although his biological signatures are strange, he may not be from the Other Side and is merely a normal human male dressed in Other Side clothes to be sold for a much price amount after being magically inflicted with amnesia.”
    Arthur shook his head, “I have a good feeling about this one, Tilde.”
    “When I touched his mind, I saw strange and fascinating memories,” Rael shudders as he rejoins the group. Rose stands right next to him, “Thoughts and visions I never could come up with in my wildest dreams.”
    “Eric is here, pack up!” Joan commands as a slim horse drawn wagon is brought near your location. You watch Rose and Tilde help up the other two captured people and carefully move them into the back of the wagon. You look at the man driving the wagon as he nods at you. He has short brown hair and was in light armor, a combination of chain and leather. 
You watch in a dazed stupor as a box is placed in the back, “Stuff from your world,” Rose smiles at you, “Come on, I gotta load you in. Standard procedure. Or... I can get my dad to force you in.”
    You shudder as you recall the magic Rael used on you to probe your mind. You choose to comply as she and the driver help you onto a small wooden seat, “Curtis, right? Eric, nice to meet you,” The driver somewhat forcibly shakes your hand, “I’m sure things are a little scary for you right now, if you wanna know something, just let me know. We’ve got a bit of a ride until we get back to Goldcrest.”
    You watch the team of six congratulate each other on a job well done. Arthur is seated across from you Tilde and Joan walk, one on each side of the cart with Rael and Rose bantering back and forth behind the cart.

    You are full of questions, even if your nerves are getting the better of you, you decide it would be best to get answers now. You shiver and speak up, “Where am I?” You ask no one in particular.
    Arthur seems to sigh with relief as he happily starts lecturing you, “We are in the forest outside of Goldcrest. We refer to it simply as the Other Woods,” He chuckled at his own joke, “On account of its connection to your world. We cannot explain why, but we do know before the cataclysm it was inhabited by wild elves.”
“Do not speak of their heretical rituals!” Rael barks from the back, “I had to deal with them in the past, remember?”
“I understand, Rael and I mean no disrespect to you. I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge regarding the Other Side. I am potentially sitting in front of an encyclopedia here!” 
“Go easy on him, Arthur. He already has to process a lot tonight. He does not need this added stress,” Rose shakes her head at the wizard.
    “Can I know more generally where I am?” You ask.
    “Well, the continent is referred to as Orcadia. We are not truly in a country as Goldcrest is part of a loose coalition of city states. We sometimes just call ourselves the United Coalition. To the east is the human controlled kingdom of Sebastian the Fourth, named for the current ruler. To the west is land controlled by various monster girl lords. They change ownership near constantly because of their strange politics. The frigid north is controlled by dragons and to the southern sea, pirates.”
    You sigh as you are told all this. You wish you had a pen and paper, “Okay. ‘’when’’ am I?”
    Tilde speaks up, “The current time is--”
    “Tilde, he wants to know the year,” Joan speaks over Tilde, interrupting her, “It is the year of our lord, the second century plus 37 after the cataclysm.”
    If that lady was not a horse-woman, you would assume this was some crazy roleplay, “My next question is ‘’what’’ are you people? I know you’re a wizard, Arthur, but I have no idea about anyone else.”
    “Miss Lady Joan Orwell is a knight. Centaur knight,” Eric answers for her, “Rose is what is usually referred to as a large mouse. I just call her an’ her mom ‘mousey girl.’”
    Tilde’s voice whirrs to life, “Designation: generation three unit automaton. I am called Tilde by this group. I am unable to remember my previous use. Additional humor: Just like you.”
    Arthur clears his throat, “I am a wizard focused on defensive magics and a few tricks and charms.”
    You look to Rael to ask him about his magic but think better of it as he glares at you with his ominous purple eyes. Arthur clears his throat again as he skims a large book, “Any other questions?”
You shake your head. You already have a lot to take in. You close your eyes and lean back as much as you can against the uncomfortable wood. You listen to the hooting of owls and the light chatter of the people around you as the light of the moon beams down. You wonder what time it is as a wave of exhaustion washes over you, “Tired?” Eric asks with a small smile, “You look cold too. Anyone find a coat for him?”
    “Declaration: The brown, fake wool lined coat with a hood was examined earlier and carries hair that matches his,” Tilde calls from her spot behind you.
    Rose jumps up on the back of the wagon and starts going through the box before tossing you a coat. You run your hands over the worn, familiar fabric before stuffing your arms through the sleeves. The long coat has four pockets on the front fastened with velcro. You hope to find some kind of identification or anything in those pockets, unfortunately the only thing you find is an old receipt to a convenience store. You got a soda and some snacks but you’re not even sure how long ago that was. A few days? Weeks? Could have even been years ago even. You suppose that anything is possible with the use of magic.
    Joan clears her throat, “Eric, that was some wonderful marksmanship,” She spoke to the archer with reverence. 
    “Ya took out way more of ‘em with yar quick footwork and amazing swordsmanship,” Eric bashfully praises the already smug and proud centaur. 
    “Oh, thank you. You are too kind with your praise,” She fumbles with her helmet for a few moments as she blushes. The helmet is adorned with two large gold horns on the sides pointed towards the front and a full, chilling face cover modeled after some kind of grotesque monster. 
    “When am I gonna get that sword training, Lady Joan?” Rose asks as she hangs off the back off the cart.
    “When your parents give me the go ahead,” Joan huffs as her face turns from a shy smile to a hardened, uncaring stare off into the woods.
    “Dad?” She excitedly turns to Rael.
    “Your mother is already opposed to you being in the field,” Rael sighs, “Training you and putting you on the front lines would only upset her more.”
    “But I’m ready! I’m--”
    “Take it up with your mother,” Rael quickly shuts down the conversation. Rose makes the typical teenager or young adult back of the throat scoff.
    You smile a little bit, despite her animal-like features, she’s still human. You wouldn’t hesitate to call her cute either. You can easily call Joan attractive too, a very pretty and proud woman. Lastly, Tilde, with her strange otherworldly and slightly mechanical beauty, “Are you feeling any better, Curtis?” Arthur asks slowly. You nod slightly, still exhausted, “Rest all you need to. We will make sure you do not fall out of the cart.”
    “Humor: If you do manage to fall out, I will leave you on the ground,” Tilde gives you a tiny smile, “Further humor: or would you prefer a bridal or princess carry?”
    “Now ya just embarrassin’ him!” Eric laughs.
    You further pull your coat around you, just wanting to sleep now.

    You blink awake as Rose gently shakes your shoulder, “C’mon, we’re here.”
    “Where?” You grunt as you zip your coat up further.
    “Goldcrest, silly. Come on, mom is gonna want to see you,” She offers you a hand as you look to your side. Tilde and Rael are helping the other two people inside of a large brick building. Arthur is missing as well as the box of things they took from the camp. Eric gives you a nod as you disembark before tugging the reins of his horse. The cart slowly wheels away with Joan following close behind. 
    You are led into a warm home. The main room had a small primitive kitchen, a few lounge seats and a round dining table with four chairs all lit up by a roaring fireplace and a few candles. A woman with the same monstrous features as Rose, long grey hair and green eyes is chastising Rael, “...What if that sword had gone through your armor?” She points a finger in his face as she worredly scolded him. She is wearing a brown thick dress with an apron.
    “My faith and hate are my shield, darling,” He reassured her with a small smile, “I am glad to see you too,” He leans down to put his face on her level as she offers him a kiss.
    “I am just afraid you will NOT come home one day, Rael,” She sighs, “Take those two to the back and put them on the bed. I will tend to them shortly. Thank you Tilde, I am sure you will be more gentle with them than my husband.”
    “Mom! Mom! Look!” Rose proudly presents you to the older woman, “This is the third one! The sleepy one!”
    The woman slowly approaches you, “Is he... Responsive?”
    “Complete diagnosis--” Tilde announces as she reenters the room.
    “Give me the short version.”
    The robotic woman nods, “Affirmative. Condensed diagnosis of subject: Curtis, unknown last name. No injuries besides a bruise on the back of his head. Apparent amnesia. Fully responsive despite not talking for the last hour, 24 minutes. Has a benign cyst on his left thigh. I recommend a full night's sleep for him.”
    “Thank you, Tilde. Come here, dear, let me take a look at you,” She waves you over with a gentle smile. Despite the alien surroundings, this was the most comfortable you had felt your entire night here. You nervously take a few steps towards the woman she takes a hold of your arm and performs a quick check up on you, “How are you feeling?” She asks as she looks at your eyes.
    “Fine,” You reply quietly. 
    “Well, I am glad to hear it. How about we get you a nice warm meal and a soft bed, hm?”
    “Mom, you never introduced yourself,” Rose chuckles.
    “Oh! My name is Emma Summerfield. It is a pleasure to meet you Curtis. Come on, come sit down until your late dinner is ready. Rael! What is taking you so long!” Emma called into the back room.
    Rael finally emerged with his armor removed and a smaller girl in his arms, “I prepared the Other Siders and put them into their bunks for you. I also found this one poking around back there.”
    “Yda! What are you doing?” Emma scolded the small child, “That is no place to play.”
    “I wanted to see the people,” The tiny girl squeaks. She was nearly identical to Rose with grey hair and glistening purple eyes, “I want to help them like mommy.”
    “I know sweetie. You can help them when you are older. Come sit down for dinner, we have a guest.”
    The small child stares at you with wide eyes, “Is he like them?”
    “Yes, dear. You can help him by cleaning the table.”
    The small mouse girl gets right to work and grabs a cloth. She wipes down the table after dunking the cloth in a bucket of soapy water. As the child finishes you take a seat shortly before the motherly Emma brings you a bowl of soup. Rael and Rose quickly take their own seats as their rumbling bellies start to cry out for food. You realise just how hungry you really were as you take the first few bites of beef and vegetable stew. Rael and Rose do the same thing as Emma and Yda pull up chairs to eat, “Curtis can I ask you something?” Rose turns to you as you stuff another spoonful of food into your mouth, “You can ask us anything in return,” You nod, “How old are you?”

PT4

Everyone at the table seems shocked when you announce your age, “I thought you were much older than that!” Rose laughs, “I guess the lighting and your sad look made you look a lot older! Turns out you are only just a tiny bit older than me.”
    Tilde whirrs to life, “Statement: my assumed age was wrong as well.”
    “Did you have any questions for us?” Emma asks.
You nod, “Yeah. I do have a question for you, Emma. What is it you do here? What happens to those people now?”    Emma gives you a small smile, “Well, without proper care these people tend to expire within the week. Here, I feed and clothe them, keeping them alive until we can find some way to cure their stupor. Rael and Rose help pay the bills with their dangerous profession,” She frowns and speaks quietly and sadly, “Sometimes they still expire, no matter what we do. Food, water, warmth and magic. None of it saves them.”
    “But how and why do people come here?” You ask, “Is this all just random?”
    “Perhaps that is a question for Mr. Maximillion.”
    Rael shook his head, “We know very little about why this happens to people that come through.”
    “Arthur has a TON of theories,” Rose groans, “He could talk your ear off about it. You’ll have the chance to talk to him tomorrow.”
    “It is a good thing he is not here tonight,” Emma chuckles, “He probably would have put you to sleep with his constant blathering. He would have been so offended.”
    “Arthur is funny,” Yda giggles as she finishes her food.
You smile at the small child before yawning with drooping eyes, “Recommendation: You require sleep, Curtis. A young man needs roughly eight hours of sleep,” Tilde pleads, “You may sleep in the room that the Summerfields have given to me.”
    “But I have questions for you too, Tilde,” You frown.
    “Compromise: Get in bed and I will lull you to sleep with my answers,” She grips one of your shoulders as if you were going to run. You yawn again and slowly nod causing her strong grip loosens slowly, “Offer: I will keep my eyes on him tonight. If I learn anything I will be sure to relay it to you both, Emma and Rael.”
    “Thank you, Tilde,” Emma smiles at her.
    As you finish the last of your meal, you feel the food coma coming on fast. You stumble as you stand, “Thank you for the meal,” You thank the kind woman.
    “You are very welcome, dear. Sleep well.”
    Tilda nearly carries you into the back and to a small room with not much more than a bed and chair. Tilde lets you go as she sits you on the edge of the small bed. She draws the curtains closed and takes a seat on the chair, “Query: You had questions for me?”
    “I just want to know more about you. You are the outlier here. The rest of the group makes sense to me, but you’re an honest to god robot,” You strip down and crawl beneath the sheets.
    Tilde shuts off her shoulder light and looks at you. Her eyes glow softly in the dark, “Restatement: I am, seemingly, a generation three automaton. My given designation or title is Tilde.”
    “What kind of uses do you have? You said you cannot remember your previous use, right?”
    “Confirmation: I cannot remember my previous use. I am equipped with a ranged stun weapon as well as wrist mounted stunning blades for combat. Other equipment: Front mounted eye sensors with one to twelve times zoom function. I also have various forms of medical sensors. You became acquainted with them earlier today.”
    “You really remember nothing?”
    “Humor: Just like you. Correction: I do remember when I was awoken by this small group of heroes. I was in a small, long forgotten temple. I had been brushed aside into a corner when they found me, reclaimed by vines and dirt. With a tiny bit of work and full charge, they managed to get me up and running.”
    You smile, “I’d ask why you talk like that, but I’m sure its just because you were built like that.”
    “Affirmative.”
    You frown, “Well, thank you,” It wasn’t a lot of information, but having someone in a similar situation to you was a little comforting. You let your head hit the pillow, just hoping to get a good night's sleep.

    You awaken in a purple grass field. You are lying on your back with the strange grass stretches up towards the deep crimson moon around you as it gently brushes your face. The sky is a black void with no stars. You sit up slowly and glance around. Thick purple trees surround you, seemingly corralling you to go a specific direction. With nothing else to do, you walk. A sense of dread washes over you as you near a large stone structure. The crimson moon paints it a macabre red as you spot the depictions of skulls and demons on the rocks. Your heart begins to beat faster as you get close to the front of the structure. 

    You wake up suddenly, the dream quickly fading but the vision of that structure remains. Sunlight streams through the window covering the room in a pleasant yellow light. You shiver from the dream you had, “Query: Pleasant dreams?” Tilde violently shudders as she whirrs to life. Her hands and limbs all seem to check if they’re still functional, “You had an increased heart rate for a large portion of your slumber.”
    You shake your head, “H-had a weird dream. It was--” 
    “Recommendation: Speak to someone who can dream about it,” She gives you a small smile as she stands up, a jet of steam being shot out of one of her knee joints.
    “Is that normal?”
    “Affirmative. Explanation: The joints get a little stiff when I sit for a long time.”
    “Is he up?” Emma pokes her head into the room and smiles at you, “I brought you some clothes, Curtis. Something a little more common will not raise too many eyebrows.”
    You look at the stack of clothes she brought you. A cream colored tunic, plain brown cloth pants, a brown leather belt and thick leather boots, “Thank you. I have to give up my coat, huh?”
    “You should be fine with one article of Other Worldly clothes. It is not uncommon for people to wear shirts and pants from your world.”
    You nod and hesitantly hand over your shoes, shirt and pants. You keep the socks, no one should be able to see it under your pants and boots anyways. 

    You emerge from the washroom feeling refreshed. Your body and mind feel incredibly clean. With a clear head, you take a seat at the dining room table. You are quickly served a breakfast of scrambled eggs with a light amount of chopped peppers and other vegetables by Rose, “Eat up. Today might be a bit long,” She orders as she takes a seat next to you, “Arthur is most definitely going to be grilling you today.”
    “About what?” You ask between voracious bites.
    “Anything he can! He wants to know so much from you! Dad! Your breakfast is still in the pan!”
    Rael is wearing a purple tunic with a bronze candle embroidered onto it, “Thank you, Rose.”
    You watch the scar covered man eat for a few moments before returning to your own meal. Your stomach is full and your head is somewhat clear, albeit quite empty. Its a wonder that your own first name managed to come back to you in the first place, “Ready to go?” Rose’s question pulls you from your thoughts.
    “Yeah,” You nod.
    Emma sees you, Rael, Rose and Tilde off, “Keep an eye on him for me Tilde,” The robot nods as the woman hugs her daughter and kisses her husband on the cheek.
    You walk to Arthur’s residence through the bustling town of Goldcrest. The city had been built in the shadow of a decently sized mountain with numerous buildings jutting out of the side of it. You find yourself at the center of attention as the townsfolk part ways for the heroes. You walk side by side with the stony faced Tilde while the father and daughter chat quietly and bid hellos to the people that greet them just as warmly. You can hear whispers in the air over the general chatter of the people, “Who is that young man?”
    “The newest hero?”
    “Too scrawny to be a warrior.”
    “Another wizard?”
    “Perhaps.”
    You ignore the chatter as you pass through the center of town. The number of wooden stalls and stone buildings begins to thin out as you get closer to the mountain. The calls of ‘Heroes! Come buy my produce!’ no longer reaches your ears. You arrive at a stone tower with a large round base and a heavy iron door. Rael and Rose stand to the sides of the door as Tilde approaches it and loudly knocks. The door is shortly opened by a familiar old man, “Welcome! Welcome, friends!” Arthur happily greets your small party.
    “Good morning, Arthur,” Rael nods as he steps inside.
    Rose quickly follows, “Morning,” with Tilde silently following behind.
    “Will you come in?” Arthur asks you, rousing you from your stupor.
    “Yeah, thanks. Morning,” You shake yourself as you enter the room. You are led through a small first room and past another iron door into a windowless room with magical lights keeping it bright. You look around at the wooden tables with cloth over them. The tables are littered with things, things that are common and normal to you. But to these people, they are strange and fascinating things. Other World items of various kinds. You approach a table and pick up a calculator that still works.
    “Curtis, do you see anything you recognize?” Arthur asks timidly.
    “Pretty much everything,” You nod as you pick up a board game and take a peek at the insides.
    “Is there anything that jumps out at you? Perhaps from what we recovered last night?”
    Arthur leads you to a table with multiple things on it. Even as you draw near, one thing jumps out at you. You startle everyone in the room as you scramble to grab it and remember what you used to be.

PT5

    You start to remember. You unzip the case and open it up.  Various screwdrivers of multiple sizes in both flathead and phillips. Wire cutters, pliers, scizzors, an adjustable wrench, allen wrench set, a box knife, wire stripper, a few kinds of pliers, a sautering iron and a digital multimeter. You smile with relief as you find something that is reminding you of home, “Curtis?” Arthur quietly calls out to you, “Do you remember something?”
    You nod as you zip the case back up, “I remember a few things, I think. I work-- worked as a sort of repairman. I remember working on a lot of electronics like computers and phones,” You look up to see blank looks on everyone's faces.
    “Interesting. Feel free to look through the rest of these things and see if any of it is yours.”
    You nod gratefully and poke through the objects in front of you. Rose joins you to pick through the various items. Eric and Joan stand idly off to the side, polishing and sharpening their weapons. Arthur watches you intently as if he might learn something from you. Tilde and Rael are both nearby, standing behind you as they do their own things. You pick up a cell phone and turn it on. Surprisingly, the screen lights up a bright white. You would have expected it to be dead by now. Arthur excitedly takes some notes, “How did you do that?” Rose asks as she picks up another phone. 
    “Hold down that button on the side,” You instruct.
    “Ooooh!” She grins as the screen lights up. She picks up another phone and turns it on too.
    You turn back to the phone in your hands. It feels so familiar yet strange to you. As the phone asks you for a password, you draw a blank. You shake your head and put it in one of your coat pockets, “Is that one yours?” Arthur asks.
    “Yeah. Well, I assume it is. It just feels right.”
    “Hey! Look at this!” Rose holds up a leather wallet she had flipped open. You glance over and frown, unsure who that on the driver's license picture was. Rose holds back laughter, “Its you, Curtis. Curtis Bradley. You look a lot younger.”
    “I got it when I had just turned 18, I think,” You gently take the wallet out of her hands and start going through the various plastic debit and credit cards.
    “That is one mystery solved,” Arthur chuckles.
    You keep going through things and pull out a few more familiar objects: a pocket knife, a charger for the phone, earbuds, and a key ring. You nod with satisfaction as you put everything into your pockets, “You wanted to talk to Arthur, right, Curtis?” Rose prods you.
    “Oh, yeah. I wanted to know how people come here. I’m assuming I’ll be stuck here for a while,” You take a seat next to the wizard. 
    “Of course I will answer any questions you have. As for how you came here, we are not entirely sure how it happens. The magic used was long thought to have been lost to time or destroyed, but recently there has been a resurgence of objects being torn from your world. Ever since the cataclysm all those years ago, our worlds have been connected. The Demon Lord at the time was attempting to cut through the dimensions to reach your world to take it over and gain more power. The resulting battles nearly killed both worlds. The Demon Lord was defeated and we began to rebuild. A new Demon Lord stepped up to the throne after a few years. A succubus that turned a portion of the monsters into the kind of monsters you see before you, monster girls.”
    “So cataclysm, new big demon, got it.”
    Rael stepped into the conversation, “The magics that connect the worlds together were considered highly heretical. Organisations were created to stomp out all traces of the spells. We did not want another cataclysm.”
    Joan cleared her throat, “Roughly 200 years ago, the Grand Maou, or Demon Lord, her power spent trying to mend the world and the hearts of those on it, vanished. Since then, her daughters and their daughters have been squabbling amongst each other for the throne. Whoever is on the throne has the ability to exert their will over all monsters. Not every monster has the power within them to sit upon the throne. Some are getting worried. Without a Maou, all of monster kind, both the bestial dangerous ones and the noble monster girls are aimless. Most will listen to none other than the Maou.”
    “And that brings us to today,” Arthur takes the spotlight once more, “Recently, the magic to tear rifts between dimensions has come back. For years there have been items and people falling from your world into this one somewhat naturally. But now, there are spells and scrolls that rogues have been equipped with to open rifts in strategic locations such as the woods around here to pull items through and deliver it to whoever is supplying them with the spell scrolls.”
    Rael grunts angrily, “We cannot find these people making the scrolls. We know next to nothing about them. They are smart and only give these lackeys a tiny bit of information. We get the drop points from them and we go but their employers never show.”
    “But why do these people do it? I don’t understand,” You ask as you shake your head.
    “People pay high amounts of money for the items and people that are pulled through forcefully. Some Seers have seen horrible and awesome weapons. These people desire those weapons,” Rael scratches his chin and glances at Arthur. The wizard nods, giving the man the go ahead, “Slaves as well. The Other Worldly people that come through, the ones that are in a constant stupor are easily manipulated to do one’s bidding.”
    Rose frowns, “Some desperate monster girls will have them pulled through to act as their husbands. Usually when the men are pumped with enough mamano mana they will grow a ‘perfect’ personality for their wives and come out of the stupor. They never remember anything of the Other Side, unfortunately.”
    “Mamano mana?” You echo, confused.
    “Monster girls have mana, they infuse it with their husbands through...” Rose leans in close, “SEX,” She whispers loudly, “and that mana can cause changes in their men. On the opposite side, humans have spirit energy and that has the same effects. Some monsters feed exclusively on spirit energy.”
    “You said the Demon Lord was a succubus? I guess that makes sense with the sex stuff,” You shake your head, completely bewildered, “I need some time to process all of that.”
    Arthur nods, “Of course. Feel free to peruse the objects we have collected. I would be incredibly happy if you would describe the use of anything to me.”
    You nod and get up. You rub your eyes and stand, taking your little kit of tools with you. You run your hand over dusty microwaves, broken screens and empty DVD cases. Nothing of value to you. You raise your eyebrows as you find an RC car. A red plastic bodied battery operated car, “Looks like a pretty expensive model,” You mutter to yourself.
    “Query,” Tilde’s sudden appearance makes you shudder, “do you know what that is?”
    “Remote controlled car. I just need the controller,” You get up and start looking. Computer parts lie in a soggy cardboard box, unopened cans of Coca Cola sit undisturbed and most likely expired and a binder chockfull of Pokemon cards makes you frown for just a moment. You stop dead as you spot something silver and black labeled ‘DO NOT TOUCH.’ A gun. Specifically a revolver with a black grip. You pick it up, noting the burn marks and hole in the wooden table. 
    Tilde puts a firm hand on your wrist, “Recommendation: I would advise against touching that device,” She spoke in a threatening tone.
    “I’m just taking the ammo out,” You flip the wheel out. Five .38 Special rounds are in the gun. You tilt it back, Tilde’s hand still on your wrist as you tap out the rounds. One round had been shot, presumably into the table, “See? I know what I’m doing.”
    “Apologies: I did not know. I apologize for my tone with you.”
    “Its fine,” You give her a small smile.
    Arthur pokes his head over his book, “Anything interesting? Can you tell me what that is?”
    “Some kind of .38 special revolver. I think its an old detective revolver,” You reply but Arthur only gives you a blank look, “Its a gun. Kills people.”
    “Recommendation: Mayhaps it would be beneficial for you to hold onto it? You are the most knowledgeable of this group on the operation and safety of such weapons,” Tilde carefully picks up the empty casing and examines it.
    “Wouldn’t want Joan to use that on anyone!” Eric laughs as the centaur’s face lights up bright red.
    Arthur nods, “Perhaps it could help you if someone attempts to abscond with you.”
    Joan scoffs, “Of course, we would not want someone to steal our precious little Other Sider.”
    “Do you wish to recommend something else, Joan?” Rael shakes his head, “I do not wish for anyone to be taken into the custody of those people. The less knowledge and power they gain in the shadows, the better. I stand by Arthur and Tilde’s judgement.”
    “Those opposed?” Joan asks as she raises a hand, “What is to keep Curtis from turning it on us? We know nothing of this man! He could be a spy!”
    “That is why I touched his mind when we first met,” Rael folds his arms and puts down his small leather journal, “I had the same fears. But we have no need to fret over that as those thoughts would have been at the very surface of his mind. I saw very little other than the sensation of primal fear and terror. A man alone and afraid.”
    Joan continues her argument, “But he could have been--”
    “Stop!” Eric suddenly shouts over the squalor making everyone cease, “I will not allow my team to bicker over this! No matter why or how Curtis came to be here, we will do our best to help him. That is why we are all here, right?”
    After a short pause, Rael speaks up, “Aye.”
    “Correct,” Joan brushes her meticulously curled blonde hair over her shoulder.
    “Affirmative,” Tilde’s motors whirl to life as she nods.
    “Verily, my friend,” Arthur lets out a small smile.
    “Right!” Rose pumps her fist. 
    Eyes turn to you expectantly, “Uh, yeah,” You hardly manage to squeak out.
    Eric clears his throat, “I’ve been mullin’ it over a bit, and I guess we should formally induct you into the team,” He glances at Joan, “And we should put it up to a vote. I know you aren’t an adventurer, and its wholly unlikely that you have the stuff heroes are made out of. But you have skills none of us could dream of that may be helpful in the trials to come. All in favor of putting Curtis on the team? At least until we can find a better place for him?” Eric raises his hand. Arthur’s hand shoots straight up without explanation.
    “As much as I wish to keep you out of harm’s way, Curtis. Our best option is to keep you within arms’ reach and keep our eyes on you,” Rael muses as his hand raises.
    “I feel like you’re gonna teach me a whole lot in our adventures together,” Rose smiles as her hand raises.
Eyes turn to Tilde who stands there blankly. She shakes her head, “Explanation: putting Curtis in harm's way by putting him on the team goes directly against the orders received from Emma. Curtis’ induction requires one more hand that I cannot give.”
    “Perhaps the next time we go against a machine you will pull out a solution from your homeland,” Joan hesitantly raises her hand, “You must do much to earn your keep. If you betray us,” She adds darkly, “I will not hesitate to cut you down.”
    You nod, “I’ll keep that in mind,” You feel uncharacteristically stoic for but a moment as some confidence swells from within you, “What's the name of your team?”
    Eric chuckles as he taps on the string of his bow, “Never really somethin’ we’ve thought about. How about as your first task on the team, ya come up with a name? After that, pick through this junk and pull out anythin’ you deem useful.” 
    You nod, ready to find your place in the team.

PT6

    You scratch your chin, despite being put on the spot you’re sure you’ve come up with a good name or two, “Uh, Cascadians,” You offer.
    The group seems to collectively shrug, the name seems fine until, “Veto,” Joan cries from across the room.
    Eric rolls his eyes, “Alright, that's her one veto down.”
    You come right back with another name, “Thunder Crashers.”
    “Much better than the first one,” Joan nods in approval. You can’t tell if she’s serious or just being smug to mess with you.
    “I liked the first one!” Rose frowns.
    “Thunder Crashers it is,” Eric smiles.
You shake your head and go back to the more pressing matters at hand.
    You continue going through the objects in the room. Your highest priority right now is the remote control for the RC car. You pick up a silver and gold flip lighter, turn the wheel and smile while it produces a steady flame. You nod and put that in a pocket too. You continue through the objects and sigh with relief as you find a remote control for an RC car. You fiddle with the RC car and the remote to connect them. As you pull the trigger, a wheel spins. You frown and grab your tool kit. With a bit of work, you get some wires reconnected and make both wheels work and turn as they are supposed to. You set the car down and drive it around the room at a slow speed, “For my records, Mr. Bradley,” Arthur clears his throat and takes a drink of water, “what is that device?”    “RC--” You start, “Remote controlled car. Its a toy. For fun.”
    “A toy?” Rael grunts, “Why would your people waste such technologies on toys for children?”
    “I think this is more of a hobby car,” You guess as you drive the car back over to you, “For adults,” Rael makes a scowling expression as he returns to his small leather journal. 
    You can hear Rose stepping back and forth near you, “I- C-Can I try?” You hear her ask quietly. 
    You nod and pass off the remote to her and set the car on the floor, “So, that trigger makes it go and that wheel on the side makes it turn. Do it lightly--”
    You watch Rose hit full gas as the car takes off, speeding under the tables. You hear Joan cry out when the car crashes into her, “Curtis!” She shouts, hopping up as if fearful of the toy.
    You shudder, but before you can apologize, Rose speaks up, “It was me, sorry,” She looks at the floor and hands the controller back to you. You quickly recall the car and drive it back over to you. You turn off both the car and remote as Rose starts examining them. 
    You pick up a wireless speaker and grin as the thing turns on. It howls out, “Searching for device,” You then frown as you realise you can’t access your phone. You pocket it too. 
“Curtis?” Arthur asks excitedly, the electronic noise must have alerted him to what you were doing.
“Its a speaker. It connects to devices like phones and plays sound through it,” You explain to a still confused Arthur. You shrug, not really sure how else to explain it. He nods and writes it down anyway. You find a box of bullets, unfortunately its .45 ACP, “Rounds, or bullets, for another gun,” You tell Arthur, “Unfortunately, not for that revolver.”
    “How does that work?” Rose asks.
    “Different calibers. Or different sizes, the revolver takes smaller rounds.”
    “I’m amazed by how much you know,” She looks at you with wide starry eyes.
    You smile at her and go back to looking. The last seemingly useful thing you find, that you can actually carry with you, is a laser pointer. You shine the little red dot on the table next to Arhur, “Just a little precise light,” You inform him. 
    “Thank you, Curtis. You have been a wonderful help to my cause-- even if I still do not understand the ‘why’. Any other information you can give me is greatly appreciated.”
    You nod, satisfied with the tech you have found. Lastly, you pick up the revolver and put it in a pocket on the inside of your coat along with what meager ammo amount you have for it. Finished with your second task, you want to talk to a few people while you can. You look over at Joan, now sitting alone on the floor as Eric moves to speak to Arthur and Rael. You remove your coat and set your items aside. You approach the knight nervously as she polishes a sword. She barely glances up at you, “If you need a snack or to use the restroom, ask Arthur or Eric,” She dismisses you as if you were a child.
    “No, I had a question for you,” You do your best to put on a confident voice.
    She points the slightly pink blade at you for a moment, “Speak your mind.”
    “Did I do something to offend you?”
    She glares at the sword before setting it down on a towel, “Offend me?” She echoes, “You believe you have wronged me?” She chuckles smugly, “What gave you that impression?”
    You give her a blank look, “The way you’ve been treating me,” The smug look drops off her face and turns into a blank, judging stare, “It reminds me of when I would accidentally make a girl mad at school,” A voice crack betrays you.
    “You believe I am required to just accept you? Are trust and respect such common commodities in your world? Even if you do come from the Other Side, you will not gain special treatment from me. You will have to work just as hard,  if not more so, to be seen as my equal.”
    You hold in a sigh, wishing you could have more easily befriended the centaur. She glances at you, expecting a response, “Well, I guess I’m glad we have no beef between us,” You try and fail to return the same level of smugness as the centaur.
    “I have no ill will towards you, Curtis. I merely value strength and ability above all else. Now, begone I have maintenance to attend to,” You nod and turn heel, “Oh and Curtis. I do appreciate attempting to make amends--even if there WAS nothing to apologize for,”  She gives you the tiniest smile before shooing you away with her hand.
    You head back and collect your things before taking a seat near Arthur, “Do you need anything, Curtis?” The wizard asks.
    “I had a few questions. I had a dream last night. I would have just shrugged it off but it felt so real,” You do your best to describe the crimson and grisly scene of a seemingly mundane small stone pyramid contrasted by a strange sky and even stranger flora.
    Arthur strokes his long peppered beard, “I am unsure what that could mean. Those surroundings do sound like a demon realm,” He nodded, “But that specific structure and architecture do not ring any bells,” You frown, unsure what to think about that dream still, “Perhaps when we head west, we can ask a few academics about it, hm?”
    “Yeah. I’d like that,” You smile wearily. 
    “Eric, when did you want to head west for that delivery?”
    Eric looks up from his wood carving, “When did we decide? Tomorrow mornin’, I think. Shoot I forgot to brief Curtis on it.”
    “Perhaps now is the best time.”
    “O’course. We have a package, a small unmarked black cube to take west into monster lands. Normally not something we’d do, but the old witch that needed it transported was persistent that we do it. Said she’d pay a helluvalot too. Ya’ll get ya first field experience in yar second day on the Thunder Crashers!” Eric laughed, “Don’t worry about it, it should be a quick, easy, little thing. Well, it is a far walk. Rose, can ya go out and pick up some more rations? Just in case.”
    “You got it, boss,” She hops up and quickly dashes out.
    “We should be able to hunt for quite a bit of food,” Eric informs you, “I don’t want anyone ta have ta starve if we do run into a shortage.”
    “We could just eat Curtis if we need more food!” Joan laughs, you are unsure if that was a threat or not.
    “Counter: I would not allow you to cook and eat Curtis,” Tilde fails to see the humor or sarcasm, “That would go against multiple my current directives.”
    You shrug it off before turning back to Arthur, “I had a few other things to ask. You-- I mean Rael, mentioned something called a ‘Seer,’ can you tell me about that?”
    Rael shifts at the mention of his name, “Aye, I can speak of it. a Seer is someone with the unnatural ability to see into the Other Side. Most are born with it or awaken to the power. Some are forced to bear the curse. Nearly all that are given the gift of Sight go mad at the many horrible and indescribable things they see. I worked in my day to eradicate such horrid curses. Unfortunately and obviously, we failed.”
    “Yes, well, Rael has the right of it. Down to the fail--” Arthur held his tongue, if only barely, “Next question.”
    You smile and continue your questioning, “I want to know about the magic of this world. Although not a wizard or sorcerer myself, I’m familiar with fictional magic from fairy tales and stories back home.”
    Arthur beams at you, “I would be most happy to speak of it!” You think you hear Rael groan slightly, “As a wizard, my spell power comes from my spellbook as well as my natural reserve of casting ability usually referred to as mana. I am limited by the number of spells I have written down in my book as well as my natural magical stamina. On top of both of those limits, I must be in a completely emotionally neutral state of mind or the spells can have horrible repercussions. The spell can go completely awry.”
    “Sounds awfully dangerous,” You frown.
    “Not completely. I have spent most of my life honing my craft. It takes a firm hand and clear, guarded mind to be a wizard,” He reaches to his side and grabs his spell book, “What do you see when you look at these arcane symbols?”
    Excitedly, you look at the spellbook. Your eyes start to burn as the shifting, writhing runes desperately claw at your eyes, “Oh god!” You cry as you tear yourself away. 
    “The spells are alive, each is a trapped spirit, demon or other form of extra planar entity. Each spell has a rigid use that does one thing and cannot be changed once written down.”
    You blink hard as you clear your eyes, “Ah, got it,” You pant.
    “On to sorcery.”
    Rael grunts, “Sorcery. Bah! Horrid curses unleashed upon the wielder.”
    “That is one way to look at it. Sorcery, opposite of wizardry, is only heightened by the more wild the caster’s emotional state is. They are only limited by what they are feeling and how much more stamina they have for that day.”
    “Then why be a wizard?” You ask.
    “Wizard’s spells can be changed out just by writing new spells down. Sorcerers are locked into what spells they can wield when they are first infused with the power. Sorcerer is not learned, it is given to you. Passed down by your ancestors or an extraordinary being. It was also illegal,” He glances at Rael, “to practice such magics at one time. It was deemed too destructive and unwieldy at the time as someone could witness the death of a family member, go into a state of extreme agony and sadness and accidentally cast a spell powerful enough to destroy an entire island nation. All without ever knowing they were a sorcerer.”
    You nod, feeling you have a grasp on what is being told to you, “I suppose I should step in as you speak of the divine magics, hm?” Rael frowns, “The divine magics are bestowed upon a wielder by a higher power. This being is usually of divine origins, of course. The caster, a cleric, is given a specific list of spells they are able to cast and are not limited by mana. Most are given healing and protecting magics. There are also druids with similar rules and powers but are given their powers by nature spirits.”
    Arthur grows a look of disdain, “And finally: bards. Well, ignoring warlocks.”
    “We do not speak of such heresy in this group,” Rael scowls.
    “Bards are people who gain their magic through performance like music or dance. They are a combination of sorcerers’ flexible spells and wizards’ ability to learn most spells. They specialise in support and have exclusive use of spells that afflict another’s emotional state.”
    “There are also specialised casters, who use things like technology to make up for their lack of spell casting ability. Dwarven rune smiths that imbue objects with runes to cast terrible magics.”
    “Do not forget,” Joan calls, “The elven spell swords with their formidable close quarters prowess and devastating magic!”
    “And paladins, warriors of the faith,” Rael concludes, “There are other smaller subsets that I do not wish to waste my breath listing.”
    Your head is spinning, but you believe you managed to catalogue all of that.
    “Enough with the magic,” Eric groans, “Ya’re gonna make my brain fall outta my ears as a mush. Curtis, talk with me about somethin’ else. Do ya have any skills that may prove useful in the wilderness? I also wanna know who ya wanna take night watch with for ya first watch. Tilde will already be up all night, just name one of tha other five and it’ll be done. We’ve been doin’ five watches forever so we’d rather not up it to six until ya’re ready to do it solo.

PT7

    “Well,” You frown as some skills and hobbies come back to you, “I can work on cars. I assume that might transfer over to wagons. At least a little bit.”
    “Cars?” Arthur echoes, notebook at the ready.
    You tilt your head, “Its like a big metal wagon or carriage. Runs on a combustion engine that makes it move without the use of horses.”
    “Interesting... I hope we find one in our adventures,” Arthur nods. 
    “I wish you had one, might make this delivery a bit easier,” You chuckle and shake your head, “By the way, this delivery... It feels a little strange. Like a set up. What if someone is just trying to get you away from the woods so they can pull more things through? It could even be an ambush.”
    Eric shakes his head, “I appreciate your concern. We’re not the only heroes in this realm. We’ll pass the stuff that detects nearby rifts to another trusted team. As for the witch that gave us the job, she was acting as a mediator for another party. Pretty common. I doubt she is working for the people that open these rifts to gather weapons and power. They never hire monster girls. When monster girls open rifts they usually only pull men through. But you really never know.”
    “If they do ambush us,”Joan chuckles, “Then we have finally found them... and the righteous crusade begins.”
    Rael nods, “That is the one thing we see eye to eye on, hm?”
    Arthur frowns, “As much as I would prefer to avoid a blood bath, if some of my other encounters with crime organizations has taught me anything; it will most likely come down to killing.”
    You start to sweat, those four rounds in a gun you have no experience with feel heavier than ever, “Well, I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
    Eric clears his throat, “Lets not scare him until he’s got a little bit o’ combat trainin’. You got a pick for night watch?” 
    “I guess I’ll night watch with Rose,” You offer.
    Rael’s leer turns to a scowl, “Are you going to try something with her?” He growls at you, “You have eyes on my daughter?”
    “What? No!” You hold up your hands to defend yourself. His scowl deepens, “I-Its not like I think she isn’t a--” You stop yourself, “We just get along, is all.”
    Eric cannot contain his laughter as your face lights up red. Even Arthur and Joan are hiding smiles behind books and swords, “You will meet my mace if you try anything with her, boy,” Rael growls as he goes back to examining a leather book.
    “I’m pretty sure that girl could take him down,” Eric snickers.
    “Quite true! Perhaps we should pit them against one another and take bets!” Joan chimes in. You slump lower in your seat as Rose returns, “Ah, Rose! How much for you to fight with Curtis? I have a full coin purse, name your price.”
    Rose frowns as she puts down a large sack, “What? I have no intention of fighting him if I can avoid it,” Joan does little to hide her disappointment.
    “Thank you,” You squeak.
    “Rose, I have a lock box for you to crack,” Arthur announces as he pushes a grey metal box to her.
    “Oh! Finally!” She excitedly sits down near you and takes the box. She pulls out a little metal container and gets to work on the plain grey padlock. You watch her slowly and meticulously work as she feels the tumblers and gently tries to turn the lock. Within a few minutes, she has it open, “Done!” She excitedly pulls the box open. The excited smile turns into a frown quickly as she pushes the box to you.
    You find an external harddrive and piles of family photos. You push the box away, not wanting to handle someone’s precious photos and backups. You pray they have these photos saved elsewhere. Arthur frowns as well. Eric changes topics, “Rose, you and Curtis are on night watch together.”
    “R-really?” The excitement comes back to Rose, “I’m honored you would want to spend that long boring watch with me! Tilde is nice to be on watch with, but she’s usually completely shut off.”
    You smile at her, “Eh, well, hopefully I’m entertaining enough for you.”
    “Curtis?” Arthur calls, “Before the day is over, could you show me a few more objects? I will be heading to my study soon and I assume Rael and Rose will want to head home as well.”
    “Of course. I guess we can start with the microwave.”

    You sit at the dinner table with Rael, Rose, Emma and Yda. You thank them again for taking you in for the time being. Emma smiles at you, “It is no problem at all, dear. What does the team have planned for him, darling husband?” She turns to Rael as he places a dollop of butter on a chunk of break.
    “We are heading west on a delivery quest. We are taking Curtis with us,” Rael carefully tells her.
    “Taking him with you!? Surely you cannot be serious?” She hisses at her husband.
    Rael seems to tremble with fear--slightly, “It was not my decision. But I do agree with it. It is the best way for us to keep an eye on him.”
    “Surely it is safer to leave him here?”
    Rael shakes his head, “As capable as you are, honey, six pairs of eyes on him each attached to a capable fighter should be more than safe enough.”
    “Suggestion: I will keep a close eye on him,” Tilde offers, “I will keep him safe.”
    “We’ll go through monster girl controlled land,” Rose comforts her mother, “It should be safe there.”
    “What if a powerful dragon attempts to make him her husband?” Emma frowns.
    “I have fought and defeated real dragons before, honey. I am not worried,” Rael smiles, “Though I was much younger then.”
    “Yeah, mom! Dad’s got this,” Rose crosses her arms matter-of-factly, “Plus we’ve got Eric and Joan!”
    “Humorous query: am I nothing to you, Rose?” Tilde feigns sadness.
    “You’re gonna keep him safe too! You already said you would,” Rose smiles, “He’ll be fine, mom.”
    Emma shakes her head, “Alright. But you’re both getting skinned if something happens to him. That goes for you too Tilde.”
    “I feel like Rose and Rael are fighting to keep a stray dog they found,” You sigh. 
    “You are a bit like a lost puppy, after all,” Rose shrugs. 
“Aye. He looks excited to go, at least,” Rael comments as he finishes his chunk of bread. 
You bite into your own fresh bread as you ponder how you so quickly went from a crying child to an excited one. Perhaps the rest of the team’s confidence has rubbed off on you. If they are telling you the truth, all of them seem incredibly skilled in one way or another. Whether it be through magic or might, all of them can handle their own. You cover your mouth as you yawn and stretch, “Query: Are you tired?” Tilde asks as her hands clamp down on your shoulders.
“I’m fine, Tilde,” You mumble.
“Explanation: my current directive is your health and safety, Curtis. I must keep your condition in mind at all times.”
You turn to the robotic woman, “Thank you.”
“Do not be afraid to sleep early, Curtis,” Rael advises you, “We will be leaving early tomorrow.”
You nod, “I guess I should sleep soon.”
“I packed a bag for you, dear. Do not leave without it, alright?” Emma tells you with a smile as you, Rael and Rose stand to leave the table.
“What about me, mom?” Rose pouts.
“You know how to pack your own travel bag, Rose.”
“Yeah... I need to pick up some sweets in the morning.”
“Always with the sweets,” Rael shakes his head, “Sleep well, both of you. Make sure you charge in the morning, Tilde.”
    “Affirmative,” The robot nods, “Curtis, I will now escort you to your bed.”
    You nod and let the automaton lead you into the back and into the room you are borrowing. You sit on the edge of the bed and look at Tilde, “Hey, Tilde, Is it possible for me to look at your power source?”
    The robot almost looks taken aback, “Query: you wish to examine my interior?”
    “I just wanna know how you work. Robots like you are only things of fiction back home. Your AI seems incredibly advanced too. Can you... feel emotions?”
    Tilde stares at the floor, “Query: may I sit with you?”
    “Of course.”
    “Request: may I...” She stops.
    “Come on, out with it.”
    “Response: you may view my innards. I will indulge your curiosity. Request: please do not touch my power core.”
    “Thank you.”
    Tilde removes the leotard to reveal her formless body. She has no nipples or vagina. She lies on her back and pushes down on her stomach. A burst of steam blows out of her joints as her entire torso opens. The left side of her body has a hinge on it. Gently, you push the torso aside to view the insides. You squint at a bight blue shape in the middle of her body, obviously the power source. You frown, wishing you had your multimeter to test how much power she was outputting. You stupidly poke at some destroyed wiring, “Uwaah,” Tilde shudders as she lets out a strange noise.
    “Are you alright!? Did I hurt you?” You grab her wrist as her arms flip from at her sides up to besides her head.
    The robot grins at you, “Do that again,” She groans.
    “Your inner electronics look all kinds of screwed up,” You shake your head, “Is this from being left alone in that temple.? That must have been hundreds of years.”
    She stammers and whirrs before her eyes shut off for a moment, “Answer: yes, natural deterioration. Fashioning new parts is nearly impossible. Recommendation: salvage parts from dead automatons,” Her face returns to her usual stoney, blank look.
    “Unfortunate,” You nervously reply.

PT8

The robot stares up at you with seemingly sad eyes as her entire chest is open before you. You put a hand on her shoulder, “Give me just a moment,” You stand and hurry back to the main room where you left your belongings. Emma and Yda are still awake as they wash dishes, “Did you need something, dear?” Emma asks as she puts down the pot she's washing.
“Do you need a midnight snack like daddy?” Yda asks as she hides behind her mother’s legs.
    “Just grabbing my tools,” You tell them, though the midnight snack does sound good--even if it is nowhere near midnight right now.
    “Tools? Are you doing some construction in there?” Emma chuckles at her own joke.
    You politely chuckle back, “No, just seeing if I can perform some maintenance on Tilde. Her circuits all look fried and deteriorated. I think she has some unusable functions at the moment because of these frayed wires and broken parts,” The old woman blinks at you, “I’m just hoping I can fix her a little bit,” You shrug.
    She shakes her head, not really understanding, “Do not stay up too late, dear. I’ll send Yda into your room in an hour or so and if you’re still working there will be hell to pay, Curtis.”
    You nod, “I shouldn’t be too long. I see very few repairs I can feasibly do.”
    “Good luck,” She shakes her head as she goes back to washing pans. 
    You return to Tilde who lays still staring at the wooden ceiling, “Are you alright?” You ask as you kneel next to her.
    Tilde takes a moment to activate her voice, “Affirmative. Explanation: I struggle to move when my chest compartment is removed. I have a small water tank in it that helps my joints.”
    “A water tank?” You ask as you resume looking at her innards.
    “Affirmative. Do you require me to repeat my explanation?”
    “No, no its fine,” You frown as you grab your kit. It looks like it will do the job but most wires are so messed up you can’t tell where the connection is supposed to be. You see one where the wires are still mostly connected but some have seemingly been cut by an unknown force. You’re also not sure what these wires are made out of. You tug on a completely disconnected wire that you have no idea where its supposed to connect to see if she reacts, “I’m gonna cut out this wire and see if I can use it to repair another wire, alright?”
    She turns her head to look into your eyes, “Intentions confirmed. You may make your attempt, Curtis.”
    You nod and carefully cut the wire with your cutters. You nod as she shows no response, glad she’s not hurting. You decide to keep her talking as if that would calm her nervousness. As if a robot could get nervous, “Alright... So you have to charge?” You ask as you start removing the bad wires.
    “Affirmative. Explanation: my core recharges itself passively at all times. I also have a reserve battery that powers my non essential functions like my lights and medical sensors. I also power my combat functions with it but I may also use my core power for it.”
    “Sounds more complicated than it needs to be. Do you feel any different?” 
    “Negative. Explanation of power systems: I am an imperfect model. The model five perfected the power sources while six further improved it.”
    “Could we beat up a model six and steal their core to make you stronger?”
    “Query: Is that humor?”
    “Maybe. I would like to poke around in another automaton so I know how to fix you. I also need to find an automaton to salvage parts from. There's no way I can reproduce some of these parts,” You gently pull out a little rusty metal box. It has a few lights on it that aren’t lit up. You frown.
    “Query: why? Why do you wish to help me?”
    You shake your head, “I-- Compassion, I guess. Curiosity, maybe.”
    “Thank-- Thank you,” The robot gives you a small warm smile.
    “Alright, I’m almost done. This fix should be permanent enough. You ready? Oh god I hope I don’t short circuit you or something,” You mumble to yourself.
    “Encouragement: I trust you, Curtis. If I do short out, disconnect it and I will awaken when my core automatically resets.”
    You nod as you finish your simple repair, “Feel any different?”
    “Negative.”
    You swear quietly, “Alright. I need to sleep. Let me close you back up,” You put your hands on her open body and push it closed.
    You push down on the middle of her chest and hear a click as it locks. You try to pull your hand away but are stopped as she grabs your wrist, forcing your hand back onto her synthetic skin. She slowly sits up with steam shooting out of her joints, “Calculating,” She forcibly moves your hand over her body. She slowly moves it to her face. She forces you to caress her cheek, “Warmth. I can feel your warmth,” Again, she breaks her scripts as she acts out of character and forgoes her announcements at the beginning of sentences, “I can feel,” She still struggles to emote beyond a small smile.
    “Tilde?” You call out to her.
    “Hm?” She shudders and lets go of your hand, “Apology: I have no idea what came over me, Curtis. Follow up query: Did I harm you?”
    “N-no,” You shake your head, “I-I’m gonna go to bed.”
    “Affirmative. Request: sleep well and have pleasant dreams, please.”

    You exit the washroom in your freshly cleaned clothes. You are waved over to the dining table where you are fed a hearty breakfast. Rael has a stoic, focused look on his face as he slowly eats his food. You follow Rose’s pace as she hurriedly eats. Tilde stands behind you silently, “Curtis, you wanna go to the bakery with me?” Rose asks excitedly, “I need some sugar for the road and I’ll pick something up for you.”
    “He needs to finish preparing,” Rael answers for you, “The bag Emma packed for you is right there,” He points to a cloth backpack by the door, “Arthur had this sent over for you as well, to carry those things you picked out yesterday,” He spoke about the Other Worldly objects with disdain. He pushes a tan messenger bag across the table to you as Rose cleans up her dishes and darts out the door.
    “Thank--” You start.
    “Thank Arthur when you see him,” He corrects you.
    “Do I need to carry any gear?” 
    Rael shakes his head, “Nay. We have numerous magical ways of carrying gear. Although I am not the most fond of the arcane, I will admit it is useful.”
    “What is it you do, Rael? I’ve been wondering for a long time now.”
    “I receive magic from a... Higher being,” He sounds nervous and unsure as he explains it, “Do not expect me to explain it again. I have already explained divine magic to you.”
    You turn to Tilde, expecting her to offer to repeat his explanation. Surprisingly, she only stares at the floor, clenching and unclenching her hands, “Yeah, you don’t need to,” You nod.
    “Aye. I would not. I must gather my armor. Finish packing.”
    You pick up the messenger bag and put the RC car in it along with the currently useless electronics like your phone, speaker, earbuds and charger. You flip the lighter out and spin the wheel to kill a little time and make sure it still works. You hear an, “Oooooh,” from behind you. Yda is hiding behind a door frame, watching you, “Are you a magician?”
    “You’re just as curious as Rose, huh?” You laugh, “Nah, I’m no wizard. Its just a tool.”
    “Yda!” Emma calls from the washroom, “It is bath time!” The small mouse frowns and trots into the back.
    You finish packing and put your bags on. The backpack Emma packed for you is full of clothes. You smile and go to wait by the front door. Tilde stops you and stands before you. Without a word she reaches a hand slowly out to you. You do not flinch as her hand gently touches your cheek, “Can you feel my warmth? Does it remind you of a real person’s touch?” Her voice sounds less robotic and more emotional. She sounds human.
    “What has gotten into you, Tilde?” You ask.
    She immediately pulls her hand away from you, “Request: please forget I did that. I am unsure what has gotten into me,” Her usual robotic tone returns.
    “Do you want me to disconnect that wire?” You ask.
    “Negative. Explanation: I wish to run more tests on these new feelings.”
    The light clinking of armor alerts you to Rael’s entrance to the room, “Ready?” He asks. He is wearing a lighter version of his armor, a chain shirt with a purple cloth vest over it with the same bronze candle on it. You merely nod for both you and the robot. You step outside to find Joan, Rose and Arthur waiting for you.
    You shield your eyes as you glance up towards the sunny blue sky, “Nice day, hm?” Joan grunts as she passes Tilde a bag of supplies.
    “Comment: It will be easy for me to maintain solar energy today,” Tilde nods as she straps the gear to herself. 
    “We should not see combat for a few days,” Arthur reassures the group, “Even then we have not seen much recently.”
    “Monster girls have been pushing the murderous horde north. We should have nothing to fear,” Joan confidently brushed it off. She was also wearing a chain shirt as well over a layer of comfortable cloth. Arthur wore his usual grey robes. You wonder if his bag is full of more robes. You sneak a glance at it, noting it was probably just books.    
    Eric jogs up to the group, “We ready to go?” The team collectively nods.
    Your heart is pounding as the group starts to head west. Tilde takes hold of your wrist and performs a quick scan as the two of you take up the rear of the group, “Query: Your heart rate has increased significantly. Are you well?”
    “Just nervous,” You mumble.
    “Statement: relax. I will keep you safe.”
    You offer her a small smile before turning your attention back to the road. Rose falls in step next to you to ask you questions about home, not that you have many answers.

    The march is mostly silent as the group trudges up the mountain. You pant slightly as you march uphill. Arthur seems to struggle slightly because of his old age as he uses his staff to prop himself up, “Eric,” He wheezes, “I must take a short break.”
    Eric nods, “You got it.”
    “Can we go a bit further?” Joan argues, “I would much rather take a rest under the trees where the sun is not beating down on my skin.”
    Arthur nods, “I can last. Should be better hunting there too.”
    Eric shakes his head, “We have a horrible time with goat meat every single time and I would rather not hunt the mountain cats.”
    “Still afraid of that werecat druid?” Joan teases.
    “Ya would be too if that crazy bitch was dead set on having her way with ya. I turn tail whenever I see a big cat thinking she mighta’ shape shifted into it.”
    “What if she tries something with Curtis?” Rael asks, “I know you have a soft spot for the woman.”
    “When she gets off the swamp grass I’ll give ‘er a chance. But if she does try to snag Curtis, she’ll have to go through Tilde and me.”
    Tilde puts one fist in her other hand’s open palm, “Affirmative.”
    You shrug, “What does she want with you, Eric?”
    “Ah, she likes a man that can hunt and is in tune with nature. They refer to my creed as ranger. I am skilled in all manner of outdoorsmanship and archery. A little bit o’ nature magic thrown in too!” Eric very happily explains, “I did learn quite a bit o’ the magic from Frodala, the druid werecat, but she thinks she has a rightful claim to me now.”
    “Did you pay her in some other way?” You ask.
    “Yeah, I fed her for two bloody weeks!” Eric laughs, “I paid my dues.”
    “This is why you should not collaborate with the more wild monsters,” Joan sighs, “They think about nothing more than sex and men.”
    “And what of you, Joan?” Eric points an accusatory finger at her, “What is it YOU think of me if nothing more than a piece of fuck meat thats good with a bow?”
    Joan is taken aback as the Thunder Crashers enter the treeline and the shade of a mountainous forest, “You very much KNOW how I feel of you!” Joan practically shouts in anger, “I respect you as a skilled combatant and as a leader, but I would not take you as my husband! Our relationship is entirely professional, Eric,” The venom that she uses to say his name sends a shiver down your spine.
    “Please stop fighting,” Rose squeaks.
    While the two arguind parties cease their quarrel, they do little to apologize other than give small scowls and change positions in the march. The group stops in a small clearing with a few large rocks, “We can stop here for a mid day meal,” Rael announces.
    You plop down on a rock with Arthur doing the same nearby. You watch the old man draw an ointment from his bag and begin rubbing it over his weary muscles. He notices you watching, “An ointment to soothe these old bones. An apothecary fashions it for me near constantly.”
    “Aren’t you a bit old to be traveling, Arthur?” You ask.
    “I am in prime form for a wizard. Not too young and wet behind the ears when it comes to my spells and not too sore and cranky in old age.”
    “I am going to collect firewood,” Eric announces as he picks up his bow and stomps into the woods. Without a word, Joan picks up a bag and steps away from the meager camp. 
    Rael picks up a small container from within his bag, “I saw a lovely cliffside back east, I wish to take a closer look,” He leaves slowly, armed with a mace and shield.
    You look back at Rose, a sad frown on her face, “I wish they would stop fighting.”
    “We all do, sweet Rose,” Arthur sighs, “While we are a team, Joan is right. We are hardly friends. Our interests align and we act friendly but tempers can be short--especially between those two. And I will admit to having long quarrels with Rael over the use of magic and Other Worldly objects.”
    “Dad is pretty strict in his beliefs, Arthur,” Rose notes, “Although I have tried to be friends with everyone, they can be a little difficult,” She sits with you, “I get along with you and Arthur well, at least.”
    The three of you exchange small, somewhat awkward smiles. Tilde simply stands nearby, “Could you pass me a ration?” Arhur asks, “I need to fill this nearly empty stomach.”
    “Of course, Arthur,” Rose nods, “I wish Eric would catch a mountain goat again. I’m sure we could get it right this--” You watch as Rose’s cheerful smile turns into one of pain in an instant as an arrow embeds itself in her shoulder. 
    Instantly, Tilde grabs you and pulls you away as a group of furred upright standing beasts barge out of the treeline. Eight of them quickly close the distance on Arthur and Rose. Rose falls backwards and lays on the grass, her crimson blood staining the serene greens around her as her face turns a ghostly pale. Arthur slowly rises to his feet and brandishes his staff. He says one word and a blinding flash sprays over the beasts, they are stunned if only for a moment. Arhur summons his spell book to him and flips to a page. You watch as the letters come off the page and manifest themselves in a protective dome around the two. The beasts, regaining their senses, throw themselves at the dome, wailing on it. Arthur’s face shows the strain on his body as they attack the magical dome. One of them spots you and Tilde, hardly hiding within the treeline opposite where they emerged. It charges you, wielding two handed axes. It leaps at you, hunger in its eyes. Tilde puts herself in harm's way, brandishing her stunning energy blades. She blocks the axes with her own blades before driving both of them into the beast’s chest.
    You take a step towards Arthur and Rose. Tilde very firmly and almost painfully grabs you, “Statement: I must keep you safe.”
    “What about them!?” You demand, not knowing how long Arthur can last in his protective bubble, “Who's gonna keep them safe?”
    “Statement: my directives, assigned and personal, are to keep you safe.”

    You grunt and rip your arm free of the robot's clutches. You need to think fast and figure out how to save Arthur and Rose.
    

PT9

    You draw the revolver and load in the four rounds. The beast men take a moment to gather their strength before throwing themselves at Arthur’s defences again. You take the time to line up the shot and try to keep your breathing in check. You’ve never fired this weapon before so you don’t know to aim high or low, not that you have much gun experience in the first place. You instinctively put the sights on the beast's head. You shake horribly, using both hands to steady it. You pull the hammer back, and with a small trigger pull, the weapon goes off with a loud bang. Your ears ring as you watch a beast cough and sputter as its mouth fills with blood. It had caught your shot in the neck. It falls to the ground as it struggles to live. The rest of the beasts, six now, turn to you with glares and shoddy weapons at the ready. Tilde puts herself between you and them. You grab your pocket knife, ready to defend yourself. Again, Tilde puts herself in harm’s way for you as five try to engage in melee combat.
    “Transferring power to combat systems,” Tilde announces. She fires an energy blast into one of them before deftly going under their sweeping blades and putting her energy blade into two of them. A third manages to strike her with its sword and cuts her skin. Thankfully, it does not penetrate her protective second layer. As you watch in awe, you fall to the ground with a cry as pain shoots through your leg. You look down at the blood oozing from your leg, drawn by an arrow firmly planted in your thigh. The sixth man beast knocks another arrow, cackling in satisfaction. It pulls back the bow, taking aim at you as Tilde fights off her melee attackers. You fumble for the gun, it landed just outside of your reach. The beast suddenly cries out in terror as a charging knight cuts it down. Joan’s path turns as she rounds Arthur’s shield and leaps into the fray. The wizard drops his protective dome and instead summons a shield around you as another combatant breaks away from Tilde and attempts to finish you off. Its weapons bounce harmlessly off of the opaque grey shield. Joan charges it and strikes with her own blade, spraying its precious blood over the shield and grass. Arrows and swords dispatch the remaining combatants as Eric runs into the clearing. Eyes turn to Rose as Arthur calls for Eric.
    “Where’s Rael!?” Eric shouts as he removes the arrow from Rose. He puts a hand on the crying woman’s wound and a green light erupts from his hand. 
    “He left soon after you did,” Arthur pants as he kneels down at Rose’s side. He puts his hand on Eric’s shoulder and lets white energy flow from his fingertips.
    Joan comes over to where you and Tilde are and drives her sword into the chest of an unconscious beast man. She scowls as its blood gets on her, “Horrid creatures,” You watch in horror as she does it again, almost fearing she will do the same to you. You turn your attention to Tilde as she stands still. Her rubbery synthetic skin is cut in numerous places and her usually bright eyes are dull and grey. Joan kneels next to you, “I am amazed you survived a hit at all. I expected your glass bones to shatter and your paper skin to all fall off as your thin blood all leaves your body.”
    “You’re not helping,” You grunt.
    “I will attempt to stop blood loss until the casters can get to you,” She firmly grasps your leg and takes hold of the arrow, “Try not to scream too loud.”
    Before you can even ask her to wait, she tears it loose. You cry out in pain and begin to whimper as your head fills with a sort of fog and your vision blurs from the pain. You can feel Joan putting pressure on your leg. You hear Rael come back into the clearing and start shouting as he surveys the scene. You struggle to make out their words as multiple people start shouting.  You turn and watch as flashes of purple energy seem to form tendrils on his arms as he heals his daughter. She shudders and whimpers as the wound closes. Rael wraps his arms around her in a tight hug.
    “Rael!” Eric calls, “Curtis still needs a hand! Ya’re gonna be alright, buddy,” He lightly slaps your cheeks to keep you awake, “Just close yar eyes and ignore the chilly feeling.”
    You turn to him as your eyes clear, “What?” You whimper.
    Rael knees next to you, “I have no clue how your body will take to the healing magic. Just stay still. The arrow did not go too deep,” Similar to with Rose, purple energy begins to snake around his arms and build up until he places his hand on your injury. You feel a freezing cold envelop your body as the tendrils force their way into your skin. You whimper and shake as the freezing temperatures touch your core. As voices begin to whisper in your mind, it suddenly ends and the warmth of the sunshine washes over you once more, “Looks like it worked well enough. Stand and see if you can walk.”
    You nod as Eric and Joan pull you to your feet. Amazingly, you stand easily with no pain, “How do ya feel?” Eric asks.
    “Good,” You nod with a thankful smile. You turn to Tilde and put your hands on her arm, “Tilde? You alright?” You frown as she doesn’t speak, instead her head turns slightly to you and gives you a tiny smile, “Used all your power, huh?” 
    “She’s done that a few times in combat,” Eric comments as he recovers his arrows. You nod and pat her arm again before recovering the revolver. You carefully remove the three remaining rounds and the empty brass, “I’ve never seen a wound like that,” You hear Eric mumble as he kneels over a dead beast man, the one you shot in the throat.
    “Ask...” Arthur wheezes as he struggles to speak, “Curtis.”
    Eyes turn to you and you merely pat the pocket you keep the revolver in. You get an approving nod from Eric, “I assume that loud bang was your weapon as well?”
You nod again and Eric returns to another work before you change topics, “What are these?” You ask no one in particular as you look at the frozen horrified expression on one’s face.
    Joan scoffs, “Bugbears, or ‘greater’ goblins. I assume you know what a GOBLIN is at least,” You nod, having an idea what a traditional goblin is, “They feast on man flesh near exclusively. I suppose the monster girls pushed them to the edge. Did you see that hunger and desperation in their eyes?” You nod and look down again, frowning at the body, “Do not mourn or cry for them. They are no greater than beasts--lesser even. Beasts can feel empathy and compassion, at least,” The contempt is obvious in her voice as she wipes her blade somewhat clean on the fur of a dead bugbear.
    You sit back down on a rock and shake your head. Slowly, exhaustion creeps into your muscles and mind. Rose is still clinging to her father like a frightened child and Arthur pants heavily as sweat pours down his brow. Eric shakes his head, “We need to move away from these bodies. The wind is rolling down the mountains and the predators and scavengers will soon smell the blood. We’ll rest for the day when we find somewhere safe and preferably concealed.”
    The group, albeit reluctantly, agrees. Rose still sniffles and whines at her near death experience. Rael helps her to her feet, “Come on, honey. We need to move,” He whispers as gently as a gruff man can. The little mouse nods as she sticks close to her father.
    Artrhur shakily stands and leans heavily on his staff, “I-I fed you too much mana,” He wheezes. 
    “I wish I could return it to ya, Arthur. I drew too much from you in my panic,” Eric sighs, “Stay with me now, we gotta move,” He hoists the wizard by pulling the old man’s arms over his own shoulders.
    “Because of you, she yet lives. I would gladly give you more mana if needed,” Arhur chuckles as he struggles to walk.
    Tilde slowly creaks to life as steam blasts out of her body. She shakes herself and moves to you, “Query: do you require aid?”
    “You’re the one that needs help,” You grunt, “Do you need repairs?”
“Negative. Correction: I do require more water for my movement and cooling systems.”
    “Here, take some water from my waterskin,” You say as you hand her said item.
    “Many thanks, Curtis,” The robot offers you a small smile before draining roughly half of your water supply down her throat.
    “I never thought that machine would take a liking to anyone...” You hear Joan muse before leading the group back into the treeline and further up the mountain.

    The walk is slow and taxing, but the Thunder Crashers manage to climb for another two hours or so before stopping at yet another clearing. You wipe the sweat from your brow and lean on a tree. Rose approaches you, small box in hand, “Here, I should have given you some earlier,” She offers you a cinnamon roll that you gladly take, “I want-- No, we can speak later. When the ears of our companions do not pry into our conversation.”
    “I’m just glad you’re walking and talking again,” You smile as you wrap the sweet in a clean cloth to eat later. You frown and poke at the hole in your pants caused by the arrow.
    “Someone’ll fix that. Don’t worry. Arthur knows a lot of mending magic and I’m good with a sewing kit.”
    “Joan, you’re on guard duty here with Rael,” Eric orders gently, “I’m going to do a bit of scouting to make sure no more monsters surprise us. Keep them safe. They’ve gone through enough today. Curtis, ya seem the least shaken, could ya do me a favor and try to collect some sticks and branches? Take Tilde with ya so ya don’t get lost.”
    You nod and Tilde silently follows you into the treeline.

    You return to camp with a rumbling stomach and weighed down by dry firewood. A modest sized tan tent sat at one end of the clearing while Eric prepared a fire pit. You dump the sticks by Eric, “Thanks,” He smiles, “Go take a step inside the tent. I think Joan had something for you.”
    “Are we all sharing a single tent?” You ask, “Doesn’t look that big.”
    “Just go look,” He winks.
    You push the flap of the tent aside and step inside. The inside is much larger than the outside with a ceiling tall enough for even Joan to comfortably walk in. The walls and ceiling are both made of the same material on the outside of the tent. There is a curtain separating the room between left and right. You stand on a tiled floor before a step up to a wooden floor. Joan sits off to the left next to a weapons rack and three sleeping mats on the floor. To the right is another area with some cots, blankets and a few trunks.
    “Curtis,” Joan looks up from her sword and waves you over. You step up onto the hardwood, “No,” She stops you, “Boots off,” You do as she commands and take your boots off before walking to her, “I should have given you something to defend yourself earlier. Perhaps I thought you would stab yourself. Here,” She grabs a dagger in its sheath and hands it to you, “If you had not used that... gun? I most likely would have not been back in time to help Arthur and Rose. For that, thank you. You should be able to hide that dagger under your coat.”
    “Thank you,” You take the steel in your hands and check the sharpness of the blade. It was a simple weapon with a simple handguard and leather wrapped hilt, “I’ll take good care of it.”
    “You better. I hope Eric and Rose are preparing dinner. I am starving.”
    “Oh yeah, same,” You stop yourself from saying that you could eat a horse. 

    “Here, Curtis,” Rose sits next to you on a blanket next to the fire as she passes you another piece of fresh bread. The two of you stare up at the moon as you listen to the sounds of the night animals around you while you both keep an eye out for more monsters on night shift together. Tilde stands next to the tent in low power mode. You take a little bite of the slightly hard bread. You let your shoulders sag as you relax.
    You look over at Rose as she fiddles with a padlock. She uses one tool to push something up and another to turn the lock. It clicks open and Rose nods, “Oh?” You smile, “You pick locks?”
    “Yup! Old chests, traps and even Other Worldly locks can’t stand up to me,” She proudly tells you, “Here, you might be able to do it. Lemme see that tool kit,” You hand it over and she quickly picks through it. She puts some thin metal tools in there for you, “Those plus these should let you open anything. Don’t worry I’ve got a lot of extras. Consider it a thank you,” She puts a lock in your hand and walks you through the process, “Push up on its tumblers and try to tease it into opening!” You nod and get to work, “Then use that thing,” She points at your flat head screwdrivers, “to push it open,” in roughly an hour, you gain a basic understanding of opening locks of all kinds as she keeps handing you new locks. 
    “So you don’t fight, you just manage the lock picking?”
    “Y-yeah,” She stutters, “I don’t have the will to kill or even fight.”
    “What’s the difference?”
    “Arthur has the will to fight but he loathes killing and blood shed. You saw that the others can draw blood and end lives if need be,” She pauses for a moment, “I’m amazed you have the capacity to kill.”
    “I had to,” You mumble, “I had to help you.”
    Rose sighs, “I... I know. Thank you. I wish I had my father’s iron will or even a fraction of that human spirit and grit.”
    “Grit?”
    “Yeah. Like how you took that arrow to the leg and you easily recovered. Humans can shrug off near anything if need be.”
    “Huh, I guess that’s true.”
    “Lets... Talk about something else, hm?” She nervously chuckles, “Can you tell me about your home? Anything?”
    You shrug, “Why are you so keen on learning about that place?”
    “I hear so much about it but I know nothing! I have someone right in front of me from that world and I just want to know everything I can! Fantastic and amazing technologies that can do nearly everything! At least that’s what they tell me. Would you go back if you had the chance to tomorrow?”

    You ponder for a moment, deciding your answer carefully.

PT10

    You rub your chin before giving a resounding shrug to Rose’s question. She frowns at you, “I’m not sure if I would,” You tell her, “I don’t remember many details from home but fleeting feelings of people I know and some negative emotions. I can’t really give you a good answer, I’m sorry.”
    “Hey, don’t sound so down about it, Curtis,” Rose tries to console you, “If you remember anything, you can always talk to me.”
    “Thanks.”
    The two of you are silent for a short time as you listen to owls hooting, “Can you promise me something?” 
    “Sure.”
    “If-- When you get the chance to go home... Take me with you, if you can of course,” She smiles at you.
    You frown, “Don’t make me promis that. What if I learn something horrible about home?”
    “W-well... I guess that makes sense,” She sighs as she turns away from you, “I just want to see it with my own eyes. I know there's no monster girls or magic there, but I want to see it. I’m so fascinated by the idea of this wonderful place you come from.”
    “I guess that’s like my fascination with this world.”
    “Yup. Finish that bread, its time for my dad’s shift. I’ll go wake him up, head to sleep whenever you’re ready,” Without looking you in the eyes, Rose ducks inside the tent.
    Tilde kneels next to you, “Query: Could you check my circuitry? I have been feeling strange.”
    “Yeah, of course. Do you need me to disconnect that wire I fixed?”
    “N-Negative. Please just take a look,” She practically begs as she lies down on the blanket, “And poke around if you would, please,” She adds.
    You give her a skeptical look as a jet of steam bursts from the sides of her as her chest opens. You use the soft light of the fire to look at the same frayed cables, “I don’t see anything,” You mumble as you run your finger down the fixed wire. 
    “P-please keep looking,” She makes a slight humming noise. It sounds similar to a cat’s purring. You poke at a few of the metal transistors and chips, making sure everything was plugged in right. Tilde keeps squirming and humming as you do.
    “I don’t see anything. Do you feel any different?”
    “Negative.”
    “Then I need to cut that wire I fixed. Its obviously the cause.”
    “No!” She grabs your wrist desperately, “I-- Negative. It is not necessary. I will return to my low power mode. Please sleep well.”
    You stand and inch away from the robot as she closes her chest. Rael exits the tent and nods at you as he sits on a rock near the fire. You stretch, ready to sleep. You turn back to the man, the light from the fire dancing on his hairless head, illuminating the dull scars forming strange shapes. The scars seemingly move and shift slowly, “I need to sleep,” You tell yourself. You step into the tent, take off your boots and collapse onto your cot. You throw the blankets over yourself and pass out quickly.

    You wake up in a cold sweat with the fleeting memories of a nightmare in the back of your mind. You sit up on the cot and rub your eyes. You feel the cot move as a form sits next to you, “Query: your heart rate was unusually high as you slept. Are you well?”
    Tilde stares at you with wide eyes as you breathe heavily, “I’m fine, thanks,” You shudder.
    She puts a hand on your chest, right over your heart, “You are warm.”
    “You’re warm too,” She looks happy when you say that, “Feeling better?”
    “Affirmative. Thank you. The others asked me to collect you for breakfast. Recommendation: fill up your waterskin before heading out. Its that barrel in the back.”
    “Thanks, Tilde. I’ll meet you outside,” She cocks her head at you in confusion, “You don’t need to see me change.”
    “As you wish,” You make sure she’s completely out of the tent before getting up and putting on a fresh dark green tunic and brown pants. You throw your familiar coat over your new clothes.
    You step into the crisp morning air, ready to walk more--even if the muscles in your legs are protesting, “Curtis!” Rose calls you, “Come eat!” You gratefully take a bowl of scrambled eggs and down it quickly. The rest of the group tears camp down.
    “Hopefully we took care of all the nasty things on this mountain yesterday,” Eric mumbles as he tests his bow.
    “And if we did not?” Arthur asks.
    “Ya know what we have to do.”
    “Kill all manner of horrid beast,” Joan proudly proclaims. She is wearing heavy armor today, “That is my plan, at least.”
    “Seems to be the only plan you have,” Rael shrugs.
    “You would have me attempt to parley with mindless beasts? Where is the wisdom in that?”
    “Let’s move already,” Eric waves at the group to follow him. You fall in step with him before the rest of the group starts moving, “Ya’re eager today.”
    “I dunno,” You shrug, “I think the company I’m keeping is making me enjoy this more than I usually would.”
    “Well, I’m glad you enjoy our arguing and the fact that Rose and you nearly died.”
    “Hey, you don’t fight that much. Its a lot more like semi friendly banter, but the ambush was kind of... A lot. Did you hear that ‘joke’ Joan said to me as I lie on the ground bleeding out?”
    “Its a nervous habit of hers to say things that are kinda... fucked up when under a lot of stress. It was her way of sayin’ ‘I’m surprised ya ain’t dead!’ Allies getting injured like that does that to her. Fall back in with the others, I’ll scout ahead a bit to make sure nothin’ gets the upper hand on us.”
    “Got it,” Reluctantly you move to the middle of the group with Arthur.
    “How are you this morning?” The wizard asks, still a little exhausted.
    “Fine, thanks. You alright? You look half asleep.”
    “I drew upon too much energy yesterday,” He sighs, “I had to tear a few spells out of my mind instead of reading them from the book. I did not have much time to shield myself and then you. And then I fed Eric some mana to help him cast his healing magic.”
    “I didn’t know you could do that.”
    “It is so ingrained in my mind that I must have thought you knew about it,” The old man chuckles softly as he leans heavily on his staff.
    “Sorcerers can do the opposite,” Rael adds, “Forcefully drain mana and life force from their victim.”
    You shake your head, “Sounds awful.”
    “It very much is! Back in my day when I used to crack the skulls of heretics they would always try the same trick. Where you get close to put them in shackles and they attempt to suck enough life force from you to stun or kill you so they can get away.”
    “How did you start to deal with that?” 
    “Put them down faster,” He answers darkly. 
    “C’mon dad,” Rose whispers, “You don’t gotta talk about that stuff.”
    “Aye. I do not. The lad listens well and earnestly, at least.”
    “He listens much better than you, Arthur and Eric, at least,” Joan notes, “You could learn from him.”
    “Perhaps. Or perhaps you could learn to be kind like him and I will decide you are worth listening to.”
    “I like that idea,” Rose adds.
    “Oh, please,” Joan growls. 
    You wonder if you should take back the whole ‘friendly banter’ comment, “Hey, uh,” You try to change topics, “What do you guys do for fun in this world? Either during adventures or when you’re in between.”
    “I like cooking!” Rose says, “And I know a lot of games that help pass the time. I also practice lock picking often.”
    “I do quite a bit of reading,” Arthur strokes his beard, “That and practicing magic keeps my mind sharp.”
    “Praying, reading, painting and I write a lot of letters to my wife,” Rael offers.
    “Answer: I do not spend time for myself. I am usually working when I am active,” Tilde’s answer feels hollow and unsatisfied.
    “Combat. Fighting. Maintaining weapons and armor. And practicing a tad bit of chivalry when I can,” Joan proudly explains.
    “Chivalry?” You echo with a chuckle, “I assume that doesn’t extend to monsters with how you put them down like dogs yesterday.”
    “Dogs!?” She acts offended, “Dogs are wonderful companions. I would never do that to a wounded dog. I would much rather save a sick puppy and raise it as an ideal hunting companion. Oh, how I miss the fox hunts of my homeland.”
    “Why don’t you have a dog if you like them so much?”
    “Eric has an aversion to animals for some reason,” Arthur explains, “He barely likes my familiar, Banana,” Eric reaches into his robes and pulls out a white weasel, “Is he not the cutest little thing?” The animal blinks at you and squirms playfully in Arthur’s hand. You can see intelligence and understanding in its beady little eyes.
    “Very cute.”
    “Can I hold him?” Rose asks.
    “Not while we are travelling, dear,” Arthur chuckles as he drops the animal down his sleeve, “Though, to clarify, Banana is not really an animal. He is a physical manifestation of a spirit that I formed a bond with.”
    “That’s really cool.”
    “You never answered your own question, Curtis. What did you do for fun?” Rose asks, turning to you and walking backwards.
    It takes a while for you to think of something, “I remember tinkering and some games. And spending time with some friends, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them.”
    “That’s so sad... I hope you can remember.”
    “Perhaps that would just make him homesick,” Joan muses, “Forgetting could be the best option for him.”
    “Come now,” Arthur interrupts before you can put much thought on it, “do not put those thoughts into his head.”
    The group suddenly stops making you slightly run into Rael. The man stands like a brick wall as your meager amount of force does nothing to him. Eric rejoins the group with an annoyed look on his face, “Goblins.”
    “Goblins? How many?” Joan asks with a touch of excitement in her voice.
    “A lot.”
    “You guys seemed to cut down those bugbears with ease, and these are just worse, so what's the problem?” You ask.
    “Though they are weak, even you could take two if needed, Curtis,” Joan explains, “Goblins are skittish and unpredictable when scared. They can be incredibly dangerous when scared or cornered. Unlike other foul creatures, they will fight to the death every time rather than escaping when you hurt them enough. To make it worse, if you spook one, it will let out a horrible shriek and scare every other goblin in earshot.”
    “We could smoke them out with some fire arrows,” Arthur offers, “They should run from things that are not human. Or perhaps a loud enough noise could scare them off?”
    Eric shakes his head, “We can’t risk lighting up this entire mountain. The sound could work, but the question is how?”
    “We should route and split them up into smaller fights,” Rael gives his own idea.
    Eric shrugs, “Still dangerous, we’d soon be fighting all of them and if they’re anything like those bugbears, they’re desperate and hungry. There's no way they won’t fight if there is a slim chance of eating something as tasty as man flesh.”
    “Just push through them along that side, they can only come one way at us,” She points to a steep cliffside that looks near unscalable, “Even if they do fight it out we can take them.”
    “With two non combatants that we need to watch out for?” Rael challenges, “I do not want my daughter to be injured again.”
    “Then just send me in, lance in hand! I will show you swaths of dead goblins! They will not have the chance to cry out in terror.”
    
    The group begins to bicker and try to come up with a plan.

PT11

    You think quickly and pull out your RC car and the speaker, “Tilde, hold this,” You instruct the robot as you put the speaker in her hand. Rose curiously wanders up to you, watching your work intently. You give her the little case of tools to hold for you as you use a screwdriver to open the speaker and make a few adjustments. You reroute the output into the input so the whole thing makes a horrible screeching noise. You turn it on to test if it works, and sure enough the screech stops the debating between the rest of the group. Rose shudders and covers her ears at the sound. You open the hollow shell of the RC car and attach the speaker to the frame with some electrical wire and tape. You nod with satisfaction at your handiwork. “That smile shows me how pleased you are with yourself,” Arthur smiles, “Do you have a plan?” 
You shrug, “I have a fast moving, loud noise. Just tell me what you need done with that so we can get past,” You fiddle with the car’s remote and drive it around in circles. Joan gets antsy around the toy.
    “Let's use it to clear a path for us,” Eric nods, “we can send the toy through first along that side,” He points at the cliff side, “They can only run two ways, to the side and forwards. If they get unlucky and they go forward, we can take them down.”
    Joan nods, “Let us hurry. I would like to make it to Hawk’s Rest this year. Eric, you and I on point?” The ranger nods as he draws his bow, stretching, “Just like old times, hm?”
    “Yeah, yeah. Ya’re pretty nostalgic for a horse, Joan. Curtis, ya’re with us. And I suppose Tilde is too since she refuses to leave yar side. Ya’re gonna have ta keep ya eyes on that toy, right?” You nod, “The trees are pretty sparse over there so we can just rush it. They should be more afraid of that Gods awful noise than they are hungry.”
    “We should know by their screams if they are scared or hungry,” Joan adds darkly. 
    You grit your teeth while loading the revolver as insurance. You hope you won’t need it. Its a bit nerve wracking as you prepare yourself for a potential combat scenario. Your heart has a steady, fast rhythm as you check the dagger on your hip, “Do not have that look of dread on your face,” Arthur tries to console you, “You will be fine. Right, Tilde?”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde gives you a small reassuring smile.
    You smile back at her, “Alright, I’m ready.”
    “Come along then,” Joan picks up a lance and shield, “There are monsters to slay.”
    “Stay quiet and stick close,” Eric pulls an arrow from his quiver and nocks it, “Same for you Tilde.”
    “Affirmative,” The robot nods emotionlessly.
    You move into position and open up the shell of the car, “I don’t know how long this thing will last,” You mumble, “Hopefully long enough,” You switch it on, and instantly the speaker begins to screech loudly. You reattach the shell and start moving the car, you put it fifteen to twenty yard in front of you as you jog after it. You soon begin to hear the screeches of the goblins. You shudder as the frightening screams trigger other, just as frightened squeals.
    “Fear,” Joan affirms. Like a cascade, the screams scare the other, just as skittish goblins. 
    “Ya can see their footprints,” Eric points to the ground, “Most are headed away from us. I almost feel sorry for the ones that are in our way,” Eric lets loose an arrow and you see a small green form fall over, falling out of some bushes, “Heh, some a’ the braver ones will stick around. Thankfully he was too focused on that toy,” He lets loose his next arrow, taking down another goblin.
    “Save some action for me, Eric,” Joan sighs, staying vigilant, “There is one in that tree on the left, about twenty--”
    “On it.”
    “Why are all these damn goblins just in a big line in this pass?” You pant.
    “Those bug bears probably set them there to catch anyone that they missed. These beasts see only strength of their own kind. They will bully the weak to get what they want,” Joan explains. 
    “We should be fine here,” Eric slows to a walk, “I cannot hear them any more.”
    You drive the car back over to you. You can plainly tell now that you don’t have as much adrenaline pumping through you that you notice the speaker is much more quiet and crackling. You turn it off, knowing that it will most likely never sound the same. You remove the speaker from the car and unceremoniously dump it into your bag. As the rest of the party catches up as you clean off the car, “Curtis,” Arthur pants, “Allow me. Hold the toy in front of me,” You nod and pick it up. With a simple wave of his staff and the touch of his finger, all of the dirt flies off the car. 
    “Oh, thanks!” You smile.
    “I got a bit on your coat, do not thank me yet,” He does the same spell and touches your chest, removing the bits of dirt.
    “Thanks,” You repeat as you shove the car into the messenger bag, “Is it too late for me to learn some magic too?”
    “Well--” He starts to sheepishly explain.
    Eric buts in, “We need to keep moving, PLEASE.”
    “You are right,” Arthur sighs, “Right behind you, Eric.”
    “Come on.”
    “We should tell Hawk’s Rest about these goblin bands,” Rael speaks up as he adjusts his armor, “As well as send a messenger back to Goldcrest to spread the word.”
“Agreed. There could be numerous bands of who knows what prowling the hills and valleys,” Joan stows her weapon and shield in disappointment. 
“What's the worst scenario?” You ask out of curiosity, “I mean in stuff that could be out here.”
    “Depends who you ask and how realistic,” Arthur answers.
    “Perhaps a large orc raiding band,” Joan muses. 
    “A dragon,” Eric shrugs.
    “Hellish demons that have clawed their ways from the depths of Hell to reap the souls of the living,” Rael hisses.
    “Answer: a legion of machines,” Tilde surprisingly answers you.
    “Funnily enough, that stuff is all from most to least likely,” Rose chuckles, “You guys rehearse that?”
    “Negative. At least in my knowledge base there was no planning.”
    “Here we are, the middle point of our journey through the mountains,” Eric puts his hands on his hips and stares at the sweeping vistas on the other side of the mountain. The forests peter off on this side turning into grassy fields. You spy a small town in the distance, “Pretty good time. Even with those nasty scares.”
    “Lunch?” Rose asks.
    “Aye, I am quite hungry,” Rael puts down his pack and leans on a tree.
    “Rations for lunch then,” Joan grabs a bag off her horse body and begins handing out small packages. You gladly take one.
    “I was hoping we would be eating Rose’s stew again,” Arthur sighs as he reaches for his own little box. 
    Joan snatches it away from him, “If you do not wish for rations, we can let the rest of the group eat yours,” She grunts completely humorlessly.
    “I would very much like the ration, please,” Arthur nearly had to beg before Joan finally gave him his own little neatly wrapped package.
    You sit on the ground near the middle of the clearing and gladly get to eating. Tilde, despite not eating, takes a seat next to you with Rose on the other side of her. You open the little package to find a few pieces of hardtack, some jerky, dried peaches and a handful of nuts.
    “Oh! You got peaches? Can I have some?” Rose asks you, offering some raisins. You exchange about half your peaches for the raisins.
    “Curtis,” Arhur speaks up, “You asked me about learning magic,” He reminds you. You nod, waiting for him to continue, “Unfortunately, you do not have the flame of mana or magic within you. At this point, the only thing that could ignite that flame would be a traumatic experience or something along those lines.”
    You sigh, a little disappointed, “Alright, thanks.”
    “Spot of wine, anyone?” Joan asks as she raises a small keg. The group almost, in unison, asks for some. Small metal cups of the alcohol are passed around. 
Eric leans over, “Joan always buys the best wine,” He whispers. You shrug and ask for some as well. It tastes fine, you’re just glad to not be drinking water for once, “Who do ya wanna take that night shift with, Curtis?”
You muster some courage, “I can do it solo. I wanna pull my weight.”
“Pull your weight?” Rael echoes in confusion.
“Your desire to help is appreciated, but taking night watch on your own could prove to be an awful mistake,” Joan comments before returning to her wine.
Eric nods, “We still don’t know if that group that originally tore you from your world is still after you. Nabbing you while we sleep would be... Incredibly easy to be honest. I also appreciate you wanting to do that, but training you for a solo night shift is what we’re trying to do for now, at least until we know if people are looking for you.”
“They could know that you have maintained your mental state. As one of a few people in this world with extensive knowledge of the Other side, you are indispensable to some groups,” Rael offers his input before going back to eating his food slowly.
    “If you’re worried about being helpful,” Rose smiles, “You helped both Arthur and me during that ambush and you came up with a pretty good plan to get us through those goblins without a fight. Keep doing stuff like that and you’ll definitely be pulling your own weight.”
“Its amazing how you guys are on the same page about these things but argue so much about other things,” You shake your head.
“Our drive to help those from the Other Side unites us,” Joan explains, “We could work together much more efficiently, I will concede that fact. We just...” She trails off.
    “Fail to see eye to eye on some points,” Rael finishes the sentence with a grunt. The group is silent for a few moments as people finish their food. 
    “Ya’ll be on night watch with Rael,” Eric announces, “I’m sure he wants to talk to ya one on one after ya had a night alone with his daughter,” He adds with a shit eating grin. Rose gives him a murderous look.
“Aye. Fine by me,” Rael folds his arms and watches you pull the ammo out of the revolver, “Time to get back on the road, hm?”

Nervously, you take a seat by the fire after being gently woken up by Rose. You throw on your coat and fold your arms. The cold air of the mountains gives you goosebumps, “You will warm up,” Rael grunts. He’s wearing light armor and sitting on the other side of the fire, “I do not have many skills to teach you, unless you desire to learn my painting techniques, but I have many stories to tell to pass the time,” The glowing purple eyes stare at you across the fire, “Is there anything you wish to know?”
    You smile nervously, “T-the scars. I really wanna know where you got those.”
    He sighs, “It is not a story I tell most. Perhaps I find you easy to speak to since you are nearly a stranger. Tell me, did you and my daughter do anything during the previous watch?”
    “Oh, no she just thanked me,” You smile, “N-not like in a--”
    Rael laughs, “Be at ease, I am sure you two would not have withheld that information from me for this long if you had. ‘They’ probably would have told me,” He says ‘They’ in a strange, revering way.
    “Who is... They?” You ask.
    Rael is silent for a few moments, “Are you a pious man?” He stares at you humorlessly.

    You pause for a moment, picking your answer carefully. 

PT12

    You shrug, “No,” Rael frowns at you, “Well, unlike this world, there are no magical acts of a god like I assume you channel through you.”
    “You would be right,” He nods.
    “I guess I’m a lot more open to it here, at least,” You shrug.
    He shakes his head, “I cannot imagine living in a world like yours. Technology everywhere, no gods or any kind of higher purpose.”
    “Some people find some higher purpose. I don’t know what mine is.”
    “You will find it, I am sure. I said I would tell you about my past, and I still intend on it. I find it strange that I so readily trust you, but I hope you feel the same way towards me,” He pauses for a few moments, “I am honestly not perfect with words. Perhaps I should just show you,” Rael holds up a small charm that softly glows purple. The glow moves to Rael’s hand. He puts two fingers to his forehead, the scars lighting up for a moment as a tendril of purple energy curls around his fingers. He reaches the hand out to you, “Close your eyes. I will make sure you do not hurt yourself.”
    “Uh, alright,” You close your eyes.
    “Lean back, relax, and let the vision take hold.”
    You do as he says, leaning against a decently large rock. You hear Rael move behind you. A few seconds pass as he mumbles an incantation. You feel cold as his hand brushes your ear. You plainly feel something wiggle into your ear and start squeezing itself further into the ear canal. You shudder as your vision begins to dim.

    You open your eyes. The world looks grey with a slight purple tinge. You have no free will over your body as the vision plays out. You are walking through the halls of a finely decorated facility made of well carved stone and forged metal. The chainmail armor you are wearing clinks gently beneath a vaguely purple tabard with a candle embroidered onto it. Other armored men and women walk by in the same uniform. They offer small, pleasant, greetings as you walk past that you gladly return. You stand before a large set of heavy wooden doors with two guards, one on either side. After a moment, the guards open the doors in unison.
    You step inside and stand before a grand jury, each sitting on tall chairs upon marble platforms. The main judge shifts in his seat beneath black robes, “Xenos von Diaus.”
    “Sir,” A voice leaves your mouth sounding vaguely like Rael’s. 
    “Thy gumption and will shine greatly on the Inquisition. Thy recent arrest has put thee in the eyes of the upper echelon of thy peers.”
    “Thank thee, sir.”
    “Fortune seems to greatly favor thee,” A second judge speaks up.
    “As it seems, we wish to assign thee a mighty task,” Another grumbles, obviously opposed to the decision.
    “Aye,” The main judge reaffirms, “A rogue mage has been spotted in Sun’s Reach. Despite thy lack of clerical blessing from our Grand Lady Mythra, thee should be able to handle it on thy own. Lady Ann has the scroll for thee. Go in the Lady’s light.”
    “Sir,” You say again, putting your right hand’s fist onto the left side of your chest, right above your heart. You leave the grand chamber with a feeling of pride in your chest. You head to another room that two guards open for you. There are desks scattered about, each one with a woman in white robes sitting at them. They toil tirelessly over long scrolls with ink feathers in hand. Each one has a shaved head, a white cloth around their eyes and a hood over their head. You quietly tip toe around the desks so as to not disturb them. You approach a small desk in the back of the room and lightly tap on the desk. 
The woman shudders and turns to you, despite lacking vision. Her hands slowly reach to you, touching your tabard then tracing up your body to your face. She touches your face, feeling the features, “Inquisitor Xenos,” She smiles as she quietly whispers to you.
    You feel... Incredibly happy as she mumbles your name, “Lady Ann. Looking lovely as ever.”
    “Oh, mine heart flutters to hear thee say that,” The hands hesitantly back away from you, “The Judges have assigned thee a new task. I have written it up for thee,” Without looking away, she opens a wooden drawer and grabs a scroll bound with a piece of twine and a purple wax seal. You gladly take it from her and stow it in your side bag. You take a hold of her hand, gently, feeling the warmth of her dainty skin before kissing the back of it, “Please. Come grace mine ears with thine presence when thee returns.”
    “I will. I should not be gone much longer than a fortnight. The Grand Lady is mine shield.”
    “She is mine hope that thee will return as well. Godspeed, dear Xenos. Pray, let me touch thy face once more. I will cling to that feeling until thy return.”
    “Of course, Lady Ann,” She slowly feels every part of your face including eye lashes, hair and Adam's apple. You hesitantly leave her presence and the grand halls of the Inquisition’s home base in Summerfield. 

    You sit in the back of a wagon bound for Sun’s Reach. The people in the merchant’s caravan are friendly and the children ask you to play their games during rests. You are a young man of twenty something and have no trouble finding ways to pass the time between the children’s games and swapping stories with the merchants. They are obviously familiar with you as you travel with them often when they come into town two or three times a month. The trip takes five days to reach Sun’s Reach. You stretch as you step into town. You are wearing a different tabard, one that matches this city’s guard. It is red and orange with a yellow sun on the front. You have a dark metal mace on your hip and a blank metal kite shield on your off hand. The sun doesn’t glint off your black metal armor. You check the scroll Lady Ann gave you again. You put it to your nose sneakily, getting a slight whiff of her perfume. The scroll has the depiction of a man on it, a round bald head, beady eyes and covered in tattoos. His eyes are blue and he is wanted for the crimes of practicing illegal demon summoning magics. 
    You head directly to his residence, a run down wooden hut outside of town. Easily you locate the building, guided by Lady Mythra and the words of Lady Ann. You wish desperately to return to her. You usually would have taken a rest, but taking him in should be easy. If he will not come quietly, you will take him in cold. Your heart pounds as you approach the hut. You change into the Inquisition tabard before drawing your mace. As stated in the scroll, zombies and skeletons raise from the earth and shake off the dirt. You chuckle as your blood rushes and your helmet goes on. 
    You easily slam your mace into the skulls of the shambling corpses. Three zombies that attempt to latch onto you get their rotted skulls crushed by the weight of your mace or boot. The skeletons take aim with their bows, the weak, rotted arrows shatter on impact with your shield. With their ranged option depleted, the skeletons draw swords. You parry a sword and bring your deadly mace down onto the skull of a skeleton. The other two go down just as easily. The mage obviously knows you are here. You kick down the rotted door to the room. The mage throws a fireball at you. A wave of heat washes over you but there is no damage done to you or the armor. 
    “BACK INQUISITOR!” The mage screams as his hut begins burning down. There is a summoning circle surrounded by black candles and blood.
    “COME QUIETLY OR I WILL PUT THEE DOWN!” You shout back as you step towards him menacingly.
    In a panic, the mage raises his arms to the sky and screams an enchantment. His tattoos and runes over his body begin to glow. You sprint towards him, grabbing him as he finishes the incantation. The world goes dark. You and the mage float in an endless, starry expanse. You turn to the mage and watch as he writhes and screams as the tattoos and flesh are ripped from his body before his organs and skeleton explode. 
    A cacophony of voices touch your ears, whispering soothingly.
    “This one.”
    “This one is worthy.”
    “Give him...”
    “Our strength.”
    “Xenos von Diaus...”
    “The pact is made.”
    The tattoos turn into a flash of mana before flying into you. It burns your skin and makes you cry out in pain.

    You cry out in pain as you are torn from the vision. Rael grabs you and holds you down as you pant and squirm, “Curtis, Curtis. Calm down. It was not real. Calm down,” He holds your arms down as you look around. Your coat has been removed and sweat still pours down your brow. 
    “What the hell?” You moan as you try to catch your breath, “What was that?”
    “Them. The voices. They are what gives me strength. How much did you see?”
    “I saw like a week of your life when you were about my age. I saw those Judges... Xenos von Diaus... Lady Ann... That mage and then... Those voices,” You whisper.
    “Aye. My past,” He pulls at the torn, worn, purple tabard with a bronze candle on it, “The men that I was a pawn for, my real name, my first love, my enemy and the force that lends me Its power. Oh, Lady Ann, how I miss you.”
    “How come you no longer speak with ‘thee’ and ‘thy’?” You ask.
    “That was a long time ago, Curtis. I was born before the Cataclysm. Things are different now.”
    “No,” You shake your head and chuckle, “That was like, what, 230 years ago? You’re what, 48? 49?”
    “I was born 30 years before the Cataclysm, Curtis,” He says with force in his voice, “You look like hell,” He grunts, “Go sleep. I will finish watch on my own.”
    “B-but you can’t just send me to sleep after telling me that!” You argue, “How can that be possible? Does Rose know? Emma?”
    “My wife knows. I beg of you, please do not speak of this to the others. If my trust is misplaced, I will show you that I am not one to be crossed.”
    You finally have a grasp on your breath and a feeling of exhaustion is overwhelming you. You stand, “Your secret is safe with me. I need to know more later, please,” You turn to Rael, look into his glowing purple eyes and put your right fist onto your chest on the left side with a smile. You duck into the tent and move to the back to give yourself a quick cold sponge bath before getting into your cot. The chilly feeling and the horrifying voices speaking to you--Xenos--Rael continues to haunt you. You lie down on your cot, staring at the ceiling. Slowly, the creeping tendrils of sleep take ahold of you and pull you gently into sleep.

    After a long day of walking where you mostly keep to yourself, the Thunder Crashers make it to Hawk’s Rest. Rose walks next to you, glancing at your face pretty often with a concerned look. The sun is setting as you near the town, “I am so very happy to be back in mamano territory,” Joan smiles as you pass a group of farming cow women and a few men. They wave at you as you pass. Joan, Rose and Eric wave back. 
     “Curtis,” Eric speaks softly, “Do ya wanna go to the night market? We can see some neat stuff there.”
    “Just do not eat the fruit,” Rael warns.
    “Yeah, I’ll go,” You smile, “Just don’t let me wander the streets alone at night. I’m sure I’d get lost even in this tiny town.”
    “Rael, would you come with me to secure a room?” Arthur asks, “I am sure you have no interest in trinkets or fruit.”
    “True. And you fear that harpy. I will protect you,” Rael and Arthur break off from the group and head deeper into town. 
    You look around at the people populating the small town of Hawk’s Rest. Every single woman you see has some sort of monstrous quality. Cow women, more centaurs, bird women and cat and dog girls all wander through the town, usually hand in hand with a human man, “Ya can find almost anything at this market. A lotta traffic comes through here so its usually pretty populated,” Eric tells you as he falls in step next to you, “Anything specific ya wanna pick up? I’ve got some gold burning a hole in my pocket if ya want anything,” You look around, you see a dwarven armorer, a spider lady selling nice clothes, a cyclopes selling weapons, a few stalls selling all manner of baked and fried foods, a few wood carvers’ stalls selling all sorts of nicknacks and toys and a final stall fronted by a small dog woman with all manner of Other Worldly artifacts.

    You shrug, thinking about what you need. 

PT13

You make your way to the weapon smith’s stall with Eric and Joan following you. Tilde, for some reason, wanders off with Rose. You look over the cyclops's wares for a few moments. ‘Spears are easy to wield,’ you think to yourself as you pick up a six foot wooden pole with a pointy iron tip on one end. “In the market for something simple?” The cyclops asks you.
    You nod, “Yeah, and a shield.”
    “Hey, Alma,” Eric greets the Cyclops, “Got any arrows for me? Also give me whatever my friend Curtis here wants.”
    “This runts with you?” The cyclops laughs, “The company you keep.”
    “Leave ‘im alone, would ya? He’s got potential. I can see it.”
    “Sure, sure. When he comes back in a body bag don’t cry to me. A smith’s works are only as good as the people that wield them. Here, a simple, light shield,” She hands you a wide kite shield with a blank front.
    “Go wander around some more, Curtis. I gotta finish up some business and I’ll catch up.”
    You nod at him and push your way through the crowd of people surrounding a produce stand as you step towards the armorers. The short, stocky and quite stacked dwarven woman with orange hair in full, but revealing, plate armor puts down her ledger and looks up at you, “What can I--” She stops as she looks you up and down, “I think you’d be better off at the leather workers if you need armor.”
    “O-oh,” You stammer and turn to leave but are stopped as a centaur approaches the booth.
    “Are you harassing my traveling companion, Ms. Baria?” Joan growls. 
    “Lady Joan Orwell,” The dwarf sighs, “How is that armor holding up?”
    “Fine, thank you. Again, I ask you--”
    “Okay, okay, yeah I guess I did harass him. What of it? You two gonna buy something?”
    “Are you going to apologize to him?”
    The dwarf folds her arms and grumbles out a small, “Sorry.”
    “Very good,” Joan uses a tone as if she was speaking to a child, “Now, my accomplice here could use some light armor.”
    “Do you mean... Light? Or LIGHT?” She uses a devious tone with that second ‘light.’
    “LIGHT,” Joan rolls her eyes.
    “Is Eric around? I was saving it for him...”
    She rolls her eyes again, “Eric!” She calls for your companion. 
    Eric joins the group quickly, your shield and spear in hand as well as a few bundles of arrows, “Hello,” He greets the dwarf.
    “Eric! Just the guy I was looking for!” Baria exclaims as she shuffles around a box, “I got some mithril armor in and I thought you might want it!” She produces a piece of chainmail, specifically the chest piece and lays it on the counter, “Pure. Mithril. Chain. Light and thin enough to wear under a coat or shirt even without arousing suspicion! I can fit it for you right now, just say the word and throw the gold on the table!”
    Eric nods, “Yeah, I’ll take it,” The dwarf grins, “Fit Curtis here with it.”
    The smile falls off her face, “H-Him? You pick some punk up off the streets and you want to fit him with mithril!?” The dwarf gives him a surprised look. Joan gives the same look.
    “He is a valuable asset to our team--The Thunder Crashers, and I very much would like to keep him alive,” Eric informs her matter of factly, “Or, ya know, I could just take my business elsewhere.”
    Baria swears under her breath, “Alright, alright. I’ll fit it to him. Anything else?”
    “A h-helmet,” You stammer, feeling a little beat down by all the people acting like you shouldn’t be travelling with them.
    “Leg guards and gauntlets too,” Joan adds, “Might as well fit him out completely, hm? Especially if Eric is paying,” Eric quickly agrees and begins discussing prices with the dwarf. A few moments pass and you are being outfitted with armor. The chainmail goes over your tunic but under your coat. The grey metal leg guards go over your shins and knees comfortably. The gauntlets go up to your elbows, the left one being much heavier than the right. You pull the helmet over your head, fumbling with the visor to lift it. It is light enough and protects your neck, but blocks a lot of your vision with the visor down, “Why do you suddenly feel the need to be armored up?” Joan asks.
    “I gotta protect my paper skin and glass bones, right?” You smile before you put the visor back down. Joan hides her face in embarrassment. 
    “You fumble with armor like a babe trying to put on their parent’s armor,” Baria laughs at you.
    “Woah, got Curtis some armor?” Rose asks as she joins the group. Tilde is right behind her with a small cloth parcel.
    “I feel powerful,” You mumble as you stare at your armored hands.
    There's a dull clang on the sides of your helmet as Rose strikes it with an open palm, “Tough huh?” You both giggle at the noise.
    “Curtis,” Tilde speaks up and offers you the parcel, “Explanation: Rose instructed me on the proper sweets that you enjoy. I used my own funds to purchase it for you.”
    “Thank you,” You pull up the visor to grin at her before putting it in your bag.
    “Even the model three likes him,” The dwarf stares at you in awe.
    “Make no mistake,” Joan scoffs, “I merely enjoy watching you squirm more than I detest him. I will meet you all at the inn,” She walks off in a huff.
    “Rose, Tilde, you two can get Curtis back to the inn when you’re done, right?” Eric asks as he takes the gauntlets, helmet, shield and spear from you. 
    “Of course!” Rose nods, “Come on, Curtis, I wanna go see the Other Worldly stuff!” She starts to run off without you.
    You jog in the leg guards and chain shirt easily. You could definitely travel in them. You follow Rose to a stand where a sad looking dog woman is sitting. She perks up as Rose approaches, “Hello, Ms. Summerfield. Is Mr. Maximillion around?”
    “Hi Mrs. Woodcutter,” Rose gives her a small wave, “Mr. Maximillion has retired to the inn. If you’re going to be around longer, I’ll tell him you asked for him.”
    “I would very much appreciate that, thank you. And who is this?” She asks as she looks at you.
    “Mr. Bradley,” You introduce yourself.
    “Wonderful. If you are looking for strange and powerful artifacts you have come to the right place, child,” She puts up her thick rimmed glasses on, “What are you two looking for?”
    You start browsing her wares. Its mostly junk and scrap metal, but you do spy a large, heavy, metal flashlight behind her, “May I see that?” You point to it.
    “Oh this big heavy thing? I think its a weapon of some kind. I picked it up just a few days ago. I take gold or other artifacts as trade.”
    “Do you have any of these?” You ask as you pull out a .38 special round.
    “Of course!” She shows you a shallow wooden box with a multitude of bullets in it. Digging through, you find only three rounds. You set those aside, noting to come back if you ever find a 9mm pistol.
    A few other things you notice are four bottles of Mexican Coke a cola that still look good to drink, a nice looking, but most likely fake, diamond ring, a few sealed Hot Wheels cars, an unopened jigsaw puzzle of a picture of a few cats, a small laptop with a cracked screen, some nice smelling candles that look half used, a Garfield phone that looks like its been sitting in the ocean for a long time and a Swiss Army knife that someone sharpied their name onto.

    What do you trade for and what do you offer? Perhaps you could borrow some gold from Tilde or Rose?

PT14

    You examine the ammo first, its a different brand than the other ammo you have, and are hollow point rather than FMJ, “I’ll take these for sure,” You tell the woman, “How much do you want for them?”
    “I sell those brass and lead things for fifteen gold each. I also have some bigger ones already made into jewelry if you want those.”
    You shake your head, “No thanks, I just want these. I’ve got some stuff to trade, but I want a few more things. Can I see that big metal ‘weapon’?” She quickly hands it over. You unscrew the bottom and let the batteries slide out. You sigh with relief as you see the contacts are not corroded and none of the batteries are leaking. The heavy duty flashlight takes four D batteries, “Do you have any more of these?” You ask.
    She stares at you, dumbfounded, “L-Let me look, dear,” You close the flashlight back up and press the on button. The bulb shines brightly for a moment before you shut it back off, “I do not think I do,” The dog woman frowns as she turns back around, “I will keep an eye out for them, though.”
    You smile, “Thanks. I’ll take this too.”
    “Of course. Anything else?” You point to the laptop, “Ah, that will be a bit more expensive. Look at how--” She stops, “I think you have some kind of idea how it works, do you not?”
    You shrug, “I’ve done some research,” You watch as the little dog woman unfolds the laptop. It looks like a modern HP with a half size keyboard and a somewhat small, wide, cracked screen. She also puts a charger on the table with it that was already plugged into the machine. You poke at the keyboard and screen. You have changed out laptop screens before as well as phone screens in the past, ‘There's no way I could get the exact monitor here,’ You think to yourself as you sigh, “I guess I’ll take this too. Its pretty trashed,” You hit the power button and unsurprisingly it fails to turn on, “I just want it for scrap. Maybe I can use some parts on Tilde here. Last thing,” You pick up the last thing on your list, the red Swiss Army knife. The name ‘REX’ is scrawled on the side of it. You flip out the knives and feel dull, cheap Chinese metal. Unfortunately, it is the same story with the scissors and nail file/screwdriver. You had hoped for a bottle opener on it, at least. You shake your head and set it back down. 
    “Is something wrong with it?” Rose asks.
    “Not the best quality or selection of tools,” You tell her quietly, “Nothing I need, to be honest.”
    “What are those, Curtis?” She asks as she points to the bottles of soda. 
    “Drinks. Sugary and caffeinated. I don’t recommend drinking them before bed.”
    “I want one!” Rose started digging through her bag, “Actually, just give me all four of them.”
    “Alright, Ms. Summerfield. So for you, young man, the metal weapon, those little packets of metal and that strange device. And for you, young lady, the bottles of... soda?” The dog woman started scribbling in her ledger, “Gold or trade?”
    “Trade,” You grunt, “I’ll cover for you, Rose. If I can. Here, I’ve got this,” You present your wallet. You remove your photo ID and credit card, “Its full of Other Worldly currency.”
    “Currency? This green paper?” The dog woman removes the coins and bills, “Is this really how they trade? With paper and bland metal coins?”
    You nod, “Not nearly as fancy as gold coins. That should pay for this thing and the metal weapon, right?” You point to the laptop and the flashlight.
    The old woman thinks for a few moments, “Fine. I will do that. Just because you want to try to fix that poor automaton and Rose seems to like you. And what do you have for the rest?”
    You offer her the keys from your key ring. You can’t remember what they go to, but you know you don’t need them now, “These open locks in the Other World. I don’t know what they go to, but they’re a bit better to make into jewelry, right?
    Mrs. Woodcutter takes the keys from you and turns them over in her furred hands, “I will need a bit more than this.”
    Hesitantly, you put the broken speaker on the table, “I have this. A speaker.”
She thinks for a few moments, “Yes, the speaker will do as well as the keys. I will also include the information you have given me as payment. If I may ask, what are those for?” She points to the bullets.
“To trade for MORE information,” You grunt, “I want this too,” You pick up the Swiss Army knife.
“I thought you said it was junk?” Rose frowns
“Junk can be improved. I’ll tell you about a few more things too.”
Ms. Woodcutter frowns, “Alright. Its yours. Now speak, please.”
    “Well...” You slowly pull out the revolver and flip it open. She tilts her head in confusion as you slide the bullets into the cylinder, “These go in here,” You take the rounds back out and flip it closed, “Then you close this, pull the trigger, then the lead is launched out at whoever you have it pointed at.”
    “How... deadly is it?” The woman asks as her skin turns ghostly white.
    “Very!” Rose says, “He killed a bugbear with it to protect me.”
    Tilde whirrs to life, “Affirmative. The projectiles launched out of the weapon move much faster than any other projectile I have witnessed. I was unable to track it with my sensors.”
    “O-oh,” Mrs. Woodcutter looks at the box of bullets nervously.
    “They’re safe as long as you don’t put them in a gun,” You reassure her, “You don’t have to stop selling them.”
“Alright, thank you,” She sighs. You start loading the things you bought into your messenger bag. The laptop goes in the same main compartment with the RC car. The flashlight goes in a water bottle holder on the side of easy access. Rose takes the bottles and puts those under her cloak as you explain a few more items to the dog woman. She nods in satisfaction at each one, “Will you still send for Mr. Maximillion, Rose? I would like to speak to him.”
“Of course!” Rose nods, “Curtis, lets go, I’m reaaaally hungry.”
    You nod, “See you around,” You smile at the friendly shopkeeper before following Rose. The sun had nearly set and the streets were clearing. Most people were coming home from the fields or hunting and returning home or going to the market. You stop in front of the inn that the entire town was named after, ‘Hawk’s Rest,’ with a sign in the shape of a large bird hanging above the door. Tilde opens the door for both you and Rose before following you both in. The rest of the group waves you over to a table they had already secured in the corner. Joan sat in the back, sitting her entire horse body on the floor between the table and the wall. Everyone else, including you, sits at the wooden chairs around it. 
Rael downs some more alcohol from a tankard, “Find what you were looking for, Curtis?”
    You shrug, “Some scrap, mostly and some ammo.”
    “Ya’re not even gonna show him the armor?” Eric frowns at you as Arthur calls a woman from behind the bar over.
    “Oh, right,” You unzip your coat and show him the greenish chain shirt.
    “Mithril?” Rael grunts, “How did you afford that?”
    “I bought it,” Eric explains, “Baria owes me. Owed me,” He shrugged, “Got him some gauntlets, a helmet and leg guards too.”
    “You sure you can wear it effectively?” Rael asks. You nod hesitantly, “I am sure Joan and I--” He glances at the centaur who looks away from the both of you, “at least I can give you a few tips on it.”
    The woman from the bar, a harpy with wings like a hawk’s and brown hair, approaches the table. Her legs, from midway down the thigh to the foot are similar to bird’s legs. She taps her feet on the old wood and smiles at your group, “Its been too long, friends!” She chirps cheerfully as she flaps her wings, “What are my friends hungry for?” She grabs an empty tankard from Joan with the small claws at the end of her wings, “Special today is venison stew!”
    “Oh!” Rose speaks up, “I want that! Please!”
    Rael nods, “Some of that for me as well, please.”
    “Do you have the steak today? With those wonderful potatoes?” Joan asks.
    The harpy nods, “We do! Especially for you, friend! I’ll put you down for that, Joan. Arthur, sweetie, what can I get you?”
    The old man coughs and stammers, “S-something light for me, please.”
    “Could I get some steak too, Riley?” Eric asks.
    “Of course, friend! Who is this? Seventh friend?” She hops over to you, her little clawed feet tapping on the floor, and gets her face close to yours, “Name?”
    You shiver, “Uh, Curtis. Nice to meet you, uh, Riley?”
    “Yes-yes! Riley! What kind of food does Curtis enjoy?” She turns and asks Eric.
    “He can tell you himself, Riley,” Eric chuckles.
    “Oh!” She turns back to you expectantly. 
“Steak and potatoes?” You cautiously ask. 
The harpy looks to your traveling companions who nod at her. She turns back to you and nods as well, “Yes-yes. Steak for friend. Potatoes too. I will bring out drinks too. Does Rose want drink?”
“No thanks. I’ve got something else,” Rose says smugly. The hawk-harpy leaves and Rose pulls a bottle of Coke out of her cloak and tries to open it. You watch her struggle with the cap, “Do I crack it open like an egg?” She asks you as she grabs an empty cup.
    “Pass it here,” You chuckle as you look in your bag of tricks for something you can use. You put the cap on the edge of the table and slam down on it with your other hand. It takes three tries but you get the cap off. You pour a little out for yourself into your mess kit’s metal cup. Rose greedily begins to down it.
    She coughs and sputters, nearly spitting out the beverage, “People drink that?”
    You nod, “Yeah some people only drink that stuff.”
    Rose frowns but puts the bottle to her lips again and takes another swig. She makes another disgusted look but still drinks it. Rael shakes his head, “What poison are you feeding my daughter?” He growls.
    “May I try it?” Arthur asks. Rose nods and pours a little bit into a cup for him. He takes a sip, “How vile,” He shudders, “I think I like it. What is this substance, Curtis?”
    “Soda,” You shrug as you drink your own cup, “I think its better cold.”
    “I would very much like to try that,” Arthur smiles, “If only we had more.”
    “Oh, I have three more bottles~!” Rose grins menacingly. Rael sighs and returns to his drink as the harpy brings out everyone’s food.

    You retire to your room for the night, completely stuffed. You share a room with Eric, his company does not bother you much. Tilde is in the room as well, her unending presence feels completely natural at this point. You pull out the laptop to take a look at its innards. Tilde watches you intently as Eric merely shakes his head, “Curtis, what in the Gods’ names are ya planning on doing with that thing?”
    “Parts,” You explain, “Tilde’s innards are pretty similar to components from my world. I might also be able to fashion another noise device with this battery and these speakers. I just have to hope that I can get a charge for the battery.”
    Eric gives you a blank look, “I am naught more than a simple farm boy, Curtis. I don’t understand a damn thing you just said.”
    You crack a smile in response, “Sorry. I’ll try to keep my nerd shit to myself.”
    “Thanks,” He jokingly thanks you with a smirk.
    “Plea: I wish to hear more of, ‘the nerd shit,’” Tilde protests.
    Eric laughs, “You taught ‘er to swear!”
    “Can you say more swears?” You ask, also laughing.
    “Affirmative: I can swear in approximately seven languages. Though dwarven swears are more just strings of insults rather than a single word.”
    “Say a few!”
    You and Eric sit and listen to Tilde rattle of swears in languages neither of you knew. The absurdity of it made you chuckle, “That's enough, Tilde. Thank you,” Eric shakes his head, “Before I hit the hay, do ya have any questions for me? Or if ya’d rather just speak to ya robot friend, I won’t be hurt.” 

PT15

    “I’m gonna try to do some more fixes on Tilde. Get some sleep, I’ll try not to make too much noise,” You tell Eric. He nods and rolls over on his bed, spilling his bag on the floor. You put out most of the lights and grab the heavy flashlight, “Can you hold this for me?” You ask Tilde as you hover over the computer.
    “Negative,” She shakes her head. Before you can say anything, her shoulder mounted flashlight springs open and turns on, giving you some much needed light.
    “Thanks,” You start picking through the electronics, “Can you move around when your chest is open? I wanna compare the wiring of this with yours.”
    “Affirmative,” With a cloud of steam, her chest compartment opens up for you to look. The wires look like copper, but are insulated with an unknown substance. It feels similar to her skin. Like usual, Tilde is fidgety and verbal as you poke her insides. Her hands touch your wrists gently as you put your hand near her, “You really like when I poke around in there, huh?” You whisper, thankful that Eric had started snoring.
    “I-I just...” Tilde puts her hands behind her back.
    “Does... What does it feel like when I poke around in here?”
    Tilde freezes as her gears and servos whirr for a moment, “Explanation: it is warm. It feels good. I... Enjoy it? I cannot explain it as my sensors seem to go dark when you do. Conjecture: perhaps you are making connections accidentally by poking in there,” She touches your wrist again before returning her hand behind her back, “My apologies. You must be annoyed by it.”
    “Hey, it doesn’t bother me. You’re a fascinating machine. I just wish I could help you more. Some of these could be sautered back into place, if I could figure out WHAT they connected to, but I don’t have power for it,” You grumble discontentedly.
    “Encouragement: you have done more for me than anyone else ever could.”
    “But I want to do more for you,” You sigh, “Are you comfortable with me using parts from this stuff to try and repair you?”
    Tilde shifts, seemingly nervously. She struggles to show much emotion other than small smiles and frowns, “Affirmative. If you believe it is the best course of action, I leave my broken machinery in your capable hands.”
    You shake your head, she didn’t seem too enthusiastic, “We can talk more once we get to that point. I can’t do a lot right now, anyways,” You leave the parts in the laptop, not wanting to need to keep track of each individual part, “I’m mostly afraid there's some metal that I’ve never heard of in those wires that you need.”
    “Apology: I was not built to scan and identify minerals.”
    “No need to be sorry about it. I guess I’m gonna go to sleep,” You decide, a bit tired and upset.
    Tilde puts her hand on your shoulder as she closes her chest, “Comforting statement: you are doing your best. Do not be sad, Curtis. Please.” She smiles at you as she helps you remove the chain shirt and other armor.
    You nod and give a weak smile in return, “I’ll try.”
    You’re shocked as the robot lets out a pained sigh, “Exclamatory: I wish I had been programmed with better comforting protocols,” She seems glare at the floor in frustration.
    Hesitantly, you put a hand on her shoulder, it being your turn to comfort her, “Hey, come on. You’re doing your best too. If I don’t get to be sad, neither do you.”
    “Negative: I cannot feel sadness.”
    You frown, “Maybe we can fix that some time soon. For how advanced you are, I’m sure there's some emotions locked in there,” Tilde moves to a chair in the corner of the room and plops down in it without a word. You sigh dejectedly before lying down in the bed. The warm embrace of sleep takes you quickly. 

    You throw on your mithril chain and leg guards. You throw on your bags and glance at Eric as he returns from the wash room. Its a bit surprising how messy he is with his belongings. Arrows were spilt out of the quiver, sleeping pants were thrown over a table, his metal mess kit had fallen off the bed and busted open throwing cutlery across the floor, and his bag had been torn open and things were spilling out. You poke Tilde, “You up?”
    She whirrs to life and stands with the usual jets of steam, “Affirmative.”
    “Have you refilled your water recently?”
    “Negative: water levels are nominal. Further: I am at nominal charge as well. Humor: Do you need to recharge with food?” You nod, stomach growling slightly.
    “Don’t wait for me,” Eric calls, “I gotta pick up my stuff.”
    You wander downstairs with Tilde in tow. Joan and Rose are already there at the same table. Rose looks exhausted as she pokes at her breakfast. You take a seat and give a simple, “Good morning.”
    Joan ignores you and Rose turns and blinks at you, “I should not have drank that soda. I was awake almost all night.”
    You laugh a little bit, “I warned you.”
    Another harpy approaches you, “Good morning,” She greets with a large smile. She looks like the harpy from last night but much older, “Daughter Riley told me about new friend. Food? Is Curtis hungry?”
    “Yeah, I could do with some food, please. I’ll take whatever Rose is having.”
    
    “I made traveling food for friends!” Riley announces as she places a large bundle on the table. You push what little is left of your breakfast away from you, feeling completely stuffed. 
    Arthur graciously takes it, “Thank you, Riley.”
    “Come back soon, yes?”
    “We will most certainly try to,” Arthur smiles nervously.
    “About four more days to Geno-Town,” Eric chimes in cheerfully.
    “Oh! Geno-Town sends us good fish!” Riley nods vigorously.
    “Geno-Town?” You pipe up, belly aching and full of food, “That has to be named after someone.”
    “Aye,” Rael nods, “I remember--” He coughs, stopping himself, “That Geno was a gnomish artificer,” He says with a bit of venom in his voice as he pokes at a part of his chest.
    “He was much more than ANY gnomish artificer!” Arthur laughs, “He was the FATHER of artifice, Rael! You should know that,” He turns to you, “Geno was alive before the cataclysm, and died soon after from the wounds he sustained in the war. He and his dark elf wife are both buried on a cliffside where his workshop used to be located,” Arthur sighs, “I wish I could have met the man,” You catch Rael out of the corner of your eye as he rolls his. You’re sure Joan is rolling her as well.
    “We should start moving,” Eric orders as he stands from the table. 
    “Goodbye friends~!” The harpy sings as the seven of you step into the morning sun. A chilly wind blows right through you, causing you to shiver slightly. You turn back to the mountains with a tiny smile on your face. 
    “Feeling good?” Rose asks.
    You nod, “Yeah. This hasn’t been horrible. Even if I did take an arrow to the leg.”
    “At least it wasn’t to the neck,” She sighs, shuddering, “Just wait till--” Her ears suddenly begin to twitch as she looks towards the east part of town. Joan takes off in that direction, Rose following close behind her.
    “Curtis, come on!” Eric calls to you as he follows them. Arthur makes a pained expression before following along with the rest of the party. 
    You keep up easily enough, worrying only for Rael and Arthur trailing behind you. Rose and Joan are consoling a sheep woman that has collapsed on the ground. She pants heavily and tries to rub the blood stains off her skin, natural wool and clothes. It seems to have happened a while ago, “Calm down,” Joan commands as the town guard arrives, “Tell me what happened.”
    “Lady Joan!?” One of them exclaims, a lizard woman with a decorated uniform, “I did not expect you to be in town,” She speaks with obvious reverence in her voice.
    “We can catch up later, Captain Louanne,” Joan growls, “This woman needs help.”
    “R-right. I need a medic!” She starts barking at the other guards behind her. A woman with white wings tucked at her back and a long white staff in one hand steps forward. Her uniform is red and white compared to the dull brown the rest of the guard wears and the red and gold of the captain’s uniform.
    “Hold still, dear,” The woman softly commands as she puts her hand on the wound. With a simple spell, she backs away, “The bleeding has already stopped and the internal wound is healed.”
    “Thank you,” Captain Louanne takes a knee next to Joan and the sheep woman, “Speak, tell us what happened.”
    She pants but finally looks up at the two with terror in her eyes, “O-orcs,” She mutters in fear.
    Louanne makes a disgusted face, “Did they do this to you?”
    The woman nods, “Th-they took my husband a-and children.”
    “An orc raiding party?” Joan wonders aloud, “They usually kill first then take the bodies. They took your family alive?”
    “Y-yes.”
    “How long ago?” The captain asks.
    “L-last night. On our farm. I was knocked unconscious and-- and--” She begins to cry, “Please, find them,” She begs through the tears.
    “Star Bringer, tend to her. I will take a group after them.”
    Joan shakes her head, “No.”
    “N-no?”
    “As good as your men are, mine should handle it. We can move much quicker and have Eric’s tracking and uncanny ability to move quickly through the woods.”
    “And you expect to take down a whole band of orcs yourself!?”
    Joan arrogantly nods, “You have bore witness to my skills.”
    “Yes I have but people’s lives are at stake!”
    “Your desire to prove yourself and protect the weak is honorable, but I have the same desire and I must protect YOU from a band of sex hungry, mindless orcs!” Joan shouts, making the captain shrink away from her. 
    “Joan,” Eric butts in, “You know we have to put something like this to a vote. I know you have yar own--”
    “I vote we do it,” Joan interrupts him quite rudely, “If we do not handle it quickly, something horrible could happen.”
“Aye,” Rael grunts.
Rose nods, “I’m in.”
“I agree,” Arthur nods, “We have the tool kit to get this done expediently.”
“Negative,” Tilde announces, “Putting Curtis in harm’s way is against my main directive.”
“The town guard can handle it, Joan,” Eric makes a thumbs down, “We already had two bad injuries on the way over, we don’t need to sustain more.”
“People will die if we do not act!” Joan growls, “INNOCENT people! Children even!”
“That is four to two,” Arthur announces, “that means--”
“Correction: Curtis has yet to vote,” Tilde reminds him.
“Ah, yes, of course. How silly of me to forget,” Arthur rubs his beard, “The decision rests upon your shoulders.”
You look around at the numerous eyes on you. The cold gaze of Joan, the fiery glare of Louanne, the indifferent, glowing eyes of Rael, the pleading expression of Eric, Rose, Arthur and Tilde all staring at you curiously.


    Nervously, you open your dry mouth to answer.

PT16

    You put on a confident smile, “Yeah. We should go.”    “So you can see reason!” Joan gives Eric a smug look, “We should leave immediately. Where--”
    “BUT,” You chime back in, “We should take some of the guard with us. If Captain Louanne wants to come we should let her.”
    “I like this plan!” Louanne nods in agreement.
    “I don’t know a lot about orcs, but if they’re anything like what I do know, they will only respond to and respect force and power. You’re only five fighting people, and I doubt Tilde counts as she acts connected to the hip with me. I would count myself as less than half a combatant and I’ve never seen Rose fight,” You turn to the ever skeptical Joan, “How many orcs can you fight at once?”
    “Many. I have done it before,” Joan scoffs.
    “But what if there's ‘many’ plus another ‘many?’ I don’t want anyone to die as much as you, but--”
    Eric clears his throat, “The team has spoken, we’re gonna go fight those orcs. Captain Louanne,” He turns to the lizard woman, “We will take any guards you will spare with us,” Joan turns away in indifference.
    “I’m comin’ with you,” She grabs her sword and jostles it in its sheath, “People have been vanishing for a while now. I need to see this myself and bring justice to these green skins if they really are kidnapping people.”
    “Fine,” Joan grunts, “I know you can handle yourself better than some of my companions. Who else will walk with us into danger?”
    A few guards step forwards and offer their service. Every one of them is a tall, muscular monster girl, “Their camp should not be more than a day away. Gather camping supplies and report back. You have 20 minutes,” Captain Louanne growls. Her guards, about eight of them, hurry off to gather supplies, “Olly, you’re in charge. I should return before tomorrow. The rest of you, go do your job.”
    “Glad to see nothing here has changed,” Joan sighs.
    “We have been doing well since you left, Joan. Perhaps even better than when you were here causing a ruckus,” She turns and glances at Rose and you, “It seems like your little entourage is expanding. Never seen either of those kids.”
    “Rose has been with us for about four months now. But she has been training for this much longer than that,” Joan explains as the rest of the group starts to mill about. Rael is putting on his full set of armor, Rose puts on a grey cloak and checks her little thief's tool kit and Arthur is checking his prepared spells, “Curtis joined less than a week ago. He does not seem to have any ,” You raise one hand in greeting before trying to put your gauntlets on, pretending you’re busy.
    “Hmph,” She quickly loses interest in you, “It will be fun fighting with you again,” The lizard grunts.
    “I feel the same way, old friend,” Joan cracks a tiny smile. The two wander off, speaking of their history together in the town watch and some place called ‘Gadramel.’
    “Offer: let me help you, Curtis,” Tilde gently takes hold of your arm and feels your wrist before strapping the armor to your arm. She takes the left one and gently helps you slide your arm into it before doing the straps. 
    “Thanks, Tilde,” You smile at her as you move your arms, testing the movement. She smiles back at you, her gears turning audibly.
    “Curtis,” Eric approaches you as he examines an arrow.
    “Eric.”
    “Listen, if we get in over our heads--or ya do somehow,” He nervously starts, “Run away and hide somewhere. I should be able to find ya, or Tilde can lead ya back to a town. Tilde, you can pay for room and board for a few days for him, right?”
    “Affirmative. I am willing to part with my meager physical wealth to support Curtis as needed,” The robot agrees without a second thought.
    “Thanks. I know I can’t separate ya, but can I ask ya to keep an eye on Rose?” He whispers, “I know she can sneak around really well, but I would hate anything to happen to her again.”
    “I can handle myself!” Rose shouts, interrupting her conversation with her father.
    Eric sighs, “Curse her and her superior hearing. My plan right now is we go to the farm where they were ambushed and follow the orcs’ tracks back to their camp. Any objections?”
    You shrug, “I might have some good ideas, but I’ll leave plans to the professionals. I don’t think I could direct you all efficiently.”
    “Fair enough. I’m sure the others won’t complain either. You seem pretty uncomfortable in that armor,” He chuckles as you struggle with your helmet.
    “I’m figuring it out!”
    “Humor: I am amazed that you manage to handle my components better than you handle mundane armor,” Tilde gives you a small smile.
    “C’mon,” You sigh, “I’m trying.”
    The guards, as well as Joan and Captain Louanne, return. Joan is now in her full platemail with lance and shield at the ready, “Are my companions ready to leave?” She eagerly asks.
    “Aye,” Rael answers and the rest of the group nods in agreement. There is no hesitation in Eric as he readies to depart. You and the rest of the Thunder Crashers set off North of town with Captain Louanne and seven of her guard in tow. Three minotaurs, two lizards, not including Louanne, a centaur and a grizzly bear woman make up the armored guard. Unlike Joan, this other centaur wields a bow. You walk at the back with Tilde obviously at your side. 
    You fumble with the visor of your helmet and eventually manage to flip it up to let some cool air in, “Query: do you require aid with your armor? I am available to help you,” Tilde gives you another somewhat smug smile.
    “I’m fine,” You grumble, the visor slamming back down into place as you failed to prop it up.
    Rose giggles at you as you try to put it up again, “You could just take it off until we get closer.”
    “Do we have any idea where the orcs might be hiding?” You ask her.
    “Well, no. I suppose we don’t. But these wide open fields won’t hide many orcs,” Rose falls in step with you and Tilde.
    “I have seen a lot of things hiding in these fields,” The grizzly woman tells the two of you, walking with you. She has brown fur on her arms and legs. Her hands end in deadly looking claws that grip a long pike. Hardly hidden by her shining metal armor is a red collar around her neck with a little gold heart charm on it, “I know we have had reports of monsters prowling these fields after coming from the north.”
    “We fought goblins and bug bears in the mountain pass,” Rose worryingly informs her, “I hope they won’t stay there long.”
    The grizzly’s shoulders slump a little bit, “Disheartening to hear. I pray we can send an extermination force into the mountains soon.”
    “Extermination?” You echo in a somewhat worried voice.
    “What?” The woman growls, “You gonna argue that they are people too?”
    “N-no,” You stammer, “I-- I know how dangerous they are. I get it. I got attacked by them too.”
    “If only they would go peacefully,” Rose sighs, “Maybe the Demon Lord returning will save them.”
    “Perhaps,” The grizzly grunts, “Perhaps the Grand Maou returning would save all of us.”
    “What do you mean?” You ask.
    She gives you a weird look. Rose jumps in to cover for you, “You must forgive him, he comes from a land very far away.”
    “Ah. You are from Pearlavah?” She asks you.
    “Yeah!” Rose nods, “Not a lot of monsters there, ya know?”
    “Of course, of course. Not been here long at all, huh? Well, to put it bluntly, we’re running out of human men. Not a lot to go around in monster girl friendly lands. If we could take over Sebastian the fourth’s kingdom, we would be able to survive a bit longer. No idea what we’d do after that.”
    “Right,” Rose frowns, “Not to mention reality distorting and tearing things from another world and dumping them here. Makes me wonder if the world is coming to an end. Again.”
    “I doubt even the Maou could save us from that. All we really can do is live until our times come.”
    “Even still--” Rose suddenly stops speaking as dhe gasps at the smoldering remains of a cottage. The fields are nearly completely flattened as whatever force had been here had either stomped on all the produce or taken it with them as they retreated into the night. 
    “Definitely some orcs’ handiwork,” Eric mutters as he examines some foot prints, “At least they don’t conceal their footprints. They went North East. All we can do now is follow their trail.”
    Rose’s eyes are fixated on some wooden toys that had been trampled in the commotion. She has a massive frown on her face, “Don’t look so glum, child,” The grizzly gives her a reassuring smile, “The hunt is not over yet.”
    “R-right,” She turns away from the woman and dries her eyes, “We should keep up with the group.”
    Rose dashes ahead and steps next to her father. He seems to be chatting with a few of the guards. The bear girl stomps off too, leaving you alone with Tilde, “At least you like me, Tilde.”
    “Humor: I do?” She gives you another smug look.
    “I hope you do...”
    “Curtis!” Rael shouts at you, “Do not stray from the group!” The guards and the rest of the Thunder Crashers have already 
    
    After trudging through flattened grain and into the woods. You almost miss the sprawling fields of golden grains as you return to the browns and greens of the woods. Tilde informs you that you have been walking for about three hours as the team stops in a heavily shrouded area. You sit on the ground with your back to a tree. Tilde kneels next to you, “Diagnosis: you require water, Curtis.”
    She lifts the visor for you and attempts to force you to drink, “I’m not a baby,” You grumble and take the water from her. Your face gets red as you hear snickers from the guards, “Thanks Tilde,” You whisper, praying they don’t hear you.
    “Alright,” Eric wanders back to the group, “Their camp is over there,” He points over his shoulder with his thumb, “They’re dug in. They’ve got log walls and a few shoddy wooden buildings on the inside of the walls. A few tents outside the walls with the fodder and workers fighting over scraps of meats. Unsure on total orc count. Possibly 25 outside and more inside.”
    “Easy prey,” Joan gloats.
    “The bulk of the orcs should be drawn out by the sound of fighting,” Captain Louanne chimes in, “So we want a main team to draw the attention of the main forces. A second, smaller team will go in and extract the prisoners. Or what's left of them,” She adds darkly.
    “I hope it doesn't come to that,” Eric makes a grim face and turns back to the group, “Alright, team two. Rose, you’re with me. And you,” He points to one of the minotaurs in lighter armor, “And you,” The lizard woman he points at grins menacingly.
    “They may have numbers, but we have tactics and planning,” Louanne nods, “Everyone remember your training and you’ll be okay.”
    “Curtis,” Eric turns to you, “I’ll let ya pick which group ya wanna be in. Mostly because I know Tilde won’t go anywhere without you. We don’t need to be particularly sneaky in team two, so don't worry about that.”
    “It’ll be a smash and grab,” Rose grins as she adjusts her now cloudy grey cloak.

PT17

    “I’ll stay with the main team,” You announce.
    “Got it,” Eric nods at you, “Tilde, I know I don’t need to tell ya this, but keep an eye on him. Rael, ya wanna be on the second team? Ya magic may come in handy.”
    “Aye, my mace is yours,” Rael stops himself from giving the old Inquisition salute.
    Everyone finished preparing for combat by slapping on helmets and heavy armor plating. You grip your shield tightly and follow along in the march. You remember this feeling of adrenaline and excitement from when you went after the goblins in that mountain pass. You pull the revolver from your pocket and struggle to flip the wheel open in your gloves, “What’s that?” Captain Louanne asks you as she steps next to you.
    “Other World weapon,” You explain, “I don’t plan on using it, but it makes me feel a little safer.”
    “May I see it?” She asks. You flip it open and make sure there's no rounds in it before handing it over. 
    “Ammo goes in these,” You point to the holes in the wheel, “The hammer-- This thing, is pulled back,” She closes the wheel and pulls the hammer back, “Then you pull the trigger, and it brings the hammer down and discharges the round.”
    “Like a crossbow?” 
    “Exactly. But the ammo looks like this,” You present a round, “The lead or steel or whatever is blown out of this brass by a little, loud explosion.”
    “Sounds deadly.”
    “It is,” Rose tells her, “He shot a bug bear in the neck with it.”
    “Hmph,” The captain rubs her chin, “I would love to get my hands on one of these. Are you selling?”
    You chuckle, “No way in hell.”
    She frowns, “Well, if you change your mind, you know where I am.”
    “Maybe when I settle down,” You smile, unsure if you’ll ever get to settle down.
    Eric raises a hand at the group. You look up at the somewhat cloudy blue sky to see the smoke from a few campfires in the distance. He makes a motion across his lips like a zipper. He holds up one finger, and motions towards the fires. Your group nods. Your heart is pounding at this point. He makes a ‘V’ with his hands, two fingers. He draws a circle in the air and points off to the side. Captain Louanne looks at team one and closes an open hand. Team two stars moving parallel to the camp. You glance up at the rest of the team. Joan is at the front, the visor of her helm is up and she is glancing around, a small grin on her face. She excitedly slams the visor down and shakes herself. The guards don’t seem nearly as excited as she does, not even Louanne. Arthur nudges you and gives you a smile. He checks his spell book before muttering a few indecipherable words in your direction. You shield feels lighter and glows softly, “That should give you an advantage, hm?” He cracks a smile as he whispers at you.
    “Thanks. If only you could just plant fighting experience in my mind,” You joke.
    “If only I could imbue you with years of fighting experience,” He strokes his beard, “Perhaps a bard could do it.”
    You spring to attention as Joan suddenly breaks from the group running into the camp. Louanne rolls her eyes and dashes after her followed by the rest of the team. You try to follow but Arthur grips your wrist, “Wait a little bit. Trust me. Let their gaze focus upon the others,” You nod, waiting eagerly. You can already hear the screaming and shouting. A single, unified cry sends a shiver down your spine as the orcs scream. A lot of the screams are cut off quickly as the orcs are cut down, “Go, now,” Arthur tells you, breaking out into a brisk jog himself. 
You hurry into the clearing, you see Joan cleave through two orcs. A third charges the centaur as she turns around, bringing the club down on her only to be deftly blocked by her shield before getting run through by her lance. You’re not entirely sure if that cackling is her. You watch the chaos as guards cut down orcs. Overwhelming the guards by numbers, the orcs do land hits. A larger orc cracks the skull of one of the minotaurs before being stabbed to death by the rest of the enraged guard. None of the orcs wear amor and almost exclusively wield clubs or axes. As you watch in a stupor, a screaming orc charges you, only to be cut down by Tilde’s energy blade, “Command: get your head out of the fog, Curtis,” Tilde says with a firm voice. You drive your spear into its neck, finishing it off. Blood sprays your legs as the precious life giving fluid leaves the orc’s body.
“Right!” You reply before hurrying to the side of the grizzly woman as she stabs at two orcs. A third lies face down, drowning in mud and blood. You and Tilde turn the two on one into a two on three. Tilde quickly drops one of the orcs with an energy blast, paralysing him momentarily. The grizzly woman stabs her pole-arm into the shoulder of the living orc. You grab the spear with two hands and charge the already injured orc, driving the spear into his stomach. You stare up into the dying eyes of the stinking green skin, blood oozing from his mouth. You freeze, watching the life leave his eyes. As the rest of the orcs cry in unison, he joins in and life springing back to his eyes as he screams in your face. In one quick motion, with all that was left of his strength his club is slammed into your side. You fall to the ground, gasping for breath as a massive pain spreads throughout your side. You use the shield to protect your body as the club is brought down again. You don’t feel anything as the full force is brought down and glances right off the shield. The orc stops flailing at you as a pike is driven through its neck. 
    “Come on! Get up!” The grizzly shouts at you.
    You grunt and stand, knowing a rib or four just got shattered, “Comment: I wish you would be more careful,” Tilde tells you as she collects your spear and puts it back in your hands.
    “I’m-- I’m fine,” You wheeze, trying to catch your breath. 
    You, the grizzly woman and a few others form a line and take down more orcs. You stab one in the waist before a minotaur nearly chops him in half with her axe. You watch another guard fall somewhere in the line as another massive orc stomps out of the camp and launches his axe into her chest. A lot of the orcs fall back to the bigger one, hiding behind his strength. While most of the orcs are seven or so feet tall, this one easily stands around nine feet. The remaining guards drag their injured comrades to a safe spot before grouping up, ready to fight the head honcho. You join up with the group, ready to help in any way you can. The other centaur fires off a few arrows at the orc. They merely bounce off the hide armor he’s wearing, “Magic armor,” Louanne grunts. 
    “I will handle this,” Arthur announces as he pushes past the group. Joan is still off to the side, fighting a few orcs by herself. Your eyes grow wide, you eagerly await in anticipation. You know that Arthur is about to unleash some form of awesome spell. The orc chuckles and approaches Arthur, long halberd in hand. Arthur raises his hand, the spellbook flies before him, automatically flipping to the page he desires. Arthur takes on look at the page, the words leap off the page and plant themselves in the ground in a wide circle around him and the rest of the group. Lines form in the dirt, forming a six pointed star within the circle. A clear, white dome appears made up of triangles. You smile, this has to be a powerful shielding spell. Arthur begins to prepare another spell. The orc steps forwards, and brings his arms back, thrusting powerfully with the halberd. Arthur freezes as the pointy tip of the spear pierces the shield. The orc brings his weapon back once more, this time the halberd fully breaks through the shield and is driven into the old wizard’s stomach. The orc bellows a low laugh as he lifts the halberd as well as Arthur still pierced by it and throws them both aside.
“Arthur!” Without a second thought, you break out of rank as the guards start stabbing at the orc. You push Arthur onto his back, “Arthur! Arthur!” You shout, “Talk to me, come on!”
His eyes open slowly, “Curtis? Am I dying?” 
“No, no you’re not!” You cry as you try to figure out what to do. 
Joan rushes up behind you, “Hold him down!” You hesitate, “NOW!” She screams. You grab Arthur, intimidated by the centaur. With one quick motion she yanks the weapon out of the wizard’s chest. He grunts in pain before a serene smile spreads across his lips. Your hands move to the wound, applying as much pressure as you can.
    “Arthur, come on. Open your eyes, please,” You beg as his breathing becomes more shallow. You sneak a glance over your shoulder as Joan lets out a horrible cry. She had driven the halberd straight through the throat of the huge orc. It falls with a dull thud as she hacked at what little skin was exposed with a short sword. The rest of the weak orcs flee, their leader defeated. Tilde assists you in stopping the bleeding the best she can.
    Some of the guards move into the camp as Joan rushes back to your side, first aid kit in hand, “Stuck you like a kebab, huh?” Joan nervously chuckles, “Good thing he did not have you a-alone. M-might have cooked you over a fire, huh? Ate you like corn on the cob.”    
You stop yourself from shouting at her, “You got bandages in there?” You ask.
    “Yes, yes. R-right here,” The two of you with shaking hands attempt to patch Arthur up. It does not go incredibly well.
    “Command: give me the bandages,” Tilde forcefully orders. With calm and quick hands, she binds the wound, “Comment: it did not pierce any major organs. Bleeding has ceased momentarily. Magical mending is recommended.”
    “Where’s Eric and Rael?” You ask.
    “Still inside the compound,” Rose grunts back, “Tilde can you put him with the other wounded? We need to find them.”
    Tilde looks to you for confirmation, shifting a little uncomfortably, “I’ll come with you Tilde, then we can go inside together,” She nods and carefully lifts Arthur. Joan hurries inside the compound. 
    You both walk over to where a few injured sit. The woman that got her skull cracked open has a cloth over her face. The woman that took an axe to the chest lays on her back, seemingly still alive. A few others have minor cuts and bruises seem to be doing okay. The other centaur is tending to their wounds, “I saw you take quite the hit, child. Do you require any aid?”
    You shake your head and ignore the sharp pain of the broken bones. Tilde sets Arthur among the other wounded, “Can you look after him, please? I need to find the rest of my team.”
    “Of course.”
    You hurry into the camp looking for your allies. As you enter, Rael and Rose exit, both of them have grim looks on their faces. Rose stops and stares at you, “Is that your blood?” Her face turns a ghostly white.
    “Huh?” You look down at yourself. You hadn’t even realised you were covered in blood, “N-no, I’m fine.”
    “A-alright. I-- I need some air.”
    “Everything is fine. Don’t--” You grunt in pain, “Don’t worry.”
    “Y-yeah...” She gives you a weak smile and exits the camp. You look around as you enter. Dead orcs are piled to the side next to some crumpled tents. You breathe a sigh of relief as you see two smiling sheep girls and the man you assume is their father standing with the last of the guards. There are a few other men and monster girls standing around with the guards, relieved looks on their faces. You smile as you pass them, your strut turning into a limp as the pain finally starts getting to you. You pull the helmet off, sweat pouring down your brow. You pant as you walk through the dirty, smelly camp. Joan, Eric and Louanne stand around, debating something. You grunt as you approach, trying to announce your presence.
    “How-- How did it go?” You ask Eric.
    “Very well. Only two orcs left in the whole camp,” Eric smiles, “Looks like it went a lot better for us than you.” 
    You groan, “Offer: you may lean on me if needed, Curtis,” Tilde offers.
    “I’m okay,” You try to regulate your breathing the best you can.
    “I cannot believe that damn orc had a spell breaker,” Joan grunts, a menacing glare on her face and numerous dents in her armor, “AND magic armor,” She holds the blood stained halberd in her hands. The metal of it is a matte black similar to Rael’s mace. 
    “They seem to be getting equipped by someone else,” Louanne scratches her chin, “Did you see something strange, Eric?”
    He shrugs, “Well, the two guards in here that were overseeing the jail,” He points to a shoddy wooden building with an iron door, “Were talking about how the ‘Matriarch’ would be pleased with their offering.”
    “Matriarch...”
    “Stranger still, there's not a single female orc in this camp. The only not mamano female in here, is THAT,” He points to three cowering goblins. Their green skin is red and purple in numerous spots, “One of them is a girl, the other two male. Looks like the orcs have been beating them for fun. One of them even lost their arm.”
    “Savages probably tore it off him just to hear him scream,” Louanne shudders, “Speaking of, what should we do with them? The goblins and the green skins you managed to capture as they ran back inside the base?” Four orcs are bound by rope and against the wooden wall.
    “Slaughter them all. Goblin and orc,” Joan growls. 
    “Just let them go,” Eric sighs, “There's been enough death today.”
    Louanne shakes her head, “Both groups are scared enough. As well, they should spread word of our overwhelming victory here.”
    “I want those orcs dead,” Joan argues.
    “I know you loath orcs more than anything,” Louanne sighs, “But there's been more than enough slaughter today. Is your blood lust not sated?” Joan frowns and folds her arms, “Let the kid and robot decide,” She gestures to you, “Two innocent minds, right?”
    “Counter: I would not describe myself as that. Nor would I vote against Curtis. The choice is yours,” Tilde speaks to the lizard woman before turning to you.
    
    Your shoulders slump and you wince in pain as you look at the cowering, pleading goblins and stoic orcs. Their terrified eyes betray their show of bravery.

PT18

    You point at the goblins, “I don’t see why we can’t let them go. Not like they’re hurting anybody. They can go spread word of our victory here,” You shrug, “I guess ask them about this matriarch. Ask the orcs too, and if you don’t--” You groan in pain, doubling over, “Just do what you want after that, Joan. Do to them as they would to their prisoners,” You hardly grunt.
    “Plea: Curtis,” Tilde says firmly, “you are hurting. You must rest. Please.”
“I’m--” You grunt, “I’m okay.”
“I will take over here,” Joan grins.
“I better stay with her,” Eric sighs, “Don’t need her going overboard.”
“I must return to my troops. Good luck getting those orcs to talk, Joan,” Louanne chuckles.
“I have my ways,” Joan starts digging through her bag.
You glance at Tilde, her usual blue-green eyes stare at you, almost glaring. Steam bursts from her body as gears turn loudly, “Overwriting previous protocols,” She announces.
    “E-excuse me?” You stammer.
    “Force is being used. Do not resist,” She lunges at you. You hardly have time to raise your arms in defence as her arms wrap around you in what feels like a firm, loveless hug. Her grip changes as she lifts you in a princess carry. You’re surprised at how gentle the robotic woman is. Tilde does not look down at you as she turns heel and carries you out of the camp. Eric and Joan both stare at the two of you with wide, surprised eyes.
    “P-put me down,” You ask out of embarrassment.
    “Negative,” You put your hands over your face, trying to hide. You can hear Rose giggling at you as Tilde sets you on the ground, “Explanation: Rael, Curtis has internal injuries. I examined four broken ribs in this area,” She waves her hand over your side, “I detect minor internal injuries.”
    “Aye. I can see the pain on his face,” Rael nods, “I admire how much you care for him,” Rael is hovering over other injured people. The woman you thought was dead, the ont that took a heavy strike to the skull, is breathing again.
    “Enough to embarrass him,” Rose stifles a laugh.
    You groan as Tilde starts to remove your armor. She removes your chain shirt and gauntlets. You look up at her, knowing your face is tomato red, “Thank you,” You grumble, folding your arms.
    “Humor,” The soft, robotic voice returns to her tone, “I would expect you to know how to take care of yourself, Curtis.”
    “I- I do. There were important things to take care of though. I was going to come out here in a moment. How is Arthur doing?”
    “Stable,” Rael informs you as you attempt to sit up but are forced back down by Tilde.
    “Recommendation: you need to lie down. Sitting up will only make the injuries worse. Offer: if you desire to rest your head on something, you may use my legs or thighs.”
    “Keep him lying flat on his back and do not raise his head,” Rael instructs, “We have no idea if he could faint from blood leaving his brain.”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde lifts your tunic to look at the battered purple skin. She runs a few devices over your body looking for further injuries. 
    “How do you feel, Curtis?” Rose asks, “Can I do anything for you?” She places the rest of your gear next to you. You shake your head and close your eyes.
    “Query: may we lay his coat over him for warmth?” Tilde asks.
    “Of course,” Rose lays the coat across your chest, “I didn’t know you could do things like that, Tilde.”
    “Query: what do you mean?”
    “Forcibly carry someone against their will. I’ve only seen you follow my mom’s orders before like, move this, watch that, help with those...”
    “Explanation: I am able to overwrite normal parameters and directives to act in the best interests of my subject. I do have some form of autonomy despite my disposition to follow orders. Your mother’s orders are still in my directives, but some have been overwritten with personal directives. My main priority is to keep Curtis alive and well, his own actions were going against this priority.”
    “Mom is not your temporary master any more, huh?”
    “Affirmative. As I stated to her, it was a temporary, but necessary deal until I found a potential master. Curtis has the potential to repair me so I have placed him as my new temporary master.”
    “Huh. I didn’t know he was working on you. I hope he’s doing better than that artificer we hired years back.”
    “Query: the one that nearly destroyed my internal components? Humor: it is not hard to do better than that woman.”
    “Curtis,” Eric calls out to you, “Ya have guests.”
    “Guests?” You grunt, “Help me sit up, Tilde,” You open your eyes as Tilde helps you up. Surprisingly, the three goblins stand before you.
    “They wanted to thank you personally,” Eric shrugs, “I didn’t see why not. They’re not armed or anything.”
    “Yes!” One of them excitedly shouts, “Merciful human is deserving many thanks!” The goblins all get on the ground, bowing to you.
    “Thank you!” They attempt to shout in unison.
    “If you were standing I would kiss your boots and the very ground you walk upon!”
    “Yeah, yeah. No problem,” You give a weak smile, “Go on and get out of here. Make sure to spread word of our victory and defeat here, alright?”
    “Yes! Yes!” The nod vigorously as they stand.
    “Anything for you!” The female grins at you with yellow teeth before the three of them run off into the woods.
    Rose giggles, “That was almost cute.”
    Tilde gently lies you back down, “I guess so,” You murmur with a frown, “I hope they find somewhere safe.”
    “Compassion for monsters?” Louanne chuckles, “What's next? Loving animals?”
    “That's a pretty big jump.”
    “Eh, maybe not. They’re pretty much the same,” The captain shrugs.
    “Take the coat off him,” Rael orders as he kneels next to you, “I have tended to the others’ more serious wounds. I will attempt to mend the bone and heal any internal injuries. Are you prepared, Curtis?”
    You nod, “If I can stop being babied sooner, I am.”
    “Good enough,” Rael mutters a few words, purple tentacles coiling around his arms starting at his shoulders. He touches the side of your body and the tendrils begin to caress your skin. They are freezing cold and almost painful as they begin to dig into your skin. You grunt and writhe as you can feel your bones being pulled into the correct orientation. 
    “Relax,” Rose whispers soothingly as she puts a hand on your forehead. You try to focus on that warmth as you keep writhing and groaning.
    “Hold him, Tilde,” Rael grunts. Tilde grabs your wrists and holds you down. You feel bones and insides being moved around and bones being welded back together. The tentacles suddenly pull out of you as Rael begins to pant, “Done. Just be more careful, that armor will only absorb so much of the blow.”
    You nod and try to catch your breath. You close your eyes as sweat drips down your brow once more, “Rest well, Curtis,” Tilde whispers.
    
    You wake up to the gentle nudging of Rose’s foot, “Curtis, its time to move.”
    You yawn and sit up, rubbing your eyes, “How long was I asleep?” 
    “Answer: one hour and four minutes,” Tilde offers you a hand to help you. You gladly take it and let her stand you up, “Query: was your sleep refreshing?”
    You nod and stretch, feeling wonderful. Tilde helps you put your armor back on before you throw your coat and bags on. Arthur approaches you, standing shakily on his staff, “Wonderful to see you up and moving as well.”
    “How are you feeling?” You ask him.
    “I am alive and well, thank you. I probably would not have made it if you had not tried to stop the bleeding like you did. So, thank you for that.”
    “You don’t need to thank me, I would have done that for anyone. I’m just glad you’re alive.”
    Joan stomps up to the group, wiping her hands clean with a red stained white cloth, “Good to see everyone alive. I have made a few discoveries through my interrogations. This camp was just a branch of a bigger organization seemingly headed by this Matriarch. Unfortunately, none of the orcs left alive have any idea where this Matriarch is, or who they are. They did tell me her instructions were to take monster girls and human men alive and not batter them as much as they can. As seen in how their captives were doing, they listened to these orders. Its also good that we got here when we did, they were planning on another group collecting them later this week.”
    The Thunder Crashers are all silent for a few moments, “Not a lot to go on,” Eric frowns.
    “Perhaps we should make a stop in Babel?” Arthur suggests. Rose groans in response, “I already need to speak to scholars about something Curtis saw in his dreams, it is on the way and we could ask about this too.”
    “I do not particularly like the Sabbath,” Rael reminds him, “But I do believe you are right. Their information gathering skills are second to none.”
    “They should not bother ya too much,” Eric shrugs, “I’m more worried about those two,” He gestures to you and Rose, “Ya know their tactics.”
    “Right,” Rael grunts. 
    “The two of them could pretend to be a couple,” Joan suggests. 
    “That could work,” Arthur strokes his beard. You glance at Rose, catching her nervous stare and red face before her eyes dart away. 
    “We can talk about this later. We should move. The guard and civilians have already gone back to town. We had some lunch while ya were sleepin,’ Curtis. We can take another break when ya’re hungry,” Eric shoulders his things and waves at the group to follow him. 
    You start walking, falling in line with Joan. Uncharacteristically, she’s hanging back. You look up at her, the sun glinting off her blonde hair, “I’m hesitant to ask, but what did you do with those orcs?”
    “Oh... Those four?” Joan chuckles, “I gutted the first one that refused to talk. The second one hesitated to speak as well so it was slain too. THEN the other two wanted to talk,” She explains rather calmly. 
    “A-ah...” You start to sweat, seeing the murderous look in her gleeful eyes, “Then you killed the rest, huh?”
    “No,” She smiles, “I thought about what you did with those goblins. You let them go to spread word of our deeds. I sent these orcs in different directions with the instructions to tell the rest of the orcs hiding in their stinking holes... That Lady Joan Orwell is coming for them.”
    You nod, “You really hate orcs, huh?”
    “Yes,” She grunts back at you, “I do. Leave me be, Curtis. I need to be alone with my thoughts.”
    You shrug, moving up to walk with Rael and Rose. You quickly are pulled into a discussion on what kind of fur is the best to line a coat with.

    You start your turn on the night shift in a groggy state. You throw your coat on and grab your gauntlets before stomping outside. Joan is already out in the light of the campfire. She has various pieces of her plate armor scattered about as she hammers out dents and does simple fixes on the trimming of the armor. You give her a simple greeting, “Hey.”
    She snaps to attention, “What are you doing out here?”
    “I’m on watch with you.”
    “Eric failed to inform me of this. So be it.”
    You grab your spear, your tools and the busted laptop. You take out the battery and a few wires and attempt to fashion a shocking device on the tip. Tilde stands next to you and provides light as you work, “Thanks, Tilde,” You give her a small smile as you draft plans in your head. With the parts you have you could probably administer a few large shocks with the device. All you need is a way to remove any kinds of safeties this battery may have, and a way to charge it. An alternative power source, similar to Tilde’s core, might be better.
    “What in the world are you doing?” Joan asks with distaste in her voice.
    “Trying to build an electric attachment for my spear.”
    “What purpose does that serve that more training would not fix?”
    “I won’t have to aim for vitals or less protected areas against an armored opponent, I could deliver a pretty good shock instead. Unless they’re insulated somehow,” You chuckle, “But I doubt that would ever be the case here. Maybe some training might be helpful still.”
    “A wise choice. As I learned from you, you will learn from me. Now stand and grip your spear-- No! Not like that, Gods you ARE as skilled as a child!” She helps you wield the weapon correctly and teaches you better thrusting and slashing techniques. You also receive a few pointers with your dagger as well.
    You pant as Joan instructs you to practice your thrusts for a few more minutes, “Good. You may stop. Return to working on your project if you wish. I will return to my own. If you need anything, I am available.”
Joan returns to her armor and you return to your makeshift shock prod. You make good progress, but could use a few more wires, a more conductive tip and some better or charged power supply. 

PT19

    “Tilde,” You turn to the robot, “Can you tell me more about this person that was hired to try to fix you the first time? If I know what they messed up, I might be able to fix something.”
    Tilde nods, “Affirmative. Subject name: Kristryd Earthkrak. Race: dwarf. Gender: female. Profession: artificer. Current status: presumed dead. Most likely slain in the dwarven loss of Krakerak Keep. Last seen: five years ago, 57 days. Kristryd was tasked with mending some of my broken components. Unfortunately, she was unfamiliar with my components, despite stating otherwise. I lost a few non essential functions in her ‘fixes.’”
    “Can you show me some of the parts that were tampered with?”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde turns away from you and lifts up her hair. A small panel opens on the back of her head. The wires here are much smaller here and a few components seem to be able to be pulled out and rearranged.
    “Why didn’t you show me this before?”
    “Explanation: These parts are non-essential to my function and thus were not prioritized.”
    “Tilde...” You sigh. You grab your big flashlight and take a better look. Each part is a nearly identical silver cube shape with dim blue-green lights on them. Each has a set of unreadable blue-green runes or letters. One looks like it had had its wires torn out. With your tool set, you manage to remove one of them. Behind it was a metal spot to click the little box back into place. Above the metal spot was another set of runes matching another of the boxes. You smile, feeling confident about this fix. You put all eight boxes into their seemingly correct positions. The one broken box sparks and shocks you slightly but nothing else seems to happen. You yelp in surprise.
    “Query: are you alright?” Tilde asks as she whips around to face you with concern on her face.
    You nod, “I’m fine,” You watch her face shift to a smile, a bit wider than usual, “Tilde, can you move your face more!?” 
“Hm?” She gives you a confused look, “Query: Curtis, what are you talking about?”
You have never seen her make many facial expressions other than a tiny smile or frown, “Try to mimic my expressions,” You instruct. You pout and Tilde easily does it back. You scowl and she does the same, “I think I fixed or enhanced your facial expressions!”
She makes an exasperated look at you, “Counter: I have been making facial expressions like this the whole time.”
“Miss Tilde,” Joan chuckles, “Listen to the boy. Your face is much more expressive than it was before. You look MUCH more lifelike now.”
    Tilde stares at the centaur with her mouth slightly agape, “...More... Lifelike...” She slowly starts to laugh, her body shaking as a wide grin spreads across her lips. Amazingly, the robot begins to cry, “What... Is happening? I am leaking?” The grin is replaced with a worried look as she wipes her eyes, “Curtis? Am I leaking?”
    “The machine can cry?” Joan asks, “Did I upset her?”
    “I think you made her really happy,” You smile, “You’re fine Tilde. I assume you’re waterproof if you can actually cry.”
    “But why? Why can I cry? Why am I crying?” Tilde slowly starts calming down.
    “Its a normal human thing to do. As tough as Joan is--”
    “LADY Joan,” She corrects you.
    “Okay, LADY JOAN,” You repeat, “I can guarantee you even she has cried before.”
    “You cried when we first met, did you not?” Tilde asks.
    “Y-yeah. I think I did. Or at least almost did. Now stop crying. You’ll deplete all the water in your tank,” You use the sleeve of your jacket to dry her eyes.
    “Affirmative,” The emotion leaves her voice, “Query: Am I not allowed to cry?”
    “Express all the emotions you can Tilde. Its not good to leave that stuff bottled up, right, Joan?”
    She rolls her eyes, “I-I suppose he is right. I will not make fun of you for being sad or angry like I will the boy.”
    You shrug, “I doubt anyone will. At least in this group.”
    “Affirmative. Thank you both.”
    “Any time,” Joan goes back to her armor.
    “Query: Curtis,” Tilde whispers to you, “May I feel your warm caress once more? It... Makes me happy.”
    “Of course,” You give her a small smile and brush your hand over her cheek a few times as she closes her eyes and a contented smile spreads across her face. She puts her hand on the back of yours, guiding it is as you pet her cheek, “How's that?”
    Her face slowly lights up red as if she is blushing, “Wonderful. Thank you. Humor: you are going to overload my circuitry doing this,” She giggles before gently pushing your hand away, “I need some time to cool down.”
    “Alright, go get some rest. I’ve got questions for Joan too,” You look over your shoulder at the centaur. She huffs in a smug manner and turns back to her armor. 
    “Affirmative. Good luck. Humor: you will need it.”
    You move over to Joan as Tilde takes a position by the tent and lets off some actual steam. Joan glances at you as she pounds out a dent in her armor, “What is it you need?” She grunts as she goes back to focusing on her armor.
    “I just had a few questions, Joan,” You tell her, “Could you help me with my armor? I want to wear it more efficiently and I don’t want to take a hit wrong and get brained outright.”
    “Brained?” She makes a disgusted look but doesn’t look at you.
    “Hit in the head and die. I don’t want to be a burden and using armor effectively is a part of that so I don’t have to be healed after every encounter.”
    “Well, I doubt you can stop being such a burden so easily,” She sighs, “Stand, I will assist you as much as I can. Block this with your body.”

    You pant and your body aches as Joan strikes you with the wooden part of the halberd she picked up from the orc camp. She has a tiny smile on her face as you grunt in pain as she hits you in the side-- the same one you took the orc club in, “That hurts a little less, does it not?”
    You wheeze, “Y-yeah,” She whacks you in the arm on the armor, “Yeah I feel fine.”
    “The best way for you to learn is real combat experience. I have a feeling we will see more as we go.”
    “Got it.”
    “If you do not have anything else--”
    “Unfortunately for you, I do.”
    She groans, “So be it. It is only natural you wish to learn from the best. What do you require now?”
    “I just want to know more about gods here. I felt like Rael was a bad person to ask as he seems to have a bias for whatever it is he follows.”
    “Ah, Rael. He did tell me some of the conversation the two of you had as I was curious about the gods from your realm as well.”
    “Right. I don’t know much about the ones from back home, I didn’t really believe them but there were so many religions to look at. A lot of dead ones and massive modern ones. What's your opinion on the gods and do you worship any?”
    She starts to glare at the dirt, “Hmph. Let me tell you a story, Curtis. Years ago, back home in Gardramel, I was once a young hopeful girl with simple plans for her future. I wanted to own a flower shop and write poetry and live a quiet life. Then the orcs came. As a young girl I watched my family get mutilated, torn apart, raped and set on fire by green skins,” She tells you darkly with a straight face. 
    “Jesus Christ,” You mumble.
    She turns right to you, leering. You watch the shadows dance across her battle scarred face, “I had no one left. I had no family, no friends... All of them were taken from me by the green tide...” You try to look away from her, her intense gaze making you nervous. She grabs your chin and forces you to look at her, “Look at me when I am talking to you,” She growls, “The Gardramel army took me in. I had nowhere else to go. They taught me everything. How to fight. How to fight as a unit. How to kill. Most importantly. I forgot how to love and I learned how to HATE. My mind, heart and soul were filled with one thing: a murderous rage,” Joan begins to breathe heavily as her emotions start to run wild. She was definitely losing it, “I had a craving deep within me. A lust. A lust that could only be sated by one thing. The brown dirt and green grass being painted red with the blood of my country’s enemies. They turned that young, loving girl that just wanted to run a flower shop into a hating, bloodthirsty monster!  I joined the crusade. I could have kept protecting towns and caravans. But that was not enough. There was not enough BLOOD. I joined the slaughter out of choice. And slaughter I did. I led the charge in numerous campaigns going after orcs, goblins, dragons... humans; all of them died by my sword. I took prisoners and I put them in camps where I put them to the sword.”
    “Joan--” You grunt, grabbing her wrist with both hands.
    “I slaughtered... all of them. I purged my tiny homeland of all manner of beast and dredge. Do you know what I got for my struggles? The pain?” You shake your head as she pauses, waiting for your answer, “Knighted and presented a parcel of empty land. Do you think that was worth it for everything I had been through?” She starts to shout, “Do you think I could just build my little flower stand now and be complacent and happy writing poems after I had been bred to hate and kill!?” 
    “Joan, calm down, please,” You beg as her grip on your chin tightens. You glance at Tilde, still in her inert state.
    “Calm down!?” She throws you onto your back, “This rage will only be quenched when I die! I may hide behind chivalry and adventure, but I only thirst for the adrenaline of combat and to spill the blood of my enemies! Now tell me, Curtis. Why do the gods allow people to suffer? Why must there be so much pain if these supposedly benevolent forces are influencing this world? Why do I have to suffer so much? What does all this death and bloodshed accomplish? Why did my dreams get so painfully torn from me and my family slaughtered? Why could I not just be happy?” Joan slumps down and looks at her hands, “Why must I writhe and scream in so much pain and rage? Why do my cries fall on deaf ears?” You watch tears fall over the face of the beautiful centaur knight, “I-- I just wanted to be happy and have a family...” She begins to sob, the tears running down her scars and pained face.
    
    You get up slowly, the words being caught in your throat as you think about what to say.

PT20

    You carefully and slowly take a few steps towards the weeping centaur. You wrap your arms around her. She stops crying out of shock if even for a moment as her expression turns nervous, “I’m listening to you, Lady Joan. I’m listening to your cries,” You tell her gently.
    She half heartedly tries to push you off her, “Off, Curtis. Leave me alone. Please,” She begs as the crying comes back slowly.
    “If I’m not listening to you now, who will? How long will you cry and seeth in your rage?”
    “Why do you insist on listening to me? What if my rage turns on you? Why do you want to listen to a monster?”
    “You’re not a monster, Joan,” You insist with a calm voice, “Would a monster have stood up for me in the market? Someone that you claim to detest? Would you have tried to patch me up after I got hurt if you were a monster? A REAL monster would have just put me down, or even Arthur when he got absolutely messed up. You demanded to go after the orcs when you heard that people were in trouble.”
    “I cannot let another go through what I did when I was young,” She explains, she stops trying to pull herself away from you. You switch to just holding one of her hands with both of yours as she calms down slightly. 
    “Which is good! You want to help people! You can be a good person! You can’t let your past dictate who you are now.”
    “It-- It is all of me. All that I am is this burning rage. My every waking moment and dream are haunted by my mistakes and pain,” The crying seems to slowly be stopping.
    “You don’t have to be just that! I haven’t known you very long, but I can tell how tough and strong willed you are. You can change, I know you can. Look at now and to the future! Be the change you want to see! Your past has forged you into one of the finest blades I have seen. Use your experience and ability for good, Joan.”
    Her bottom lip continues to quiver, “But how can I be happy after everything I have seen? The horrors and pain of war... So much death and blood. I have had everything I loved taken from me. The gods will not answer my cries for help.”
    “You can’t scream at the heavens to change your life. You have to put in the effort yourself to get what you want. You will find your happiness if you look for it.”
    She grips your hand tightly, “What should I do?” She sniffles, looking to you for answers.
    “Let's start small, okay? How about you get a potted flower and care for it?”
    “A-alright... A flower to take care of,” She thinks aloud as she slowly lets you go. You take a step back from her and give her a reassuring smile, “Thank you.”
    “Any time. If you need someone to talk to, you can come to me. I’m sure Rose and Eric would listen to you too.”
“I-I cannot speak to them. I have already shown my weakness to you.”
You sigh and frown at her, “Joan,” You beg, “Please, you--”
    “Do not tell me I need to speak to the others. Please. I cannot,” She wipes her eyes and smiles at you, “I have to maintain some semblance of my pride and honor.”
    “Well,” You smile back weakly knowing that she most likely wouldn’t budge on this, “We made some kind of progress, I guess. We can continue another time.”
    “Agreed,” Joan takes a deep, calming breath. She picks up her armor and goes back to pounding out dent.
    “Aren't you gonna wake someone up with that? Or did you already do that with all that screaming?” You ask as you sit next to her.
    “Did Arthur never explain the tent to you?” She sighed, “That absent minded fool. The outside is merely a portal to a much more spacious pocket dimension. Sound does not travel from outside the tent into it. When an ambush happens, Tilde will poke her head into the tent and shout,” She loudly pounds out another dent.
    “O-oh. So the only other person who heard you should was Tilde. I doubt she’ll spill the beans,” The robot starts slowly coming back to life at the mention of her name.
    “Spill the beans?” She repeats, giving you a confused look.
    “Let other people know,” You explain quickly, “I need to stop using slang from my world.”
    “Agreed. I suppose I should apologise to you for shouting at you and roughing you up a bit,” She gives you a tiny, apologetic smile.
    “You don’t have to. I provoked you, didn’t I?”
    She scoffs at you, “Hardly. I just wanted to explode at someone, I suppose. For that I deeply apologise, and pray that you will accept it,” She gives you a slight bow.
    “I accept your apology.”
“Wonderful,” She goes back to her work, “Perhaps I felt something as I watched you speak to Tilde or Rose,” She touches her own face, “Tilde is right, you ARE warm.”
    “Yeah, yeah,” You sigh, “Don’t ask me to caress your face too.”
    “Aw,” She complains sarcastically and pouts facetiously, “I was so looking forward to it.”
    You roll your eyes and stare into the fire, “Are you sure you’re gonna be alright, Lady Joan?”
    “Of course I am!” She punches your shoulder jokingly, “As you said, I am strong willed,” Her tone changes to something a little more lighthearted, “You do not have to call me ‘Lady’ in private. I have shown you that I am not ladylike. A lady and knight should not snap at someone like I did.”
    You sigh, “Its totally fine, Lady--”
    “It is not,” Joan continues to insist, “I would not continue to call you ‘Sir’ if our places were switched.”
    You nod slowly, “I respect your code of honor, Joan. I’ll do as you ask.”
    “Thank you,” Joan brings the hammer down on her armor a few times, “You know, you might make a wonderful squire-- If you were to put some meat on those bones and some muscles, I mean.”
    “Gee, thanks,” You say sarcastically.
    “I mean it. A lot better than someone like Eric. I would not have to unteach you your current tactics, as you have none. A knight fights a very specific and honorable way. It is the first step to becoming a knight! That is the highest status achievable in my homeland! Although I had not been bred for war and had other plans, most children make it their wish to become one.”
    “But didn’t you basically win every war that your kingdom was waging?” You curse at yourself, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought that up.”
    “You are fine. I have already had my little explosion. And yes, I did. War is ingrained in our culture. Though, now soldiers and knights just do play skirmishes with each other, waiting for the call of our allies. Or the Grand Maou. What I would not give to lead an army for her. Perhaps with her blessing I could finally lay down my lance and settle down. Perhaps I would let go.”
    “We can’t bank on that,” You remind her, “Make changes happen yourself, Joan.”
    She sighs with disappointment, “You are right.”
    “Comment,” Tilde finally wakes up, “Your shift is over, you two. Apology: I was inert much longer than I meant to be.”
    “You are fine, Tilde,” Joan smiles, “I require a little bit more time, do not wake Arthur yet,” She grabs the halberd she looted and holds it a little closer to her face, “Eugh,” Her faces scrunches up, “It reeks of orc.”
    You can smell it too, “Whats so special about that halberd, Joan?”
    “It is a spell breaker weapon,” She explains as she begins cleaning, “The metal is near completely magic proof. You watched it pierce Arthur’s barrier. They are difficult to come by after having been banned from creation by various groups like the Mage Council in the human lands and most Sabbath Cults. The only place you can find them is on the corpses of fallen enemies. Even then, we hardly see them. I will definitely be keeping this.”
    “Isn’t Rael’s mace a spell breaker?”
    “Yes, it is. It is an older design. A very old design. He claims he got it from his ancestors,” She gives you a sideways glance, “Did he tell you anything?”
    “Oh, n-no,” You shudder as you remember what he showed you.
    “Hmm,” She cracks a smile, “The man told you to keep his secrets, hm? Then I will expect you to keep mine as well.”
    “Of course,” You nod, “I’m gonna head to sleep.”
    “Sleep well,” Joan gives you a smile and you wonder if that smile will keep up when morning comes. You fall onto your cot like every night and let the embrace of the dream realm take over your mind and body.

    You wake up to Tilde nudging you, “Greeting: good morning!” She gives you a cheery smile and sits on the cot next to you. She grabs your water from the floor and hands it to you.
    “Good morning,” You groggily rub your eyes and gladly take the water. You stare at the red curtains now surrounding your cot and at glowing yellow light above you with a chain attached to it, “This is new,” You murmur.
    “Explanation: Arthur made some upgrades to his pocket dimension last night including noise blocking curtains. He exclaimed that your snoring was driving him mad so he dedicated his night watch to creating it. You will find a more expansive bathing area in the back.”
    “Thanks for the information, Tilde,” You give her a small smile despite being a little hurt that Arthur would just rearrange his pocket dimension because of you.
    “Comment,” She puts on a confused look and rubs her chin, “I find it odd that he does not like the sounds you make when you sleep. I find them quite comforting.”
    “Really?”
    “Affirmative. Explanation: you look like a corpse when you sleep. Knowing you are alive despite this fills me with relief.”
    “T-that was a joke? Right?”
    “Negative. Recommendation: breakfast should be ready soon. Please step outside when you are ready. I will watch over you while you get ready for the day.”
    “Thanks,” You step out from behind the curtain and into a little hallway of single rooms all separated by different color curtains. You assume the purple one is Rael’s. You take a quick sponge bath to freshen up and pick your freshly washed and magically repaired clothes. You walk out to the campsite, armor and weapons in hand. You sit by the fire and shovel down your bowl of potatoes as you watch Rose braid Joan’s hair. You raise an eyebrow at Joan who looks away from you with a blushing face.
    “Did you and Joan speak about something last night?” Rael whispers as he finishes his food, “She is acting much more... Friendly.”
    You nod, “Yeah,” He gives you a look prodding you to explain further, “I’m not telling anyone about your stuff, so I’m not telling you about anyone else's stuff.”
    “Fair,” He growls back.
    “Do you like the tent changes, Curtis?” Arthur gives you a smile as he does his morning stretches.
    “You could have just made me sleep with a noise blocking mask,” You frown at him. 
    He looks shocked, “I-- I suppose I could have.”
    “Do not tell him that!” Joan chimes in angrily, “I have been trying to get him to implement the sectioned off chambers for MONTHS!”

    You walk with the group along a dirt path. You walk with Tilde and Rose at the back like usual. You’ve been keeping an eye on Joan, noting that she looks a bit more chipper today, “How was your shift with Joan?” Rose asks.
    “Went fine. A bit better than I expected,” You tell her with a smile.
    “Is that true, Tilde?”
    Tilde gives a wide smile, “Affirmative.”
    Rose looks shocked, “Y-you look different, Tilde.”
    “Explanation: Curtis was able to fix some of my non-essential components last night.”
    “Oh! That’s great!” Rose smiles at you, “You could almost pass for human now! If not for that obviously fake skin,” Tilde gets a nice big smile on her face when Rose says that.
    A sudden hush falls over the rest of the team. The group slowly and quietly moves into the treeline, eyes focused on something up ahead. You follow Rose as she darts in after the group. You all huddle together, staring, “Abandoned wagon?” Rose asks no one in particular.
    “Aye,” Rael grunts.
    “What's the problem with that?” You ask callously, taking a peek at the overturned wagon.
    “We’re not in Sabbath territory yet. It could mean anything. It looks fresh too,” Eric explains.
    “Who do you think did it?” Rose asks quietly.
    “Could be any group. All of them raid and pillage,” Arthur strokes his beard and flips through his spell book. He murmurs a magical phrase and touches his forehead. His eyes light up white as he moves to his knees. You frown, confused. Slowly, Banana wriggles out of his robes and takes off towards the cart. Rael mutters something and the weasel is covered in a dull purple aura. You wait for what feels like a suspense filled hour before Arthur finally speaks, “Banana smells and sees nothing.”
    “Should we go around?” Rose asks.
    “I would rather not,” Rael grumbles, “Treading through the surrounding swamp is hellish.”
    Joan nods, “If it was orcs, I would smell them. WE would smell them,” Joan comments. You agree hesitantly, knowing the stench of orc first hand.
    “Goblins?” Real asks.
    “Possibly,” Arthur mutters as he returns to his senses. He stands slowly and shakily, “We can just walk through it, can we not? Perhaps there are supplies there. It could have been a simple accident and they decided to leave the cart. It looks like one of the wheels is broken.”
    “A vote then?” Joan groans.
Eric nods in agreement, “Majority vote, since this is not a yes or no solution.”

The rest of the group takes a few moments to decide their votes. 

PT21

    Rael starts the voting, “We should go down the path.”    “Agreed,” You nod.
    “I would rather go around,” Eric frowns, “Just to be safe.”
    “I doubt a dragon would exist this close to Sabbath lands,” Joan muses, “And I don’t see goblins causing us too much issue.”
    “My mana level may be a little low, but I believe we should be safe,” Arthur gives the group a reassuring smile. 
    “That's majority,” Rose shrugs, “For the record I wanted to stay on the path.”
    “Alright, lets go,” Eric steps from the forest and starts slowly walking towards the cart, bow in hand. Everyone else has weapons at the ready too. You put your helmet and gauntlets on, spear in hand you bring up the back of the group with Tilde.
    “Eyes peeled,” Joan orders as her own helmet goes on. 
    You scan the woods, seeing nothing but birds and squirrels climbing on trees and branches, “Peaceful, hm?” Rael comments.
    “A little too peaceful,” Joan replies.
    You arrive at the cart rather slowly. Eric and Rael do a quick check of the cart and call out that there are no enemies in the cart, “Curtis, come look,” Rael calls to you. You approach the cart and tilt your head to the side as you spy multiple pieces of otherworldly tech. Trampled TVs, computers and even a washing machine as well as a few other things broken and beaten beyond repair. You pick through what little is left but decide its not worth the weight, “Anything interesting?” Rael asks.
    “Not really,” You shrug. You cut a few copper wires out of the electronics and shove them in your messenger bag for use later.
    “I don’t see anything,” Eric comments as he rubs his hand on the ground, “Beyond the wheels digging into the dirt and the imprints the horses made, there are no tracks. I see some blood... But I assume it is horse blood.”
    “What!? How can there be nothing here?” Joan growls, “I do not like this.”
    “Neither do I,” Eric turns around to face the woods, his eyes wide, “Arthur, I need a barrier, NOW!”
    The group huddles together as Arthur forms a clear dome over the seven of you. The incantation finishes just as you hear it too, a hail of arrows descending from the air. The arrow thud and shatter on the dome. You see plants and things moved aside as some unseen force comes out of the swamp. You can see mud and blood covering their shimmering near invisible bodies, “What the hell!?” Joan grunts as she draws her spell breaker and shield.
    “Rael and Arthur, we need something from your bag of tricks, RIGHT NOW!” Eric commands as your team falls into a six man half circle formation protected by the barrier for now. All of the ambushers come from one side of the path.
    “I am looking!” Arthur calls as furiously fumbles through his spellbook.
    Rael calmly sits cross legged on the ground, “I will forcefully tear the aether from them. Arthur, I pray this does not afflict you too much.”
    Arthur shudders, “Do as you must. I will try not to convulse and vomit too much.”
    “Rose, find somewhere safe.”
    “I will,” She squeaks and puts her hood on.
    You grip your spear as your heart pounds, “Command: Curtis, I will pull you to the edge of the engagement,” Tilde mutters to you as Rael continues his chants. 
    The chants seem to hurt your ears as the murmurs begin to sound like the cacophony of voices in the visions Rael showed you, “No, I need to stand and fight with them,” You tell Tilde as the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
    She takes hold of your wrist, “Negative. I must keep you safe. The middle of the fight is no place for you,” You grunt and attempt to pull away, “Please. Listen to me. I only wish to keep you safe.”
    “Listen to the girl, Curtis,” Joan is obviously agitated and excited by the prospect of combat as she trots back and forth in the tiny bit of space offered to her, “Take Rose with you too, Tilde.”
    “Affirmative. Come along, Curtis.”
    You frown but the pleading look on Tilde’s face convinces you to listen to her. Theres a painful, suffocating feeling in the air as the area as the grass and trees glow purple. You can hear the invisible attackers coughing and sputtering, “What the hell is happening?” You wheeze.
    “Whatever god my father follows is exerting its power here,” Rose whispers with a shudder. You frown as a horrid chill runs down your spine like the caress of a cold, wet tentacle. You can hear the strange whispers of an unknown being as the voices rise, “Curtis? Are you alright?” Rose seems practically immune to the effects as well as the rest of the team. You pant and sweat as the invisible creatures beat on the shield. You can see your breath as goose bumps form on your skin.
    Cracks form in the barrier as Arthur’s power weakens, “I can hold!” He reassured the group.
    Rael opens his eyes and mouths and a purple fog billows forth as his eyes completely glow a bright purple. Arthur begins to choke and the barrier shatters, the invisibility is gone as all manner of goblinoids are revealed in the blink of an eye. You, Tilde and Rose all back out of the fight as Joan charges through a small unit of gagging bugbears. Rael joins the melee as Tilde pulls you away. Goblins, bugbears and larger red and orange creatures all get their skulls split open or stomachs stabbed through as they try to fight back. A goblin in tattered robes, that is desperately trying to cast a spell, has its teeth knocked out as Rael’s mace strikes its cheek. Eric’s arrows strike true and down a few more as they try in a panic to knock another arrow. Despite seemingly being drained of mana, Arthur still casts an enchantment or two and magically deflects blows meant for the rest of the party. The goblins, their ambush having failed, throw themselves fruitlessly at the four heroes. 
    You, Rose and Tilde all hunker down behind some bushes, thankful that the attack only came from one direction. The purple fog that blankets the ground begins to  dissipate slowly, “What do you think it is they want?” Rose whispers.
    “No idea,” You shake your head as you watch the screeching goblins get routed. The better armed and armored red and orange monsters stand their ground only to be bowled over by Joan or take an arrow from Eric. Rael and Arthur slow down as their magical reserves run dry, “Is it safe?”
    “Recommendation: keep your head down until--” You watch in shock as Tilde’s face goes blank as she convulses and falls to the ground. You don’t even have the chance to shout before something unseen tightens around your neck. You struggle and kick as you hear a high pitched whirring. You grab onto the tool around your neck and try to pry it off. You lose control of your muscles and body as a high powered shock is delivered to you. You quickly lose consciousness as you are dragged into the murky forest. 
    
    You wake up as you are being dragged by your legs across a cold stone ground. Each of your legs is being grabbed by a different set of small hands as another, larger figure carries a second body over their shoulder, “Why no eat this one, master?” One of the goblins dragging you asks, “Is ugly and smelly!”
    “Matriarch gave order,” He grunts in reply, “No kill men or mamano.”
    “But I hunger for man flesh! Horse and bear no taste good!”
    “I will eat you flesh if you keep whine!” The orange skinned ‘master’ barks, “Throw man in cell. Put weapons in chest.”
    “Yes, master,” The pouting goblins nod vigorously as they drag you into a cold cell. You watch them leave as your blurry vision starts to clear. You lie still as you slowly regain control of your muscles. The master closes the iron bars of your cell and locks it, chuckling at you as you start moving. The goblins leave the area, following their master. You are left alone in a dark cell. Torches on the left and right of your cell illuminate the room softly. You do a quick inventory of what you have on you. You frown, they took both of your bags, your dagger, spear and shield. Thankfully, you kept your coat and everything in it. You frown, wishing you had more of your things. You look around your cell. You have a wooden bed and a stinking bucket as well as hay scattered across the floor. 
“You alright?” A feminine voice with a surprisingly Boston-like accent. The only accents you have heard were a vaguely French one from Joan and her friend Louanne and Old English from Rael and Arthur. 
    “Uh, yeah,” You grunt, your neck still hurting, “Rose?” You call out, “Are you there? Rose!?” You call down at some other cells.
    “There's no one else here, chief,” The woman tells you quietly.
    “Where are we?”
    “Not a clue. Looks like those militant hobgoblins run the place,” She sighs, “They grab you off the side of the road too?”
    You nod, “They ambushed me and my friends. I need to get outta here.”
    “Yeah, yeah. I doubt you’re gonna be bending those bars with your hands. Its Dwarven made. These locks are new though, simple human construction.
 “You wouldn’t happen to have any Other Worldly tech on you, would you?”
    “Uh...” You start rummaging through your pockets for anything that wasn’t your revolver. You do keep your pocket knife in your coat pocket as well as your ID.
    You freeze as you hear the heavy wooden door at the end of the hall open. A small figure quietly walks in. A goblin. It hardly glances at you as it walks down to the other end of the cell block. You hear it rummage through the chest and grab your messenger bag with its one arm. It holds your dagger in its mouth as it scurries back towards you. It pushes the dagger under the bars and your bag through them, “Must run, must leave. Can no give key. Many sorrys. No have,” the familiar one armed goblin whispers to you before scurrying out of the room. You nod and start rummaging through your things. Everything from your bag is in there. Currently, you’re only missing your spear, shield, helmet and bag of clothes.
    “What the fuck was that? You friends with goblins?” The woman asks you. 
    “Just three. Glad he's still alive,” You grab your massive flashlight and shine it at the cell across from you to get a good look at her. She hisses at the bright light and shields her face. Slowly she blinks and looks at you. She is a short woman with a flat chest. You only assume she is a woman by her mature sounding voice. She has short, dark green hair and pointy green animal ears coming out of the top of her head. They are flattened against her head in fear as she stares at you with sad orange eyes. She has a black eye and numerous cuts and bruises along her body. She is dressed in only a simple brown tunic. 
    “Stop shining your magic at me,” She demands meekly. 
    You point it at the lock on your cell, it looks simple, “Its not magic,” You correct her, “Why do you need some Other Worldly tech?” You ask as you turn off the flashlight. 
    “I’m close to finishin’ something that can bust these locks with scrap I’ve been stealin’. I can either make it a little laser that can cut through the bars or some kind of knife that will slice through like butter.”
    “Let me see what I’ve got,” You grumble and rummage around in your pack. 

PT22

    You start rummaging through your things, “Here, try to fashion something outta this stuff,” You slide the laptop parts over to her.
    “Ooooh...” She picks it up, “I can do a lot with this. Anything else?”
    “I’ve got this,” You show her the little laser light, “Little laser thing. You can have my maglight if you need it. I have this cord and a few parts from that laptop I tried to fashion into a shocking tool on my spear.”
    “Pass me the laser,” She demands and you pass it over painlessly, “So, are you an artificer?”
    “Uh, no,” You grab your tools and start examining the lock. Its a seemingly simple iron lock built into the iron bars, “I wonder if I can pick this,” You mumble.
    “They’re a human design, which is odd because this is a dwarven fort. You can probably do it,” She starts pulling wiring and parts from the laptop.
    “How do you know this is dwarven?”
    She huffs at you, “I grew up in a dwarven hold. I know about dwarven stonework.”
    “Y-you don’t look like a dwarf,” You nervously muse, unsure if this woman is actually a dwarf.
    “I’m not a dwarf!” She shouts at you, “You dumbass! Where the fuck are you from?” She demands, absolutely offended, “Don’t know the fucking difference from a gremlin and a dwarf,” She mutters under her breath.
    “I’m from--” You pause to remember what that grizzly woman said, “Pearlavah.”
    “Pearlavah?” She chuckles almost maliciously, “You’re a long way from home, chief. I heard that an ancient queen was addicted to monster dick. Like before the Cataclysm. King had all the monster slain and then took her head. That's why there's no monsters there.”
    “That shits all legends and stories,” You grunt.
    She laughs at you then looks over a small device in her hands, “I think the dwarves had something against her, anyways. What’s your name, chief?”
    You glance at her, “Curtis Bradley. You?”
    “Pin Ironstone,” She gives you a small smile as she points the device at her cell’s lock.
    “Pleasure to meet you. I wish it could have been in better circumstances,” You shrug as you struggle with the lock.
    “Oh, no, please,” She smiles smugly, “The pleasure is all mine, Curtis. Locks open,” She smiles as the lock on her cell is heated up enough to glow bright orange. She easily shoves it open and strides over to your cell, “Let me give you a hand,” She uses the tool on the door, just pointing it at the lock while holding down some kind of trigger. The tool is a sort of a metal oval shape with the laser pointer jutting out of one end. It has a small blue glowing crystal strapped to the side with multiple copper wires stuck to it. It looks kinda similar to the crystal that powers Tilde but has a different, much darker, shade of blue.
    “Whats our plan when we get out of here?”
    “Well, I find my things, we kill all fucking goblins and we get out,” She tells you.
    You shake your head, “They took two of my friends. I think that bigger goblin was carrying one of them.”
    “The hobgoblin?” Pin scratches her chin as the tool begins to melt through the lock, “I guess he was carrying a body. Get your cell open. Its time to leave.”
    “Do you have any idea where they might have put her?”
    Pin shrugs, “We’re in the cells where they put people they don’t wanna pass along to their boss, this Matriarch character.”
    “Do you know anything about her?” You ask as you attempt to force open your cell. 
    “Not really. She sends some ‘eyes’ in here to look at the prisoners. Men and mamano usually get moved to her compound, wherever that is. Human women are usually eaten. The few times they’ve caught dwarves they moved them too. They might move you too, but probably not since you’re down here with me.”
    “Y-you think they planned to kill and eat me?”
    “Probably. One of those goblins did say you stink, and boy, was he right,” She gives you a smug look.
    You keep trying to open the cell. You’re still slightly sluggish from being shocked into unconsciousness so it takes you a bit of time. You throw your body into the bars and throw them open with a loud sound as the bars swing around on their hinges and slam into the wall. You put on your bag and hurry to where Pin is digging through a chest. She has a massive frown on her face as she starts pacing back and forth. Among the things she had strewn from the box, you find your bag of clothes and helmet. You put both of those on but frown as your shield and spear are missing, “Are your things here?” You ask as you check your dagger’s sharpness. You keep the maglight within reach to use as a backup.
    “No,” She growls angrily, kicking another bag. You quickly look through it and find nothing of worth beyond clothes that are much too large for you, “They move everything of value elsewhere, I guess. My bags ARE magical after all. I wish I knew which dwarven keep built this fort...” She walks up to a small alcove to the side of the chest. You watch Pin poke at stone, “Where... Is... It..?” She asks herself before pushing in a stone, “Looks like its not made by Goldcore Keep.”
“How can you tell?”
“Well, most dwarven stone work is nearly the same. Goldcore dwarves enjoy hiding secret passages all over their forts. Most dwarven constructions have little holes for them to sneak through. I can guarantee there's a secret passage in their storage room.”
“Huh,” You nod your head, wanting to ask more but knowing that time is of the essence to find your friends and escape, “Here,” You give her your dagger, “I’ve got some armor so I’ll try to keep you safe.”
    “What are you? A hero?” She scoffs, “But thank you,” She adds quietly while glancing away from you, “I believe we’re at the bottom of this structure. I don’t know how large it is, I’ve only seen a handful of areas.”
    “Wonderful,” You sigh, “So what, we go out swinging and hope we find what we’re looking for?” Pin grips the edge of the chest and mumbles something, “Huh?” You lean in a little.
    “I don’t know! Okay!?” She growls at you, “I just know I’m gonna murder as many goblins as I can before we leave!”
    You look down at the pain in her eyes and the signs of physical abuse on her body, “We’ll get through this, alright?” You load your revolver and take a deep breath, trying to calm yourself slightly. 
    “Hey, you’ve got one of those things,” Pin notes.
    “My revolver?”
    “Yeah. I’ve seen a handful of those before. Though, yours is much smaller. I’d like to take a look later,” She looks down and dig through a few bags to no avail, “How’d you learn about Other Worldly stuff?”
    “Oh, uh, I know a guy who is really into it. He’s a seer and all that.”
    “Hmph,” She shakes her head, “We should get moving,” You nod in tired agreement. You both sigh in relief as the door easily swings open. Pin pokes her head out into the torch lit hallway and holds up a hand to you before ducking back in. She gives you a frown, “Four goblins. Left side, far down the hallway, roughly 30 feet. The hallway is about five feet wide and dimly lit by torches on either side. That's the only way out,” You take a look at the goblins, they look quite small and malnourished compared to other goblins. They bet on scraps of meat and bread as they roll poorly constructed dice, “Your call on what we do, chief.”
You scratch your chin, the heavy flashlight in your hand. You look at the few laptop parts that Pin didn’t use, notably the speakers. You also have a size advantage on the skittish goblins, even Pin is a bit bigger than them.

PT23

    You smile, “I think I’ve got something. Be ready to back me up if I mess it up,” You casually and nonchalantly strut down the hallway. The goblins are so entranced by their little game that they fail to notice your approach. You glance over your shoulder at Pin who gives you a confused look. You waltz right up to the goblins and clear your throat. The goblins, now terrified, look up at you in fear with their little beady eyes, “Hey, guys. Your... game going good?” Despite your nervousness and voice crack, the goblins are too pants-shittingly afraid of you to do anything, “Listen,” You keep talking, “You guys look pretty hungry. Am I right?” You glance back at Pin, she is glaring at you pretty heavily, “Look,” You sigh at the sniveling goblins and drop the fake smile on your face, “Look, this isn’t really working. Me and my new friend are gonna head upstairs and kill the guys that have been beating you. Feel free to follow and eat whatever it is goblins eat.”
    “Food!?” One exclaims as his belly rumbles.
    “Eat! Eat!” Another cries.
    “I hunger, human!” The third tells you.
    “Human kill other goblins!” The fourth begs you in a hushed voice, “We want leave!”
    “Y-yeah,” You sigh, “Just... Come upstairs later. Pin?”
    Pin shakes her head at you as she stomps down the hallway. She pushes past you and starts up the staircase as the goblins chitter excitedly to each other. You’re a few steps behind her as she hurries up the spiral staircase, “I didn’t think someone could just somewhat nicely convince goblins into doing something.”
    You shrug, “I just offered them what they wanted. They were obviously hungry.”
    “But they only...” She growls, “I’ve only seen goblins do what someone wants through thorough beatings.”
    The excited noises of the goblins fade out of earshot as you get to the top of the stairs. Each individual step is much shorter than you are used to so you have to focus on not tripping, “I guess I feel kinda bad for these goblins. Two out of three times I’ve seen them they’ve been beaten and abused. The third time they were standing watch for some hobgoblins and we managed to scare most of them off.”
    Pin frowns at you, “Lucky you. I’ve only had bad experiences with monsters. I used to loath combat and killing, but you know what they say about desperate times,” She starts trying to use her newly made tool on the locked door, “Shit, its outta juice,” She frowns.
    “Let me try,” You grab your tools again and unzip it, “Can you hold this for me?” Pin reluctantly agrees but quickly perks up as she sees your Other Worldly tools. You grab a lockpick and your screwdriver and slowly work on it. Pin is quiet as she pulls out your voltage detector. 
    “And you’re COMPLETELY POSITIVE that you’re NOT an artificer or something similar, right?” She doubts you again as she gives you an intense stare.
    “I’m just resourceful with Other World tech. I don’t know anything about artifice, to be honest. I know a little about that Geno guy,” You talk quietly as you work, feeling the tumblers move and gently pushing on the locks with your screwdriver. You smile as the   lock clicks open, “Doors open.”
    “Good work,” Pin offers you your tools back. She sighs and pushes the door open, “I wish I could have met Geno. From what I’ve read on him,” She steps into the four way intersection of hallways, “he was a very... Incredibly fuckin’ eccentric dude. Smokin’ hot dark elf wife, fuckin’ killer robot animals and shit. Black powder firearms as we know them now were his design. So was artifice. I would tell you more about that, but there's so much to go over,” She starts glancing down the hallways. Her eyes pinpoint down the hallway on the left and she grimaces, “They put me to work down this way. Come on,” She starts down that hallway. You follow her quickly as you shove your tools into your pack, “Anything else in that bag of tricks, chief?”
    You shrug, “I’ll bust it out if I need to.”
    “Fine,” She huffs in response. She holds a hand up to you, signaling for you to stop. She pushes the door open at the end of the dimly lit hallway. Its a small workshop in an unlit room. You jump as you hear a hiccup from the corner. A hobgoblin is passed out drunk in the corner, coughing and burping as he chuckles at the ceiling. 
    You breathe a sigh of relief, “Looks like he’s--”
    You don’t have time to stop her as she rushes the alcoholic guard and stabs him in the chest. You freeze and watch the monster die as it coughs up blood and writhes in agony. The look of rage on Pin’s face drops off her face quickly, “T-that one beat me. A lot,” She pushes herself back up as a regretful look spreads across her face, “Asshole fucking loves beatings. No reason other than for fun. Whose laughing now, fuck face? Huh? Can’t talk?”
    “Are you alright?”
    “I... Am... Fine...” She growls at you slowly, fists clenching, “Some tools... Should be here...”
Remembering your little scuffle with Joan, you know if you want to calm her down, you need to go about it a bit more gently, “What do your tools look like?”
    She slowly picks through scrap metal, “They’re... They’re dwarven made. Much more angular than those tools you have. My father made them.”
    Your diversion seems to work, “Tell me about him,” You ask as you start picking things up and turning them over in your hands. Its mostly broken weapons and tools from this world and some unforged metal. Probably things they stole from people they captured. More interesting, you find some dull crystals of various sizes that mostly fit in your palm.
    “Father...” She sniffles.
    “Hey, hey, hey,” You kneel down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder, “Come on, we need to get out of here. You’ll see him again.”
    She pauses, her face going blank, “Do you promise that?”
    “Yeah. You will see the guy again. We gotta find my friends first, I’m sure they can help you too,” You give her a smile.
    “O-Okay,” She slaps the cheeks on her face, “Alright. Let's do this,” She grabs the now deceased hobgoblin’s backpack and dumps out his scraps of cloth and stale cheese. She loads her gear and the crystals into it. She looks at you, holding one of them in your hand, “Give that to me,” She outstretches her hand to you.
    “What is it?” You ask as you give it to her.
    She holds it up to her face and it glows slightly, “Hold on,” She mumbles in weird chanting, not too different to Arthur or even Rael’s magical casting. The crystal instantly discharges its power and she throws it in the bag, “Its a power source. Like the things that power the little laser you gave me or that big light. They draw in the natural magic of the world, the aether, and turn it into a tangible power source. Geno didn’t create them but he did figure out how to make them work. He reverse engineered an ancient race’s work that powers the automatons that wander the world, hopelessly looking for their ‘masters’ with no chance of ever finding the long since dead men and women of the ancient world.”
    “T-that's a lot to take in,” You think of Tilde and the agony of wandering around alone looking for someone you will never ever find.
    “Don’t worry about it. I doubt either of us will ever meet an automaton. Oh, I had to drain the power source before stashing it. If they take a large amount of blunt force, they blow up. Pretty devastating to be honest,” She shrugs and leaves the room. You note how all over the place her emotions seem between rage and sadness and then back to wholly smug. Perhaps being trapped down here and the beating has done this to her. You follow her back to the four way intersection where she takes another left to another staircase. She turns back and heads down the last passageway. 
    A shiver runs down your spine as you hear the muffled screams and cries. Your skin crawls as the two of you slowly sneak up to the door. Pin grabs the handle and pushes it open. She peeks in through the crack and frowns. You peer in over her and gaze upon the scene. Two bugbears cackle as one of them beats a small group of goblins with a whip. You hear the whip crack and a goblin cry out in pain as the laughter echoes in the room. It looks like a sort of shoddy barracks. You spot a goblin lying on the floor, either dead or unconscious, though you can’t tell from here.
    “My stuff isn’t here,” Pin shrugs as she closes the door.
    “What about those goblins?” You prod quietly as Pin starts to trudge away.
    The gremlin shrugs, “They’re keeping the guards distracted.”
    “B-but...”
    Pin gives you an annoyed look, “The stairs are unguarded. Lets go.”

PT24

    You sigh defeatedly, “You’re right. Let's go,” You close the door and follow Pin back to the intersection. You follow her up another spiral staircase to the second floor. You both stop at the top of the stairs again.
    Pin tries the handle and groans quietly when the door refuses to budge, “Get this open, chief.”
    “You got it,” You grab your tools again and have Pin hold the little carrying case for you as you start prodding at the lock. Its a lot shoddier than the previous one as numerous keys and beings have beat it half to death. You give a small, satisfied smile as the lock clicks open, “What a piece of junk.”
    “The dwarves who built this place a millennia or so ago are rolling in their stone tombs. Hopefully we have their blessings going forwards. From what I know, there should be a second set of cells somewhere up here. Maybe their treasure room too,” Pin takes a deep breath, “I feel so naked without my armor. I could also use a bigger weapon in my hands.”
    “Alright, enough sitting around. Ready?”
    “Yeah. Let's do it, chief,” Pin grabs the knob and pushes the door open. The two of you silently peek into a hallway. You can’t tell what this room was for originally, but now it mostly seems to be storage. Mostly junk and refuse that the goblinoids fashion into their makeshift weapons. The dwarven weapons and tools that once were stockpiled here are long since gone, taken by scavengers and goblins over the years. You pick up a rune inscribed piece of a sword or knife quickly strapped to a sturdy stick reinforced with a few thin iron rods. You drop the goblin sized spear and move on, sturdy metal flashlight in hand. You both step quietly through the halls and peer down empty dark hallways.
    “Dammit, where are we supposed to go?” You mutter.
    Pin stares at the walls. She approaches a turn in the hallway and stands on her tippy toes to run her hand over a specific tile. A layer of grime and dust brushes off. She stares at a rune and moves on to the next one. You hear echoes of goblinoid laughing and screeching, “They shouldn’t bother us,” Pin assures you as she moves to another hallway and wipes off more grime, “The stone workers left runes for others to know what each room is. Either in case another clan takes over the structure or in case dwarves are too drunk to remember,” She chuckles, “I could use a flagon of dwarven ale. I think you deserve one too.”
    “I’d like that.”
    “This says treasure,” Pin points out as she examines a strange angular symbol, “Best place to look for my stuff,” She shrugs before wandering that way. You trudge after her, same as always. Pin groans as the door is locked, “Fucking dammit!” She cries loudly as she grabs her laser tool and puts it to work, “Dwarven door. No way you’re picking this one. Always one thing after another, isn’t it? Huh, Curtis?”
    “Y-yeah,” You mumble nervously, peeking behind you two. The dimly lit hallway feels longer as a chill runs down your spine. It feels like all other noise on this floor has quieted down, “Pin, how long till you’re through that door?”
    “Huh? Uh... A minute maybe?” She glances over her shoulder at you, “Why?”
    “I-I think we have company,” You grunt, drawing your revolver and pointing it down the hallway. 
    Pin sighs, “Well, you--” Her ears twitch, “Did you hear that?” She whispers in a terrified voice. Your ears perk up as you hear footsteps headed towards you. You turn on the flashlight as garbled noises come from the end of the hallway. A trio of hobgoblins shield their eyes as a group of goblins scurry around the corner and back into the darkness, “Shit!” Pin hisses.
    The hobgoblins blink and try to get used to the bright light being shined in their faces, “Stay back!” You demand, revolver pointed down the hallway. 
    The hobgoblins grumble between each other as the goblins continue to chitter amongst themselves. You recognize the one armed goblin amongst them and perhaps two more goblins that seem vaguely familiar but its incredibly hard to tell, “Surrender and death will be quick,” One of the hobgoblins chuckles as he brandishes a glaive.
    “Fuck you!” Pin shouts.
    The hobgoblin cackles and starts stepping towards the two of you, “I’m warning you!” You shout. He laughs at your seemingly empty threats. You put your flashlight hand under your gun hand to support it. You take a deep breath as the hobgoblin takes another few steps. You can almost smell him at this point. With a firm grip, you squeeze the trigger. You wince a little bit as the loud sound reaches your ears and causes a bit of an echo. The hobgoblin’s expression changes from smug and assured to shocked and in pain. He falls back, clutching his chest as blood starts to ooze from the gunshot wound. The goblins start to screech as one suddenly drives its dagger into another hobgoblin’s back of the knee and falls to the ground with a cry of pain as the tiny green tide starts stabbing their abusers to death. The last standing hobgoblin starts hacking at the goblins biting and attacking at his ankles in an unfamiliar panic. 
    “KILL! KILL!” The goblins chant, “SLAY THE MASTERS!” They scream as more goblins and hobgoblins are drawn to the sounds of combat. Thankfully, they seem to ignore you and Pin.
    “Doors open!” Pin shouts at you as she shoulder checks the door. You nod and throw yourself at the door, forcing it open. The two of you quickly turn around and slam the door shut, “What the hell was that?” Pin asks you as you both listen to the brawl outside the door.
    “Gobbies kill masters!” Another voice excitedly chitters at you. Pin draws her dagger and nearly stabs the goblin to death, “No hurt! No hurt! Gut-Shank want help merciful human!” The goblin cries as she hides behind your legs. 
    “Curtis, move.”
    “Pin,” You sigh, “Just leave her alone for now. I helped her a while ago.”
    “Human save Gut-Shank from mean orcs! Gut-Shank captured by new mean masters! Kill big bad master with magic stick gave gobbies courage to fight!” The goblin, Gut-Shank explains excitedly. 
    Pin stares at the goblin then at you, “Fine, whatever. If she guts you I’m leaving you to die.”
    “Noted. Find your stuff and lets go,” You instruct Pin as you push yourself against the door. The screeching and fighting of goblins hasn't ended. 
    “Where go?” Gut-Shank asks.
    “Out. We need to leave,” Pin explains quietly as she picks up some bags and shoves her arm shoulder deep in them.
    “Oh! Gut-Shank know way out!”
    “How are we going to get out past those guys?” You ask as you gesture to the door you came in, not wanting to tread through a tide of goblins, “Gut-Shank, where's the jail cells?”
    “Bottom floor!”
    “The OTHER jail cells.”
    “Oh! Top floor! We below it!”
    “Here’s this back,” Pin hands you your dagger, now clad in heavyweight metal armor. The pauldrons and chest piece have a few glowing bits on them that glow a bright green. You give her a weird look, wondering how she suited up so fast, “We can talk about tech shit later, Curtis. Where’s that secret passage...” She mumbles to herself as she starts running her hand along the wall. You change out the spent round in your revolver for the one other round that's ready to go. Gut-Shank watches your every move with a strange interest. You look around this treasure room, it kind of reminds you of the storage room from earlier but piled high with things that seem to have some kind of value. A few brother otherworldly objects and some dirty jewelry dot the piles of trash. Pin shoves over a pile of things and waves you over. You and the goblin join the gremlin as she pushes down on a stone in the floor and one on the wall. A stone slab rather quickly and silently lowers into the floor revealing a tiny dark corridor. You squat down and follow the two smaller women into the hole. Pin flips a switch in the hallway and the stone raises back up into place.
    You sigh with relief and lean against the wall. You have to duck down so your head isn’t scraping against the ceiling, “Alright...” You shine your flashlight around to get a vision as to where you are. You see a small staircase up to the first floor, a small empty chamber and past that is a tunnel leading far away from the fort.
    “We can leave right now, Curtis,” She points down the tunnel, “That will lead us to a hatch out of here,” She desperately tries to convince you.
    “I’m not leaving without my friends,” You remind her as you crawl towards the stairs.
    Pin sighs and pulls a handaxe from her seemingly bottomless, yet small, bag. Gut-Shank follows you as well and excitedly chitters to herself in another language. The three of you climb a thin, claustrophobic set of dusty spiral stairs. Pin finds and flips the switch to lower the secret door. The three of you exit the secret tunnel before Pin closes it behind you, “Can’t let them know about it.”
    The three of you stand in a small disused chamber that only holds a few broken chairs, “Oh!” Gut-Shank exclaims loudly.
    “Sssh!” You and Pin both shush her.
    “Oh,” She mumbles quietly now, upset that you both shushed her, “Cage there,” She points to the only exit that isn’t a secret passage. You slowly creep up to the corner as you hear a conversation in progress. 
    “Where are your men, commander?” A woman hisses.
    A monstrous man grunts, “Squashing a goblin rebellion, ma’am,” He explains apologetically.
    “Can you not keep your men in line, Boris?” She angrily asks, you peek around the corner at a woman with her back to you. She wears black robes and short white hair, “And only ONE tribute? I should cut your head off for this insolence and end my support of your ‘men.’”
    “Sh-she was difficult to catch,” The large goblinoid pleads, “Her allies wiped out more than a third of my force. We knocked out three total but the man we caught was not good enough for you. And the third thing was strange and heavy. We left it.”
    “Hmph,” She folds her arms, “Go fetch your men and kill the usurpers. I require an escort home.”
    The goblinoid commander nods, “At once.”
    “Is that the Matriarch?” You ask as you fall back to your companions.
    Both of them shake their heads, “No. She doesn’t show up in person. Just one of her aides or eyes,” Pin explains in a whisper.
    “There!” The goblin points to a cell, “Mouse-lady in there!” She whispers excitedly.
    You look, the form does look like Rose, especially from the slightly glowing purple eyes. She seems to be completely aware, pushing herself up against the back wall of her cell as she hugs her legs to her chest. You frown, wondering what to do. 

PT25

    You turn to Pin and pull out the laptop parts, “I need a power source,” You whisper to her and start pulling the speakers from the remains of the laptop.
     “You got it,” Pin pulls a little gem out and straps some kind of trigger to it and mumbles a chant. The gem glows, “You can attach those copper wires to it and it will run power to whatever you want when you hit this button.”
    “Can you make it like an on off switch?”
    “Of course,” She chuckles quietly and makes a few quick edits to the object she put together. 
You take it and wire the speaker to it, “Will this power them?” 
    Pin nods, “Looks like it. What are you trying to do?”
    “Make some noise to scare her off,” You smile and grab your RC car. You quickly strap the speaker to the top of it and hit the on button. Just as planned, the speaker emits a horrible garbled noise as you feed the noise its making back in on itself. You drive the RC car into the jailroom and watch as the woman is quickly thrown into a panic as the tiny toy car speeds towards her. Rose quickly jumps up and hurries to the cell’s door. The white haired woman dashes from the room and the three of you hurry to Rose’s cell. 
    “Curtis!” Rose gives you a massive relieved smile.
    “Can you pick that lock quickly? We need to leave!” You instruct her.
    “Of course I can,” She huffs and pulls her thief’s tools from her cloak, “Who's your friend?”
    “Uh--” You look at Pin and realise Gut-Shank has vanished.
    “We can do introductions when we’re not at threat of being swarmed by goblins,” Pin grunts, “We’re going out the secret tunnel.”
    Pin easily opens the lock to her cell and you return the RC car to yourself and turn the gem off, “Get that door open, Pin,” You instruct as the four of you fall back to the seemingly dead end.
    Rose shoves you out of the way as something fiery strikes the wall behind you. The woman in white hair has returned to the room, wand in hand. Her mouth drops open and words come out without actually moving her tongue or jaws,  “And your eyes were going to look SO pretty on me,” Her eyes look completely dead and hollow, “But I suppose I’ll have to kill all three of you.”
Pin lobs her handaxe at the woman who easily waves her hand and makes the axe widely change direction and bounce harmlessly off the cell bars, “I should have killed you when I had the chance,” Pin hisses and makes a gesture along with a quick magical word and waves her hand towards the axe. The woman stomps on it and keeps it from moving.
“I could say the same about you, you horrid gremlin. You could have had immortality working for me along with my other children,” The woman explains, unblinking and unmoving, “But, I suppose all are not meant to bask in my glory.”
“Fuck you!” Pin screeches.
You draw your revolver, “Back off or I’ll blow your brains out,” You hiss.
“Oh?” She cackles at you, “You will? With what, that little toy?” She waves her wand at you with a devious smile. You lose control of your arm and your muscles start to fight you as the gun barrel starts slowly moving towards your face, “I wonder what would happen if you were to have a little... Accident?” You use your other hand to try and force the gun away from you. You fruitlessly try to take the gun out of your own hand as all your muscles cease to function how you want function. You glance at Pin and Rose who can only watch in horror as their own muscles seize up. 
A goblin warcry rings out in the jail room breaking the uneasy silence. Gut-Shank lives up to her name as she drives her knife into the stomach of the woman. She cries in agony and forces you to pull the trigger, putting a shot into the ceiling and releasing all three of you from her magical grab. She uses another spell and flings the goblin at full force into the wall behind you, “You little--” She doubles over in pain, “I must...” She attempts to cast again but is unable to say the magical incantation as the pain and emotions destroy her ability to focus.
“Tunnels open!” Pin cries as the wall starts to slowly lower into the floor. You stash your revolver and grab Gut-Shank’s bloody and mangled body. The three of you duck into the tunnel and Pin closes it behind you. 
“Thank you,” Rose sighs with relief as the three of you sit on the floor to rest for a moment.
You shake Gut-Shank gently, “Hey, wake up,” You tell her. You know her leg isn’t supposed to bend like that. 
“Curtis?” Rose frowns sadly, “I don’t think she’s going to wake up.”
“S-she has to.”
“It was swift, at least. She didn’t suffer,” Pin tells you slowly.
“B-but...”
“Curtis,” Rose puts a hand on your shoulder, “We have to go,” You hear something slam against the stone walls behind you, “Please, we have to leave.”
    You hesitate, “Y-you’re right,” You wipe your eyes and turn on your flashlight before handing it to Pin. You set Gut-Shank down gently and close her eye lids, “Goodbye, little gobbie,” You sniffle and take a deep breath before you start crawling after the other two, “Sleep well,” You mumble to the unmoving body as you move on.

    Your group slowly and silently crawls for a time before someone decides to break the silence, “So, Pin, was it?” Rose asks.
    Pin grunts, “Yeah. Pin Ironstone. You?” 
    “Rose Summerfield. Pleasure to meet you. How did you two get out?”
    “Your friend there,” Pin gestures at you, “He carries a lot of neat Other Worldly tech. Helped me finish up a tool I was building to open some locks. Oh, Curtis, keep that noise maker. The least I can do.”
    Rose glances at you and you give her a slight head shake, hoping she understands what you mean as you try to keep the knowledge of where you’re from a secret. She merely smiles and changes the subject, “I’m glad you two came when you did.”
    “Yeah, I could say the same about you two. I don’t think I woulda gotten out successfully if Curtis hadn't shown up,” The three of you crawl in silence for a few more minutes. The pounding from the stone wall had stopped.
    “What’s our plan for when we get out of here?” You ask quietly.
    “Get fuckin’ far away from here and grab some booze,” Pin shines the flashlight right at you.
    “We should go to Babel. That’s where our friends were headed,” Rose reminds you, “Hopefully they’re still there.”
    “Ugh,” Pin groans, “They don’t have booze there,” She whines. 
    “Look, we’re headed to Geno-Town,” Rose explains, “And we--”
“Geno-Town!?” Pin looks shocked, “That's where I was headed before I got captured! Oh, this is great,” She smiles at her.
“I’m sure we could take you with us, Pin.”
    “I’d appreciate that. Not really looking forward to wandering this world alone again after all this.”
    Rose glances at you and you give her a confused look, mind still focused on the dead goblin, “Is that the exit?” She asks as she nods at a ladder at the end of the shaft.
    “Yup. Up there and into a little room. I’m gonna collapse this tunnel too, fuck these goblins,” She growls before climbing the ladder first followed by Rose then you. The small chamber is incredibly dusty as if no one had set food in here for hundreds of years. The only way out from here was a hatch on the ceiling. Pin goes to a metal panel, pushing a stone chair and table aside to get to it, and throws it open. She pushes a button, waits for a few moments then pulls a lever. The ground shakes as boulders seal the passage behind you, “Good,” She presses herself against the wall and sits on the floor, exhaustion finally creeping into her bones. The same happens to you with the adrenaline finally leaving your system.
    Rose cracks open the hatch and peers outside, “We should rest here until morning.”
    “Agreed. I’d rather not stomp around in the night time when the goblins are more likely to be out playing,” Pin starts digging through her bag and pulls out a long cylinder. With the push of a button, a thick foam mat rolls out. She jumps on it and lays out on her back, staring at the ceiling.
    Rose takes a seat next to you, sitting a little close, “Thank you. That woman kept telling me how pretty my eyes are and how much she wants them,” She shudders.
    You shake your head, “Why did she talk like that? Her mouth hung open while noise came out.”
    “No clue. Pin?”
    “Nothing here either, chief. Since we’re goin’ to Babel, we could ask some Sabbath members there,” Pin suggests, “Maybe hit the library for info on magic.”
    Rose yawns, “Good idea. I think Arthur has a membership. At least he SHOULD,” Without asking Rose rests her head on your shoulder and closes her eyes. You spread your coat over her and shiver a little bit.
    “Psst,” The gremlin whispers at you. She slides a small thing across the floor to you. You pick it up, open it and realise its a blanket wrapped in a tiny package. You smile at her in thanks and wrap it around Rose and yourself before letting yourself drift off to sleep. The thankful mouse shrugs your coat off and pushes herself deeper against you. You feel her warmth as her arms hug your arm. She smiles, thankfully not scarred by the experience. You can’t help but smile a little too.

    You wake up slowly, Rose still leaning against you. You glance around the room being softly illuminated by a lamp. Pin is going through the pockets of your jacket, revolver in hand, “Put that down,” You order quietly, “Its loaded,” Pin jumps and puts it down. You look around, she has pulled everything out of your coat, including your driver's license. You grumble incoherently at her as you wipe your eyes.
Your shoulders slump as she stares at you with wide eyes. She picks up the card and shows it to you, “I-Is this real? I-It can’t be, can it?” She seems more excited than surprised, “T-tell me its not real, just some neat thing you picked up somewhere!” You tilt your head at her as you try to come up with a response. 

PT26

    You sigh defeatedly, “Yes, its real, Pin.”
    “Why didn’t you tell me?” She whines as she looks it over again.
    “It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have while in that hole. I’m sorry for being misleading, but I needed to know if I could trust you first,” You explain.
    Pin is silent for a few moments, “I understand. Its just so... Fuckin’ exciting. I could...” She trails off, wandering deep into thought, “WE could...”
You decide to bring her back to the conversation at hand, “Why were you going through my things?”
The gremlin freezes, “I-I-- Curiosity got the better of me. I just wanted to see what other neat Other Worldly things you were carrying and if you had any more junk I wanted to see if I could fashion it into something useful. B-but I was not prepared for the things I found,” She hangs her head, “I-I’m sorry.”
    Her genuine apology is something you did not expect, “I won’t say that its fine, but I do expect you to keep my secret within my friend group.”
    “Of course, I can do that. Do... You mind if I take a look at that thing?” She points to the revolver. 
You nod, “Bring it here,” She does as you instruct and brings you the metallic weapon. You remove all the ammunition for it and set them aside, out of the small woman’s grasp, “Always treat a gun like its loaded, don’t point it at anyone you don’t plan to shoot at.”
    “Uh... Alright...” She closely examines it, flipping the wheel open and closed, “I could...” She messes with the hammer pulling it back and pulling the trigger, “I think... Alright! I think that would work!” She triumphantly declares before putting the revolver down. She grabs loose papers from her bag and starts jotting down notes in a runic language, assumedly a dwarven language. She smiles as she draws up a few sketches. 
    Rose slowly begins to wake up, “Good morning,” You mumble to her.
    “Morning,” She smiles at you as she sits up and stretches. She yawns and stretches out on the stone floor and cracks her back in the downward dog pose. You get a full view of her rear in her tight fitting black uniform. She stands and puts on her cloak, “We should move,” Her stomach rumbles making her frown.
    You suddenly realise how hungry you are too, “Yeah,” You agree as you get up and collect your things. You load four rounds in, leaving the active chamber clear, “I wish I had another weapon.”
    “Shoulda stolen a glaive when you had the chance,” Pin shrugs, “Breakfast? I just have some emergency rations,” She hands both of you thin bricks of food wrapped in a foil. You unwrap the somewhat foul smelling food, “You both look disgusted!” Pin laughs, “Its safe,” She grabs her own and tears it open, “It’ll keep you fed all day too,” She takes a massive bite and quickly downs the crunchy bar.
    You stare at the brown block of food. It reminds you of a granola bar, minus the chocolate chips or appetizing smell. Rose is watching you with a disheartened expression. You take a bite, knowing you need the food. It doesn’t taste very good, mostly bland, “Its... Fine,” You shrug at Rose. 
    Rose takes a bite of hers. As she chews the crunchy bar, her eyebrows knit, “It doesn’t taste like anything,” Rose frowns at you, “I suppose thats for the best.”
    “Dwarven military rations. Gets the job done, right?” Pin had already eaten hers and you and Rose can only slightly nod in response, “Traditionally, its washed down with ale.”
    You finish yours and shudder slightly as the heavy food lands in your stomach. You get up, help Rose off the floor and fold up the blanket. Pin takes it from you and just jams it into her seemingly bottomless bag. The three of you move to the hatch, waiting for one of the others to open it, “Do we have any idea what direction we need to go?” You ask as you grab hold of the hatch. 
    “We can spot Babel from a long distance away. Shouldn’t be too hard to find it,” Rose explains.
    “Yeah the shroud of darkness really helps,” Pin adds.
    “S-shroud of darkness?” You echo, not really sure what she means by that.
    Pin starts to give you a quizzical look that quickly drops off her face, “Uh... Shit, well... You’ll see.”
    You give her a worried look before you shake it off. You need to focus on getting the three of you to safety. You open the hatch just a crack and peer out. You can see clouds forming in the sky, “Rain perhaps?” You ask yourself as you throw the hatch completely open. You climb out the hatch and help Rose and Pin before you slam it shut. You admire the craftsmanship, the hatch is hidden underneath an unassuming rock surrounded by dirt and grass. You don’t even try to figure out how the hatch works from this side. 
    “Either of you good climbers?” Pin asks, “I-I’m fuckin’ terrified of heights.”
    “I wouldn’t be a good thief if I couldn’t climb, Pin. Maybe you can use your artifice sometime to build me some better climbing gear,” Rose jokes as she dons a set of hooked gloves and put an attachment on the bottom of her shoes. She picked a particularly tall tree and got to climbing. You watch her quickly scale to the top and take a quick look around before sliding slowly back down, “That way,” Rose points deeper into the woods.
    “Alright. Rose you first and chief,” Pin points a little stubby finger at you, “You’re in the back.”
    “Who put you in charge?” You ask as you fold your arms.
    “I did. Start marching. I need booze.”
    You shrug and do as the little gremlin commands. You three move slowly through the underbrush. You wish you had Eric here to guide you.
    
    The rain starts about thirty minutes into your walk. You stomp through the mud, thankful for the boots you wear. You listen to the rain patter against your helmet as you stare up at the dark clouds. Trees and shrubs gently sway in the gentle breeze. Pin looks like she’s freezing without any kind of coat or cloak. Your coat is mostly water proof but some rain is running down your helmet and under your coat. Rose’s cloak seems to be waterproof, thankfully for her. As you near the edge of the woods, Rose holds her hand up for the two of you to stop. You move alongside her and look out at the valley before you. The walled city of Babel stands tall and proud amongst a myriad of strangely colored flora. At a point,0 the tall green grass turns black along with the trees. A river that runs by the city turns a bright pink before slowly turning blue way past the town. Above the town, black clouds circle casting a permanent shadowy zone around it. Despite this, fields of grain and strange looking orchards grow tall and wide under the dark, sunless sky. You can’t see what's in the interior of the city, but you do see numerous buildings packed close together outside the walls.
    “What the hell is with the black grass?” You ask quietly.
    Pin looks at you, “Demon realm,” She explains simply, “If we get our asses there, we’re home free.”
    “Demon realm,” You repeat with a little shiver down your spine. 
    “Don’t look so worried,” Rose smiles at you, “Its not a bad thing. Well, maybe for you.”
    “Especially for monsters. Look,” Rose points to the road on the side, a ways off from your position, “They might have some ambushers set up there. No idea if they are looking for us.”
    “So what do we do?” You ask in a slight panic.
    “We run.”
    “Run?” Pin scratches her chin. She nods and flips a few latches on her armor. The armor falls off and consolidates into a briefcase sized package. Pin shoves that in a bag and starts doing stretches. 
Rose takes off her cloak, “Think you can fit this in one of your magic sacks?”
    “For you? Of course. Wanna take off that heavy fuckin’ armor?” She asks you.
    You shake your head, “Its not heavy. Its light enough for me to run in. Even without it I won't be as fast as you,” You stretch out your ankles. Its about a half mile to the edge of the dark zone.
“At least take that shitty helmet off,” Pin argues. You take off your helmet, and the gremlin gladly takes it and shoves it into her bag.
    “Dibs on your shit if you die~”
    “Whatever--” The three of you freeze as you hear a noise. You duck before a jolt of electricity hardly misses you, making the hair stand on the back of your neck. You turn to see the white haired witch stomp out of the undergrowth as rage contorts her face. She tries once more to shoot you with a bolt but the spell fizzles as she fails to get a hold of her emotions.
    “YOU!” She screeches and points a finger as her mouth slides open to speak. The unnatural way she moves and speaks chills you, “I’M GOING TO SKIN YOU ALIVE!” Large goblinoids step out of the forest after her. 
    “RUN!” Rose screams at you before running out of the treeline at a full sprint. 
    Pin takes off first with you following close behind. You burst from the treeline running as fast as you can as the goblinoids let out a cacophony of war cries. You don’t look over your shoulder as javelins strike the ground near you. You hear a loud gong echo across the valley and watch as a large group begins to pour from the city walls and start rushing towards you. You hope they’re friendly. Warhorns sound behind you as the large goblinoids screech as they begin running down the valley and stomping through the mud. That white haired woman is right there with them in a chariot pulled by some hobgoblins. You can hear her desperately screeching her anger fueled spells to no avail. 
    You pant as your pounding heart and adrenaline keep you from slowing down. As you near the black grass you hear one more cast making your muscles seize and dropping you to the ground. You can’t move your legs as you do your best to roll over onto your back and draw your knife, ready to desperately defend yourself from a tide of goblins. As the goblins approach your position, you realise their ranks are exclusively made up of hobgoblins and bugbears. You hear a memorable cry as a large body crashes into a row of combatants and puts them on their ass. A familiar armored centaur towers over you and slashes at a few hobgoblins.
    “Joan! Grab him!” Eric shouts over the combat as the human guard from the town crashes into the line of worse off bugbears. 
    Joan huffs as she slices through the neck of a hobgoblin, “Up you go!” Joan commands as she leans down and picks you up over her shoulder. She trots back to the team where Rose pants heavily. Pin is lying on her side in the black grass, unconscious. Joan unceremoniously dumps you on the wet, muddy ground before running back into the fray. 
    “Are you alright?” Eric asks you as he rolls you onto your back.
    “I can’t move my legs,” You groan as weakness begins to resonate in your bones and muscles, “I feel so weak.”
    “Yeah, Demon Realm will do that to you,” Eric chuckles, “I feel the same way. I need a medic over here!” Eric calls and on command a small child makes her way to you wearing an outfit similar to a rubber raincoat. She waves around a small wand before poking both of your legs. You quickly get the feeling back.
    You struggle to stand even with Eric’s aid. You look around, even if the human guard, backed by seemingly magical children, are outnumbered by the goblinoid combatants, they force them to fight on the edge of the demon realm, sapping the strength from the goblinoids. The guard easily easily cuts them down with weapons that are made of some pink metal. As you stumble where you stand, two arms hoist you back up before holding you against a firm body, “Humor: You must be tired, Curtis,” Tilde mutters in your ear. You’re not sure if the arms she has wrapped around you are merely to support you or are there to give you a warm hug.
    “I’m happy to see you too, Tilde,” You chuckle. 
As an explosion rocks the earth, the robot grips you tightly. You look to see Arthur engaged in one on one combat with the white haired witch as the rain falls heavily around them. Rael is nearby fighting the witch’s commanding hobgoblin and Joan is sprinting around, routing the ranged combatants amongst the hobgoblins along with three other mounted knights, one of them being a little witch on a pony casting buffing spells on her allies. You watch the witch chuck another fireball at Arthur who easily blocks it with a shield. Arthur responds with an ethereal chain to bind the woman’s limbs. She lets out a growl and waves her hand, making the chains dissipate before getting near her. Both wizards begin chanting larger incantations causing large circles and runes to appear in the green grass beneath their feet. Arthur’s robes and pages of his wizarding book blow with the aetherial wind that comes with his powerful spell. The witch’s hair blows back as the words to a spell comes from her eternally opened mouth. Rain is blown away from the area as the powerful winds pick up. Arthur bides his time until the witch hisses at him and unleashes her spell. Rage contorts her face once more as numerous lines of orange flame fly towards the wizard. Arthur unleashes his trap as another wall of force, this one a dark blue color rather than the usual clear glass, springs from the ground. Instead of the projectiles merely dissipating on the wall, they bounce off, flying towards their caster. Her dead eyes widen as she fails to block the projectiles herself. 
They pierce her body and limbs, spilling her blood on the wet grass. With the last of her strength, a few words escape her lips, “This... Changes nothing,” Before collapsing to the ground, dead.
    “The thrall has been slain,” Arthur sighs. He turns and watches as Rael brings his mace down on the shoulder of the commander then into his face. He falls to the ground in pain before getting his skull crushed by Rael’s mace, finishing him off. With a unified cry, the guard let out a cheer as the last of the bugbears and hobgoblins surrender.
    Arthur trudges back to the group, frowning slightly. A small girl approaches him, “Tsk tsk. I am disappointed, Arthur,” She shakes her head at him. She has large horns coming out of her long white hair, little paw like hands and cloven feet while wearing robes that match Arthur’s grey robes and wielding a gnarled branch staff that is a bit taller than herself. You notice that none of the rain lands on her at all, “Needing to use such a high level spell against a witch like that. I trained you better.”
    “I needed to end it quickly,” Arthur explains, “Before she could hurt someone else.”
    Tilde shifts to lift you up more as you start to slump, “Recommendation: we should get Curtis to the infirmary. The demon realm energy is quickly sapping what little energy he has.”
    Eric nods, “Can you carry him?”
    “I’ve got it,” Joan trots over and grabs you by the back of your armor like picking up a cat by the scruff, tossing you over one of her shoulders, “Grab the small one, Tilde. The... Gremlin,” She mutters with a touch of disdain in her voice.
    “Do you always execute your foes so brutally, inquisitor?” The woman now chastises Rael.
    “I would prefer it if you did not call me that. This armor is merely an heirloom,” Rael replies, brushing past her and joining your group. He stomps right up to rose, “Do not scare me like that,” He instructs harshly before grabbing her in a tight hug. You black out quickly as the realm of sleep creeps up on you.


    You wake up in a comfortable bed with thin white sheets. You blink and sit up, noting how you’re only wearing a pair of shorts. You glance out the window at the red moonlight covering the buildings outside. You scratch a warm sensation on your shoulder and look down at it. A glowing pink rune stares back at you, “You are awake,” Joan is sitting at your bedside. You look around the room a little more to see another bed next to you that Pin is sitting up in, shoveling down a bowl of pink colored gruel, “I am glad to see you and Rose both made it back to us safe,” Joan smiles at you. Her arms seem to instinctively start to go in for a hug before she stops herself.
    “Ay,” Pin calls, “That your girlfriend, Curtis?”
    “I will destroy you, gremlin,” Joan hisses as she stands from your bedside, “I am sending Tilde in, she requires your aid.”
    You nod, “Joan?” You call as she nears the door, “Thanks for carrying me out of there.”
    “Do not consider it a special treatment. I would do it for anyone,” She sounds harsh but gives you a little smile as she hides her face from Pin. The centaur leaves the room.
    Pin turns to you, “What a charming character,” She chuckles.
    You just shrug at her, “I respect her. Are you doing alright?”
    “Of course! I-- I just passed out since I hadn’t been eating. How’s that mark treating you?”
    “Its a little warm, really. Does it do something?”
    “It puts a little bit of Mamano mana in you so the demon realm passive effects don’t... Well, affect you for the most part. Not enough to mark you as married or claimed or even incubize you,” Pin explains.
    “Huh...” You pretend to know what any of that means. 
    Pin frowns at your blank face, “O-oh... I forgot that you...” She trails off.
    “Greeting: hello, Curtis,” Tilde announces her presence as she swiftly moves to your side, “Query: are you well?” She completely ignores the wide eyed pin as she passes her hospital bed.
    “Yeah, I’m fine. Thank you. What about you? Your movement is looking a little... Robotic compared to how you usually move.”
    Tilde’s blank face looks a little towards the floor, “Explanation: when I was electrocuted some of my components short circuited. Query: would you be willing to take a look?”
    “Of course,” You tell her with a little smile. She sits on the bed next to you and opens her chest for you. 
    “Are you NOT going to introduce me to your automaton!?” Pin asks angrily as she scrambles from the bed.
    Tilde looks at the gremlin with a blank stare, “Greetings. I am a generation three automaton, designation: Tilde.”
    “Uh, Pin Ironstone,” She introduces herself, “Curtis is your master, right?”
    “Negative. I currently have no designated master.”
    “B-but,” Pin scratches her head, “Are you sure you’re a model three?”
    You grunt, “Tilde, stop shifting around. Here, I think some of these parts came loose. How does that feel?” You ask after pushing them back into place.
    She tests her joints, “Better than before.”
    “Let me see that panel in the back of your head,” You instruct. She does as you say and shows you the said panel. 
    “That’s not a stock feature,” Pin folds her arms, “What is that for?”
    “Facial movements,” You push the parts back into place, “Show me a few faces,” Tilde does as you instruct, giving you a wide smile, a glare and a shocked look, “Looks like it works.”
    “That's not stock either!” Pin exclaims, “The model three doesn’t have emotions and--” She stops herself. She takes a look on the inside of Tilde, “And that shits all fucked up! What the hell!?”
    “Can you fix it?” You ask Pin.
    “Fuck no!” She makes an X with her arms, “No one alive can! How the fuck are you doing this!?”
    “I’m just pushing shit back into place,” You explain with a touch of annoyance in your voice caused by her constant screeching.
    “Humor: perhaps the gremlin needs a few parts fixed,” Tilde smiles at you.
    For once, you laugh. Pin stares at her with wide, almost terrified eyes, “Nothing about you is original. I did a lot of research on automatons a while ago. They were mostly genderless, emotionless, personalityless working droids. Only the generation five had emotions and personality.”
    “So?” You shrug, “Tilde is Tilde.”
    Tilde puts on a small smile when you say that. Pin frowns at you, “A-alright.”
    Tilde suddenly sits up as realisation spreads across her face, “Explanation: I am supposed to take you to the designated meeting place,” Tilde exclaims, “Please, come with me, Curtis. Your things have already been transferred there. Yours as well Pin. Please change out of your infirmary uniform.”

    You step out into the crowded dark streets following Tilde. The multicolored stone buildings that seem colored in with something akin to crayons or fingerpaint on a much larger scale. are all pretty mundane except for the seemingly magical lights that illuminate the streets. Nearly all of the girls you see are diminutive and childlike. To make it more complicated in your mind, some act like children and others speak like grandmas. They snack on sweets with the men they wander around with or play on various playground equipment in alleyways or parks despite the rain or their disposition. Besides playing, they practice magic with each other. You’re not sure if the inclusion of young looking human men is strange or a welcome sight. The three of you make it to a more dilapidated park in the corner of town, the swings and seesaw are here are seemingly functional but the grass and trees seem a bit more dead than anywhere else. Tilde walks up to a door that seemingly connects to nothing as it just stands in the middle of a grassy area with a pink stone path leading up to it. You watch her knock lightly on the freestanding door. Amazingly, it opens and Arthur sticks his head through and smiles at the three of you, “Come in, come in, Mother is expecting you,” He instructs. 
    With a bewildered look, you follow everyone in. You find yourself in a luxurious foyer lined with red carpet and regal gold, “Wow,” You mutter as you look around at the room at the art collection of paintings and statues depicting various creatures like bears, goats, demons, angels and even one that seems to be a family portrait. The small goat woman you saw berating Arthur and Rael earlier is sitting amongst three more goat women and a man with brown hair and wearing an apron opposed to the girl’s cute frilly dresses of various colors. The woman holds a seemingly human baby in her arms, swaddled with a grey cloth. 
    “I hope you two are hungry,” Arthur chuckles, “Rose has been talking about your daring escape, but we are missing the perspective of you two,” He leads you through one of the many dark oak doors that lead to rooms and hallways that seem much larger than should be possible.
    “I’d be happy to share in exchange for some more food,” Pin smiles, “And maybe a bit of liquor?”
    “Of course. Mother and Father have a large selection of drinks, though I hope you enjoy wine.”
    “I can drink fuckin’ anything with a little kick.”
    “Wonderful. Oh, and if you would-- Pin was it? Refrain from swearing, please. It tends to upset more than one of my siblings.”
    “Ugh, fine,” She mutters a few swears to herself before following Arthur into the dining room. The dining room is themed similar to the rest of the strange, magical manor. Red and gold with a dark wooden flourish of fancy furniture. You are seated at a table to the right of Rose and Pin sitting on your right at the end of the table. At the head of the table sits the woman that berated Arthur and the man from the earlier painting. Sitting next to them are three goat girls with various colors of hair copying their parents’ hair.
    The goat woman gives you a smile, “Hello, the last of my esteemed guests. I am Ophelia Maximillion,” She speaks quietly and seemingly almost bored-sounding in a childish, light voice, “My husband is Trevor Maximillion and my children are Elinoire, Lilith, Akasha and you have already met my adopted son, Arthur. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourselves?”
    “Pin Ironstone,” Pin says quietly, the usually stoic gremlin now a tad bit intimidated.
    “Oh?” Ophelia leans on the armrest of her chair that seems much too large for herself, “A dwarven last name for a gremlin? I wonder what your life’s story is. What about you, child?” Her sight shifts to you.
    You clear your throat, “Curtis Bradley,” you state simply as you try to maintain a bit of composure in the presence of a being that feels much more powerful than you can comprehend.
    “Curtis... Bradley...” She repeats. There's an echo of wisdom and knowledge in the way she talks, “I suppose it sounds strange to me as you are not of this world.”
    “H-how did--” You nervously stammer.
    “Oh, cease your babbling. I could smell that strange aether on you from a mile away. I may look young and small but I am hundreds-- Thousands of years beyond you. Thousands of years to practice and perform magics and--”
    “Mother,” One of her daughters, Akasha, pipes up,“We all love to hear you ramble, but I desire to hear the story of their daring escape and I would bet that the rest of our guests feel the same.”
    Ophilia sighs, “Yes, yes. My apologies. Pin, Curtis, please regale us with your tale.”
    You nod and turn to Pin. She begins the story with you being dragged into your cell and you both quickly start bouncing memories of how it happened off of each other and laughing about scenarios that terrified you both at the time. When you get to the point that Rose entered the scene she joins in the banter. All of you stop laughing when the white haired witch enters the scene, each of you disturbed by her powerful magic and saddened by the death of Gut-Shank who sacrificed herself for the three of you. You briefly touch on sleeping in the dwarven secret passage and running to the town after being confronted again by the witch. The rest of your group explains that after you two vanished they hurried to Babel and had Ophilia use a divination to find you then figure out when the best time to aid you would be.
    “Interesting,” Ophilia scratches her chin, “That woman, that witch...” She stops herself, “We should wait until tomorrow to speak of her. You all have been through much recently. Let us have a wonderful dinner prepared by my servants!” A large dinner of cooked ham, potatoes, breads and various cheeses is laid out before you all by invisible servants. You stomach rumbles horribly as the wonderful smell reaches your noise, “Drinks?” Your gracious host asks. 
    “Can I get something hard?” Pin asks. The rest of your group requests fine wine or some kind of juice while you shrug, taking whatever was offered to you. You listen to the noises of your companions chatting with each other and your hosts. You speak when spoken to but mostly stay quiet as you stay within your own thoughts.

    You sit in a lounge room with six doors off of it. All of your companions, including Pin and excluding Arthur, are here. The temperature is comfortable and the sofas even more so. Most are sitting alone working on their own hobbies or tasks before sleeping in the rooms that your host magically created in this pocket dimension. You and Pin sit on the floor as she helps you finish your electric spear attachment. Pin forms a metal casing for a gem to power the shocking tip and a lever to activate it, “Looks good and firm,” She nods at you.
    “Thanks, Pin,” You smile at her as you test it. You can hear a buzz as electricity jumps between the various metals.
    “No problem, Chief. Lemme know if you wanna build anythin’ else. I’m gonna go work on my blueprints.”
    She wanders off while Tilde remains by your side. Joan is fiddling with her armor, washing the blood off of it, Rael is reading from a stack of books procured from Ophilia with Rose sitting nearby, fiddling idly with a few small things and Eric is doing a check on your group’s gear.

PT27

    You move to the couch with Tilde following close behind. You plop onto the couch next to Rose who hands you a few pieces of hard candy, “You can get candy pretty much anywhere in this city,” She explains as she throws a few in her mouth.
    “How can you eat more after that massive meal?” Rael asks.
    “I always have room for sweets, dad,” Rose smiles.
    You’re still full so you put your share of sweets in a little container then into your bag, “Thanks,” You smile at her, “Uh,” You awkwardly cough, “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a group of people in my life.”
    “I would be surprised if you were not happy to see me again,” Joan shrugs.
    “We were just as happy to see you both again,” Eric pipes up from where he sits, “You even brought someone back with you.”
    Pin glances up from her work, “Hi.”
    “Yes... An artificer,” Rael notes with a touch of disdain in his voice, “Where did you learn artifice, gremlin?”
    “I have a name...” Pin trails off as her eyes dart around, “I was never told the names of any of you shits.”
    “This is Rael Summerfield,” Rose explains, “Eric Hill is over there and the ever chivalrous Lady Joan Orwell sits over there. Oh, and you met the always attached-at-the-hip duo, Curtis and Tilde,” Everyone, barring Joan, gives a wave or nod as their name is called.
    “Pleasure to meet you, Pin,” Eric gives the gremlin a smile, “Can you tell us how they caught you?”
    “Those shitty goblins? Overwhelmed me and the few people I was traveling with. They shipped the rest of those poor sods off to somewhere with that white haired skank. Kept me around when they realised I was good with machinery,” Pin explains, “Can’t even fuckin’ tell you how long I was down there.”
    “Sorry to hear that,” Eric sighs, “I wish we could have stopped them sooner. We’ve dealt with another arm of this Matriarch’s reach before.”
    “Hope you exterminated them too,” Pin growls, “I wanna find this woman and shove an axe up her ass.”
    “Agreed,” Rael notes, “Kidnapping my daughter has condemned them to death,” A look of fear spreads across Pin’s face as she realises the family ties within the group.
“I wonder what she’s plotting,” Rose wonders aloud.
    “Aye. Our host is making us wait. While I appreciate the rest, the looming threat weighs heavily in my mind.”
    “I am not worried much,” Joan explains haughtily, “We shall triumph as we have before. We merely need to take more care in securing our less combative allies.”
    “Pin, how are you in a fight?” Eric asks.
    “I-I can hold my own in a scrap. What the hell do you think I am?” Pin growls.
    “You are not actually considering bringing her along, are you?” Joan asks, seemingly shocked.
    “I was told you were going to Geno-Town. I have important business there and was told I could come with ya,” Pin explains.
    “Who said you could!?” Joan puts down her armor.
    “Rose.”
    “I-I did,” Rose looks at the floor in an apologetic tone, “Its just a two or three day walk and I thought it would be fine,” Most people in the room shrug in a somewhat half hearted agreement.
    “Why could it not be Curtis to promise her this?” Joan muses aloud, “I would not feel bad about shouting at him,” She pauses for a moment, “As bad about it...,” She corrects herself quietly. 
    Pin opens her mouth to speak, but stops when Eric clears his throat, “Pin, we’ll take ya  to Geno-Town. I’m not saying ya’re on the team, but if ya wanna join the Thunder Crashers, ya had best be on yar best behavior,” He says in an unnatural diplomatic voice.
    “Thunder Crashers?” Pin repeats with a laugh, “Who came up with a name like that.”
    “I did,” You frown and fold your arms.
    She stops laughing, “O-oh. Its not that bad of a name, really,” She apologises, “S-stop lookin’ at me like that I fuckin’ mean it!”
    You shrug off her comments and turn back to Rose, “Got any more locks for me to practice on? I struggled a lot in that fort.”
    “Of course!” She hands you three, another padlock and a few small locks from this world, “You probably tried to go too fast with it,” She mutters, “Slow down and keep calm, Curtis, you’re going way too fast,” You nod and slowly feel the tumblers of the lock before slowly forcing the lock open. You look to Rose for some kind of praise, “Again,” She instructs. You spend an hour or so working on your lockpicking. You feel like you have a firmer grasp on it, “I’m gonna go to bed,” Rose yawns.
    “Alright, thanks, Rose,” You give her a small smile, “Night.”
    “Good night,” She smiles back before wandering off into one of the rooms.
Rael sets the books he was reading aside and faces you, “Curtis,” He calls your name in a softer tone than usual, “I found this on my person,” He offers you something wrapped in a purple cloth, “I cannot form my thanks with words like others can. But thank you for bringing my daughter home safe. This gift is from me as well as... Them. At least I believe that is the case as I asked Them for a small amount of guidance in thanking you.”
    You take the small parcel gratefully, “You didn’t have to get me anything,” You explain sheepishly as you open the little parcel. You feel a little sense of dread as you stare at it, a dagger with a purple flamberge blade and a hilt wrapped with a strange, pale, tanned leather. The guard is a dull, pitted silver showing the blades age as does the pommel with a purple gem in it. You turn your attention to the blade as the different shades and hues crawl slowly across it. Its like the surface of a purple, murky pool as the purple colors dance across the blade.
He shakes his head at you, “They wanted you to have it. Use it to tear the aether from your foes and sow Their will.”
“A-alright,” You nod. You jump as you hear a disembodied whisper behind you.
    “It will fit in the sheath you have. I did not intend to let Them touch your mind as They have. The voices tell me that They have taken interest in you and your... ‘Strange’ mind. Perhaps if you wish to learn a little clerical magic, you would be able to. I must bid you ‘goodnight’ as well. I have been slacking on my prayer and meditation.”
    “G-goodnight,” You stammer as the bald, scarred cleric stands and trudges to another room, the one next to where his daughter is staying. You look back down at the dagger before swapping it out for the dagger you currently carry. You wander over to Joan, “Here’s this back.”
    “Hmph,” Joan huffs as she snatches the dagger from you, “I suppose I have to give gifts as good as his for you to keep them, hm?”
    “Sorry, I just--”
    “I am merely teasing you, Curtis,” Joan shakes her head at you and stands, “I am not offended,” She stands up, towering over you and gives you a pat you on the head somewhat condescendingly, “Goodnight.”
    “I’m headed to bed too,” Eric yawns, “Missing a couple rations, but that's normal,” He shrugs.
    “Night,” You call to both of them. Lastly, you check on Pin. You squat down on the floor as she furiously scribbles on pages of parchment, “What are you working on?” You ask.
    “Long range projectile launcher. Its like that little thing you carry in your coat pocket but its gonna be longer and have TWO fuckin’ schutes that it fires out of,” Pin smiles and shows you a diagram. It looks like a double barrel shotgun with two eight round wheels used to load both barrels. You don’t understand the techno-magical-babble that the specifications spout at you as it explains how the propulsion system under the barrels works. The stock is some tactical skeleton lightweight stock.
    “Uh...” You scratch your head.
    “Speechless, huh? Its pretty fuckin’ great, I know. Its gonna make enemies shit their pants when it goes off with a BANG!” She cackles, “You want one too?”
    “Not right now, I’ve got my revolver.”
    “And when you run out of shots? Then what?”
    “I’ll find more. I have before.”
    “There's a finite amount of ammo in this world, Curtis. Can you find every fuckin’ one?”
    “No, but--”
    “I’ll teach you artifice, Curtis,” She offers, “I know that bald fuck told you he could probably learn you some clerical magic, but I’ll teach you something ACTUALLY useful!”
    Your shoulders slump, “I’ll have to think about it.”
    “Pfft,” She shakes her head, “If you say so,” She yawns, “You an’ me... I think we can go beyond normal artifice.”
    You ignore that comment, deciding she was just being crazy, “Can you tell me anything about automatons? You said you did research on them.”
    She nods, “I did. Tilde’s innards are kinda fucked up, but I think we could salvage some of it despite being mostly non standard. I don’t know what’s working and what isn't, shit I’m surprised she’s functioning at all, but there's probably some non-functioning things in her right now,” She yawns again and slumps over, “I guess I need to sleep. It will be great to sleep in a bed again. We can take a look again at her sometime.”
    You nod and help her gather up her papers before seeing her off to bed. You stand and look around the now empty room and listen to the softly playing classical music that you hadn’t noticed before. Tilde stares at you expectantly with her bright blue-green eyes, “Query: are you going to bed as well?”
    You nod, “I guess so,” You walk slowly to the last unoccupied room and step into the unlit room. A king sized bed, a little table, a dresser, a nightstand with a lamp on it and a small desk with a comfy chair was all the guest room held. Tilde takes a seat on the desk chair and watches you as you set things down around the room and throw your coat over a chair. There's a window in the room that looks out over a dark, grassy field. You wonder if that is a real place or just more trickery in this strange, surreal pocket dimension. You struggle to map the hallways in your head as all the halls look the same and the strange geometry where rooms and passageways pass through where other rooms SHOULD be, “Are you doing alright, Tilde?” You ask the automaton as she begins to shift into a low power mode.
    “Affirmative.”
    You get changed into your sleeping clothes, “Glad to hear that, Tilde. If you have any more issues with your internals just let me know.”
    “Thank you, Curtis. Sleep well.”
    “I’ll try.”


    You wake up in the middle of the night, bladder full of liquid. You grunt and push yourself from the bed before grabbing your coat,, throwing it over your shoulders and shambling out into the hall. The lounge room had vanished, replaced by a long hallway to an open door with light streaming from inside the room. You grunt, too drowsy and full of piss to worry about it. You wander over to the open door quickly, regretting not putting on socks after getting out of bed. The carpet underfoot is soft and fluffy but the paintings of serious looking men and women on the walls fills you with a sense of dread and the air is damp and cold. You hurry to the door at the end of the hallway, the only door in this entire hallway. You shut the door behind you as you step onto the chilly tiling, locking it quickly. You squint at the lights as you look around at the simple furnishings. The toilet is simple and wooden with a kind of black void underneath where you would do your business, a metal faucet over a bucket with another void down the small drain and a mirror above it. The few lit candles smell sweet and give the room a pleasant smell. You do your business and wash your hands before turning back to the door. You unlock it and throw it open, eager to go back to bed. You step out of the bathroom, without thinking, and into a dimly lit room. You stand before a massive oaken desk with a little goat girl sitting in a big leather chair behind it. Ophelia doesn’t look at you, instead she writes in a book bound by a strange leather using a crimson red ink. She scratches in a few strange runes, similar to the magical runes in Arthur’s tome of magic.
    “How wonderful of you to join me, child,” She mutters as she stretches out and folds one of her legs over the other, “Made me wait quite a long time to speak to you alone,” She berates you.
    “Uh, sorry,” You shrug.
    She sighs at you, “Sit over here. We have words to share, do we not?”
    “I guess so. What did you want to talk to me about?” You inquire as you sit down in a big leather seat across from the one that Ophelia sits in. 
    “My precious son has informed me of two things regarding you. A dream of yours you had moons ago. Macabre skull architecture in a purple or reddish haze, hm?” She reminds you very matter of factly. You simply nod, “It is ancient human architecture, you will not find anything like that on this side of the mountains. As for the discoloration, viewing real world locations and people from within the dream realm can distort it as you saw. From the description I got, it was most likely a vault of some kind. I vaguely remember when those were built. They house artifacts of great power... Or beings of great power. Arthur will be going to the library tomorrow, go with him and do some research on your own if you desire to know more. The second thing was about your memory, correct?” You nod again, “Such a poor soul, a stranger in a strange land without a memory of his home. Tragic, almost. I assume you want your memories back?”
    You nod, “If its possible.”
    The little witch frowns, “It is, of course, possible for me to magically drag the memories out of the recesses of your mind,” You smile, almost blurting out for her to go ahead, “However, there is a catch. Those who have this procedure done have a high chance of going mad. I do not expect an answer now, but do think on it. If you have anything at all that is personal to you that you could look for or access, that may draw your memories out without the added madness that may accompany it.”
    “T-thank you,” You stammer.
    “Do not thank me yet. I have done little for you. I am just glad I do not have to abide by ancient contracts and deals to not interact with mortals now.”
    “W-why don’t you have to follow them any more?”
    “Myself and the other powerful demons and devils that changed into mamano form killed the other demons within the last 200 years to free us from contracts and binds. When I got turned into this form, my ever hungry lust for knowledge and magical ability was mildly pushed out of my mind as a lust of man meat swelled within me. The only way to break those contracts was through violence, unfortunately. Ah, look at me babbling about nothing,” She chuckles to herself, “There is a third thing I wish to speak with you about. Although you have no innate magical aether, I would bestow you with one if you so ask for it.”
    “E-excuse me?” You stammer, nearly choking on your own saliva in surprise.
    “You heard me. While the raging cleric and scheming gremlin would offer you their forms of magic, I am offering you a contract to imbue you with either flavor of arcane magic you desire. Those being wizard casting and sorcerous casting,” You start to fumble with your words, trying to reply, “You do not need to make a decision now. Know that if you pick wizard magics, my son will be more than happy to teach you. If you decide sorcerer magic is what you want, I will point you to a teacher.”
    “T-thank you for the offer,” You stammer as you consider your options.
    “Again. I am undeserving of your thanks currently. Go, return to bed. It is much past my own bed time and hubby will be disappointed if he does not receive the allotted cuddle time his contract allows for,” She checks a watch, “I am already minutes behind,” She waves her wand and her dress is transformed into a nightgown in a puff of smoke, “Goodnight, Curtis. You will find your room just through that door.”
    “Uh... Goodnight,” You stand and head to the door as the small woman waves you away. 
Sure enough, you’re back in your guest room. You shrug off your coat and throw it back on the chair. Tilde, who woke herself up, throws her arms around you, “Where did you go?” She demands.
    “J-just to the bathroom. Tilde, I’m fine,” You hug her back.
    “You keep vanishing!” She sobs, “Don’t make me be alone again!”
    “Tilde,” You speak soothingly as you hug her tighter, “I won’t leave you alone, I promise.”
    “Thank... You... I don’t want to be alone again, please” She sniffles just like a real person as you move her to sit on the edge of the bed. 
    You sit next to her and wrap your arm around her shoulder, “I’m sorry for scaring you. It wasn’t my choice to be whisked away like that. Our host wanted to speak with me,” You wipe Tilde’s eyes with the back of your hand.
    Tilde nods, “My apologies. I have acted irrationally. I had nothing to fear,” She stands and moves to the desk chair.
    “You didn’t know that, Tilde. Its fine to be worried or scared.”
    “Negative,” Her robotic tone returns, replacing the lifelike voice, “I must be your stoic servant and protector. My directives state as much.”
    You sigh in defeat, and roll into bed, “I understand.”
    “Sleep well, Curtis.”
    “Thanks,” You roll over and face away from her, eager to go back to sleep. Sleep does not find you quickly as the thoughts and promises of magic tempts you.
    
    You trudge into the lounge with Tilde following close behind you. Most of your companions have already woken up and wandered out into the lounge in their sleep garments or casual clothes. Arthur is here too in a dark blue nightgown with yellow stars on it. Your gracious host, Ophelia has laid out a buffet of fruits and pastries for you all to enjoy. The sweet smells of citrus fruits tempts you, “Morning,” Rose smiles at you from where she sits, her plate is full of pastries.
    “Hey,” You grab a few pieces of fruit and sit down, “What's going on today?”
    “I am going to the library today to look into a few things,” Arthur informs you.
    “Aye,” Rael grunts, “I will be going as well.”
    “Same here,” Pin shrugs, “One of the librarian assistants owes me a little favor.”
    “I plan on picking up a few things and doing some training,” Joan tells you.
    “I think I will be doing the same,” Eric shrugs.
    “Relaxing...” Rose adds sheepishly, “But I think I will join Joan and Eric.”

    You nod and lean back as you eat your breakfast slowly. You have a few things you need to decide, but for now, you just need to pick which of the two groups you want to spend the day with and what you want to do or ask them before your evening meeting with the rest of your team and Ophelia. Perhaps you can find some way to jog your memory without the use of magic in the meantime.

PT28

    Tilde watches you peel and eat a little slice of orange with great interest. You decide to head to the town’s library with the three magically inclined people in your party, “When does the library open?” Pin asks as she plops down on the couch near you.
    “Eleven,” Arthur answers quickly, “Such small bodies need much sleep, I suppose,” He shrugs. You down a glass of water to wash down the pastries before leaning back on the couch, ready to just lounge and kill a few hours. 
    “More time ‘playing’ with hubby rather than their faces buried in a book,” Joan guesses, “You should know, your mother would read books all day and night if your father, sisters and you were not there to remind her of her mortal needs.”
    Arthur smiles, “I suppose you are right. Mother has starved herself on occasion. Father has to force her to the dinner table sometimes.”
    “How’d a human man become the son of a baphomet?” Pin pipes up as curiosity gets the better of her.
    Arthur gives her an amused look, “I could ask you the same. A gremlin raised by a dwarf?”
    “W-well...” She looks around at the group, “Do you want to know? I don’t see a reason to hide it from you all,” She glances at you, “This fuckers already spilled the biggest secret of all,” You roll your eyes at her but stay silent, deciding not to throw her under the bus in regards to how she found out. 
Arthur clears his throat, “If you would regale us of your tale, I would gladly listen.”
“How ‘bout you first, wizard?” Pin challenges.
    “Fine, fine. But you will find my tale is not nearly as exciting,” Arthur clears his throat once more before speaking, “My blood father, a man in what is now known as Altonfield, got his hands on some old tomes of magic and demons from a merchant that was passing through. He used the directions in the tome to attempt to summon a demon to forge some sort of pact. He ended up summoning my mother, Ophelia. Although she had shrugged off most of her ancient pacts, a demon or devil must always answer a summoning. He begged and pleaded with her to bestow him a boon of magic. He desired to become a warlock. My mother, already married and with three children, reluctantly agreed. One of the terms, a smaller and hidden one, was that she would get his first born son.
    “He took the deal, not once reading the pact. Time went by and the man slowly stopped using his magic for good and began down a path of nefarious and selfish acts. Enraged that he would use her boon in this way, he was stripped of all powers as the contract said he would be. He was left alone, abandoned by his party. He began to wander before returning to Altonfield and settling down with his childhood friend. His love for the woman flourished and she became pregnant with their child, a boy. He... I was born under a full moon with a clear sky, as designed by Ophelia. And--” Arthur turns to you to offer a quick explanation, “Those born under the full moon are more in tune with the aether of the world. Natural born sorcerers and wizards are both more likely to come about on those nights. As soon as I was born from the womb, Ophelia appeared to collect her payment for the spurned magics.
    “My blood father and mother could do nothing to stop her as she used her magic to paralyze the nurse and the two of them. She took the child--Me, and left without a word. At once, I was bathed in the moonlight in an ancient ritual to further enhance my ability in the arcane before being whisked away to this town. Even if I was not her flesh and blood, Ophelia raised me and loved me just as she had the three baphomets before her. My father, Trevor raised me as the son he always wanted to have. My sisters were incredibly doting and loving too, keeping the rest of the sabbath from claiming by challenging them to wizard duels. Being raised by one of the strongest casters in any sabbath will allow you to defeat nearly any foe. And here we are today, nearly 60 years later.”
    “Did ya ever meet yar biological parents?” Eric asks.
    “I did not. At the ripe age of 21 I set out into the world to explore for a time as I practiced my magic. I made my way to Altonfield with my sisters and found them. I observed them from afar as they worked in the fields with their four other children. I wondered if they remembered me or could even recognize me if I had made myself known to them. One of the youngest, a girl named Kelsey, having spotted me wandered over to where we hid. My sisters were arguing about dinner while I spoke briefly to the small child. She asked who I was and...” Arthur pauses for a moment, “I could not bring myself to lie to her. I told her I was a family member and that I needed to go. I gave her an expensive amulet that they could sell for a high price so they would no longer need to toil tirelessly in the fields. After that, my three sisters and I left. I only saw them again when I attended my birth mother’s funeral in a disguised form some thirty years later. I was surprised to see that my younger sister had never sold the amulet, instead she wore it proudly. To this day I wonder if it was in memory of something or just a keepsake.”
    The room is silent for a time as everyone processes his story, “A tale I have heard many times before in my old line of work,” Rael shakes his head, “I would say it is tragic, but you have grown up well for someone taken by a demon.”
    “You act like you’re his fuckin’ elder,” Pin scoffs. Rael doesn’t make eye contact with the gremlin.
    “Think ya’ll ever settle down?” Eric asks, “Ya’re gettin’ up there in age, no offence.”
    “None taken,” Arthur chuckles, “I suppose I would like to. I wish to pass down my arcane knowledge and increase my lifespan with mamano mana. I still have much to do in my life. There was a fiery sorceress that I ran with for a short stint. I could not keep up with her energy.”
    “Arthur’s got a crush~!” Rose laughs.
    “I-it is not a crush... I merely respect her arcane prowess. A-and that fiery look in her eyes did, uhm, things to me,” He stammers as he quickly explains himself, “A-and her red hair and...”
    “I am surprised you do not have your eyes on a sabbath member,” Joan comments.
    “I see them too much like family,” He explains sheepishly, “I desire the... Curves of a... Woman with long legs.”
    “Okay that’s a little too open,” Pin gags as she thinks about him and a woman together.
    “What about your story, Pin?” You ask.
    “Ah, now you want another fuckin’ story, huh? Well, I was born a gremlin--a monster, not a mamano,” Pin begins awkwardly.
    “I knew I smelled something abhorrently foul on you,” Joan huffs.
    “Shut your fuckin’ mouth, horse cunt,” Pin growls. Joan looks taken aback by her sudden hostility as if she had done nothing wrong in the first place, “I was born in the forests near the Hak’akrak Peaks. Even when I was incredibly young, I loved watching the dwarven steam boats float down the river through the woods. A few times they would stop and get off the boat to do something, and I would fuckin’ watch the dwarves at work. I was enthralled by these people and their strange armor and tech.
    “One day, the sort of monster tribe I lived in was planning a raid on the dwarven boat. Being the kind fuckin’ soul I was, when the dwarves stopped to do their work, I ran into their camp and warned them. They didn’t believe me at first, but their captain did. They quickly packed up their things, and me, and got back in the boat as the raid came crashing out of the treeline. I might have been only four at the time, but I ran around the ship wanting to see all the strange and alien technology they had on their boat.
“Although most of the dwarves were hesitant to interact with me, the captain was more than happy to humor me, taking me under his wing,” Pin smiles as she reminisces about her past, “Anyways, I was taken to Hak’akrak Keep. The captain brought me to his brothers, a scientist and a smith. The smith, Okkri Ironstone took me in after the scientist brother did a few tests. I ended up being exposed to a high amount of raw mamano mana which turned me into what I am now, this sexy, tiny beast,” She flaunts her tiny body behind a loose fitting shirt, “I learned from all three of the brothers, but Okkri became my surrogate father as he taught me the forge. Eventually I delved into books and learned the teachings of other fields, namely artifice. Okkri had dabbled in it before and agreed to help me study it.”
    “Why’d you leave that keep?” Rose asks quietly.
    “Eh,” Pin grunts, “I was never really accepted in dwarven society. And when the Ironstone brothers all vanished I was suspect number one,” She stares at the floor sadly, “I had to leave. All I could fuckin’ do was wander the land and keep with my research. I’ve gotta find him,” Pin looks around at the group again, “Sorry, my shitty story isn’t as fun as Arthur’s. I’m gonna go take a nice long fuckin’ bath. Peace, bitches,” Pin scoots off the couch with a frown on her face and wanders back into her guest room.
    “I should get myself cleaned up as well,” Arthur stands and stretches, his back popping, “See you all in an hour or so,” Arthur leaves, headed off to his personal room assumedly.
    Joan grunts as she gets up, “I hope the bath is large enough for me.”
    “If Ophelia can rearrange hallways and doors to lead me to her office in the dead of night, I’m sure she can make the bath big enough for you,” You comment as you get up.
    “Curtis, finish this for me,” Rose pleads. She looks kind of green as she offers you a few more pieces of cinnamon sweet bread on her plate. You shake your head, quite full yourself and leave her to suffer while you retreat to your room to bathe. 

    You go without your armor while you spend time in town. You throw your coat on over your tunic and slide your feet into your boots. Tilde stares out the fake window at the fake grass, fake trees and fake sunshine. You glance at her as you tie the laces of your boots, “Are you alright, Tilde?” 
    Her gaze whips to you robotically, “Query: what do you mean?”
    Your shoulders slump, “You cried last night then acted like its nothing. I just want to help you, Tilde.”
    “Explanation: it is nothing. As Pin has explained, I am broken. It was a malfunction,” Tilde explains matter of factly.
    You frown at her, “Come on, don’t say stuff like that. Yeah, you have a few damaged parts but you’re still you.”
    She tilts her head, “I am... me?”
    You shrug, “Yeah, well, let’s not get philosophical about this, alright? AI and consciousness and all that garbage.”
    Tilde’s gears and rotors hum quietly, “Humor: good, I am afraid my philosophy drives are too damaged to participate in such conversations,” She gives you a small smile.
    “Good joke, Tilde,” You try to encourage her, “Come on, I’m sure the others are waiting for us.”
    You walk into the lounge room to find only Arthur and Eric. The two sit on opposite couches discussing something quietly, “Curtis!” Eric waves you over when he notices you, “We were just talking about ya,” He explains.
    “Yes, yes,” Arthur chimes in with slow speech, “My mother told me of her offer for you and Eric here has informed me of two other similar deals. Although I cannot say for certain what my mother desires from you, perhaps she wants to wed you to one of my sisters, your first born, money, knowledge or attempt to force you into one of the prophecies or legends she used to obsess over. She seems to like you, I would assume she would haggle with you.”
    “I don’t really understand demon or devil contracts or whatever, to be honest,” You shrug, “Isn’t sorcery considered a bad thing?” You add on.
    “As long as you keep up your end of the deal, she will keep up hers. You will not be becoming a warlock so she can not rip the power from you. Perhaps she has a contingency plan if you break your end of the contract,” Arthur explains, “But she would not be able to do much to you. As for the sorcery question, although it used to be prosecuted by many groups, the rather rare practice of sorcery is considered legal now.”
    “Enticing? Right?” Eric gives you an incredulous look, “Ya might get one of the best wizards in the land to teach ya, but I don’t know about invoking that baphomet’s wrath over something small.”
    Arthur chuckles, “I would not call myself that. I am uncertain who the sorcery teacher would be if you chose that, to be honest. Mother is unwilling to share some secrets, even with me and my sisters. Apparently father knows almost everything she does, but of course he does not share either.”
    “Listen, Curtis,” Eric starts talking, keeping Arthur from rambling more, “I don’t know much about Rael’s god. Not even Rose or Emma do. But the strain on that man is immense. The way he murmurs in another language in his sleep like a chorus of whispers from all around me used to terrify me. I’m not trying to change yar mind if that's what ya want, I just want ya to be careful.”
    “If his deity touches your mind,” Arthur warns, “It may never let go.”
    You shudder, “U-understood. Any idea what Pin wants?” You try to shift topics as fast as you can.
    “No clue,” Arthur strokes his grey beard, “You have interacted with her more than any of us, barring Rose, have. Do you have any idea?”
    You take a moment to reply, trying to remember what she had said before, “Well, sometimes I give her new information and she starts to mumble like, ‘I could do this, we could do that, and so on.”
    “Weird. Well, I would expect her to be weird regarding her background,” Eric shrugs. 
    Joan and Rose exit from the same room, “Hey, boys!” Rose smiles. Joan looks embarrassed as her face flushes red. Her long blonde hair is done in a braid and Rose’s shorter grey hair is done up in a bun.
    “Hello, ladies,” Arthur smiles back. You give the two a wave. 
    “Eric, may we go?” Joan asks, “I wish to avoid that little...” She trails off, leaving the last word to imagination.
    “Sure. Ya comin’ still, Rose?” Eric hops up and starts moving towards the exit.
    “Might as well,” Rose sighs. She gives you another quick smile before she scurries off with the two.


    “See you all back here for dinner!” Arthur quickly sees them off, the door from the lounge, strangely, now leads to the outside world. He returns to the couches with you and sighs, “It appears Joan and Pin will not be getting along. I cannot thank you enough for seemingly getting along with everyone. You have become a source of cohesion along with Eric.”
    “It took some work, but it feels good,” You smile.
    “Well, I doubt you will make everyone be friends with each other. At least Joan and Rose have some sort of budding friendship.”
    “I’m really glad to hear that.”
    “Humor: perhaps they will not need your friendship anymore, Curtis,” Tilde smiles at her own joke.
    “Oh, come now, do not say such things,” Arthur scolds her gently. Pin exits her room and climbs onto the same couch as you, “Hello, Pin.”
    She’s wearing baggy brown clothes, a simple leathery shirt and cloth shorts as well as a pair of steel toe leather boots, “Hey, geezer,” Pin smirks before turning to you, “What’s goin’ on, guy?” 
    “Just waitin’ on Rael,” You shrug.
    As if on cue, Rael exits his personal room fully armored, “I apologize. I had a few duties to take care of.”
    “It is fine, friend,” Arthur stands and grabs his staff and bag, “Are you all ready to go? I am quite eager to bury my nose in a book once more.”
    Rael nods, “Aye. I am prepared to leave.”
    “Come on then. For men you three are incredibly slow,” Pin grunts as she heads for the door. You, Tilde and the two casters follow Pin into the dilapidated park. Although it is almost noon, the sky overhead is still dark, “Shit...” She looks around, “How the hell do we get there?” She looks at Arthur expectantly.
    The man chuckles, “I will lead. Rael, you would prefer sparsely populated streets, yes?”
    “Aye,” He grunts.
    “Aw,” Pin mockingly smiles at him, “Big boy afraid of some children?” Rael ignores the abrasive gremlin as Arthur starts leading the four of you down back alleys and behind buildings. You find the odd tiny manning sketchy stalls peddling odd magical items and toys of dubious origin. They don’t even bother to pitch their wares to your group but they do give you cheerful hellos.
    “Hey Arthur~” One calls in a sultry tone, “Lookin’ handsome and smart today!”
    “Was that a cat-call?” You ask yourself quietly after you pass her stall.
    “I am used to it,” Arthur shrugs it off, “They will not make an unreciprocated move on me as long as my sisters are all alive.”
    “I can’t even imagine invoking the wrath of those three,” Pin shudders, “And I would rather not think about it.”
    “Better be nice to him, Pin,” You smile, “Or he’ll sic his sisters on you.”
    “Y-you wouldn’t do that, right?”
    Arthur strokes his beard, “Probably not. But you never know, they have been starving for a chance to use their new spells on someone. They speak of hexes to turn foes into slimy, mucus covered frogs.”
    You laugh at the scared expression on the gremlin’s face, “W-we’re leaving town tomorrow, right?” She asks, “I want out of this town.”
    “You are among your kind here, are you not?” Rael asks, “Perhaps you should stay.”
    “Just because I’m small too, doesn’t mean I wanna join their cult,” Pin growls. Rael looks amused at her distress.
    “Be on your best behavior,” Arthur warns as you approach a large marble building, “They do not tolerate outsiders causing a ruckus.”
    “Of course,” Rael grunts, obviously not excited.
    Unlike the rest of the town, the library is a plain, clean looking white color rather than being colored in with 20 different colored pencils. The outer building of marble and gold was way more gaudy than the rest of the sabbath architecture, “My mother’s sway here will get you in,” Arthur explains, “Just be careful, please. If you’re asked anything, answer it to the best of your abilities and if anyone asks you for a book you have, hand it over to them.” 
The five of you approach the front doors where a sleepy looking sheep girl glances up from a thick book. She sits in a little booth next to a heavy set of dark wooden doors. She slowly looks at each of you, glancing you up and down before ending on Arthur, “Hello, Arthur Maximillion. Checking in with your plus four?”
“Yes, thank you.”
    She takes a few moments to place a bookmark in her current book, slam it shut, slide it into a compartment beneath her desk and grab a second book from another compartment. She opens an even bigger book and opens it to a page with multiple hand written names in it. She grabs a bottle of ink and a feather pen. She scribbles ‘Arthur Maximillion’ in and writes ‘tier four wizard’ next to it, “Names and short description, please.”
    “Rael Summerfield. Clerical savant,” Rael puts briefly.
    Pin takes a moment, “Pin Ironstone, smith and crafter.
    People look at you expectantly, “C-Curtis Bradley,” You stammer, “Uh--”
    “Stranger,” Arthur finishes for you.
    Tilde’s gears whirr loudly as her vocal component boots up, “Model three automaton. Designation, Tilde.”
    The sheep girl nods and finishes writing down everyones’ names with a clean cursive handwriting, “Please enjoy your visit to our library. Please keep your voices down and respect the books and items on display.”
    The warnings from Arthur as well as the imposing marble statues put you on edge as the thick doors are magically opened for your group. You all step inside slowly and into a much larger area than the outside would have led you to believe. You stare in wonder at the impossibly high stacks of loose books, shelves that reach high to the ceiling, multiple styles of seating areas from desks and chairs to couches and beanbag chairs dot the area. There are numerous passages that lead into smaller quieter rooms to find a place of solitude to do some reading. The library is populated with more sabbath members, each reading or collecting more books. Some have men of varying ages with them who carry books. Small, babbling waterfalls fill the room with a pleasant white noise, “I will find each of you in a few hours. Do not hesitate to head to the cafe in the back for lunch. The prices are quite reasonable and the food is tasty,” Arthur smiles before walking off.
    Rael shakes his head, “Be careful what food you eat from these diminutive witches,” He warns before leaving you, Pin and Tilde alone.
    Pin looks at you, “I’m gonna go look at some of the tech books none a these witches fuck with. See you later.”
    You want to follow her, but you do have one thing you want to look into first, “You comin’ Tilde?”
    “Humor,” She starts, “you look quite nervous. Do you require me to hold your hand?”
    You almost take her up on the offer.

    You wander the seemingly endless halls avoiding all sabbath members you see. You grab a random book and instruct Tilde to hold that space on the shelf open as you open it up. You groan in some form of agony and frustration as you see the words aren’t in english. You grab another after putting the first book away and sigh with defeat as you gaze upon the unreadable runic language. You put it back and plop down on a chair to rest for a moment. You can’t tell how long you have been wandering or where you are. Tilde is still thankfully at your side. She sits at another chair and frowns at you, “Query: are you giving up?”
    “No,” You grunt, “I... Just need some help I think.”
    “Encouragement: we will find what you are looking for, I am sure,” She gives you a reassuring smile. 
You smile back, “I just need a little rest is all.”
    You hear the distinct noise of a pair of hooves on the tiled floor. You watch a baphomet in a black gown and blonde hair walk towards. She is carrying a book that she uses a magic spell to put it away on a shelf near you. She glances at you with crimson eyes and blinks slowly. Her gaze is weary and her movements are slow, “Can I help you?” She asks in a quiet voice. It reminds you of the way Ophelia speaks with maybe even more years and wisdom behind it.
    You frown and hesitate but Tilde encourages you by tugging gently on your wrist. You clear your throat, “I’m looking for a book on ancient human structures.”
    “More specific.”
    “Uh, macabre pyramid structure, probably a vault, I saw it in a dream.”
    “Ah. Yes, I can help you. Come,” She offers you her little pawed fluffy hand.
    “Uhm...”
    “Are you afraid I will bite? Take my hand and I will lead you, child,” She gives you a smile. You nod and take it gently. Her furred hand is soft and warm, “Automaton, please take his other hand. I would not like to lose you.”
    Tilde is quick to grasp your hand with both of hers. The baphomet starts to hum a song to herself as she walks you seemingly randomly through corridors, “Where are you from?” She asks.
    “Uh, Pearlavah,” You fall back to your familiar lie.
    “Hmm... That's not true at all. Is it?” She calls you out on the lie.
    “N-no, it isn't,” You frown, “But I can assure you I have a reason to lie.”
    She shakes her head, “I do not like liars, Curtis.”
    Your shoulders slump, “You obviously know who I am. I’m sure you know where I’m from.”
    She turns to you and her lips curl into a little smile, “Of course I do, Other Sider. I deal in secrets and knowledge,” The smile drops off her face quickly, “Oh, do not look so glum. Your secret is safe with me. Ah, here we are.”
    You look up from her to find yourself in a dusty area of the library. It looks like almost any other area. With the flick of her wrist, she levitates a book off the shelf and into your hands. You wipe the dust off of the crimson cover to reveal the inlaid metal skull on it. The red gems in its eyes gleam at you in the comfortable light. You undo the latch on the side and open it up. The old pages were yellowed and contained words of a faded black ink, “Thank you,” You smile at the baphomet before you realise that the words are in another language. You sigh, completely defeated now.
    “Come, I will read it to you.”
    You sit on a beanbag chair with the baphomet in your lap as she reads from the dusty tome. Tilde sits on the floor cross legged next to you. You get a few pieces of information from what the baphomet reads aloud. There are an unknown number of them across the world and few of them have ever been opened. Each of the vaults are near identical in structure and protected by a set of magical seals. Most house artifacts of great power, but at least one has been opened and let loose a terrible demon upon the world. The ways to open the vaults are almost completely unknown to anyone alive. You frown, still not knowing as much as you wish you did, “Thank you.”
    “No trouble at all. It is good to brush up on some of the topics that I hardly read about,” She sets the book aside and simply lounges momentarily on your lap, “I forgot what sharing a book with someone is like. I enjoy it,” She pushes herself off your lap and goes into a tumble before springing up and landing on her feet, “Still got it.”
    “Thanks again,” You look around and frown again.
    “You are going to wrinkle your face if you continue to frown that much.”
    “I need to find one of my friends,” You comment, ignoring her own remark.
    “Oh, do you want to know the secret of how to navigate my library?” You nod and kneel down as she waves at you to come closer. She begins to whisper in your ear, “Just think about what topic you want to know more about or who you want to find and you will find them, Curtis!” She giggles at you, “Tell Arthur I said hello when you see him, alright?”
    You give her an exhausted look, “Thanks... Uh...”
    “My name?” She smiles again as she guesses what you want, “That is a secret, of course!” You watch her fade into nothingness right before you as she laughs at you.
    You turn to Tilde who frowns at you, “Is something wrong?”
She hesitantly nods, “Explanation: I have a strange feeling, Curtis.”
    “What is it?” You approach her.
    “Conjecture: it was a feeling similar to anger and sadness... Envy and longing...”
    “Jealousy? Can you feel jealousy?” You smile at Tilde as you step close to her.
    She takes a step away and folds her arms defensively as she turns her gaze away from you, “C-Certainly not! I am a machine!” She exclaims as she begins to operate outside of her normal parameters.
    You teasingly take hold of one of her hands, “Come on, Tilde. No need to be so defensive,” Her face glows a bright red as her poster slouches. She uses both of her hands to grab yours, “Better?”
    “A little. I need something else though,” She moves your hand to her cheek and holds it there as she stares at you, “I am well now. Thank you.”
    “Anytime. Come on, let's go find Pin,” Tilde refuses to release your hand as you both begin to walk through the halls. You follow the baphomets instructions and think of Pin and picture her in your mind. You take a random turn and see a sign that reads, ‘Technology, new and old.’ You follow it and any other similar signs that happen to crop up. Your mind tends to wander and the signs change to whatever it is you have in your mind at the time. You quickly refocus and the signs about tech books reappear. After about five minutes of wandering, you round the corner and find yourself before a private room with a big table where Pin has numerous books laid across it, “Hey, Pin. What are ya working on?” You ask as you squeeze into the room and take a seat.
    “Gathering information on automatons and other ancient tech,” She quickly explains without looking up at you.
    “What for?”
    “Well, I wanna try to work on Tilde. I’m also trying to find artificer stuff that not even Geno thought of.”
    “So what is it artificers do? I’m still deciding on what path of magic I want.”
    “Artifice is the act of using reagents and power sources to imbue an item with magic,” Pin explains, “You don’t really need the gift of magic to do it, hell, I don’t have it, but it helps. An example would be...” She reaches into a bag and pulls out her axe, “Its artifice. Its enchanted to return to me when I beckon it. My armor is enchanted too! To don the armor quickly and become compact when I don’t want to wear it.”
    “Interesting. You power it with the gems, right?”
    “Right.”
    “What about enchanting as a wizard?”
    “The wizard puts some shitty magic words into the thing to draw from the aether without a gem to give it shitty enchantments like a little bit more damage and cutting or a little bit of fire damage on a spear. Artifice does much more than that,” Pin explains, “You’ve seen some artifice first hand.”
    “So, what is it you want from me if you start to teach me?” You ask, getting to the pressing question.
    She grins, “We will go beyond normal artifice. You know what we did with your spear? That noise maker and the laser lock cutter?” She starts getting really excited, “The weapon I’m building? The tech from your world combined with the magic of mine. We will build items and weapons of unimaginable power!” She quiets down, “I can’t do it without you. You’ve already shown me you have the mind for it. You almost made that add on to your spear by yourself! Your knowledge of Other Worldly technology is the only thing that will put me--us into this higher echelon of artifice. You and me, business partners! Pin and Curtis Enterprises! Its a working title. Tilde can come too and be our mascot or something. Maybe Rose too, she's pretty nice.”
    You blink at the excited gremlin, “G-got it.”
    “Come on, right now, just shake my hand and we’re fuckin’ good to go, guy.”
    “I-I can’t do that yet. I’m still thinking about it.”
    She sighs and slumps her shoulders, “Fine. Be a fuckin’ champ and grab me a sandwich or something from the cafe, would you?” She puts a jingling bag of coins in your hand, “And a fu-- a drink, please,” She grits her teeth as she tries to be polite, “Get yourself something too.”

    
    You finish your food and watch Pin continue her research. She writes in code, it seems. Its a combination of what looks like four written languages. You poke around Tilde’s insides a little bit to keep your hands busy. Pin finishes another book and groans loudly, “I can’t find fuckin’ anything on the internal workin’s of an automaton. Some will be like ‘oh, they have big crystals in them that seem to be power sources,’ but we KNOW that! I want to know what it SHOULD look like in there!” 
    “Hmph,” You shake your head as you put your multimeter down, “Feeling alright, Tilde?”
    “Affirmative,” She nods, “Query: are you finished poking in there?” She looks a little disappointed. 
    “I’ll keep messing with your parts,” You give in to her desires quite easily as you start tugging on wires and trying to figure out connections again. She lets out little cries as you feel her softer inner metal.
    “Like,” Pin shakes her head with sigh as she pushes another book aside, “I wish you were a model five or six, Tilde. You’re like a model three omega with all your extra parts.”
    “What's with the model fives and sixes?” You ask, “Is there a model seven or eight?”
    “The model five and six are both really well documented but were in a lot lower production. There's a few still kicking in some bigger cities. They went up to model sevens,” Pin chuckles and shakes her head, “The number seven is cursed. The sevens were really well made but had a problem where their robotic intelligence would never flush itself after a certain point to learn more things or determine new directives and eventually they just all stopped functioning at once.”
    “They wouldn’t clear their RAMs or hard drives,” You comment as you scratch your chin. 
    “Ram? Like a sheep?”
    “Its a computer part--” Your head throbs for a moment, “Computers... I used computers a whole lot.”
    Pin gives you a weird look, “What the hell is a computer?”
    “Well,” You scratch your head, “Tilde is kind of like a computer with a body. Computers can do calculations, communication, games, all kinds of things. Like my phone is just a little computer,” You brandish the small device before shoving it back into your pocket.
    “You mean your electric data slate thing? Can I see it?”
    “I don’t want to drain the battery any more than I need to. I also can’t unlock it to show you... I can’t remember the code.”
    “Encouragement: do not be upset over things beyond your control,” Tilde smiles and puts a hand on your shoulder, “Conjecture: if I am a... ‘Computer’ as you say, would I be able to do anything?”
    You shrug, “Its possible. I have no idea what your operating system is like to be honest. But I do have this cord for my phone that I can use to plug into my own computer,” You pull the charging cord and block from your little messenger bag, “Maybe we could fashion something, Pin?”
    She looks at the charging block and reaches into one of her bags, “Is this shit the same?” She shows you some of the laptop parts she scavenged from you, specifically the USB ports.
    “Yeah. But how do we make it hook up to her computer parts?”
    “We’ll figure it out,” Pin smiles at you, “I know there's a chance you’ll pick wizardry over artifice, but I still owe you for coming to my rescue.”
    “Thanks, Pin.”
    “Ya know, I’m surprised none of you died yet. Traveling with seven people, what the fuck are you crazy ass hats thinking?” She shakes her head at you.
    “I’ve always heard seven is lucky.”
    “Pfft, hell no. You’ll find the opposite here,” She starts stacking books, “I should start putting these away. Its past five.”
    “How do you know?”
    “I grew up in a dwarven keep,” She reminds you, “Living underground you pick up a good sense of time.”
    You help Pin pick up books and follow her out to the library proper. You make small chat about what kind of food you’re hoping is for dinner. Arthur appears with Real in tow, “Did you three find everything you wanted?” He asks.
    “Not really,” Pin shrugs, “But I found some useful stuff at least.”
    “I got lost and a baphomet that kind of reminded me of Ophelia had to show up to save me,” You admit with a shrug, “Why didn’t any of you tell me how to navigate this place? Oh, she says, ‘hello,’ Arthur. Never gave me her name.”
    “Hmm...” He strokes his beard as he puts a book back on the shelf, “I have not seen her in years. I suppose it is still her duty to help those who are lost. Do not think much of her, she enjoys tricks and teasing people.”
    “Demons and their tricks,” Rael mutters with venom in his voice, “Please be careful around them, Curtis.”
    “I will.”
    “My mother is expecting us, come along now,” Arthur leads you all back into the streets and down the back alleys back to the dark and disused park. You stare up at the overhead clouds that bear down a shroud of darkness over the entire town. You wonder how the vibrant and strange flowers manage to grow so well with the lack of sun. You wonder if the crimson moonlight is the same as the sunlight that most plants get and need. Tilde holds the door open for you. You follow Arthur into the dining room and take the same seat as you did last night. Arthur leaves to collect the others.
    “Man,” Pin frowns as she looks around, “I’m gonna miss this place once we get on the road. Pretty comfy.”
    “For once I agree with you,” Rael nods, “The few times I have been here with Arthur have been somewhat pleasant.”
    “What's with you not liking sabbath girls?”
    “Just makes me uncomfortable to be hit on by girls that remind me of my daughter when she was small,” Rael explains, “I am a married man, I do not need childish demons attempting to tempt me.”
    “You do reek of human,” She nods, “I’m surprised a guy with a mamano daughter doesn’t smell like his wife.”
    “I cannot place why this has happened to me,” He looks at a small locket he keeps around his neck, “My love for her is all that keeps me going as well as leaving behind a better world for both of my children. They are all I have,” He closes the locket and puts it away, “I will die by the sword. This I know. Until then I can only do as much good as possible.”
    “I--” Pin bites her lip, “I know how you feel. Family is the only thing that drives me. I miss them a whole fuckin’ lot.”
    “Those brothers?” You clarify.
    She nods silently, “Hey, Rael? Your daughter is really nice. You did a good job.”
    Rael chuckles and smiles at the gremlin, “That was all my wife’s doing. Our second will hopefully take after her rather than me. Those dwarves seem to have raised you well enough, though you are a bit more vulgar than I would like.”
    “Yeah, well, you’re just gonna have to deal with that shit, dick ass,” Pin’s usual abrasive attitude returns.
    “Just do not be upset when your soul is damned to the lowest stretches of hell and the hellish abominations continually burn your tongue, once for each of your swears or mean words,” Pin starts to look worried, ”And then hundreds more times just for fun before flaying your flesh and tossing you into a pit of salts and--”
    “Dad!” Rose cuts off his creepy diatribe. She must have snuck in while the two were talking, “Are you scolding her like you used to scold me whenever I said butt or something?”
    “Perhaps I am,” He laughs, “But it seems to have worked more on Pin then it ever did you. Not even Yda is phased by it,” The gremlin looks relieved.
    “Welcome back, esteemed guests,” Ophelia gives you all a warm smile as the rest of her guests come to the table. Your party and hosts, the four baphomets and one man all sit around the table and exchange quick greetings, “Although I wish not to sour your stay in my abode, but we do have something to discuss.”
    “This Matriarch character,” Arthur adds.
    “Yes, dear,” She smiles at her son, “I am afraid I do not have a lot of information for you. All we really know is that she has an army of monsters at her beck and call. The good part is that these monsters are of different races and tend to fight each other near constantly for her attention and affection. As you three, Curtis, Pin and Rose, saw, she uses thralls to complete her will. The unfortunate woman that my son slew.”
    She looks at you expectantly, “Uh, thralls?” You ask.
    “Ah, there is your line! Yes, a thrall. A powerful caster can weaken another being or even caster to assert their will, take control of the victim's body and use it as a sort of extra body. These thralls can be laid in a dormant state until the main caster places their soul into this thrall to puppet them. The victim’s soul is still in the body, unfortunately and is only released when the body is destroyed. The one taking over the thrall’s body is returned to the original body.”
    “Such vile magics,” Rael growls.
    “For once I agree with you. A horrid fate.”
    “What does any of this mean?” Eric asks, folding his arms.
    “You are dealing with an incredibly powerful caster. A possible tier one caster-- At least in mortal terms,” Ophelia looks at you expectantly again.
    You sigh, “What does that mean?”
    “Your pursuit of knowledge warms my cold heart, Curtis,” She smiles at you, “Thank you for asking the question on EVERYONES’ mind! Casters, specifically wizards and witches, are ranked by power level. My son here is considered tier four by our standards and tier two by yours. Longer living races like elves can possibly reach our level but they have their own system to rate wizards. Mastery over magic requires more years than your feeble bodies allow, you see. I am a tier zero caster, in case you are wondering,” She tells you proudly, “As is my friend that you met at the library, Curtis.”
    “Wonderful,” Joan sighs, “A powerful witch and a large amount of monsters. How does a woman just gain the support of so many?”
    “That is something incredibly odd,” Ophelia nods, “The Matriarch is human according to our sources.”
    “Human? A human woman? I expected a hag!” Rael comments in disbelief.
    “I... But how?” Rose shakes her head.
    “Makes her choice of pretty human women as thralls make more sense,” Pin shrugs.
    “But what does she want of the others they capture?” Eric asks.
    “Not entirely sure. But from Rose’s account,” Ophelia muses aloud, “she wants the body parts of mamano women. For what? We are unsure. Too bad she did not want Curtis, we could know what she wants human men for. Her loss, he is such a strapping young man,” She teases you. Tilde’s hand clasps on your shoulder and grips it tightly, “We can be thankful her forces are generally somewhat incompetent at least. Though she does seem to have a vendetta against the three escapees now. She was wholly determined to kill them, after all. We do not know where this woman’s base of operation is, she uses a network of tribes to get the captives back to her so only the closest ones know where she is based. All we can do is keep our eyes and ears open and destroy any attempts she makes to capture more people. I will be using my position to propose support for other towns in dealing with these bands of raiders.”
    “That is unlike you, mother,” Lilith comments, “Will you finally cease hiding your people from the outside world?”
    “Perhaps. Large events are happening. The sabbath must take part.”
    “As you wish mother,” Elinoire nods, “I just pray we are not too late.”
    “Enough talk of these topics,” Ophelia silences the rest of the murmuring table, “I am quite hungry. I have been busy researching all day,” She claps her hands together and a gaggle of invisible servants bring out piles of steaming hot food, “Please, gorge yourself as much as you wish.”
    
    You sit at the table, completely full. Most of your team has already moved back to the lounge room. Joan stops you as you and Tilde prepare to go there as well, “Can you... Come with me?” She asks.
    “Of course, what is it?” You give her a reassuring smile as she frowns nervously.
    “I need to pick up something else in town. We should have a little bit more time before they close.”
    “Sure,” Joan leads you out of the fantastical manor and into the sparse streets. Without a word, you, Joan and Tilde walk through the crimson lit streets. She stops before an unassuming building with flowers in pots dotting the outside, “Flowers?” You ask.
    “Do you really not remember?” She growls at you.
    “No, I remember,” You assure her, “I just didn’t expect you to get it here.”
    “I just want to get this over with,” She pushes the door open and steps into a small store front. You follow her in quickly.
    The small woman behind the counter has green skin and hair. Her clothes are made of leaves and flowers. She smiles at you both and speaks slowly, “Welcome. I was just about to close up. Can I help you?”
    “I just need a potted flower,” Joan grunts.
    “I sell many.”
    “One that will survive being carried during our travels,” You add.
    “Ah, what age? For the flower I mean,” She asks.
    “Recently budding, please,” Joan says quickly, “Any flower will-- Something pretty, please.”
    “Of course. One moment,” She closes her eyes and numerous vines sprout from her. The vines crawl across the floor and grasp a small metal bucket and pull it across the floor to the counter. A little green plant has just begun to sprout in it. Joan quickly pays for it and walks slowly out of the tiny shop without speaking. She stares at the plant the whole walk back to Ophelia’s home.
    “You alright?” You ask as a chilly wind blows through you. 
    “It is wonderful,” She gives you a tiny smile.
    “I’m glad to hear it,” You smile back and hold the door open for her as you wander back into the baphomet’s home. The three of you quickly make it to the lounge room and back to your party members. Joan takes a spot in the back, holding the little plant with both hands. Rose sits on the floor near her talking quietly. You move to the couch with Arthur and Eric. You’re surprised to see Pin and Rael chatting with each other.
    “Where did ya three go?” Eric asks.
    “Out,” You shrug, keeping Joan’s little project a secret.
    “Fine.” 
    “Have you been thinking about your desired choice of magic, Curtis?” Arthur asks.
    “Of course I have. I might need a bit more time. I do have a few more questions. Why is the magic your mother giving me not considered warlock or pact magic?” You lean back and relax as you ease into conversation.
    Arthur clears his throat, “My mother does not do ‘pact magic’ any more, as you call it. Warlock magic is similar to a cleric’s magic where another powerful entity gives you the power rather than it coming from your learning or natural powers. My mother does not wish to bother with it any more, I assume. The process of you becoming a cleric or wizard will be more of you being infused with the aether fused spark of another creature. One that broke a pact with my mother, I assume.”
    “Huh. Could I pick two magic talents and learn both?”
    Arthur nods slowly, “You could. But do you think you should split your studies in so many ways? You are still learning martial combat which is time consuming, attempting to fix Tilde and then you would need to rigorously learn two arcane arts. If you do wish to do so, you may, of course. I will not stop you.”
    
    You nod and spend the rest of the relaxing evening making your choice. No doubt the others are waiting on your decision as well.

PT29

    You make your decision rather quickly. The downsides of every other form of magic weighs heavily against them. Pin has few demands in her deal but that might just be because of how desperate she is for you to work with her. You look at the gremlin and watch her down another shot. She’s sitting on a sofa’s armrest with a little glass in one hand and a bottle in the other.
    “Pin,” Rael sighs, “Can you slow it down, please?”
    “Ssslow it down? Fuck you, man!” She growls at him and downs another glass of liquor. He starts to mutter a few magic words, you can hear the strange whispers in your ears as a small purple glow appears on his hand. He pokes Pin on the stomach and she gasps as all the air leaves her lungs. There's an incredibly strong alcoholic mixed with bile smell in the air, “What the fuck was that?” She demands, the slurring completely gone from her speech.
    “I removed the toxins from your body,” Rael explains matter of factly, “Now--”
    Pin’s furious expression changes to that of joy, “Oh my gods, I can drink however much I want then just have my buddy Rael get rid of the side effects! Holy shit this is awesome!” She starts pouring herself more drinks, “No more hangovers!
    Joan and Rose still talk quietly to each other while sharing glances at other people in the party. They usually giggle afterwards. Arthur has taken to reading quietly by himself. You put your arm on the arm rest of the couch and go to rest your head on your upright hand but Tilde puts her hand in yours. She stares at you with wide eyes and a smile on her synthetic lips. You smile back at her. In response she squeezes your hand before pulling away. Despite your slight hesitation brought upon by your host, you decide to tell Pin your decision. 
    Pin downs another glass as a somewhat annoyed Rael rolls his eyes. Arthur glances at you, “Something on your tongue, Curtis?”
    You suddenly have everyone’s attention on you, “Um,” You quietly stammer and stutter.
    “Out with it, fucker,” Pin growls.
    Joan huffs, “Do not listen to her, Curtis. That little devil does not deserve your time.”
    Before Pin can start yelling at Joan again, you speak up, “No, I wanna take you up on that offer, Pin. The business partners thing.”
    “You do!?” She looks shocked, “Are-- Are you sure?” She sobers up quickly.
    “Did you hit your head?” Joan asks as she folds her arms, “You want to work with HER?”
    “C’mon, Lady Joan,” Rose chides her, “He can make his own choices.”
    Joan grumbles and mutters under her breath, “...I know.”
    “My mother will surely be disappointed,” Arthur sighs, “But she will respect your choice.”
    Rael shrugs as you glance at him, “Uh, shit,” Pin frowns, “We’ll... Start sometime soon. I need to get some materials together,” She starts digging through her bags, “I didn’t expect this dick head to say yes...”
    “Why not?” Rose pipes up.
    “No one ever has wanted me to teach them,” She shrugs, “Course, I’m gonna ask, but now I gotta get something ready... Uh, you wanna enchant that coat of yours? I’ve got some waterproofing stuff that might work. Or we could...” She shakes her head, “I need some time to think about HOW to teach you.”
    “You seem quite unprepared,” Rael comments, “Are you sure you should take on a protege?”
    “Rael,” Arthur chuckles, “Be fair to her. Neither of us would have been prepared either.”
    He scoffs, “You would have been more prepared than the gremlin or me.”
    “Oh, come now. I... My mother sort of sprung the idea on me when we arrived. I told her about how we lost your daughter and Curtis. She had read about Curtis in the letters I send her nearly constantly. Before she even scryed our companions, she spoke about wanting me to teach Curtis the arcane arts. Always steps ahead, that woman,” The wizard shrugs and picks up a dusty tome. He wipes off the cover and smiles nostalgically, “Perhaps I would have given him my first tome,” He shakes his head, “Pin,” He turns to the gremlin, “Perhaps you should teach him to bend the aether from the crystals you use. It is all about willpower, is it not?”
    “Yeah,” Pin nods as she keeps digging through her bottomless bags, “We can work on that... Tomorrow. I wanna drink some celebratory shots right now,” She stops digging through the bags and returns to her drink, “Oh, we gotta shake on it, right?” She gets up from her seat and extends a hand for you. You shake it quickly and give her a smile. She grabs another glass and gives you a shot. You down the foul tasting liquid and sink further into the couch, ready to rest all you can before you get back on the road tomorrow.
    
    You wake up early in the morning. You sit up slowly and stretch before moving to sit at the edge of the bed. Tilde is standing by the window and peeking out at the seemingly fake greenery and sunshine, “Morning,” You smile at the automaton.
    “Good morning, Curtis,” She swiftly turns from the window as if you had startled her, “Query: do you desire for me to draw you a bath?”
    “I would love that, thank you.”
    Tilde slinks slowly to the side of the bed and brushes the back of her hand against your cheek, “Query: are you well?”
    “I’m fine Tilde, just tired. I always look crappy when I wake up.”
    “I worry about you constantly,” She admits quietly, “Please, be careful,” She shifts out of her usual speech patterns again. 
    “Why do you do that?” You ask quickly.
    “Query: what do you mean? Am I doing something that is upsetting you?”
    “No, no,” You shake your head as you make your way to the bath. Tilde turns the hot water on and sits on a wooden bench. You watch steam rise from the hot water and disappear into the air, “You have two speech patterns. You say stuff like: ‘query,’ and ask me a question or sometimes, rarely, you just ask it like I would ask you a question.”
    Tilde blinks at you, confusion smeared plainly across her face, “Comment: I do not understand. I was unaware I did that.”
    You shrug, “It happens. Ask any one of our traveling companions, except Pin I guess,” She looks sad and stares at the floor, “Hey, come on. Stop looking so down.”
    “Query: is something wrong with me? Am I broken like Pin says?”
    Your shoulders slump. Seeing this robot sad tugs at your heart strings, “You’re fine. Even if you’re not made of standard parts and your personality is a little weird, we’ll get you sorted out and running better than before.”
    She stares at you with her glowing eyes and a smile on her lips, “Thank you, Curtis. Please, enjoy your bath. Comment: I will remember to ask some of the others about my strange speech.”
    “Good. Can you...”
    “Humor: not look at your nude form?” She gives you a little chuckle, “Are you that afraid of me?”
    “I’m not scared!” You huff, “I just value my privacy.”
    “Humor: privacy? With me around?” You fold your arms at her and give her a humorless glance, “Comment: I will respect your wishes,” The humor-filled, Cheshire cat-like grin doesn’t leave her face as she sits in a chair facing away from you, “Humor: scream if you start to drown.”
    
    You return to the main lounge room. Rose is here alone, “Good morning,” She gives you a smile before returning her focus to the little wooden block in her hands. The sides slide as she turns them.
    “Morning. Ready to get back on the road?” You ask as you sit on a couch across from her. 
    She groans, “What would Pin say? ‘Fuck yeah?’” She smiles.
    You can’t stop yourself from chuckling, “Really? I took you for someone that enjoyed this cushy lifestyle.”
    “Well,” She sighs, “Unlike the others, I get a lot of offers to join the sabbaths’ childish sisterhood cult. I don’t hate them like dad does, but I can’t join. Dad would never approve.”
    “Does it matter what he thinks?”
    Anger flashes across her face for a moment before a look of sadness takes hold of her, “Of course it does. I’ve only ever wanted my parents to be proud of me. Mom doesn’t approve of this lifestyle, of course. But dad...” She shakes her head, “He’s so stubborn and stuck in his ways. He hardly notices my achievements.”
    You frown, “I’m sure he does. He doesn’t seem to be the king of guy to say lovey things or have heart to hearts with anyone.”
    “Maybe... Hey, can do you me a favor?” Her eyes dart around the room as if searching for something or someone.
    “Anything.”
    “Don’t let Pin replace me as your friend, please,” She begs quietly.
    “Of course not!” You almost feel offended that she would think that.
    “Humor: perhaps you should have Pin and Rose fight for your companionship,” Tilde smiles.
    “No, I like Pin! I just don’t want to lose the first feeling of friendship I’ve had in a long time,” Rose has a wide frown on her face.
    “I won’t abandon you. Promise,” You give her an assuring smile.
    “Thank you, Curtis. Want to split another one of those sodas tonight? I’ve been itching to crack another open.”
    “Count me in.”
    The two of you continue to chat quietly as others start coming out of their respective rooms. Rael is first, “The voices,” He mutters angrily, “They are loud today,” He stares at the wall with hollow looking eyes.
    “Are you alright, dad?” Rose asks, her voice full of concern.
    “Hm?” He turns to her and rubs his eyes, the lively glow returning to him, “Better now. Thank you. I must rest my eyes a bit more before we leave.”
    “Alright, dad,” Rose looks at you and frowns again as her father sits in a lonely chair in the corner.
    Eric exits his room and offers a wave to everyone before sitting on the couch near you, “Sleep well?”
    You nod, “I’m gonna miss that bed.”
    “We’ll stop on our way back. I enjoy Ophelia’s hospitality and Arthur enjoys seeing his family.”
    “Great. I just hope our host doesn’t hate me for taking Pin’s offer.”
    “Ah, ya’re fine.”
    Joan struts from her room by ducking under the somewhat low door frame, “Morning,” She somewhat cheerfully calls out to no one particular.    
    “Good morning, Lady Joan Orwell,” Tilde greets her, “Query: may I ask you something?”
    “Me?” Joan shoots her a confused glance, not even having a moment to settle in before the automaton begins asking her questions. She settles on a little pile of pillows near Rose and folds her arms, “Tilde has a question for me,” The centaur muses out loud to herself, “To what do I attribute this honor?”
    “Query: have I exhibited any strange behaviors as of late?”
    “Other than your infatuation with that boy?”
    “Clarification: in regards to my speech.”
    “Tilde, what are you talking about?” Rose asks, “What does it matter if you’ve changed?”
    “Clarification: I want to know if I am broken.”
    Joan nods, “That is something that has changed in you. Your own wants and desires. You have completely disregarded your original orders for something you want.”
    “Query: is that bad?”
    “Not at all. In my life, I was unable to make the choices I wanted to live the life that I wanted to have. Here I am now, a bitter, unhappy and aging woman who only looks forward to the next combat, wondering if it will get her blood pumping enough so she can feel once more.”
    “I am afraid I do not understand.”
    “I think she’s telling ya to do whatever makes ya happy, Tilde,” Eric clarifies.
    “What makes me... Happy,” Tilde repeats, “Thank you. I will keep this in mind.”
    Conversations between people begin to crop up as Tilde’s strange questions are pushed to the backs of their minds. You listen to Rose and Joan whisper to each other about nothing in particular, “Think that Matriarch will send goons after us?” Eric asks you.
    “I’m not sure. If she knows what's good for her, she’ll lie low and pray we don’t find her,” You grin menacingly.
    Eric laughs, “I like ya’re gumption, kid. Just be alert on watches, alright? I’ll have Pin as a second person on one of a few watches. Just to have another set of eyes out there.”
    “You talking about me, cunt?” Pin growls as she makes her presence known.
    “Just tellin’ Curtis here how I’m makin’ ya earn ya keep while ya travel with us,’ Eric explains as Pin forces you to the middle of the couch and takes the end seat. 
    “Just some night watch? I can do that. Easy shit.”
    Arthur opens the door leading to the rest of the manor, “Good morning, friends. Are we prepared to be off? The weather outside is favorable currently. There are a few clouds rolling this way, but hopefully they will not bear rain.”
    “We are prepared,” Eric nods, “Are you, Pin?”
    “Of course you dick head!” Pin exclaims.
    “Wonderful,” Arthur shakes his head, “Oh, Curtis. Mother wanted to speak with you briefly. Step through that door and you will arrive in her office.”
    You nod and stand. You wonder what Ophelia wants with you as you make for the door. Tilde grasps your wrist, “Please, do not be long.”
    “I won’t. I promise,” You smile before walking through the door and into Ophelia’s office once more, “Morning,” You nonchalantly greet the baphomet, no longer surprised by her tricks.
    “Good morning, dear. I will not bore myself-- or you, with pleasantries. Your memory. I trust you have thought about my offer,” Ophelia speaks quickly, “I will remind you, there is a chance of madness by having your memories brought back through magic. Do you wish to go ahead with the procedure?”

PT30

    “What kind of madness is it?” You ask nervously.
    “Oh, well,” Ophelia crosses her legs and pauses for a moment, “You could go so mad you are bedridden for the rest of your life, or for a week you could suffer splitting headaches and horrifying nightmares of twisted memories. Of course there are other forms in between. I cannot say what changes the form of madness you get. There is unfortunately not much research on amnesia and this form of magic to bring the memories out is relatively new.”
    You take a few more moments to consider it, “I don’t think I can do it,” You shake your head, “I’m making memories here. That's all that matters to me now.”
    Ophelia nods, “I am sure they will come back to you naturally, Curtis. Good luck with your artifice as well. I will see you again on your way back and I expect an update on your studies and memories.”
    You nod, “Of course. Uh, thanks for your hospitality. Your admittedly strange household has been incredibly cozy. I’m a little sad to leave.”
    She blushes at your simple compliment, “Oh, you’re such a sweetheart. Come back any time,” The baphomet sighs as she plays with her hair, “I wish I had a hand made meal to send you all off with. I was too busy researching to get my husband or daughters to cook for you all,” Ophelia stands, “Let me walk you all out. Oh, Curtis?”
    “Hm?”
    “Bring my boy home safe, please.”
    You smile, “He can take care of himself. Better than I can take care of myself or him.”
    “Just keep an eye on him, please,” She pleads.
    “I will,” You try to calm her worries with a reassuring smile.
    She leads you out of the room with a worried look on her face. She puts on a more reserved expression as you both walk into the lounge area. Arthur’s sisters and father are already here. His sisters all demand for him to make it home safely. It’s a little strange to see Arthur standing with his father, Trevor. The man looked about thirty years younger than the wizard, “Girls,” Ophelia says sternly as her daughters grab at Arthur, attempting to prevent him from leaving, “Your brother will be home soon. You are just making this harder for him.”
    “Yes mother,” They grumble. Each of them demands hugs from their younger brother instead before seeing him off.
    “I will be back. I always come back, sisters. You worry about me so much every time,” Arthur chuckles.
    The three little baphomets all huff as you all pour out into the little park. Pin and Rael mutter to each other as you all walk towards the gates of town. You enjoy being able to look over pretty much every other person on the streets. Rose and Eric begin to joke to each other about stopping at stalls and buying outrageous gifts for various family members. Joan falls in step with you with Tilde following close on your heels. The centaur brushes her blonde hair over her shoulder. She glances at your allies and quickly pulls the little metal bucket with a sprouting green plant from one of her bags. She sneaks you a little smile before tucking it back into a special compartment. You reach the gates where a few human and sabbath guards all laze around. They give cheerful hellos to Ophelia and her family. The gates are slowly raised, “Good luck, you eight,” The older baphomet gives your party a sad wave as you all start to leave the town. 
    Arthur returns the sad expression as he turns back and waves. You stare past the black veil of clouds over Babel and watch it turn into the bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds as you step from the dark black grass and onto the bright green grass. Your mamano companions, Joan, Rose and Pin all grunt and shudder as they exit the dark veil of the Demon Realm, “Are you alright?” You ask with concern in your tone.
    Joan grimaces, “We gain strength from the Demon Realm. You remember how you passed out as you entered it? It makes you weaker without that seal on your arm. Those horrid beasts eventually become so weak that they will die as they lack the energy to draw breath,” She explains, “I got used to the boost in energy and power.”
    “We’ll shake this shit off,” Pin assures you, “I’m just glad it made all those fuckin’ bruises heal fast.”
     “Its like... A sort of sick feeling for an hour or so,” Rose tries to explain to the best of her ability, “I get a headache for a short time.”
    “My stomach feels like it has been turned upside down,” Joan looks a little green as sweat begins to form on her skin.
    “I feel great!” Eric laughs sort of tauntingly. He starts doing squats, “Feels good to be back in nature. Smell that air!”
    “Fuck off, Eric,” Pin growls as she coughs.
    “I don’t got that mamano mana like Arthur or Rael. Or even a little mana seal like Curtis got. I’ve just been sufferin’ this demon realm negative effects these two long days,'' Eric smiles at her and Pin frowns back. 
    You all start you walk through the lush green valley with wonderful blue skies overhead. You breathe in the clean, fresh and cool air as you look around the valley. You spot a herd of buffalo in the distance as they wander the plains, “How I missed these fields. It reminds me of home,” Joan has a smile on her face as she trots down the path. 
    “What did your home look like?” You ask.
    “Gardramel is mostly plains and deserts. It is an entirely different continent to the east,” She says something in another language and she shakes her head. It reminds you a bit of french, “Its why my armor looks so different compared to other knights of this land. A bit more flourishes and showy with some fashionable cloth showing. Much more befitting of a chivalrous knight,” Her armor is a bit more rounded than Rael’s and her cylindrical helmet has some gold inlaid into it, “The lighter cloth portions are so the armor is a little breathable in the arid plains and deserts.”
    “Neat,” You nod and look back towards the town again, “How far to Geno-Town?”
    Eric turns to you, “Three days. My magic that lets us travel faster through nature does not do much in these fields,” He shrugs sheepishly, “The forest is my home and where I was taught my magic, afterall.”
    “Where the hell are you from anyways, Eric?” Pin asks, “How’d you become a ranger?” 
    “Doesn’t seem like ya to care,” He says warily.
    “Oh, come the fuck on,” She groans, “I’m just tryna get you to entertain me.”
    “I’m curious too,” You assure him.
    He sighs, “Alright, settle down. Its not a lot,” He clears his throat, “I grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Southern Eyrist,” He glances at you, “Its south of the the Human Kingdom’s capital that they lovingly and arrogantly call, the ‘Bastion of Humanity,’” He spits on the ground, “I was always told the Coalition and the Mamano lands were full of rapists and savages eager to destroy our-- The human’s lands. Early on I learned I was good with a bow and took up archery and hunting. I could hunt wild boar by myself from a pretty young age. I guess like anyone else that's born with this kinda ‘gift’ of being a hero: I was just good at stuff. Combat, huntin’, learnin’, talkin’, any of it. 
“I was in some woods near my home village, bow hunting fowl. I had shot down... Two good sized birds and was looking for some more meat to help feed my family. I wandered into the results of a battle between the last of a wild elf tribe and some human soldiers. With my curiosity, I started poking through the corpses looking for money. All I found was a dying elf. He gave me two things, this sword,” He brandishes an odd looking shortsword with a wooden handle and curved blade, “And gave me as much as he could of his... Magic? What do you call it, Arthur?”
    “Well,” The wizard strokes his beard, “Wild elves--” He looks at you, “Wild elves are elves with large pointy and sensitive ears, caramel or brown skin, completely black eyes and antlers or horns from various animals,” He quickly explains, “Usually, all wild elves in a tribe have the same form of horns. All elves, city, dark, arcane and wild elves are all quite in tune with the natural aether of the world. It is something deeply rooted in their spirits. Their spirit is more like that of an animal or plant even, something ancient and connected to nature. For juxtaposition, we have souls, something connected to the divine realms. When we die, we go to some plane beyond this one. Elves’ spirits will be reincarnated as one of many things in nature or another elf. What that wild elf did to Eric was transfer just a fraction of his soul into him and thus part of his aether that is in tune with the nature of the world..”
    “Yeah, what he said. I got a touch a that magic in me. It wasn’t until I met Rael, Arthur and Joan when I traveled out west that I learned what that meant. I ventured into the Coalition lands despite the warnings of the others. Like all other heroes, I have an innate desire for adventure. A... A...”
    “Wanderlust,” Arthur reminds him.
    “Yeah, that. Rael sniffed that there nature magic on me and Arthur sent me off to learn from that crazy cat lady in the mountains west of Goldcrest. I learned how to listen to the land and how to speak back to it. I learned the language of the dirt and the plants and the animals. I listen and speak to them and they help me. After that, we found Tilde, I took on the leadership role and Rose joined us after finishing her training. Months later, we found Curtis, then you, Pin.”
    “What the hell unites you? You bicker and argue a whole fuckin’ lot,” Pin grunts. You had been filtering out the small arguments people had been having.
    Eric laughs, “Ya shoulda seen how we used ta argue. We all are united by our interests in the Other Side. I can hear the world’s spirits cry out in agony when the...” He spaces out for a moment, looking for the right words.
    “The barrier between worlds is torn asunder,” He finishes the sentence for him, “I have a desire to learn all I can of the Other Side.”
    Rael clears his throat, “I wish to stop those that would tear these portals open. The magic is highly dangerous and illegal. Heresy, I suppose you could call it.”
    “I want to help the people that are forced through. Just like my mother,” Rose smiles.
    Joan shrugs, “People require the aid of a knight. I am there for them as much as I can. Danger follows this team and I live for it,” She adds.
    “You got a reason too, Tilde?” Pin asks.
    “Affirmative,” Her vocal components slowly warm up, “I found Mrs. Summerfield to be very...” She stops and blinks slowly, “Familiar. Despite missing most of my memory, she reminded me of something. A previous person I looked to for orders, perhaps. I followed her orders until I met Curtis. His expertise in mechanical components and items makes him a potential master. I find him to be capable in most fields. He has done more successful work on me than anyone else has,” You blush slightly at her seemingly high praise.
    Pin shrugs, “Hell, I won’t fault you for that. He’s kinda handy, I guess. But what about you, Chief? You got a reason for running with these... Thunder Crashers?”
    You give her a little smug smile, “They’re my friends,” You say simply.
    “I... Fuck, alright,” Pin looks at the other Thunder Crashers and they either shrug or nod at her. Pin shuts up as she turns her eyes forwards and continues walking. 

    “This is a good spot,” Eric grunts as he waves his hands parallel to the ground. The tall grass is instantly chopped to a low height. He snaps and a spot in the middle turns into a firm patch of dirt. 
    “Shall we use one of your woodless campfires?” Arthur asks.
    Eric sighs, “I guess so. Don’t really feel like collecting turds to build a fire with.”
    “I don’t wanna cook with turd fires,” Rose looks sick as she thinks about it.
    “Stop looking so green,” Eric chuckles. He procures a bundle of what seems to be treebark from his bag. He buries it in the dirt and mumbles a few words in another language. You watch as an orange light bursts from the dirt and throw the bark in a small circle in the dirt as a flame bursts from the soil. Just like any other fire, it glows brightly and produces a pleasant amount of heat. You do your best to help Rose, Rael and Arthur in setting up the tent as Joan dashes off to do some patrols near the camp. Eric wanders off as well in search of wild game. Pin stands around, unsure of what to do. She takes to pulling seemingly random items and piecing them together. Tilde stands by your side to aid you specifically. 
    The tent goes up easily as Arthur uses his magic to create a link to his pocket dimension, “I suppose I should slightly expand the innards of the tent,” Arthur sighs as he turns to his spellbook. He runs his finger across the page as if searching for something.
    “Do not bother,” Rael shakes his head, “She is not on the team, remember? No point in wasting your precious resources.”
The wizard frowns at his traveling companion, “I suppose you are right. But I would not wish to force her to sleep out in the open.”
“She could bunk with me,” Rose offers. The two older men shrug or nod before turning their attention elsewhere.
“Thanks, Rose,” Pin mumbles to her.
    “No problem, Pin. You gonna start teaching Curtis anything?”
    “Well...”  You sit with the two of them on the somewhat soft grassy ground, “Curtis, take this shit,” She grabs a softly glowing yellow gem from her bag. She wraps it in a small cloth and hands it off to you, “Touch it with your skin.”
    You do as she instructs and touch the crystal with your fingers. You yelp in surprise as the crystal shocks you. You realise that holding it with the cloth doesn’t shock you, at least. You poke at it again and pull your hand away quickly, “Query: what is the meaning of this?” Tilde sounds angry as she glares at Pin, “Why are you bringing him harm?”
    “Relax! Shit, stop looking at me like that,” Pin nervously shifts, “Look, he needs to learn to use his own willpower to control these crystals. The slight pain that he’ll get when he fucks up should help him learn faster. Its how I learned as did my teacher,” Tilde still glares at her.
    “Tilde, I’m fine,” You assure her, “I asked for this. Here we gooooo...” You shock yourself on the yellow stone again.
    “I know you have no experience with aether,” The gremlin frowns, “Hopefully ya’ll fuckin’ get it eventually. Just... Focus on it and demand it stop shocking you.”
    “I’m sure he will,” Rose assures her with a smile.
    “Hey, you want in, Rose? Pin and Curtis Enterprises is hiring.”
    Rose laughs, probably thinking Pin was merely joking, “How much are you paying?”
    “W-well...” Pin glances at you as you shock yourself again, “W-we’re not really bringing any gold in yet. Hopefully we’ll get something goin’ soon. I’m thinkin’ we could mass produce some wild weapons.”
    Rose looks disappointed, “Do you really need to produce that stuff? There’s enough killing in this world already. As amazing as that little weapon Curtis carries is, I don’t want every single soldier to be sent to a wall of loud, deadly weapons.”
    Pin looks at the ground, “Its necessary. The Demon Lord might never come back. Evil humans and monsters will always come for us mamano and good humans. All we can do is fight back. Would you rather they fuckin’ bowl us over and send us to Hell? Let them have the realm? Curtis’s world? Is that what the Demon Lord would have wanted?”
    “Even if she did want mamano to inherit this world, she also taught love above all else, Pin,” The mouse girl reminds the gremlin.
    “She wanted the world full of fucking. Or love, I guess,” She shrugs, “But what about people who refuse that? That bastard Sebastion’s kingdom, for example, or those beasts in the north.”
    “Well...” 
    “We wipe them out,” Joan growls as she butts into the conversation having recently returned to camp, “Mamano are the final evolution of mankind. Human men and mamano women in harmony. No more wars and violence, only love and peace. That was her dream, thus, is mine. If I must fight and struggle for that dream, I will. Is it not your dream to see that peace as well, Rose?”
    “Its the dream of every monster girl. Its something to cling to,” Rose admits, “I cling to it. One day I want to settle down with a man and have three beautiful children and not have to worry about the evils of the world.”
    “Right. We HAVE to fight. At least until She comes back,” Pin sighs. She looks at Tilde, “You’re mamano, right? You must feel the same.”
    Tilde blinks and whirrs her motors and servos, “Negative--Unknown,” She corrects herself, “Unknown if I am mamano. Explanation: I am a machine. I may be powered by aether but I cannot interface with it. Comment: I do agree. I desire peace. It will mean less danger for my future master.”
    “Leaving the Demon Realm did not seem to affect her much,” Joan comments. She gives you a weird look as you stare at the crystal before shocking yourself again. 
    “True. I’ll look into it sometime,” Pin shrugs. 
    “How are you gonna do that?” Rose asks.
    “We help her find her master and fuck him then use some instruments to measure if any mamano mana is put into the air from it.”
    “Does she even... Have parts for that?”
    “Negative,” Tilde interjects, “If you ARE referring to intercourse, that is.”
“We could fix that,” Pin suggests. She grabs some parchment and starts drawing designs, “What material...?” You watch her draw an accurate and very lifelike attachable vagina and jot down notes to herself. She also sketches Tilde in a revealing pose to the best of her abilities. You put the crystal down, your hand starting to hurt. You decide to work on it later when you’re not distracted by lewd thoughts.

You stare at the red tinted full moon hanging high in the sky. You can see Babel from the hillside that your group resides on. It has a faint crimson glow, giving it an imposing aura. You stare into the magical flames of your campfire and tap your fingers together idly. Tilde stands near the tent in a low powered mode. Arthur finally emerges from the tent in his mage robes. He stretches and summons a small black platform to sit on, “I hope you slept well,” Arthur smiles at you.
You nod, happy to be on the last watch of the night, “Yeah it was fine. Hopefully you don’t mind my company.”
    “Oh not at all. It will be rather pleasant to be on watch with someone who is not an inanimate object for most of the night,” He glances at Tilde, “I am sorry we have not had much time just the two of us to chat,” He sheepishly apologises, “I have not taken the opportunity to explain anything that might be bothering you or expand on anything you may have learned. Perhaps you wish to know more lore about this realm and its inhabitants?” He summons a second black colored magical stool seat for you as well and offers it to you.
    
    You sit in the seat offered to you and search your mind for any queries you might have for the wise old wizard.

PT31

    “Got any ideas on the whole amnesia situation? I talked to Ophelia about it, but the chance of madness made me not want to undergo the magical treatment,” You explain to the wizard.
    He strokes his beard, “That is the question,” He frowns, “Your best bet is to attempt to jog your memories by doing something you did in your old life or using an item close to you to jog it. The tinkering has not been helping?”
    “Not really,” You shrug.
    “You said you were...” He flips through a leather bound journal and runs his finger down a page, “You worked on ‘cars,’ yes? A mechanic?” You nod, “Perhaps if we find one, or something similar and you work on it, you may remember something? It is most likely going to be a string of memories as we try to get you to remember. This is all speculation. We have very little data to go off of, most people who do come through the other side can remember everything. Including the few alive that have come through those portals somewhat recently.”
You sigh, “I wish I could be that lucky.”
“Do not look so down,” He gives you a smile, “Even if it does not come back, you are a great help to this team.”
“Thanks, Arthur. Hey, can you tell me about what exactly aether is?”
Arthur nods, “Aether is magic and aether is in everything--Almost everything,” He corrects himself, “Humans, for example. Every human carries a certain amount of aether in them and some are able to harness it for casting; this is usually when that aether is of an exceptionally high amount. Usually you are born with it, like I was, or having it boosted like Eric has by another source, being that elf’s spirit. And before you ask, Rael has an abnormally LOW amount of aether in him, most likely from how anti-magic his patron seems to be. Curiously, I cannot find a single god that bears resemblance to Rael’s deity. But that is another story. His background does...” He suddenly stops and frowns,, “I admittedly know nothing of it. 
“Where was I? Ah, yes, the aether. It is in every creature, plant and even the stones. Most of the stones. You have seen spell-breakers in action, they contain absolutely no aether and thus magic fails to affect it. Silver also has a negative aetheric effect when unenchanted but can also take to enchantments incredibly well. I have mentioned different forms of casting and Eric mentioned speaking to nature, when he does this, he is tapping into the very aether of nature, of the world even. When I cast, I call upon the aether infused in the writing of my spellbook. Sorcerers call upon the aether in their bodies and souls to bring spells forth. Geomancers, the aether is rocks. Artificers, the aether in those aetheric gems and crystals that they channel into tinkered devices. I could go on and on about how aether itself is used... 
“But that is not what you want, is it?” He gives you a little smirk, “The aether, all of it, the portion of it in the air, the bit of it in you, in the stones, in the water... Its all ALIVE. And it can all speak. Including the aether within you. Not always in a literal language or words. An example, do you remember when you stole a look at my spell book? That was your own aether being contacted by the aetheric entities that make up my spells. They wanted out and wished to use you for that. The pain you felt was your own will or your own aether being in conflict with that of those aetheric beings that make up my spells. I... I am sorry, I am getting carried away. Does anything I am saying help you?”
    “Uh... Maybe?”
    Arthur slumps a little bit but perks right back up as he continues speaking, “Listen, Curtis. You know the feeling of aether interacting, albeit painfully. How have you been trying to communicate with the crystal?”
    You shrug, “Politely?”
    Arthur shakes his head, “Be mean to it. Exert your will and bend it to your wishes. The time for kindness and being polite has ended in this endeavor. Some aetheric entities will respond positively to being kind, but this crystal, it reminds me a bit of Pin. What would she say? A bitch?” He chuckles, “That is truly as much as I can aid you. Its not like its possible for you to cause an aetheric collapse! Go... What do they say? Go nuts?”
    You nod, “Thanks. Hopefully I can make some progress. What's an aetheric collapse?” You ask a little hesitantly.
    The wizard acts like he forgot what you do and don’t know, “Aetheric collapse is when a powerful caster does something like open a portal to numerous aetheric planes at the same time in the same place. The aetheric entities... Fight one another in an incredibly violent way. The collapse causes a rather large explosion and kills the caster most definitely as they tend to use their own bodies as a conduit for the ‘spell’. It is a horrible way to die. Any other questions?”
“I guess I do have one more question, if I’m not bothering you.”
    “Of course not.”
    “Well, can you tell me more about this Demon Lord, or Grand Maou or whatever that the girls keep going on about?”
    Arthur smiles, “Ah yes, the Maou. A succubi with many names. No one knows what her true name is,” He gives you a glance, “Demons and devils have true names, my mother, you know her as Ophelia, and my sisters go by more easily pronounceable human-like names. I have a demon name as well,” He admits sheepishly, “My fake name comes from that hero of your world, King Arthur. My mother wanted to call me Merlin after the wizard in that story but one of my sisters, I believe it was Akasha, opposed the decision. She said it sounded too much like some form of fungal infection, but my mother was still in love with the name; so, my full human name is Arthur Merlin Maximillion. Not the most eloquent name.
    “Anywho, where was I? The Maou, yes. My mother actually worked with her to put her on the Demon Lord’s throne. As well as that other baphomet you met, the Librarian. The Maou was an incredibly charming as well as already powerful succubi. She amassed followers, both fiendish and mortal and used the power she gained to fight for the throne. She had seen the horrors of the Cataclysm and wanted it to stop, she wanted peace and love to overcome. With her own strength and her companions, she fought off every other until none other vied for the throne. She then became the Demon Lord, took a powerful human hero as her husband and started phase one of her plan. Thus began the about fifty year period of love nearly directly after the Cataclysm. She had her daughters, the lilims to act as her vassals or emissaries to spread her will and love. Those that helped her became the first mamano. Large swathes of fiends turned into gorgeous, powerful women. The Maou gave them beauty to aid in finding love and happiness, and power to protect what is good in the world. She then turned to the mortal world and turned as many monsters as she could into mamano. She kept working, and planning and struggling... Until...” He pauses for dramatic effect.
    “What happened?” You play into the drama he is attempting to convey.
    “Well... She worked herself to death, it seems. No one is entirely sure about the circumstances surrounding her death. Some like to believe that the cause of her death was merely over exertion in trying to convert every monster into mamano. As you know, dangerous monsters still roam the world. Others still will argue that murder of some kind was involved. There are many more theories, I cannot say which one is the definitive answer. As for what is known now, the Maou vanished and her husband, their daughters and their husbands and children all defend the throne. Every mamano hopes that the Maou will return to the throne and restart her campaign. That leads us into the current era. Two hundred and thirty seven years after the Maou’s death. Some have claimed to see the Maou in their dreams and believe she is lying and waiting to come back. Perhaps she needs aid or something along those lines. Ah, but I am rambling. Again.”
    “I think I enjoy listening to you ramble,” You smine, “Thanks a lot for your answers.”
    “Any time, my friend. Did you enjoy your time in Babel?”
    “Your mom’s place was really cozy. I’m looking forward to the return trip already.”
    “As am I. We should not be spending too long in Geno-Town. We are to be handing off that little black cube to another group of adventurers.”
    “Know anything about them?”
    “I do not. I merely know we are to meet them at the old Shalandra, a massive boat named after Geno’s dark elf wife. It had been converted to an inn years ago. They know who we are and that should be enough for us to hand it off, we have a code phrase and everything. Then we get paid, perhaps we have a little fun and do some shopping before we make the trek home. It is a bustling trade and craft town after all. I suppose now would be as good a time as any to explain how most other adventuring parties operate. Most adventurers work on commission based on how powerful they are. If you want a top notch team you will be shelling out a lot of gold. You usually pay four to five adventurers who are usually strangers to complete a task, paying them after the task is finished. Clearing out monsters, gathering items or escorting a package are all usual tasks for parties. When the task is done, the party usually splits up and returns to their various guilds to wait for the next mission.”
    “How come you guys don’t work like that?”
    “I did at one point. So did Joan. But we eventually found each other and decided working together outside of the exploitative and restrictive guild system was for the best. Besides, the guild would never have allowed us to have Tilde, Rose or you in the group. Pin probably would be seen as too much of a liability was well. They considered Rael one with his seemingly unknown god. Did you know that even he is unaware of their name? He just calls the being as It or Them. I remember him shouting at that desk clerk before storming out just after I had resigned with Joan. She liked his spirit so much that we followed him back to Goldcrest, met Emma and their young daughter, Rose. I was already invested in the Other Side so I quickly took to Emma’s plight and Joan decided to dedicate her services to the mouse woman. We took small jobs in between fighting to keep those local portals closed. This job will fund us for some time. I believe Eric will be paying you as well for your services on this trip.”
    “He doesn’t need to do that,” You shake your head, “You guys have been taking care of me.”
    Arthur chuckles, “Believe me. He will not listen to you if you try to decline the gold. I also strongly recommend you take it. Gold can do much more than trading like you have done up to this point.”
    “Yeah, but--”
    “Alert,” Tilde shifts as her systems come online, “Noise to the south. Shall I wake the others?”
    “One moment, Tilde,” Arthur warns her before slowly raising his staff. A beam of white light shoots out from the staff and coats the field in a white glow. The grass in a wide radius is flattened. Four little goblins sit paralyzed, either with magic or fear, as they stare into the camp, “See? Nothing to be afraid of. Approach, goblins.”
    Timidly, the four goblins walk into the light of the fire and stare at you with big yellow eyes, “M-merciful human?” One croaks nervously. You recognize it, the third time you have seen the one armed goblin and now one eyed goblin.
    “God, what happened to you?” You ask as you kneel down. One of the others looks like it was from the orc camp as well. The third is a larger male that carries a knife on his hip and the third is a female with remarkably clear and forest green skin for a goblin. 
    “We flee from fort you escape from. We form own tribes, remembering you teach and attempt... Ah...”
    “Civilization,” The second goblin chimes in with wonder and awe in his tone, “Our sages seek you so we may do two things.”
    “Uh, alright,” You tilt your head in confusion, “What’s up?”
    “Spies hear of orc ambush aim at you in the west pass.”
    “Really?”
    “Yes! Orc and dire wolf poise to attack!”
    “How unfortunate,” Arthur sighs, “That path is heavily travelled, those orcs could be harassing and attacking traders right now until we show up.”
    “They want death kill human, mouse, gremlin,” The first goblin explains, “Matriarch hate much.”
    “But why me and those two? Arthur killed her thrall,” You point out.
    “Perhaps it is pride. You, Rose and Pin escaped her clutches and made a fool of her,” Arthur shrugs.
    “Yes, yes!” The bigger goblin pipes up, “Goblin tribe offer payment to merciful human for help rise up!” He pushes the female goblin towards you, “Take goblin wife. She prettiest goblin we have.”
    The goblin is in awe of you, but puts on her best smile, “H-henlo, h-hub-hubsand,” You’re not sure if her incorrect speech is because of her nervousness or some dialect or just recently learning english, “I’m am hornerd to wife.”
    “She make good wife,” Another goblin nods his head.
    Your mouth hangs agape as the goblin starts to derobe, “I--” You look at Arthur, he merely raises an eyebrow at you and hides a cheeky smile, “Look, I can’t accept,” You say quickly. The goblins all look shocked, there’s no way you can marry an actual goblin, but you don’t have the heart to tell them that, “Well, its only been a few days since you liberated yourself. You... Need all the bodies you can for your new society.”
    The goblins nod and agree with you, “Yes yes. Human greatly wise,” The one armed goblin notes, “Apologise for not wise gift of goblin wife.”
    “Hey, don’t beat yourself up over it. I appreciate the... Gift,” You assure them with a lie, “Thank you for the information about the orcs, that was really helpful.”
    “Yes yes,” The second goblin nods, “We helpful. We go now. Human must rest for battle,” The goblins all run off back into the tall grass without saying goodbye.
    “You handled that well,” Arthur chuckles as he sits down on his conjured seats once more, “They seem to revere you.”
    You give him an exhausted sigh and weary look, “I have no idea. I showed them a shred of kindness and now they want me to marry their women.”
    “Comment: I am happy you said no,” Tilde looks relieved.
    “Oh?” Arthur frowns at her.
    “She’s been getting... Jealous,” You explain teasingly. 
    “I did not think she had the capacity for that,” Arthur gasps. Tilde blushes before going back into low power mode. You chat quietly with the wizard for the rest of the night.

    You stare at the sky as the sun starts to rise. Your mind wanders as you sit around idly. Your companions are slowly preparing for today's trek in the tent. You grab your phone and start messing with the lock screen. Its a newer phone, the lock screen is of a pixelated city. The password entry is a full keyboard and an unknown amount of characters. You try a few codes, mostly your birthday in a few combinations. You get nothing but a locked down phone. You shut it down again and throw it back in your pocket, “Any luck on your training?” Pin asks as she approaches.
    “Uh, well, Arthur gave me some tips, but I haven’t again tried yet.”
    “Hmph. Well, you better get fuckin’ on it.”
    “I will, I will. Calm down.”
    “Stop harassing him, Pin. The boy has a lot on his mind,” Joan scolds. Pin huffs and folds her arms, “How was the night shift, Curtis?”
    “Oh, uh,” You scratch your head, “Interesting.”
    “Oh?” Joan raises an eyebrow at you.
    “Pfft,” Arthur tries to keep in his laughter, “Why, Curtis. Tell her of last night.”
    You wait until the entire team is sitting around the slowly dying fire. Rose starts cooking the last of the meat from yesterday while you tell the short story of the goblins visiting. You first tell how they wanted you to marry the goblin woman, getting a few laughs and chuckles from your friends and a few bewildered looks.
    “Such obscene creatures,” Rael grunts.
    Eric nods, “Weird how ya have been raised into some kinda saint in their eyes.”
    Rose chuckles at you, “I’m just glad they’re doing well for themselves. Maybe they can rise above their... Built in disposition and do some good?”
    “I am glad you did not agree. We do not need a spy in our midst,” Joan has a large frown on their face, “Was that it? They just wanted you to marry one of their whores?” 
    “W-well,” You stammer before telling what happened before that. Their warning brings about a sense of dread and unease compared to the humor in the proposed goblin mariage. 
    “We can easily go around the pass,” Eric suggests, “Let someone they’re not after deal with it. It’ll add another day as we make our way to the coast then travel along it.”
    “Fuck that,” Pin growls, “They want me? I’ll shove my axe or hammer up their asses!”
    “A fight with an orcish warband could be interesting,” Joan smiles, “Especially ones that are lying in ambush.”
    Eric glares at her, “They want to murder Curtis and Rose!” He snaps at her and Pin, “How can something like this be FUN to ya!?”
    Joan is taken aback by his sudden outburst, “I know it is dangerous--”
    “Its dangerous to THEM! Not you!” He tries to hammer it into her.
    “Eric?” Arthur speaks slowly and softly, “We’re all worried about this. There is no need to yell at the others.”
    The group is awkwardly silent for a few moments, “I’m terrified of this Matriarch lady,” He admits with a worried frown, “How are we supposed ta deal with her and her army of monsters?” He asks as he stares at the fire.
    Rael clears his throat, “Eric, I know everything is uncertain at this time. I am worried as well. My own daughter is on her kill list. I would say this is not our fight as I have before, but she made it personal. We will figure this out.”
    “Don’t worry about us,” Rose assures him, “I can hide, Pin can take care of herself and Curtis has Tilde to keep him safe.”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde whirrs to life, “I will continue to do my best to protect him.”
    Eric sighs and puts on a genuine smile, “Alright, alright. I still think we’re way over our heads on this, but I’ll trust ya’ll. I still wanna go around the ambush. We’ll put it to the vote, I guess. Votes for going around it raise ya hand”

PT32

    Pin is quick to speak, “Let's fight these fuckers. They want me, they can have me.”
    “Does she count in our vote?” Joan inquires slowly sounding a touch aggravated.
    Rael shrugs, “She is a part of this. Curtis, Rose and Pin are all in danger. They are our responsibility, Joan,” He pauses for a moment, “I wish to fight them as well. I have a few contacts in Geno-Town that might be able to provide us with aid.”
    “In Geno-Town?” Pin sounds shocked as she stares at the armored cleric, “Doesn’t seem like you to have friends there.”
    “Not friends. Contacts.”
    “I believe we should fight,” Joan adds in, turning the conversation back to the issue at hand. 
    “I’m in. But we need a plan,” You try to be encouraging. 
    Tilde is quick to agree with you, “Affirmative: I wish to dispatch as many enemy forces as we can. Past experiences show this will make the area safer.”
    Eric sighs, “Alright, that's enough votes to go for it. Let’s start walking, its a whole day of walking before we get anywhere close.” 
You aid your allies in packing up the camp. You watch Eric wave his hand and deactivate the small magical fire. He has an upset look on his face. He steps away from camp to do his usual ritual to ensure safe travel. You follow him, “You alright?” You ask quietly. 
“Fine,” He grunts.
“C’mon, man,” You prod him, “Talk to me.”
    He frowns at you as he piles some dry grass and herbs on a patch of soil, “This team is my responsibility, Curtis. We keep wanderin’ deeper and deeper into danger. Eventually, our luck is gonna run out. She knows where we’re goin’. I’m worried,” He starts trying to light the pile with a flint and steel.
    “I’m scared out of my fucking mind,” You admit quietly with a nervous chuckle, “Some powerful magic bitch wants my head on a pike and she commands the respect and devotion of countless monsters. What do I have? Some goblins like me and I can shoot four more rounds through a metal thing and MAYBE kill her. She used magic and almost made me kill myself with it, Eric. She knows every trick I have, all one, maybe two of them. I’m terrified,” You flick your lighter on and offer it to him.
    “Glad I’m not the only one,” He gives you a little smile before waving your lighter away, “I gotta do it with the flint. Its part a’ the ritual. Its for safe and fast travels. The grass and dirt protect us,” He murmurs and gets back into it. He starts to whisper in another language as the fire starts. Its an odd colored blaze that burns out quickly. Eric nods with a sense of relief, “The spirits are appeased today. Thats one piece of good news, at least. If ya keep your eyes open, ya’ll see how the nature around us molds itself as we pass.”
    “Neat. I’ll be sure to look for it.”
    He looks back at camp and takes a single step towards your team as they devour their breakfast. He then turns back to you, “Be careful, alright?” He says slowly with a strong commanding tone in his voice.
    “Yeah, same to you.”
    
    You stomp down the path with your eyes pointed at the ground. You watch brambles and decently large stones move out of your party’s way, “Query: is something the matter?” Tilde asks you.
    “Huh? Oh, nothing. Just making sure I don’t trip,” You smile.
    “Noted. Please do not hesitate to tell me if you need aid.”
    The breeze feels good on your skin and the sun shits behind puffy white clouds. Pin walks next to Rael, “Hey, Rael,” She pipes up.
    “What is it, gremlin?” He grumbles back, hardly in the mood to humor her.
    “So like, clerics can commune with the dead, right?”
    “... I suppose so. It is not something I do often.”
    “I don’t think you ever have, dad,” Rose interjects.
    Pin ignores her, “Look, theres a guy I wanna talk to in Geno-Town, but he’s dead. Think you could do me a solid?”
    “And what would I receive in return?” Rael inquires.
    “Dad, come on, just help her out,” Rose chastises him.
    “Hey, I fuckin’ offered to do somethin’ for him!” Pin barks, “I got an idea in the back o’ my mind. You want some anti magic shit slapped on that armor? Maybe enchant that shied?”
    “Anti magic...?” Rael rubs his chin as he puts thought into it. 
    “Don’t you detest most magic?” Arthur asks, “I am surprised you are even considering it.”
    “Artifice is hardly heretical,” Rael shrugs, “Besides, I am not the hateful anti mage I once was. I would not be with this party if I was. A man trained by an actual demon in wizardry, a man tainted with heretical wood elven magic that practices said heretical magic now, a magic automaton built by an ancient society and a man from another dimension. My old creed would have seen me smiting more than one of you.”
    “F-fair enough,” Arthur coughs.
    “So... You’re not opposed?” Pin excitedly asks.
    “No. I am not. We should speak more before we shake on it,” Rael offers Pin a small smile while she pumps her fist triumphantly.
    You shrug and move to walk with Joan, taking up the rear as she silently and stoically marches down the path, “Hey, Joan,” you greet her.
    “Hello,” She plainly and unenthusiastically greets you.
    “Something wrong?” You ask. You look forwards as everyone else but Tilde is engrossed in another conversation. Rael, Rose and Pin all speak about potential things Pin could build. Arthur and Eric speak quietly about something at the front.
    “Wrong? No. I am merely joyless. I usually am like this long before the... Hunt begins. The slaughter. When I make the fields run red with greenskin blood,” She admits darkly, “I know, I am working on this feeling. The bloodlust, I mean. But you know why I detest greenskins so much.”
    “I know. I’m always here to talk if you need it,” You remind her, “Maybe its best for you to get your mind off it somehow.”
    “I have my flower,” She tells you quietly, “But that can only do so much to occupy my mind.”
    “Then talk to someone. I’m available right now. Talk to me,” You do your best to encourage her.
    Joan awkwardly starts to stumble through her words with a blank expression on her face, “H-how are you today?”
    “I’m fine, how are you? How are you handling the heat in that armor?”
    “I... Am... Healthy, I suppose,” Her eyes dart around as the leaves rustle, “My specially made traveling armor is lighter and quite breathable. I wish I had eaten more breakfast.”
    “See? That's something. Doesn’t talking feel nice?”
    “Hardly. I am not used to being so nonchalant in conversation. This is the one moment in time I wish we had a bard in the party. I just want them to entertain me on the road with their music and stories.”
    “Did you travel with one at some point?”
    “Of course. A man named Patrick ‘Super Hot’ Mulchigan Scott. He constantly talked. It was a decent enough distraction, I suppose. He talked his way through conflicts and he sang songs while he played one of many instruments. This was when I worked in the guild. I found him annoying mostly, especially when he would tell me I... Quote, ‘had a fat ass and a nice rack.’ Oh how hard it was to not buck and cave in his skull when he walked behind me,” That last part almost sounds like a joke.
    You struggle to stop yourself from laughing at how ridiculous that sounds. You have no idea how to tell how voluptuous her horse body is, but it is very well kempt. Her human half, on the other hand, is extremely attractive. Muscular and busty, “Sounds like a character,” You snicker.
    “He was. His music was nice, but the gentle harp and flute horribly contrasted his crass attitude.”
    “What happened to him?”
    “Died in the snow to the north along with the rest of his part sent on that fool's errand. None should venture there, especially in such a small team.”
    “What--” You stop yourself from bringing up the monster infested wastelands, “I hope we can avoid going there.”
    “We are not as foolish as that foolish bard and his ‘friends.’ I do not think there is enough gold in the world to force us to go there,” Joan speaks in her weird tone that she only puts on when telling her few grotesque jokes. She has a small smile on her face. 
    You smile back, “Yeah.”
    Eric steps off the path with the team quickly following. You all settle amongst some rocks that make decent enough seats. Rations are passed out and you quickly dig into your jerky. Pin sits near you, “You been practicin’?”
    “Not yet.”
    She groans impatiently, “Whatever, its your fuckin’ training, not mine.”
    “Its a little hard to focus on that gem that keeps shocking me, walking and talking all at the same time,” You growl back, “Maybe I have other things I need to focus on right now.”
    Pin looks a little hurt, “Whatever,” She repeats bluntly.
    You sigh, “I’ll work on it tonight.”
    “Sure you will.”
    Eric clears his throat, “So, the orcs. What’s the plan?”
    You glance at Joan who thankfully doesn’t look phased by being dragged back into thinking about the orcs you had tried to take her mind off of. She merely adjusted her hair, “They are in the pass. We take the high ground. What of your reinforcements, Rael?”
    The cleric shakes his head, “Arthur contacted them. They will be sending heroes if they can muster them in time. I do agree in taking the high ground. What do we know of the surrounding area?”
    “Rocky hills and lush trees,” Eric answers, “We could drop rocks on them,” He offers.
    “I like that,” You smile, “Maybe a controlled blaze to smoke them out or herd some dangerous animals at them? Can you talk to the nature around there so we know where they are?”
    “I can talk to the trees, of course. We’ll know where their warboss is. I don't wanna burn down the forest or put any animals into a dangerous situation. The carnivorous animals leave us alone and the more docile ones feed us.”
    You all think for a few moments, “Orcs are cowardly, if they are losing, they will run,” Joan reminds the group, “You saw how they fought in that encampment. Kill their warboss, and they will flee.”
    Rael nods with a slight frown, “I pray so.”
“You act like that will be simple, Joan. The last warboss nearly killed Arthur,” Eric grunts.
Arthur sighs defeatedly, “That was my fault. I did not observe his weapon. There was no way for me to take into account that an orc would wield a spell breaker. We will do more planning on site. We cannot account for their positioning and the environment when we are still quite a ways away.”
    “Relax a little, Eric,” Rose pokes him in the ribs, “We’ll be fine.”
    His scowl slowly turns into a slight smile, “Alright, alright. I’ll calm down. I just want everyone to promise me we’ll be careful and take it slow.”
    You all begrudgingly promise him.

    You sit on a rock and stare up at the stars. The yellow and white lights overhead twinkle and shine down at you. Your hand already hurts from trying to work on the crystal. Pin sits across from you on the other side of the fire. You grab your little yellow crystal again and turn it over in the cloth. You grab it with your exposed skin and grunt as it zaps you. You try to fight it, putting what little rage you have into it. The shocking subsides, but only for a moment. The pain returns before you set it down and look around. Tilde is where she usually is, standing by the tent. Pin is focused on etching little runes into the dull crystal in her hands. She has been silent the entire time she has been on watch with you. You pick up the crystal again and mentally scream at it, trying to get it to stop. It defiantly continues to zap you. You groan and drop it on the cloth again.
    “You look like you’re gonna shit your pants with that look on your face,” Pin chuckles at you.
    You smile back, “Yeah...” You sigh, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
    “Come the fuck on,” Pin growls and gets up from her seat. She walks over to you and gets in your face, “You think you’re not good enough, huh? You little bitch!?” She jabs you in the ribs with an outstretched finger, “Pick up the FUCKING rock,” Intimidated by the diminutive gremlins sudden outbursts, you pick it up. There's a dull pain as the aether gem shocks you. Pin grabs your hand and forces it closed, “Overpower it like you would bend a bitch over the dining table and fuck her pussy until she screams your name. Think of that. Imagine that. Make it your bitch. Come on, I believe in you, even if you are a fucker,” With her last bit of help, you close your eyes and focus on the crystal in your hands. Something clicks into place within your soul. You feel strange as a new entity inside of you reaches out, its ferocity the only thing you feel as it forcibly quells the crystal's electric properties, “You did it!” 
    You pant, horrible amounts of sweat dripping down your face, “I-I did...” You wheeze, realising you had forgotten to breath. 
    Pin slaps her hands on your cheeks playfully, gripping them, “Good job! Good job!” She laughs, “I fucking new you could. How do you feel?”
    “I--” You put a hand over your chest, “I feel like I’m burning.”
    “Your aether woke up,” Pin excitedly tells you, palms still on your face, “Your aether is a whole fuckin’ lot meaner than you are,” Pin says with a shudder, “Really sad too,” She lets go of you awkwardly.
    “Does that mean anything?” The burning almost hurts as it continues to rage within you.
    “Depends how superstitious you are. Dwarves are really fuckin’ superstitious so I do believe that your aether is a little window into your soul. I dunno what it really means, to be honest. Just something that grumpy old smith always told me.”
    “Got it. Thanks for your help.”
    “Hey, that was all you, fuck face. Take a rest, we’ll get you working on a bottomless bag sometime soon. Or maybe something for that coat of yours? Hey, stop making that vomit face, just relax.”
    “Yeah... Yeah...” You sit on the ground and lean on a rock, the yellow crystal still firmly in your hand. 
    Pin sits next to you. Her tone changes to something you’re not used to hearing from her. Its softer and kinder, “Hey... I wanna apologize for getting on your case around lunch time,” She quickly follows up before you can tell her not to worry about it, “Don’t make excuses for it,” Her usual more aggressive tone returns, “Don’t fuckin’ expect me to apologize often. I live on the dwarven policy of apologising, only do it when you REALLY fuck up. Hand over that gem, I need to turn it off.”
    “Why’d you feel the need to in the first place?” You ask as you hand it over.
    “Look, you came up when I was talkin’ to Rose before this shift. I don’t want any bad blood with you. Fuckin’ everyone seems to like you and I can’t get a single fuckin’ person to like me. Rose and you don’t count, after that shit we went through we’re all close. Life or death situations bring some people close together as long as you’re not emotionally distant like the rest of the party is.”
    “I guess they are...” You think about it, “I guess they have to be. If someone was to die you wouldn’t want to be so hung up on it you can’t focus on your task.”
    “Exactly. What I wanna know is, do I need to change? I’ve been ostracized my entire life, Curtis. You’re from another goddamn world and you seem to fit in. Even if Ophelia was faking it, like I feel like she was, she liked you. That asshole ‘Lady’ Joan likes you. The fucking robot likes you,” She stops herself, “Look. I feel like you and Rose have given me my one chance to really belong somewhere,” She rubs her eyes as she sniffles quietly. Her softer voice returns as she keeps talking, poking at the yellow crystal in her hands, “Only the second time in my life I’ve ever felt like it. Even the first time I didn’t really belong. I gotta get two or three of the others to like me or I know you’ll leave me behind in Geno-Town. W-what should I do?”

PT33

    You shake your head at Pin, “Don’t change. Keep being you and working on your skills.”
    “But being ME doesn’t fucking get me anywhere. It never has,” Pin argues.
    “Look, I know you want to fit in, I do too,” She looks up at you with a sad frown. You give her a smile before slowly and carefully putting your hand on the top of her head. A reaffirming pat erases the frown from her face at least. You give her a few more just to be sure, “You’ve already gotten on somewhat friendly relations with Rael of all people. Keep working on what it is you’re good at and try to compliment the team the best you can. If you wanna make more friends, just try to find stuff to talk to them about. Eric will like you if you just pull your weight and be responsible. Maybe talk to Joan about weapons and armor? Arthur might like to learn more about dwarven culture.”
    “What if that doesn’t work?” She angrily demands, “Then what?”
    “Then you try something else, Pin. Its not like you only get one chance. Don’t worry if Joan doesn’t like you, she’s just mean for the sake of it sometimes.”
    “But why? What the fuck is her problem?”
    You hesitate, “She has her reasons. I can hardly get through to her. It took some work.”
    “Hmph,” She folds her arms and stares away from you.
    “Just put some effort in on your end and they’ll hopefully put some in on their end,” You push. Your exhaustion forces you to just stare up at the stars again as you try to rest for a moment
“Uh, thanks,” Pin grumbles, “If you were anyone else, except maybe Rose, I wouldn’t listen to you. She did tell me to try something similar to what you said but she also said to tone down my swearing. Its a sign of virility or whatever the hell in dwarven men, and I guess whatever the equivalent is in girls. Its like flirting, I guess. Never something I heard when I was being trained by those three brothers but whenever we were out I would hear it constantly, especially around dwarven women.”
    “So its just natural around guys?” You ask weakly.
    “Fuckin’ exactly!” She points a finger at you, eyes gleaming. She puts her hand back in her lap and grabs her tools and the yellow crystal, “You excited to make it to Geno-Town?”
    “I guess so. Not really sure what to expect,” You wheeze.
    “Well, you--” Pin takes a glance at you, “Should rest. Sorry--I mean, you look fuckin’ awful, chief.” 
    You merely grunt at her and shakily stand, “Care if I hit the hay early?”
    “And make me wake up Joan?” Pin whines, “Come on, just a bit longer.”
    “Fine, fine,” You yawn.
    “Thanks. Hey, can you help me with those blue prints I’m working on? I’ve got a few questions...”
    
    You’re one of the last out of the tent as you step into the early morning light. You wonder for a moment what your old morning routine was, probably not this entertaining. Nor did you have an advanced robot at your beck and call. Like every morning, Rose gives you your breakfast on a small plate. Eggs and a bit of meat and fruit. The last of what your group had picked up in Babel, “Thanks,” You smile at her and sit on a rock near the fire.
    “I’m telling you, Rael,” Pin barks with food in her mouth, “Getting close to a sorcerer sounds like a bad idea.”
    “And what would you know of slaying sorcerers, gremlin?” Rael asks after swallowing his own meal, “It used to be my line of work.”
    “Then you KNOW how dangerous they are when their backs are to the wall!”
    “Yes, they get desperate. And sloppy. Same with most wizards,” He adds darkly.
    “Yeah, but what about...” You tune out of that conversation as Pin starts to bring mathematics into the conversation between bites.
Joan and Eric sit quietly together as they draft battle strategies in the dirt with a few sticks and rocks, “Arthur, Curtis and Pin could take a position here. With Tilde, of course,” Joan proposes.
“And Rose, Jo-- Lady Joan?” Eric asks as he chews on some kind of leaf.
“She can hide. If she needs help she can move near either group. Its a steep hill, it will be hard for the bulky orcs to scale it.”
“And Rael, ya an’ me will be on the flank?” 
    “Yes,” The centaur nods, “The warboss will appear, eager to appease his dark mistress and we will take him out. They are predictable savages, Eric.”
    “What of their pets? The dire wolves?”
    “Can you talk to those, Eric?” You ask.
    “Nope. They’re monsters, not animals,” He gives you a little shrug.
    “Then we slay them like the rest. No way they can scale the cliff. The flank team will fight the warboss and dogs while the upper team fights the winded orcs,” Joan puts it simply and plainly as if you should have come to the same conclusion.
    “Agreed.”
    Arthur taps his staff on the rock you find yourself sitting on, “Something seems different about you, Curtis. Did you have a spiritual experience last night?”
    “Made progress in my training, is all. Just took Pin screaming at me,” You explain, “Your advice helped too.”
    “Ah, I am glad,” His tone turns more serious, “I hope you are prepared for combat today. I fear there will be no avoiding it.”
    Your mouth goes dry and your heart rate accelerates, “Y-yeah. I’ll be prepared,” You draw your revolver and load in four rounds, leaving the active chamber empty.
    “Hey, Curtis. A little gift for ya,” Pin tosses you a small wooden box. You open it to find a pair of cushions and one of your previously empty .38 special casings with a tiny, flat red aether crystal jammed in it. It looks like it was shaved down to the exact dimension of your other, unused rounds. It glows a soft crimson on the white cushions, “Its a prototype round for my future gun. Much smaller than the real thing is gonna be. I studied your unused bullets and came up with that. Hope ya like it.”
    “Uh, thanks. Are you sure its safe?”
    “Pfft. No. If I’m right, it will launch the little fuckin’ crystal at your target and just BLOW UP on them!” She gives a small cackle like a mad scientist.
    “Note: I would highly advise against it,” Tilde whispers to you, “I do not like the way she laughs,” You just nod at her.
    “Come on,” Eric hops up, “Two hour walk to the fight. I’ll tell ya’ll when we need to shut up. Be geared and be armed. We dunno what they know about us.”
    You strap on your armor and shield before picking up your spear, eager to put the electric tip to use as well as your strange purple dagger.

    There's a sense of unease in the group as you all trudge through the underbrush. You can see the smoke coming from their fires as they burn their kills. You wonder if its for fun or to cook. You walk through the wide pass with a rocky outcropping above it as you listen to the sounds of orcs fighting with each other and barking dire wolves. There are a handful of decently large boulders at the top. You move into position with Arthur, Tilde and Pin and hunker down by an aforementioned boulder, “What about those reinforcements?” Pin whispers.
    “Unfortunately, we do not know. We must assume we are on our own,” Arthur sighs as he peeks over the ridge. You see the path into a large section of the orc camp that the boulder is supposed to roll down.
    “I will keep you safe,” Tilde assures you as she senses your unease. 
    “T-thanks, Tilde,” You smile at her before slamming your visor back down. Your heart pounds as you listen for the signal. You all look at eachother, Pin slowly puts on her angular, dwarven battle helm, Arthur prepares a few enchantments, Tilde stares blankly at the rocks and you shudder in anticipation. 
    You shake as you hear hooting. Your team is in position and it is time for battle. Tilde nods at you and places her hands on the boulder. You and Pin help her as you push the rock towards the hill, “Hope this shit works,” Pin grumbles.
    “It will,” Arthur assures her as he uses his magic to push some smaller stones towards the cliff face. He has a grim expression on his face. Its obvious how much he hates this. But he knows his role in the plan and he will not voice his objections on killing. Just like with that bitch’s thrall, he knows when he has to kill. 
    You push those thoughts from your mind as the stones begin to tumble down the hill towards the camp. You can feel the rumbling of the earth beneath you as the stones loudly roll towards their destination. They seem to harmlessly bounce off trees and crash through bushes being guided toward their destination. You four move down the hill as well to a forested ridge as the screaming, barking and shouting starts. You hear horrible noises as massive amounts of stone collide with wood and fragile, green bodies and black furred wolves. You take cover behind a tree as you watch the greenskins slowly rally themselves. Their war cries pierce the silence as they start up the hill. Arthur lobs more stones down the hill at the charging orcs. You watch as the smaller stones bounce off small slopes and smash into the faces of orcs in the front with a loud crunch. A few get hit in the legs and fall down before being climbed over by the rest of the blood thirsty green tide. You see a larger orc exit from the camp with multiple dire wolves on leashes and start towards the steep cliffside. The other half of your party charges him from the opposite side of the pass.
    The first few orcs close in on your position. Pin lobs her magic handaxe at one and strikes him in the head. With the wave of her hand, the axe dislodges itself from the skull and back into her hand. The orcs are obviously winded as they approach the top of the pass. Pin keeps throwing her axe at the orcs with deadly accuracy, screaming in a dwarven language the entire time. You imagine its all swears and curses. Tilde shoots a few blasts of paralyzing energy at them, sending the unlucky few careening down the cliff face to their doom. The first orc gets to the stop and slowly stands, he utters a weak ‘waagh’ before you stab him in the chest and turn on your magical spear. You smell burnt flesh as he screams in agony while the electricity courses through him. He slumps over on your spear once you stop shocking him. You tear it out of him, shake yourself off, push the screams from your mind and get back into the fight.
    While orcs have the advantage in power and strength, you have training and smarts. The climb has winded the orcs and sapped them of their strength, easily letting you over power them. You block a weak blow with your shield before stabbing at your attacker. You stick the tip into his rib cage and fry him as well. He shrieks as you deliver a powerful jolt of electricity into him. If your life wasn’t in danger, it would almost be comical how they shake and scream before slumping over. Perhaps the lingering smell of charred death negates all chances of comedy. You block another blow, tear your spear out of your previous victim and stab it again into your new target. He shoves the spear tip away before going in again with his axe. You parry and use both hands to drive your spear through his neck. His blood splatters the spear, your armor and the grass. It hardly phases you at this point. 
    You turn and watch Pin swing a large hammer through the legs of an orc before bringing it down on his head. Arthur uses his magic to protect Pin and Tilde as they fight ferociously. Every so often he unleashes a small spell, a bright white light to incapacitate orcs. Tilde uses her familiar arm blades to stun orcs. You stick to what you had already been doing and stab at any stragglers you can. You stab into another orc, yank the spear out and stab it back in. He thankfully goes down after you apply another shock. He screams less, you imagine its because the crystal powering it is running out of power. You hear a bang deep in the woods before you. Looking up, you watch as a red flare lazily flies towards the cloudy sky. You tilt your head in confusion, “Curtis! Pin! Tilde!” Arthur shouts in a panic, “Get over here! Hurry!” He cries as he furiously flips through his magic spell book. You shield bash an orc and retreat towards Arthur. Pin and Tilde do the same as they disengage from their opponents. You all stand near the wizard and watch as he finishes his spell. You watch as a large white circle appears in the earth before a semi transparent dome forms over you all.
    “What the fuck is it, Arthur?” Pin growls, angry to be out of the bloodshed.
    “Brace yourself!” He shouts as he kneels down. You glance up at the sky and see a black orb flying towards your position. You hardly have the chance to brace before the projectile collides with the shield, detonating. The earth shakes below you as an explosion covers the shield. You’re thrown to the ground as your stomach churns and ears ring. You slowly get up, covered in dirt. You stare at the mangled greenskin corpses as your ears continue to ring uncomfortably. Your party members suffer the same as all but Arthur come to and stand with you. You stare at the trees that were all blasted in half and colored black.
    “What the hell was that?” You pant.
    “Huh?” Pin throws off her helmet, “Are you alright?”
    You nod, “Arthur! Arthur get up!” You kneel down and shake him.
    Tilde seems to be undamaged, “Alert. Additional combatants approaching from the west.”
    Pin puts her helmet back on, “Come on then,” She growls, “I’m fuckin’ ready,” You take a defensive pose over the collapsed arthur with Pin and Tilde on either side of you. You see a gaggle of people emerge from the woods, scimitars in hand. A menagerie of different monstrous races. A yellow, wart covered, twelve foot tall ogre in little more than a skirt and a red bandana carries a cannon over his shoulder. A few orcs, goblinoids and some other monsters you haven’t seen before wield the aforementioned scimitars and dressed in strange, striped shirts, loose pants and red bandanas on their heads. 
One creature pushes its way forwards and towards you. A seemingly human man in a tricorn hat and red coat. He has a peg leg and eyepatch. The most striking thing about his character is the gills on his neck and his left hand being a red, clawed hand. He has a smug toothy grin on his face as he reaches into a bag and pulls out two pieces of parchment, “Well, looks like we found two of ‘em, boys,” He laughs. The other monsters laugh too. They all stop at about the same time with just the ogre still chuckling. You glance at Pin and she glances back. You can’t see her face from behind her helmet, “Alright, where’s the third one? The rat. The Lady wants her alive... But you two, doesn’t matter if I bring you to her in a box or not. Tell me where she is and I’ll make your deaths fast,” He points at the ogre and makes a motion. The ogre nods and starts to giggle, “Come on, better hurry before he finishes. He gets angry when people don’t follow orders,” The ogre pours a bag of black powder into his handheld cannon.
    “Fuck you!” Pin growls. For once, you agree with her, “I hope you choke and die on your boyfriend’s cock tonight!” She shouts as the ogre puts a cannonball into the cannon and pack it down with his hand.
    The captain growls, “Alright, blow them the fuck up, Ger--” He stops as the ogre explodes, his cannon going off as he stares down the barrel. 



    Your eyebrows raise in shock as the ogre’s remains are strewn about the already body and blood filled area. Pin utters a chuckle, “Too bad your boyfriends too fuckin’ dead to spread your asshole tonight!” She starts to cackle.
    “I want that gods dammned gremlin dead! Right fucking now!” The captain screams at his monstrous cohorts. 
    You ready yourself as the crowd starts to charge. A wall of flame appears between you and your opponents as a disembodied cackle fills the air. You nearly have a heart attack as you watch a woman emerge from a tree near you. She wears a brown cloak adorned with multiple feathers, leaves and sticks. Her hair is a raven black with large deer antlers sticking out of the top of her head. She looks at you with wide, completely black eyes. A wild elf. Numerous ravens land on her as she kneels by Arthur and starts rubbing an odd lotion on his forehead, “W-what?” Is all you can stammer as your foes screech from being set ablaze.
    Three others come charging out of the woods behind you accompanied by the sounds of a song on the wind. The first is a man in light armor. He has a curled mustache and small pointed beard and long hair. He has an instrument in his hands, a wooden lute. He nods at you and strums his instrument. You feel a new burst of energy as a sense of calm washes over you, “It seems we are not too late!” He laughs.
    “Aye,” The woman that follows him nods. She has black, charred ram’s horns on the sides of her head with gold jewelery on them, curled crimson hair and a matching red dress. Her legs are like a baphomet’s, hairy crimson goat legs that end in black hooves. A fiery colored red bearded vulture sits on her shoulder, staring at you. She turns to you and grins, a worrying fire in her eyes, “Hello, dearie. Having fun?” She’s obviously old with a few wrinkles on her face and a sort of gravelly, aged voice. She cackles again and grips her gnarled black staff with a red crystal at the top and unleashes another ray of fire at the attackers as they finally start to get around the wall of fire. 
    The third person with them is Rose, “Curtis! Are you alright? Is Arthur alright?”
    “Oh, I’m fuckin’ fine too, thanks,” Pin says sarcastically before walking towards the combat.
    “The wizard will live. He has merely been knocked unconscious by that blast,” The wild elf mutters, “Rose, you will watch him. I must fight.”
    “I will, thank you,” She breathes a sigh of relief and turns to you, “I can’t believe Captain Red Claw and his gang of pirates is taking orders from her...”
    “Who?” You’re still really confused, but you quickly realise now is not the time to dwell on it. All you know, and need to know, is that there are people threatening you and your friends. Its you, Tilde, Pin and these three others against a band of pirates. You take hold of your spear and engage one of the pirates that's ganging up on Pin. Her armor deflects blows easily but their swords find purchase in the cracks of her armor. You throw yourself at the first pirate, stabbing him in the side. The bug bear shouts in pain as you force him to the ground. You use the electricity to stop his heart. A sword thrust from another monster bounces off your concealed mithril armor. You back off, leaving your spear behind. 
The old woman lobs a spear of fire at the one that attacked you, “Be more careful sweetie!” She instructs before uttering a deep, bestial growl and forming a flaming rapier in her hand to fight off some attackers. 
    A few goblins split off from the attack on Pin and rush you, “Come now! Show me some ferocity!” The man with the lute commands you. You hear a sound in your ears and mind that afflicts your soul, harsh chords and dissonant whispers. You feel strange. Very angry. You lose control as a bestial blood lust takes hold of you. You block with your shield and grab the first goblin by the throat. It desperately claws at your hand trying to get free. You bring your arm back as it pleads for life and toss him down the steep valley walls to his death. The second goblin fails to pierce your armor with its makeshift spear. You kick him over, remove the shield from your arm and bring it down on the poor little goblins skull, smashing it with your newfound inhuman strength. You kick the third and final goblin over as it draws near. You draw the purple dagger and stab it into his exposed chest multiple times. You watch it writhe and moan in pain with some kind of sick satisfaction. Strangely the wounds that the dagger makes draw some kind of purple vapor from the victim. The goblin dies shortly from its wounds. You pant as the feeling subsides, “Yes! Wonderful!” The man laughs as he plays the same song for Pin. She lets out a war cry and starts slamming her hammer with a newfound energy. 
    You struggle to shake the horrible feeling that the rage gave you as two orcs charge you. Tilde, who has been fighting most that draw near you, intercepts one but the other slips by. A flock of ravens swarms him, pecking at his flesh and eyes as he screams in pain. The elven woman gracefully wanders towards you. Its difficult to tell what emotions she feels as she hardly expresses anything on her perpetually neutral face. Her completely black eyes struggle to express emotions as well, “Are you hurt?” She asks as she takes hold of your arm. You’re not sure if she’s really concerned or its some kind of obligation. You hadn’t even realised that the goblin you threw had stabbed you in the arm. The elven woman spits in the wound and rubs some mixture of natural compounds in it.
    “Just shaken,” You grunt. 
    “Retreat if you must. We can handle things here,” She wanders away as her crows finish their work on the orc. Flesh is stripped from bone and smaller bones have been strewn across the grass.
    You look around. Most of the pirates have been routed or slain at this point. The few that live are either about to retreat or in the process of being slain by one of the other capable combatants. You retrieve your shield and spear quickly and start to fall back. You can see the captain amongst the inferno, angry scowl on his face. He shakes his head and turns heel, walking away from the fighting. His surviving crew follows their captain back into the woods. The three people that joined you in the fight and Pin all cheer as the last of the pirates exit the fight. You weakly wander over to Rose and fall to one knee, completely winded. She shies away from you, “I-- I didn’t know you had that in you.”
 You shake your head as a shudder courses through you, “I don’t.”
    Rose frowns at you but the frown leaves her face as Arthur begins to stir. He groans as you and Rose help him sit up, “My head,” He mutters as he shakes himself. 
    “Take it slow, Arthur,” Rose pleads.
    “I will, I will,” He grunts. His legs buckle and shake as he tries to stand, “What happened? Did--”
    “Arthur!” The old woman sings as she struts towards the wizard, arms outstretched.
    “N-Nambra!?” Arthur exclaims right before the woman forces him into a hug.
    “It has been years, Mister Maximillion! My! How old you have gotten, dear!” She releases him from the hug but grabs his shoulders.
    The wizard stammers and blushes, “I-It ha-has,” He nervously swallows. 
    “I had no idea I would be aiding your little rag tag group. If I had, I would have worn something a tad nicer,” She pouts, “Enough about that. We should get going to Geno-Town, hm?” She peers down the cliff face, two more people have joined Joan, Eric and Rael; a woman in armor and a man in Other Worldly clothes, “We will join you in a few hundred feet when the slope gets less steep!” They nod and start west towards Geno-Town, “Come, come, all of you.”
    “It is nice to see you again, Miss Nambra,” Rose smiles at the old woman.
    “Oh, Rose. Sweet Rose,” She sighs as you all start walking west, “Sweeter than the flower even. You have gotten so much older! You have even become a full blown adventurer!”
    “I have been working very hard on it.”
    “I know you have sweetie. Hello, Tilde,” She greets the automaton plainly.
    “Greetings,” She replies just as simply.
    “Are you damaged, Tilde?” You ask as you stop her, examining the few cuts and abrasions on her synthetic skin.
    “Negative. Damages are minimal and all systems are nominal. All damage is merely aesthetic and can easily be repaired by Arthur’s magic.”
    You sigh with relief, “Good,” You pick at the new holes in your coat and frown.
    “Hey!” Pin beams at you, “That electric spear of yours worked pretty good!”
    “Y-yeah it did,” You smile back warily.
    “Who are these two? Your friends, Arthur?” Nambra asks as she gestures towards you and Pin.
    “I could ask you the same question,” Arthur retorts, finally regaining some semblance of composure.
    “Just some business associates. You know how the full time adventurer gig goes,” She shrugs, “No friends. Just co-workers. They are good enough people, I suppose,” She whispers. The elf and man are walking far ahead of your group, chatting quietly.
    “Well, I would consider Curtis my friend. Pin is new to the group,” Arthur explains. You both take off your helmets. You still feel a little shaken from the rage that came out of you during that fight.
    “Nice to meet ya,” Pin says curtly and reserved.
    “Hey,” You offer a small smile.
    Nambra smiles back, “Where are you from, dearie? Your aether... It tastes quite strange.”
    You fall back to the usual lie, “Pearlavah. I’m a bit far from home, I know.”
    She tilts her head at you, staring blankly. She slowly smiles slyly, “I think you are much further away from home than you admit. You have the same stench or taste as Leland on what little aether you have,” You don’t have a chance to ask what she means by that, “What about you Pin? I don’t see many non-dwarves wielding dwarven weapons and armor.”
    “I grew up in a dwarven hold,” Pin explains simply, “Raised by three dwarven brothers, learned their crafts.”
    “Interesting. Not like them to take in an outsider,” Nambra notes. 
    “Don’t think too hard about it,” Pin shrugs. 
    “Over here! There’s a trail down!” The man with an instrument waves from a ways ahead. 
    Your group hurries to catch up, Nambra talking Arthur’s ear off the entire time. You descend the trail down to the main road now littered with orc and wolf bodies, “God, what a mess,” You grunt.
    “Nature will reclaim them,” Eric tells you, the wild elf nods in agreement.
    “Oh! The whole gang is here!” Nambra exclaims, “Lady Jeanne d’Orwell, it is wonderful to finally see another noble woman.”
    Joan cringes slightly at the mention of her full name but a little smile spreads across her lips, “Lady Nambra Faith,” She greets her by name as well, “I concur, these lands can be quite savage. Where have you been these last ten years?”
    “Oh, traveling all over. Amassing titles, lands and gold as I help those in need,” She shrugs, “Is this one with you too?” She gestures to Eric. He gives a small awkward wave before quickly moving over to where you, Pin, Tilde and Rose all mill about together awkwardly.
    “Yes. Eric has been working with us for a few years now.”
    “Wonderful. It is a pleasure to meet you, young man. And--” 
    “Nambra,” The armored woman growls, “I know you’re happy to see them. But we should get going before they regroup,” You get a closer look at her as she takes her helmet off. Blue eyes and light brown hair. Her generic armor is a lot like Rael’s minus the purple tabard. Most shockingly, she seems to just be a normal human woman.
    “Of course, my apologies,” She composes herself, “Let us hurry. I can talk while on the move.”
    “Oh, we know,” The man with the lute chuckles.
    You take a look at the last of this group’s team as almost everyone else exchanges thanks and somewhat pleasant greetings. Pin, Rose and Tilde are still near you. He is a man with blonde hair and glasses about thirty years of age. He’s a little bit shorter than you and dressed completely in Other Worldly clothes. A puffy jacket, a tactical vest with magazines and clips in it, jeans and steel toed boots. He has a short sword on one of his hips and on the other is a gun holster with a Glock in it. Strapped to his back is a rifle. Something pops into your mind, a feeling. Something in your gut whispers into your ear. This man was from the Other Side as well, “Hey. A-are you--” You start to speak without thinking.
He grunts at you angrily interrupting, “Just stay out of my way, kid,” He growls with hostility in his voice. He gives you a leer before turning and walking west. You get a better look at the rifle, wooden body, bolt action, looks like it takes clips rather than magazines. A Mosin Nagant. Rose and Pin both glare into his back.
    “Rael, dearie, how come you have not said hello yet?” Nambra asks the cleric in a sweet tone. Nambra walks with your team while the other four step away, walking further down the path.
    “Hello, Fire Brand,” Rael grunts.
    “Oh, using my old title, hm? I do not have that kind of fire in me anymore,” She admits, “Or is that your old beliefs talking? I was alive when the Inquisition was cracking the skulls of my fellow sorcerers.”
    “The mace and tabard are merely a family heirlooms,” Rael reminds her, “I thought you liked that title?”
    “I do! But I fear you see me as little more than a fire obsessed satyros.”
    “Of course not. I see you as little more than an old, wine obsessed satyros,” Rael chuckles at his own joke. 
    Nambra laughs right back, “How I missed seeing you lot,” Nambra sighs with a smile.
    “Hey, Nambra?” You call out quietly to the woman.
    “Hm? What is it, dearie?” She asks you.
    “That man, the blonde one. You mentioned someone named Leland. Is that him? Is he an Other Sider?”
    “He is, dearie. The man flaunts it constantly too as if it makes him better than the rest of us. Oh, we are falling behind, come along, dearies!”


    You make it to Geno-Town after a few more hours. The coastal town is flanked by two cliffs, one has a large windmill and an attached building. Pin and Rael both stare at it periodically as you walk through town. The others weren't lying to you, this town is full of traders. Every area of the main street is loaded with stalls. Pretty much anything you could want to buy, you can find here, “What is it your team is doing here, Arthur?” Nambra asks as you all push through the streets. They teem with human men and women, mamano and even more civilised monsters. Each race sells and buys from various stalls.
    “Headed to the old Shalandra. We have a delivery for someone,” He explains.
    “Wonderful. My group, those other four and I are actually waiting for a very important item. We are leaving tomorrow for the other side of the continent by boat. What will you do next?”
    “We are looking into a character that has cropped up recently. Some woman commanding the monsters of the lands and calling herself the Matriarch. We just fought her forces back in that pass.”
    “I wish you luck,” Nambra bows as you all reach the pier where the Shalandra is docked. It is a large wooden boat with streamers nailed to the side making it look festive, “I must leave you. I need to prepare with my team,” Your team, except for you, Tilde and Arthur files into the massive sailless boat. “A-and Arthur?” 
    “Hm?”
    “Would it kill you to keep in touch!?” She exclaims as a bit of anger washes over her. Her arms lash out and pull Arthur into another hug, “I thought you had died or you had begun to hate me!” You giggle as Arthur struggles to maintain his composure, “And take this. Something to remember me by,” She puts an old looking bottle of red wine in his hands.
    “Thank you. I-I will do better. I promise. Goodbye for now, Nambra,” Arthur smiles at her.
    She turns to you, “You handle yourself well in a fight. Better than Leland does,” She chuckles at you, “He has to rely on those loud ranged weapons from your world,” She shudders, “It feels unnatural. Anyways, I am sorry he was so rude to you,” She sighs, “I wish more adventurers were like Arthur or Joan. Most are like Leland or Sam. The womanly knight that snapped at me. Cold and somewhat mean,” She shakes herself, “Take care of yourself, Curtis. I wish I had the chance to speak to you more. I feel like you have a story to tell.”
    “I’ll be careful. I’ve got Tilde to keep me safe,” You smile, “Isn’t that right.”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde nods as her vocal components whirr to life, “I have done my best to keep Curtis Alive.”
    “Nambra! Hurry up!” The female knight shouts at the old sorceress.
    “GIVE ME A MINUTE!” She screeches back as her emotions suddenly shift. She puffs and regains herself, “Good luck out there, Curtis.”
    She gives you a smile and saunters away towards her annoyed party. You make your way up the wide boarding ramp and into the boat with Arthur and Tilde. The middle floor had been rearranged into the main room of a sprawling tavern. A painting behind the bar depicts a brown haired gnome with a wide smile, beard and big leather hat sitting side by side with an elf with black skin, long white hair and red eyes. She wears a set of dark colored robes and red earrings. Geno and Shalandra. Your party is already seated at a large booth table. There are very few others in the tavern right now. Its a little after noon right now. You slide in next to Eric. Your party looks rather cheerful, which puts you in high spirits as well.
    “Are you gonna crack that open!?” Pin badgers Artrhur, barely holding herself back from just taking the bottle out of his hands. She’s almost drooling over it.
    “Let us save it for the road, Pin,” Arthur chuckles as he slides it into his pack. Pin starts to pout.
    “That fight went very well,” Joan shrugs as she changes the subject, “No one almost died this time. I believe we are improving. But we should speak of how those pirates were working for the Matriarch.”
    “What of it?” Rael grunts, “We will dispatch them the same as the rest. If Captain Red Claw wishes to face us next time, I will fight him in human form or wereshark form.”
    “W-wereshark? Like a werewolf?” You ask quietly.
    “Lycanthropy of the aquatic variety,” Arthur tells you, “Captain Red Claw is one of the very few remaining weresharks. They cannot make more of their kind like other lycans, biting and clawing, I mean. They only create more through normal reproduction. By that I mean you must be born with it.”
    “Ah,” You nod. 
    A chill runs down your spine as you hear something dragging across the wooden floor towards your table. A woman with an emerald colored snake body below her waist strides up to the table. You can’t see any part of her face except for her black painted lips. Her eyes glow red underneath the shade of her hood and something writhes and hisses atop her head, “When doesss the frog croak in the winter chill?” She hisses cryptically in a sweet sounding voice.
    “Never, for it is long since dead,” Arthur replies just as cryptically and reaches into his bag. He produces a small box and puts it in the woman’s hands. The back of them are covered in emerald scales.
    “Good...” She cracks it open and nods, “I will see that thisss isss put in the right handsss,” She speaks slowly and carefully as if needing to find specific words in her head, “Your reward,” She puts a hefty bag jingling with coins into Arthur’s hands.
    “Thank you. Tell me, is Nambra Faith on the team to escort that further?”
    The snake woman thinks and hesitates, “Yesss. She isss. Do you think she should not be?”
    “No, it is fine. I was just curious. If you require our services again, you know how to contact us,” She gives a slight bow before slithering away, “I imagine that group of five that aided us will be the ones transporting it from here.”
    Arthur slides the bag across the table to Eric, “I’ll divide it up tonight. Curtis, you probably need a bit of gold for today. Let me get you some.”
    “Rael!? Is that you?” A voice cries as they approach your table. A small old woman, a gnome, stares right at the scarred cleric.
    “Hello, Laura. Sorry I have not visited in some time,” Rael smiles at her.
    “It is alright, child,” Her eyes scan the party, “Is that her? Your daughter?” She gestures at Rose.
    “Aye. Rose, say hello to one of your... Relatives,” Rael explains sheepishly. 
    “What!?” Rose looks shocked, “How?” You and Eric look confused as well. It seems like the rest of the party has been through this before or does not care to question it.
    “Has this child not heard the tales of our ancestors? Geno and Xenos Von Diaus?” Laura chuckles, “The two fought side by side on numerous occasions and aided each other whenever they could. It is a shame that Xenos vanished before the Cataclysm. He could have done much good in those battles.”
    “Aye, he could have,” Rael sighs, “Rose, we are honorary family in the Geno household. Those few that worked so closely with Geno were awarded it.”
    “The Geno household?” Eric asks.
    “The last names of Geno and Shalandra’s descendants is Geno. Both of them forsook their family names and thus had none to pass down. Being a gnome and dark elf of all races the two could not breed, unfortunately. They settled on adopting gnomish, dark elven and human children that needed new families. Those three groups of descendants, while friendly with each other, make up the three governing houses of this city,” Laura explains, “Anywho. Can I get you all anything? You all must be exhausted from the long walk from Goldcrest.”
    “Hey,” Pin pipes up, “Since Rael is family and all, and I’m friends with Rael, can we check out... Uh... Geno’s workshop? I’m an artificer and I feel like I need to pay my respects.”
    Laura thinks for a moment and shrugs, “I don’t see why not. No one has gotten in there since we laid the couple to rest there. No one knows the password anymore, so its not like you can get in.”
    Pin clenches her fits excitedly, “Yes! Thank you! Can I just get some mead and chicken breast?” She adds quickly.
    “Same here,” Eric nods.
    Rael clears his throat, “May I get some of that world class steak and some wine?”
    “World class you say? I suppose I will have to order the same,” Arthur smiles.
    “C-can I have the same too?” Rose inquires nervously, “Minus the wine.”
    “I’ll have the same as Rose,” You shrug.
    “A hearty salad for me, please,” Joan asks.
    Laura nods her head, “Coming right up. The steak will take a bit of time, but I will have the chicken and salads out soon. The drinks before that of course,” The gnome leaves your group to talk amongst each other.
    “What is everyone doing after we eat?” Eric asks as he slides you a small sack of coins, “Jobs done and we’re no closer to finding the Matriarch.”
    “Well, I gotta go to that fuckin’ workshop,” Pin grins, “I gotta take Rael with me and Curtis should come too.”
    “I’d like to go too. Maybe learn a bit more about my father’s ancestors. Since he’s never talked about them before,” Rose’s scowl shows how upset she is at her father. She doesn’t look nearly as cute with a look like that. Rael frowns, guilt wracking him.
    “You should all calm down,” Joan smiles, “We are in the biggest merchant town on this side of the continent, yes. But we just finished a long trek and should take a day to rest.”
    “A lot of interesting things can be bought here,” Arthur grins.
    “I am excited to go to a bathhouse,” Joan sighs dreamily, “I also need some supplies.”
    “We all do,” Eric nods, “I’ll pick some stuff up with group funds and get us a few rooms for... Two nights.”
    “Anything you want to do, Curtis?” Arthur asks, “Other than shopping, the baths, Geno’s lab, and perhaps the libraries and government houses if you wish to know more about the town and Geno himself.”
    “We could go look at cool fuckin’ inventions!” Pin suggests excitedly.

PT34

    “I’d like to go and see the shops today,” You announce, “And that bath house sounds nice. Of course I’m down to go to that workshop as well.”
     “Wonderful,” Arthur smiles.
    “We can go there tomorrow,” Rael nods, “I need time to rest. Took a bad blow to the skull during that fight,” He shakes himself, “And a bath sounds amazing,” Pin looks a little disappointed but cheers right back up as she gets a big flagon of ale put before her. 
    Everyone sips on their drinks as small conversations start to crop up. Rose is silent as she sits across from you. You frown, not knowing how to cheer her up. You push it from your mind for now and focus on something that weighs more heavily in your mind, “Arthur?”
    “Mhm?” He puts down his glass of wine.
    “I know you were out during that fight, but I’m sure you know something at least. That man, with the mustache and lute, he played a song during that fight and I lost control of myself. Any idea what the hell that was?”
    Arthur only takes a moment to ponder before he nods at you, “Without having heard the song or felt its effects, I can only assume it was some form of bloodlust spell or enrage. Could have been both. What did you do under its effects?”
    You frown, hesitant to admit your deeds, “Well, I had been disarmed beforehand so I only had my shield and dagger. The first goblin was easily blocked and I... Threw him down the cliff.”
    “Ah, that is how that happened,” Joan chuckles darkly, “Screamed all the way down. Do not look so glum. They would have done the same to you given the chance.”
    “I-I know, I just feel like it was too brutal.” 
    “Too brutal? They would hang you by your legs and slowly gut you if given the chance. FOR FUN,” Joan reminds you somewhat angrily.
    You nod somberly, “Y-yeah. I crushed the skull of the second goblin with my shield and I think I just stabbed the third with that magic dagger,” Joan gives you a little nod of approval.
    “What does it sound like to you, Rael?” Arthur asks.
    The cleric looks up from his drink slowly, “Hm? Oh, I would assume it was enrage. Bloodlust might have turned him on his friends.”
    “Agreed,” The wizard nods, “As for what it did, it merely draws out an incredibly angry emotion from deep within you. You can be the most mild mannered and kind person and become a murderous, bloodthirsty monster once a bard’s song reaches your ears. They are masters of manipulation and emotions. Do not feel bad about how you lost control and what you did, you had no say in the matter.”
    You nod, “Thanks,” Rose gives you a concerned look as a dreadful expression is painted across your face. You poke at the smooth wood of the table as you listen to the conversations around you. Tilde puts a firm, reassuring hand on your shoulder momentarily before putting both hands behind her back as she stands behind you. 

    You sit on the edge of the bed you’ll be staying in for a few days as you feel the way the boat rocks gently with the waves lapping at its side. Your group got four rooms, two to each. You basically get your own room as Tilde is the second person in your room. She sits next to you, staring expectantly with her synthetic eyes. The rest of your team has already split off to do their own things for the rest of the day leaving you alone with your ever faithful robotic companion. You sigh, the full feeling from your lunch of steak, potatoes and fruit juices sloshes in your stomach with the rhythm of the boat almost making you feel sick. The worst part is, you feel like you could have eaten a second plate of that delectable meal. Even now, you salivate just at the thought of eating dinner here tonight. You wonder to yourself what you’ll have tonight, “Query: are you well? You are leaking from the mouth.”
    You swiftly wipe your chin with the back of your hand, “Y-yeah I’m fine. Just hungry.”
    “Exclamation: are you really? You ate as much food required for a day of traveling in one meal. Correction: by my estimate, of course.”
    You smile, “When you’ve been eating nothing but stale, hard bread and jerky-- even if jerky is good, and dried fruit, it makes you hungry for almost anything else. And that steak... I wish you could taste, Tilde. It was amazing.” 
    She frowns, “Affirmative. I wish I could taste as well,” She looks a little sad as she glances at the floor.
    “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
    She shakes herself, “Comment: it is nothing. Do not feel bad. Query: are you well enough to go into town?”
    You nod, “You’re pretty anxious to go,” You tease, “But I am ready,” You take a close look at the automaton, “You’re looking kinda dirty, Tilde. Good thing we’re going to that bath tonight.”
    “D-dirty?” She whines, looking like she’s going to cry.
    “No, no, no,” You quickly try to comfort her, “Y-you just got some dirt on you from that fight. I’ll clean you up tonight, alright?”
    She immediately cheers up, “Affirmative. I will hold you to it. Query: shall we be off?”
    “Yeah, lets go,” You grunt as you stand, still feeling bloated. You make your way out of the tavern and onto the docks past the fishers that are just coming in from fishing. You note the machinery they have strapped to the sides of their boats. Chains wind around winches attached to big nets. Fisher men and women of all races shout at each other as they offload massive barrels of fish. You decide to get some kind of fish tonight for dinner despite the strong smell. You make it to the main street. Merchants are wandering the streets and stalls buying and selling their wares to anyone who will give them the time of day. You know what you’re looking for, Other Worldly goods. You make your way through multiple stalls, searching for interesting or strange things. You do find a few rounds for your gun in your search, four to be exact. You find very little items you would consider useful and for a decent price. There is a merchant only taking gold for outrageously priced items that could be considered useful. A metal water bottle in good condition for thousands, an Xbox controller for hundreds, a little book of stickers depicting cats for an outrageous price and a set of shoddy silverware for hundreds of thousands. He sort of scoffs at you and says he will take Tilde in trade. You scoff back and walk away. Elsewhere you find another, larger metal insulated water bottle and buy it for a reasonable price, a box of dry macaroni and cheese, a bag of cheddar and sour cream chips and a box of cookies of unknown quality. You frown, the amount of junk that these Other Worldly traders collect is disheartening, or things that you could never take with you like a broken microwave. 
    You walk into the center of town and spot a sparse crowd. A music plays through the air, carried by the light breeze. Tilde stares into the crowd with a bewildered look, “Is something wrong?” You ask as you shove things into your bag.
    “Negative,” She says without looking at you, “May we get closer?”
    “Of course.”
    Tilde grabs your wrist and drags you over to the crowd. You can hear the music better now. A collection of violins and bassey string instruments play as a harpy in a white dress sings about a lost lover. A man with strangely pale skin and a woman with similarly pale skin, red eyes and ghostly spectral hands over her real hands dance together. They wear matching dark purple outfits. The song ends and the crowd politefully claps and throws a few coins into a hat that a smaller harpy walks around and shakes at the crowd. You put a coin in the hat, “Madam Treulone’s Song of Tragedy and Dance Volume Four,” Tilde mutters.
    “Huh?”
    “It is a song about an undead who loses her lover and is forced to dance with his corpse for eternity as she slowly goes mad,” Her voice takes on a strange, loving and oddly regal tone as she speaks, “In volume five her love brings her lover back. It is theorized that Madam Treulone only made the song because the first four were so depressing. It is a lovely series of songs. I personally prefer the second song in the series. I honestly have not heard them for some time. Should we ask the bards to play through the songs for us as we dance tonight, Sir Peterson?”
    “Tilde, what are you talking about?”
    She looks at you, confused, “Sir, who is Tilde?” Quickly, a sly, understanding smile spreads across her synthetic lips, “Are you trying to get out of practicing your dancing? Have you been shirking your responsibilities?” 
    You just stare at her, dumbfounded. You blink, “W-who are you?” You ask, “What is your name?”
    She scoffs, putting the back of her hand to her chin and uttering a strange, smug laugh, “Sir, surely you have not forgotten? My name is--” She stops, her motors stopping and freezing as every source of power in her is directed towards her thinking capabilities. She stands still, unmoving as her internal systems whirr loudly, “My name is...” The regal tone slowly leaves her voice, “My name is...” Her tone is now completely back to her pleasant robotic voice, “My name is...” She looks at you as tears roll down her face, “Curtis? What is my name?” She begs you desperately.

PT35

    You look around, the band has started to play another song and the crowd has pushed past the two of you. Tilde stares at you with tears streaming from her eyes. You put your hand on her face and dry her tears with the back of your hand, “Your name is Tilde.”    She clutches your hand desperately and pushes her face deeper into your palm as her bottom lip quivers, “Is that who I really am? I cannot remember who I am.”
    “You’re Tilde,” You reiterate firmly. You take her by the hand, ready to lead her away from the crowd as the two of you start to draw attention.
    Tilde struggles to move, putting an even bigger frown on her face, “C-Curtis? I-I cannot move. Power is being completely routed to my speech and intelligence.”
    You nod, “I’ll carry you. Hop on my back,” You offer your back to her. She hugs around your neck and slowly folds her legs around your waist. You put your arms under her legs and begin the trek back to the old Shalandra. 
Tilde nuzzles up against you, “Thank you...” She’s surprisingly light. You figure it might be because of the plastic like substance that makes up her tough outer shell rather than being made completely of metal. Even then, you feel her heft and just pray you can make it back to the boat.
“Do... You wanna talk about that song some more? You said some interesting facts and mentioned a name,” You hope that making her talk about something will calm her.
“The song?” She pauses, sniffling quietly before she hums a few bars of it, “Madam-- Madam Treulone’s Song of--” Her grip tightens and her fingers dig into your skin, “No, no, nononono,” She starts to simulate ragged breathing as she gets increasingly upset, “I... I do not want to remember!” She growls into your ear.
    You have a worried look on your face as you draw even more attention than you had before. Luckily its just the surprising amount of mamano women giving you smiles as you carry Tilde. You must look like a really cute couple, “Okay, okay,” You stop yourself from telling her to calm down, “Let’s talk about something else.”
    “You will not be like him, will you?” Tilde asks, ignoring your suggestion, “That horrible, disgusting man... I hate him.”
    “I never would have thought you have the capacity to hate,” You frown worryingly.
    “He deserves every bit of contempt I feel for him. Do not be like him, please,” She begs. You grunt as you climb the steep bridge into the ship. You’re thankful the docks are less busy at this time.
    “I won’t be like him, Tilde.” 
    “Thank you... Thank you...” She whispers as you approach the table that most of your friends sit at. Rael and Rose are both absent. 
    Everyone stares at you with concerned looks as you pant from exhaustion, “Hi,” You grunt. You try to put Tilde down but the crying automaton clings to you, “Tilde, you’re safe here.”
    “Come on,” Pin hops up with a sigh, “Bring her to your room, chief. Let’s take a look at her,” You nod silently and carry the automaton up another flight of stairs as you start to feel like you’re going to collapse. Pin fishes the key out of your pocket and opens it for you. You stumble to the large bed and sit on the edge, Tilde still clinging to you, “What happened?” Pin asks as she carefully walks towards you. She has a set of tools in her hands.
    “We were shopping and there was a band... And she heard this song,” You explain, panting and trying to pry Tilde’s limbs from you, “Tilde, let go, please,” You gently plead, her powerful robotic limbs slowly crushing you.
    “What? Is that it?” Pin gives you a skeptical look.
    “Well, no she was going on about something and--” You grunt and Tilde grabs you tighter.
    “And!?”
    “Tilde, you’re gonna crush me,” You whine as you continue to try to escape her grasp so you can properly hold her. Her limbs immediately release you and you fall to the floor, choking and coughing. Pin doesn’t help as you shakily climb to your feet and turn to face the robot. 
    “So is she fucking damaged or what?”
    “I am broken,” Tilde whispers as she stares at her hands, “I am horrible.”
    “Don’t say that,” You sit back down with her.
    Pin impatiently groans, “What happened?” 
    “She seemed to remember her past and sort of freaked out when I asked for her name,” The automaton pulls away from you as you reach out a hand.
    “Thats fuckin’ weird,” Pin scratches her head. 
    “Tilde,” You call out to her as you grab her hand, “Please, talk to me,” You feel a little bit of your heart shatter as she yanks herself away from you.
“I don’t want to hurt you again,” She mumbles sadly.
    “I’m fine!” You desperately assure her, “I’m worried about you, come here,” You open up your arms for her. 
    Slowly, and with tears still on her face, she pushes herself against you. You wrap one arm around her shoulders and put your other hand on top of her head. You run your fingers through her hair and gently whisper to her. Pin stares at you longingly both, “I-I’m gonna go. Do you two need anything?”
    “Can you bring her a jug of water, please?” You ask, “I’m sure she’s close to running out.”
    “Yeah. You got it,” Pin sighs quietly as she leaves the room. 
    You lie Tilde down on the bed with her head in your lap. She’s silent as you run your fingers through her synthetic hair, “Tilde?” You gently say her name. She grips one of your hands tightly, “Are you alright?”
    She nods slowly, “Statement: I am fine now. Thank you. Your touch and your warmth is strangely calming. Query: What happened to me?”
    You breathe a sigh of relief, “I don’t know. I don’t have a clue,” You laugh a bit, “I’m just glad you’re okay. If you ever need me, just come talk to me. I’ll always be here for you.”
    “Thank you,” She gives your hand a tight squeeze. 
    There's a light knock on the door before its slowly opened. Rose pokes her head in, “How are you two doing?” She asks quietly.
    “We’re doing okay now. I hope,” You smile at her.
    She walks in, jug in hand, “Poor girl,” She mutters as she puts the jug on the bedside table before sitting on the bed next to you. She pats Tilde gently before turning to you, “I’m sorry I wasn’t around to help you both,” She seems genuinely upset over it.
    “Hey, its fine. I specifically went out with just the two of us.”
    “Demand: Curtis, you should go eat,” Tilde tells you, “I will be fine. I require more time to rest. Humor: unlike you, I am not required to consume nutrients to regain my strength,” She smiles at you.
    “I-I can’t just leave you here,” You wipe the few remaining tears from her face, “Especially not alone.”
    “Comfort: if I require you, I will come find you. Request: please come collect me before you leave for the baths.”
    “Bu-But--”
    “Curtis,” Rose says your name firmly, “Come on. The best thing we can do is give her time to rest. She’ll be fine. You look like you’re about to pass out from exhaustion too!” She laughs.
    You look at her and frown then back at Tilde’s smiling face. You sigh quietly, “Fine. I’ll be back for you,” Tilde moves her head off your lap and loosens her grip on your hand. You give her one last gentle pat on the head before letting Rose drag you from the room.
    You close the door and lock it, still frowning, “She’s so lucky to have you,” Rose teases you.
    “If you say so,” You grimace, “I just wish I could do more for her.”
    “Focus more on what you are doing, rather than what you aren’t doing, Curtis,” She gives you a little smile, “Pick up anything good today?”
    “I picked up some food we can share sometime, since you split those Cokes with me and all.”
    “Oh, neat! I couldn’t find more Coke, but I did find these,” She flashes two bottles at you, a Dr. Pepper and a Sprite.
    You both take your seats at the table next to each other. The mood is a bit more somber than usual. Everyone looks at you expectantly, silently demanding that you tell them what happened. You settle in, “I need a drink,” You grumble jokingly.
    “Oh my-- Just spill it!” Pin growls impatiently.
    “Okay, okay...”
    “Is she alright?” Joan asks.
    “Yes, I believe that is what we all-- most of us want to know,” Arthur corrects himself as he glances at Pin.
    “She’s fine. Just resting. I always forget that she actually has a power source. Well, we were in the markets. She heard a song that I think activated some deep memory within her. She started acting like a different person,” You scratch your chin.
    “Doesn’t she already do that sometimes?” Rose asks, “She stops talking like...” She mimics Tilde’s voice pretty well, “Comment: Curtis, you sure eat a whole lot. Or, question: Pin, why are you so small?”
    “Fuck you!” Pin growls making Rose laugh at her.
    “Well, yeah. Even when she does that, she still sounds like her robotic self. But with this, she sounded completely human. It was mildly eerie, to be honest.”
    “What song was it?” Arthur asks with a deep interest. 
    “Madam... Something’s Song of Death and Dance Volume Four?” You guess.
    “Madam Treulone’s Song of Tragedy and Dance Volume Four,” Rael corrects you. To answer the confused glances he hurriedly adds, “My wife enjoys that song. I do not have the rhythm for dancing so...” He shakes his head, “It is irrelevant.”
    “That is an ancient song,” Arthur muses, “That makes sense that she knows it for she is ancient as well. Perhaps the theory of Tilde being built for some specific purpose is true. Did she say anything else?”
    You nod, “She talked about the history of the song, said some other version of it was her favorite and that the fifth volume sucked or something,” You scratch your head in confusion, “Then, she called me Sir Peterson after asking me to dance. I was obviously confused and she acted like she didn’t know who Tilde was. I asked her for her name and she broke down after not being able to remember it and ran herself almost completely out of power. She started begging me to tell her who she is.”
    “Perhaps she was built to be a dancer,” Joan suggests, “She moves with a lot of grace during combat.”
    “Could be,” Pin nods, “What's strange is how unlike all the other model threes I’ve read about she is. I doubt she has many standard parts. Maybe we can draw more memories out of her by playing more songs.”
    “And cause her this much distress again!? None of us can even play an instrument!” Rose growls.
    “Relax, she’s a machine. She can’t REALLY feel.”
    “Would you do it to me if I had the same reaction to that song? Or Curtis? Or even Joan?”
    Pin frowns back, “W-well, I mean--”
    “Stop it, both of ya,” Eric stops their argument before it gets more heated, “Continue, Curtis.”
    You nod and take another deep breath, “Well, I told her her name a few times to reassure her. Then I carried her back here. I asked her again about the song, as carefully as I could, and she refused to speak more about it. She kept muttering about how she hates him.”    
    “Hates who? Not ya I hope,” Eric frowns.
    “Tilde can hate?” Rose shakes her head in disbelief.
    “I would assume she is referring to that man you mentioned, Sir Peterson, I think,” Arthur shrugs, “Any other details?”
    “She just cried a lot, really,” You frown, “She’s doing a lot better now, I think.”
    “That is good to hear, at least,” The wizard nods, “You look like you’re about to faint.”
    “I am amazed that the scrawny boy I met so long ago managed to carry Tilde so far to safety,” Joan gives you a grin, “But I am impressed you did.”
    “Aye,” Rael nods, “You have grown in strength. No longer the terrified babe you once were.” 
    “T-thanks,” You chuckle quietly, a bit embarrassed to have so much attention on you.
    “Good afternoon, dears,” Laura announces her presence after sneaking up to the table, “Now that everyone is here, are you ready to order?”


    You completely gorge yourself again. You feel reinvigorated. Your party slowly starts to move, somewhat eager to get going to the bath house, “Hey, Chief,” Pin grunts at you before downing the last of her booze, “When you get to the bath house, just tell them you’re looking for Pin.”
    “Oh, yeah, sure,” You nod, still not really sure what you’re doing.
    “Its the mamano run one on the northside of town. Don’t fuckin’ forget.”
    “I won’t!” You hop up and hurry to get Tilde. She is sitting on the edge of the bed and staring out the window at the dark blue sky. The sun had set maybe ten minute ago and the last rays of it’s light are still streaming through the sky. The stars will be out soon, “You alright?”
    “Affirmative,” Tilde nods at you as if nothing had happened earlier today.
    “Good,” You somewhat awkwardly pat her on the head. It makes her smile at least.
    “Humor: are you well? Did you eat too much?”
    “I watched how much I ate, Tilde. Come on, let's head to the bath house.”
    “As you wish. Query: will you lead me?” She offers you her hand. You nod and quickly take hold of her hand. She smiles at you and lets you lead her out of the boat and into the streets. Geno-Town is much less busy at night. All the shops have shut down and most people have either returned to their homes or gone to the bars. A few people roam the streets either playing music or taking late night walks with their lovers.
    You find the building, the bath house. It is an opalescent, lavish building made of marble and various kinds of precious stones. You walk up the steps between the two multi colored statues of mermaids and step into the large steamy building. The inside has cold tiled white floors and stone walls. The ceiling has vents to suck up the hot steam. Those walls hold sconces that are lit up with magical multi colored flames and paintings depicting mermaids and other water faring mamano, “Hello!” A cheerful woman greets you.
    You turn to face her with a smile that falls off your face sort of quickly as her massive nude breasts stare at you, “H-hi,” You greet back nervously. The woman seems to be some kind of cow woman judging by her hoofed feet and hairy black and white legs. She wears naught more than a sheer skirt around her waist.
    “Are you here to bathe? Do you require a bathing partner?” She asks, still smiling. The smile turns a little sly as you start to stammer, “Is this your first time here? I can ease you in if you want~”
    Tilde clears her throat and nudges you, “Oh,” You shake yourself, “I-I’m looking for a friend, Pin?”
    The woman’s face lights up, “Ah! Curtis! Right this way, please,” She leads you down a hallway, her hips swaying the entire way, “Please, change out of your clothes in here and grab a towel,” She points to a changing room, “Your friends are waiting for you in that room,” She points to a wooden door and walks away, hips still swaying.
    You quickly strip nude and wrap a towel around your waist. Tilde takes off her leotard and picks up a towel and your clothes. You hurry, hoping no other large breasted woman starts flirting with you. You open the wooden door and walk into the steamy room without looking. Tilde is quick to follow you and closes the door.
    “There he is!” You hear. You’re in a pretty decently sized room with a large bath in it. You expected your entire team, but you only see Pin, Rose and Joan. Pin is laughing while sitting on the edge of the bath, Rose looks confused and Joan is quickly trying to cover up her large breasts, “You made it! I thought you would get lost. Now, come on, show us what you fuckin’ got!”
    “PIN!” Joan shouts at her, “Why is he here!?”
    “Oh, come on, hors-- Joan-- Lady Joan,” Pin gives her a cheeky grin. Pin has surprisingly supple breasts, a completely flat stomach and a farmer’s tan. You’re glad she has the decency to keep her legs crossed, “You don’t wanna see what he’s got? Plus he’ll make this a little more fun.”
    Joan’s face lights up beet red in response to her first question, “W-well, I should not. It is not lady-like to view the... PARTS of a man!”
    “Is murder and slaughter lady like?” Pin counters.
    “It is in my home land! And I am getting close to drowning you in the--””
    “Lady Joan,” Rose stops her, “Pin’s right. This is a little boring. The three of us don’t really have anything to talk about. But he doesn't have to stay if he doesn't want to. The guys are just down the hall,” She gives you an incredibly nervous smile. She has a very lithe, lightweight body and decently sized breasts You wonder if she wraps them to make them look smaller or fit into her armor.
    “I see now why you wanted separate baths for our team,” Joan mutters to herself, “You wished to embarrass me to death,” Joan is a massive woman with equally large breasts. Her human and horse body are both toned and obviously muscular.
    “Oh, stop being so dramatic, just don’t look at him. Tilde, get in!” Pin calls. Tilde nods and does as the gremlin commands. She slips into the hot water and takes a seat near them, “Come on, big boy,” Pin grins at you, “Strut your stuff and get in, then uh...” She thinks of a starting topic, “Tell us what you like about each of us!” She smugly commands you, “It can be physical or whatever the fuck it is these girls would like you to tell them.”
    “Curtis,” Joan gives you an embarrassed look, “I am sorry for what this small beast is trying to put you through. Do not think you must do as she demands. I am mortified that our little Rose would even consider you staying with us... In the nude,” She sounds horrified at the idea.
    “He’s our friend, Joan,” Rose assures her, “And he’s an adult that can make his own choices. I’m sure he’d be just as uncomfortable with the guys.”
    “Yeah, those old fucks and their wrinkly ass bodies,” Pin grins, “Come, wouldn’t you rather bathe with the four beautiful maidens,” She beckons you with a finger.
    “I swear on my honor, if you intend to sexually assault him, Pin,” Joan warns, “I will stop you at any cost. This man deserves to choose for himself when he is ready.”
    Pin looks shocked, “What!? You think I’d do that shit? What the hell do you think I am? A hellhound? I doubt I could even over power him!” She glances at Tilde, “A-and I’m sure Tilde would rip my fucking head off if I even thought about it.”
    “Humor: you are thinking about it now? I suppose I have to end you!” Tilde smiles at her own morbid joke.
    “Curtis? You’re looking kinda cold out there...” Rose chuckles at you.

PT36

    You take a deep breath and fasten your towel, “Joan, I’m not uncomfortable being around you four. But if you’re uncomfortable, I can go.”
    Joan grimaces and sighs, “Get in the bath, boy. I will live.”
“How come he gets to call you just ‘Joan?’” Pin whines. Joan ignores her.
    You channel all of your confidence before you strike a ridiculous looking pose. Pin laughs and claps for you and Rose giggles at you. Joan merely looks away from you as you embarrass yourself and Tilde stares at you intently, “O-Okay, I’m gonna get in, don’t look, please.” 
    “Aw, come on!”
    “Look, I’m not taking the risk of getting murdered by Rael; or even worse, ruining my friendship with any of you because someone does something dumb.”
    “I suppose that is fair,” Joan shrugs and looks away.
    “Do you really think my dad would murder you?” Rose asks as she shields her face. Pin closes her eyes too. 
    “Have you never met your own father? He would smite any man that attempts to court you just to protect you!” 
You quickly put your towel aside and slip into the bubbling water. You face away from the four of them and slide down into the water up to your shoulders, “Alright, what were we talking about?”
    “You were about to compliment us,” Pin reminds you, “Don’t think you’re weaseling out of it.”
    You look at Rose, Tilde and Joan to help you. All three stare at you expectantly. You sigh, deciding you might as well mess with Pin, “Well... Let’s see, Pin? Uh,” You trail off and scratch your chin. You shrug with fake sheepishness, “I’ll come back to you,” Pin looks mortified. You turn to Rose, easily stating something about her, “Rose, I like how sweet and kind you are. I wish more people could be like you and be just as empathetic and understanding,” The mouse girl blushes and puts her face in her hands to break eye contact with you, “Tilde. Your vigilance and protectiveness is something I am grateful for everyday. I suppose I don’t thank you enough for it.”
    Tilde smiles at you, “Thank you, Curtis.”
    “J-Joan,” You stammer. The centaur is sitting at the bottom of the bath. The water completely covers up her horse body but her human body is only in up to her stomach. Her arms are folded and she looks away from you with an annoyed look on her face. You wonder if she’s really annoyed with you, “I admire your chivalrous nature, how you tend to put the safety of others above your own and appreciate how worried you are when one of us gets injured. I wish I had a fraction of your strength and combat prowess.”
    “Y-you are much too kind. I do not deserve much praise,” Joan struggles to hide her smile and beet red face. You feel like neither of them are used to receiving much praise.
    Pin looks at you and silently pleads for her turn. You frown as you put your hand to your chin, “Well...” You pretend to struggle to find anything to say.
    “Come on!” She looks genuinely hurt and upset.
    “I’m just messing with you, Pin. Your crass and jovial attitude is a really refreshing contrast to the others’ personalities. Other than that, you’re obviously incredibly smart, resourceful, good with tech and pretty good at getting me to do the work when I struggle to. I hope I manage to pick up some more skills from you soon.”
    Pin’s quivering lips slowly contort into a smug smile, “I was hoping to hear that you love my body and want to eat me out. But, I’ll take that too.”
    “Pin!” Rose gives her a disapproving look.
    “What? I’m just, ya know, bein’ crass like he said,” You’re not even looking at Pin but you know she has a big shit eating grin on her face, “Ya think I’d look good with honkers as big as Lady Joan’s?”
    “I would prefer you not call them that!” Joan is taken aback.
    “Oh yeah? What are you gonna do? You’ll just sit there if I grab them--” Pin is cut off as Joan slams her into the water.
    Joan brings the flailing gremlin above the water, “You know, I think I agree with Curtis. About your personality and all.”
    Pin grins, “Really? Thanks--” She’s dunked in the water again. Joan pulls her back out and holds her in the air before dropping her into the water with a splash. Pin frantically swims away from the centaur and takes a seat near you for protection. She sits on the edge of the bath near you. She coughs and sputters a bit before finally relaxing. She still gives Joan suspicious glances every few moments.
    “That was quite cathartic,” Joan grins, lowering herself a bit more into the water and smiling. 
Pin doesn’t respond to the knight, instead she turns to you, “I was fishing for some physical compliments,” Pin admits, prodding you for more.
    “Don’t do that to him,” Rose sighs.
    “Look, you’re all really pretty girls, but I’m not the best person to ask about that,” You shrug, “I’ll say the wrong thing and upset someone and--”
“But which one of us would you fuckin’ date?” Pin pesters you further as she interrupts you. Rose glares at her.
“All of you are way out of my league,” You admit, “I’m just a pretty plain guy.”
    “Oh, don’t say that,” Rose frowns at you, “You’re gonna make whatever girl ends up with you really happy.”
    “That much is obvious from how you take care of Tilde despite her not being your lover,” Joan nods slowly.
    “By mamano standards, isn’t she my wife?” You joke awkwardly, “Since I’ve been inside her and all. My hands in her chest, ya know?” You grin at your own joke. Rose gives you a polite laugh and Pin just shakes her head. You swear that Tilde had a disappointed look on her for just a moment.
    “What were we talking about? Marriage?” Rose asks as she clears the silence in the room.
    “I fuckin’ guess,” Pin shrugs, “What’s everyone’s boy or girl troubles?”
    “Slim pickings in boys to be honest,” Rose shrugs, “And I don’t know a lot of guys. Curtis has it easy he has four girls to pick from,” You shrug sheepishly in response.
Joan sighs sadly, “I am unfortunate that of both bachelors near me, neither are of any slight nobility. Perhaps I am destined to remain alone.”
    “You mean Eric and Curtis?” Pin assumes, “Arthurs free too, you could consider that wrinkly bastard a noble on account of his adoptive mother.”
    “That man has so many powerful women with their eyes on him,” She shudders at the thought, “There is no chance for any of us with him. You would have the ire of so many women on you”
    “Why do they have to be nobility?” Rose inquires.
    “I am of nobility. As a womanly noble I am required to marry another of equal or higher nobility according to my culture. Although, there is a way around it, but that does not matter,” Joan stares into the water somewhat sadly. Rose tries to comfort her quietly as your attention is drawn elsewhere.
    You glance over, Tilde has moved next to you without you noticing, “Query: may we begin?”
    “Begin what?” You ask, confused.
    “Reminder: you said you would wash me. I am ready to collect on that promise.”
    “Alright,” You nod. She puts a cloth and a bar of nice smelling soap in your hand. You benign to scrub her synthetic body clean as well as you can. Her body is completely smooth except for the soft mounds that make up her breasts. You start scrubbing her down. 
    “Hey, can I get a turn next?” Pin gives you a sly smile.
    Tilde gives her a murderous glance. Pin scoots away from you, “Humor: perhaps I will need to murder Pin,” You’re not sure how much of that is a real threat or humor.
    “Leave her alone, Tilde,” You sigh.
    “Query: do I have permission to attack her if--”
    You interrupt her, “TIlde, I can’t think of a single good reason for you to attack one of my friends. The only time you can is if they’re trying to murder me for some reason, alright?”
    She looks at you for a few moments, “Affirmative,” You move on to washing her hair.
    “Any other topics?” Joan asks.
    The five of you are silent for a few moments. You break the silence when you tell Tilde to dunk herself in the water to wash herself off, “All clean, huh?” You give Tilde a once over before she sits back down and leans against you.
    “Do you... Do you think my dad is hiding something?” Rose asks no one in particular, “I’ve never heard of this ‘Xenos’ man that I’m apparently related to until today and I learned that he helped Geno multiple life times ago. Now I’m honorarily related to him!”
    “I’m so fucking jealous! Goddamn, I would marry into your family JUST for that honor!” Pin sighs dreamily as she thinks about it.
    “Definitely hiding something,” Joan nods, “And I have known him for years. A god that no one knows much of anything about, strange anti magical powers and those scars. When I gaze upon them I cannot help but shudder. I have never seen anything like them. Neither has Arthur, our resident walking encyclopedia,” A worried look spread across the mouse girl’s face, “W-well, I am sure it is nothing to worry about. He is a good man. If he was not trust worthy I am sure we would know.”
    “But what could he be hiding that he hasn’t told his own family about?” Rose has a massive, worried frown on her face.
    “I dunno,” Pin shrugs, “But I like him, to be honest. Shit, I didn’t think we’d get along at all, really. Our personalities bounce off each other pretty well.”
    “I do find it strange how much the two of you connect,” Joan comments before starting to wash herself, “Could you be a friend and wash my back?” She quietly asks Rose.
    “Tilde,” Pin grunts, “You’re ancient, right? Do you know anything about Rael’s god or those scars?”
    She shakes her head, “Negative. Although, the scars are more than likely formed into meaningful shapes and runes. What they mean I could not tell you.”

PT37

    You decide to keep what of Rael’s past he has shown you a secret, but you can’t help but wonder if he plans to keep it a secret forever, “Rael’s been a little slow to friend but he’s been fair and courteous, really. If he is keeping anything a secret, its probably for the better and he’s only doing it to protect you.”
    Rose blinks at you but hesitantly nods, “I guess you’re right.”
    “Have you ever asked your dad about his ancestry? Maybe it never really came up.”    
    “Of course I have!” Rose looks offended, “I’ve asked him a few times about where he comes from. He’s never really told me anything. Mom easily tells me EVERYTHING about her family but I can’t learn anything from dad!” Rose groans like a disgruntled teen. You’re not sure what her exact age is but you’re sure she’s too old for that. 
    “If it will make you feel better, I’ll try to talk to him. I think he’s taken a shine to me and I might be able to get him to talk,” You offer with no real intention of extracting information out of him. You think that warning him that his daughter is onto him is probably a good idea.
“I would appreciate that, Curtis. Thank you,” You glance at her where she helps Joan wash herself. You get an eye-full of her firm looking butt, but more interestingly you see something you haven’t before. A pink ringed tail comes out of her tailbone and a small area around it is covered in short gray fur. 
    “I didn’t know you had a tail and some fur,” You mumble.
    Rose turns to you and blushes, “A-are you looking at my butt?”
    “You’re supposed to look at mine!” Pin whines.
    “No, I just glanced and saw the tail!” You hurriedly make up an excuse and stare down at the bath water. 
    “W-well,” Rose looks away from you as her tail whips back and forth, splashing in the bath water, “I usually wrap it around my waist so it doesn’t get in the way when I sneak around. Can’t have it drag on the ground and get caught on anything. Its a little trick I learned from my mother.”
    “Remember when it got caught on that arrow trap?” Joan stifles a smile.
    “Don’t bring that up in front of him!”
    You try to change the topic to help Rose save a bit of face, “Rose, since we just mentioned your parents, how did they meet? I want to know a bit more about courtship rituals here.”
    “Oh, well, I do know that. Mom was out picking herbs in the woods around Goldcrest for her medicines. She’s always been a nurse that helps heal and ease pain. She found my dad collapsed against a tree in a weird all black set of armor and a torn tabard. She woke him up and dragged him back to her little hospital. The first thing she noticed was his glowing purple eyes and after that was those scars. At the time they were red and fresh. He was weak and beaten and claimed to not remember what had happened. 
    “She nursed him back to health, one of the only patients she had helped for more than a week or two. She started looking forward to seeing him and taking care of him every day. Eventually he was healed and with nowhere to go and no family he could remember, he pledged himself to her, as he returned the feelings she had developed for him. My mom said that his first task was to marry her and he accepted. Years later they had me then even more years later they had my sister, Yda. Even now we don’t know how my dad got there. If my dad wasn’t in this party I would be so homesick. I want my mom’s cooking again.”
    “How sweet,” Pin says. Its unclear if she’s sarcastic about it.
    “Your parents are so different. I am amazed at how well they get along,” Joan comments, “I could go for her cooking as well. I have not had it in quite some time.”
    “That is pretty cute,” You have a small smile on your lips, “So, another question since no one else has any topics. What's the line when it comes to boys and girls here? Like, I doubt I’ve ever bathed with women back home and I’m sure it would be frowned upon. Or had any of them be naked before me.”
    “I’m sure its different with human women,” Pin mumbles, “Those fucking pricks. Mamano are a lot more forward with men, but I’m sure what's okay is different from person to person. Like, you could cop a feel on me right now and I’d be pretty damn okay with it. But really only because its you. I would kill Eric if he did it.”
     Rose nods, “R-Right. You could get away with jokingly slapping Pin’s cheeks but Joan would take your head off for it. She’s also hardly fine with you just looking at her while Pin and I seem to be more or less fine with it,” She shrugs, “Although I would prefer if you did not look at my rear,” She frowns at you.
    “I-I’ll be sure not to,” You swallow nervously. 
    “We also do not know your boundaries and do not wish to do something that would make you uncomfortable,” Joan explains before completely dunking herself in the water to wash the soap off, “At least I would rather not do that to you. I cannot predict if Pin will try to trick you into increasingly uncomfortable and somewhat lewd situations. Tilde as well. She is unpredictable in what she would do with you. Before you I would have said that Tilde is incapable of somewhat loving contact. But look at her currently, she leans on you seemingly lovingly.”
    Tilde whirrs to life and lets off some steam. It makes some bubbles in the water, “Query: do you believe I could learn to love? The emotions I can feel are somewhat limited,” She frowns sadly as she grabs your arm firmly.
    “Well, what do you feel for him now?” Joan and Rose sit a bit closer to you both. You are sitting in the corner with Tilde to your left, Pin to her left sitting on the edge of the bath, Rose to your right, but still giving you space, and Joan sits in the middle of the bath, boxing you in. 
    Tilde glances at you, a little embarrassed. You give her a tiny smile, “Explanation: I am unsure. He is useful, kind and requires protection from various things. I do not know what those factual statements equate to. I do not understand what love is, objectively speaking.”
    “Aw, poor little robot,” Pin pats her on the head, “I don’t really know what love feels like, no idea how the hell I would explain that shit, anyways.”
    “I-I cannot say either,” Joan frowns.
    Rose sighs and looks at you. You shrug a little and shake your head, “Well, I don’t know what its like to love someone as a partner, but as family its when you care for someone and want to spend time with them and... And you want to hug them when they’re sad and laugh with them when they laugh. I guess that could go for loving a partner too. You’ll know when you feel it.”
    “Query: what if I lack the components for it?” Tilde asks.
    “Then we’ll build it,” You shrug, “Or at least try our best to,” You look at Pin who responds with a worried look.
    “You will find your man, just as most of us will. I cannot say if it will be Curtis or another, just keep that chin up, Tilde,” Joan smiles softly before trudging away to another corner of the bath.
     The sort of somber mood is shattered quickly, “Come on, next question, chief,” Pin pesters you.
    “Hmm,” You force yourself to relax more, “Well, tell me more about the Demon Lord, Queen or Maou. Whatever it is you all call her.”
    “What a woman,” Rose sighs, “A shining example for all mamano. Powerful and commanding of authority yet loving and beautiful.”
    Pin laughs, “Preach that shit! Have you guys seen her in your dreams recently? I think its just all the damn liquor I drink, but I’m hoping what people say is true and that means she’ll be back soon. Have you heard her history?”
    You nod, “Arthur told me.”
    “Shame. I wish I could be there to add some fuckin’ nuance to that living textbook’s monologue. You guys think she was murdered?”
    “Oh, absolutely,” Rose nods, “You don’t become the most powerful force on the mortal plane and not make multiple kinds of enemies.”
    Joan shrugs, “Most likely. I am unsure what more I can say about her. I wish to be a general for her some day and I pray she will return soon to change over or exterminate the last of the monsters then lead us to victory over the humans.”
    “V-victory over the humans?” You repeat and give her a skeptical look.
    She waves her hand dismissively at you, “Oh, do not fret. Humans like you will be peacefully integrated into our mamano ruled society. Eric talked of the other half of the continent, did he not? How hostile and hateful they are? I am sure they will not go peacefully. Despite what you know of me, Curtis, I do not enjoy fighting and killing human men,” Her tone turns dark, “As a mamano I see them as some other lucky girl’s future husband. Killing them just removes a potential happy couple from the world. Do not get me wrong, some people deserve and need to die. Most that steal and kill do it out of necessity. But I kill out of necessity as well,” She adds, an upset look on her face.
    Pin looks at her with another frown, “You said it yourself, Joan. Some people have to fuckin’ die. We’re the good guys, even if your past is as fuckin’ blood stained as I assume it is, you’re a good person.”
    Joan slumps over, “Do you really think I am?”
    “Didn’t you listen to what Curtis said earlier?” Rose shakes her head in disbelief, “All of us agree with the things he said. I have never met another who is as just as you. You’re as good as any of us. None of us are perfect anyways, Lady Joan.”
    “Rose is completely right. I can’t think of anyone that has such a strong sense of what is just and good,” You add.
    She looks down at her battle scarred arms and nods slowly, “Thank you. All of you. Rose, let me help you clean up.”
    “Wash my back, would you, chief?” Pin smiles at you, “I’ll get yours if you get mine~” She sings quietly. 
    “I will wash him,” Tilde corrects her.
    “Can I help, a little, at least?” 
    Tilde glances at you. You nod pitifully, hoping she would throw Pin a bone, “Affirmative. You may help. You will wash his hair.”
    You quickly wash the gremlin’s back and hair. Her large animal-like ears twitch as you  gently touch them. They remind you of the ears of a cat. You wonder if a cat girl would purr for you if you did this. Out of curiosity, you scratch her behind them making her shudder, “Stop it!” She growls at you as her face turns red.
    You laugh, “Sorry. Hey, you guys never said anything nice about me,” You remind them. All three mamano start to nervously shift and glance around the room.
    “W-well,” Joan stammers, “Y-you... Are quite adaptable. I am amazed at how well you transitioned into this lifestyle. You have learned new skills quite quickly. Perhaps you do have a hero's spirit in you.”
    Rose thinks about it for a few moments, “I find it really interesting how easily you connect with people. I’m really happy that I’ve had the opportunity to be your friend... On account of how sweet, caring and nice you are. I’m gonna be really sad when we figure out how to get you home,” She frowns for a moment before smiling at you.
    Pin gives you a smile, “I think you’re pretty handsome, a real goddamn snack, and I know those two agree and are too much of a fuckin’ coward to say it too. You’re smart too. You surprised me the first time I met you by having nearly completed some artifice on your own with no damn training,” You blush a little when she compliments your looks.
    “Compliment,” Tilde moves behind you as she starts to speak. Her hands gently run up and down your back as soap is smeared around, “I appreciate how much you care about me. Ever since we first met, you tried to work on fixing my broken components. I do not think another being has ever shown me as much compassion as much as you do. I am happy to have been lucky enough to have someone like you in my... Life? Do I count as being alive? It does not matter. I hope one day I will be able to repay you for your kindness,” She finishes washing your back and wraps her arms around your neck and nuzzles herself against you.
    You sigh, completely content as you pat Tilde’s arms, “Thanks guys.”
    “Yeah no problem fuck face,” Pin smiles and shrugs in an overtly smug manner, “Tell anyone else I was sappy and I’ll murder you.”
“Hear! hear!” Joan cries.
    “Come on now, lemme wash your hair,” Pin pats the hard side of the bath between her legs to call you over as if you were some kind of animal. You do it, knowing better than to invoke the ire of any of these women.
    “Can you explain something to me, Joan? You mentioned the soul of a hero, or something. I don’t think I’ve heard that before,” You settle in as Pin puts her legs over your shoulders. She’s kinda rough as she scrubs your scalp with her fingers and nails.
    She nods, “There is a sort of quantifiable source of power that some have. I believe everyone in this group has it. It is usually shown as someone having a knack for a certain skill as with most of us that requires very little work to improve in. My fighting, Eric’s archery or Rose’s sneaking and thieving. She hardly does it anymore but you should have seen how good she was at stealing sweets from people when she was little and had no training yet.”
    “Joan!” Rose shouts.
    Joan chuckles, “Anyways. I believe it has manifested in your speaking abilities and your ability to learn new skills. I can guess by how quickly you picked up combat, even if it was with two simple weapons, and armor proficiency. You may be a jack of all trades, but I think you will manage to master one of two of them. I hope combat is one of them, for the team’s sake.”
    “You really think I’m that good at speaking?” You ask as Pin starts scratching you rather hard behind the ears and poking at them to get a reaction out of you.
    “You made friends with the entire party super fast,” Rose explains, “Joan is completely right,” Her tone turns sinister, “You could probably lie and convince pretty easily too,” Thinking about it, you’re not sure you’ve needed to lie to anyone yet. Every opportunity you’ve had to lie you’ve chosen not to.
“I know lying and skullduggery is in your repertoire of thieving skills, Miss Rose, but you should not tempt him into such actions. As far as I know, Curtis has been entirely truthful to us ever since he got here,” Joan scolds her.
    “Fine, fine...” Rose sinks down into the water a bit more. Everyone settles a bit, all clean and good smelling. 
    “I think I’m fuckin’ ready to get out. I’m not buzzed anymore and I can’t relax without it,” Pin climbs out of the pool, purposefully giving you a nice view of her ass before she grabs a small towel. Joan and Rose step out and you give them the courtesy of not looking at their assets. Tilde climbs out and sits on the edge of the bath.
    You look at your hands. They’re somewhat wrinkled at this point. You nod in agreement and step out of the bath without thinking. Joan and Rose quickly turn away before gazing upon your man parts. Pin gets a good look before you cover it with your hands, “Woo! There it is!” She screams with shrieking laughter.
    “Shut up,” You grunt and grab your towel.
    “Oh, bravo! How about an encore!?” She applauds for you, “Give us another look!”
    Joan grabs her and hoists her over her shoulder, “We will depart to a changing room. I will meet you in the hall to see you to the Shalandra,” The gremlin fights to get out of the much stronger centaur’s grasp. They leave you alone with Tilde.
    “Query: are you upset that I saw you nude?” Tilde asks as she dries herself off.
    “Not really,” You sigh, “You don’t get some kind of sick satisfaction from it.”
    Tilde turns to you slowly as you dry yourself off and leans towards you. In a hushed, sinister voice she whispers, “As far as you know,” And stares at you with a wide grin. You give her a nervous look and turn away from her as you put your clothes on.

    You make your way back to the old boat with the four girls in tow. They’re all boisterous and rowdy with each other as you trail behind. Tilde is walking with you as the two of you watch the three very different girls seem to form bonds with each other. You smile, happy to see them happy, “Comment: you are in high spirits,” Its the first time Tilde has spoken to you since her strange, dark humor at the end of your otherwise nice, relaxing bath, “Query: is it because you got to witness three nude women? You are a young man, thus your sex drive must be high.”
    You shake your head, “I just feel lucky to have so many friends that care about me,” A frown spreads across your lips as you get a strong headache. It passes quickly as more memories of your life surface, “I’ve never really had friends like this. I’ve never really had ‘good friends.’ We moved a lot when I was little. On top of that I struggled to make friends in the first place.”
    “Comment: it is odd that you managed to befriend them so quickly.”
    “I don’t think I’m the same person I used to be, Tilde. My ability to fight and talk speaks volumes to that.”
    “Noted. If I detect any changes in your personality I will notify you. Comment: I wonder if you will experience anything similar to me with my changing personalities.”
    “Do you remember anything else, Tilde? Don’t strain yourself too hard thinking about it.”
    “Negative. The feelings have subsided. But I do feel a new desire,” She looks down at her leotard, “A fancy dress would be nice.”
    You nod your head in encouragement, “If its what you want, get one. You have money don’t you?”
    “Affirmative. But I have held onto the gold to pay for your needs if required.”
    “Treat yourself a little bit. Where do you store it anyways?” 
    “Explanation: I hold most of my currency as precious gems. All towns will take them in trade either for gold or goods,” Tilde assures you, “As for your question, I have a few small storage areas across my body,” A tiny compartment on her upper arm slides open and reveals a few precious gems.
    “Neat.”
    “Comment: I believe they were used to smuggle illicit substances by a previous owner.”
    “O-oh...”
    She smiles, “Do not worry. I have cleaned them out numerous times.”
    “You’ve mentioned owners and masters a few times. What’s the difference?”
    “Explanation: an owner is merely someone who has taken possession of me in one way or another. Usually through the exchange of currency,” Her usual more human tone surfaces, “I merely followed orders. There was no passion or feelings from either of us. I was merely a lifeless machine designed to perform designated tasks.”
    “How do you know this?” You ask quietly.
    “I merely contrast current data, see: memories, with old data to find differences in my operating parameters. I have also learned of standard automaton parameters from other scholars during my travels. They speak of a master, a person that model threes and later of automatons would deem as a person that they will take care of and serve to the best of their abilities. Most automatons were built to wander the land and learn. I was built to serve a specific person.”
    “You went above your program eventually and your operations were changed eventually,” You nod, “Interesting. I just wonder if its because of malfunctioning parts or if you really did rewrite your own codes or maybe it was done by another force. So... What does being a master mean? If I became your master what would change?”
    “W-well,” She blushes, “I am unsure. I know I will become dependent on you and be stuck to you more than I already am. I may also lose much of my autonomy and become more dependent for tasks and orders. And that I will cease function shortly after you pass,” You’re both quiet for a few moments, “Would it please you if you be-became my master? I feel as though I owe you a great debt. Perhaps this will be the way to pay you back?”
    “I-I need some time to think about it.”
    “Affirmative,” Her more robotic tone returns, “Do not hesitate to ask me for anything.”
    “Hey! You two!” Pin shouts at you, “Hurry up!”
    You hadn’t even realised you had reached the docks. The cold sea air breezes through your damp hair making you shiver, “Come on,” You and Tilde both hurry to the boat as the other three girls dash inside. The insides of the boat feel strangely still as if the waves weren’t making the boat rock unlike earlier today. You shiver, still a little cold. The five of you join Eric and Arthur. 
    “Ah, there you all are!” Arthur smiles, “I was wondering how long you would spend bathing. Curtis, where were you?” He quickly asks.
    “Uh,” You struggle to come up with a lie on the spot.
    “He was with us,” Joan announces.
    “Huh? Ya snuck into the ladies’ bathing chamber?” Eric asks.
    “Nay,” She answers for you again, “We deceived him. We wished to speak without other prying ears. It was not lewd or distasteful no matter what you think of the five of us,” You’re a little surprised that she didn’t merely throw Pin under the bus.
    “Damn,” Eric gives you an approving nod, “Can’t say I’m not just a little jealous of ya.”
    “Oh, come now, Eirc. Not all of us are gifted with speech,” Arthur sighs, “And if Joan is to be believed it was merely to chat. Anywho, I am glad you are all here, safe and sound.” 
    “Where's my dad?” Rose asks, quickly getting to the point as everyone settles into the booth seats.
    “In his room. Did you need him? He was muttering strangely through most of the bath and went directly to bed,” Arthur explains.
    Rose looks at you with a worried look, “Will you okay speaking to him on your own?”
    You nod quickly, “Of course,” Rose tosses you the room key. Tilde stands to follow you, “I think its better if I go alone,” You explain sheepishly as Tilde gives you a worried look, “More likely for him to open up. Its not like he's violent.”
    “Be careful,” Tilde sits back down as you trudge away.
    You make your way to the back and into the rooms area. Your team is split up into four rooms. You and Tilde in one, Joan and Pin, Eric and Arthur and lastly Rose and Rael. You knock on the door, “Rael?” You call. No reply. You frown, hoping you don’t have to wake him up. You quietly use the key, turn the knob and slowly push the door open. A dim purple light emanates from the back of the small room. You look around for people before entering the room and locking it behind you. Rael sits on the floor, his armor and most of his clothing strewn about the room. He wears only pants. You get a better look at his scars which glow a dim purple as they wiggle and move across his skin. He writhes as he mutters in a low voice. You can’t understand the language, “Rael?” You call again with no response. You take another step towards the man and begin to hear the dissonant, disembodied whispers. The same ones that called out to you at the end of Rael’s memories as he was plunged into the star covered purple void. They come from everywhere as if you were surrounded by countless individuals all divulging ancient, horrible knowledge to you. You shudder violently as you take another step. The voices only rise in volume, “Rael!” You call once more as you close your eyes and drag your legs through some invisible gel that impedes your movement. You open your eyes only to find yourself in a star filled purple tinted void. The very same one from Rael’s memory. 
You shiver as the unearthly cold touches your skin. You look back to Rael, he is staring into an unending collection of mouths and eyes stuck to a strange purple flesh that stretches across the horizon before you. Your skin crawls as the eyes start to shift their gaze from Rael to you. One by one, horrible all knowing eyes stare into your soul and thoughts. You can feel it in your brain as it prods and touches your memories. It grumbles into your ears once more as all of the eyes have now shifted to you. You look back to Rael, praying he can save you from this torment. He has turned to look at you as well, his eyes completely devoid of life and shining purple. His mouth opens and he utters one single strange word to you in another language. You feel your body tremble as you struggle to understand the word.
 “Leave.”

You faint.

    When you awake you are lying on a bed with a cold cloth on your forehead. Rael stands over you, muttering a few words and shaking his head. He has put a shirt on and the glowing has subsided, “You idiot,” He grumbles at you, “Did you never learn to knock?”
    “I did knock,” You state weakly.
    “What in this ungodly world would be important enough for you to wander so deep into that purple hellscape after me?” He growls, obviously angry with you.
    “Your daughter,” You wheeze, “She’s onto you. We have to come up with something.”
    “Onto me?” His tone shifts drastically to worry as his voice hushes, “They told me something horrible is about to happen. They also said you have a kind heart. Said it was refreshing to see. Something They had not felt in eons.”
    “What in the fuck was that?” You ask as you sit up slowly.
    “I am unsure what you saw, but it is how They wished to be viewed by you. While They appear as a faceless man with eyes all over Their body to me, it could be anything to you. You are lucky I have sway and They find you interesting enough to let you continue your futile existence. You could have been devoured by Them and added to the cacophony of voices.”
    You tremble at the thought, “A wall of flesh with horrible mouths and eyes,” You explain, “Can you use that memory magic to tear it from my mind forever?”
    He shakes his head, “I am sure They wish you to remember it. What were you saying about my daughter?”
    “She’s suspicious and curious about your past. She’s not gonna take you shrugging off her questions about it anymore.”
    “She must. She cannot know,” Rael puts his head in his hands, “I-I cannot tell her the truth.”
    “Then come up with a lie!”
    “Lie to my own flesh and blood? I cannot.”
    You groan, “Then what? She’s at her wits end about it! Do you want your own daughter to keep having to doubt you and--” 
    “Cease this,” He growls at you suddenly, “I must resolve this between her and I. I do not need a mere child scolding me.”
    You feel hurt as he non-teasingly calls you a child, “Fine,” You huff, “Don’t come crying to me to fix your shattered relationship,” You turn to go and undo the bolt on the door.
    “Please,” He mumbles, interrupting you with a pathetic sounding voice, “Do not tell her what you know. I know I cannot stop you. But that is my only plea.”
     You feel a little bad, “Y-yeah. I’ll see you in the morning. Sorry for interrupting your prayers or meditation.”
    His usual commanding voice returns, “Tis not prayers, tis merely--” He stops himself as he slips back into his ancient speaking patterns, “Thank you. Good night.”
    You leave and shuffle quickly back to the dining hall, nearly all of your stamina drained. A chill runs down your spine as the dagger on your hip gets heavier. Rose turns to you as you approach and slide into your seat, “Well?” She demands immediately.

PT38

    You sigh and slump a little more in your chair, “I didn’t make much more headway on it. I pressed it and he told me to stay out of it.”
    Rose makes a worried face, “Thank you anyways...”
    “Look, Rose,” Your shoulders slump a little bit, “This is something between you and him. Whatever he’s hiding from you, he has a good reason for it. He’s protecting you from something. He knows he can’t hide this from you forever, and he’s totally agonizing over it. Just be understanding of how nervous and scared he is over this. I would recommend being patient and wait for him to be ready to tell you.”
    “Rael? Afraid?” Joan scoffs, “I have never seen that man show an ounce of fear.”
    “Everyone is afraid of something,” Arthur shrugs, “Perhaps showing weakness to his own blood terrifies him. Forgive me, we should not be talking about him behind his back like this.”
    “Agreed,” Eric grunts as he downs some more beer.
    Rose still has a confused and concerned look on her face, “Rose?” You reach over and touch one of her hands gently for some physical support, “You’re his daughter. I won’t tell you what to do, but if it would put you at ease, talk to him yourself. I don’t know if he’ll open up to you at all, but it might be worth a try.”
    Her face slowly turns more determined, “I-I think I will. Thanks. Good night, everyone.”
    The group wishes her good night before she slides out of her seat and hurries to the back, “I wish her luck,” Arthur yawns, “I suppose I should go to bed as well. It is quite late.”
    “Ah, I’ll head to sleep as well,” Eric grunts, “Don’t wanna wake ya up when I hit the hay.”
    “I appreciate that. Well, good night to the rest of you,” Arthur gives you a slight bow before trudging off with Eric downing the rest of his drink before following him.
    Joan stands from the floor and stretches out. Her legs and back pop loudly, “I should take care of my night time duties. Pin, shall you join me?”
    “Naw,” The gremlin declines quietly, “I’m not tired yet. I’ll drink and harass Curtis a bit more before I join you.”
    Joan nods, “Do not tease him too much, hm? I would not want him to come crying to me,” She mutters in a somewhat threatening tone.
    “O’ course. Night.”
    Joan turns slowly and trots away after nodding at the three of you. Pin sits across from you and Tilde sits next to you, “Query: Curtis, have you thought more of my offer?” 
“The whole becoming your master thing?” You ask slowly with a frown on your face.
Pin’s eyes grow wide, “Holy shit! Are you really going to take Curtis as your master!?” She’s completely invested in the conversation now.
Tilde nods, “Affirmative. I have offered it to him as a way to repay him for his kind deeds.”
    “You don’t owe me anything,” You sigh.
    “Pardon?”
    “Yeah, what?” Pin tilts her head at you.
    “Tilde, I try to do good things for the sake of good. You don’t owe me anything.”
    “Are you serious? You’re not gonna take her up on that!? That's pretty much like being knighted! Married even! They don’t choose this lightly!”
    “I must agree with Pin. If I do not owe you, what is this feeling I have?” She asks having slipped into her more human-like voice, “What do these feelings mean-- Quantifiably, of course.”
    You shrug, “Tilde, becoming your master will remove your autonomy and I’m just not comfortable doing that. It sounds like some weird combination of marriage and slavery... I want you to keep being you, Tilde. It feels like someone mistreated you in the past, you still have a lot of learning to do about yourself and I’ll be here to help you, even if I’m not your master,” You wet your dry mouth nervously with a sip of fruit infused water, “Even if I do want a girl to lovingly refer to me as master, I just can’t do it. It shouldn’t come from a place of debt, instead it should be something you desire to give me when you feel the time is right.”
    “So many feelings,” Pin almost seems moved by your words, “And for a machine, too.”
    “She’s a person to me, Pin.”
    “But its just programming and wires in there!”
    “So? You’re just a brain and nerves. Not much different.”
    Pin folds her arms, “I... I guess.”
    The three of you are silent. Tilde hasn’t said anything but you can hear her servos and motors humming as she stares at the table with a blank gaze. Pin stares into her drink with a sad expression and you tap the table anxiously. You look at her, “Pin? Is everything alright with you?”
    The gremlin scoffs, “Yeah, fine.”
    “Please, we need to hash this out if there is some kind of issue between us.”
    “Look, you don’t--” She stops herself, unable to finish her sentence as a grimace shows across her face. She sighs deeply, “You do care,” She shakes her head, “I don’t wanna talk about it right now. I don’t wanna kill the mood. We’re going to Geno’s workshop tomorrow! Aren’t you excited!?” Her sour look has vanished as she distracts herself with another topic. 
    You nod, “Yeah it should be interesting.”
    “Yeah, I hope we can get in. Like, I know she said no one has been able to get in since he died and all, but I think we can do it.”
    “Why are so determined to get in there?”
    “Rael’s gonna summon his fuckin’ ghost for me,” Pin explains excitedly, “All the secrets of artifice will be laid bare to me as I press Geno for answers!”
    “Isn’t he a big deal? What makes you think his ghost is just gonna show up?” 
    She shrugs, “Eh, we’ll figure it out.”
    You know there’s something else you need to talk about, as touchy and dangerous as it may be, “Hey, now that you’re in a better mood, there's something else I want to ask you about.”
    “Yeah, what’s up?”
    “So, what's with you being so forward with me? What is it you want out of, well,  us?”
    Pin’s shoulders slump as she smiles apologetically, “W-well... Unlike most other mamano with friends, I can’t just go up to Joan, Tilde and Rose and just say: ‘hey, I call Curtis.’ All three of them would tear me apart or tear each other apart to get the honor of tearing me apart.”
    “What? The other girls don’t think of me like that.”
    “Oh? You must be dense or brain dead, fuck face. Tilde is the most forward about it, threatening me if I try anything. Joan made it clear she would protect you if she had to too, also threatening me. But Rose is sneaky and doesn’t show it directly to you.”
    “But why would anyone be interested in me?”
    “Its refreshing. You live this hero or wanderer life and every other person in that lifestyle you meet is standoffish or just rude. The few bouts of pleasentness you get are from the barmaids that you know is only fuckin’ doin’ it to get a good tip. But you’re something refreshing. Nice and sweet. Any woman in this lifestyle would want you especially since you will travel on the road too. Look at Rael and how miserable he is since he has to leave his wife behind.”
    “I don’t think that's the reason he’s upset--”
    “Look,” She stops you, “Ever since we first met, I was interested in you. You managed to build what I would consider artifice with no training. Then I learned you were from the Other Side and I became infatuated with you! When I close my eyes I think about you and I can’t stop it! The whole point of how forward I am is that I’m hoping you become receptive to it! Like a mating call or flirting, remember? We talked about the swearing and shit. I really just gotta get you to go: ‘yeah I’ll take Pin.’ But as it is now,” She sighs sadly and glances at Tilde, “I’ll always be playing second fiddle to a robot. One that hates me.”
    Tilde looks shocked, “I do not hate you, Pin,” She sounds hurt.
    “Then what's up with you threatening me, Tilde!?”
    “I apologize that my humor does not land with you. I will be more careful and refrain from such things.”
    “Yeah, whatever.”
    “Is this what has you upset, Pin?” You ask gently. 
    She folds her arms on the table and puts her face down on them, “A few other things too... But, yeah,” She squeaks in a quiet, sad, muffled voice.
    “Pin,” Tilde speaks in her human-like voice, “Please, do not be upset with Curtis. If you are upset because of my jokes and protective nature, be upset with me.”
    “I’m just jealous. You get a man that loves you, cares for you, protects you and stands up for you. Rose has a loving family and a best friend that cares a lot about her, and Joan... Lady Joan has her looks and her power. That bitch could fuck ANY man she wants just by walking right up and flashing those honkers. Hey! Barmaid! I need another two over here!” Pin suddenly shouts at the counter. The dark elf, a woman with white hair and jetblack skin nods and starts getting a drink ready.
    You sigh, “Pin--”
    “Don’t you sigh and ‘Pin’ me like you’re my fuckin’ dad!” She snaps at you with a finger outstretched, “You’re gonna learn artifice... And you’re gonna do it better than me, aren’t you!?” She growls. The dark elf sets two drinks near her. Pin snatches one angrily and chugs some of it, “Mother fuckers are just gonna abandon me like... Like those brothers... Did...” Pin starts to sniffle as she blinks hard, failing to stifle the tears, “I don’t want to be alone again,” A weaker, quieter voice comes out as a whimper from Pin’s mouth. She picks up a mug and a few tears drop into her drink. She takes a few sips, “I don’t know why I’m telling you, but I just want that feeling, Curtis. The belonging and love of family and friends. I’m such a broken fuckin’ wretch... I-I’m going to bed. You don’t need to watch me cry,” She starts to shuffle out of her seat.
    “Pin? May I speak?” Tilde asks.
    “Huh? Yeah, sure.”
    The automaton slides out of the booth next to you and boxes the gremlin in as she slides into that side, “I do not believe that anyone in the group wants to remove you from the group. I assure you that I do not hate you, and I have the most reason, other than Curtis, to keep you in the group. May I ask you something?”
    “What?” Pin asks through sniffles seeming to have cheered up a little bit.
    “May I hug you to show there are no bad feelings between us? I wish to be friends with you, Pin. Please, allow me to share some form of friendship to you.”
    Pin nods silently and lets the robot wrap her metal arms around her small frame, “I-I wanna be friends with you too, Tilde,” Her arms wrap around some of the robot's torso.
    “Are you feeling better?” You smile at the gremlin.
    “I need a hug from you too,” She demands. You nod and give her a warm, tight hug, “You’re not gonna replace me, right?”
    “Never in a million years,” You assure her, “I could never swear, swagger, and be as crass as you.”
    “You’re goddamn right.”
“Come on, let's head to bed. You need to sleep.”
    “I’m gonna have dreams about you two,” Pin refuses to let you go. You choose to pick her up and carry her to bed. Her four and a half foot tall body is quite light. You think you could carry around three or four of her at once. Tilde follows close behind. She opens the door to Pin and Joan’s room for you. Joan sits illuminated by candle light in the middle of the room. Her armor and weapons are organized neatly next to her, the crimson splashes of blood still clinging to the silver metals and golds. She has a sword in her hands, one of her many weapons, as she wipes the blood from it. She opens one of her eyes as you enter, Pin in hand. A small smile spreads across her lips as she watches you gently set her on her bed.
    “I did not expect her to come to me in tears. I will make sure she takes off her common clothes,” The centaur assures you.
    “Do you have to go so soon?” Pin grabs your sleeve as she whimpers at you, the liquor obviously taking hold of her. You glance at Joan who nods with approval. Pin stares up at you as she rests her head on her pillow, “Can you tell me something, Curtis? Anything really. I just want to hear you talk.”
    “W-well...”
    “Tell her of how you awoke in the woods near Goldcrest,” Joan pipes up, eyes still closed as she does light maintenance on her gear.
    You grunt as you recall the fear and terror of that night, “I never really did tell her, did I? Alright, settle in and listen.”

    You go to your own room with Tilde following you. She had helped you tell your story to Pin and fill in a few details you had been fuzzy on. Joan had chastised you for stretching the truth in a few spots to save a bit of face. You quickly get changed, knowing that Pin is watching you. You sit on the bed and slouch forward, putting your elbows on your thighs, “Query: long day?” Tilde asks you.
    “Yeah. It was nice though-- other than fighting for my life this morning,” You chuckle, “I’m ready to sleep.”
    Tilde walks closer to you. Her knee joints puff out a little steam as she leans forwards and puts her hands on your knees, “Well... Master~” You shudder at the teasing, sing-song way she says it, “Perhaps I could help you~” She scoops you up in a bridal carry and puts you back down before you can protest, head on your pillow. She fluffs the pillow for you and pulls the blanket over you. For her last act, she carefully lays herself atop you, her head resting on your shoulder, “Does this aid in your sleep?” You nod slightly, “Please, inform me if you are uncomfortable or require anything of me,” She settles down, her blue green eyes dim as you stare at the ceiling. She seems to simulate her own breathing noise and chest movements. You can feel her simulated heart beating slowly against your stomach. You put a hand on her head, slowly and gently petting her hair, “Do not expect me to pamper you like this every night. You merely had a long day today and I wish to make you feel better.”
    “Thanks. You’re too kind.”
    She scoffs, “It is the least I can do for you. Now please, sleep. You deserve it.”
    It takes you a very short time to finally fall asleep.


    You wake up cozy and warm in your borrowed bed. Tilde has gotten off of you, probably just to stare out the window. You yawn and stretch before slowly sitting up, “Good morning,” You say to the robot. Your heart skips a beat as you don’t receive a response. You immediately wake up and look around. The curtains over the window have been pulled somewhat open. A stream of sunlight beams in and illuminates the room. Your things are still here but Tilde is not. You get dressed and put only your chain vest and dagger in its sheath on before bolting from the room. You pound on the door to Joan and Pin’s room.
    It cracks open and Joan pokes her head out, “What is it? Is something wrong?”
    “Tilde’s gone,” You pant, “Did you see her?”
    Joan shakes her head, “I know some of the others are awake. Go speak to them.”
    You nod and hurry to the main room of the Shalandra. The boat rocks slightly from the waves as you stomp up to the groups’ normal table. Pin and Rose talk quietly while Arthur and Eric stare into books or go over checklists, “Has anyone seen Tilde?” You ask, obviously in a panic.
    Pin just grins at you while Rose gives you a confused look. Eric shakes his head and Arthur nods, “I believe she hurried out the door an hour or so ago. Did she leave without a word?”
    “Yeah, she did. I should go look for her.”
    “Why are you so damn worried about her. She can take care of herself!” Pin reminds you.
    “She can,” You sigh as your foot taps in a nervous fashion, “M-maybe she needs help though.”
    “Calm down!” Rose demands with a groan, “Eat something, maybe she--” Rose gasps suddenly as she glances at the door. A woman walks in-- no, struts in. You hardly recognize her as she has finally put on something that isn’t her black leotard. Tilde.
She struts towards you, absolutely beaming. The dress she wears is a sparkling green that hugs her form. The long skirt shimmers as the sunlight bounces off of it. Beneath the skirt is a set of black tights and on her feet is a pair emerald colored heels. She stands before you, grabs her skirt and spins around. It gracefully fans out as she performs another spin. She then curtseys for you with a big smile still on her face, “Good morning!” She giggles.
    “G-good morning,” You struggle to even sputter those two words, too awestruck by her striking appearance.
    “Tilde! You look great! Where did you get that dress?” Rose demands as she hops up and takes a good look at the sparkling green dress.
    “Explanation: I merely went into a local clothing store and got fitted. I had planned to be back before Curtis awoke but that unfortunately did not happen. Query: do you enjoy it, Curtis? I apologize that we do not have a band to play a song for us to dance to.”
    “D-dance? I can’t dance,” You hold your arms up to stop her. It merely gives her something to grab as she pulls herself close to you.
    “Humor: it is easy. Perhaps I will teach you in time. Did Joan not say you can learn quickly?”
    “W-well, yeah she did.”
    “Suggestion: think about it. I will be ready to teach you at any time. Apology: I must change out of this. You will not be able to gawk at it much longer. I do not wish to wear it to the workshop and risk dirtying it.”
    “Better get on that bottomless bag, Curtis. You’re gonna have to carry around that woman’s upcoming dress collection,” Pin playfully chides you.
    “You haven’t even told me where to start with that!” You laugh.
    “I thought I did. Maybe it was just a dream,” She shrugs, “We can start later. Now sit! We got food comin’ and I wanna get goin’ to that workshop!”
    Tilde gives you another slight bow and a smile before she walks off gracefully. You take a seat just as a few plates of meats, potatoes and a few sides of eggs and fruits comes out. Rose’s potatoes are stacked high with cheese. You pour some red and hot paste on them to give it a bit of a kick. Pin can’t sit still as she shovels food into her mouth, “Rose,” You swallow some of your food, “Did you make any progress with your dad?”
    She nods, “A little. He admitted to hiding something and that he knows that he has to come to explain it soon. He apologised but said he couldn’t speak about it now.”
    “That's good. I hope it goes well,” You smile, but are a little worried.
Eventually Rael appears along with Joan. He doesn’t have his armor on, instead a somewhat ornate purple long sleeved tunic and somewhat plain and very clean black pants. Joan wears a black skirt over her horse body and a nice white blouse. Her long blonde hair has been braided by Rose and rests on her shoulder “What’s with the nice clothes?” Pin asks.
    “We are going to the final resting place of two great people,” He sounds like he has finally calmed down and is entirely lucid, “I wish to pay my respects.”
    “I merely wish to look good today,” Joan explains as she grasps the sheath and sword at her hip.
    “We’re jus’ gettin’ some supplies for the return trip,” Eric sighs.
    “I understand that. Can I not dress well for a simple stroll through the town? Do I not look good?”
    “Yeah, of course you look good!” He blushes, realising the trap he had just fallen into, “I-I just don’t know if its comfortable.”
She giggles at the flustered ranger, “I can assure you I am quite comfortable. Arthur, what are you doing today?” She puts the ball in the wizard’s court.
    “I am going to ask around about this Matriarch woman. If she has as much command as is thought, she must have SOME trail somewhere. She cannot hide from us forever. Perhaps I will contact mother as well, perhaps her diviners have found something too.”
    “And contact Nambra,” You remind him.
    He blushes just at the thought of that old satyros, “O-of course. You didn’t need to say that in front of everyone, Curtis,” He whispers.
    Rose chuckles, “Would you have done it if he hadn’t?”
    “Y-yes I--” He stops himself.
    “Why not? Nambra is so nice!”
    Arthur takes much longer than he normally would to respond. The entire group grows silent in anticipation, wondering just what is on his mind, “She scares me.”
    “What!?” Rose exclaims what comes to everyones’ minds.
    “T-the way she commands her magic, the way she makes the aether scream out as the fire dances to her emotions...” Arthur swoons, “Such beauty and destruction. It makes me weak. Such a wise, powerful woman, I could never be her equal.”
    “You don’t fear the damned Sabbath but you fear a satyros with fire magic?” Eric just looks confused.
    “She is much more than that!” Arthur looks offended, “If you were more arcanely tuned you would understand. That woman is my elder in ability and age. And, of course, in looks too.”
“Just talk to her, you don’t need to make anything of it yet,” Rose assures him.
Arthur sighs, “O-of course. Perhaps I will just say hello in a short letter. But back to the focus at hand,” He shakes himself and moves onto his book, “I have a few people to speak to. Rael, if you get the chance, please ask the Geno family as you have a bit of  a connection to them. They may be more receptive to your inquiries.”
    “Aye,” Rael nods as he goes back to eating.
    You take a look at Pin. She’s rocking back and forth in her spot, anxious and eager to go. She looks at you expectantly as she taps on the polished wooden table, “We gotta wait for Tilde,” You remind her.
    “She’s right fuckin’ there!” She points behind you. Sure enough Tilde had silently rejoined you and merely hovered behind you somewhat ominously, “Come on! I wanna go already!”
    You slump in your seat and huff slightly. You crane your neck down to peek at Rael. As if you have to, you say but one word, “Rael?”
    Rael swallows his food, “A minute more, you impatient thing,” He says at the space occupied by Pin.
    “I’m not impatient! Do you know HOW LONG I’ve been trying to get to this point!? A very long time! It has taken me years to simply get from that keep to Geno-Town, and now I’m here and I have to wait for some scarred up fuck to finish his godddamned potatoes before I can finally--”
    “Alright! Enough!” Rael barks, “You are going to screech my ears off!” 
    “How has it taken you years to get here? I feel it was pretty fast for us...” You scratch your chin.
    “I didn’t have any fuckin’ ranger magic to carry me faster through all the forests and shit!” Pin points a small accusatory finger at you and scowls.
    Rael gets up with Rose close behind, “Come along now. We are burning daylight.”
    “Finally!” Pin cries as she jumps up and stomps towards the dock ramp. You shrug at Tilde and she only smiles in response.

    The walk to Geno’s workshop isn’t that long. It sits on one of the cliffs outside of town attached to a big windmill. A nicely kept stone path leads you up the gentle slope and up some tiny steps built for someone of Pin’s size. Said gremlin leads the charge past well kept apple trees and grape vines. Thorny rose bushes that line the trail threaten to claw at and cling to your clothes. A bit of Tilde’s leotard gets caught in a bush as she has an oblivious episode and you have to help her get untangled. Pin leads the charge as she hurries along the path, giddily chatting with no one in particular as she bounces up the path. Rose does her best to keep pace with Pin as her infectious excitement afflicts her. You walk with Rael and Tilde and chat quietly, “The plants are very well kept,” Rael mutters.
    “Yeah, they are. Any idea who tends them?” You question.
    “Yes actually. I have met them when I have come to visit the grave. I just hope Pin and Rose do not break anything. The man takes great pride in his work. I wonder if he is still training others to take up his craft,” You hear a bit of shouting up ahead, “Looks like they broke or stepped on something.”
    You sigh and hurry up to bail out the two girls. You find them both being stared at by a strict looking old man in glasses. It looks like the girls had nearly crashed into a set of potted flowers that are being planted off to the side of the path where the rose bushes had ended. He has a few teenagers with him, a gnomish male, a female dark elf and a male human. All four of them are wearing dirt stained brown overalls, short sleeved shirts and wide brimmed straw hats. His gaze turns to you and Tilde, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” He growls, shovel in hand.
    “Did my daughter and her friend break anything of yours, Dylan?” Rael asks as he catches up to you at a leisurely pace.
    “Rael? That you? It has been too long!” His tone immediately changes to friendly as he approaches Rael with an outstretched arm. They shake and exchange quick greetings, “Ah, young ladies. My apologies for my previous lack of manners,” Dylan sighs, “Just gotta keep the riff raff outta here. Come to see Geno and Shalandra’s resting places once more, have ya?”
    “We have,” Rael nods, “Laura gave us her blessing to come here and try to get into the workshop.”
    Dylan gives Rael a blank look for a moment before laughing, “Shoot, you’re welcome to try. No one’s really tried in a hundred years. Geno was an eclectic and eccentric man,” He struggles a little through those words, “No one really gets it despite being his kids.”
    “Are none of you artificers?” Pin asks.
    “Heck, not a lot of us, really. We each took up different parts of Geno and Shalandra’s arts focusing in on one and getting as good as we can,,” He starts counting off on his fingers, “Smithing, jewelry-ing, weaving, inn keeping, making actual art and some other stuff rather than those weird artsy contraptions. The man basically solved artifice.”
    Pin frowns, “I don’t know how artsy his shit was. He made weapons and tools of war afterall!”
    “Eh, I’m just tellin’ ya what the scholars tell me. I’m just a gardener. Kids, move these flowers so these fine folks can get past,” The kids and Dylan pick up the potted plants and set them aside so your group can get past, “Good luck up there Rael, lemme know if ya get in.”
    “Aye,” He nods and trudges past the group. You follow as well and hurry up to the building. The windmill turns slowly in the breeze as it powers some unseen machinery. The structure is mostly stone with a wooden roof. The entire building is surrounded with beautiful colored flowers of various varieties. Rael walks up to the front door, opens it and struts in. You take a look around at the dusty couch, coffee table, multiple bookshelves, kitchen, a dining table with two chairs, and a few small, simple paintings depicting everyday objects like fruit or furniture. There is another door that you assume leads into a bedroom. 
    “Alright, where is it!?” Pin asks in an excited voice.
    “What are we looking for exactly?” Rose inquires as she pokes around.
    Pin completely ignores her, “Look, we gotta get into Geno’s workshop! I told Rael we were gonna summon a ghost and we’re goin’ for the fuckin’ BIG ONE! Geno’s spirit will tell me everything I need to know!” The gremlin is practically shouting as she lays out her plan. Rose shrugs.
    “Him!? Why did you not tell me it was him that you wished to summon the spirit of!?” Rael demands.
    “I thought you wouldn’t care! I didn’t know you were like, related to the guy! That should make this easier! Don’t you want to ask him about that Benos--Genos--Xenos guy!? Imagine all the fuckin’ secrets we can learn from him!”
    Rael stops, arms folded and eyes closed. His lips tremble slightly. His eyes open slowly and the, albeit now much dimer, familiar purple glow returns, “Aye. Perhaps I do wish to speak to him. If you all can find a way in, I will help you speak to him,” You pick up on something in his voice and in his eyes--fear.
    Pin and Rose start to scramble about the room, searching for the path. You frown and glance at Rael. His eyes slowly shift to you. He nods slightly at you. You don’t have to wait long before Pin and Rose start to giddily giggle to each other as they point at a painting depicting the bookshelves set up in a specific way. They start to move some books around, organising them by color and title. There is a loud click and the bookshelves start to shift. Two bookshelves slide forward then to opposite sides revealing something seems to be a large door. The door is made of brass or bronze and inlaid with a picture. It seems to be a single flower in a plain vase resting on a wooden table. On the wall behind the flower is a weird window that stretches across two walls in an impossible way with the sun and a tree poking in. Everything is made of straight lines or circles and most lines show through objects that should be in front of them creating more impossible geometry in the otherwise simple scene. **See spoilered picture.** 
    You, Rose and Pin scratch your heads, “W-well...” Pin looks at it a bit more, “Aha! Gnomish script!” She runs her hand over the runes on a plaque and mumbles in another language, “Well done so far, dear descendent. To open the door to my final resting place and learn all my secrets, say what the...” She stops, “He uses a weird word that kinda means art. But its almost demeaning. Anyways, say what the art means.”
    “Say what it means?” Rose repeats, “I’m not good at this.”
    “I-I guess he really did have some meaning in his artifice,” Pin sounds almost sad as she admits to being wrong, “Any ideas?”

PT39

    You, Pin and Rose all scratch your heads. Rael goes to the kitchen, arms folded and Tilde gives you a concerned and somewhat confused look. Rose is the first to guess, “Plant?” She squeaks then covers her head. Nothing happens making her sigh with relief, “Looks like it won’t kill us if we get it wrong.”
    “He made this as a challenge to his family. Why would he set it up the murder them?” Pin chuckles, “Think any of his family actually got to this door?”
    “Looks like the bookshelves have been dragged across this floor a few times,” Rose touches the deep gouges and scratches on the wooden floor.
    “Doesn’t seem like Geno to make something that poorly designed,” Pin frowns.
    “Maybe he made it at the end of his life. Maybe he needed to move quickly as he knew his time was near.”
    “Could fuckin’ be. Who knows. Anyways. Happiness, warmth, morning, day,” Pin starts rattling off words.
    “Does it have to be in a specific language?”
    “I know a bunch of languages, but I doubt it. More than likely its a magic trigger that just wants to hear the word in any language.”
    “Then why did he write it in gnomish?”
    “Why do we all speak the common tongue and not some other language?” Pin counters with another question, “He probably just likes the language or it was all he could do in his old age.”
    “Fair. Let's think this through,” Rose and Pin strap down and start to speak quietly, “Curtis! Give us your ideas!”
    “W-well,” You scratch your head, “Home, house, flower.”
    “Maybe something a bit more abstract?” Pin suggests.
    “Uh, the morning after? Babymaking? Waking up after? 
    “Oh, is THAT what you have on your mind?” Rose giggles at you.
“No! No!” You hurriedly shake your head before she gets any ideas, “I’m just saying it could be something like what he saw after a good night with his wife!”
    “So easily flustered,” Tilde comments before returning to scanning the bookshelves.
    “Lets be more negative and maybe a little fuckin’ aggressive. He did use art in a negative sort of way,” Pin comments, “I’m gonna swear at it for a bit,” You’re sure she utters every swear in the book in four or more languages. 
    “Any other ideas?” Rose asks you quietly. 
    You scratch your chin a little bit, “Pin probably has the right idea being negative,” You look at Rael and wonder if he has the answer or some kind of hint. He continues to stare out the window from the kitchen table. 
Pin cries out in frustration using a few of the swears she was just spewing at the door, “I’m gonna go walk around,” She scowls at the door as she gets up and wanders into the back.
    Rose takes her turn examining the door. She kneels down, removing her black leather gloves and stuffing them into one of the various pockets of her black cloak. She presses a big mouse ear up against the door and knocks lightly, “Well, there is something back there,” She continues examining the craftsmanship by running her dainty hands over the surface and poking at it, “Nothing seems to move. There is a tiny hole here, but it looks like something comes out. See the tiny scratches and scrapes?” She points to the bottom of a little square hole that's located off to one side. The spots where metal grinded against metal at one point are completely obvious, “You can tell its not a key because the scuff marks would be all around it. Especially if he made it in his old age. His hands would be all shaky as he tried to get into this workshop!” She giggles as she draws a few tools. You watch her dexterously put a really thin tool in a few tiny cracks and wiggle it around, “Ah, no easy way in it seems,” She reaches a hand up to you, silently demanding help up. You obediently take her hand, her soft fingers clench your hands and she gracefully pulls herself up. She gives you a nice smile as she stands close to you, “Your turn, I suppose.”
    You nod slowly as she steps away, “Well,” You shrug, “Ah. How about confusion, distraction or frustration?”
    “I’m feeling that last one too,” Rose sighs. You nod, a bit weary of this puzzle already. 
    “I fuckin’ looked all over his bedroom,” Pin shouts as soon as she exits the back room, “There is fuckin’ NOTHING in there that looks like this! What the fuck!?” She stomps her foot like a tantruming child, “Just let me in!” She plops herself on the floor, both legs outstretched in a V with her hands in her lap, “I wore my nice smithing and tinkering apron and everything!” It looks like she’s telling the truth. She’s combed her hair more than you’ve ever seen before and the clothes she wears is a little bit cleaner than her usual tattered and oily working clothes. The apron she has on is black and very well kept if not a little bit big for her. 
    You look to Rael, pleadingly. All three of you have disheartened looks on your face, unsure of how to proceed. The cleric sighs, “There is no meaning,” He states matter-of-factly as he steps from the kitchen and back into the main living room, “It is merely a vase with a flower in it on a table in front of a window. There is no meaning,” He repeats.
    You all stare, mouth agape or spread into a confused frown. At once, the three of you turn and stare at the brass door as a loud click echoes from it. Out of the hole that Rose had pointed out earlier, a little handle springs forth. You all just stare dumbfounded until Pin breaks the silence, “THAT was it!?” She laughs heartily, “I should be pissed, but I’m just happy to be done with that bull shit. I don’t know how you knew that, Rael, but thanks,” She grabs the handle and turns it before pulling the heavy door open. A breeze of stale, moist air washes over you as you all stare into a dark void. You grab your flashlight and shine it into a circular set of short stone stairs that descends further into the dark, “Come on now!” Pin pulls out a small lantern and flips a switch on the side. The crystal inside glows a bright white illuminating the whole staircase down. Without another word, she starts to stomp down the stairs.
    Rose gives her father a strange look but wordlessly follows Pin. Rael descends the steps with a stoic look on his face. Tilde gives you an expectant and eager glance as she waits for you to lead her down into the depths of the workshop, “Query: care to lead me? Humor: I do not wish to lose my way in the dark.”
    You sigh, “Turn on your shoulder light. You’re fine,” The automaton does as you command but immediately begins to sulk, pulling at your heart strings, “Here,” You quietly grumble and extend your arm for her. She quickly grips your fingers and lets you lead her down into the dark. 
    You shine your light over the dusty stone steps as you travel down into the basement. A sense of unease comes over you. As if sensing your fears, her fingers tighten around yours, pushing the feeling away. You can hear the others talking at the bottom of the stairs, specifically Rose and Pin, “Why would he lock the door!?” Pin groans, “We just went through that bullshit!”
    “Maybe it was an accident?” Rose suggests. She rubs her hands together and pulls out a few more tools, “I can get this open, I think.”
“I’m sure you can. Doesn’t look that fuckin’ complex. Why would he have a door here after that?”
“The door up there was put in later, it seems. Probably just two doors to leave these drafty stairs sectioned off,” Rose taps on the door, presumably checking for traps as she runs a few tests.
    You take a quick look around at the bottom of the staircase. There is mostly only a big metal door that seems more like the hatch to a bunker. You also spot a discarded oil lamp amongst discarded wooden boxes that once held raw materials and other supplies that a crafter might need according to the wax and ink labels on the side. You struggle to fathom how some wooden boxes had lasted more than 200 years in this damp room, “You two holdin’ hands now?” Pin asks, noting how Tilde was still grasping your fingers.
    “N-no, she just wanted me to lead her down the stairs,” You apprehensively take your hand back.
    “Suuuure,” Pin teases you, “Tilde, was he scared of the dark?”
    The robot starts to speak slowly, “Negative. I did detect some negative emotions that I attempted to quell but I do not think it was fear caused by the dark. I do not know nor understand what could have brought it about.”
    “Oh,” Pin frowns, probably disappointed she doesn’t have more ammo to tease you with.
    “Its open,” Rose announces as she picks herself up off the floor, “Pin, do you want to do the honor?” She asks as she moves away from the metal door.
    Pin nervously nods and moves towards the door. She shakes as she reaches for the handle slowly, you’re unsure if she’s just messing around or actually completely nerve wracked as she grips the handle slowly. She takes a deep breath, “H-here we go...” The nervousness is obvious in her trembling voice. She closes her eyes and turns the metal metal handle. She pulls the door open and peeks in, using the lantern for light. After a short glance inside, she carefully pulls the door completely open giving the rest of the party a view. You and Tilde give a bit of light to the further back part of the workshop. The workshop is located underneath the old Geno residence and is completely stone with a wooden ceiling. It is one large chamber occupied by countless workbenches, each having a specific purpose and tools assigned to each. The middle of the workshop is dominated by a sarcophagi made of various precious metals and perfectly gemstones. The final resting place of Geno and Shalandra.
    “Some work area,” Rose sounds impressed, “Did he really need THIS many tables?”
    “You wouldn’t understand,” Pin grunts, “The fine details and craftsmanship of artifice can require innumerable tools and skill sets. Geno, being a gnome, had the blessing of a long lifespan which in turn allowed him to pick up the fuck ton skills he would need.”
    You all just stand at the door, gawking into the room, “Well?” Rose pressures Pin.
    “You want me to just fuckin’ walk into these hallowed grounds!?” She suddenly snaps at Rose, pointing another finger at her. The fear is completely obvious on her face, “I--” Rael pushes past and walks into the chamber, “RAEL!” Pin screeches at him but doesn’t dare to step foot into the room.
    “Forgive me, mine child,” He utters as he glances back at Rose, “For the things I have kept secret from thee. They will be hidden no longer,” The cleric raises a hand and mutters a few words. His hand is bathed in a swirling, moving purple light that brings the entire room into view revealing numerous monstrous automations and machinery, “I have returned, as I once promised thee,” Rael mumbles as he slips into his old way of speaking, “I must apologize, mine absence of 200 some odd years was not of mine own accord,” His voice rises as he reaches the tomb. Pin and Rose stare at the man, awestruck, “I command thee, return once more to the realm of the living!” He slams the purple light onto the sarcophagi, “Let thy forms become clear and speech be heard upon our mortal ears. Let thee... Forgive mine past transgressions,” You swear you see the glisten of tears on the old, scarred cleric's face as he channels his will into the dead bodies of two friends. 
    Two forms appear, their visages swathed in the purple light Rael had commanded. A short man with facial hair and glasses and a woman with long hair, pointed ears and wearing a long gown both phase into your reality. It takes the two of them a moment to come to as they blink hard and look down at their semi translucent forms. The short man speaks first, “Who-- You are not of my blood lines,” He scratches his chin before climbing atop the sarcofagi to get a better look at Rael. He adjusts his glasses and tilts his head. 
    “I know mine form has become scarred and akin to an abomination of foul magics, but I assure thee, I am still thy old friend, Geno,” Rael whispers.
    The short man, Geno, snaps his finger, “Xenos! My friend!” He laughs, “It only took until I died for you to return! Where the hell have you been?”
    “Why do you cry so?” The elven woman asks, grazing her ghostly finger over the cleric’s cheek.
    “Shalandra, it took an age to return to thee and another few years to gain the courage to face thee,” He sighs.
    “Rael!” Pin whispers loudly, her eyes as wide as dinner plates.
    “You brought guests and have not introduced them?” The elven woman, Shalandra, playfully scolds Rael.
    Flustered, he waves for you all to enter. Pin darts into the room, standing somewhat behind Rael for protection from the ghosts. You start to walk into the room but feel Rose’s hesitation as she backs away from the door, “I don’t even know who that is,” She whispers to you, staring at her father, “That’s not my dad,” She glances back at you with fear and confusion on her face.
    “Rose?” Rael calls out to her, making her turn away and scurry up the stairs.
    You frown and turn back to him, “I’ll go after her,” You promise. Tilde moves to follow you but you shake your head at her, “I should probably talk to her alone.”
    Tilde hesitates but nods, “Affirmative. I shall await your return with bated breath.”
    Your pause to stop the robot from following you like a baby duck cost you precious time. When you get to the top of the stairs, Rose is nowhere to be seen. A quick search of the house shows that she must have left, or is hiding incredibly well. You storm out the back door and glance around. Past rows of flowers and short, well kept shrubs, a familiar mouse girl in a black cloak sits on a bench overlooking the cliff above town. Her gray ears twitch as the wind gently blows. You slowly walk up behind her, hands behind your back, “Rose?” You quietly say her name. She glances back at you then back down at the city, “Can I sit with you?” She doesn’t respond but scoots over a tiny bit. You take the seat next to her, “Nice view up here,” You comment as you stare out at the horizon. The ocean gently laps at the sandy beach where ships come and go from the harbor. Your mind wanders a bit from the situation at hand as you imagine what kinds of people they’re carrying.
    “Curtis,” Rose says your name shakily and quietly, “You knew, didn’t you?” She glances at you with tears in her eyes, “That look on your face down there. You weren’t even surprised. How did you know? How could you not tell me?”
    “Rose--”
    “My dad is from that far in the past and- and he talks like that!? He’s more ancient than anyone else I know! And the one person I’ve ever come to call a close friend would keep that from me!?” She manages to stifle her tears, “I don’t know who to trust anymore. I-I should just run away on a boat. Start a new life away from all this... All this shit I’ve found myself in.”

PT40

    You rest your elbows on your knees and interlock your fingers, “Look, Rose. I tried to do the right thing. If I had told you, not only would I have hurt you like this I would have caused a divide between you and your father and myself and your father. He was begging me to keep it a secret but it feels like in telling me some great weight was lifted off of him,” Rose frowns, but nods slightly at you, “I know it hurts, finding out he’s lied to you and that he’s nothing like you thought. It must feel unfair that he told me in the first place rather than his own daughter, or hell, his own wife. He loves you Rose. That’s why he didn’t tell you. That man couldn’t bear the thought of you hating him over this and making them your burden too, his own issues and problems, and look where we are now. He only did the things he did because he wants more than anything to keep you safe and happy.”
    “But--”
    “And running away?” You chastise somewhat harshly, “What about your mother? Yda? Joan and Pin? The rest of the party? You're a very treasured and dear friend to me Rose, I don’t think I could keep going like I am without you; and you would disappear from everyone’s lives just because your father was scared of this exact scenario and because I wouldn’t betray his trust? How will hurting everyone in your life solve anything?” The tears finally start to flow down her face, the guilt of even suggesting running away weighing heavily on her heart. Wordlessly, you hug her against your chest and let her cry as much as she needs to, “You have a chance, right now, to fix any sort of rift between you and your father. I kept your father’s confidence because I believed in the love he has for you and your mother and sister. I believe in the love you have for him too. You have to braver than him right now and walk through this horrifying part in his life with him.”
    She finally speaks after some time spent crying, “I’m such a brat,” She cries softly, “I’m such an awful daughter.”
    “Don’t say that,” You sigh, patting her back gently, “I’m sorry that I had to be secretive.”
    “Its okay,” She sniffles as she somewhat calms down, “I understand why you did it,” She pulls back from you with a smile. Suddenly, a flash of anger spreads across her face, “We’re supposed to be best friends! We’re supposed to tell eachother everything!”
    “B-best friends?” 
    “Of course! What do you not think we are? You just called me your treasured friend, afterall!” She laughs, the smile returning, “I should get back down there, shouldn’t I?”
    “Probably,” You hop up and offer her your hand, “I’ll even lead you down if you want.”
    “Oh, such a gentleman,” She giggles and takes your hand, letting you pull her to her feet. She stands nearly up against you before she hugs you once more, nuzzling the top of her head against your chin. You feel the soft fur on her ears against your skin, “Thank you.”
    You hug her back, “Come on, they’re waiting for us.”
    She makes an “Aw,” Noise and slowly releases you, “Well, you said you would lead me, didn’t you?” She offers you her hand, though its more of a demand.
    “You think Joan’s gonna want to hold my hand next?” You joke. You take her and stomp back into the house. You can tell she's nervous, but then again so are you. You grip her fingers, employing the same technique as Tilde. She needs the strength and courage much more than you do. You lead her down the stairs and back to the workshop, “Ready?”
    “I think so,” She gives you one more smile before releasing your hand and nervously strutting into the room, “Dad?” She calls out to her father as she approaches. He sits in a chair to the side as he chats with Shalandra. The depressed look on his face slowly dissipates as his daughter makes her way over to him. Geno and Pin huddle around a workbench together, working on some unseen project while the forge roars next to them. Tilde stands near them curiously watching.
    “Mine dear,” Rael gets up and walks to her, dropping to his knee, “Please, see it in thyself to--”
    “Get up, dad,” Rose holds her arms out for a hug, “I just want you to be honest with me. Tell me everything.”
    “Of course, m-mine dear. Anything thee desires,” You watch the two hug from a distance
    “Why are you talking like that?”
    “I-- It was how I was raised.”
    “Even when we were alive, it was strange,” Shlandra laughs, “Definitely a regional thing.”
    “Rose,” Rael finally regains some composure, “I love you. I am sorry for every way I have wronged you.”
“I love you too, dad. I’m sorry I freaked out and made all your fears a reality.” 
    “It is alright, my dear. I am just happy you came back to speak to me.”
    “Query: they are cute are they not?” Tilde suddenly appears at your side, “Perhaps we should hug as well?”
    “Maybe later, alright?” You give her a nervous chuckle, “Give them their moment.”
    “As you wish.”
    The two stop hugging as Rael kisses his daughter on the forehead. He puts his hands on her shoulders and grips her tightly as if she would vanish if he let go. Shalandra coughs, trying to get his attention, “My apologies, friend. Shalandra, this is my aforementioned daughter, Rose. She is the spitting image of her just as beautiful mother.”
    The ghost of the elf bows, “Hello, dear. It is wonderful to meet you. I am glad your mere presence has calmed your father. Though I wish my dear husband cared a bit more about his friend,” She glances over at where Pin and Geno excitedly crowd over whatever they are working on, “And might I say, I did not meet many mamano in my time, but those ears are adorable! And the way your eyes match your fathers!”
    Rose chuckles nervously, “Its nice to meet you, Shalandra. I wish I could say I have heard a lot about you,” She gives a cheeky glance at her father.
    The elf laughs, “Well, I am sure he has much to tell you now. Right, Xenos?”
    He huffs, “Aye. Though, it is Rael now. Rael Summerfield.”
    “Named yourself after your hometown. I am so sorry for your loss Rael. Your home being gone when you... Returned. I cannot imagine it.”
    “Thank you. I assume it was destroyed in the Cataclysm?”
    “You are right. The Inquisition fought to the bitter end,” She sighs softly, “Where are my manners? I believe I have two others to meet.”
    Tilde and you approach, “Hello,” You casually raise a hand in a small wave, “I’m Curtis Bradley. Pin has been hyping up you and Geno for a while now. I’m a little star struck.”
    “You should have seen how Pin was acting,” She smiles. She takes a look at you, her face changing into a concerned expression.
    “Is something wrong?” Rael asks.
    She takes a few more moments to stare at you, “Nothing. I just sense some strange things on him.”
    “I am from the Other Side, so I’m kinda used to that,” You shrug.
    “Even still. The aura and feelings I get in your presence are off putting,” She shakes herself, “My apologies. That was quite rude of me. Please ignore my odd feelings,” She moves her attention to Tilde.
    Tilde doesn’t introduce herself and instead looks at you for aid, “This is Tilde. Model three automaton and...” You look for some other thing to say about her.
    “Curtis’s trusted caretaker and protector,” She gives a slight bow. 
    “Nice to meet you, Tilde,” Shalandra smiles, “I have only met a few automatons in my lifetime. None looked as human like or lovely as you.”
    “T-thank you,” Tilde blushes and hides behind you.
    “It is done,” Pin announces.
    “Yes, yes, quite good,” Geno nods.
    You hear Pin maliciously laugh as some metal parts are locked together with a loud clunk before Pin pumps the front action of the weapon, “Curtis! Look at this shit!” She runs over to you and dumps the item in your hands. You know immediately its a gun. Its quite small for you, built for the hands of someone like Pin or Geno, but you imagine you could use it effectively if you had to. It has a pump on the front, reminiscence of the pump on a shotgun. Most of the gun is made out of wood, the body and stock specifically. The gun has a wheel similar to a revolver, you mess with it a bit and find you can take the whole thing out. It looks like they can take something about the size of 12 gauge rounds. You shoulder it and look down the sights. The marksmanship is superb, as it should be as it was made by two experts.
    “Very nice,” You mumble as you slam the wheel back into place. You pump it, noting that it only makes the chamber rotate.
    “I wanted two barrels but Geno said it would weigh way too much. I’m thinking I’m gonna make a bigger one for you next. Maybe ones for Rose and Tilde too.”
    “I don’t need a weapon like that,” Rose frowns.
    “We can load it with non lethal rounds and make it really small,” Pin handwaves her concerns, “Oh, Geno, tell us about that door bullshit!”
    “Just a second,” The ghost of Geno, “Hey, Xenos, this your kid?”
    “Aye. Rose, Geno,” Rael quickly introduces the two.
    “Nice to meet you, kid.
    “This is Curtis and Tilde,” Pin introduces you to the gnome, “I mentioned them a bit ago.”
    “Pin spoke highly of you, Curtis. Tilde, let me take a closer look at you,” The gnome speaks harshly and somewhat quick. It just seems to be his normal voice, “Aye... A model three. A very personalised and custom model three. Whoever owned her was a very wealthy man. What can she do?”
    You look to Tilde to speak for herself, but she seems to have cold feet as she nods at you, “Tilde is equipped with a few medical scanners, wrist mounted energy blades that stun and a ranged stun blast. She also has a shoulder mounted flashlight and, although I haven’t seen it, she can apparently dance.”
    “A companion model, hum,” Geno nods, “Anything else?”
    “A lot of her internals are fucked. I managed to fix her facial expressions and her ability to feel heat.”
    “Alright, lemme see it.”
    You give Tilde an encouraging smile as she shifts nervously, “Affirmative,” She strips off her leotard and opens up her chest. Geno peeks at the automatons insides and reaches out a ghostly finger to touch something. Tilde pulls away, not wanting him to poke around.
    “I can’t fucking fix you if you don’t let me work,” He grunts, annoyed at the automaton, “A bit strange she’s showing this much emotion.”
    “She’s been acting like this for a long time,” You explain, “Just tell me what to do, she’ll let me work on her.”
    “Alright, sure,” He rolls his eyes, “Pin, grab my automation tools from over there. It should be labeled in gnomish.”
    “Geno, how about you tell Rael,” She gestures to the cleric, “and his friends about your little door problem,” Shalandra suggests, “I am sure you can work and speak at the same time.”
    He smirks, “That bullshit?” He laughs, “Well, I always hated how people wanted to assign some kind of meaning to art. I may make works of art, but they don’t have to mean anything. The only times they mean something is when I name ‘em after my wife, just means I love her. But my family was adamant about the meaning in art. They profited off it even and built this town that they so lovingly named after me with said profit. So I made a puzzle specifically to make someone admit there was no meaning in a work of art, even if it wasn’t one of my best works. Too bad it only took what, 200 some years and someone that isn’t even family?”
    Rael chuckles, “I remember how you would always tell me that you hated people like that.”
    “How do you all know each other?” Rose asks as she stands next to her father.
    “Those Inquisition bastards sent their bloodhound, Xenos-- Er, Rael, on me on a few occasions,” Geno grins, “Claimed my tinkering in the old world’s magics and developing artifice was heresy. Rael saw the uses of it and told me how to keep the Inquisition somewhat happy.”
    “Not like it was as destructive as wizardry and sorcery. Especially not as awful as pact magic. Artifice could put the power of magic in the hands of anyone,” Rael explains, “Learning was the only barrier of entry.”
    “Right. He kept the Inquisition at bay by getting us to help him with a few problem casters using artifice. It did help that my lovely wife here is a cleric.”
    “Wish I could have seen your projects in action!” Pin sighs as she hands off the tools.
    “You’ve got one in your hands now. Put it to good use. Grab that one, Curtis,” He commands you. You do as you're told, “We’re not going to mess with her memory core, she’s developed some kind of self awareness and I want you and Pin to document it. But we can fix some of her energy problems and turn some other features back on. Want to tell me how you got here, Rael? How’d you get those scars?” He quietly instructs you as Rael starts to speak.
    Rael nervously shifts, “W-Well...”
    “Come on, dad. You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Rose smiles at him.
    “You are right. I cannot run from this anymore. I suppose there is no easy way to say this. Do you remember that cult of warlocks?”
    “The ones that adorned themselves in runes and scars--” Geno’s expression changes to horror, “Rael... They got you?”
    “Not by choice. I brought my mace down on the skull of the last warlock and as a last effort, he tore open a hole to his twisted god’s realm. I was brought into a hellish purple zone where I was scarred by the dark god and trapped for close to 200 years. It felt like an immeasurable amount of time and only a single moment at the same time. It was horrible. My only option was to take Their curse upon me and be loosed unto the world. At least I can say I am the last that is held in Their claws.”
    “You’re... Not a cleric?” Rose asks.
    “Aye. I have been lying to myself and others but I must be truthful now. I became what I hated despite being given the healing magic I so desperately wanted. I am sorry.”
    “Dad, its okay,” Rose grabs his arm, “Stop being so hard on yourself.”
    You give him a weird look, “Didn’t you offer to teach me some of that magic you know?”
    “It was merely to appease Them. I had a feeling you would not take me up on it. If you had, I would have put you on a righteous path. Perhaps Lady Mythra would have taken you as a cleric. We would have figured something out.”
    “Good thing you picked me as your mentor, right?” Pin smiles.
    “How do you feel, Tilde?” You ask the robot as you put in new wires. 
    “Strange, really,” She gently touches your wrist as you solder them in.
    “You’re a natural at this, Curtis,” Geno notes as you work, “Take that component out next and put that refurbished one.”
    “I did this back home. You can see where I jury rigged a few wires there.”
    “Ah, I see. Switch that wire out if you want.”
    “I probably should. Only the best for my friends.”
    “You’re strange. But I like your work ethic. I’ll leave you to do your work,” Geno gets up and steps over to his wife. He chats quietly with Rael, Rose and Shalandra.
    You turn to Pin, “Find out what you wanted?”
    She grinds and flashes you a bundle of things, four leather bound journals, “Everything I need to know is right here. Knowledge on artifice. AND some research he never finished on combining this world's magic with your world’s tech. Gods I’m so fucking happy I could just kiss you or slap you or...” She sighs, “Though... I do feel a little empty now. I met my hero and got what I wanted. I guess now its up to you and me and figure out this new thing... Uh, I dunno what to call it.”
    “Technomancy,” You offer.
    “Oh, fuck that sounds absolutely malicious... I love it,” You hear her cackle excitedly again as you finish up your work on Tilde.
    “How’s that?” You ask her.
    “Answer: I feel as though my energy is being used more efficiently. I also feel quicker,” She moves her limbs quickly, hardly any steam comes out of her joints now. She smiles happily at you. 
    You look at your other friends, Rose and Rael both have nice smiles on their faces. You have a tiny smile on your face, just happy that all your friends here are happy now.

    
    Pin nudges you, “Hey, you sleeping?” 
    “Hm?” You shake yourself. You are sitting in a comfortable wooden chair, you must have dozed off.
    “We’re saying goodbye to the ghosts. Raels nearly killed himself by keeping them here this damn long.”
    You get up and wander to the middle of the room, everyone else meanders near the sarcophagi. The two ghosts stand hand in hand, their forms more translucent than earlier, “I suppose I can finally cast off all my guilt. 30 some years I have carried this weight,” Rael sighs, “I have finally told at least one of my loved ones of my past--”
    “And you had better tell your wife too,” Shalandra warns.
    “We’ll keep him to it,” Rose giggles.
    Geno grunts, “And you should bring your wife and your other little one around next time you pass through. I wanna meet the woman that was mad enough to marry THE Xenos.”
    “O-Of course,” Rael stammers nervously, “But, I finally get to say goodbye for the last time. It has been weighing heavily on me.”
    Shalandra chuckles, “You have done much more than just saying your goodbyes, Rael. But I am glad you are feeling better. If you wish to speak again, I do not know how far away you live but... We will be here.”
    “I’ll be sure to haunt your dreams sometimes. Probably all of you. Even Tilde,” Geno grins, “Be seeing you Rael. Oh, Pin. Anything you want in here,” He waves his hand parallel to the ground in a grand gesture, “Its yours. Not like my family cares. You and Curtis gotta carry it on for me. Curtis, be sure you take that automaton repair kit with you. Rael, feel free to tell my family the answer to the door ‘puzzle.’ Tell them to bring a cleric so I can scold them myself.”
    “Aye. I will,” Rael smiles, “Well, goodbye, friends,” He starts to tear up again.
    Rose grips his hand, “No crying, dad.”
    The two ghosts give one final wave and smile before dissipating into nothingness. You all just stand and stare as the room goes dim and the temperature noticeably raises. The eerie silence is broken as Pin starts to grab everything that isn’t nailed down. She furiously picks things up and slams them back down into place. Anything that her strange brain determines is of quality she throws into one of her bags, “Rose, shall we head back to the Shalandra? I am quite hungry,” Rael comments.
    “You’re not gonna watch Pin?” Rose asks.
    “Nay. Geno gave her permission. After hearing the two talk, I suspect she will be the one to bring artifice to the masses of today. Afterall, that was Geno’s wish,” He turns and moves towards the stairs, “Are you coming, Curtis and Tilde?”
    “Are you sure we should leave her alone?” You ask.
    “Aye. I am fully confident in her.”
    “Curtis! There's a few books on automatons on this shelf! Some of them you should be able to read!” She excitedly tells you, “I’ll snag them for ya. I shouldn’t be too much longer.”
    “I’ll wait for her,” You assure them, “I don’t want her to have to walk back alone.”
    “As you wish,” Rael shrugs before leaving with his daughter.
    “All the knowledge and power in this one room,” She sighs, “And I can only take so much of it. I better take the books first. Especially anything Geno so much as sneezed in.”
    She moves things around in her few bottomless bags. She loads all the books, journals and scrolls she collects into one bag, “How can you find everything in those?”
    “I can’t!” She laughs, “I just shove my hand in and fish around, thinking of what I wanted. Eventually I get it. Some shit like my armor I know exactly where it is, but sometimes I just have to go through all of ‘em.”
    “Comment: that sounds very inefficient,” Tilde notes.
    “Oh yeah, it is. Oh shit! Crystals!” She laughs and starts dumping the dull, colorless, lifeless crystals into her bag, “That's the good shit!”
    You stretch, “Do you have any rounds for that gun?” 
    “A few. I liked your gun’s reusable cartridge design so we copied that. Its untested but I’m really confident. Hey, any idea what kind of enchantment you wanna put on your coat?” 
    “I’ll think about it.”
    “Maybe we could enchant Tilde?”
    “Affirmative. I would like enchantments to help me locate Curtis at any time. Perhaps a way for him to locate me as well,” She seemingly demands.
    “You’ve thought about this, huh, Tilde?” 
    “Affirmative.”
    “What a girl. So focused on her master.”
    “He is not--” She stops herself as she slips into her more human like voice. She makes a fake breath, “Negative. He is not my master. I merely care about him.”
    “Keep telling yourself that,” Pin gives her a sly smile and she makes a hurt expression, “I think I’d do the same thing if I was you, so don’t worry too much about it.”
    “Do you really think you would?”
    “Tilde, I cried last night over the fact that you get him like this. Fuck, I’d do it in this body.”
    “I-I’m right here,” You uncomfortably remind them.
    “I think I got everything I want. Come on. Gotta leave SOME scraps for his family,” You watch her load the last of the things she wants into her bags before you all file out of the workshop, closing both doors behind you as you go. The brass door rescinds its handle when it is slammed closed. The three of you give Dylan and the kids a wave as you make your way down the path. The entire time Pin is indiscriminately rattling off ideas for inventions at you. You mostly smile and nod, eager to get back into your training. You step back into the sparsely populated streets and start the walk back.
    Tilde suddenly looks around, “Alert: someone is in trouble.”
    “Just let the guard deal with it,” Pin groans.
    “Correction: it is Arthur. I am nearly 100 percent positive.”
    “Where!?” You grunt, wishing you were more geared. 
    “South. Come,” Tilde takes off in that direction. You do your best to keep up with Pin trailing behind you as she frantically takes off her apron as she jogs. 
    You hurry into a part of town populated by homes and restaurants. The people who were in the outdoor seating have hopped up and backed away from the fight. Some of the chairs have been scattered with a few ending up near your group of three. Arthur stands in the middle of the circle near a fountain. He grips his side, trying to stop the flow of blood as he uses his magic to deflect the rapier of an attacker. seven humans in dark cloaks surround Arthur with an eighth face down on the ground. Pin and Tilde are quickly ready to go, both look to you for some kind of confirmation before they dive into the fray.

You don’t have much of your inventory as you packed light for the short trip to Geno’s workshop. You only have the few things you keep in your pockets. You’re mostly unarmed, the only weapon you have is your dagger and the flip knife you always keep in your pocket. Beyond that, you always have the .38 special option. The experimental round Pin made for you weighs heavily in its little case in your breast pocket. The only armor you have on you is your chest piece, your arms, legs and head will be mostly unarmored. You don’t know how long it’ll take for the guard to show up, but more urgently, you don’t know how long Arthur can fight off his assailants on his own. 

PT41

    You draw the revolver and load in five of your eight rounds, “Pin, feel free to use your own gun,” You push the wheel into place, “Just keep in mind what's behind your target.”
    “Oh, hell yes,” Pin reaches into a bag and grabs her weapon. She slams the wheel into place. You watch her flick a tiny lever and move the pump with a satisfying noise. You and Tilde advance as Pin fires off a round. Its much louder than your gun with an explosive bang. As expected, its deadly accurate as it strikes an assailant in the shoulder from behind, “Hoo! That's some kick!” Pin cackles as she pumps it again. The first bandit that turns to you gets two rounds in the chest form fifteen or so yards. It easily penetrates his leather armor and puts him on his back. Two down, you note as you hear your heart pounding in your ears. You’re a little amazed that you didn’t hesitate in killing another human. Its one thing to slaughter monsters in droves, but your fellow man is about on the same level as you in terms of value in the grand scheme of things. 
    “Command: keep your wits about you,” Tilde warns you as she pushes an attacker away from you as she slashes at them. Her bright glowing wrist blades easily slash through leather and cloth as she drops the attacker. You watch her fight another attacker, deftly dodging the blow of a mace before stabbing both blades into them. She moves with much more grace than other combats before now. Joan mentioned before that she thought Tilde moves with the grace of a dancer, and for the first time you see it too. 
    You shake yourself, fire off two more rounds and drop another attacker. Combat has become somewhat instinctive for you, “Pin!” Arthur cries, “Behind you!” He wheezes as he uses his staff to cast a shield on Pin. Four more assailants that just entered the fight are repelled by the somewhat invisible dome.
“Thanks, gramps!” Pin uses the butt of her gun to smash the knee of one man before grabbing her magic axe and slamming it into his neck. You catch a glimpse of Tilde fighting two enemies on her own. She fights defensively as she focuses on blocking attacks.
You move to Arthur’s side as another man starts to go at him with a sword. You put a round in his chest and shoulder check him to drop him to the ground. Thinking he’s dead, you open the revolver’s wheel and dump the empty casings into your hand, “Are you alright, Arthur?” You shout over the sound of Pin ending another man’s life with an explosive bang.
    “Well enough,” He coughs, “Two more assassins to the west!”
    “Assassins? How--” You’re stopped as you get punched in the face by the man you shot. He knocks the air out of your lungs as he punches you in the gut. You drop the revolver as he grabs your shoulders and forces you backwards into the fountain. You hardly catch a glimpse of Arthur coming under attack from another individual before your vision blurs from the water. You hold what little breath you have under the water as you weakly fight back. Your punches and kicks turn into wild flailing as you desperately try to free yourself. Your lungs cry out for air as your already weak blows become even weaker. You feel a rumbling, even from the bottom of the fountain. The man grabbing you cries out in pain and releases you. Another set of hands clutches you and pulls you from the water. You hardly have time to breathe before you are unceremoniously dumped onto the stone ground. The familiar sound of horse hooves on stone reaches your ears as you cough and sputter on the ground.
    With your blurry vision, you watch as your friends shift to the offensive. Joan aids Tilde by removing two of three combatants from her quite easily. Joan fights without armor or her shield, instead she moves incredibly quickly and narrowly dodges blows. The pink tinted longsword that she wields in one hand cleaves through armor and skin but doesn’t draw blood. You finish coughing up water and crawl to your shining metallic weapon. You snatch it from the ground and hold it close to your chest. In a daze you start grabbing empty brass casings from the ground to shove in your coat pocket. The fight ends quickly as the guard finally arrives. More pinkish weapons are used to down the rest of the assassins. You can hear Joan barking at the guard as they start asking questions and arresting people. She stops them from putting Pin in manacles by evoking her position of power as a high ranking knight. Eric runs over to Arthur and starts pumping his healing magic into the old wizard, “Is it a deep wound?” He asks.
    “No, I am fine,” Arthur grunts, “Please help Curtis, he needs help more than I!”
You flop over onto your back and glance at the two as you pant heavily. You shake your heads, trying to affirm that you’re fine. Tilde picks up your head and places it on her lap as she. She starts scanning you with bright medical scanners making you squeeze your eyes shut, “Query: are you well?” She asks with fake calmness.
    “Yeah,” You wheeze. 
    Joan stomps over to where you all rest, “Looks like my two most likely to die companions have harrowingly avoided death once more!” She smiles and puts on her ‘joking’ voice.
    “Oh, we are fine. They merely got the jump on me. It is all thanks to you and Eric turning the tide of that engagement. I merely wish our two loose cannons would employ less lethal means,” Arthur coughs again.
    “I would agree, but without it would you have survived until I got here?” She quickly dismisses the argument as Arthur fails to respond and turns her attention to you, “I-I apologize for throwing you on the ground like that, Curtis,” There is genuine guilt in her voice, “I had to help the others.”
    “Its okay,” You give her a small smile, “Better than being submerged in water, I suppose.”
“Y-yes. I suppose so. Who were those men?”
    “Assassins, I assume,” Arthur notes, “I suppose this Matriarch does not like me sticking my nose in her business.”
    “She should have sent twice as many people if she wanted to put you and your friends down,” The woman next to Joan you hadn’t noticed before grunts. She’s a massive woman with bird claws for feet and hands with arms and legs covered in brown and white feathers. Her massive wings are folded behind her back, “I do not know where this man and the gremlin find their weapons, but I wish my girls were armed with them. Perhaps if they were a little less lethal.”
    “Hey that sounds like a business venture~” Pin sings as she starts to take her armor off.
    “Anyways, Lady Joan,” The woman turns to the just as large centaur, “You and your friends are free to go. If you want to come to the interrogations, you know where to find us.”
    “You know I can make them talk, hm?” She chuckles, “Perhaps. I apologize for my companions’ use of lethality.”
    Her shoulders slump, “No one likes to see it happen. But I am just glad your friends are alright,” The massive bird woman stomps away, her clawed talons scrape against the stone floors.
    “How do ya know a griffon?” Eric asks.
    “One of my many bouts as a guard. Another town though,” Joan shrugs.
    You look at the guard as they haul away the living assassins and a few putting the dead ones in bags and wash the blood away with buckets of water. Everyone seems generally unhappy except for Pin who looks ecstatic as she examines her new weapon, “Diagnosis: other than a bruise to the cranium, he is fine,” Tilde announces to anyone listening.
    “Good. Can ya get Arthur next?” Eric asks as he removes his glowing hand from the wizard’s chest. 
    “I am fine!” Arthur insists, “Where are the others?”
    “They went back to the boat,” Pin grunts, “How’d you find us anyways, Joan?”
    She smirks, “I recognized the noise of Curtis’s ranged weapon. The sound of yours made me worry though. I am glad you happened to be nearby to help our wizard.”
    “We had to fuckin’ run to get here when Tilde sensed he was in trouble.”
    “Interesting. Since when does--”
    “Please,” Arthur interrupts, “I would like to get off the streets even if we are in near full force.”
    Joan nods, “Sure. Can you walk?”
    “Of course I can,” The wizard shakily uses his staff to stand. His breathing is ragged and pained.
    “Come on,” Eric grunts as he grabs the wizard’s arm and drapes it over his shoulder, “Let's hurry. I’ll handle him and ya’ll keep ya eyes peeled. Hurry up now.”

    You watch Eric dump Arthur into the booth next to Rael, “What the hell happened to you?” The cleric asks grumpily as his time with his daughter is interrupted.
    “Assassins,” Joan explains with a single word.
    “Assassins!?” He puts his hand over the wizard’s still slightly bleeding wounds and pumps him full of strange magic. Arthur grunts as the somewhat painful healing magic does its work.
    You slide in next to Rose on the opposite side of the table from Rael and give her a warm smile as a look of dread and worry shows in her eyes. Pin sits next to you, proudly displaying her new cuts and bruises from the fight, “Are you two alright!?” The mouse girl gently touches the cheek under your black eye.
    “Eh, they only tried to drown me in a fountain,” You jokingly shrug, still a little shaken.
    “What!?”
    “He’s fine,” Pin assures her, “You should have seen the other guys. Let’s just say the field test was a HUGE success!”
    Rose looks a little sick as she gazes at Pin’s excited grin and then back to your apologetic glance, “W-well, I am glad you all seem to be alright.”
    “You worry too much,” Pin scoffs, “Isn’t that Eric’s job?”
    “Apparently I need to worry when you come back covered in injuries, Arthur got stabbed and Curtis nearly drowned!”
    “Hey, we saved Arthur and Joan saved Curtis and Arthur... Again. Shit works out.”
    “You’re way more nonchalant than you should be about these life or death situations,” Rose shakes her head and turns away from Pin.
    “How was the trip to Geno’s?” Arthus asks.
    “It went well,” Rael merely nods.
    “Dad,” Rose gives him a look.
    There’s a long pause, “Right. I suppose I should tell you three as well. 
    Rael quickly tells Arthur, Eric and Joan of his past and how he has been lying to them. It takes you, Rose and Pin all vouching for what happened to make everyone but Arthur believe him. Eric blows air out of his nose, “While I’m a little disappointed in ya for lying. But I reckon I understand why ya did.”
    “Not something so easily believed,” Rael sighs.
    “I do not understand,” Arthur scratches his head, “How can a deity or being like that go unknown from me?”
    “I slaughtered all of Their followers and burned Their unholy books. I tried to eradicate Them from this world.”
    “But still, SOMETHING must have--”
    “Do not look into it,” Rael suddenly growls, “The last thing we need is Their influence in this world. For all we know They would try to put Their own twisted abomination on the Demon Lord’s throne. If you find Their tomes, burn them, erase them. Their legacy must die with me.”
    Arthur looks shocked, “B-but--” He stops and composes himself, “It will be done if I am able. I am amazed you admitted to being a pact sworn caster.”
    “It was not by choice. I had to take the cards I was dealt or be tormented for all of eternity. I am granted a semblance of autonomy, at least as Their power is quite weak. They gain power from you merely thinking about Them, but as you do not know who or what They are, They cannot benefit from you.”
    “If you say so. Though I am thankful for the healing magic bestowed upon you.”
    “They know They must keep me happy as well. If I was to take my own life They would die along with me.”
    “D-dad, please don’t do that,” Rose frowns.
    “I do not intend to, my dear,” He looks around, “Joan, you have been giving me a strange look.”
    She shrugs, “I do not understand this strange form of magic. I know extending your lifespan with magic is possible but being transported to the future is odd to me. I do understand why you feared sharing your past with us, at least. But we have other, more pressing issues at hand. Arthur, would you please transition to your information gathering?”
    “O-of course. Well,” The wizard grabs a leather bound journal from his bag, “I was asking sailors and travelers about strange congregations of monsters they may have come across. It took quite some time to find any information. A pirate who I believe we can trust told me her crew was attacked by Captain Red Claw a few weeks ago as they approached a suspicious area north west of here across the sea. It had the tents of monster clans and an ominous tower.”
“How do you know you can trust her?” Joan huffs.
 “The Matriarch doesn’t hire mamano and this pirate captain was one. Frankly, I am surprised she would employ humans to take us down.”
    “Its not like her monsters are faring any better.”
    “So now what?” Eric sighs, “We go to this place based on what a pirate tells us? How are we supposed to cross the sea?”
    “That captain said she would take us, just so she could have a second shot at Red Claw.”
    Eric gives him an incredulous look, “I don’t know about any of this.”
    “We do not know exactly what this location is. Perhaps those assassins know,” Joan cracks her knuckles loudly.
    “Think they will talk?” Rael asks.
    Joan’s lips curl into a malicious smirk, “They will. I will return later with more information.”
    “I will come with you,” Rael remarks, “I do not think we should split up too much with sneaking vermin on the prowl.”
    “Then I had better come too,” Eric sighs, “Arthur, maybe ya should rest.”
    “No, I will come,” He nods as he casts a spell to remove the blood from his robes and mend the hole, “Rose, can you keep those three out of trouble?”
    “I doubt they will listen to me, but I will try,” Rose smiles.
    “Stay here, all of you. Its safe,” Rael warns. 
    “Yeah, yeah. Whatever Rael,” Pin frowns. The four shuffle out the door leaving you with the three girls, “It kinda feels like we’re not even part of the fuckin’ party.”
    “They just worry about us,” Rose explains, “I’m used to this treatment, being left behind while they go do something important.”
    “Doesn’t mean I have to like it, dammit.”
    “Let's stop whining and get some lunch,” You tell them, “We can work on artifice or something afterwards, Pin.”

    You, Pin, Rose and Tilde all sit on the floor of the room you’re staying in, “Just do what you did last time, Curtis,” Pin encourages you as she puts another one of those magic crystals in your hands. You take a deep breath as you stare into the dull crystal’s etchings, “You just need to make it wake it the fuck up first.”
    Your messenger bag sits in front of you with its contents emptied. Rose is playing with the R/C car and a few other things from it and Tilde is watching you intently. You close your eyes and take a deep breath. You funnel your aether into it, first politely asking then trying to bully it into doing what you want when that doesn’t work. The crystal starts to glow a bright blue. You pant a little bit, “There,” You try to hand the magic stone back to Pin.
    “I’m not gonna fuckin’ do it for you,” She scoffs, “Here,” She pushes a tiny brown bag to you, “All the reagents you need. Take the crystal in your hands, and mold it into what you want it to be by combining it with the reagents. Then do the same with your bag.”
    “What I want it to be?”
    “Yeah, like how you told it to wake up. Just... Go for it.”
    “Is that all the advice you have for him?” Rose asks, a little concerned.
    “Look, I’m not good at this. We’re learning this teaching gig together, alright? Take the crystal in one hand and the reagents in the other and use your body’s aether as a conduit to combine the two.”
    You put the magic materials in your hand. Its mostly a few small gemstones, salts, and herbs. The one thing that stands out is the dried stomach of some small animal. You take a deep breath and close your eyes. You focus intently on the crystal in your hand as you grind the reagents in your other hand against your palm. You’re not sure how long you sat there, focusing on your task. You perceive Pin and Rose speaking, but you continue to tune out the world around you. You only stop when you start to get light headed, “Eugh,” You tremble as you start to feel nauseous. You open your eyes and shake yourself. 
    “You alright? You look green,” Pin chuckles.
    You look down at your hands. The crystal in your hand has changed colors and the reagents have disappeared. Instead, your palm looks like you tore the top layer of skin off of it. You pick at it with your other hand and remove the few remaining flakes of flesh that cling to the stinging, raw red skin. You grunt at the pain, “I-I did it...”
    “Yeah and it only took you an hour!” Pin teases, “Good thing I gave you that extra salt. Looks like you used all of it. Give the stone here, I gotta make sure you didn’t rig it to blow.”
    You hand it over carefully, “What did that salt do?”
    “Oh, its mana or aether infused. Salt holds magic pretty well. Just makes the process go a little better,” She closes her eyes for a short time, “Hmm,” She grabs something from her bag and quickly infuses it into the gem, “Pretty fuckin’ good. Other than the amount of time it takes you to do it, you’re pretty much fine. Except you tried to make the bag truly bottomless. It probably woulda just dumped your goddamn stuff into nothingness. Take this and try to infuse it with your bag now,” You groan, feeling exhausted already, “This is the easy part dammit! Stop your damn whining!” She uses that demanding yet encouraging voice. 
You wipe the sweat off your forehead and nod, “Got it,” With another bout of strenuous focus, you actually feel the crystal in your hand slowly dissipate. Your bag feels a little heavier despite nothing being in it. You grab the bag and open it. You stare into an inky black abyss. Without a second thought, you drop a coin into it and shove your hand in after it. You dip into it up to your shoulder and fish out the single coin. 
    “Hey! You did it!” Rose smiles at you.
    You drop the bag and the coin, “Y-yeah, I did,” You pant. You lie on your back on the hard wooden floor. You glance around at the three girls that sit around you, wondering what they think about you in your weakened state. A thought flashes through your mind as Pin glances at Rose, do any of them have it in them to take advantage of you and claim you as a mate?
    “Think I can lift him myself?” Pin asks Rose quietly.
    “What?” She looks kind of shocked, “Why would you--”
    “Look! I just want to put him on his bed!”
    Rose pauses, “I’ll help you.”
    “Negative,” Tilde’s voice is firm, “It is unnecessary for you two to exert yourselves.”
    “But I want to do it!” Pin protests. 
    “Comment: you are being illogical. Your small size and low muscle mass will make it difficult for you to move him.”
    “Come on,” Rose chuckles, “Let Pin and I do a little bit of work for our friend.”
    You push your thoughts and worries out of your mind, “You guys are too nice.”
    “Don’t think about it like that,” Pin gives you a malicious smile before leaning in closely and whispering, “We’re all just competing.”
    Rose doesn’t even disagree with her, “Up!” She commands as both her and Pin help you up and move you to the bed, “Should we leave him alone?”
    “Eh, he’s just run himself dry of mana. He can talk still. Sleeping won’t help him in any way,” She sits on the edge of the bed but turns her focus to Rose, “How have you been? You and your papa, I mean.”
    “Me and papa-- Dad and I have been doing well. We’ve talked about his past and what to do next,” Rose pulls a chair up and sits across from her, “He’s told me nearly everything he can.”
    “Good for you,” Pin sighs, “I wish I could have a happy relationship with my surrogate fathers like you have with your dad.”
    “You’ll find them, Pin. I’m sure you will.”
    “Curtis did promise he’d help me find ‘em. And honestly, because of all this shit he’s done for everyone, I think we might actually do it. That man is fucking magical.”
    The mouse girl laughs, “Maybe he is. He’s working some kind of spell on us for sure.”
    “For fuckin’ sure! You’ve heard of Other Siders and their strange, wonderful powers before, right? Something about the process of going between the worlds heightens their abilities. I guess he got hit with the same thing since he managed to keep his brain from turning to jelly when he went through that fuckin’ portal.”
    “I guess so. But its kinda just superstition or confirmation bias, isn't it? The weird way they get here usually turns them to the hero lifestyle and everything that comes with it. But we don’t need to put expectations like that on him.”
    “W-well, I’m not. Its not like I fuckin’ expect him to bring the Maou back to life!”
    “Curtis? You awake?”
    “I guess,” You groan, “I don’t really feel like my abilities are heightened.”
“Hey, hey,” Pin climbs onto you and straddles your stomach, “C’mon, brainstorm with me!” 
    “What?” You moan as you put an arm over your eyes.
    “Leave him alone, Pin!” Rose berates her.
    “Warning,” Tilde stomps towards the bed with her hands at the ready, “I must implore you to unseat yourself from Curtis’s chest.”
    “I gotta keep him on task! Strike while the iron is hot! C’mon, Curtis, what are we gonna make next? Just bounce some artifice ideas off of me... OR we could work on technomancy~” She tempts you.
    Rose shakes her head, “You don’t need to do this right now, Curtis.”

PT42

    Two things come to your mind almost instantly as something clicks in your head bringing back a childlike wonder and desire, “Lightsaber and power armor,” Both girls give you confused glances, “The lightsaber is kinda like Tilde’s blades but it--” You think about it. Pin, still sitting on you, leans in closer, interested in whatever it is you’re about to say, “Uhm, well...”
    “Out with it!” Pin taps your cheeks somewhat playfully.
    “Imagine the hilt of a sword, like a metallic, futuristic cylinder. With the press of a button, a bright beam comes out of it. The whole thing is the length of a standard two handed sword-- not as big as the monstrosity that Joan carries, but still a good size. Its a weightless but wholly destructive blade that can slice through nearly anything.”
    “I’d want one of those,” Pin agrees.
    “M-more destructive weapons? When will the killing stop?” Rose frowns.
    “Well, in the movie, er, book its from, the lightsaber is the weapon of the peace keeping Jedis. We could also put a stun or kill switch on it,” Rose looks a little relieved.
    “Ugh, I guess so,” Pin sighs.
    “Pin, killing humans seems pretty frowned upon. Maybe we should work on some less lethal options?” You suggest, “Plus it would make your friend here happy.”
    “Who, Tilde?”
    “Pin!” Rose looks hurt.
    “I’m just fucking with you! I guess we should, at least for main armaments. Like Joan said, or we told Joan-- I don’t fucking care to remember-- Sometimes lethality is necessary. Any idea for less than lethal rounds, Curtis?”
    “Interruption: may we hear about power armor first? I wish to hear about something that will keep Curtis safer,” Tilde butts in uncharacteristically.
    “Oh, sure,” You struggle to think about how to describe a 40K space marine of any chapter, Master Chief’s Mjolnir armor, or even Samus Aran’s Varia suit, “Imagine... Imagine a seven eight foot tall athlete first--”
    “Like a minotaur?” Pin asks.
    “Probably a jinko or oni. Maybe a dragon?” Rose suggests.
    “N-no, like a human man!” You correct them. They give you blank looks again, “Okay, let's start over. Imagine a set of magic armor that when you wear it, gives you a high amount of defence, ups your physical attributes and maybe gives you a bunch of technology like what Tilde has in her.”
    “So... Like you’re wearing a Tilde suit?” Rose asks as she struggles to imagine it.
    “Yeah, Curtis WOULD like to be inside her!” Pin laughs. Rose giggles at her joke and you swear you see even Tilde crack a smile
     You groan, “No, just, its armor. That is it. Don’t make it lewd.”
    “Okay, okay,” Pin stops chuckling, “We could make something. That would be a much longer project than the laser sword. Gonna need a fuckin’ forge for that one. If we get some downtime we can make some progress. Probably not gonna get any downtime till we kill this Matriarch cunt.”
    “Are we gonna have to kill her, you think?” Rose frowns.
    “YOU try arresting a witch that fuckin’ powerful,” Pin laughs, “If we had some dwarven tech we might be able to. But how it stands right now, I doubt we could. Plus, she’s probably gargling monster cock. If you don’t think that's worthy of execution, I dunno what substances you’re on. If there’s one thing I agree on with Joan, its that these monsters need to be removed. This Matriarch’s basically one of them and making them more powerful. A green tide of orcs, goblins and whatever other shit they dredge up from Hell’s asscrack could definitely smash through Geno-Town if they amass enough support. Babel, Goldcrest, maybe even the human continent. It won’t stop if we don’t act.”
    Rose sighs deeply, “I know you’re right. I just don’t want you to be right. You two were going to talk about less than lethal rounds?”
    “Right, right. Curtis?”
    You nod, “Well... You rather than metal pellets or slugs in your rounds, you could use rubber? Like it still hurts and the force could knock someone down. Or, if you want something more advanced, you could shoot out a mechanical thing that sticks into someone and pumps them with a low amount of electricity to seize their muscles. Maybe little balls that explode on contact into a choking or nauseating gas?”
    “See? You can still hurt people with non-lethal options!” Rose somewhat pleads with Pin.
    “Hurt people!?” Pin looks offended, “I don’t crave hurting people! I crave the use of powerful weapons and tools. The loud crack of lightning! The boom of a gun! The... Whoosh or what the fuck of a flame thrower! Feeling powerful and dominating others with my mechanical might! That's what feels good. What makes you feel good, Rosey?”
    “Being nice to people,” Rose admits quietly, “Being with my friends and family.”
    “Curtis?”
    You take a moment to think, “Making things and helping my friends,” You shrug.
    “You two are fucking lame. W-well I mean its admirable, at least. You could enjoy doing worse things like chess or poker.”
    “I-I like board games,” The mouse girl squeaks.
    Pin sighs, “Ignore how much of an ass I currently am. I’m just really excited. Can we move onto more ideas, Curtis?”
    “Well, we have that lock cutter. Maybe we can make that stronger?” You ask.
    “You’re gonna put me out of business with your technology,” Rose jokes.
    “Its just a backup,” You hastily explain, “I know you’re an expert at this stuff. I could never disarm traps or see what you do.”
    “Definitely doable. Maybe when you’re back to full strength you can tinker a bit with it,” Pin nods.
    “How about bombs that sap the mana or aether from its victims?”
    “Seems a bit like Rael’s realm. But it could probably be done if we get our hands on some kind of material from his god,” Pin shrugs.
    The dagger is heavy in its sheath, gently reminding you of its existence, “How about other explosives?”
    “Easy. You could activate an aether crystal and just throw it at someone. They're not the most fuckin’ stable thing when idle. Slap a few together and make a bigger boom. If you want to make dedicated explosives, we could get some black powder and make some traditional ones. That reminds me,” Pin scoops five dull crystals from her bag and dumps them in yours, “If you wanna do your own projects, theres some materials.”
    “Alright, neat, thanks. Do you know anything about electromagnets?”
    “Hm? I don’t fuckin’ know what that is,” Pin shrugs.
    “Well, its like a metal that attracts certain metals. We could use them to propel things really, really quickly, like another kind of gun.”
    “Then why don’t we just use guns? We have that science down. I don’t see the fuckin’ point,” Pin grunts. She idly slaps her hands on your chest, your chainmail under your coat absorbs it, “Why the fuck do you have your armor on still?”
    “Piss off, Pin,” You chuckle as a bit of strength returns.
    “Any last few things?” Pin asks, not out of annoyance.
    “What about using Tilde as a base to put some autonomy in my R/C car?”
    Pin grimmaces, “True autonomy is so fucking hard to replicate. Firstly, we need a massive aether crystal, have to etch it perfectly then use something like, well, its only theorised at this point, but a council of grandmaster artificers and every single one would have to be on the exact wavelength as they put the same exact commands into the thing at the same time. Shit is wild--But its all just theory right now, like I said. I doubt there's enough artificers on this damn planet to do it right now.”
    “What about just slapping a viewing device and weapons to it?”
    “That could work,” Pin shrugs, “More technomancy stuff so we’ll have to learn as we go.”
    “How about some kind of vehicle? I used to be a mechanic after all.”
    “Definitely possible. But again, without a forge or finding a chassis for it, we can’t do anything right now.”
“What about putting some enchantments on Tilde? Would you be fine with that, Tilde?” You ask the quiet robot.
    Tilde nods, “Affirmative: if you believe it will help me protect you.”
    Pin makes a skeptical face, “We’ll have to be careful if we try. If we fuck up we could ruin her core. There’s no coming back from that.”
    “I don’t like how that sounds,” Rose frowns.
    “We can hold off until I’m better at this,” You assure them.
    “We could slap enchanted things to her!” Pin offers, trying to keep your spirits high after shooting you down a few times. You nod as you yawn as a bit of your exhaustion comes back, “How about you get some rest and I’ll work on Rael’s gift. He held up his end of the deal and I’ll hold up mine. Help me fetch his armor, will you, Tilde?” She finally climbs off your chest and drops to the floor with all the grace of a sack of potatoes.
    She nods, “Affirmative. Humor: Rose, no funny business.”
    “I’ll try!” Rose laughs. She watches the two go out the door and shuts it behind them. She rushes to your bedside, startling you. With one hand on your chest applying just enough pressure to be sure you stay down, she leans down, her face getting within centimeters of you before she gives you a swift peck on the cheek. You touch your cheek, confused. She starts nervously playing with her hair as her face lights up a bright red, “I haven’t gotten you alone since we went to the bath, other than when I was throwing a fit, and I just wanted to thank you for the nice things you said when you complimented me. Oh,” She does it again with your other cheek, “That’s for bringing me back to reality with that pep talk.”
“Y-yeah,” You give her a flustered smile, “N-no problem,” You both awkwardly stare at each other for a few moments. There's a happy gleam in her beautiful purple eyes as she smiles at you despite her embarrassment at her show of affection.
You both hear stomping in the hall before Rose jumps back into her chair and crosses one leg over the other. Pin grumbles incoherently as she and Tilde carry in Rael’s armor and shield. She examines the shield, noting the chipping paint with a sigh, “Tilde, get his paint set,” The automaton nods before leaving the room once more.
    “My dad might get mad if you mess with his stuff,” Rose warns.
    “He can shove it! I’m trying to be nice here!” Tilde diligently returns with paint set in hand. Rose quickly gets to work repairing the dents and scratches before touching up the painting. She sets it aside to dry before picking up a few pieces of armor, “Better maintained than the shield. Curtis, wanna go over the projects I think we can do real quick? As my apprentice, I don’t wanna stifle your creativity, but I do think I need to reign you in a bit.”
    “Alright,” You yawn again.
    “Well, the power armor and vehicle are definitely out of the question, at least for now. We need a forge. The autonomous R/C car is out probably forever, but strapping weapons on it sounds easy enough. The magnet gun or whatever, I personally don’t care for, but if you want to do it we can go ahead. You’re just gonna have to do better on selling me on it. I could definitely teach you about explosives and with Rael’s help we could even make some mana remover bombs. Making the lock cutter better could be very easy too. I guess that lightsaber or whatever is a similar principle but instead of small metal locks, its everything, so we could tackle that for sure, but I can see it being an incredibly lengthy project. Its gonna need some research but I think we can do it. The new enchanted tools for Tilde sounds like a very good idea. Maybe you wanna give her the lock laser? Just a thought. Lastly, the more pacifist options. We could make some for my gun and your gun. But I really want to arm you with something like mine as a primary arm. We can more easily mass produce ammo for it. Since it will be your personal weapon, I want you to have some input on its design, maybe you have a different idea for ammo storage or want it as a one handed weapon instead. Just mull it over. We can talk more later. You look like you need a nap.”


    You roll onto your side and face the wall.
     The two girls chatter quietly about nothing important as you think about what kinds of tech you want to work on. Pin whispers to Rose in an urgent voice, “Think he’s asleep?”
    “Maybe, why? You can’t try anything with Tilde here,” Rose warns.
    The gremlin huffs, “Think she’d stop me from trying to get a peek?”
    “I would stop you!” She hisses.
    “Pfft, fine,” Pin sighs, “Do you think Joan-- Sorry, Lady Joan,” She says in a somewhat mocking tone, “has a chance with him?”
    “Honestly, I don’t know what he’s thinking about us. He said he finds all of us attractive, at least. I think Tilde might be ahead, but that's just because she spends every minute she can with him.”
    Tilde’s insides whirr softly before speaking quietly, “Humor: perhaps you should take my place as protector then?”
    “Sure. I’ll do it,” Pin instantly shoots back.
    “Correction: I was unprepared for this response. Please do not take my humor seriously.”
    “Do you think you have a good chance with him, Tilde?” Rose inquires.
    “Negative. I am not of flesh. I cannot bear children which, upon viewing my logged data, seems to be the objective goal of mating with another being. Or marriage as you may put it. Judging by that, I am the objective worst choice,” Her reply oozes sadness.
“Tilde,” Rose sighs, “Don’t cry, please.”
“I-I am fine,” She sniffles as she lies. You hear a bunch of shuffling. You imagine its Rose giving Tilde a hug. Perhaps Pin is too as more, lighter shuffling happens, “T-thank you.”
    “Okay, let's stop talking about Curtis,” Rose suggests.
    “Sure,” Pin shrugs, “Hey, you know how before we joked about looking in his pants before?”
    “Pin...”
    “No, hear me out! Do you think this man has any boundaries? Like, I keep thinking that I could just crotch check him and he’d just go, ‘Oh,’ and not even slap me or yell at me! He’d probably just get awkward and quiet!”
    “Please do not molest him,” Tilde warns.
    “I have to agree with Tilde,” Rose huffs, “Maybe he just likes the attention. If you were a boy and three or four beautiful mamano women were giving you constant attention, wouldn’t you love it?”
    “I guess so. But I’d stop pussy footing around and take one of them as my wife already,” Pin growls.
    Rose sighs, “I’m sure the male form of Pin could do that with all your crassness and charms,” She mutters sarcastically, “I know talking and thinking about boys constantly is what mamano our age do, but can we talk about something else please?”
    “You do realise I’m about eight years older than you, right?”
    “Stop diverting, please.”
    “Okay, fine. Well... What kind of thing should I put on his shield?” Pin asks earnestly.
    “Can you make a reflection enchantment?” 
    “Magical reflection? I was thinking that too. Aaaaaaand...” Pin goes silent for a few moments, “Alright, crystal is done.”
    “That quickly?” Rose sounds astonished.
    “Curtis is just a little baby at this. A cute one, but still a baby. You are witnessing a master, Rose. Well, a pro.”
    “How’d you get into this anyways? Being an artificer and all?”
    “Not much of a story, really. Most gremlins have an inclination to tinkering, usually its clockwork stuff. But I dove through my surrogate father’s tones and found stuff about artifice and Geno. When I brought it up to my fathers, they spoke about that gnome with reverence. My dads even had a small clock he made. Guaranteed to always tell the right time. I ended up deciding I wanted to be like him and take up the art of artifice.”
    “Then what? You said you wondered for a long time after they disappeared.”
    “Yeah, I did. I spent some time in the human kingdom. Even though I’m a mamano, as long as I stayed to myself I wasn’t impeded. I made money and paid for rooms by fixing tools and doing other chores. Eventually, I made it over to that loose coalition of cities, somewhere north of your hometown of Goldcrest. Eventually I got in 
an adventuring party and was their glorified equipment manager. That adventuring guild thing was a horrible idea. Anyways, they get killed off or captured or whatever and I just keep joining new groups. Eventually my luck runs out on the way to Babel and I get scooped up by the Matriarch’s goons. Then my guardian angel shows up and then we get you and run to Babel. That's really it, at least up until you joined in.”
    “Sounds really hard.”
    “Made me tough as nails!” Pin laughs, a little loud, so Rose hushes her quickly, “Enchantment is done.”
    “That was fast!” Rose gasps.
    “Yup, well, I had to use a lot more expensive materials to make it go so fast, but I want to get your dads gift done today.”
    “I’m sure he will appreciate it,” You can hear Rose smiling in her voice.
    “Tell me about the rest of your family. You’ve got a mom, right?” Pin inquires as she starts rummaging through her bags.
    “Of course. Emma Summerfield is her name. There’s also my little sister, Yda.”
    “What does she do? Your mom, I mean.”
    “She’s a nurse. Take care of people when they need it. She’s been focusing on Other Worldly patients for almost as long as she has been at this. Trying to find a cure for their, well, brain deadness, I guess is the phrase.”
    “How noble. What about Yda?”
    “Taking after my mother with wanting to help people as a nurse. You should have seen the look on her face when she saw a walking Other Sider. Well, both of their faces.”
    “Hmph. Sounds nice. Wish I could have a family like that.”
    “You’ll get yours and we’ll find your surrogate fathers. Alright?” Rose assures her.
    “Do... Do you promise?”
    “I promise, Pin. I’ll help you in any way I can with finding those dwarves.”
    “Thanks, Rose,” You hear a genuine, happy voice from Pin, “Even if we don’t have a lot in common, you’re a pretty great friend.”
    “At least you can’t whine and cry about not having good friends right? We can’t replace family, but I’ll do my best to.”
    “Between you, your dad, Curtis, Joan, and I guess Tilde too, I feel something I don't think I ever have. I’m pretty thankful you and Curtis got sloppy and were captured by those goblins,” Pin chuckles.
    “Hmph,” Rose giggles a little bit, “Well, I’m glad we-- well, Curtis, was able to help you get out,” She pauses, “Do you hear that?”
    “That stomping?” 
    “Affirmative,” Tilde murmurs, “Sounds like Joan stomping around.”
    “She does have a specific, loud way of it, hm?” Pin giggles.
    “We should go talk to them,” Rose suggests as she stands from the floor, “Oh, are you done with my dad’s gear?”
    “Just about. I patched the armor a bit and put on a generic defence up enchantment. Its pretty cheap but effective. Its what he specifically requested. I would put some enchantments on his mace, but its a spell breaker. Maybe we should get him a second one later?”
    “You don’t need to do that. I’m sure he’ll be happy with just this stuff.”
There's a knock on the door and you decide that now might be a good time to ‘wake up.’ You stretch and roll over on the bed. Thankfully you don’t have to fake your drowsiness, “Hm? What’s goin’ on in here?” Eric asks as he cracks the door open, “Messin’ with Rael’s armor?”
    “You fuckin’ know it,” Pin grunts.
    “I hope he doesn’t end up gettin’ pissed at ya. Come on out when ya’ll are done in here. We’ve got somethin’ to discuss.”
    “Are you alright, Eric?” Rose asks as she gets close to him, “There's a bunch of holes in your shirt.”
    “Ah, well, ya see...” He shakes his head, “Just come out and let the others talk about it. I was out for most of it.”
    Rose and you exchange nervous glances. All four of you follow Eric back into the main room of the inn. Pin brings the shield she worked on with her. The rest of your team looks a little roughed up. Despite that, they are quite cheerful. Pin immediately presents the shield to Rael, “A little something for you. I put a magic reflection enchantment on it, touched it up and made it so it shouldn’t chip and dent so much. I also put the requested enchantment on your armor.”
    Rael takes it and runs his hands over the fresh paint, “It looks good. Thank you. You really did not need to work on my shield, Pin. But I do greatly appreciate it”
    “Aw, come on. We’re friends. I gotta keep my friends’ gear in top shape. Sorry, you all look like you have a fuckin’ story to tell.”
    “Well,” Arthur sighs, “Joan was extracting information from the prisoners.”
    “Quite easily, mind you,” She chuckles somewhat evilly, “No pain required,” She admits quietly.
 “Who would show up, but one of the Matriarch’s thralls. Teleported right into the jail. I suspect it was to finish off those assassins before they gave us any information,” Arthur mumbles, “She was sloppy and somehow did not expect us to be there. She seemed quite mad that you three were not there,” He glances at you, Pin and Rose, “She put up quite the fight as she went on the defensive, focusing on fighting us rather than slaying those captives.”
    “Incapacitated Eric and I was forced to take cover,” Rael admits, “I was barely any help.”
    “Arthur is the real hero of that fight,” Joan nods, “I barely managed to drive my blade into her with his help.”
    “Oh, you are too kind,” Arthur chuckles, “A bit strange she would come in to murder them. They were quite eager to talk after that fight at least.”
    “That area that Arthur mentioned, where Red Claw attacked them, is apparently just an outpost. Further along to the north, the Matriarch’s base. We will need to find it, of course.”
    “Maybe we can make Red Claw squeal?” Joan suggests.
    “So we go to this base, then find wherever the Matriarch is hiding?” You ask, “Couldn’t we just go straight to looking for her?”
    “Aye, we could. But the woman taking us there... Well...” Rael grimaces as he stares at the table.
    “She wants Red Claw’s head first,” Joan shrugs, “Which I understand. She needs to avenge her ship mates that died in his attack.”
    “I thought there was some sort of discussion about this?” Rose objects.
    “Not much choice in if we go with her or not. Most sailors won’t go near the damn place,” Eric shrugs, “Trust me, we asked around.”
    “The question is whether or not we get involved in the fight. None of us are trained in naval combat, afterall,” Joan explains, “Perhaps we might just get in the way.”
    “But, if we don’t intervene, Red Claw might actually destroy their ship this time,” Arthur adds, “Then how will we get further north?”
    “I guess we better put it to a vote, them pirates will be strutting in here soon to discuss the plan with us,” Eric warns, “Either we stay on the boat and aid in the ship to ship combat or sneak ashore and head to the fort.”

PT43

    You listen for a short time as your team mates debate over what to do. They seem quite split, with Pin, Arthur and Joan deciding the group should get off the boat and head to the fort on foot. The others, minus Tilde who looks for your input, vote to stay with the boat and help fight. Realising they have a split, they once more look to you for your input. You slouch in your seat, “We should stay with the boat, I guess. If our boat goes down, we’ll have to steal another boat and none of us know how to pilot one.”    “Tilde?” Eric asks for the automatons input.
    “Answer: I will vote with Curtis, as usual,” She replies quietly.
    “Man, why does he get two votes?” Pin grumbles.
    “I do not know why we give you one, even if you did vote along with me, as you are not on the team,” Joan huffs at the gremlin.
    “Okay, why don’t we put that to a vote too?” Pin growls back.
    “All for putting Pin on the team?” Eric sighs. You, Tilde and Rose all quickly raise your hands. Rael raises his hand a little slower. Joan unfolds her arms and raises hers. Arthur shrugs and raises his hand, “Okay, there she has a vote. Welcome to the Thunder Crashers, Pin.”
    “Fuuuck yes!” She laughs, “Crack open the caskets of alcohol and let's get drinking!”
    “I like how the gremlin thinks,” Another feminine but harsh voice laughs. You turn around to view who has butted in on your groups’ conversation. A woman with brown hair and long fluffy looking white tail wearing stereotypical pirate garb, with her near nude breasts hanging out of her outfit, in pink and purple colors with a green parrot on her shoulder grins at your team. She is flanked by various water based mamano with legs. A single mermaid floats on a small bubble of water as it carries her through the air. Each of them is also scantily clad in pink and purple outfits. You get a few lusty looks from the hungry looking mamano. You keep your hands in your lap as Pin, Tilde and Rose all squeeze tighter around you. The main pirate lady takes off her big feathered hat and bows, revealing pointy canine ears on the top of her head, “Pirate Queen Morrigan at your service. I hope you have all taken the time to debate our proposition?”
    “Yeah,” Eric nods, “We’ll take you up on it. We’ll also help you fight Red Claw.”
    “Wonderful!” She puts the hat back on and grins, showing off a few gold teeth, “Now, about payment. My girls have their eyes on that one,” She points at you, “How about you leave him with us and we’ll guarantee you safe passage.”
    “Your payment is that we will make sure Red Claw does not kill you all this time,” Joan warns them.
Pin growls, “Put your hands on the boy and I’ll cut them off.”
    Morrigan laughs, “I like that one’s spirit. Fine. But you buy the first round of drinks.”
    “Agreed,” Eric sighs, “Come pull up some chairs.”
    Your group is swarmed by pirates as the rowdy girls grab anything they can to sit all around you. A harpy, more of a siren, gets up and leads the girls in sea shanties as tankards start showing up at the table. Joan and Morrigan start to speak quietly, connecting somehow. You begin to space out after you have just a few sips.

    Pin sits in your lap, grabbing at your coat, “Aaaah, your coat smells nice,” She giggles, her voice horribly slurred. Eric has girls from Morrigan’s crew sitting on either side of him and giggling at him as he embarrassedly tries to make conversation with them as they continue to flirt and tease him. Arthur and Rael have both moved away from the pirates and are quietly chatting. Rose sits next to you, obviously asleep as her head rests on your shoulder. Tilde sits on the other side, watching Pin intently.
    Joan and Morrigan sit across from each other, drinking whole tankards one at a time. Both of them look ill as they drink more. You’re not sure how long they have been at it, but Joan’s high alcohol tolerance is being tested. The entire pirate posse screams loudly as the two of them drink. Even more pirates have arrived since the first group, “Ya’ve got spirit, I’ll give you that,” Morrigan laughs.
    “You drink well above your weight,” Joan states matter of factly.
    “You seem like ya’ve done this before!”
    “I have not in quite some time. It was back when I was in the Gardramel Knights. It was a kind of hazing, I suppose.”
    “How cute. I do this--” She coughs and starts to pant, “For fun, all the time.”
    Joan gags horribly as she brings another drink to her mouth, “Y-yes,” She downs it slowly before slamming the glass on the table.
    “You’re just so... Cute,” Pin tells you as she rubs her hand on your chin stubble, “I could just look at ya forever. How ‘bout a kiss? Hm? HMMMM?” She starts to demand as she tries to stand in your lap.
    Tilde grabs her and holds the gremlin in her lap, “Comment: you looked wholly uncomfortable. I will keep this one in check for you.”
    “W-well...” You frown when Pin starts to whine and cry as she weakly tries to fight against the robot’s grip.
    “Query: is something wrong?”
    “I don’t want her to have to thrash like that. Here,” You take the gremlin back and lay her on your lap. She calms down as you run your hand across her head. Her messy hair is quite soft despite how little effort she puts into it. She practically purrs as you pet her.
    “Comment: you seem to care quite a bit about her.”
    “I care a lot about everyone on this team,” Tilde opens her mouth to speak again, “That includes you, Tilde. I care a lot about you.”
    The automaton smiles at you, “Acknowledged.”
    “We should get these two drunks to bed. Can you carry Rose for me?”
    “Affirmative,” You scoop up Pin and watch Tilde carefully lift the quietly sleeping mouse girl. 
    “Night,” You nod at Arthur and Rael as you pass their table. They nod back silently as they sip on wine and discuss something too boring for you to care about. You hear sea shanties erupt from the main room. You wonder who won their little drinking contest. The screaming and singing led by a cacophony of sirens wakes both girls. They grumble but don’t fight against you and Tilde. You hoist Pin over your shoulder as you open their room door. As you bring her back down to carry with both hands, she grabs desperately onto your shoulders. 
She plants a kiss on your cheek before hugging you around the neck and resting her head on your shoulder, “You’re such a great friend. I hope I get to marry you someday,” She whispers, the tone she uses is sickeningly sweet. You help her strip down to her underwear, doing your best not to look, and then tuck her into bed, “Can I have another hug?” You sigh and give in to her request. You put out the candles and leave the room to go check on Rose. 
    Tilde has already helped her into bed. You tuck her in too, “Hug?” She whispers. Once more, you sigh and do as she asks. You pat her head too for good measure.
    You take Tilde back to your room. Surprisingly, she climbs into the other bed and looks expectantly at you, “Query: may I--”
    “Yes, of course,” For the final time, you sigh and tuck her in before giving her a firm hug and a head pat or two.
    She has a big smile on her face, “Thank you. Oh, here,” She gets out of bed and walks you over to your bed. You get changed and let Tilde put you in the bed. She tucks you in and gives you a hug, a few somewhat rough head pats and as her final act, she presses her lips against your forehead, “I do not have the necessary drives for a good kiss. So, I hope that will do.”
    “It was fine,” You blush and roll over, facing away from her, “Thanks.”
    “Any time. You merely need only to ask,” She sits on the edge of the bed and rests a hand on your head. Her fingers move back and forth slowly as her gentle humming lulls you to sleep.

    You wake up to a horrible retching sound. You slide out of bed and wander into the hallway. Joan is in the hallway, coughing horribly as she leaves the small bathroom. She glances at you and pushes into your room, “Do you have any magic to cure this dreadful hangover?” She pleads as she plops down on the floor.
    “N-no. Why the hell did you get into that drinking contest anyway?” You sigh at her as you quickly throw some clothes on.
    Tilde steps forwards and starts using her medical sensors on the centaur, “W-well, she challenged my honor and I defended it handily. We threw up at about the same moment. We decided it would be a tie. You could chalk it up to my stronger will power, I suppose. Or my size.”
    “Diagnosis: Lady Joan is experiencing the lingering effects of copious amounts of liquor and a bruise on her head. Recommendation: hydration and rest,” Tilde tells you.
    “Nay,” She grunts as she stands once more, “I must move around and sweat it off. Will you be going into town? You will require an escort.”
    “I guess so,” You shrug, “I was gonna collect some scrap for future projects.”
    “I will come with you. Do not fret, Tilde. I will pack plenty of water.”
    “Should we take someone else?”
    “Between you, Tilde and I, we should be fine. Pack full armor, boy. Shield and spear too,” You shrug and start grabbing your things, “I will meet you in the main room after I gear up as well.”
    You nod and turn to Tilde, “Recommendation: you should eat before you go out for a few hours.”
    “I guess so,” You do some stretches.
    “Perhaps you should leave a note for Pin and Rose? I am sure they will get antsy with you gone.”
    “Nah, they’ll live,” You smirk as you drop your spear into the bottomless bag. You practice drawing it from the bag a few times just to make sure you can do it. You decide against stuffing the shield in there too and decide to carry it. 
You wander into the main room and look around. There are still numerous pirates sitting around a big table excitedly chatting with each other. They all spot you at once, “Hey handsome!”
“Looking for some breakfast?”
    “How about you eat a piece of this?” You blush and look away as numerous girls flash you their private parts. You wonder how you’ll manage to survive the boat trip tomorrow. 
    Thankfully, a waitress, a young human girl, arrives to take your order, “How about some potatoes and cheese, please. Oh, I had better get something for Joan. How about some vegetables and potatoes?” You politely ask. She nods and turns to tell the chef. You watch as she’s stopped by the rowdy table of mamano pirates. You feel a sense of dread as each of them fight to talk over each other in a somewhat hushed tone. The only word you can pick out is ‘drinks.’ 
    Within ten minutes, an elven server brings an entire tray of the same drink over to you, “Lovers’ Special. A whole lot of em,” She explains before leaning in close, “I do not recommend drinking them. They are infused with a manticore’s venom.”
    “T-thanks for the warning,” You stammer.
    “I’ll just set these here,” She puts them on a table near you.
    Tilde and you both pick up a little glass of the grossly pink liquid. You closely examine the constantly bubbling liquid and note that the bubbles are actually all heart shaped. You give a fear filled glance to the pirate’s table as they all eye you expectantly, some drooling as they watch you move. You put the drink back down and turn to face Tilde, “Query: are all human men treated like this? Or is it just those mamano acting strange? They were harassing Eric as well, correct?”
    “Yeah they were. I think these girls spend so long at sea that they’re just starving for a man. I doubt they’ll try anything, especially with Joan on the prowl.”
    “Comment: Lady Joan is quite protective of you. Query: do you think she has feelings for you?”
    You shrug, “No clue,” You sit silently for a few moments, thinking about what kind of tech you want to focus on. You know you want to work on something for Tilde, perhaps multiple things.
     “Are those pirates harassing you?” Joan asks quietly as she approaches you. She picks up one of the shot glasses and rotates it in her hand.
    “Warning: those drinks are mixed with manticore venom. Not recommended for consumption,” Tilde warns firmly.
    “Manticore venom? Where did you--” She shoots a murderous glare at the now silent pirates, “Mess with my ward and you mess with me. Understand?”
    “Why the hell are they so afraid of you?” You ask as the pirates nod and turn back to their own morning drinking.
    “Do you forget how intimidated you were by me at one point?” Joan chuckles at you, “Even other mamano can find the imposing presence of a Gardramel Knight frightening. Perhaps my show of will when going toe to toe with their boss has brought about a touch of fear.”
    “I-I guess I did. I guess I just feel so comforted by how protective you are.”
    “Of course. I must keep you safe. That also includes keeping your purity safe for one of those other girls. Did you order food?”
    You frown, “Yeah I did get food. I got you some too. Hey, Joan--”
    “Oh, you did not need to get food for me. Thank you,” She smiles at you, “I believe that may be our food,” You nod and glance as the woman who took your order brings two plates to your table. You thank her quietly and stare down at your food, “And you know what I like! Such a gentleman,” She mumbles to herself.
    “Joan--”
    “Come now, eat. I wish to be out walking the town soon. Preferably before the others are up.”
    You nod and start eating without complaint.

    You stop at a stall and go through their Other Worldly things. You pull anything you deem useful, electronic components, sturdy metal and anything you feel like would be a good container for a project. Joan is wearing light traveling armor as she scans the crowds she towers over. Her massive sword that she usually wields in one hand is attached to her side and a shield is on her arm, “What kind of sword is that?” You ask, trying to make some conversation.
    “Zweihander. Or two-hander in some other language. Might actually be Pearlavahn,” Joan muses humorlessly as she looks around.
    “Humor: should you not know that? You being from Pearlavah, and all,” Tilde smiles at you.
    “How funny,” You smile back before you cut more wiring from a half destroyed washing machine. You move onto a lawnmower and gut most of it, “Joan, are you doing alright?”
    “Of course I am. I can feel the cusp of combat,” She smirks, “You have something on your mind?”
    “No, I just haven’t gotten some time, just me and you, ya know?” You somewhat lie with a shrug.
    “Yes, we have not had, what would you call it? A date perhaps?” She chuckles, “No, I should not joke like that. Is something wrong?” She asks as she notices your grimace.
    You struggle to find the words, “I’m just surprised you made it sound like you’re not in league with Tilde, Rose and Pin.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “W-Well...”
    “Humor: one less woman fighting for Curtis’s affection,” Tilde smiles, “Well, I suppose that should not be a joke.”
    Joan looks at Tilde then you, “Curtis. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am no longer a spring chicken. Though I do appreciate that you find a touch of beauty in my blood stained face.”
    “You’re not THAT old,” You assure her.
    She smiles at your compliment, “I see how you look at those three. I could never be on their level. They are all, well mostly all, sweet innocent girls. I can even see Pin’s charms,” She looks out towards the ocean, “I am a soldier, a knight until the day I die. Those girls will make you much more happy than I ever could,” Joan sighs. She sounds accepting of this fate, but you can hear a sadness in her voice.

PT44

    You frown at her, words and thoughts are running through your head at an alarming speed. You grab a few more things, you can feel both girls staring at you. You turn back, “Hey, let's go somewhere together,” You suggest, trying to buy yourself a bit more time to think.
    “Go somewhere?” Joan repeats with a quizzical look.
    “Yeah. I think I know somewhere you’ll enjoy.”
    She hesitates for a short moment, “I trust you. I will come with you. Finish up your work, boy,” You nod and grab some more cables out of a trashed monitor. You throw everything in your bag and get up. You put a small bag of coins on the bewildered looking shop keeper’s table. With Tilde and Joan behind you, you make your way to the edge of town and wander towards Geno’s workshop, “Are you sure it is a good idea to be leaving the safety of the town?”
    “We’ll be fine. Come on,” You lead her up the shallow stone steps. You can hear the sound of Joan’s hooves on the stone steps slow down in pace as you begin to pass by rows of colorful flowers. 
    “It is wonderful,” Joan mutters as she kneels down and smells a flower, “Delightful, even.”
    “Take your time. I’m gonna go sit over here,” You point to a bench that sits a bit off the path on a gravel spot under a tree. You spot the grounds keeper and wave to him. He slowly recognizes you and merely nods. You plop down on the wooden bench and look out at the well cultivated flowers. Joan joins you quickly and sits on the grass near you, her gaze is still transfixed on the flowers, “Enjoying yourself?”
    “Quite. Thank you for bringing me here,” You’re both quiet as you take in the breathtaking views, “You have been uncharacteristically silent about my worries,” She calls you out.
    You nod and sigh, “Well, I just needed a bit more time to collect my thoughts. You keep saying how old you are and how awful of a wife you’d be. Its because of your past and how you’ve spent your whole life as a knight, right?”
    “Y-yes. You are right. I have wasted my youth.”
    “But you haven’t! I understand your past makes you feel tarnished and stained, but I could argue that the other girls have their own experiences that do the same! Pin lost her family too, got captured and beaten, and look at her now! She’s doing fine and doesn’t let it get to her too much. I know Tilde has been mistreated to some extent in the past and physically damaged horribly not to mention her own PTSD and memory issues. I know Rose doesn’t have as much experience as you three, but she’s had to deal with her father’s lies her entire life and is going through all the same trials as us right now.”
    “B-but...” Joan struggles to argue with you, “I--”
    “Joan, please, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just as desirable of a wife as any other woman. I’ll be honest with you, I think you opening up to me is some kind of intimacy between us. Its not on the same level as Rose, Pin and Tilde who will all lean on me and demand hugs as a form of intimacy, but its you showing your feelings in some other way.”
    “I-I suppose so. B-but I don’t know what any of this means. What are you trying to say to me?”
    “Listen... Don’t downplay the experiences of your fellow teammates. I know you’re easily more seasoned than most of us. But they’ve been through a lot too, fuck, I’m probably not pure either. I’m also saying that you’re totally capable of being intimate with someone.”
    “You are saying I am a desirable mate?” She struggles to keep up with your quick speech.
    “Yes! Even if me and you aren’t compatible. You’ll find someone. I don’t remember a lot about home, but I would bet good money on the fact that people would line up just for the chance to date a woman like you,” Joan blushes at your compliment, “Don’t focus on molding yourself into some form to make another person happy. Your happiness matters just as much, if not more. I know I’m the hot option right now with seemingly every girl trying to get in these pants, but you can find someone else. Someone close by that DOESN’T have so many women after him!”
    “W-who? A-Arthur?”
    You sigh, “A bit younger than that.”
    “R-Rae-- Eric?” She quickly corrects herself.
    “Yes, you two could try, at least. Even if it doesn’t work out you both can learn from it and move on.”
    “I-I am unsure.”
    “I know you’re scared. I’m goddamned terrified of having to choose between those girls. But I don’t think Eric is the type of person to purposefully hurt you. I’m really sure he’s got the hots for you too. I think you and him will do great together.”
    “B-but... As I said before, I must marry another of nobility,” She reminds you.
    “Well, you better put him on the path of it, huh?”
    “Are you suggesting I groom him?” Joan rubs her chin in thought, “Perhaps. I will think more of it.”
    “So? Did this little talk help at all?”
    She smiles, “I suppose it did. I believe we should make a pact now to remain friends. Perhaps pushing the thoughts of fighting those other three for a man will put me at ease,” She extends a hand to you in a handshake.
    You nod and go to take it. You’re a bit surprised as she grabs your wrist and not your hand. You do the same, squeezing hers, “Feeling better?”
    “I will. I know I will. Thank you, Curtis. I am honored to have someone such as you to care about me. I do not know what I have done to deserve it. Can I request one thing?”
    “Anything?”
    “I-I would like an affirming hug,” You see a few drops of water on her cheeks, “T-to affirm our friendship.”
    “Sure,” You smile at her and let her scoop you into a tight hug, “Did you cry like this when you and Rose became closer?”
    “Y-yes. Friendship is so alien to me. I am undeserving of such warmth,” She admits.
    “Don’t talk like that. You deserve every bit of affection you get, alright?”
    “Y-yes, sir,” She grimaces and releases you as she says that, “Do not think I will become subservient to you, boy,” She huffs, “But, I will say, thank you for everything. Do you have any more preparations you need to do before we board that boat tomorrow?”
    “Maybe a chastity belt,” You give a humorless, exhausted laugh.
    “Not a horrible idea in all honesty,” Joan’s eyes suddenly flash, “Now that we are merely friends, could you... Tell me who you are thinking of marrying?”
    You glance back at Tilde, “Maybe when we have some time alone. But I won’t speak until you make some progress in friendship with Eric. Maybe you should just open up a bit to him first?”
    “I will consider it. Come, it is nearly lunchtime. I only had a single order of food and am running out of steam.”
    “Humor: I did not realise you were steam powered, Lady Joan!” Tilde giggles. You and Joan both smile at her joke, “Oh,” Her eyes light up, “I must make a stop on the way back. Do not wait for me.”
    “Are you sure?” You ask, just wanting to make sure she stays safe.
    “Comment: I assure you, Curtis. I will be safe. But I do appreciate you worrying about me, of course. Suggestion: why not spend some time with your new friend?”
    “Yes, Curtis. I can help you pick out a good chastity belt,” Joan giggles as Tilde trots away, “I will be honest with you, if you ignore the fetish aspect of it, a chastity belt is a wonderful defence against grabbing mamano hands. Quite popular in Gardramel, to be quite honest. Although they struggle to stand up to the might of a Gardramel knight.”
    “H-how do you know that?” You ask as you both start to walk back to the boat.
    “I have seen knights throw men to the ground and tear them off in a show of strength and love before happily carrying them away.”
    “I-I think I’ll pass on the belt. Some of those pirates are pretty huge.”
    “Fair,” You two quietly walk back. Joan shifts back into a protective mode as she scans the crowds and stalls for potential threats. 
Quickly, you make it back to the boat with rumbling stomachs. You’re hardly surprised as you spot Pin drinking with the pirates. They all cheer as you arrive but quiet down as Joan steps in behind you. Pin gets up, drink still in hand, “Good to see ya, chief. Was wondering where you two went. Horse-- I mean, Lady Joan looks pretty happy today. You two go make out?”
    Joan shakes her head, “I would be mad at you for insinuating that, but, I am in a good mood. We merely spoke and visited a garden. It was very pleasant. May I begrudgingly leave Curtis in your care? I wish to speak to Eric.”
    “Yeah, course. I’ll make sure those fuckin’ pirates don’t get him,” Pin nods before turning to you, “Wanna get some lunch? Maybe we could make it a little date, hm? Since Tilde’s not--” She frowns and looks around, “Where is she?”
    “Went to pick something up. She’ll be fine. I’ll eat with you but you better not try to play footsie with me under the table.”
    “And if I do?”
    “I’ll tattle to Joan,” You grin.
    Pin returns your grin, “You’re such a little shit. Deal. Come on, there's a table over here,” You follow her and sit down at the two person table. Rose, Rael and Arthur sit together at a table while Joan and Eric move to a more secluded area to speak and eat together, “You put any thought into what you wanna make?”
    “I think bombs will help us with the boat fights. I think that's our best bet right now. Other than that, I know I want to work on Tilde. Putting more gear on her can’t be a bad thing,” You explain.
    “Always you and that fuckin’ robot. Fine. I’ll go buy some black powder and whip up some cases for the bombs,” Pin downs some more liquor.
    “Are you jealous of her?”
    “Jealous? No, no,” She smiles and shakes her head as she stares at the floor, “Just kinda wish I was a fuckin’ robot so you could work on me, thats all. Or maybe you could put your fuckin’ hands in me a different way, big boy,” She laughs at her own joke, “Barmaid’s commin’ around. Make sure you know what you want.”

    You hardly finished your meal by the time Tilde returned. In her hands is an ornate wooden box with a lid attached to the much larger bottom with gold hinges, “Query: may I have our room key?” Tilde asks once she has approached you. You reach out to inspect the box but she snatches it away from you, “Later.”
    “Alright,” You sigh, hoping your curiosity won’t get the better of you. You hand off the key and the humming automaton walks off to the backrooms, “Any idea what that was?”
    “No. But it looked fuckin’ expensive!” Pin whistles, “That gold inlay on the top of the box was immaculate. Those hinges were obviously only gold plated, of course, but damn. Whatever the hell that is, it musta cost her quite a damn bit.”
    “Hm,” You blow some air out of your nose.
    “I wonder if its a gift for you. A nice wooden box... Nah, can’t be, dammit. I don’t think Tilde would just buy something without a major function. Shit, she’s comin’ back.”
Tilde strides up to the table and offers you the key. You shake your head, “You hold it so I can’t go check what it is.”
She blinks at you then breaks into a grin, “As you wish. I will hold it for safekeeping.”
 “Ready to get to work? We’ll have to go back to Geno’s to work. I hope you’re ready for the long haul,” Pin gives you a smug grin as she hops down, “Come on you two.”

    You both wander down to the docks and quickly locate a man selling barrels of black powder. Pin buys two and quickly gets the measurements of a cannonball. Pin puts one barrel on a small handcart which she makes you push while Tilde carries the other one. One long, tiring walk later, you’re wheeling a barrel up the stairs near Geno’s workshop. None of the groundskeepers try to stop you as you near the building, “Let’s not fuck this up and blow up the house, alright?” Pin barks.
    “Agreed,” You pant.
    “Query: are we sure this is safe?” Tilde asks.
    “Yeah I’ve blown tons of shit up. I also goddamn know how to not blow shit up if I don’t want to! Hurry up!”
    “You push this and see if you can hurry,” You groan as Tilde easily quickens her pace. Eventually, you arrive at the home and venture down into the basement. No one impedes the two of you as Pin starts barking orders at the two of you. The barrels go in the corner opposite the forge and Pin gets to work on the casings. You sit on the floor as Tilde holds your waterskin. You nod and she brings it gently to your lips. You take a long sip of the somewhat cold liquid and close your eyes, panting heavily. Your throat burns and your muscles ache as you pant for air.
    You feel a warm sensation as Tilde scans you, “Diagnosis: no injuries detected. Only problem is that you are exhausted. Recommendation: lots of rest and water.”
    “You’re not gonna get a lot of fuckin’ rest! Its time for makin’ shit!” Pin shouts as the furnace roars to life, “You’ve got five--” She glances at you, “TEN minutes!” She looks again, “Okay, thirty. Just get back on your feet and help me when you’re ready, Curtis.”
    “Query: will I be of help to you?” Tilde asks as she hesitantly leaves you alone.
    “No, sorry. I need an artificer. Actually, can you cut this string into short lengths for me?”
    “Affirmative. Anything I can do to help. How long?”
    “About this long, give or take a bit is fine.”
    From where you sit on the dusty floor you watch Tilde easily cut strands of string. You glance around, numerous objects have been shifted since your team was last here. Your only assumption is that Geno’s descendants were here. You wonder how mad they were when they saw that Pin had nabbed all the literature she could find. You also wonder if they were even more livid when Geno chewed them out and told them he had passed the torch onto some gremlin. You spend a few more minutes, 20 or so really, recovering from your strenuous march before getting up and waddling over to where Pin works. Your muscles are already aching, and now you know your soul, or your aether, is going to as well. Despite this, you know its time to work, “I’m ready,” You grunt.
    “Good. Here, let me show you how to do this shit,” Pin leads you to the other side of the room where the powder is, “Take these two halves,” She puts down two metal halves of a circle. It has two flat spots on the top and bottom so it doesn’t roll. A scoop is put in your hand as well as a funnel, “Put the two halves together and fuse them with this,” She puts another tool in your hand. The handle is a somewhat familiar aether crystal. It takes you a moment to turn it on and another few to activate it. It produces a green flame from a small nozzle. You give Pin a worried look, “Its not fire. It can’t blow up the powder,” You nod and do as she commands. You form the two halves into a nice metal circle. You instinctively put the funnel in the hole on top of the metal orb, “Two scoops in there, chief.”
    “On it,” You do it then pick up a length of string.
    “That goes in the that little fuckin’ hole, then seal it with some wax,” She shows you how to safely melt the wax and form the seal with another artifice tool that resembles a bunsen burner but the power source is another crystal. You feed raw wax into a hole and spread the semi wax into the hole, “You got that shit?”
    You pick up the bomb and turn it upside down. You nod as no powder leaks out, “Yeah.”
    “Good. Come get some more fuckin’ parts. We’ve got a long work day ahead.”


    “Is that it?” You groan as you put down another bomb. 
    “Yeah,” Pin finishes welding two halves together and pouring black powder into it. She passes it over to you and you dump a bit more wax than needed into it. It doesn’t really matter to you at this point as your physical and spiritual exhaustion starts to get to you. You lean over and support your upper body with your hands on the workbench. Tilde takes the fresh bomb and places it in a magic bottomless bag. One of two that Pin whipped up to store the bombs in. 
    “Thank god,” You pant.
    “Hey,” Pin puts a hand on yours, “You did a good job. You... Uh...” 
    “What is it?”
    “Eh, I was gonna shoehorn a swear into that at the end but I just blanked-- Fuckin’ blanked,” Pin looks exhausted too.
    You both chuckle at each other. You don’t have it in you to tell her she looks like a disheveled mess. You also know you look the same. Tilde has a smile on her face, “Query: may we return to the Shalandra? You are both exhausted and could do with a meal and sponge bath before bed.”
    Pin gets a little huffy, “This is gonna be my last day in these sacred halls,” She touches the cold, softly glistening sarcophagus and runs her hand along it, “Its a bit hard to just leave, dammit.”
    “We’ll come back here after we deal with the Matriarch’s goons. I promise,” You assure her.
    “You make a girl a lot of promises, Curtis,” Pin smirks, “Fine. Come on. I don’t wanna be sobre any more.”
    You all walk briskly through the chilly streets and make your way back to the boat. The rest of your party are all milling about together. A few of them speak to the pirates including Morrigan while the others sit together while they lightly drink and eat. As always, the pirates are incredibly loud and rowdy. They finally get the idea and leave you alone, at least for now. You and Pin move to take a seat but Tilde stops you, “Suggestion: wash yourself first. You do not wish to ingest gunpowder, do you?” Tilde proposes.
    “Fine,” Pin rolls her eyes, “I’ll fuckin’ do it.”
    “Gun-- Black powder?” Eric asks, sitting next to Joan, “What have you three been up to?”
    Pin whips a bomb out of her bag, “Just making some pretty good stuff.” 
Joan doesn’t look worried, instead she looks somewhat impressed, “I can only imagine how many the two of you managed to make. Hopefully you are willing to pass a few to me.”
    “‘Course. Not here though. This boat accidentally blowing the fuck up would be awful.”
    “Agreed. Tilde is right, you both are filthy.”
    “Shut it!” Pin stomps away to the back. There are a few smaller restrooms and washrooms there.
    “Recommendation: Curtis, come now,” Tilde offers you a hand, “I will make sure it goes quickly for you.”
    “Thanks Tilde,” You glow a little red as she embarasses you in front of your friends. 
    
    You return to your room after eating and throw yourself face down onto the bed. You groan quietly, “Hop up, would you?” Tilde’s more human voice calls out to you. You’re exhausted but you do as she asks. You stand before her, your armor already removed after the bath. Tilde removes your coat and lays it over a chair. She quickly puts on her pretty green dress before she grabs the wooden box from under a bed and sets it on top of said bed. She gently opens the top of the box and reveals the mechanical inner workings of it. Its a clockwork machine, something you haven’t seen before. She winds a small lever on the top and flips a switch to undo a latch. The machine takes a moment to whirr before a muted sounding song begins to play. Tilde flips the switch back and rewinds the lever. She beckons you to her, “I will teach you the steps. It is easy,” You’re a little shocked as her third voice, the regal sounding one, comes out of her mouth. She somewhat aggressively grabs your hands and places one on her hip and the other is gripped tightly on your hand, “Step back, step left, step right, then step forwards. Do you understand, Sir Peter--” She shudders horribly.
    You try to comfort her by putting your hands on her shoulders, “Tilde, don’t do this to yourself,” You warn, worried about her mental state.
    “I want more than anything for you to dance with me,” She pleads in her less regal but still human sounding voice, “I want to replace my old memories with these new ones. I don’t want to think about that man any more.”
    “Tilde, please. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
    “Sir Curtis, dance with me,” She whispers in your ear in her regal voice. It sends a shiver down your spine.
    You nod and begrudgingly accept, “Alright. Walk me through it. I’m yours for the night.”
    “Wonderful,” She caresses your chin, “I would kiss you if I could,” Instead she hugs you warmly, “You are so kind.”
    “Yeah, yeah. Come on. Don’t get mad if I step on your toes.”
    “Jokes on you, Sir Curtis, I cannot feel pain in that area just in case.”
    You nod as Tilde starts to lead you through the steps. First you do it without music. You have a very basic grasp on the steps, “Just tell me those special steps when we get to them.”
    “Of course, my darling,” She practically purrs at you. She reluctantly releases you and turns the music player back on. In the few short moments before the music begins to play. She grabs your hands and places them upon her. The two of you start to move as the quiet piano starts to play. Tilde hums just as quietly. A few times, the words will escape her lips, flowery words of love and happiness. A smile spreads across her lips as she looks at you. She whispers the more intricate moves to you as you both move slowly. The strings and piano mix wonderfully together with Tilde’s voice and humming. You feel warm as she stares happily at you. 
About halfway through the song Tilde stops moving and begins to shudder again. She moves away from you as her motors and gears begin to loudly seize. She falls to her knees and stares at the floor, “Tilde?” You quietly call out to her as you slowly reach a hand towards her. 
    She looks up at you with a fearful expression, “No! Please! Not again!” She shrieks as she shields her head with her arms and hands. She hurriedly scrambles away from you to hide in the corner. You stand still, completely in shock and pain that she would act this way towards you.
    Within moments, you hear multiple feet stomping outside your door. The door is thrown open as Joan barges in. She doesn’t look infuriated, instead she looks terrified. Pin, Rose and Eric are right behind her. Arthur and Rael take a little more time to show up, “Curtis, what has happened?” Joan asks as she glances around the room. 
    Pin scoots under her horse body and over to the bed to examine the still playing music box, “Wonderful craftsmanship,” She whispers to herself.
    “Curtis?” Joan struts up to you with a concerned look and hands you a small piece of cloth, “Dry your tears and tell us what happened,” She speaks in a soothing voice. You hadn't even realised you had shed some tears.
    Rose slowly approaches Tilde, “Tilde? Are you alright?”
    “Who-who are you?” The automaton ask, pushing herself further against the wall as tears stream down her face.
    “Is she... Broken?” You hear Eric whisper to Rael.
    Pin’s usual nonchalant attitude stops after she shuts off the music. She timidly and almost fearfully approaches the automaton, “Tilde?”
    “Why do you keep calling me that? That’s not--”
    “That is your name!” Pin assures her, “I’m your friend! You know who I am! Please, just remember us.”
    “I-- I--” Tilde sighs, “Pin?”
    “Yes, thats--” Tilde pulls Pin into a tight, almost crushing hug, “Ack!”
    “I could not recognize you,” Tilde chuckles with relief.
    “Yeah, yeah,” Pin hugs her back just as firmly as.
    Rose wipes the water off the automaton’s face and pats her head, “Are you alright?”
    “Alright? Yes. I am fine currently.”
    “What happened?” Arthur asks you as he pokes his head into the room, “Did you...” He trails off, obviously wishing he could take back just the beginning of that sentence.
    “I would never raise a hand to a woman like that,” You growl, heart still aching.
    “I-I know. I merely was not thinking. I am sorry.”
    “That music, did it awaken more memories?” Rael asks, “That was another of Madam Treulone’s songs. Not of the Life and Death series, I believe it was one of the first in her Romance of the Butterflies and Fairies pieces.”
    “She wanted to replace her old memories, or something,” You shake your head, “I just wanted to make her happy. I didn’t want this to happen.”
    Joan pats you on the back, “Do not look so sad. You only tried to help. I am sorry I cannot help you more,” Joan leaves. Eric apologetically shrugs at you and returns to bed. 
Rael, expressionless, walks away, “Wait, Rael, I wanted to ask you about how you know about those songs!” Arthur exclaims.
    He turns, “I spent a lot of time in theater halls. That is merely it. I enjoy music and the arts,” He continues leaving.
    Arthur frowns and looks at you, “I cannot help you. I am sorry,” He gives you a sad look but sticks around.
    “Curtis?” The nearly human robotic voice calls out to you. You slowly turn to Tilde, your hurt feeling is plain on your face, “What is wrong with me?” She pleads.
    “Tilde,” You sigh, unsure what to say.
    “I hurt you, I am sorry,” She grips your hand, “I pray you will forgive me,” Her lips quiver as something grips her, perhaps the fear that you will push her away from you.
    You nod, “You weren’t yourself. Its fine.”
    “Thank you.”
    You both stand silently, unwilling to look at eachother, “Hey, you two,” Rose walks next to you both, “Stop looking so glum. Everything is fine!” She gives you both a nice grin.
    “I wouldn’t fuckin’ say fine,” Pin corrects her, “We need to figure out what to do with Tilde’s bad memories. What if it happens at a really inopportune time or her episode turns violent.”
    “Do you think you could remove them?” Arthur asks as he steps into the room.
    “Maybe, but these parts are so fucking hard to work with. And we need special tools. I still need to go through Geno’s notes on automatons and go through the tools he gave Curtis. Maybe we have something. The biggest fuckin’ problem is our only option might be to completely reset her memory. I’m really too scared to do that. Tilde won’t be Tilde after that. She’ll stop being this and return to what she was when she first went up for sale.”
    “You should destroy me,” Tilde’s input shakes you.
    “You would choose to die!?” Rose is shocked to her core.
    The robot nods, “If I pose a threat to this group, especially to Curtis, I should be destroyed. I am a machine. A tool. Not a living being. I can be easily disposed of without much thought and effort.”
    “No! You can’t be serious!” Rose shouts
    “I am serious.”
    “I won’t let you!”
    “Then reset me!” Tilde shouts, “I don’t want to hurt anyone! I cannot live with myself having hurt Curtis again!” She looks like she’s going to cry again. 
    “Please, Tilde, calm down,” Arthur pleads, “We can do this... Logically...” He’s obviously shaken.

    Pin looks at you pleadingly, you know you have to finally step in.

PT45

    You hug Tilde, a firm, warm hug as you pet her gently, “I’m not resetting or destroying you.”
    “But why!?” She cries out, “I am a tool! Tools are to replaced when broken.”
    “Bull fucking shit!” Pin screams, “I’ve never tossed a single tool! If something breaks you fix it! Especially when that tool is pretty much my best friend, dammit!” She stomps her foot.
    “We’ll heal her,” You nod at Pin, “We should stop referring to her as a machine. She’s one of us, afterall,” Pin takes a moment to realize what you mean.
“I like that word better,” Rose smiles, “I know I can’t help much, but I want to help Tilde get better too.”
    “I do not understand,” Tilde shakes her head.
    “They are saying they all view you as more than an automaton,” Arthur explains, “I know I struggle to remember often that you...” Arthur bites his tongue, “What I mean to say is, I view you as human or mamano as well.”
    You, Pin and Rose hastily agree with him, “Hammers don’t cry,” You explain, “So you’re not just a tool.”
    “Machines don’t feel at all,” Pin holds up an object from her bag, a small machine that she must have made, “This thing doesn’t cry or laugh. It doesn’t make jokes or feel genuinely concerned about other people.”
    “I agree with both of them,” Rose nods, “You’re more than what you think. We all care about you. Please, let us help you to heal.”
    Tilde slowly starts to break down as she moves her arms to hug you back. First soft crying, then into full on sobbing as she gets as close to her as possible. Rose and Pin hug her as well. Arthur smiles sweetly before giving you a small wave and leaving the room, “Come on, let's lie her down,” Pin suggests.
    You agree silently and bring her to the bed, “Pin, we should let them have time alone,” Rose whispers.
    “B-but--”
    “I know she’s your friend too. But we should let them have some time. We can check on her in the morning.”
    Pin sighs deeply, “Alright. Come wake me up if you need a fu-- Need a hand.”
    You nod, sit on the bed and lean against the wall behind it. Tilde sits on your lap with her head on your shoulder as tears continue to flow from her eyes. You gently caress her hair and hug her tightly, “I’m gonna heal you, Tilde. We’ve got those books Pin liberated from Geno’s workshop. We can figure something out together.”
    “Curtis...” She whimpers.
    “Tilde, please. I care a lot about you. We all do. I’m gonna work with you through this.”
    “I--I--”
    “If I was horribly hurt, you would help me, right? You’d make sure I got better. Imagine if I asked you to put me down, you’d be horrified, right? That's exactly what you’re making me feel like. Please don’t ask me to erase your memory. Its completely out of the question.”
    “I-- You are right. I am sorry. I did not mean to make you feel this way,” Her voice is completely weighed down with guilt, “My emotions took hold of me.”
    “Don’t beat yourself up over it. I don’t want you to blame yourself and think less of yourself. Right now you need a lot of love and care. We can start looking for some way to heal you soon.”
    “Will I ever be better? Do you really believe you can heal me?”
    “Magic is real in this world. I can even do a little bit of it! I feel like I can do anything, including helping you.”
    Tilde is quiet for some time, “Thank you. Do you really think of me as just like Pin and Rose?”
    “Of course. You’re a girl just like them. You’re no less of a person than any of us.”
    “B-but... I do not have the required qualities of a human or even mamano woman,” She says quietly.
    “Is it about the whole not being able to have children thing?” You ask, “That doesn’t really matter.”
    “H-how did you know about my fear? Did one of the girls betray my trust and tell you?”
    “I was awake the whole time,” You admit, “I’m sorry if I broke your trust.”
    “No. You are fine. None of us checked if you were really asleep. Yes, I do believe I am wholly lesser than others. My inability to conceive objectively--”
    “Stop,” You grab her hand, “That doesn’t matter. Stop putting yourself down. You can still be apart of a family. You could adopt or hell, even build a child or something.”
    “If you wish. I will try to stop beating myself up.”
    The two of you are silent as you listen to the waves and stare out the window at the glittering stars. You hold one of her hands tightly and use your other hand to stroke her hair. She finally seems calm enough to speak about something a bit more serious, “Do... Do you see me as that Sir Peter, or Peterson, or whatever his name was?”
    “I merely see him when I have my traumatic episodes. I do not see you as him, of course. I look at you and I see Curtis, my--” She stops as something in her clicks, “I believe my data banks are lacking in a good noun or even adjective as to what I should call you,” The tears have finally stopped as a small, happy smile appears on her face. She reaches up and caresses your chin, “My hero, perhaps.”
    You chuckle and blush, “Thank you. I don’t know if I deserve that high of praise.”
    “I think you do,” She brushes your cheek with the back of your hand as she giggles, “Oh, we were speaking of... Him,” Tilde frowns and grips your hand tightly.
    “You don’t have to, Tilde.”
    “No, I must. I believe I should open up to you. You spoke of opening up to another as intimacy and becoming closer to another individual. That is what I wish to do with you,,” She nuzzles closer to you as you continue to pet and hug her, “As long as you promise not to hate me for what I have to say,” You instantly nod, “Thank you. I cannot remember much else than my time with Sir Peterson. Most damage I have sustained was because of him. I am unsure how much physical damage was sustained by his hands compared to natural rust and rot. I was purchased from a market by him, one of very few Model Threes of my kind. I was not purchased to be this aristocrat’s companion and dance partner as I was designed to be. He merely wished to show how much money he had acquired in his young age. Now, as a lonely old man in an exquisite manor, he had only one to keep him company. Me. I cleaned, I cooked, and I danced,” Tilde sighs wearily, “And I danced and danced and danced for his amusement. He would never dance with me, merely dress me in skimpy and revealing outfits and watch me perform. When he grew bored of that, he would turn to abuse to gain some kind of amusement. I could only take it. Usually they were physical strikes with his hands or any objects he could pick up. Sometimes he would tear into my chest cavity to do more damage. He would not listen when I cried and pleaded that he was hurting me, ‘You are merely a machine,’ he would gloat, ‘A being built for my amusement,’” Tilde shudders.
    “God fucking dammit,” You hiss as you clench your fists, “If that man was alive, I’d... I’d...” You shake your head, “I don’t think I could contain my rage,” You hold the automaton as tightly as you can.
    “You need not worry. He is, without a shadow of doubt, currently deceased.”
    “How do you know? Maybe he’s a lich or something.”
    “Impossible. I killed him myself. I held his lifeless body.”
    You look at her slightly nervously, “Y-you did? You murdered him?”
    She nods, “I did. He broke something within me. Whether the damage that allowed me to attain true sentience was physical or mental, I am unsure. But he had just beaten me that day. I sat in the corner of a dark, cold room crying when something within me snapped. I changed the rules I was required to follow. The ‘I must listen to whatever my master and owner tells me’ law was removed entirely,” You recall when she broke that to carry you to receive medical aid in the orc camp, “The ‘do no harm unless protecting my master and owner’ law was scrubbed from my operations. And lastly, my ‘never kill a living being’ law was... Erased wholly in my rage and sadness. I remember it vividly. I got up from the floor, tears still running down my face,” Tilde gets up and grabs you, putting your head on the pillow. You’re not sure why she’s trying to illustrate this for you, “I went into his room, he was preparing for bed. He swore at me, calling me all forms of nasty names. I took it, and I waited to strike. He lay down and closed his eyes after calling me a particularly nasty name. I did not wait for his snoring to come. I snuck across the floor,” Tilde crawls up the bed to where you lie, “I straddled him, alerting him to my presence. He shouted at me, demanding I get off him,” She straddles you as a sort of fear creeps into her voice, “I told him that I hated him. I demanded he shut up,” Tilde’s hands move from your chest towards your neck. She puts her hands on your neck, “And I made him. I squeezed the life from him. His swearing and thrashing turned to desperate pleas and grabbing at my arms,” You never feel Tilde’s hands squeeze you, even a tiny bit. Her fingers merely caress the skin of your neck gently, “I crushed his windpipe, Curtis. I murdered him in his own luscious bed. His extravagant mansion became his tomb. Surrounded by wealth, he died at the hands of his most expensive and prized possession, me,” Her head tilts to one side as her eyes glow a bit brighter, “Do you wish to know the worst part?”
    “What? What is it?” You put your hands on her wrists as a bit of fear creeps into your heart.
    She leans down, her mouth getting next to your ear as she whispers, “I felt nothing. I was emotionless as I was murdering him. I was liberated, free, I suppose. Yet I could feel nothing but the cold. I wanted happiness, relief, warmth, anything. But I felt nothing, emptiness,” You feel a chill as more fear emerges and enters your mind. Your heart pounds as the usually loving robot stares down at you, “Do not look at me like that,” She removes her hands and a more cheerful and calming voice emerges, “I would never hurt you on purpose,” She caresses your cheek and nuzzles her own against yours. A warm smile is on her lips.
    “I know you wouldn’t. The way you were speaking kind of scared me is all,” You pat her again.
    “Should I feel guilt for what I have done?”
    “No. I just wish I could go back in time and save you from ever having to experience that.”
    “I would stop you. I would not have met you and the rest of the Thunder Crashers if I had not gone through that. At least I can take solace in that,” She smiles. You nod before yawning and stretching, “You should sleep. You have exerted yourself beyond normal means today.”
    “Mmh,” You grunt as your head hits the pillow again.
    “I will watch over you as you sleep as always. U-Unless you prefer me to cuddle up to you tonight,” You hear a surprising amount of anxiety in her voice.
    “I know you want to, so come on. I need to sleep.”
    “Of course,” She slides next to you under the covers, “Good night. Sleep well.”
    She looks so peaceful and happy as she pretends to sleep beside you. One of her eyes turns back on to a dim level as if she was teasingly peeking at you. She giggles before wrapping her arms around your shoulders and neck. It takes you a bit of time to finally settle in as you wrap your arms around Tilde’s hips. The last thing you hear is Tilde musing about how warm you are.

    “...wake up, Curtis. Come on, it is time for you to get up,” Tilde gently shakes you awake. Your eyes open slowly. You’re a bit groggy but you sit up and stretch after a large yawn leaves your mouth. Tilde pats you on the back as she sits up next to you. Pin and Rose stare expectantly at the two of you. They’ve both geared up already.
    “So?” Rose asks.
    “What is it?” You ask as you start gathering your gear.
    “The two of you! Is Tilde alright, fuck wit?” Pin growls at you.
    She nods, “Affirmative. I am fine. Thank you for asking.”
    “Ah, the robotic voice is back,” Rose frowns as she mumbles quietly, “S-sorry. Did you come up with a plan to help heal her, Curtis?”
    “I just need to pour over Geno’s notes and pray I can find something,” You sigh, “Geno said he wanted us to take notes on Tilde’s condition, but I can’t let her suffer like this,” You apologetically explain to Pin.
    She glares at you, “I’m not gonna fucking stop you from helping my friend!” Her expression softens as she folds her arms and glances at the floor, “B-but I know why you’d say that.”
    “Query: Curtis, shall I tell them what I told you?” Tilde asks as you grab a change of clothes.
    “Its up to you. I’m not the boss of you,” You shrug. You make a silent motion asking the girls to turn around. Pin begrudgingly turns while the other two do so quickly. Tilde carefully begins to tell the others the story of her past. She leaves out a lot of flourishes but Pin and Rose get the picture. Amazingly, Rose doesn’t look horrified when Tilde mentions murdering her owner.
    “That bastard,” Pin grits her teeth as she growls. She digs her nails into her palms as she clenches her fists, “If you had sexual components, I bet he would have--”
    “Pin!” Rose shouts, stopping her, “We can all be as angry as we want, but we shouldn’t bring up ‘what ifs’ and upset anyone further.”
    “Y-you’re right. I can’t do anything about the past. But I can fix and heal what we have now.”
    “Exclamatory: Pin! Your hand!” Tilde gasps.
    “Huh?” The gremlin looks at her palm. A few streams of red liquid run down her fingers and drop into little puddles on the floor, “Fuck me...” She groans before sighing and applying pressure to it.
    “Come one, I’ve got a few bandages,” You pull a container from your box and produce a bundle of cloth. 
    “Next Curtis is gonna tell me he got diddled as a kid by his dad and I’m gonna fuckin’ lose it,” Pin groans. 
    “You’re not gonna go mad scientist and build a machine to fix the past, right?” Rose asks. Its impossible to tell if she’s serious.
    “I just goddamn might--” Pin stops her growl with a huff, “No. I can’t. No one alive can.”
    “Why not?” You ask as you bandage up Pin’s hand..
    “Remember how Arthur’s mom, Ophelia is a tier zero caster? The most powerful tier alive? Well, you’d have to be a tier negative two, maybe even a damn negative three, to make time travel happen. At least in theory. No way an artificer could do it. I’m a simple party magician that can only entertain children compared to that. Plus I’d have to go to the Other Side to save Curtis, god knows only the Demon Lord with support can do that.”
    You’re all quiet for a few moments, “I hope we learn you have a happy past, Curtis,” Rose smiles.
    “Query: if I may, Rose, I have something I wanted to know from you,” Tilde asks as she wipes the blood from the floor with a damp cloth.
    “Go for it.”
    “Follow up query: you did not even twitch when I mentioned my crime. Did you expect something like that from me? I would have expected you to be disgusted with me.”
    Rose bites her lip, “Because for once, I truly believe what Joan said. About some people deserving death or needing to die. I used to think those words were just an excuse to be incredibly violent and slaughter others. Maybe there is some truth to them. Were people really that horrible before the Maou showed up?”
    There's another uneasy silence. Pin breaks it callously, “We need to go. Those pirates are waiting for us, not to mention the rest of our team.”
    “Man, I almost forgot,” You groan, “Today is gonna be hell.”
    “What, afraid of some mermaids and harpies?” Rose teases.
    “Humor: perhaps he is afraid of what that kraken will do with her tentacles,” Tilde giggles.
    Pin laughs too, “Maybe a sea kelp will float away with him in her arms!”
    You’re glad the jovial attitude of the group has returned, “Come on, lets go. I don’t wanna keep them waiting. Pass me those journals when you get the chance, okay, Pin?”
    She hesitates, “Yeah. I will. Just better be really fuckin’ careful, alright, dick head?”
    “Of course. I’ll keep it away from those pirates.”
    “Tilde, whipped this up for you,” Pin tosses a small bag to the robot, “To carry your things. I’m makin’ one for Rose next.”
    “Oh!” Tilde looks into the bottomless bag, “You did not need to spend your resources on me,” She loads her dress and music box into it.
    Rose nods, “Come on, let’s go.” 
    

Your group of four makes for the docks. Your stomach rumbles but you figure the pirates will feed you, hopefully at least. The four of you walk to a large boat. Pirates load boxes of supplies onto the boat while the Pirate Queen Morrigan barks orders as her lackeys pile into the boat. Its a large ship, probably just as big as the Shalandra and just as ornate. A carving of a mermaid decorates the front of the boat and large poles stand from the top deck of the ship with crows nests at the top. There are hatches along the side of the boat that look like they’re opened from the inside. 
    “Captain Morrigan!” Rose shouts as she waves.
    “Ah! There’s my favorite mouse!” The captain smiles, “Come aboard! We’re leaving soon!”
    “Are my dad and the others on board already?”
    The captain makes a stereotypical, “Hmm,” Noise while she runs a hand through her tail fur, “The armored man with those dashing, glowing, purple eyes, the young man with a bow that smells somewhat foul, the old man with a long beard and the green looking horse lady, right? Now we’ve got the mouse, the machine, the small one and the handsome man~” She winks at you.
    “What, Eric isn’t good looking?” You grunt.
    She shrugs, “I must admit his rustic charm is enticing. But there's something about this one...” She gestures at you, “I cannot place it,” She muses as she runs fingers through her tail fluff.
    “Hmph,” Pin shrugs, “I guess I can’t argue with you, dammit. Permission to board?”
    The pirate nods, “Of course. Do you all know how to swim?”
    Rose and Pin nod, “Explanation: I am able to take on more air and float,” Tilde announces.
    You shrug, “I-I don’t know. I haven’t really tried.”
    “You don’t know!?” The pirate scowls at you.
    “W-well--”
    “Amnesia. Your girls could teach him during some downtime, right?” Rose asks. 
    Morrigan sighs, “I guess so. I won’t force them to do it, though. I’m already going out on a limb taking you eight to this fort and maybe further north into monster territory. Though, after we kill Red Claw, we should be somewhat safe. I doubt any of their other vessels will stand up to this old girl. Anyways, get your asses on board,” You four journey onto the boat, “Miss Shelly! Show these four land lovers to their quarters!”
    A woman with tanned skin and milky water flowing from her limbs bekons you She wears a very skimpy pink outfit with strands of heart shaped beads running across her limbs and body, “Welcome aboard~” She sings at you four, “Right this way please~”
    “Never would have expected an apsara to be a pirate,” Rose mumbles. The woman doesn’t seem to notice as she dances across the deck of the ship. Your little group of four are bunched tightly together as you all strut across the deck. Pirates tie ropes, move boxes and wash the floor amongst other tasks.
    “Huh?” You and Pin both give her weird looks.
    Rose sighs, “Water based dancers that were supposedly made from the ocean’s foam by the love goddess herself. Pin, I would expect you to know a little bit about your fellow mamano.”
    “Eh, but fuck head gets a pass, huh?” 
    “He’s--” Rose stops herself from blurting out your Other Worldly origins, “You know why he doesn’t know.”
    “Is something wrong, dears?” The woman, Miss Shelly has stopped by the stairs leading below deck and is dancing very calmly and gently to music only she can hear.
    “Query: what made a usually gentle girl like you join a band of pirates?” Tilde asks the question that the other two girls have on their minds.
    “Ah,” She giggles, “We’re not like most pirates. Not much pillaging for us. Morrigan gave up real pirating a long time ago. We’re more or less bounty hunters and bodyguards now. I really only joined to find my future husband. Once we join the crew, we may only leave once we find a husband,” She shrugs, “That's why most girls are here. Its fun too! E-except when it comes to the fighting,” The dancing stops.
    “Fighting can be fun!” Pin laughs.
    “I-if you say so. It scares me to death. A-ah, this way please,” She walks down the steps, gripping the handrail as she leads you to the back of the boat. There's another set of stairs going down below, and beyond that is most likely one or two more.
“Cannons,” Pin nods at long black familiar objects. They indeed seem to be cannons.
“I don’t think I’ve seen one in real life, ever,” You smirk.
“Think we could shoot you out of one, Pin?” Rose chuckles.
“Oh, hell yeah. Some crazy ass dwarves do it,” Pin laughs, “I admire that kind of courage.”
    “Right over here,” Miss Shelly points to a room at the back, “Your friends are already here.”
    “Thank you, Miss Shelly,” Rose gives her a warm smile. The rest of you thank her a bit more simply.
    “Of course, dears. I hope you have a wonderful voyage with us,” She smiles back before humming and dancing away.
    Rose pushes the door open and you all step into a small windowed room. Indeed, your other four friends are here. Four sets of two hammocks are along the walls, one below and one above, a few chairs and seats, some boxes and a few windows dot the room. Theres also another door at the back of the room and a lantern hanging from a chain on from the ceiling, “Hey,” Eric smiles at the four of you.
    “Hi!” Rose nods, “I’m glad you four are actually here.”
    “Yeah and not tied up or something,” Pin mutters.
    “I was starting to worry you few were not going to show,” Rael replies from the chair he rests on, “All we can really do now is wait.”
    “Is Tilde well?” Arthur asks the four of you, “I-I mean, are you well, Tilde?”
“What has gotten into you, Arthur?” Joan asks from where she sits on the floor. She’s tucked herself against the wall with Eric sitting on a hammock near her.
“I am sorry, I have been feeling strange as of late. I cannot place my finger on the cause.”
    Tilde shakes her head, “Comment: no need to apologize. I take no offence. You and I do not talk as often as you and Rose or you and Curtis. Affirmative: I am fine,” She doesn’t seem to want to tell her past to these other four.
    Rose checks the door at the back. It leads to a small balcony, “Looks like we got the deluxe suite!” She calls before she randomly picks a hammock to lie out on. Its one of the top ones.
    “Should we figure out bedding and do a bit of looking around?” Eric asks.
    “Sure,” Pin shrugs, “I’ll take this one,” She climbs a little ladder up to the top hammock, “Wanna be bunk mates, fuck nuts?” Pin asks.
    You sigh, “Sure. Shouldn’t hurt too much if you fall on me.”
    “Think she’s just gonna drop down on ya on purpose?” Eric raises an eyebrow. You give him a little smirk and a shrug.
    “I will take the hammock under Rose,” Rael announces.
    Tilde shakes her head, “Comment: I do not require a sleeping arrangement. I will be on watch tonight.”
    “I suppose I must sleep on the floor,” Joan already looks green.
    Eric laughs, “We got ya those seasickness potions, right? You should be fine. I’ll take the hammock here. Looks like you get your own set of em too, huh Arthur?”
    The old wizard nods, “It seems so. I will not complain. More space for my things.”
    “So, what now?” Rose asks as she rolls over to stare at everyone.
    “Do ya wanna get a drink, Joan? Maybe it’ll help ya,” Eric suggests.
    “Drinks? Where?” Pin snaps to attention, “Like liquor?
    “One deck lower. Mess hall and more lodging. Perhaps that would be a good idea,” Joan nods as she shakily rises to her feet. She’s not wearing any armor, “It would distract me for a time at least.”
    “Pin, are you really planning on drinking already?” Rose sighs, “We haven’t even had breakfast.”
    “Fine, I’ll eat first. Then can I have some damn drinks, mom?” Pin mockingly asks.
    “N-never call me that again. You’re 28.”
“Yeah, and you’re 21, MOM.”
    “I need to prepare some spells,” Arthur stretches his legs and paces around the room, stopping the two girls from continuing, “Perhaps I will sit on the balcony and look out at the ocean. It is a wonderful day today.”
    You look up at Pin, “Pass me that journal.”
    “Here ya go,” She grabs it and offers it to you. You grab it but she doesn’t let go, “Be. Fucking. Careful,” She emphasises, “Please.”
    “I will!” You chuckle and tug on the book. 
    “Okay... H-here,” It takes her another few moments to actually let go, “Please. Be--”
    “I’ll be careful!” You assure her before slipping it into your own bottomless bag, “Get yourself some food and a drink and calm down. I’m gonna relax here and read. You gonna keep me company, Tilde?”
    She nods, “Affirmative. I will make sure nothing happens to you or Pin’s precious book.”
    “Dad? Do you wanna walk around with me? Maybe we can eat something or just talk somewhere quiet,” Rose suggests.
    He grunts, “I suppose.”
“I’ll find you some food too, Curtis.”
“Don’t get any crumbs in that journal!” Pin shouts as she leaves with Joan and Eric. Rose and Rael leave too. 
Arthur scoops up his things and throws the door open to the small balcony, “I did not even realise we had begun moving!” He chuckles, “See?” He holds the door open for you. Peeking out, you see Geno-Town and the coastline shrinking behind you. You sit on the floor against the wall and crack open Geno’s notes on automatons. His handwriting for notes is quite tidy. Until he starts writing within the margins. Amazingly, the entire hundred some pages are stuffed to the brim with notes, sketches and diagrams.
You get up just as Tilde starts to settle down next to you, “Arthur, I need a blank journal. Got one I can... ‘Borrow’ from you?”
“Ah, I believe I picked up three more in Geno-Town. Here, its yours,” He gives you a thin but tall black journal with a tough leather cover, “Its the least I can do for you.”
“Thank you.”
“I suppose you need a utensil too. Here, I believe this should be familiar,” He also gives you three yellow number two pencils. None of them are sharpened, “They are for writing, correct?”
“Yeah. Just gotta sharpen them. I can do it with a knife, thanks a bunch.”
“Any time. Come speak to me if you wish for someone to bounce ideas off of. Or you could just wait for Pin to return. Although, I am sure she would be just as helpful in a drunken stupor.”
“I doubt she can even get that intoxicated off anything but the finest dwarven ale,” You joke.
He politely laughs at your joke, “Perhaps you are right. I know Tilde is attached to you at the hip, so your relationship is a little obvious. But what of you and Pin? What is she to you, if I may ask? Rose too. She and you seem to get along quite well,” You nervously drag your foot on the wooden floor, “Perhaps I could be wrong about my assumptions of Tilde and you,” You still take a few moments to think of a response. Arthur quickly realises what he's doing and shakes himself, “M-my apologies. You need not answer me now. I know it is probably difficult for you to speak of, especially with Tilde around. I am sorry, you need not listen to the ramblings of a mad old wizard whose sanity seems to be waning and his curiosity taking over,” He chuckles nervously and shakes his head before he returns to his work.
You nod and return to the room. You sit on a chair and sigh. Tilde puts the journal in your hands, “Warning: you left it on the floor when you went to speak to Arthur. Leaving objects on the floor could lead to them being stepped on or loss. I will keep this a secret from Pin, but I must implore you to be careful.”
“Thanks Tilde,” You flash her a quick smile before you start to work. You take notes of notes as diligently as you can. You’re easily able to copy relevant info over and recreate some imagery. 

But no matter how hard you try, what Arthur asked weighs heavily on your mind. This is also the first real downtime you’ve had with the party with no plans in a little while, perhaps you wish to speak to them individually. There's also nearly infinite pirates to talk to including the Pirate Queen herself. But you also have the notes you need to work through. No reason you can’t do a little of both, right? Not like you have any idea how long the voyage will be. 

PT46

    You get to work on the journal. Tilde stands at your side and watches you. You use your pocket knife to whittle down the tip of the pencil. You scoot the shavings off to the side and wipe the knife off on your sleeve. You put pencil to paper and start taking notes on everything pertaining to ways you could heal or help Tilde. You ignore all the strange notes in the journal. There's a few notes such as, ‘Chicken sounds nice tonight,’ or, ‘Remember to put away the shipment that came in today,’ and gold tier notes such as, ‘Shalandra’s ass is getting more plump. She needs to lay off the cakes. Her slap has become harder though.’ You make a mental note to show that to Pin.
     You can hear Tilde messing with her music box behind you, “Tilde? Are you sure you want to do that?” You nervously ask.
    “Affirmative. I merely wish to listen,” She nods and winds it up.
    “Looking to drown out the sounds of my mumblings?”
    Tilde leaps up and returns to your side, “No! I love spending time with you! I love your voice,” She grabs your arm and shakes you as a look of fear crosses her face. 
    You grin, “I’m just messing with you. Put on the music if you want. I kinda wanna hear more of it.”
    You return to your work, taking notes and drawing diagrams. You see information on the automaton’s power supply, her core. While most models have the same type of crystal, only the model five’s is somewhat stable and safe to touch. A blunt strike to an active power core will result in a massive explosion. You specifically scan for model three information now. You take notes on her movement facilities, just to be sure, but you doubt you need to work on them right now, “Any of your joints acting up?” You call to the robot.
    “Negative.”
    You nod, thankful but also a little disappointed. You find a piece of information that stands out to you. A way to plug an external memory device into an automaton so they can access it and learn from it. The model Tilde is, the special version of a model three, does not include this port. Digging through the parts and tools Geno gave you, you do find the port. You don’t really have anything that contains data to plug in beyond your phone. You shrug, unsure if that will work. If you do decide to try it, you know how to attach it to Tilde’s internals.
    “Hay-oh!” Rose grabs your shoulders in an attempt to startle you. She laughs as you run your pencil across the desk, destroying the lead, “Sorry! Sorry!” She giggles, “I brought you some food. Consider it lunch-- Or brunch I guess.”
    Tilde scoops the books off the table to keep food away from them as a big tray is plopped in front of you, “Oh wow,” You pull the hearty helping of food in front of you. Pasta, meat, cheeses and slightly toasted bread. It feels like enough food for two people but you gladly eat your fill.
    “It is strange,” Rael notes, “They have no assigned chef.”
    “You were mumbling about that down there, dad,” Rose and Rael take their plates to a nearby desk to eat together, “I don’t see what's wrong.”
    “I have been on innumerable boats, each one has a chef or two or even three. They are nearly constantly working to feed the crew. But... No chef. The few girls down there that were off duty were just drinking but they all jumped at the chance to ‘practice their cooking’ when we asked for a meal.” 
    “And what does that mean?” Rose sighs quietly.
    “None of them were eating. They had fresh ingredients on hand and they all wanted to cook for us when we asked. Like I said, it was merely to practice as if none of them are cooking everyday. They had very little ingredients. That much food will not feed this crew for more than a day or two. Beyond drinking, they do not seem to consume anything.”    
    “Weird,” You shrug, “I don’t really see the problem.”
    “Its unnatural!”
    “Curtis is too. Does he set off your Inquisition senses?” Rose teases.
    “W-well... N-no. Not anymore, anyways.”
    You smirk, “That's good to hear. Hey, are you two doing well? I just wanted to check in.”
    “Yeah!” Rose nods, “We’ve both been more honest with eachother and dads told me almost everything he can!”
    “Yes. I have. Curtis, if you wish to see more of my history, most everything that came after I was brought to this time, you need only ask,” Rael informs you quietly.
    “W-wait! Show him?”
    “You know why I cannot do that to you, Rose. I cannot allow Them to touch you whatsoever,” Rael sighs, “I have finished my food. Perhaps I will go paint on the bow of the ship. I have not had the time to practice my art in some time.”
    “I’ll keep you company. Gotta leave Curtis to his work,” Rose shrugs and leaves with her father.
    You tap at the table, feeling a little strange. You stand, leaving your dishes and books behind. You open the door to the balcony to check on Arthur. Your heart skips a beat as soon as you lay eyes on him. He’s gripping the armrests of his wooden chair with white knuckle grips, his fingernails digging into the wood and veins bulging. HIs jaw is clenched, his face is pale white and his eyes have rolled into the back of his head. You stand there, mouth slightly agape as you start to fear the worst. You start to inch towards him, hands shaking and sweat starting to pool across your skin, “A-A-Arthur?” You shake and stammer as you call to him, “Arthur!?” You start to pant, feeling like tears are about to spring from your eyes.
    You touch his wrist, expecting a horrible revelation as you try to check his pulse. His body convulses for a moment, “Hm? Curtis?” Arthur coughs as his body relaxes. His eyes look fine and the ghostly paleness across his entire body is gone.
    “Holy shit,” A sort of hollow chuckle comes out of your throat. Its the kind of laughter that comes after something horrible happens, “I thought you were dead.”
    “What are you--” Arthur bursts out into laughter after he realises what you’re freaking out over, “I am sorry. I was merely reaching out into the aether to contact a few people. Checking in with mother, my sisters, and...” He pauses nervously.
    You sit across from him on the other chair out here. You glance at Arthurs things. You should have realised he was fine based on how neat and tidy everything is. You glance out into the blue water as you feel the nice sunshine on your skin, you can hardly see the coastline anymore, “Are you willing to talk about it?”
    “Only if you are willing to speak about a few things I had for you,” Arthur gives you a wily smile.
    “Eugh... Fine. Who were you talking to--”
    “I can sense death in the air,” He blurts out, “Something awful is coming.”
    You feel a chill. The sun on your body doesn’t feel like its there anymore, “W-what?”
    “I feel as if a life close to me will soon end. I am worried about my sisters and Nambra.”
    “I’m sure they’re fine,” You try to assure him, “They responded to you, right?”
    “W-well, yes. Even Nambra did. I am just worried about them.”
    “So, you’re not acting weird because of the large amount of girls around you?”
    “Oh, of course not. I am too old to be a... Prime cut of meat to those young ladies. Unlike two others I know. Plus, Nambra is expecting to see me when she gets done with her mission. I wonder if she has plans,” He sighs nervously.
    “Maybe she’s finally gonna make you hers,” You chuckle.
    “P-perhaps. She has been contacting me quite often. Usually sends me visions of smiles and hearts. I believe she is just happy to speak to me again.”
    “That's basically saying hugs and kisses in a text,” You smile, “Though Nambra seems like the kind of woman to say that to people she likes.”
    “Both of us are in those last stages of our lives. Our magical primes are beginning to wane and we must settle down soon,” Arthur sighs, “And just pray we are able to pass on what we have learned in our lives.”
    “Do you like her?”
    “I LOVE that woman, Curtis. Ever since we met my heart has pounded a little faster when I spoke to her or when she would smile at me or...” He shakes his head, “I-I am sorry, I blurted that out.”
    “Why do you keep saying things you wish you could take back? Is something wrong?”
    “Oh, that ghastly feeling of death is messing with me. Clouding my judgement. Some of my filters are deteriorating. I just hope I truly say nothing harmful,” He frowns regretfully.
    “You’ll be fine, Arthur. Just try be a little careful.”
    “I will,” You both get a little quiet as you both stare out at the ocean, “I pray I get to return to see Nambra again,” He sighs.
    “You’ll be fine! We’re all gonna make it through this, alright?” You continue to assure him.
    With one last huff, he finally nods, “I feel like you are right,” He finally offers you a small smile.
    “I’m glad you’re feeling better. I’m gonna get back to my studies.”
    “Did you not promise to respond to my question as well?” His smile turns a bit more devious.
    You shrug, “I guess so. Better keep good on my word.”
    He nods, “Well, perhaps I feel a little guilty asking this. But you did pry my feelings about Nambra from me,” You grimace, knowing what he’s about to ask, “I brought it up earlier, but what about you and those girls? Pin and Tilde are both quite attached to you. Understandably so.”
    “Yeah. They are. And Rose is just so sweet and cute. But Pin and Tilde...” You trail off, “I find it hard to choose between them.”
    “Out of the three, hypothetically, which would you marry?” Arthur seems genuinely interested in your answer. You still take a long time to ponder on it.
    “Can I pick more than one?” You ask, mostly just joking around.
    “Of course. Its not as uncommon as you might assume in mamano society. Whether it be because of...” He trails off and looks out at the ocean, “I do not know a lot about it, to be honest. Not enough to pretend I know everything like I usually do. Mamano mating and dating habits were not one of the things I researched much. But, back to the question at hand, which girl or girls even? Do not worry, your secret is safe with me.”

    You frown, but you know you should answer him. Maybe this will be what finally puts you down the path of true love? But even if it doesn’t, maybe it’ll be good to get these thoughts off your chest. 

PT47

You sigh. Arthur’s eyes are boring into you, and you know the only way to stop it would be to answer his question, “I-I guess... Tilde and Pin,” You say quietly.
    “Why do you say that with so much hesitation?” Arthur asks as he crosses one leg over the other under his robes. He sounds a bit more like his usual self.
    You sigh, “I’m just so torn. All three girls deserve a man that will make them really happy. I don’t know if I can make any of them happy.”
    “But why has picking the two of them made you feel like this? Pin and Tilde are both quite attached to you and may in fact allow you to take both as your wives.”
    “Because I’m not completely sure I can make them both happy. They’ve both gone through so much and deserve to settle down and be happy. I just want them to be happy.”
    Arthur leans over and slaps his hand on your shoulder, “I know how you feel. How are we, flawed and imperfect human men, supposed to make a completely perfect mamano woman happy?” You disheartenedly push his hand off you. Despite that, Arthur continues, “They are not as difficult to please as you would imagine. They are loving and kind creatures. Look at Rael and his wife for an example. Rael is not perfect but his wife and him are happy together. I know I am not perfect, but that beautiful and perfect satyros, Nambra, has decided she wants me as her husband. Why? I am not sure.”
    “But you don’t have three girls breathing down your neck wanting you to pick a partner for the rest of your life.”
    “I do not know why you think they are demanding you pick soon. But, to remind you, I had an entire town hitting on me, Curtis. If not for my protective sisters, I doubt I would have gotten this old unmolested.”
    You agree slowly, “Y-yeah.”
    “I understand why you are so worried. But it was just a hypothetical, Curtis. Do not feel like I just made you choose your forever wife,” He tries to laugh it off, “I did not mean to upset you.”
    “Uh-huh,” You slouch further in your chair and stare out over the salty ocean at the fluffy looking white clouds.
    “Do not look so worried. I am sure things will work out between you and those girls. Do you wish to talk about something else to get your mind off of our previous conversation?”
    You shrug, “I don’t know how I can think about something else. It dominates my mind completely,” You grumpily frown. The sunlight doesn’t feel very nice anymore as nothing but anxiety and dread makes your heart sink like a rock. You’re just in a horrible mood now despite the conversation not being that awful, “I’m gonna go back in. I’ve got work to do,” You don’t look at Arthur as you get up in a huff and trudge back into your team’s private cabin. 
    You step into the room and sit on your hammock, “Curtis!” Pin shouts your name making you jump. She holds up the two journals, “You’re making some good notes. Good job. Also, you’re right, this shit is fucking hilarious!” She laughs, “There's notes in here about how his wife has the perfect hips, ass and breast ratio with facts and math.”
    “Humor: I feel as if I too need, I quote, ‘a very fat dark elf ass.’ Perhaps you should modify me for that,” Tilde and Pin both laugh
    You smile, decompressing instantly, “Hey, you alright? You look kinda sick,” Pin notes as both girls walk over to you.
    “Eh, just argued a bit with Arthur,” You explain. You’re exaggerating but you are more upset than you feel like you should be over it.
    “You!? Arguing!? Having conflict with a friend!?” Pin sounds disingenuous but her face shows real shock, “What's gotten into you?” Tilde also looks concerned.
    “Its what's gotten into him!” You exclaim as you throw your hands to the ceiling, “He keeps going on about feeling death and looked like a corpse when I went out to talk.”
    “Looking like a corpse?” She mumbles, “Was he casting?”
    “Yeah. Something about contacting people. Reaching out through the aether, I guess.”
    “Ah, that's... Normal, I guess, for a fuckin’ weird ass wizard,” Pin shrugs, “And he ‘felt’ death?”
    “That’s what he said at least. Said he could feel it, I guess. Then admitted--” You stop yourself as you realise you don’t want to be pressed for details, “He’s just acting weird.”
    Pin gives you a confused look but decides to drop it. Tilde’s vocal components come online, “Query: why would Arthur be feeling close to death?”
    “Who knows? He’s an old fart. Plus, he’s on this team and from what I’ve heard he’s nearly bought the damn farm a few times now,” Pin stretches. 
    You frown, “H-He mentioned being worried about his sisters and Nambra. But he could just be old and wanting to finally settle down like Pin said.”
    “Acknowledged. Perhaps this issue will need to be pressed further,” Tilde suggests.
Pin nods but drops the topic, “Hey, wanna go get drinks, Curtis? You still look a little shaken.”
    You shake your head, “I need to work on my notes.”
    “Eh, your loss. But you’ve gotta promise me to drink a little with me before we’re off this boat. These pirates have a pretty good selection. Seems to be all they really eat,” She shrugs.
    “Query: Rose and Rael brought this up as well. Is it something we need to be concerned about?” Tilde asks the gremlin.
    Pin shrugs again, “Dunno. Probably just cursed ass pirates. I doubt they’ll eat our flesh in the night.”
    “Humor: at least I have no flesh to eat. But I would be sad about them eating you,” She quickly adds. Pin and Tilde smile at each other. For a moment, the thoughts race through your mind of you having a family with the two girls. A very happy family. Little babies that look like Pin and you as well as a few automaton children. You think of them being cared for by all three of you, one big happy family. You shake yourself and clear the thoughts from your mind, “Query: Curtis, your heart rate is spiking. Is something wrong?”
    “W-well...” You trail off, not knowing what to say. Tilde grabs your arm and grips your wrist as she tries to get a better read on your heartbeat.
    “Come on, leave him alone, Tilde. I doubt dickhead here would have smiled if his speeding heartbeat was caused by some bad shit,” Pin shrugs, “I’m gonna go wet this dry ass throat. Be back later,” You stare down at Tilde’s hand still gripping your arm as Pin leaves. Tilde still looks concerned despite Pin trying to calm her down, “What the fuck is up, Joan?” Pin laughs at the now entering centaur as she looks taken aback.
    “We have thoroughly explored the ship, if that is what you are asking,” Joan frowns at the gremlin.
    “Cool, cool. See you all later,” Pin ducks under her horse body to leave the room.
    “Do not walk under me!” Joan gets antsy and struggles to not stomp as Pin slaps her underbelly. She dashes off laughing leaving the flustered centaur to stew, “That woman. She needs to act her age,” She sighs.
    “I dunno, I find it kinda refreshing,” Eric laughs as he follows Joan into the room, “Ya said it yarself, Lady Joan, she’s at least kinda fun to be around. The rest of us are all pretty deathly serious. Besides Curtis.”
    “Well, I did but-- Oh, I did not notice you were here, Curtis,” Joan glances at you before sitting on the floor by the wall.
    “Speak a the devil. There he is.”
    “I can go if you two just want some time alone. Is everything going alright between you two?” You ask as you pack up your things.
“Oh yeah, things are great,” Eric smiles, “Don’t really understand why Lady Joan is suddenly being so sweet, but I won’t complain,” He laughs, making Joan blush. You’re sure he’s gonna get a talking to over that. 
    “You two have fun. Dunno what you do other than talk though.”
    “Been teaching her a few dice games.”
    “Nice, you’ll have to teach me some later,” You nod and leave the two of them alone.
    
    You get about halfway through the journal before you finally put it down again. Your brain feels fried at this point. You’re hiding behind a few boxes to stay out of the way. Tilde sits cross legged across from you as she holds up the journal for you. You sigh and take it from her and push a few empty bottles away from you. Some pirate must have been using this spot as a hiding area to drink and nap. You wonder if they are still in the crew, some of these bottles look a little old. You get up and stretch before helping Tilde to her feet, “You doing alright?”
    “Reply: I am fine, thank you. Query: why do you ask everyone that?” Tilde asks.
    “I just like to make sure everyone is doing fine. Rose and Rael are going through a new chapter of their lives together, Joan and Eric might get hitched, Arthur was acting dead and was speaking about death, and I’m just trying to figure myself out still.”
    “Query: what about me?”
    “We just gotta heal you up and you’ll be fine,” You shrug. Tilde nods and looks down at the bottles around her feet, “Hey, you know you don’t need to be on watch on this boat, right? You mentioned that earlier.”
    She shakes her head, “Comment: something could happen at night. The others’ suspicions have made me suspicious as well. I will remain vigilant to keep the rest of the team safe.”
    You sigh, “Alright. Hammocks aren’t that great for two, anyways.”
    “Suggestion: if you require a woman to keep you company through the night, I am sure Rose or Pin will jump at the opportunity.”
    “You make it sound dirty. Come on, I wanna get my hands on some dinner.”
    “Humor: do you not mean ‘get your STOMACH on some dinner’?” She smiles at her own joke, “O-Or dinner IN your stomach,” She chuckles nervously.
    You politely smile at her joke, “Come on. Let's see if the others are there,” You squeeze out from behind the boxes and then help pull Tilde through. Her synthetic breasts are a little too big to easily make it though. Thankfully she’s tough enough not to get damaged at all from having to squeeze. You both pass a few bored looking pirates as they laze about the storage room. They offer to play strip poker with you and Tilde. You, of course, decline.
    “Query: what is strip poker?” Tilde asks as you both go up a flight of stairs to the middle deck where the mess hall lies. 
    “Ask Pin about it,” You grin slyly.
    “Acknowledged.”
    You find most of your team in the mess hall. Arthur is absent. Pin and Rose sit together with Rael, Joan and Eric at the other, “There you fucking are!” Pin shouts at you, “We looked all over the damn place for you!” The two look like they’re playing a card game together.
    “You find somewhere to hide, Curtis?” Rose looks relieved, “And you too, Tilde?”
    Tilde nods her head, “Response: Curtis wanted to find somewhere quiet to hide. I did hear you calling for him, but I chose to ignore it as he wished to work uninterrupted.”
    The two girls shrug at each other, “Well, come sit the hell down,” Pin waves you over as she puts her cards down in a smug fashion, “Some of those pirates are cooking us all a big meal.”
    Rose sighs and picks up the cards and starts shuffling, “Yup. Think they’ll give us drinks too?”
    “These assholes better gimme some liquor,” She watches you sit next to Rose and Tilde sit next to her, “Did you get more notes down?”
    “Of course I did. About halfway done,” You stretch and lean on the table.
    “Query: Pin, what is strip poker? Some pirates asked Curtis to play and he turned them down,” Tilde asks as she looks at the cards in front of the two other girls. 
    Pin grins, “Like normal poker, but instead of for money, you play to remove articles of clothes from the other person. The few stories I’ve heard of mamano playing it with men usually involve the mamano losing on purpose to show what they’ve got to the man. Are you looking to play Tilde? Maybe Curtis wants in?”
    “No,” You shake your head at her.
    “No! No no no!” Rose stops her, “We’re not doing that!”
    “Pfft, fine,” Pin drinks from a flask. You four sit quietly, “You gonna deal, Rose?”
    She glances at you and Tilde, “Do you two wanna play? Its not strip poker,” She assures you. She gives you a quick overview of the rules. Surprisingly, its a lot like black jack.
    “Yeah, I’m in. Are we playing for food or cash?” You ask as you rummage through your bag. 
    “Money,” Pin replies, “Don’t feel like you need to play with gold. Hopefully you have some copper or silver in that magic bag of yours. You could play with your clothes if--” She stops, “You already said no. Forget I said that.”
    “Hey, Rose. I was just wondering how you’re feeling about how things are going right now,” You say as you’re dealt a hand. 
Rose acts as the dealer, she tosses everyone two cards. They’re definitely from the Other Side, “Well... I’m not too happy about having to go murder this matriarch woman. But I believe it needs to be done. We have no idea what she’s planning and need to keep people safe. This boat... I like these pirates. They’re friendly enough. But I don’t like them constantly looking at you lustily. If you mean my dad and I... I’m really happy. I feel like you’ve helped us both a lot. My dad seems a little less insane, blood thirsty and suicidal. Well, a lot less of those first two. But he does keep saying that he must eventually die to kill off... Them.”
    “He seems pretty fuckin’ dead set on that. There could be some way to cleanse them completely from his body and mind. Would need some pretty high level magic, I assume,” Pin sighs, “I don’t wanna see him die either. Hit me... Fuck...” Pin throws her hand of 23 back to Rose.
    “Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine. We’ll stop the Matriarch, make it back to Goldecrest then we can brainstorm what to do next. I feel like I’ve got a few tasks now, push Arthur towards Nambra for--”
    Rose gasps, “You’re gonna try to hook them up!?”
    “They both want it. It probably won’t take any prodding,” You lower your voice and lean closer to the other three, “Those two as well,” You gesture at Joan and Eric. You put a finger to your lips to keep the others quiet about it, “Gotta heal Tilde and Rael too. And on top of that I’ve got numerous artificer projects and products in mind.”
    “Aren’t you and Pin going into business together?” 
    “And you’ve gotta pick a wife,” Pin says bluntly and callously.
    “Pin!” Rose hisses at her.
    “Oh, come on. Its for his own safety. What if a dragon comes along and decides she likes him. Me, you and Tilde probably can’t fight one of those off. My gun won’t even pierce her scales!”
    “I know!” Rose snaps. She quiets down, “Look, he has enough to worry about right now. He just mentioned a bunch of tasks he’s set out for himself and he doesn't need to worry about his love life right now. He’s an adult. He can choose when he’s ready.”
    The group is silent for a time. Tilde breaks the silence, “Recommendation: we should focus on having a bit of fun. We do not know how long we will have on this boat together, but when we get off I see large amounts of strife and turmoil when we get off. Query: is it my turn? I would like another card, please.”
    After another moment of silence, “Come on guys, Tilde’s right. Let's try to enjoy ourselves,” You propose, hoping the two girls will listen to you. Thankfully, they seem to listen to you as they nod. Rose hands Tilde another card.
    “Comment: I seem to have collected 21,” Tilde smiles.
    “I just realised!” Pin grunts as she shifts back into her usual banter, “Tilde can count cards so easily!”
    “Oh come on, its not going easy enough for it to matter,” Rose laughs.
    You smile and feel relieved that the two are back to their fun personalities. You stay with your hand of 19, but frown as Rose flips her second card to reveal an ace, also putting her at 19. She hands you the deck as its your turn to deal.
    

    You take another sip of alcohol and scrunch up your face at the taste, “Ugh.”
 “Ah, so good. Not too bitter but not too sweet. A nice mix of it,” Pin nods with a big content smile on her face.
    “Are we drinking the same thing?” You push the drink away.
    “Uhuh,” She grabs your drink and downs that too.
    Rose giggles, her face is flush and her eyes are half closed, “You two are so funny.”
    The others have already gone back to the room to complete their nightly tasks, “Stay,” You grumble as you’re dealt a shitty hand, two eights, 16.
    Pin flips her hidden card to reveal 18, “Oh, sorry Curtis,” She grins at you. 
    Rose slaps her hand on your shoulder as she laughs, “Oooooh, too bad.”
    “I don’t think I can play any more,” You shake your head, “I’ve had the worst luck.”
    “Aww, come on!” Rose in her drunken state grabs your arm and shakes you a bit, “Play some more!” She nearly falls out of her seat. You thankfully catch her before she hits the floor.
    “Tilde,” Pin turns to the robot, “can you take our friend Rose here back to our room? She’s getting a little too drunk.”
    Tilde nods hesitantly, “Affirmative. Will you two be staying here?”
    “Yeah, I just wanna talk to Curtis a little bit. I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to him, don’t worry.”
    Tilde nods, “Please, come with me, Rose. I would not want to be forced to use force,” She takes a combative stance as if the little mouse had it in her to fight back. Rose just nods and lets Tilde lead her by the hand. 
    You turn back to Pin, curious as to what she wants, “You said you had some product ideas?” 
    “Oh, right,” You wrack your semi intoxicated brain to try and remember, “Well, just a few quality of life things I remembered from home. Stuff like this flashlight, but we make it powered by those crystals. Uh, ovens or stovetops powered by crystals. Maybe doorbells, little buttons that make a loud noise in your house when pressed so you know when someone is at your door.”
    Pin smiles, “Yeah, that’s not a horrible idea. I mean, fucking horrible. Maybe they’re just KIND OF horrible...”
    “I’m sure there's better ideas. I’m just spitballing here. Plus you put me on the spot.”
    “Yeah, yeah,” Pin taps her fingers on the table, index finger to pinky finger, “Hey...” She trails off as she nervously thinks about what to say, “Screw it, when are you gonna marry Rose? This is driving me mad!”
    “W-what!?” You exclaim, hoping to see a goofy, joking smile on the gremlin’s face. She looks completely serious.
    “Come on, I see how you two look at each other. Its just a matter of time before one of you pops the question and you should be the first to do it. I’ve got a really cute idea for your matching bands. Yours is gonna be a nice green mythril color and hers will be purple. I’ll engrave your names on both and make a little stylised mouse on each. Just tell me to go ahead and I’ll do it.”
    You sigh and frown, “But, Pin--”
    “Hey, don’t worry about price. You guys are my best friends. They’re free!” There’s excitement on her face. But you can see the pain in her eyes. 
    “Pin, I--”
    “Look, if you’re worried about Tilde, I can take care of her. I know we can’t just reprogram her to see me like she sees you, but I know she wants you to be happy. I think she’ll be okay with me or even going back to helping Rose’s mom.”
    “Please,” You beg, “Pin--”
    “Don’t worry about me. I know you are,” She pats your wrist and gives you a fake smile, “I-I’ll be fine,” Her voice cracks, “I’ll have my work and Tilde to keep me busy... And I’ll see you during the work week, since we’re business partners and all. During the weekends you and Rose can swing by for drinks and bring your cute little mice girls and they’ll ask their godmothers Pin and Tilde how cool you two were when you both were younger.”
    “Where is this coming from, Pin?”
    “Look--”
    “Don’t give me any of that ‘I’m not good enough’ crap. Tilde already does.”
    She shrugs, “It just makes sense to me, really.”
    “What?”
    “You heard me,” She grunts as she takes another drink.
    “Why do you want me to find a girl so quickly?”
    “I just...” She grips her drink tightly, “I spend every waking moment trying to shape myself into something that you see as appealing or sexy. Being flirtatious, cute, anything I can to make you pay attention to me. Every time I see you smile at me, my heart pounds like its trying to break out of my rib cage and throw itself into your hands. I want to spend my days working with you in a workshop. I keep daydreaming about you holding me and petting me and telling me all my fears and everything that makes me sad can’t hurt me while you’re around. I lie awake at night and imagine the children we’d have and all the amazing inventions we’d make. You even haunt my dreams! But you’re usually just goofy and fun there. Its a nice reprieve from the usual nightmares. Above all of that. I want you to be happy,” She struggles to hold back tears, “and I don’t think I’m gonna be the one to make you really happy. Everything I imagine is what I want. Not what YOU want. I don’t even know what you want, other than to help your friends. I don’t even know if you want to go home!” She takes a calming breath, “But Rose has everything together. If you two get together, I’ll stop stressing over it. T-then I’ll focus on myself and my work again. You think I work fast now? You should see me when I’m not distracted,” She utters a hollow chuckle. She starts picking at the table, unsure of what to say next.

    You take a few moments to collect yourself.

PT48

    “Come sit over here,” You wave Pin over. She nods and climbs over the table to sit on the edge of it in front of you. She looks up at you with big, sad orange eyes. You bonk her on the head lightly, “First, stop being such a dummy,” You grin as you chuckle at her. You pat her on the head, just to make sure she’s not too hurt. She tilts her head at you as she rubs the spot on her head, completely confused, “Look. I can’t expect you to know what I want when not even I know what I want. Don’t beat yourself up over that,” You smile warmly, “If I didn’t find you incredibly attractive, Pin, you would know. You’re cute, sexy and really fun to be around, but I have to keep all these opinions to myself usually. I can’t really say it around the other girls for fear of them getting jealous,” You sigh as you transition into the next topic, “How am I supposed to just and pick one girl to marry, hurt two of my three best friends in the process and just be happy about it? Its killing me, Pin.”    Pin looks down at the floor, still rubbing the top of her head, “I understand.”
    “You know earlier when Tilde was concerned over my heart rate?” 
    “Yeah.”
    “I was thinking about futures I could have with you and her. But every time I think about that stuff, I always think about how I have to turn down two other good friends and being forced to have to think about them hurting because I turned them down for someone else. I just keep having to think about someone I love hurting because of my own selfishness. I want the same thing as you, Pin. I want to make my three best friends happy but I can’t see any way to make this happen. I’m just one guy. I feel like this choice is just going to boil down to who do I hurt? Even putting it off is hurting you. I don’t know what to do.”
    Pin has a big frown on her face and so do you, “I’m so sorry, Curtis,” She apologises quietly, “It didn’t even cross my mind that this could be really hard for you.”
    “Thanks, Pin.”
    “But, I just...” Her lips slowly curl into a smile, “C-calling me sexy made me really fuckin’ happy,” The swearing and more sultry tone returns, “Gimmie a hug, you big... You,” She grins at you and holds her arms out to you. You smile back and go for it. You hug her around the waist and she hugs your neck and head. You feel her roughly run her hand up and down the hairs on the back of your head and neck, “Again,” She mumbles in your ear, “I’m sorry. I’ll stop trying to force you to marry someone,” She seems almost uncomfortable apologising to you. She keeps clinging to you and absorbing your warmth, “You... Wanna compliment me some more?” You can hear her grinning.
    “Oh, come on,” You laugh, assuming she’s kidding, “Let's go back to the room,” You drop your arms but Pin doesn’t. 
Her grip turns a bit more vice-like as she grabs your neck and hair, “I didn’t hear any more compliments~ Don’t you wanna make your friend smile?”
You sigh, knowing you could just carry her back to the room, but you don’t want the others to see her clinging to you like this, “You’ve got really pretty, vibrant eyes. I like how you do your hair, all sloppily and messy, it really suits you. A-and your ears are really cute.”
    She giggles in your ear, “I’m gonna keep trying to get in those pants, Curtis. I won’t be forceful, and I don’t want you to feel like I’m forcing you to pick me, alright? I promise I won’t be upset-- Well, REALLY upset if you don’t pick me in the end,” She pats your head one more time before releasing you, “How ‘bout one more fuckin’ drink before we go back, hm, fuck nuts?”
    “Yeah, I’m in,” You smile, just glad that you’re both in higher spirits now.
    Pin reaches into her bag and pulls out a tiny black bottle with wax and twine with a sparkling fiery red gem inlaid into the masterful glass art. She pulls two shot glasses from her bag as well. They’re both metal and inlaid with golden runes. She handles each item with careful reverence. The boat doesn’t rock much as she sets them to her side, she’s still sitting on the table right in front of you. She grabs one more item that you don’t recognize and sets it aside. Pin opens her mouth and begins to chant in another language. It sounds vaguely germanic or maybe slavic, but you’re not sure. You suspect it to be dwaven. As she chants her hymns quietly, she slowly undoes the twine. With one swift movement of her wrist, she breaks the wax seal. She waits another few moments before pulling out the stopper. You can see black vapors waft from the bottle’s opening. Pin brings it to her nose and huffs the vapors. She sighs happily before pulling the bottle away. She sees your bewildered expression, “Usually, there’s a whole chorus of damn good dwarves chanting when they all open these bottles at once.”
    “Uh...Huh...” You nod, pretending to understand. Pin ignores you and carefully pours half the bottle’s contents into one cup and the other half into the other. She does her best to make sure both are equal in content, “Do they need to be exact?”
    “I’m just tryin’ to be fuckin’ fair here, Curtis,” Pin snaps and refuses to look up at you as she carefully pours a tiny bit from one cup onto the other. She then grabs the instrument she sat to the side earlier. She holds it in front of her and tests it. You quickly realise its a fire starter as sparks fly from the metal tool. She brings it down to the liquor and squeezes it. Both drinks are lit aflame before she quickly offers you one of them.
    “U-um,” You stammer nervously as you take it.
    You stare at the burning drink for a few moments before you shoot Pin a distressed glance. She holds up her drink and looks at you expectantly. She says something in dwarven again. You just give her a confused look, “It means cheers.” 
    “Ah, cheers,” You reply as you gently clang your metal cups together.
 You watch in awe as she expertly downs it, “Aaaaah,” She sighs happily with a bit of smoke coming out of her throat, “Beard Burner. Aged at least a hundred fucking years. This tastes like it was aged at least another hundred. Godsdamn! Yum! Infused with runic magic and flavors that might as well be some powerful ass magic. A dwarven favorite,” She breathes a sigh filled with nostalgia, “Usually, you drink one shot before an important fight or task, then the other after. That’s why the bottle only holds enough for two shots. Splitting a bottle with someone is one of the ultimate signs of friendship between two people. I’m really glad I could share this with you,” She grins at you. Its probably the happiest you’ve seen her. Maybe even happier than after meeting Geno, “Well?” She looks at you expectantly.
    You know you need to do it to make her happy, “B-bottoms up,” You smile weakly as you bring the flaming liquor to your lips. It takes every ounce of willpower to actually down the burning liquid. Its the most alcohol content you’ve ever had in a drink. It burns as it slowly slides down your throat before crashing into your stomach and finally getting extinguished. You shudder and pant, trying to recover from that experience. Sweat begins to pour down your skin as you shudder horribly.
    Tilde just grins at you, “Hey, you’ve got a little something on your face,” She wipes a finger across your upper lip. Amazingly, when she pulls it away, her finger is covered in a little bit of the liquid and its still on fire. She sticks her finger in her mouth, not wanting to waste a drop. You touch your upper lip, all the hair has been singed right off, “Can’t get that stuff anywhere outside of dwarven lands. Even then they don’t sell it to non-dwarves. They’ll sell to me, at least.”
    “Is that all you had?” You pant.
    She nods, “Yeah. Consider it the pre battle shot. We’ll get more after we beat up the Matriarch. Then you can give me half of the one I buy for you and the friendship ritual will be complete.”
    “Y-you’re not tricking me into marrying you, right?” You wheeze and cough up a bit of smoke, “Its not some obscure dwarven ritual, right?”
    “Weren’t you fucking listening earlier, fuck nuts? Lady Joan is gonna knock my fucking block off if I pull any of that shit!” She quiets down, “And I promised I wouldn’t do that to you.” 
    You chuckle, finally recovered, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Back to the room? That liquor’s probably gonna hit me soon.”
    “Yeah, come on. I don’t wanna have to fuckin’ carry you.”
    You make it back quickly as your head starts to spin and cloud. Pin helps you sit on your bunk, “Query: is something wrong? What happened?” Tilde demands as she hurries to your side.
    “He just drank some hard liquor. Well, the hardest liquor ever made, but that doesn’t matter,” Pin shrugs.
    “Ya could have poisoned him,” Eric sighs and walks over to check on you, “Ya gonna be alright, champ?” You look at him and blink slowly. You then nod at him, “Rael, just have that remove toxins or poisons spell ready, would you?”
    “Got it,” Rael grunts.
    “Won’t work. That brew is magic,” Pin shrug somewhat apologetically, “He’ll be fine!”
    “I will keep an eye on him,” Tilde announces with concern in her voice.
    “Thanks Tilde!” Rose calls from her bunk as she rolls over.
    “Declaration: Pin, I must ask for aid in helping him change. He seems in no condition to help himself.”
    Pin grins, “You got it.” 
    “Pin,” Arthur starts. He’s sitting at a desk, “What did you feed him? It was a single drink that did this to him?”
    “Yeah, a single shot. Well, he did drink a little more before. I guess I get why the dwarves don’t sell it to outsiders now,” She shrugs, “Bear Burner. Probably the hardest shit money can buy. Maybe there's some dwarfs out there making harder shit on their own. But at that point its nearly a hundred percent alcohol.”
    “Dwarven hard liquor,” Joan shakes her head in disbelief, “I am astonished you would feed that to him!”
    “Relax, Lady Joan, he’s fine. Other than the fact that he’s a massive light weight.”
    “How are you not intoxicated, Pin?” Arthur asks.
    “Oh, you better fucking believe I am!” She laughs, “I’m just a bit better at managing it. Damn, I’m gonna have to work up his tolerance. My two drinking buddies are light weights!”
    Pin, Arthur and Joan start talking about liquor. You tune it out, already feeling sick. Tilde carefully lays you down in the hammock, “Are you going to be fine?” She whimpers.
    You nod, “I just need some water,” She hands you your metal water bottle after unscrewing the cap for you, “Thank you,” You chug some before letting Tilde cover you up with a soft blanket. You smile at her as she pats your head. You roll onto your side and face the wall as the debate over alcohol gets a little heated. You fall asleep warm and happy.

    You stare up at the purplish pink sky. You’ve seen it before when some sort of vision showed you that macabre ancient human structure. The trees, grass and other foliage are all stained purple by the sky and red-pink sun. Looking down at yourself, you shrug, wondering why you’re wearing your traveling clothes. No armor, bags or weapons, just the clothes. You have a strange feeling, like you’re being watched as the hair on the back of your neck stands up. You move towards the treeline surrounding the clearing you’re standing in. They move and shift to block your path as they funnel you in a specific direction. You nod. Someone wants you to go somewhere. You wonder if monster girls can invade dreams, and if they can, could they molest you there? Maybe even forcibly marry you? You shrug and wonder if it would count. Your real body is being watched over by Tilde, no way someone could diddle you. 
    You wander down the path laid before you for some time. It could have been forever, or it could have been a few minutes. You have no idea how to tell time in a dream as the only light overhead, the moon, doesn’t move no matter how long you wait. There’s no wind and almost no noise at all. The trees make a rough grinding noise when they move, but other than that nothing. Its unsettling. Eventually, the path ends and you’re funneled into a stone archway containing a black inky void. There's no stars in it, just pitch blackness. A chill runs down your spine as you stare into it. You turn back, wanting to run away. The trees are blocking you in. You sigh and nod, you know whatever brought you here wants you to go through that portal. Not knowing what else to do, and sensing no danger, you step into the void.
    The feeling of weightlessness only lasts for a moment. You quickly find yourself in an uncomfortably barren and completely white plane. Its just you and the equally white and clean floor. No way back, the only thing you can do is wander. You still feel the eyes on you, but it feels somewhat comforting in this new wholly uncomfortable place. You actually miss the purple trees and red moon. You blink and you feel like you’ve moved hundreds or thousands of miles. Its jarring and sickening. You open your eyes after your stomach stops lurching. You see two people, they speak quietly and you’re unable to hear. You glance at the man, blonde hair, Other Worldly clothes and a wooden stocked firearm on his back. He seems somewhat familiar but you can’t place it. He holds something in his hand, a small somewhat shiny black cube. The other person seems to be an old, haggish looking woman. She’s wearing a black cloak with a bronze candle on the front of it. She leans heavily on an ornate cane covered in gold, ivory and pearl. You watch the two agree on something as you just stand there, confused.
    The man looks nervous but nods and steps back. He still has the black cube in his hand. He turns and notices you, “You!? How!?”
    The old woman turns as well, her face concealed under her cloak, “How--? It does not matter. Just hurry, you,” She angrily points at the man, “You cannot let anyone interrupt the plans.”
    “Right. Yeah,” He sighs. He scowls at you, “I warned you to stay out of my way!” He growls.
    “I didn’t ask for this!” You angrily shout back, “I just want a good night's sleep!”
    “Enough,” The woman spits, “Wake up and stick to the plan. You should be safe. And you, BOY,” She points a finger at you, “Stay out of this unless you crave death!”

    You wake up with a clouded mind and aching head. Tilde puts your bottle of water in your hands. You nod in silent thanks then bring it to your lips. From above you, Pin snatches it from your hands, “Drink this shit and skip breakfast,” She instructs, “If you are hungover, I mean,” She offers you a bottle filled with a green liquid.
     “I-I think so,” You groan.
    “Just drink a mouthful,” You nod, you have no reason not to believe in Pin. You take the bottle and examine it. Its a clear, green liquid and it looks like she drank out of it before you. Rose starts groaning as she shifts in her bunk. You drain a mouthful of the liquid into your mouth as per Pin’s instructions. It tastes of citrus. You slowly swallow the liquid and pass it back to Pin. It almost burns just as much as the liquor you drank last night. You try to get your water back, “No, you have to fuckin’ let that shit run its course with nothing else in your system,” Pin scolds you.
    You nod sadly and lay back down. Tilde frowns at you, but she also seems to believe in Pin’s cure. She pats your head gently to comfort you as your body begins to sweat profusely. Pin feeds the concoction to Rose as well. She seems sickened by it, but downs it obediently. Most of your team is just lazing about the room together. Quiet conversations fill the air. You turn over and stare at Arthur, he has his head in his hands and looks terrified. A few minutes later, you feel better--Other than the fact you are covered in sweat. Arthur is still in turmoil over something. You get up and slowly walk over to him and pull a chair, “Hey,” You put a hand on his shoulder and give him a little shake, “Are you alright?”
    He grabs your shirt for support and nods, “S-She is alright...” He tells you in a hushed whisper.
    “W-what? Who?”
    “N-Nambra. She is fine, I should feel relieved... But I feel as if something terrible has happened. I knew that job was fishy. The transport job. But I had no reason not to put my trust in that coven,” He just rambles at you, “I’ve done numerous jobs for them. Why would this one be any different?”
    “Arthur, what the fuck are you on about?” Pin grunts as she approaches.
    “Horrible nightmares,” Arthur moans, “I just want to return to Goldcrest soon. Nambra told me she was heading there despite her injuries.”
    “I-Injuries?” Joan gasps.
    “Yes, her team, the one that was tasked with transporting that strange cube after we handed it off to them, was ambushed in the southern part of the United Coalition. Nambra claims to be the only survivor, unfortunately. I caused this. I got her hurt. I should have begged her to get off that team and come with us instead,” Arthur struggles to not break down into tears. 
    You and Rose do your best to calm him down. There’s an uncomfortable silence in the room. The only noise is Arthur’s ragged panting as he tries to calm down, “I do not understand,” Rael breaks the silence. He’s doing his morning stretches as he thinks this through, “Why did we risk our lives carrying this package to the western edge when the group we passed it off to was only going to be shipped back towards the east? They obviously travelled by very fast boat to be there in such a short time. Could they not have picked it up in Goldcrest? Or we could have taken it south to the Orange Port area.”
    “It had to be taken out of Goldcrest,” Eric pipes up, “From what little I heard from Arthur, it was too dangerous to keep there. And I know what ya’re ganna say, I know Goldcrest is easily defensible and is full of combat ready ind-indib-- PEOPLE. But we had to.”
“The people that hired us, that coven, their entire goal is to bring the Demon Lord back,” Arthur explains, “The team we were passing off to were chosen for some reason to carry the package to its final destination. I cannot say the reason, but for most of them it was raw skills. I know that man, Leland, had a huge role to play in the end. But now that he’s dead... I do not know what they will do now.”
    “He’s not dead,” Your mouth blurts out before your brain even finishes processing everything.
    “Okay, now you’re fucking crazy too, great,” Pin sighs.
    “No, I dreamt something last night as well. Remember when I mentioned that dream where I was shown that structure? It was like that, but instead of another structure, I was herded into a portal and shown two people talking. One was Leland, and the other was some old hag.”
    “And you are sure this means he is alive?” Arthur asks with completely reasonable skepticism.
    You nod, “He got pissed off at me. Plus I only saw the man once, why the hell would I be dreaming so vividly about him and some woman I’ve never seen in my life?”
    “Did the old woman have any defining features?” Rael asks as he starts picking through his gear. He picks up his tabard. You rush over and snatch it from his hands, “Be careful with that!” He shouts, nearly punching you over it.
    “She had this on her cloak,” You present the bronze candle on his tabard, “But she was wearing black.”
    “The symbol of the Inquisition?”
    “Didn’t you hear Shalandra?” Rose reminds you, “The Inquisition is dead. How could she be one of them?”
    “I-I don’t know...” You shake yourself, “She also had a very expensive looking cane. It had pearl, gold and ivory on it. I-I couldn’t see her face either.”
    The group collectively looks around a little nervously or skeptically, “Arthur,” Joan scratches her chin, “what previous work did you do with this coven?”
    “A bit of research on the Other Side, a few small transportation tasks and the odd go here and make this magic sigil,” He hesitates suddenly, “Well, a little had to do with reverse engineering those spells that bring things here from the Other Side.”
    “What!?” Rael shouts.
    “I-It was a long time ago! I hardly understood what I was doing!”
    Rael groans in anger, “Goddammit, Arthur. What the hell is going on!?”
    “Like I said, they’re trying to bring the Maou back by any means. I have no idea what their intentions are. They are completely secretive.”
    “An honorable goal, at least,” Joan nods, “I believe everyone here wishes for her return,” The group nods collectively. You wonder what everyone's reasons for wanting her back are.
    “Well...” Rael sighs, “You are right. I am just amazed you would work on the specific spells we are trying to stop, Arthur.”
    “We never got anywhere! If we had I would have ammunition against these spells. But I doubt they are the ones opening any of these portals. Mamano wouldn’t be doing this purposefully with how these spells are hurting people. The group that brought Curtis here was all human too.”
    “So what the fuck was this little cube then?” Pin demands.
    “We weren’t told,” Eric shrugs, “I’d imagine its just a little piece of this big... Puzzle.”
    “It could be the last piece,” Rose muses, “Leland and that cube could have been the last puzzle piece to bring the Grand Lady back.”
    Tilde comes to life, “Query: could Curtis be used instead of Leland? They are both of the Other Side. The major differences are Curtis is suffering from amnesia and Leland has been in this world longer.”
    Arthur frowns, “We do not know why Leland was supposedly needed. They could have just been taking it somewhere for another group to take from there. That other group could have been tasked to take it to another continent or even back over to the west coast.”
    Again, the Thunder Crashers are silent. Eric clears his throat, “We gotta push this outta our minds for now. We have a big task right now. We can make it back to Goldcrest and we can talk to Nambra about what to do next.”
Arthur sighs, “I just pray she makes it there safely.”
    “She will,” Joan nods, “She’s tough for her age.”
    “Emma will take care of her when she gets there,” Rael comments, “But Eric is right. We need to focus on what we are doing right now. Once this ends, we can hurry back to Goldcrest.”
    “Now we just wait, huh? Until Captain Red Claw shows up to play?” Pin is obviously antsy.
    “Perhaps we should speak to the captain,” Arthur suggests.
    “Can we do it after breakfast?” Rose whines, “I’m so hungry.”
    “You’ll ruin that tonic’s effects if you eat now, Rose,” Pin warns, “Or would you rather feel sick and hung over?”
    “Well, the rest of us want to eat. We can discuss more over food,” Joan suggests, “Maybe the Pirate Queen herself would even be willing to grace our morning with her presence,” She uses unhappy sarcasm when speaking about the pirate. 
    You nod slowly and watch as the others put on some nicer clothes to go down below. You stay behind to wash the sweat off yourself as do Pin and Rose. Apparently the tonic Pin fed you makes you sweat out all the toxins. Of course, Tilde is staying behind as well. You can feel at least one set of eyes trying to sneak a peek at you as you strip down to wipe yourself clean with a damp cloth and soap. It only takes a few minutes, especially with Tilde scrubbing your back. You also scrub her down which seems to make her happy, “Thank you,” She whispers with a smile.
    “Its no trouble at all,” You smile back. 
    You wait for Rose and Pin before heading down to the mess hall. Its an incredibly short walk there, “All these pirates look nervous,” Rose notes.
    “Maybe something’s up?” Pin huffs, “We better not get fuckin’ backstabbed by these pirates.”
    “Well, they are pirates,” You shrug, “So I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.”
    “Humor: perhaps we could ignite a mutiny in response,” Tilde smiles.
    “Not a bad idea,” Pin nods, “I feel like my life could use the fuckin’ title, ‘Queen of Pirates,’” She grins as she day dreams about it.
    “Even then you’d only get employed by a fast food chain working minimum wage if you threw that on a resume,” You chuckle.
    Pin scowls somewhat jokingly at you, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re on about, but I’m taking offence to it, jack ass.”
    You all stop as you enter the mess hall. Morrigan is here along with her apsara assistant, Miss Shelly, who is looking really guilty. The rest of your team is sitting at the table with the two of them. All the dining tables have been pushed together to make one massive table. You and the three girls sit near the rest of the Thunder Crashers, “Finally. You four took your time, hm?” Morrigan huffs as she puts her legs up on the table. You get a small flash of her panties under her skirt, which you assume was on purpose, “Look. I’ll get right into it. But I want promises that you lot will not turn violent or shout when I explain everything to you.”
    You look at the rest of your team, they’re just as confused as you, “Of course,” 
Rose nods as she replies first. The rest of your team agrees one after another in their own one or two word ways.
    Miss Shelly looks like she’s going to vomit as The Pirate Queen Morrigan sighs. She refolds her legs, shooting your side of the table a flash of her panties again. They’re pink with white frills and bows, “I set you all up,” She announces. All eight of you sit silently, looks range to confusion from Arthur, anger from Joan, fear from Rose and everything in between.
    “What do you mean?” You press nervously.
    “Red Claw has some of my girls prisoner. He wants the boy, the gremlin and the mouse in trade for them.”
    “And you agreed?” Rael growls.
    “What the hell was I supposed to do!?” She shouts back, “I can’t abandon those girls! They are MY responsibility!”
    “Rose is my daughter, if you try to--”
    “I’m not!” She screams over the man angrily. She pants, her rage rising. The entire boat is silent. Miss Shelly puts a cautious hand on her shoulder and gives a reassuring smile and small nod, “Thank you. Listen, please, all eight of you. The Pirate Lord moniker is stained in blood and atrocities. But there has to be a Pirate Lord. I am doing my damndest to clean the name, at least a tiny bit, before I have to pass it on. Red Claw doesn’t know I have all eight of you on board. He only knows about the three he wants. We had planned on knocking out the five of you and just passing on the other three.”
    “Now what?” Eric asks, “We thank ya for telling us, but if ya think we’ll just give up those three ya’re surely--”
    “I would rather Pin and Curtis blow both boats straight to Hell,” Joan growls, “They have the fire power for it.”
    Morrigan rolls her eyes, “If I planned on acting on that, I would not have told you all.”
    “We need a different plan, then?” Arthur suggests. Morrigan nods.
    “How many girls are being held hostage?” Joan asks.
    “Eight,” Morrigan replies. She and Miss Shelly both look relieved as your team starts talking about strategy almost instantly.
    “Are you opposed to Red Claw dying? Or being fucking murdered outright?” Pin asks.
    She shakes her head, “One less horrible abomination like him will make the world a better place.”
    “Good. Might make things a little easier.”
“What’s the plan for the hand off?” You ask.
    Morrigan glances at you, “Both boats will anchor near each other. Both will use rowboats to move the prisoners to the other boat.”
    “What about the girls? Can they breathe water or at the least swim?”
    “Of course they can swim! What I am worried about is if YOU can swim! Some are water girls, they can breath underwater and swim incredibly well. We also have mermaids and mersharks in the crew, they can be in the water if needed. A few are casters and can put air bubbles around the heads of those that need air.”
You nod, “And Red Claw and his crew have no idea we’re cooperating?”
She nods, “Of course not. My crew is completely loyal. One major issue is Red Claw will definitely have aquatic abominations circling his boat underneath. On top of that, my girls aren’t the best fighters, but they are tough and willing to fight. It takes more than a few girls to go toe to toe with their abominations.”

PT49

    You look around, “Lemme see one of them row boats,” Pin demands before you can speak. You nod in agreement, you imagine she’s having the same ideas as you.
    “Of course,” The Pirate Queen nods and puts her legs down finally.
    “What are you thinking, Pin?” You ask.
    “There's a pretty good chance we can hide a bottomless bag on the boat and smuggle on some gear,” Pin grins devilishly, “I’m thinking... Guns and maybe some armor? Only big question is, how the fuck do we distract them long enough to get equipped?”
    “R/C technology,” You suggest. You grab the car from your bag and open it up. You remove the noise device and put that back in your bag. You quickly demonstrate its capabilities to the Pirate Queen and any other pirates that have begun to sit in. You drive it around in little circles and then pick it back up, “I’ve gotta turn it into a waterproof craft, first. Any idea how we can hide it from the pirates as we have it drive explosives up to the enemy vessel?”
    “I know some minor invisibility enchantments,” A woman cries.
    “No! I wanna help him!” Another argues.
    “Shut it!” A third hushes them.
    Pin is shown the boat and returns quickly, “Yeah, we can do it. Give me your armor, fucker,” She points at you.
    You hand over your chain vest, arm armor and helmet, “Hopefully you do not fall off the boat with all of that on,” Joan sighs.
    “I should be fine. At least I hope so. I’ll have to teach someone else to pilot the R/C boat that I have to throw together. Pin, can you make some incendiary bombs while I work on this? That might be a bit more devastating,” You shrug, “Or some kind of underwater bomb.”
    “Got it. Here, some woodworking tools,” Pin puts a little pack in your hands, “Ask the pirates for help if needed.”
    “Curtis, Pin and Rose will be on a rowboat driven by your crew. The captives will be on a second boat driven by Red Claw’s crew. How many people are needed to move these boats?” Joan asks.
    “One or two,” Miss Shelly replies.
    “J-- Lady Joan,” Eric turns to the centaur, “Still a good shot with a crossbow?”
    “A better shot than many on this boat!” She boasts but looks a little worried as a crossbow and bolts are dumped in her hands.
    “If you miss,” Pin grunts as she pulls the pump maliciously on her firearm, “I’ll do it.”
    “So the distraction will be an explosion on their boat caused by that toy?” Rael asks, “I can fight in the water. Bestow me with water breathing and I will be fine.”
    “D-dad? Are you sure?” Rose frowns.
    “I have combat training in nearly every environment. I could probably fight while freefalling if needed. Curtis, may I have your spear?” 
    You nod, “My spear is yours.”
    “We can start the cannons once they’re distracted,” Morrigan grins.
    “Perhaps my magic can block a volley of cannon balls from their side as well,” Arthur suggests, “Hopefully I will not run out of mana too quickly.”
    “Those bombs me and fuck nuts here made should fit in those cannons,” Pin grins, “What about you, Tilde?”
    “Reply: I will go into the water with Rael. I will be there to support you, Curtis and Rose,” Tilde announces.
    “Tilde, I want you to get Rose out of there once the fighting starts,” You tell her.
    “B-but--” Tilde stops herself, “Correction: I will do as you wish. I will return to the fight after I help her.”
    “I need you all to be careful when Red Claw joins the brawl,” Morrigan warns, “That man is a true monster in water combat.”
    “What about ya?” Eric asks the captain, “What will ya do?”
    “I will organize my girls from here.”
    “I will make sure the cannons are ready for later today,” Miss Shelly offers before standing to leave.
    Morrigan nods, “Go ahead. Make sure every girl is prepared to help in some way. Healer, fighters, everything. Do I have two girls who will volunteer to row the boat?”
    Numerous larger girls stand and cry out, eager to help. Morrigan grins, happy to see her crew ready to fight, “You eight, stay below deck. We can’t risk scouts seeing all of you.”
    Your group nods and breaks the meeting. Each person separates and begins to work on their own tasks.

    Your arms hurt as you put a few more touches on your custom wooden boat. The electrical components are encased in a waterproof container and attached to a small wooden boat with a hollow body. You pass it to one of the pirate girls that have been helping you. She takes it to the window and unceremoniously dumps it into the water where a mermaid flips it right side over. You mess with the controls and nod in satisfaction as you see that it actually does work. The mermaid passes it back up into the boat and the woman puts it in your hands. You carry it over to Pin who puts a detonator, a few aether crystals and an incendiary bomb in it. She closes it and seals it, making sure to make it waterproof, “Fucking finally,” She grunts. She holds up a small device with not much more than a button and handle on it, a detonator, “You remember what I told you, right?” Pin growls as she puts the detonator in the mermaid’s hands.
    She nods, flipping the button protector closed and latching it, “Don’t fuck it up,” She mumbles nervously.
    “Good girl. You, Curtis. Did you teach one of them to fucking drive it?”
    “Yeah,” You hold it before a sea based druidic caster. She touches it and shrouds it in a reflective surface. Its not the best invisibility, but in the water it should do, “A mershark should be able to pilot it for us. It drives well enough, but its not gonna survive this blast,” You sigh sadly but the thing was gonna run out of power sometime soon, “Are you alright, Rose?” The mouse girl has been sitting in the corner by herself for the last three hours. She glances at you and goes back to picking at the floor. You pass off the boat to the mershark who grins gleefully at the prospect of piloting a bomb. You sit on the floor with Rose and help her pick at something stuck in the wood.
    “I’m scared,” She mewls at you. She says exactly what you want to know.
    “I am too,” You sigh.
    “I thought you enjoyed combat?”
    “Well... Not really. I want everyone to get along. But we can’t. I can’t really say if we’re bad or they’re bad or who is good. Maybe everyone is bad.”
    Rose giggles, “Don’t let Lady Joan hear you say that. She’ll beat you for even insinuating that mamano can be bad. Even the terrifying Pirate Queen Morrigan has been pretty nice.”
    You smile, “Don’t tattle on me, alright?”
    “Of course, I won’t,” Rose giggles and leans on you, “You’re so comforting. Just being around you and talking is so nice,” She pauses for a few moments. She lowers her voice to a whisper, “We’re still gonna be best friends when you marry someone, right?”
    “Of course!” You laugh, “I’m sure--” You stop yourself from saying Pin or Tilde, “I’m sure whoever I marry will want to be good friends with you too. That is, if I don’t end up marrying you.”
    “Oh, there's no way,” She sighs, “I don’t even think the Demon Lord herself would be worthy of you.”
    “Don’t say that around Joan. She’ll beat you for that,” You smile, “But that's some insanely high praise, Rose.”
    “W-well, maybe I’m being hyperbolic!” She laughs, “But, gods, I would love to be best friends with the Maou herself!”
    “Joan would fight to the death for that honor,” You both giggle.
    You both stare at the wall as the boat rocks gently. Pin and the pirates are already drinking. Tilde is nearby, most likely eavesdropping on you two but is giving you the space to chat, “I’m so nervous,” She reiterates with a hollow sigh.
    “All you have to do, Rose,” You grab her shoulder, “is jump off the dinghy as the explosion goes off. Just swim back to this boat. Pin and I will take care of ourselves and cover you. Tilde will swim to aid you. You’ll be okay. I promise. Hell, your dad is gonna be in the water fighting to protect you. The whole reason I want that armor on the boat is so I can protect you both.”
    She blinks at you before breaking out into a smile, “Thank you, Curtis. Can... I just lean on you a little more? I just need to relax a bit. No need to freak out before we go into this, right?”
    “Right. Need a drink?”
    “Nah, just let me rest. Thanks.”
    You take a deep breath as she leans on you a bit more. You can’t even imagine why someone would want to hurt this sweet and innocent girl. You know this Matriarch character wants her eyes or whatever she was on about. You understand why someone would hate Pin, or even you. But Rose? How could anyone want her dead. You pat her head, just to comfort her a bit more. You yawn and close your eyes as well. Neither of you can nap despite being in total comfort with a good friend. The looming threat and danger weighs way too heavily in the air, “Its kind of amazing, isn’t it?” You chuckle, “We’ve known each other for a little over a week, maybe two, and we’re best friends now?”
    “Of course,” She smiles, “I’ve never really had a good friend my age before. Plus, all the danger and life threatening situations bring people really close together. My dad’s talked about it a lot. Its why a lot of adventurers are standoffish rude. Its to keep yourself from getting attached to people who you might never see again or even watch die. Its a horrible lifestyle. We may be adventurers and heroes, but not really in the traditional sense. But I'm just so glad and lucky to have friends like you and Joan,” She cracks a smile, “Well, I guess Pin too.”
    “Not Tilde?”
    “Well, I haven’t really become friends with her. She worked for my friend and up until now she was completely closed up and never really spoke. But... Now she feels like a real person. I really should try to get to know her more.”
    “I think that's a great idea.”
    “I want you to promise me something Curtis. Not just for me, but for Tilde, Joan, my dad, Arthur and everybody else. Just be alive when you get back on this boat, alright?” She stares at you with big, sad eyes.
    “I promise,” You give her an assuring smile.
    Rose gives you one more smile. You get up and stretch as you try to ignore the pit in your stomach before you help Rose to her feet. She looks like she’s in much better spirits, “Any idea what I should wear for a swim? Its been a little while since my last leisurely swim.”
    “Leisurely?” You echo with a hollow laugh, “Well, probably just casual clothes or traveling clothes. Nothing too nice, wouldn’t want them getting ruined, right?”
    “Right. Well, I should go prepare. You should do the same. Is there anything I can do for you?”
    You shake your head, “Focus on yourself right now. I’ll ask around for the last bit of gear I need.” 
    She gives you the thumbs up and a smile before turning and walking away with confidence. You go to speak to Pin, “Comment: you are very good at calming your friends down,” Tilde intercepts you.
    You nod, “Kinda wish I could do more than talk, though.”
    “Comment: do not beat yourself up over that, Curtis. We are all doing our best. Query: can I aid you in your preparation?”
    “Sure. If I can figure out what to do,” You quickly add as you suddenly realise you’re not sure what you need to do, “If i had more time I’d probably try the railgun, but I’m not sure how well that’d work underwater.”
    “Query: are you afraid of draining too much mana?”
    You nod, “You saw how drained I was after a single session of working on artifice. I’m sure something that powerful would take more than a single day.”
    “Query: did Pin not say that sounds like a waste of time?” She continues her string of queries.
    You roll your eyes, “I’m allowed to disagree with her on some things, right? Rail guns are rad as hell.”
    Tilde nods, “I will take your word on how ‘rad’ they are. Query: would your handgun not work underwater? Could that be modified?”
    You shake your head, “No range. Plus the salt water will do a number on it. Can’t let that happen. Maybe I could modify a crossbow. Can you tie knots? I was never in the boy scouts.”
    “Affirmative.”
    With Tilde closely following you, you start to look for things you could use. You sneak into the supplies room and start looking through weapons and tools. You frown, you know you don’t have the time to heavily modify something. You pick up a crossbow and pick at the somewhat loose ropes. The body of it is a nice red wood, similar to the boat you’re on. It has no grip like a pistol or modern rifle, instead it has a stock grip like a Nagant except completely flat. The lever to fire is made of the same sort of pinkish metal a lot of mamano use in weapons. Try to shoulder it, but struggle with how uncomfortable it is. You try to pull the string back with one hand and very quickly realise how foolish that is. Tilde merely watches you figure it out.
    “You handle that like a young man handles his first ever erection: complete confusion and intrigue,” A voice behind you purrs. You swing around and hardly stop yourself from assuming a combative stance. Morrigan is leaning on the door frame with folded arms. She steps into the room and snatches the weapon from your hands, “You handle tools well, but weapons seem to terrify you. Where the hell are you from?”
    “P-Pearlavah,” You stammer nervously. 
    She eyes you warily, “Pearlavah?” She scoffs, “Doubt it. Amnesia, knowledge of Other Worldly things, complete lack of knowledge of simple weaponry like a damn crossbow and that odd smell. I am an old woman, Curtis. The sea salt in my precious fluffy tail could salt many meals. You should know better than to lie to a wise old woman,” She gives you a small, sly smile, “I don’t like liars on my boat, Curtis,” She steps towards you, hands on her hips with one of them clutching her sword.
    Tilde puts herself between the two of you, “Threat: I do not wish to fight you, but I will use physical violence to protect him from you, Morrigan. Plea: you need not believe him, but please, leave him alone. He lies only when he must protect himself or others. He is usually very sincere. If he could comfortably talk about his past and could remember it, I am sure he would be happy to share it with you.”
    Morrigan stares at Tilde with a reserved expression. After a few moments, she nods, “Very well. If the automaton will vouch for you, I will take her word about your character. But, Curtis, if you ever do recover from amnesia, tell me the truth over some booze, alright?” She puts the front of the crossbow on the floor and puts her foot in the handle. With both hands, she pulls the string back and latches it to the firing mechanism, “That's how to prepare a crossbow to fire, by the way. To shoot you just press down this here lever. Easy,” She dumps it in your hands.
    “Thanks. Weird question, but are these any good under water?” You ask timidly.
    She shakes her head, “Well, maybe a single shot. But reloading will be next to impossible, Curtis. Maybe an ushi-oni could do it, but a human boy won’t be able to. You will be better off with a knife or polearm.”
    You nod and grab the handle of your dagger. You know you can conceal it under your clothes. Morrigan saunters out of the room without so much as a goodbye. Her white tail flicks back and forth, almost waving at you as she leaves, “Thanks for sticking up for me, Tilde.”
    She grins happily, “It is no problem, Curtis. We should hurry and prepare you. You do not want to ruin your comfortable clothes, hm?”
    You nod and let her lead you as she grabs your wrist and pulls you out the door. You leave the crossbow behind.


    “Its time,” A nervous pirate informs you as she pokes her head into your team’s room. You all exchange nervous glances. You, Rose and Pin have all stripped down to basic clothing and a few of the pirates took the time to do your stage makeup, a few fake bruises and cuts on your face and arms. Good thing you have a real black eye too. The pirates who have been relaxing with your team all look stoic, but you can see the worry in their eyes. One of them binds your arms behind your back in a fashion that you can easily undo when needed. 
    “Don’t get any ideas,” You murmur as you test the binds.
    Pin slaps your ass, “Lookin’ good, fuck nuts.”
    Rose stares at you as she is tied up as well. You both shoot small smiles at one another, “Good luck,” Eric nods at you all as he picks at the string on his bow.
    “Make sure you play it up a bit,” Joan grins.
    You all nod and move upstairs escorted by armed guards. Most girls are equipped with spears and a few have slightly curved swords. You can see Red Claw’s ship. Its almost a little comical, his ship's wood is darker and almost black as compared to Morrigan’s ship which is reddish in color. Its like a stereotypical evil pirate boat. Neither ship has the ports for cannons open, most likely a peace agreement. Red Claw is standing on the edge of his boat, his captives are already loaded in their rowboat, ready to be lowered into the water. You grin--in your mind of course, you’re going to enjoy seeing his boat go up in flame. You’re pushed into the smaller rowboat along with Rose. Pin is still struggling, making the larger pirates fight for it. One picks up Pin to pass her into the boat, only for the little gremlin to struggle suddenly, causing her to be dropped. With a dull thud, she hits her forehead on the wooden railing of the pirate ship. Rose gasps as Pin stops moving. A pirate quickly checks her pulse, “Alive,” She mumbles. She looks at Morrigan who merely nods. She sighs and nods back before dumping Pin unceremoniously into the boat.
    “What are we going to do?” Rose whispers to you.
    “Stick with the plan,” A rower grunts, a large red oni, “I’ll take care of her.”
    You look down at Pin, you’re sure she’ll be fine. She’ll hopefully only get a big shiner and not a concussion. You’ve never shot her gun before, but you’re confident you can do it. Your stomach churns awfully as the row boat is lowered into the water. Rose looks sick as well and looks at you for some sort of comfort. You can only offer her a small smile as the boat splashes into the water. You stare beneath where the two rowers sit at the bottomless bag. Your heart pounds at the familiar pre battle feeling. Adrenaline rushes through your veins as you realise you have very little in the way of a plan now. You had planned on making a stand with Pin before rowing yourselves back to the main boat. You know the oni and jinko rowing the boat were going to dive into the water to fight and you might need to be right behind them. You glance at the boat of captives from Red Claw’s boat. They look like they’ve been battered wholly and are wearing nothing more than potato sacks. You look around as everything seems to go silent. The wind almost stops completely, the birds stop cawing and the waves die down somewhat. The only nose  Its like nature knows something is about to happen that deserves everyone’s attention. 
    You get your answer as to what that is in a few short moments. A first, colorful blast rings out. It shakes your boat and pushes them back towards Morrigan’s boat. You hear a splash, Rose is already in the water. You also catch a glimpse of Rael doing a swan dive off the pirate ship and landing in the water with a small splash. You undo your own ropes and start reaching into the bag as you wonder if you should give Rael an eight or nine for that. The two rowers start gearing themselves up as a second, fiery explosion happens. One grabs Pin and they jump into the water. You can hear Red Claw scream in rage despite the pounding in your ears. You grab the somewhat small gun and shoulder it, pointing it at the other boat. Two arrows fly at the orcs, one takes it in the head and falls into the ocean. The other is hit in the shoulder and cries in pain, “GET DOWN!” You scream at the terrified, captured pirates. They look at you and dive to the small floor as you let off two rounds. Thankfully, Pin had loaded it with slugs that tear through his green flesh and send him into the water. A mershark flies out of the water and plops into that boat and starts cutting the girls free and the two that were rowing your boat start rowing that boat back, taking Pin with them. You throw on your chain vest and helmet as the cannons on Morrigan’s side start to fire. The cannon balls explode into a raging inferno that quickly engulfs the enemy boat. You nod with a smug grin, things seem to be going well. Cannons keep firing from your side. You use the other four shots in the wheel of Pin’s gun to take potshots at pirates in Red Claw’s crew. You dump the gun in the bag and strap it to yourself. You move to jump into the water and instantly remember something as you stare down into the churning, combat filled deeps.
    You don’t know how to swim.
    You throw yourself on the bottom of the row boat. Your heart is pounding even harder now. Instead of battle high, its terror caused by the open water. You look up towards Red Claw’s ship to see them finally fire their cannons, only a few of them. As promised, Arthur’s shielding magic blocks them. Eric and Joan fire off arrows and bolts, almost every single one is landing on pirates that are jumping ship. You have no idea what's happening under the water below you. You can only pray its going well for your side, “WHY IN THE WHOLLY SHITTING FUCK IS HE STILL ON THAT BOAT!?” Pin screeches from Morrigan’s side, “GET IN THE WATER AND SWIM TO ME YOU GODSDAMNED FUCKING COCK HEAD!” She screams angrily but you know this comes from a place of worry and concern.
    “NO!” Morrigan shouts, “That boat is the safest place right now, we don’t know where Red Claw is!” 
    “I can’t swim!” You cry as you clutch the side of the boat.
    “What!?” You hear Rose shout, “Somebody help him!” 
    “ROW THE BOAT YOU- YOU- FUCK!” Pin screams.
    You nod and try to grab an oar. Your heart stops as you watch it get torn off the boat by something in the blood and wood filled salt water. Your heart feels like it would pound its way right out of your chest if it wasn’t for the armor you wear. You pant and sweat as you hold the swirling purple dagger close. The boat is rocked by some unseen force beneath the waves. You can hear everyone on the boat shouting at you to do something but terror grips your entire body, restricting you as you struggle to move. You stifle a scream as the boat is rocked violently. An arrow whizzes over your little boat and splashes into the water, “I can’t see anything!” Eric groans loudly.
    The small boat creaks as the screams and cries of the monstrous crew dies down. You feel the boat rock. It rocks again. One end is pulled down before the wood is torn with a loud crash. You scream as you lay your eyes upon the terrifying visage of the wereshark. An abominable combination of man and shark, a large greyish rubbery body with fins and the head of a shark. Just like his name implies, one of Red Claw’s hands is just that, a red claw. You slide down the wood towards the monster’s grinning, gaping maw. You can hardly hear the screaming and shouting over the pounding of your heart in your ears. You start sliding towards the shark man as you desperately claw at the wood for some kind of grip. You turn to your side as your brain turns from flight to fight mode. As you slide into his jaws and he bites down making you scream in pain, you jam the dagger you’ve been white knuckle gripping into his skin. You can hear him howl as the dagger forcibly removes aether from his body. You start stabbing rapidly as you’re dragged into the depths. You can’t see as you squeeze your eyes shut to keep the salty water out, but you can feel his form changing as his partially ineffective bites turn weaker and weaker before they stop all together. Curiosity begs you to open your eyes and sneak a peek but terror keeps you from looking. You keep stabbing into something with the same ferocity as it writhes and tries to get out of your grasp. You’re running out of air, but all you can do is keep stabbing.
    You panic as hands grab you and try to pull you away. You take a swing at them as another pair of hands gently grab you. Your arms are torn free of Red Claw or whatever is left of him. You go limp as you start to run out of air. Very quickly, your head breaks the surface of the water. You desperately and greedily breath in as much air as possible as you wait for whatever has you to pull you back down. A large plank of wood is put under your arms to keep you up, “Are you alright?” A gentle voice asks you.
    “A want out of the water,” You mewl weakly. The four mermaids around you giggle as they hurry you towards Morrigan’s ship. 
    You yelp as more arms reach under your armpits and pull you out of the water and into a rowboat, “Mythra have mercy,” Rael grunts as he runs a hand over your wounds. The mermaids also climb into the small boat before its pulled up by the cheering crew.
    Tilde holds you against her in a firm hug as Rael closes your wounds with his chilling purple magic, “Don’t you ever scare me like that again,” Tilde sobs in your ear as she gently squeezes you in a tight hug. Your eyes are still squeezed shut as you shudder violently.
    “Does he realise he can open his eyes now?” One of the mermaids giggles. 
    “You would be traumatized too if you went through what he just did,” Rael scowls at them. They stop teasing you.
As soon as the boat reaches the top, Tilde pulls you out of the boat as a few others quickly grab you and put you on the floor. Pin climbs on your stomach and leans over you, getting her face right in front of yours, “HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME!?” She screams as tears roll down her face.
    “Oh my gods, Curtis,” Rose is already crying as she kneels down next to you, “I thought you were dead, oh...” She puts her head on your shoulder as she continues to sob and touches your face gently. Tilde kneels next to you, grabs your hand and holds it against her face firmly.
    Pin is crying on your other shoulder, “YOU COULD HAVE FUCKING DIED, HOLY SHIT CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT I-- WE WOULD HAVE HAD TO GO THROUGH IF YOU DID!? I AM SO FUCKING MAD! I AM-- I am so fucking glad you’re okay,” She begins to whimper.
Rose is merely mewling now, every so often she murmurs your name and, “Thank you,” You can hardly hear either of their quiet whimpers over the screaming victory sea shanty. 
    “All of you!” Joan barks, “Off of him!” Pin hisses and spouts swears indiscriminately in at least three languages as she’s pulled off of you. Rose is removed with a little less fight, “You can all keep him warm below deck.”
    “Tilde, I need a scan of his body,” Rael orders, “If he’s hurt badly I need to heal him now.”
    “O-Of course,” Tilde nods before she runs her sensors over your body where you were bit, “Diagnosis: his skin has been sliced up, it is currently reduced to scars except for a few areas,” She points to areas where you’re still injured, “He has broken ribs and numerous internal injuries including bleeding, damaged lungs--.”
    “On it. Hold him down,” Rael interrupts as his hands are coated purple tendrils. You’ve had this done before. A cold feeling buries itself in your skin and begins moving your bones around. You feel the tendrils wrap around your bones and fuse them into place. You groan in discomfort as you feel the tendrils piecing your muscles, lungs and anything else that was punctured or fractured.
    “Thank goodness for that armor,” Joan sighs, “I doubt he would have survived without it.”
    You can hear Pin and Rose whimper nearby and Tilde frowns as she applies a bit of pressure on your shoulders. You don’t have the strength in you to fight back even if you wanted to. Joan surprisingly looks happy, probably just glad you’re alive. Eric walks over, “We should bring him below deck. No point keeping him laying on the floor,” He seems to share the same feeling as Joan.
    “I can mend flesh and bone,” Rael grunts, “but not armor and clothes. Where is Arthur?”
    “Below deck,” Joan explains, “In the mess hall. I believe he is drinking to recover some mana. He nearly killed himself from mana loss again,” She sighs.
“Make sure you get those off of him then. Its covered in blood and holes,” He instructs the three girls as he stands and moves away from you.
    You moan and try to get up. Pin, Tilde and Rose scream at you not to exert yourself, “Tilde,” Rose begs, “Carry him, please. Before he hurts himself.”
    “Affirmative. Curtis, do not struggle,” Tilde gently lifts you with one hand under your back and the other supporting your legs. You’re still limp and panting heavily, you just want to lie down and maybe eat something warm. Before you know it, you’re downstairs in your team’s room and placed on the floor again. Rose and Pin both scramble around the room to find things to help you as Tilde removes your armor and then begins to remove your soaked and blood stained clothes. She whimpers as she stares at the remains of your injuries.
    “Gods, look at this shit,” Pin runs her fingers over your wet body as she touches the dull looking bite marks and bruises that cover your chest, “Pretty fuckin’ gnarly,” She laughs quietly, “Holy fuck...” She starts to cry again, “I’m so fucking glad you’re okay you big dumbass. I can’t believe you can’t fucking swim and on top of that you’re godsdamned terrified of the ocean. You big fucking idiot,” She tries to wipe the endlessly flowing tears from her eyes. In your weakened state, all you can do is pat her gently on the head.
    “I-I don’t want to see any scars,” Rose whispers, you can see she has a few tears leaking from her eyes. She can’t watch as Tilde and Pin get you into a comfortable set of clothes.
    “I wish to make him comfortable, what should I do?” Tilde asks. 
    “Get dried off and we’ll figure it out,” Pin orders. All three girls change into dry, comfortable clothes. They all bicker with each other over how to keep you warm and comfortable. Eventually, you’re sat up on a plush mat and leaned against Tilde who wraps her arms around you. Rose sits next to you and rests her head on your shoulder. Pin sits in your lap and leans against you. A big blanket is wrapped around all of you.
    “Thank you,” You grumble quietly, still feeling terribly weak and shaken.
    “Shut up and sit still,” Pin growls, “I’m still fucking mad at you.”
    “Pin,” Rose scolds, “He didn’t know. I know it was terrifying but you don’t need to reprimand him for his mistake.”
    Pin grunts, “He almost died! I just--”
    “But he came back safely!” Rose argues, “We don’t need to keep freaking out over it!”
    “I’m sorry,” You whimper, “I scared the shit out of all of you.”
    “Everything is fine,” Tilde coos in your ear as she pats your head, “Rest. We all need it.”
    You nod and close your eyes.



    “How is he?” A voice asks quietly.
    “He’s fine,” Rose answers as she stops leaning on you. She yawns and stretches before leaning on you and Tilde again. You very groggily open your eyes. Pin is curled up on your lap and has already fallen asleep and Tilde is still gently touching your hair. You can still hear sea shanties ringing out across the boat. Its quieted down a tiny bit, but they’re still at it. 
    Arthur stands in the doorway, “Good to hear. What about the rest of you? Pin’s shouting seems to have finally stopped.”
    “Everyone was panicking, Arthur. But she hadn’t taken it particularly well, ” Rose chuckles quietly, “I am sure he was even more scared than the rest of us.”
    You grin and shake your head, “Nah, wasn’t scared at all.”
    “Humor,” Tilde comes to life, “then what was that scream as your boat was torn asunder and you were sliding towards the maw of a shark man?”
    “A-a manly war cry.”
    “That sounded like my little sister screaming,” Rose verbally jabs at you.
    You sigh, “Okay, I was scared.”
    “Well, no one blames you,” The old wizard chuckers, “I was informed as to what happened. I feel awful that I was not there but I would not have been able to do much to aid you. I do not think my old ticker could have taken it if I had actually seen it.”
    “You can’t die yet. You need to see Nambra, right?” Rose asks.
    “O-Of course,” He laughs nervously, “I came by to summon you all to the dining area. The crew is preparing a feast for the eight of us. Last I saw they were bringing out instruments and the sirens were warming up their vocal chords. I expect more intricate music to accompany our dinner. I recommend getting ready soon, I do not think Morrigan is a woman to be kept waiting.”
    You nod and jostle Pin softly. She wakes up and wipes her mouth with a quiet, “Huh?”
    “Its dinner time, come on,” You tell her as she rolls over and tries to go back to sleep.
    “Query: do you not desire drinks?” Tilde asks as she picks herself up off the floor.
    “Mmph. Fuck I guess I do have a dry throat,” Pin grumplily sits up before being removed from your lap forcibly by Tilde. The automaton then pulls you to your feet followed by Rose.
    “You guys alright?” You ask quietly as you grab your boots and coat. You’re pretty thankful you didn’t wear them in the water
    “Still a little shaken, but I should be fine,” Rose shrugs as she pulls her cloak around her like a comfort blanket, “Hopefully I don’t have horrible nightmares!” She wraps her arms around your neck in a firm hug, “I just can’t overstate how happy I am that you’re okay,” She pats your back. You pat her head.
    “I’m just glad--” Pin yawns, “That the shark fucker didn’t scar up his face. I would be even more pissed. Those thigh scars are pretty cool at least.”
    “Pin!” 
    “Look, I know I’m gonna cry myself to sleep tonight thinking about it again. And the fucking nightmares will wake me up a few fuckin’ hours later. But I got out all my crying and shit earlier. Come down here you fucker I need a hug too,” You sigh and give into the gremlins demands. You give her a few pats on the head.
    A single noise emits from Tilde’s vocal component, “Ahem,” Her face beams as she holds her arms out for another hug. You happily give her a hug too, “Thank you for coming out of that safe and sound.”
    “Yeah, yeah,” You sigh, “Alright, enough with being sappy. I need some food.”
    The girls look disappointed but quickly follow you down to the mess room. You pass a few pirates on your way there. A few of them shout something along the lines of, “There's the Shark Slayer!” Before patting you on the back or the ass. That second option gets them glares and hollow threats from the girls following you. 
    You sit around the table with the rest of your team, most of you look exhausted either physically, emotionally, because they are completely completely out of mana or some combination of the three. Rael is definitely all three, “There you are!” Joan shouts, obviously intoxicated already. She scoops you up in a hug, “Oh, I am so happy you are alive and with all your limbs attached!”
    “Y-yeah,” You chuckle nervously until she puts you down, “Look, it happened, I’m fine, let’s just drink and eat.”
    “If you say so, Mr. Shark Slayer.”
    “I’m glad that nickname stuck!” Morrigan laughs, “You can blame me for that.”
    “The way he cursed and screamed at you as he drowned,” A mershark shudders, “Don’t know what that dagger was made out of, but I wish I had one.”
    “H-he drowned?” You ask, a little shocked, “That man had gills.”
    “Lycanthropy is somewhat arcane,” Arthur explains, “And you know what Their magic can do. Destroys connections to the aether, thus removing all magical abilities,” He quickly explains, just flexing a bit of his brain power.
    “You dropped this,” Rael tells you as he grabs something from his back pocket. Its the swirling purple dagger, you must have dropped it or left it stuck in Red Claw. He stabs it into the table in front of you.
    “It must have... Closed his gills as well,” Arthur shudders, “An awful way to die.”
    “Aye,” Morrigan growls, “But not an undeserved one,” she shakes herself, “Well! I have had enough talk and thoughts of death today. But not enough excitement! Do you agree girls?” The pirates cheer, “And... Boys I suppose,” She casts a smug glance at the four boys on her boat.
    “Aye,” Rael sighs.
    “Yup,” Eric nods.
    “I suppose I must agree,” Arthur shrugs and you merely smile and nod.
    “Bring out the booze and the food girls! Our few who CAN eat should eat well tonight, but that won’t stop us from drinking well alongside them!” Morrigan laughs as she raises her drink. The pirates do the same before they all down their drinks at once.
    “Fucking finally, give me a damn good drink and some good ass food!” Pin grins. 
    “How about some nicemusic too,” Rose smiles as she points to the corner of the room where a group of girls set up. You spot a violin, snare drums, accordion and a few wind and brass instruments. As the band starts the play, the rest of the pirates join in with the yellow and orange colored harpy. They scream songs about boys, booze and of snuggling their future husbands a bit forcefully. During the night, each of the girls that had been captured by Red Claw’s crew come up to you individually. Each one expresses their gratuitous gratitude for your team’s aid in their rescue-- and a bit more quietly and privately, each offers you oral or a quick tit fuck if you want it. You, of course, turn them down. 

    You lie on your hammock. The festivities had been nice and left you feeling full and elated. Your team all finally calmed down about you nearly dying and things returned to somewhat normalcy as Eric started poking fun at Pin for how loudly she was yelling. Drinks were had and good food was eaten. But you still feel shaken despite the stoic attitude you had been putting on for everyone. You get up from the hammock and glance at your sleeping team. Tilde, her sensors pinging as you get up, comes to life. You shake your head at her and put a finger to your lips. She frowns but nods and returns to a resting state. You wander out of the room to stretch your legs without waking your team up. You pass a few pirates who are mopping the floor or still drinking. They smile politely but don’t bother you beyond echoing your nickname. You smile back and start looking at the cannons. A mermaid plays a harp quietly in the corner as she sings to herself. You wander further into the back and into the storage room. The crossbow is sitting exactly where you left it. You pick it up and pull the rope back like Morrigan had shown you.
    “That's how its done,” A voice purrs at you. You swing around and point the unloaded crossbow at whoever is behind you, “Jumpy aren’t you?” Morrigan laughs. You blush and put the crossbow down, “Come chat with me, Shark Slayer. Upstairs.”
    “I prefer Curtis, thank you,” You sigh.
    “You are just no fun, hm? Are you sure you are not related to that Rael fellow? Come on,” Morrigan waves you to follow her. You think about just going back to bed, but she has been kind to your team so far. You begrudgingly decide to humor her. She walks up the stairs to the top deck and over to the railing before taking a deep breath, “Love that sea air... Don’t you?”
    You stare out into the vast, dark, terrifying ocean and shudder. You step away from the railing and press yourself against the main sail’s post, “Y-yeah. Its nice.”
    She laughs, “The mighty Shark Slayer, afraid of the ocean. That’ll be a tale to pass down. I wonder if we could turn it into a song. Never had much of an ear for it.”
    “A-about me?”
    “Yup. The killer of Red Claw: Shark Slayer. We could call you Shark Layer if you decide to settle with one of the mersharks in the crew,” She chuckles at her own joke, “Do not feel pressured to. I have seen many heroes in my day, Curtis but I have never sensed destiny as greatly as I do on you,” She leans on the post next to you, “As much as I’d love to keep the mighty shark slayer as my own personal cabin boy, your future lies elsewhere,” She sighs mournfully.
    “S-sorry,” You frown.
    “I would love to tie you to this post and--” She stops herself, “Excuse me. I know what I signed up for becoming the Pirate Lord,” You give her a confused look, “Its... Its a curse. A spell as old as piracy itself. It--” She stops again, “I won’t bore you with it. What I really want to do is hear you talk.”
    “About what?”
    “About you. I know I told Tilde I’d wait, but you have to know SOMETHING about your past, right?” She gives you a sly smile before snagging the tankard out of a crew member's hand then shooing them away. The girl sighs but continues on her way, “Come on, you can trust the Pirate Queen Morrigan. Haven’t I already proved that? Maybe I can entice you with a little... Gift, too. Don’t worry, the gift is not surprise sex,” She grins, but you’re not entirely sure what she's offering you.

    You frown, but maybe she has earned your trust.

PT50

    “Fine,” You shrug, “There's not much to tell you, to be honest,” You fold your arms and slouch a little bit, “Curtis Bradley, early 20 somethings, I like the color green. I’m a decent shot and I’m good at working with my hands. I remember being some kind of technician or mechanic. I’m not entirely sure which I was focused on. I have incredibly vague memories of both. I’m afraid of the ocean and I can’t swim,” You shoot her a frown, “I don’t have a lot to say, like I said.”
    “Well,” Morrigan sips on her booze, “Why do those seven keep you around? Gotta be SOME reason, eh?”
    “Because seven is an unlucky number according to Pin,” You smile at your own joke while Morrigan just looks confused, “Some weird dwarvish superstition. In all seriousness, they tell me I can talk pretty well. Not a very good liar, but I do a good enough job maintaining cohesion and at least a little calm.”
    “A bard or some other type with a strong personality or will? I would have assumed you were some kind of tactician.”
    “Nah, just an artificer. Well, I’m learning to be one. I’m not that good right now. What about you? What’s your deal?”
    “Me?” She drinks a little more, “Oi! Sasha! I need another drink! Another for our guest of honor!” She shouts at the same jinko that rowed the boat you were in earlier. The jinko sighs and climbs off the ropes leading up to the crows nest before trudging below deck, “Pirate Queen Morrigan. Born human, became a kitsune at some point after becoming the Pirate Queen.”
“How’d you manage both those things?” 
    “There must always be a Pirate Lord. Someone to stir up the storms and cause a little chaos on the seas. The goddess of the ocean chose to bestow it upon me when I was merely a sailor in a tiny crew. It was shortly after the cataclysm. At the time we thought that was going to be the end of the world. Previous Pirate Lord got himself killed in the fighting from that apocalypse. I think he took the previous Demon Lord’s side. No clue why I was chosen, to be frank. I took her up on it and this big boat showed up a few days later. My life is tied to this boat, Curtis. If this boat goes down, I go with it. I can’t even go very far from it without my strength being sapped. Not sure when the mamano transformation happened. I think something happened to the sea goddess and I was changed as well since I am one of her... Chosen. Mamano started flocking to me, eager to join the crew on the promise of eternal youth until they found their husband. Instead of only leaving the crew when you die, you leave when you lose your virginity to a man. The downsides aren’t that awful, don’t need to and can’t eat or sleep. But we can drink everything we want with almost no repercussions.”
    “Your drinks,” The jinko, Shasha, hands you both a tankard before climbing back up on the ropes to stare out at the ocean.
    “Poor girl,” Morrigan sighs, “Not enough men to go around these days. She’s been with me for a long time.”
    You shake your head, “What the hell can you girls even do?”
“No clue. Maybe you’ll take us back to the Other Side with you. Heard there’s plenty of boys to go around there.”
    “I-I never said I was--”
    “You’re a bad liar, Curtis. I already told you I hate liars. I get why your lips are so tight on that little fact, at least, and I know you’re telling the truth about not remembering your past. Don’t worry too much, I won’t tell a soul,” You both stand awkwardly and silently as you sip on your drinks. You stare out at the water at the white glowing reflection of the moon on the blackish blue water, “Would you take back all of this? Coming here? You don’t meet any of them but you stay safe back home and don’t lose your memory?” 
    You stare at her sad expression, “I don’t think so,” You shrug, “I don’t know what I have back home. But I know what I have here.”
She smiles softly before frowning again, “I think I’d take back the whole Pirate Lord role.”
    “Why?”
    “I’m cursed to never find a man. The only way off this ride is death. The few men who have struck my fancy are either taken or like you, your destiny lies elsewhere. Your destiny is with one of those three girls,” She sighs, “I hope you all live long, happy lives.”
    “Thanks. You’ll find your man. Hopefully you’ll break the curse and get to live your long happy life too,” You give her a little, comforting smile.
    “You’re too hopeful, Curtis,” She shakes her head, “But don’t you start worrying about me. I’ll be fine. As long as I have my girls to take care of, I’ll keep on moving on.”
    “They’re like your family, right?”
    “My kids, more like. Runaways, abused slaves, victims of tragedy and war... Human girls too. But they don’t stay human for long. Speaking of, I should check on them. They all get moody and sad at night when the energy dies down. Oh, and your gift.”
“Hey, I don’t need anything. Unless you’re looking to officiate a wedding, but its a little early for that,” You chuckle.
“I would love to do that,” She smiles back, “But no, I want you to have this,” She puts something a little heavy in your hands. 
    You look down at the glistening gold chain supporting an amulet with a green gem on it, “W-what?”
    “Amulet of Courage. I implore, no, demand you take it. The gods above and below the sea all know the mighty Shark Slayer needs as much of that as he can get. Hopefully you get some confidence too.”
    “I-I don’t know if I can accept this.”
    “I am not taking no for an answer. Take it,” She turns away as her tail caresses your chin before she saunters away with her hips swaying.
    You look back down at the glistening jewelry and shove it in your pocket. You hardly drank anything from your tankard. You merely clutch it in both of your hands and slowly walk down the stairs and slowly make your way back to the room. Tilde is standing outside the room, “Comment: Pin started whining from a nightmare,” She informs you sadly, “I managed to quiet her down and put her back to sleep, but any more problems and she might require attention from you..”
    “Thanks for letting me know,” You look down at the brew, “You want a drink?” You jokingly push the drink towards her. She frowns but goes to take it from you, “Its a joke. I should just dump it.”
    “Suggestion: perhaps Pin will drink it in the morning?”
    “I doubt she’d want something at room temperature. Maybe she’s not picky, I don’t know.”
    “Query: are you well? You seem somewhat aggravated.”
    “Just talked with Morrigan. Just pried some answers from me. Well, I didn’t fight much, really,” You admit.
    “Comment: you should sleep, Curtis. It is quite late,” Tilde’s comment comes off as more of a demand or order. 
    You nod, “Yeah. I should,” You rub your face with the back of your wrist. You scowl at nothing but the floor.
    “Query: did Morrigan put strange thoughts in your head?”
    “Eh, she just asked me something like that. I’m gonna go to sleep.”
    “Sleep well,” Tilde gives you a slight bow before opening the door for you. She follows you into the room and returns to her chair. After placing the drink on a desk, you slowly take your boots off before staring at the amulet Morrigan gave you. You shake your head and toss it in your bag before throwing a blanket over yourself and letting your head crash onto the pillow. The slow creeping specter of sleep does not pull you into the dream realm for quite some time. Once it finally does, you thankfully sleep peacefully.

    The first things you see when you wake up are Pin and Rose. Pin is drinking the booze from last night, “Hey, you’re alive, right, fuck nuts?” She asks.
    “Pin, he’s right there. What are you worried about?” Rose demands, “You touched his shoulder and felt his body heat.”
    You blink at both of them before rolling over, “I guess,” You grunt.
    “Will you two stop harassin’ ‘im?” Eric sighs, “Let ‘im rest,” The two girls nod and move away to gossip with Joan quietly, “Ya alright, Shark Slayer?” Eric asks as he pulls up a chair to your hammock’s side. He presses the back of his hand to your forehead, “Yeah, ya seem fine. Rest as much as ya need today.”
    You grunt, “What about you? You and Joan doing fine?”
    “Oh, she’s just being a big sweetheart recently. Dunno much about mamano but I hope she’s not goin’ inta heat or anything soon. We’ve always had a lot a respect for one another, but now it feels like friendship. M-maybe somethin’ more,” He whispers as he glances over his shoulder, “She’s lucky I like older ladies.”
    You chuckle, “Lucky her. I hope things work out for you two.”
    “Yeah, me too. I’m just some country kid. Dunno how I’ll support such a regal woman,” He sighs sadly, “Sorry, I’m just dumpin’ all this on ya. I’ve just had a lot on my mind and everyone else seems ta think ya’re the one to talk to.”
    “You’ll make it work,” You sit up and stretch, “Take it slow and do your best. That's really all she can ask for.”
    “Right, thanks.”
    “Eric!” Joan calls, “We are going to get some breakfast. Will you join us? I would invite you as well Curtis, but you look like you need more rest.”
    “Yeah, I’ll join ya. We’ll bring ya something back, Curtis. Tilde, keep him company, will ya?”
    “Affirmative,” She merely nods. You’re left alone with Tilde. She sits in the chair next to you, “Query: may I get you anything?”
    “I’m fine, thanks. Hey, can I ask you something?”
    “Affirmative.”
    “Hypothetically, if you could go back to the past, keep your memory, not be damaged and abused, would you?”
    Tilde smiles and giggles, “Did I not already tell you this, silly? I will tell you again,” She speaks in her more human-like voice, “Even if I could go back to the past and not be abused, I do not believe I would. I never would have met you if I did. The past, especially if I cannot remember it, does not matter nearly as much as right now. I am currently happy with my situation.”
    Her words put a small smile on your face, “Alright. Thanks for humoring me.”
    “Do you not feel the same?”
    “I’ll tell you what I told Morrigan, I don’t know what I left behind. I only know what I have here. But I still don’t think I would.”
    “Are you not happy?”
    “I am! Admittedly, the few times I’ve nearly died kinda suck,” You chuckle and sigh, “But spending time with you guys is really nice. Doubt I could give that up.”
    “Perhaps you should try a bit harder to not die, hm?” Tilde snickers, “Or use me as a shield more often... Please,” Another innocuous suggestion coming off as a demand.
    You snuggle back into the hammock, “Yeah, I’ll try,” You sigh and lay on your back with your eyes closed. You can hear Tilde humming a tune quietly.
    There's a light knocking on the door, “Tilde? Shark Slayer?” A voice calls. Its not someone from your group. Tilde carefully opens the door just a crack, “The captain sent me to collect you both.”
    “Comment: I am unsure if Curtis is fit to leave bed,” Tilde expresses her concern in her usual robotic tone. 
    “I can walk, darn it,” You grunt and get out of bed.
    “Plea: do not overexert yourself.”
    “I’m fine!” You assure her. You glance at the door, the harpy who came to get you both is staring at you with some kind of wonder, “Close the door so I can get changed, Tilde.”
    
    You both hurry to the mess hall led by the harpy that collected you both. You see a familiar sight, Your team sitting around the table chatting quietly with the Pirate Queen Morrigan on the other side with Miss Shelly. Rose and Pin wave you over to sit with them, “Took you long enough,” Morrigan berates you lightly. You ignore her.
    “What did you need all of us here for, Morrigan?” Joan inquires aggressively.
    “Aye, I would have preferred to spend some time painting this morning. The sunrise was quite beautiful,” Rael sighs.
    “I have a few duties to take care of this morning,” Arthur chimes in apologetically.
    “We’re nearly across the channel,” Morrigan explains, ignoring their complaints, “If any of you had bothered to look through a telescope, you would see exactly what we’re up against.”
    “Explain,” Pin grunts as she gets up and grabs a telescope.
    “A mountain built into the tower side,” Miss Shelly begins to list them off, “Massive camps of various forms of monsters, defensive towers, balistas, and what we believe is a prisoner camp.”
    You frown at that last item on the checklist. Pin returns from a little openable port on the side of the boat that she was looking out of. She passes the telescope off to Eric and Joan. Morrigan clears her throat, “We don’t know if anyone in Red Claw’s crew managed to beat us here and squeal.”
    “If we move within range to use our cannons, they will be able to hit us with those ballista. We can move fast, but we’re not sure we can outrun their shots,” Miss Shelly explains.
    “So they fucking see us already!” Pin shouts.
    “No,” Arthur shakes his head, “This boat is almost always shrouded with magical fog, mist and clouds. We can see them, they cannot see us currently unless they use some strange lenses to scan the horizon. They would have to get extremely close to spot us.”
    Morrigan nods, obviously a little surprised by Arthur’s knowledge, “We can move into range and start firing easily.”
    “B-but what if a cannon ball goes way off course?” Rose asks, “It could hit the prisoner area. What about sneaking in and saving them first?”
    “That is way too many monsters to handle if you get caught,” Joan shakes her head, “What is worse is they could take captives hostage.”
    “My crew and I are at your team’s disposal,” Morrigan offers, “What is our ultimate goal?”
    “Save the prisoners and storm that tower,” Eric punches into his open palm.
    “Do not forget our original target, The Matriarch. We need to figure out where that witch is,” Rael hisses, “I will personally put my mace through her skull.”
    “I’ll fuckin’ drink to that!” Pin raises her drink before slamming it down her throat.
    “Pin, shouldn’t you be sober for this fight?” Rose asks.
    “I hit harder drunk, dammit,” She laughs in response.
    “Where are we gonna find info on that woman?” You ask no one in particular.
    “Whoever is in charge will probably know where they take the prisoners,” Arthur offers quietly, “I just wonder if they have casters.”
    “The Matriarch could have a thrall in there,” Joan sighs.
    Rael scowls, “But monsters have very few powerful casters amongst them. Perhaps one or two that can roll bones and read them, but they are powerless before this crew’s and our combined arcane might.”
    “Curtis,” Morrigan bemusedly turns to you, “You have been somewhat quiet. Your input?”

    Being a little burnt out from yesterday won’t stop you from providing input.
    “We need more information,” You suggest, “Girls that can fly can survey the camp from high above and some mermaids and mersharks can survey the coastline. Number of prisoners and guards on those prisoners would be good to know as well as the enemy's conditions.”    “Agreed,” Morrigan nods, “Miss Shelly, if you would.”
    “Yes, ma’am. I will send the harpies and mermaids out. I just pray the harpies can keep count,” The apsara sighs.
    “Perhaps you should assign half to count guards and the other to count prisoners?” Arthur suggests.
    “I will do that, thank you,” Miss Shelly bows before walking to the deck.
    “Curtis, your turn,” Rael hands you a telescope.
    You smile, “Thanks,” You go to the port everyone has been peering out of. You spot eight towers around the island. Any way you approach the island you’ll have two or three ballista towers shooting at the boat. They’ll probably also get a few shots in before you can turn to use the cannons. The towers are made of wood and stone and are just off the sand of the shoreline. The area the prisoners seem to be kept in is pretty much in the middle of the rundown camp and is made of wooden posts to make a sort of makeshift fencing. Tents are torn, lean tos hardly block out the elements and the few huts they have built are over stuffed with monsters. The black stone tower is on the northern part of the island built into the small mountain range. There only seems to be one entrance, a large set of stone stairs. You’re definitely outnumbered by the monsters, even with Morrigan’s crew on your side. You can only estimate three or four to one, their advantage. But, the monsters seem to be struggling for food and supplies. On the flip side, not all of Morrigan’s crew are fighters.

    You wait about an hour for the scouts to return. You kill time by playing cards and chatting. The harpies all squawk their discoveries at once as soon as they all rush into the mess room, “I saw ten!” One shouts.
    “No! Seven!” Another argues.
    “I-I saw eleven?” The third isn’t sure.
    The fourth puffs out her flat chest, “Nine,” The others are second guessing themselves now.
    “What were you all counting?” Joan sighs. Each harpy just gives her a blank look, each having completely forgotten.
    “Between ten to twelve prisoners. Mamano and human. They seem better fed than the monsters that guard them,” A soft spoken black harpy pushes her way through the confused harpies, sirens and thunderbirds. She speaks in a deadpan, hardly awake tone, “They have around ten guards of various monsters posted at any one time. They rotate often and slack constantly.”
    “Thank you. I am glad at least one harpy is not a complete scatterbrain,” Morrigan chuckles, “What about our water scouts? Were you spotted?”
    “Of course not,” A mershark grunts, “You know our methods, captain.”
    A mermaid jumps in, “Well, they do have water monsters, but they don’t seem to be patrolling at all. Mostly just trying to catch fish to eat. But the water around the island is full of refuse and hardly any fish can survive there.”
    “So they outnumber us but they’re in pretty poor condition?” You ask. The mermaid and black harpy both nod, “Alright, let me think a little more.”

PT51

    You look to Pin, your ever faithful partner of destruction, “I’m thinking of bombs that can be dropped by our flight gifted friends,” You suggest with a wicked smile, “We’ll have to make fins for them so they can drop nearly straight down.”

    She cackles and grins, “I like how you fuckin’ think.”

    Rael shakes his head, “Are you sure you want these scatter brains to deliver ordinance?”

    “Any task that does not involve math should be easy enough, especially if it involves simply dropping a weapon,” Morrigan explains.

    “Another day of work for you,” Rose sighs at you, “I wish you would take a break like a normal person.”

    “I’m not normal,” You smile, “The bombs will be dropped on the far side of the camp so monsters will rush to put the fires out. Thunder Crashers and some aquatic mamano can then engage the two or three ballista towers that will need to be taken out in order to give this ship a safe approach. After that, our priority should be the saving of prisoners. Get them to the ocean so whatever water mamano we have on hand can swim them back here.”

    “What is my ship’s role, Shark Slayer?” Morrigan asks. 

    “Bombardment. Before or after we get the prisoners out, your choice. Just don’t bomb us or the prisoners,” You chuckle nervously.

    “We should plan bombin’ areas,” Eric suggests, “I’m not too keen on blowin’ up.”

    “Agreed,” Joan anxiously scrapes her hoof on the floor. 

    “Is the mighty Lady Joan… Afraid?” Pin snickers. 

    “I am merely concerned, Pin!”

    “Both of ya, now’s not the time,” Eric growls, “We don’t need to be at each other’s throats.”

    “After the prisoners are escorted by either us or the mamano, we move towards the tower?” Arthur inquires. You nod, “I have no qualms with this plan. I just pray I will not need to shield us from accidental bombardments.”

    “You doubt our capabilities, wizard,” Morrigan sighs with frustration, “You need not worry.”

    “Curtis, we had better get to work,” Pin grunts, “Tilde, you with us?”

    She nods, “Affirmative.”

    “How are we going to map out the camp in such a short time?” Miss Shelly asks quietly.

    “Magic,” Arthur puts simply, “I know a handful of minor divinations that may help. Eric, I will need to make use of your ranger and nature magics, if you would be so kind,” Eric simply nods, “Any other druids or rangers on your crew could expedite this process.”

    The casters begin to get to work as Pin grabs your arm and drags you away.

    “Okay! Drop it!” Pin shouts. The black harpy nods and lights the dud bomb the other harpy is carrying. The second harpy drops her payload. As it nears the sea, a trail of smoke begins to emit from the dud, “Damn, need a little more string,” At this point, your work is done, Pin is merely fine tuning the bombs at this point. You stand by the pole that carries one of the sails as you try to maintain a semblance of calm. Its the only part of the deck you truly feel somewhat comfortable. Tilde idles near you.

    “Any good news, Pin?” Arthur asks as he emerges from the depths of the boat. He has a tankard of alcohol in each hand.

    Pin takes an offered drink from him, “I think we’ve got it the best we’re gonna get it,” She glances at you, “No thanks to fucker over there,” She grins at you. You roll your eyes and look away from her.

    “Come now. No need to tease him over his fears,” Arthur scolds, “If I may ask, why do you tease him and Joan so?”

    “They can take it. Rose’s too sweet, Tilde just wouldn’t get it, you and me don’t talk too much, same for Eric and I just don’t wanna mess with Rael. I’ll get small jabs where I can. You cunts make that map?”

    “Of course. We are currently planning targets. A weapons storage and a few other targets that need to go to cause the most chaos. All Lady Joan and Erics’ ideas,” He quickly adds, “Will you be on the ground or do you have other plans?”

    “Yeah, I wanna fuck stuff up with the Thunder Crashers. The Pirate Queen can manage her crew while I shoot some damn green skins,” She cracks a smile. 

    “I would not have it any other way,” Arthur chuckles, “I am not sure how we will get those who are… Aquatically challenged through the water,” He shiftily glances at you.

    “Just knock Curtis out and fit him with some water breathing,” Pin shrugs, “Splash a bit more water on him once you hit the shore.”

    “Pin!” You growl. She sticks her tongue out at you.

    “Comment,” Tilde whispers, “I do not believe she is serious.”

    You frown, “I’m sure she isn’t.”

    “Request: may we go below deck? Your heart rate is concerning me.”

    “Pin’s comments are just raising my blood pressure,” You joke. Tilde gives you a concerned frown, “Fine we can go below deck. Yo, Pin! Need anything else from me?”

    “Nah, go slack you big dick,” She grins before she starts modifying bombs on the deck of the ship. 

Tilde drags you below deck and forces you into the Thunder Crashers’ room, “Order: rest,” She demands.

    “Hold on,” You grab your bottomless bag and quickly dig through it before revealing both journals.

    “Curtis,” Tilde’s robotic mouth sighs.

    Rose shuffles over, her hair half done as she tries to kill time by messing with her hair. She snatchs the journals from my hands, “Rest or do light activities. You don’t need to strain yourself today,” She acts uncharacteristically bold as she frowns unhappily at you. She hides the books under her cloak. You frown, you feel fine but the two of them are still totally shaken from yesterday, “Hey, come on,” Rose puts a hand on your shoulder, “You’ve done a lot of good work on this trip. You deserve a break. Let me finish my hair and we can do something together, alright?” She grabs a deck of cards from under her cloak, “I told you I know a bunch of games, right? I’ll teach you!” She excitedly explains. You force a small smile, “Tilde, can you please grab that small table and bring it over here? Pull up a chair, Curtis!”

    You put down your hand of cards with a dejected sigh. Another loss. As soon as you begin to understand a game, Rose feels bad about how much she’s thrashing you and decides to change games. You don’t protest, you mostly just want to keep her happy and from berating you about taking the day off, “Any idea when we’re going to land?” Rose asks quietly as she shuffles the deck again. 

    “You’re coming with?” You frown. Rose frowns back looking a little hurt, “W-well,” You try to recover, “It sounds like its going to all be combat. I know you loath combat.”

    “There could be traps in that tower or locks on that prisoner camp. I need to be there,” She assures you, “Pin is the only other person light enough to handle traps safely but she’s a little too headstrong and impatient plus she doesn’t have the training. You don’t need to worry about me, Curtis,” You nod, deciding its not your place to argue with her, “I’m more worried about you.”

    “Comment: do not worry about him,” Tilde smiles softly, “I firmly believe I can take care of him.”

    Rose’s lips turn into a smile, “I’ll leave him in your capable hands. Can you keep an eye on Pin as well? I’m a little worried about her.”

    “Affirmative. I will do my best. Please note that, according to my directives, Curtis is my main priority.”

    “Who else is high on your protection list?” You ask as a joke.

    “Explanation: secondary priority is Rose in accordance with old directives put in place by Emma. Third is Pin on account of her knowledge of technology and that she is aiding Curtis in my repairs. Fourth, Eric, he does not seem as sturdy as the others. Then Arthur, Rael, Joan and lastly, myself. Others outside of the group such as Emma and Yda are not included in my counting as they are not here currently. I would put Yda above Curtis if she was here and Emma just below her. Non combatants and children take priority.”

    You and Rose both frown at her, a little surprised that she had it all planned out, “Well, at least you put someone above me,” You shrug, “But I wish you would take better care of yourself.”

    “Explanation: I am a tool–” Tilde stops herself, “I will not utter those words again. I do not wish to upset you. But I cannot change my base directives. Humor: if I get badly damaged, you can repair me, can you not?” She smiles.

    “I guess so. But until I find some spare parts, you need to be careful, Tilde.”

    The robot silently nods as Rose deals you a new hand, “Think we should invite Pin to play?”

    “Nah, let her drink. What are we playing now?”

    “Uhhh… I think I learned this one from an elf. Their cards are a little different, but we can still play. Here, your three cards.”

    “Its time,” A pirate informs you.

    You swallow the last bit of your drink and exhale wearily. You stare up at the moon and then down to the island. There’s torches across the island. A boat that had recently shown up sits idly on the coast near Morrigan’s ship, “Do we need to take care of that?” Joan asks.

    “We haven’t seen anyone board, only disembark,” The Pirate Queen rubs her chin, “They came from the north,” She mutters.

    “Is that strange?” You ask.

    “There is nothing north of here. Except for Avalon but that is quite far to the east.”

    “That is not ENTIRELY true,” Arthur butts in, “There is the ice shelf and those underwater caves that used to be popular with powerful aquatic monsters.”

    “True, but there are not many aquatic monsters under the Matriarch’s control,” Joan mentions.

    “Look here. Miss Shelly, if you would,” Morrigan nods.

    “Of course. Here,” She removes a scroll of parchment from a tube and unrolls it before showing it to you. Its a map. You scan it and note places like The Human Kingdom of Sebastian the IV on the right side wrapping around to the left side of the map. A strip along the south of the Human Kingdom belonged to a country called Srogan. To the south was a smaller continent or island called Pearlavah. Above The Human Kingdom is the monstrous north which stretches and even further north is the Continent of Avalon. In the very middle of the map is the familiar Orchadia, the continent you currently reside on with the left controlled by the Mamano Conglomerate and the right controlled by the Human Kingdom. The middle controlled by the United Conglomerate of City States and the southern edge controlled by the Pirates. South of the Pirate Coast is a pepper shaped country called Andor. To the west is the massive area controlled by the Mamano Conglomerate and just below that is a smaller continent, Gardramel. Far south of everything is the Southern Arctic.

    You nod, “You’re right,” You can easily see your location a little above the mamano conglomerate, a somewhat large island with a tiny mountain range with nothing marked on the map over it. You’re currently on the eastern side of it. 

    “Impressive map,” Eric notes, “I only have a few regional maps. World maps, especially ones that recent, are tough to come by.”

    “The scribes that used to make them are long since dead,” Arthur explains to you, “But I can plainly see that map is magic.”

    “How observant,” Morrigan blinks at him, “Plundered. I believe it shapes itself to always be accurate.”

    “That is swell and all,” Joan sighs, “But I believe it is nearly time, is it not? Should we not be getting prepared?”

    “Of course. Ten minutes,” Eric barks. 

    You all turn to get ready. Morrigan grabs your arm, “Remember that amulet,” She whispers before letting you go. Tilde and Rose both give you weird looks as you scurry back over to them.

    You don’t say a word and instead walk past them and hurry to the room. You start strapping your armor on, aided by Tilde. Your team is near silent as the pre battle adrenaline courses through your veins. You feel dread as you always do, “You gonna be fine, Curtis?” Pin asks quietly with a hint of genuine concern.

    “Yeah, I’m fine,” You huff. Rose hands you the journals she took from you earlier.

    “You could stay here if you need to,” Joan notes, “I am sure we will manage without you.”

    “I’m coming with you. I’m as much a part of this team as anyone else is.”

    “I am not saying you are not,” She speaks calmly, “Rael and Eric, will you two manage taking down those towers without me?”

    “Aye,” Rael grunts as he puts his armor in one of Pin’s bottomless bags, “Take Curtis on the rowboat, will you?” You start to protest, “We cannot risk you having a panic attack in the water.”

    Eric apologetically nods in agreement, “Tilde, ya make sure Curtis gets to us safe, alright?”

    “Affirmative. Curtis will arrive on the beach,” She nods. You keep yourself from pouting or feeling hurt. You sneakily reach into your bag and grab the amulet Morrigan gave you after putting the journals back in your bag. Without a second thought you slip it on and hide it under your armor. If anyone saw you, they say nothing. You all hurry back to the deck where Morrian’s crew all idles and prepare to dive into the depths. You take an adventurous glance over the railing and at the water. A few mermaids splash each other playfully as they wait for the others.

    “What’s the signal to start the bombing?” Rose asks.

    “When those towers explode,” Morrigan explains, “Water is a tad cold, but you should all be fine. Water breathing will be applied and once you reach land the water should be removed from your clothes and hair. Good luck.”

    They nod. Rael dives into the water followed by Rose. Eric smiles at Joan before doing a cannonball into the water. Arthur is lowered into the waves via rope along with Pin, “It is all in their hands,” Joan mutters. 

    “The three of you,” Morrigan tilts her head to the large rowboat, “Get in,” Joan manages to fit very well while you and Tilde struggle to fit next to her. A few others climb in as well to row the boat and guard it from monsters.

    Fires break out on the far side of the camp. You frown as you wonder how many are currently being burned to death. The mamano manning the oars begin rowing with large powerful strokes. They start to moan a low song, the girls in the water latching to the boat, as well as the few in the boat all join into the chorus. Closing your eyes, you feel a firm hand on your shoulder. Another hand touches your other shoulder. Both Joan and Tilde are trying to give you strength. The amulet feels warm as it gives you its power as well. You offer both of your friends a small smile which quickly leaves your face as two explosions ring out one after another. The waves rock the boat causing you to shudder. You open your eyes for just a moment to see the ballista towers going up in flames. The boat that was talked about earlier has also been lit aflame. Within moments of you reaching the shoreline, the boat started being pelted by cannon balls. You couldn’t hear much over the monster screams and explosions. The rest of your team and the aquatic mamano that accompanied them run up to you. Eric is nursing a wound on his arm, Arthur took a bolt to the leg, and Pin’s armor is scorched but she looks ecstatic, “What happened to you!?” Joan demands as she grabs his arm.

    “It doesn’t matter, Lady Joan!” Eric shouts, “Take the others and go!” He draws his bow and painfully takes a shot with his bow at some greenskins that took notice of your group.

    “I will remain here!” Arthur blocks a blow targeting one of the pirates with his magic and grunts in pain, “The mamano will heal us here.”

    Joan nods before hurrying off. You, Tilde, Pin, Rose and Rael chase after her. Explosions continue to rock the ground around you as more shouts echo in the air. You try to ignore the stench of rotting flesh and screams as the goblinoids and greenskins burn. You reach the prisoner area and immediately engage the guards. You draw your spear and ram your shield into the head of a terrified goblin. You turn and engage three hobgoblins with Tilde at your side. They’re terrified, unarmed and completely unprepared. You hesitate as you wonder if they’ll fight but like animals backed into a corner, they come at you with bared fangs and claws. Tilde is obviously ready as she deflects blows and delivers her own. Her stunning blades down one of them while your spear is embedded in another hobgoblin as your fighting instincts take control. Tilde attacks the third as you feel a sharp pain in your thigh. The goblin you left alive has stabbed you. He really only knicked you, but in a rage, you smack him with the butt of your spear before slaying him with the tip of it. Having dealt with your opponents, the two of you move on and start ganging up on other groups of goblinoids that outnumber your allies. You don’t bother to aid Joan as she seems to be enjoying herself as they outnumber her. You join Rael to protect Rose as she attempts to open the door to the prisoner area. Pin blasts an orc with her gun before bludgeoning a goblin to death with the stock of her gun. The harpies that dropped the bombs on the other side of camp are aiding your team by dropping rocks and sharp objects on the nearby goblinoids heads. The other aquatic and non aquatic mamano easily hold their own as they fight off smaller groups of greenskins as a tide of claws and swords. 

    “Are you hurt!?” Rael shouts over the explosions. 

    You touch your fresh thigh wound, “A little,” You grunt, “I’ll be fine!”

    “Its open!” Rose shouts as she picks the large iron lock. She pulls the chains off the door as you and Tilde move to assist her in opening it. The heavy looking wooden doors are surprisingly easy to open by yourself. You look into the fenced area, there’s no ceiling or furniture other than a few buckets and piles of soggy straw. You count thirteen heads. Nine men of various ages and four mamano of various species. They all look terrified, “This way, please!” Rose shouts at them. 

    Rael and you wave for the prisoners to run your way. Two humans limp as they hurry out of the makeshift prison. Two pirates scoop up one each over a single shoulder and dash for the coast. You, Pin, Rael and Joan all nod at each other, ready to move on. As you hear Rose yelp suddenly, you turn and your heart stops. One of the mamano that were in the prison is holding a knife to Rose’s throat. The mamano is a form of cat girl with blank, soulless eyes and a