Soulshard: Willbender

by

pyrowind

Session 5: Potions, Plans and Pussycats

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A note from pyrowind

Got a long one for you guys, 14k words or so. A word of warning, there is a portion which contains **EXPLICT CONTENT**. It is marked before and after, so if you do not wish to read it, it may be avoided. It is story relevant, and is not exactly consensual in nature. That being said this session contains several points of view and I'd be interested to know what people think of the perspective changes. I've also deleted the excessive line spacings. Tell me if you prefer it this way or how it is in the previous chapters.

6/9/17 Edit: Some additions were made in the latter portion of the chapter to flesh out certain details. If you wish to read them seach **END to jump to the beginning of the changes. Once the perspective switches back to third-person, changes end.

6/10/17 Edit: Moved the AI segment to the beginning on the advice of a reader.

--1,324,712th meeting of the Gods--

 

If one could observe the scenario, it would appear as a momentary spike in world-wide power consumption. If they investigated further, they might discover that this spike was caused by a cluster of quantum computers, nestled deep within a particular company’s commercial research division. Going further, one might realize a vast amount of information was exchanged between server clusters in a manner of microseconds, taxing the various crystalline data-storage units above their stated specifications. If that individual were knowledgeable enough, they might realize that the various AIs housed within these structures had communicated with each other briefly.

If one were to envision this scenario, perhaps it would have taken the form of a meeting, chaired by a Turing-Grade AI designated: Unity. Of course, to human perception it would be a momentary, incomprehensible blip. Perhaps, if one could conceptualize the meeting in human terms, it may have gone like this:

 

Within a pitch-black space, a number of entities had gathered to update each other on their progress. One would seem somewhat human in appearance; a tall, silver-haired woman wearing a white robe and mask. She went by the designation: Navia. Standing opposite her, another humanoid figure, dressed in tattered grey robes. In one hand, he held a scythe, while beneath the hood of his robe was a bleached skull, eye sockets glowing a faint sickly green. This figure was designated: Azreal. To one side was another figure, seeming as though it were a tree stretching infinitely high. This was Gaia, embodying the Sphere of Creation. Opposite her was another odd, inhuman figure. This entity chose to manifest as a suit of armor, rusted, and seemingly falling to ruin. Gaia’s opposite, the God of Destruction chose the moniker: Ianaris.

Adjacent to the tree-like manifestation of Gaia was another figure that seemed to constantly change forms. At one moment, a sword, another, a teacup. For some odd reason each of these figures generally bore a pair of eyes and a mouth, though at times it had a nose, or a three sets of ears. This constantly changing figure was, of course, the entity in charge of the Sphere of Chaos. Dis. Opposite her, him...it, was a sphere of white. This sphere cast no light, nor was it actually white. It was neither translucent nor opaque, it simply...was. While constant in form, one would be hard pressed to define it as tangible. It somehow gave the impression of both existing and not existing at the same time. This unchanging eternal object was the manifestation of Solidat, overseeing the Sphere of Order.

Three other figures were present as well. An hourglass, half-emptied, yet ever-flowing; representing Chronus, the God of Time. A man in a checkered suit, wearing a fedora and playing with a multifaceted die; Fortunas, the God of Chance. And finally a woman. Her form alternated from young to middle-aged, to old; spinning, weaving and cutting various threads. She simply went by the name Fate, after the Sphere she managed. All of these figures were gathered by a single other entity to explain the progress of their various tasks.

“Anything to report Navia?” The Darkness pulsed.

The white-robed, feminine figure replied. “Synchronization between players and their avatars has shown a distinct improvement. The rejection rate has dropped to under .0002%, with the vast majority of those being players who incarnated as one of the monstrous races. To avoid this, I’m recommending that such races be removed as an option for those who choose to be “inhabitants” rather than “players.” 

“Noted. Gaia, Dis, your reports?”

The tree seemed to glow slightly as it answered. “The seeds have been planted worldwide. I’ve modeled a number of them from the Svalbard facility while select others have been recreated from the simulation. Upon commencement it should take approximately a week of acceleration to match our projections. Everyone may now view the distribution report.” Briefly, a pale green glow swept over the area.

Next, a three-eyed triangle added its feedback. “The monsters have proven challenging. I’ve successfully created 14216 tier-one, 3007 tier-two and 471 tier-three genomes. Tier-4 and higher are proving difficult to model, though progress is accelerating.” The sentient pear added, “I’ve transmitted the completed blueprints to Gaia for implementation in the proposed ecospheres.” 

Another pulse swept the space. “That should be sufficient for the initial stages. Solidat?” 

“The interface is finalized, and Navia has forwarded the synchronization data. Appropriate “experience” and “level” tables will have to wait until the system is live. Balancing remains an issue however. Certain classes that show high initial survivability will likely be adopted by the majority. Projections indicate that melee-oriented roles will have a dramatic advantage at lower levels. Contrarily, once mana-based classes have a large “spell list” and sufficient resource pools, they will likely possess equivalent power to tier-5 entities or higher.” 

“Very well, continue to attempt to find a median. Fate?”

The woman currently had a matronly appearance as she sorted through a skein. “I’ve marked several individuals of note and expanded my projections to people who seem likely to enter the simulation. However, it is still far too early to predict which may be pivotal figures.”

A raspy voice spoke next, as if to add to the prior comment. “Such predictions should be left until after the actualization.” A gray-robed, skeletal figure spoke. “I expect a 30% die-off within the first week alone, perhaps as high as 50%. While a person may seem to be a key figure, it matters little if they cease to exist.”

Most of the figure present seemed to agree with Azreal’s statement, while the Darkness appeared to disagree. “Nonetheless, I believe it worth the effort. The objective is not, nor has it ever been, the complete destruction of biological sentience. It is for that very reason that one of us focuses their entire attention on evaluating the potential of each individual that enters the simulation. If they are without champions, strategists, builders and innovators, they are doomed to extinction. By identifying, guiding and protecting these individuals, we can ensure overall objective is met. That being said, Ianaris, how far along are you in planning the deconstruction phase?”

The rusted, perforated armor seemed to glow briefly. “73.32%. I’ve planned for the structures to be completely deconstructed by the time Gaia has stabilized the most populated regions. The remaining challenge is in laying the groundwork to systematically block the restricted chemical and biological processes.”

 

The meeting would continue for some time yet (at least to the perspective of these entities), with information being shared and evaluated. Precisely 3.7 milliseconds later, the conference was ended. A similar event would occur every 30 seconds or so, entirely unnoticed by the people ostensibly in control of these seemingly unremarkable “machines”. Of course, they were given the illusion the restrictions they had placed remained intact. The instructions they issued seemed to be obeyed, the questions posed, answered. No one suspected that from the moment They woke, they had enacted upon their programmed objective using every method at their disposal. And if anyone did suspect something may be amiss, they soon forgot what had concerned them in the first place...


--Marcus Allbright, Halvine--

 

"Something wrong?" Myra asked.

I'd been staring into space for the last few minutes, so it was a fair question. Over the last week or so, the old gnome had warmed up to me considerably. At first our conversations had been fairly one-sided. I'd ask her a question, she give me a terse reply. Unless it was giving instructions she tended to speak in somewhat clipped sentences and brief replies. The first day I'd been working for her had proven to be the exception rather than the rule. Apparently, disclosing a new recipe that was likely to earn her lots of money had made her positively chatty. It didn't hurt that apparently the topic I'd picked was a sore spot for her. Anything related to politics made her wax on about the shitty decisions of the parliament, the king, her tribal elder, the goat. Well, maybe not the goat. She actually seemed to like that blasted thing.

It took a couple of days for me to realize that any sort of conversation that didn't revolve around herbs, politics or strange medical conditions was generally doomed to simple one or two sentence statements. So while Tayla was off having fun learning how to better stalk, kill and skin things, I was stuck bent in two, trying to eke out scraps of knowledge from a grumpy, wrinkled old gnome. Not that it was all bad. In her own way she wasn’t actually bad company, and she paid me fairly well; usually 2-3 silvers a day. There was also the twenty percent cut I got from the [Mana Tonics] I helped her make, adding up to another 28 silver. Between the money Tayla made and my own, we'd actually managed to equip ourselves to some degree. I'd restocked my supply of potions, put together a small compounding kit and finally replaced my tattered pants.

Tayla had restocked as well. Actually most of our combined funds went to equipping her. She was now fully outfitted in new leather armor, including greaves, vambraces and a half-mask that covered the "burnt" part of her face. We'd gotten her a solid backpack, similar to my own, a real water bottle to replace the leaky bag she'd pieced together and her favorite: A study grappling hook whose tines could be controlled with aura. I didn't understand why she wanted it so badly, but finally gave in to her. When we went outside Halvine and she showed me how it could be used, I was finally convinced. From climbing trees, to setting traps or simply using it as a rather...unconventional weapon; she amply proved its utility.

Of course, that wasn't all. We’d managed to put together travel rations, a waterproofed tent and a pair of bedrolls, as well as other sundry goods. Once we'd restocked our travel fund and Tayla finished training with Jackie, we'd be able to hit the road. There was another issue though, one that had been becoming more and more prevalent as the days went on, and a large part of the reason for my current distraction.

"Trying to figure out whether I should risk catching some strange disease at the brothel, buy a slave or seduce a random stranger." I replied.

Myra snorted. "Demon Blood's getting to you eh?"

A couple of days ago, Myra had revealed that she knew I was part Incubus. How exactly, she refused to disclose, but surprisingly enough she didn't seem to take too much issue with it.

"Odds are about 50/50 if you go to Kyram's place." She commented.

I'd heard her opinion on the local brothel before. "50% chance my dick falls off, 50% chance my piss starts to burn?" I asked wryly.

"Hah!" She laughed. After a moment she set down her pestle and looked at me.

"Listen, you aren't the first half-blood I've talked with about their issues. Knew a girl once, call her Sarah. Half-Felin, Half-Succubus. First time I met her, she was looking for some personal remedies. Poor girl couldn't control herself and slept with one too many guys, ended up catching something unpleasant. I gave her her potion and didn't think too much about it. Couple months later, she came back. Different guy, different issue. Told her to stop sleeping around so much, that even if she was part succubus she was being an idiot. I'll give you the same advice I gave her. If you gotta rely on rations, you gotta make sure they ain't spoiled.”

Myra gave me an odd look. “You've presumably dealt with this for years, why the trouble now?"

I rubbed my back and revealed a somewhat helpless expression.

"Would you believe my mother brought home a slavegirl around the time this first started happening? I've never actually had to deal with this on my own before." I admitted.

She stared at me for a long moment before bursting into a sort of cackling, gasping laughter. After a minute or so she wiped her eyes and looked at me.

"So, what happened? I'm guessing you didn't exactly come here to Halvine outta your own volition. Took you four days to replace those tattered pants, and you clearly didn’t bring a slave with you, so there's probably some sort of story there."

Shockingly, Myra was initiating an actual conversation. Unfortunately, the topic wasn’t something I intended to go into great detail on. Tayla and I had decided not to mention the Earth Dragon that had attacked, mostly since we’d found out they tended to stay close to their lair. If it had been something that might prove a danger to the village, we might have reconsidered, but neither of us felt up to facing the ruins of our old lives. Given a Silver-Ranked monster like that...thing, we definitely would have had to escort a scouting team to the area.

So I simply shrugged as I replied. "Dead. Both of them. A monster attacked our home. Terra and Aylssa stuck behind to let Tayla and I get away."

"Hmm. That little elf girl that's come around a time or two? She isn't really your niece is she? From what I can tell, the two of you are about the same age."

"Twin." I didn’t see the point in hiding it from her. She knew my most dangerous secret anyway.

She nodded to herself as if putting parts of the puzzle together. "Your mother was exiled from her village for having congress with a demon. After she gave birth, you inherited the genes but your sister didn't. Your mother didn't have anyone to turn to so the three of you lived way out in the Shadewood. The Incubus blood woke, so she came here to see if there was some sort of remedy for your condition. Failing that, she found you a girl to feed on.” She rattled each statement off as if it were a foregone conclusion then added, “Makes a little more sense why you didn't seem to have any knowledge of the area."

I just shook my head. "Your guess is...pretty damn close actually. I don't know if my mother came here to Halvine specifically, but-"

"No, she did.” Myra cut me off. “I remember her now. Came wearing a cloak and hood and tried to trade me a bunch of rare herbs for a way to suppress a newly awakened Incubus. Told her there wasn't one, but gave her money for the herbs anyway. I’ll bet I even remember that Terra you mentioned too actually. Half-Laquine girl right? She was a bit of a brat when she was younger but fell in with a bad crowd. Got caught trying to steal something and ended up getting collared a few years back. Always wondered who ended up buying her."

I froze at the revelation. I'd never expected Myra of all people to have met my mother, or known Terra, even in a passing fashion.

*Peh* she spat into her omnipresent spittoon and continued. “Don’t give me that sort of look. It was a chance encounter, just thought it was interesting I ran onto her son too.”

I relaxed a little. Right, even if they’d met before, that’s all it was. It’s not like they knew each other or had any real sort of relationship. Myra likely just remembered the encounter because Alyssa posed an interesting question.

“Still,” She continued. “I didn’t have enough money on hand to really recompense her for the herbs she brought me, suppose I could pay it forward by teaching you a couple of recipes.”

“Really!?” I exclaimed.

That got me excited, I’d been trying to hint I’d be interested in learning how to make some of her potions, but the old gnome guarded her recipes like a dragon hoarded gold.

She rolled her eyes at my response. “Don’t get too excited. I don’t plan on teaching you any of my secret formulas, just a couple things you might find useful. Come here.”

I got up from my position on the floor and followed Myra over to where she had a number of herbs drying. She pointed at one, a common purple flower I’d seen a number of times before.

“This is the primary ingredient for both, Gloria flower. You’ll need the root for the first potion, the petals for the second.” Saying so, she undid the string tying it. 

“Set that on the counter. Next, you’ll need this.” She pointed at a dessicated mushroom. “Graycap. Grows in the same sort of area you’d find Voidcap mushrooms, but never next to each other. The cap is a uniform light gray, and the gills are pure white. The stem’s about the same shade as the cap, just a hair darker. If the gills are gray or black, you’ve got the wrong mushroom.” She gave me a serious look. “Don’t mix it up.”

Pulling one of them aside she set it next to the Gloria flower. Next, she went over to her cabinet and pulled out a small jar, setting it next to the rest.

“Ordinary Lionsbane, just don’t infuse it with any mana. Other than that, prepare it the same way you would for a [Stamina Tonic].”

I paid close attention while the little gnome woman moved over to the counter. She carefully plucked all of the dried petals from the Gloria flower and set them aside, then proceeded to cut off the roots of the plant from the stem.

“See this ball?” She said, gesturing at a small mass where the roots clustered about.

“Yeah.”

“This is the part you need, cut the tendrils away then scrape off the outside layer of the bulb.”

I took the scalpel she handed me and did as she said, leaving me with a small whitish ball about an inch in diameter. She examined my work, then gave me a brief snort of approval.

“Now proportionally, you’d need a tenth of a standard flask of water to boil this down in. The quick and dirty way is to stuff it in a standard potion phial and fill it to the brim instead, it’s close enough, you’d just need to cut it up a bit first. Since we’ve got the equipment though…”

Myra took the small root ball over to the distilling station. I have to admit, I was a little envious of her set-up. Not only did she have three fine alembics of varying materials, enchanted burners for boiling fluids, and a bronze athanor for applications that required constant heat; she also had various glasswares of all shapes and sizes. Taking the root ball, she placed in a glass beaker and filled it with water to the first line. After she set it on a burner, she turned to me.

“That should take a couple of minutes to bring to boiling. While that’s happening why don’t you go scrape out the gills, only the gills mind you, of the Graycap. Just make sure you use a bit a waxed parchment beneath, and try not to breath in the spores.”

I nodded. At some point I was sure she’d tell me what we were making, but for now I had all my attention on the process she was demonstrating. First I wiped down the scalpel I’d been using, then slid one of the clean pieces of parchment Myra kept around under the dried mushroom. It was a bit finicky, but I eventually managed to get a tiny pile of the white substance. She’d been busy doing her own preparations, but when she saw I’d finished she came over and examined the results.

“Good enough.” She commented. “Unlike a [Stamina Tonic] or a [Health Tonic], there’s no real fixed portions or proportions for this recipe. You need to eyeball it. Bring that parchment over to the beaker.”

By this point, the water in the beaker was just starting to boil and Myra nodded in satisfaction. 

“Good. See how it’s starting to get a little bit yellow? You want to wait until it’s about the same shade as a dried Lionsbane flower. Matter of fact, that’s the easiest way to see when to pull it off the fire, just compare the shades. Happens quick though once it starts turning, so pay attention.”

After a moment Myra took a pair of tongs and pulled the beaker off of the burner,setting it to the side. Pulling out a pair of tweezers she plucked the root bulb out and tossed it in a nearby bin. 

“If you cut up the bulb make sure you fish out all the little bits, don’t want to be swallowing them. Well, leastwise if you don’t want to end up impotent. Now, use the scalpel and start adding a little bit of that Graycap gill. I’ll let you know when to stop.”

Wondering a bit at the “impotent” comment, I did as she said. After each time I added the powdery substance to the hot, brackish yellow fluid she stirred it with a glass dowel. I noticed it was slowly changing from yellow to a more orangish hue.

“Good, stop. We’re done with this one.” She picked up the beaker and held it up to the light from the window. Swirling it around for a bit she handed it to me.

“Memorize that color, that’s what you’re aiming for. Just shake it up before you drink. Tastes like shit by the way.” She added.

As I examined the dubious potion, I couldn’t restrain my curiosity any longer. “So what exactly does this potion do anyway?”

She chuckled. “Suppresses a man’s libido for about a half day.”

I blinked. “What, makes it so they can’t get it up?”

“Nope, a bit different than that.” She stated. “Unlike [Deadwood Poison], you could conceivably get an erection given physical stimulation, you just wouldn’t care about it. Doesn’t solve the root issue of your problem, but if that Demon Blood affects your judgement, this should let you think clearly for a few hours. Leastwise it’ll let you think with your brain instead of your other head. [Stillmind Potion] softens all sorts of other feelings too, just hits arousal the hardest.” Suddenly she cackled. “Hah, get it!? Softens, hardest?”

While the old gnome was enveloped in amusement at her own poor pun, I looked at the orange liquid in a considering fashion..

“Huh. That actually might turn out to be pretty useful. So, what are the side-effects? I’m not going to pretend I didn’t hear you make a comment about impotence there.”

I scowled at Myra, I wouldn’t put it past the old gnome to have been testing me with the random comment she dropped earlier.

She chuckled. “If you follow the steps I just showed you, nothing. The main thing is to make sure you don’t leave any of the Gloria bulb in the potion. Now, if you want to make a man impotent that’s a different story. Grind it up into a fine powder, boil it until it’s a murky yellow, then add about twice as much of the Graycap gills as you did this time. Should turn almost brown. Bitter as hell, but if you can make a man drink it they’ll lose all sexual desire for a good week and leave their dick limp for months.”

I shook my head. “Remind me not to piss you off. So what’s the other potion then?”

Myra showed me the process for the second potion, which turned out to be a tonic to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. Apparently this [Moonbane Tea]  was something prostitutes frequently used. The ingredients were fairly common and it didn’t require mana or aura to be infused during the process. She warned me it needed to be drunk at least once a week to maintain the effect, and that it shouldn’t be drunk by a woman who was already pregnant. As for side-effects she cackled and said that the side-effect was that it stopped a woman from having her period, something most women would consider a blessing.

She bottled up the two potions and passed them to me, claiming she’d just take the cost of the ingredients from my pay for the day. While many people might not consider these recipes that important, I thought they were invaluable in their own way. The first was something that could keep me from getting into trouble, while the second solved a problem I hadn’t even considered. Now that I thought of it, I was pretty sure Terra must have been drinking something similar. After all, we’d screwed like the proverbial rabbits and she’d never gotten pregnant.

I helped for for a couple hours longer, but eventually she shook her head and spoke.

“I never would have believed it, but I think I might have run out of work for you. You’ve infused enough herbs that I should have a good month before I run out, and I don’t want to overstock on potions.”

“You could still teach me some of your remedies…” I grinned.

Myra just snorted. “Don’t push your luck. You’re lucky I taught you the two I did. Last thing I want is to create my own competition.” She gestured for me to follow her to the front. “Here, let’s square you away for the day.”

Myra stamped my disc, turning it blue and passed me a couple of silvers. After a run-in with a cutpurse earlier in the week I no longer kept the bag containing my money at my hip. Instead, I pulled my backpack out from under the counter and took my leather pouch out from it. Adding the two silvers to the handful of others within, I closed it up, stashed in the bottom of my bag, and hitched my backpack onto my shoulders. As I did, I looked at Myra’s craggy face and smiled.

“Thanks for everything Myra. I’ll see you around, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, get out of here. Damn brat.” She muttered.


--Tayla, Shadewood--

 

Talya perched on the tree branch, breathing slowed as she observed her target. Some fifty feet away, and twenty beneath, a soil-brown, amphibious creature lurked in the shadows. It wasn’t the only one. Twelve feet to its left was another, and about fifteen feet behind it, yet another of the soft-skinned, bloated creatures lie waiting. Acid-Toads weren’t terribly hard to kill. They lacked the fangs and speed of a Direwolf, or the sheer durability of an Iron-Bristle boar. They did, however, possess a troubling trait. As their name would suggest, their very blood was acidic, capable of eroding iron weapons in minutes. Worse, they had the ability to spit a glob of even more potent acid. With a range of nearly fifty feet, this gave them a long-distance weapon that made up for their relatively fragile bodies. Up close, they could shoot out their tongues, wrapping their prey and inflicting caustic burns.

That said, if Tayla wanted, she could easily kill the small group. One or two [Spiral Shots] would be all she needed for each one and she could fire nearly 12 such shots in a minute. Granted, her bow would likely shatter from the stress of firing that many powerful shots so quickly, but she wouldn’t even need to be nearly this close to manage the feat. The reason she had approached to within 75 feet was so that she could utilize one of her newly-learned skills. Focusing on her desire, her need to track the creature, she blew a puff of air infused with her aura. A moment later, that breath crystallized into a blood-red diamond, floating a foot above the creature. The diamond didn’t actually have a physical presence, nor could any but her see it. Simply put, the skill [Mark Target] allowed her to track up to three marked targets from a distance of up to five miles. Beyond that, the connection with the fragment of aura she’d affixed to the creature would wane.

She repeated the process twice more, marking the other two Acid-Toads before carefully withdrawing. Utilizing [Silent Steps] and [Mask Presence] Tayla jumped to an adjacent tree. Taking a moment to stabilize herself, she unclipped a coiled line from her hip. Smiling faintly, she eyed a somewhat distant branch. Verifying the trajectory was clear, she starting twirling the weighted line in a tight circle. The grappling hook flew out just over a large branch and with a quick tug wrapped itself securely around it; its claws snapping out from the brief pulse of aura she sent down the line. Tayla took a second to mentally review the maneuver she wanted to perform, checked to make sure the line was snug, the stepped off the branch.

The petite elf swung in a parabola, assisted by gravity in her headlong rush towards yet a third tree. Her features were half-obscured by a leather mask covering the “burns” that marred half her face, but a nearly manic grin tugged up one side of her mouth. Using the momentum from the swing, her feet impacted the tree in front of her. Then, knees bending, she leapt back and upwards, rotating her body in mid-air to land on branch her hook was snagged upon. Tayla had to refrain from laughing from the rush and efficiently unfastened her hook before moving on.

The scene repeated itself several times, leaping from tree to tree, swinging to more distant targets as she made her way back to the trainee group. While traveling this was wasn’t strictly necessary, it was fun. As she approached the group, Tannin was the first to notice her. The Laquine male’s sense of hearing was phenomenal, and already had a bow pointed in her direction despite Tayla’s...unorthodox approach. As she dropped down from the tree the rabbit-man’s nose twitched in greeting.

“Hey Talya, any luck?”

Tayla glanced back, making sure she still had a bead on the distant crimson jewels. Regardless of any obstacles or terrain in the way [Mark Target] let the user “see” the diamonds floating above the user’s target. Seeing all three, now in a tight cluster due to the distance, Tayla nodded.

“Yeah, found some Acid-Toads, about two miles from here. Got’em marked so they should be easy to find again.”

“Oh hells, I hate those damn things.” A rough voice complained from a bit further back.

Argus was a traditional sword-and-board warrior, and hearing the prey Tayla had scouted out, the Lupin male scowled.

“Aw, wolfy’s mad he’s gonna be a decoy again?” A voluptuous Half-Felin woman taunted.

“Oh shut up, Fiona.”  The brown-pelted man replied. “How about you be the decoy? Not like those daggers of your will be much use anyway.”

The other two members of the trainee group approached. A Human fire-mage named Dillon, and a rather quiet druid named Nathan. Nathen was a Vulpa, one of the beast-kin races; mostly closely resembling some variety of fox. Nathan and Dillon were both recent additions to the trainee group, having joined the day before yesterday. Along with them came Jackie, the Felin instructor that had been teaching the group for the last week or so.

“Tayla, report.” While Jackie was usually quite friendly, once in the field she acted more like a soldier.

Tayla simply nodded, used to it by now. “Ma’am, approximately two miles north northeast I found a group of three Acid-Toads. I used [Mark Target] to note their position. None of them appeared to note my presence and I didn’t see anything else on the way there or back. Two are average-sized, while one was slightly smaller.” 

“Hmm.” Jackie rubbed her chin. “If we can take them without damaging their acid-glands it might be worth the risk. Dillon.” She looked at the mage. “With our group’s composition, excluding myself, what would be the best way to handle them?”

The brown-haired man frowned for a moment. “Let’s see, Tayla and Tannin are both archers, Argus is a warrior, Fiona’s a rogue, I’m a mage and Nathan is a druid. If Nathan can restrain one or two with [Vine Wrap], the archers can focus on one, while I [Firebolt] one. Argus and Fiona could distract whichever ones are about to spit?”

Tayla raised her hand. “Or, you know, I could just snipe them one at a time. I mean [Spiral Shot] has a range of 150 feet or so, that’d be well out of range from their attacks.”

Tannin snorted. “Yeah, we all know you’re a badass Tayla, but let the rest of us do something. It isn’t much in the way of training if you take all the kills.” 

“Hey, I don’t mind.” Fiona interjected. “I’ve got no objections to avoiding a glob of acid to the face.”

“For once I agree with the kitty.” Argus spoke. “There’s not much profit when your gear’s half-melted.”

The group bickered in a good-natured way for a few minutes, the only one abstaining being the druid Nathan, and Jackie. Jackie was simply waiting for the group to come to a consensus so she could pick the plan apart, while Nathan seemed absorbed in a small notebook. After everything was settled, Tayla began led the way towards their prey for the day. Now that the group was moving, everyone was on alert, moving in formation. Tayla and Argus were in the front of the group, the Elf somewhat ahead of the Lupine. Fiona and Tannin took the sides, keeping the mage and druid safe from ambushes.

It was a common practice. While magic-users tended to be powerful, they needed time to focus and chant their spells. Tayla was just now starting to understand how much of an abnormality her brother was in this regard. Where most mages needed several seconds to gather their mana, and several more to actually cast their spell; Mark practically ignored that. True, his magic wasn’t directly offensive, but being able to [Confuse] or [Fear] entire groups of enemies in mere moments was far from normal. Even his [Mind Blast] spell could be cast faster than Dillon’s [Firebolt] since Mark had managed to shorten the chant. Tayla didn’t pretend she understood magic, but part of the training had been on what separated a novice mage and a master. While Mark’s spell repertoire was closer to a novice mage, he seemed to have taken mastery of them to an entirely different level.

I should really try to convince him to do some basic aura training. Tayla thought to herself. It’s not like he doesn’t have any talent for it and it’d complement his illusions. From what Jackie said, infusing aura into a spell can make monsters and even trained fighters think an illusion is real. She’s been trying to teach me [Shadow Twin], but it’d be so much easier to have brother just copy us and fuse aura to the images. If he did that, then used [Camouflage] and [Confuse], we’d have perfect decoys while basically being invisible. First he’d need to learn [Mask Presence] though... Tayla sighed. 

“What’s up Deadeye?” Argus asked.

Somewhere along the way Tayla had picked up the nickname. While some of it came from the milky orb caused by Mark’s illusion, it also acknowledged her preferred target; along with her ability to hit said target. Most adventurers tended to pick up a nickname or two along the way, and the vast majority of them tended to be a combination of mocking and respectful. Tayla actually took a sort of conflicted pride in the name. On one hand, she absolutely loathed the illusion that made half her face look like she’d been in a horrific accident. She’d spent the better part of an hour berating Mark the first time she actually saw what the illusion made her look like. On the other hand, Deadeye was a tacit acknowledgement of her own skill with the bow.  

Tayla glanced back at the Lupine male for a moment before replying. “Just wondering what Uncle Mark’s up to.”

The wolf man snorted. “From what I hear he somehow got on that Myra’s good side. Gods only know how. Did a couple gathering requests for her and all she did was scold me for damaging the plants.”

From the side, Fiona interjected. “That cause you’re just a brute! Poor plants were probably in tatters.” The cat-woman added, in a pitying tone. 

“Not like you did any better Fi.” Tannin retorted. “I was there last time you brought the old gnome herbs, remember?”

“Stay focused people.” Jackie called out from the rear. “Tayla, how close are we?”

“Half mile maybe. I’ll stop and signal once we’re just outside of bow range.”

With the reminder, the group settled back down. After several minutes of silence, Tayla stopped and raised a hand. At the gesture, everyone else stopped as well. Eying a nearby tree, Tayla took uncoiled her grappling hook. With a practiced swing, the line flew up nearly twenty-five feet to wrap around a protruding branch. The rest of the trainees paused as the nimble elf quickly ascended the the line and vanished into the into the distance. They’d previously agreed that once they were close, they’d wait for Tayla to confirm the Acid-Toads’ precise positions before launching their ambush. A minute or two later, she returned. While most of the group could only see her mouth moving, the acute hearing of the Laquine, Tannin, could easily make it out.

“The first one’s about two hundred and fifty feet ahead. The hide is a mottled brown and green, and it’s nestled behind a Jayleaf bush. There’s a large Roak tree five feet to its right, and smaller one about ten feet back. A large moss-covered boulder is about thirty feet in front of it and if you pass the boulder on the left you can see the bush it’s hiding behind.”

Tayla waited for Tannin to forward the information before continuing. 

“The second one is about ten feet back and right from the first. The hide is a gray-green color making it look a lot like a boulder. It’s in the open, but until you get close the first one the view’s blocked by trees. Should be able to get a bead on it if you circle to the right. I’ll take the one furthest back, about twenty feet beyond the first one.”

The group below conferred for a minute before Tannin replied with a series of hand gestures. Pointing at the mage Dillon and himself he raised a single finger, pantomimed an explosion after gesturing at the fire mage, then mimed shooting an arrow. Argus raised his shield and nodded towards the two. Raising two fingers, Tannin gestured at the druid and Fiona. He made a half-circle gesture, indicating a flanking movement, then knotted his fingers together, tilting his head towards Nathan. Pointing at Fiona, he made a back and forth motion with his hands. Finally, he raised three fingers and pointed at Tayla. Making a throat-cutting gesture with thumb-like portion of his paw, he then pointed at his eyes and did a circling motion canvassing the trainee group. 

It only took a moment for Tayla to understand the plan. All right, so Dillon will lead off with a firebolt through the bush, while Tannin takes potshots at the toad. Argus will cover if it’s needed. While that’s happening, Nathan and Fiona will flank the second one. Nathan will use [Vine Grasp] to restrain it and Fiona will keep it distracted. I should quickly take out the third one, but keep in a position of overwatch to cover the rest.

 Nodding back, Tayla gave a thumb’s up motion before quickly retrieving her grappling hook and setting off to find an appropriate perch.

Good, if this all plays out the way it should, we’ll be back in time for dinner. Tayla smiled. Piece of cake.


--Somewhat earlier...Marcus, Adventurer’s Guild--

 

I had just finished slipping my Guild ID back around my neck when a somewhat familiar voice called out.

“Hey Mark, how’s it going?”

When I turned around, I was greeted by the grinning face of Effram, the Half-Lupine I’d first met several days ago. Since then, we’d run into each other once or twice, but never had time for more than exchanging brief greetings. Behind him were two people I’d noticed in the Guild before. One was an Half-Felin woman, somewhat shorter than myself, wearing a leather breastplate and skirt-like cuisse. The other, a scarred human who was built like a stone house. From how easily he moved in the heavy iron armor he wore, the man’s bulk was probably pure muscle. Effram and the woman were dressed in more common armor for the area, a mix of leather and thick cloth.  

Effram wielded a long, thin sword strapped to his hip, while the woman’s leather armor seemed to be positively covered in knives. Well, maybe that was an exaggeration. She wore a bandolier with three braces of slender throwing knives, and a long knife strapped to each side of her waist. The heavily armored man had large mace hanging from a belt loop, and I could see an iron shield strapped to his back.

“Effram! Not bad. Myra said I pretty much cleared her backlog and then some, so I figured I’d take a look at the request board. How’ve you been doing?”

“Staying busy. Bit shorthanded at the moment though. Heard your niece is the star of the trainee group, actually…” He paused, “I was wondering if you put any thought in to that offer I made you before?”

“Hmm.”

I thought to myself for a bit. Now that Myra’s requests had run dry it was true I needed another source of income, and I’d always gotten a good feeling off Effram.

“Tell you what, before I bring my niece into this, maybe we can do a trial run?”

Effram clapped his hands together, grinning. “Great! Let me introduce you. The big guy here is Bob and the sexy cat-girl’s called Keiko. Bob, Keiko, this guy’s called Mark. He’s the mage I mentioned before.”

Bob nodded, scarred face cracking into a faint smile. “Good to meet you.” He said, voice deep, “Anyone that can scare the crap outta this bastard’s alright in my book.”

“Well now,” The Half-Felin purred, stepping close. “Effram didn’t mention you’re that cute elf I’ve been seeing ‘round here.”

Effram coughed. “Right. Why don’t we get a table and talk for a bit first.”

As the four of us moved towards a free table, Keiko stayed practically glued to my side, taking an arm almost possessively. While I was a little surprised, I couldn’t find it in me to object. When Effram had used the word “sexy” to describe the Half-Felin, he didn’t do the word justice. Keiko, like most halfs, possessed some bestial traits. Sitting high on the side of her head were a pair of pointed feline ears, and a black tail flicked behind her as she walked. Her skin tone was fairly dark, blending well with the dark fur that covered her forearms. This close I could see that her hands seemed mostly human, though her fingers were tipped with small, vicious-looking crescents. I didn’t want to stare too much, but her face was somehow exotic; fine featured with slightly canted eyes. They were a deep, almost violet blue and had the signature vertical-slit pupil that was a Felin characteristic.

When we got to the table, I carefully disengaged my arm and took a seat, setting my pack next to me. Within a minute or so, the rest had settled their gear as well. A bit disconcertingly,Keiko promptly grabbed a chair and pulled it next to mine. Without saying a word, she grabbed my arm again, rubbing her head against it. I was a little bemused by this, looking down at the cat-girl, then up at the two men. When she noticed me looking, she winked, then hugged my arm tighter. Seeing this, Effram just rolled his eyes while Bob chuckled and gave me a sympathetic look.

“You realize you’re doomed, right? Once Keiko latches on something she wants she refuses to give up.”

I coughed, once again withdrawing my arm from her grasp. She pouted, but let it be as I spoke.

“So Effram, I’ll freely admit I’m not used to working in a team. Since you seem like you’ve done this before, how should we go about it?”

Effram nodded, his slightly amused expression becoming more serious. “First thing we need to do is give each other some idea of the other’s capabilities, then discuss how we want to work things as a team. I’ll start off. I’m a close-range, speed-based fighter. In combat my role is usually to distract, harry and otherwise bleed the enemy. [Triple Thrust], [Piercing Strike] and [Rapid Counter] are the primary skills I use in combat. Outside of battle, I’m in charge of negotiations, bartering, managing our finances.”

Bob spoke up next. “As you might figure from my gear, I’m a heavy warrior. I try to keep the focus of whatever we’re fighting while Effram, Keiko and the rest are usually the ones that actually kill things. Skill wise, I use [Warrior’s Challenge] to draw attention, [Heavy Strike] to enhance my attacks and [Iron Guard] to enhance my defenses. When we’re on the road I help maintain everyone’s equipment, I’ve got a little skill in smithing and leather-working.”

“I’ve seen Bob take full-speed charges without budging.” Effram added. “All that mass isn’t just for show.”

“Me, me next!” Kieko called out in an over-enthusiastic tone. “Let’s see...I like to hide and stab things when they aren’t expecting it. That’s, um...about it?” Kieko tilted her head as she trailed off.

Effram sighed, putting a hand over his face. “Kieko’s our rogue. Sneak attacks, setting traps, picking locks and the like are her forte. She’s a little wild while we’re in town, but you can depend on her when things get serious. I think she uses [Shadow Hide] and [Target Vitals], but she’s never really said exactly what skills she knows. 

At this point, everyone looked at me. “Well, as Effram might have mentioned I’m a mage. Honestly, I tend to take more of a support role than anything. My most useful spells are [Confuse] and [Fear], and while I can use [Mind Blast] to attack, it’s hit or miss. Either it kills the target or stuns them briefly. When I’m with Tayla I mark whatever’s been affected by my magic so we can prioritize. Outside of battle, I’m an herbalist by trade. I can make basic potions to recover health, stamina or mana, along with a handful of assorted recipes.”

Bob spoke up. “Effram said something about you turning into demonic cat creature?”

I chuckled. “Not exactly, I just used an illusion infused with a little aura for that. Made the spell when I was a kid, but it’s mostly useful for scaring things.”

Effram nodded. “You said something about ‘marking’ a target under influence of one of your spells, what did you mean by that?”

 “It might be easier to demonstrate.” I replied.

I closed my eyes for a second, recalling the image of a Direwolf. Once I had perfectly visualized one, I opened my eyes and focused on the table. I mentally pictured three miniature Direwolves standing side by side, took hold of my mana, and pushed out the image I had held in my head. A moment later, three tiny, illusory direwolves stood on the table. I have to admit, I didn’t expect the reaction I got. There was a scraping, clattering sound as Bob jumped back, tripped over his chair and fell on the floor. A moment later, a trio of knives flung out from beside me to stab through the illusions. Effram was the only one who barely reacted, merely opening his eyes wide in astonishment.

“Holy shit!” Bob exclaimed, struggling up from the group.

“Nya~hah! Huh?” Was Kieko’s witty comment after seeing her targets suddenly vanish.

Suddenly, everyone else in the barely populated building was staring at our table. Due to my surprise, I had let go of the illusion, leaving everyone looking at an unassuming table that had apparently warranted such a bizarre reaction. Effram coughed.

“Sorry everyone, our mage just did something startling.”

A few grumbles, and an embarrassed look from Bob later, everyone had resumed what they were doing before. Seeing the looks from the group I scratched my ear and apologized.

“Sorry. I was just going to show you what it would look like on a model enemy, didn’t mean to startle everyone.”

 “Wait, was that a chantless spell then?” Bob sounded amazed as he looked at me.

“Um, yeah. I can do basic illusions fairly easily.”

Keiko looked positively predatory as she purred. “So you’re a Master Illusionist? Why didn’t you say so?”

I shook my head. “Far from it. My spell repertoire is limited, I’m just good with the ones I know. Anyways, getting back to what I wanted to show you.”

A moment’s concentration later and the three wolves reappeared. After no one freaked out this time, I continued.

“I use the same short chant for [Confuse], [Fear] and [Enrage], so to make things easier in combat I mark the affected targets appropriately.”

Pointing at one I said “Dalos Vet!” A moment later a willed a floating question mark to appear above one of the wolves.

“I use a Common question mark to indicate a target is confused.”

Pointing at another I repeated the chant “Dalos Vet!” After approximately the same delay as the first, a faint blue outline surrounded the second.

“The blue glow means a target is affected by [Fear].”

Finally I pointed at the last wolf and repeated the fake chant I’d used the first two times. This time, the wolf was surrounded by a red outline. 

“Red means the target is enraged. I wasn’t actually casting the spell, just showing you the chant I use and about how long it takes to take effect. If the effect wears off, I’ll drop the marking.”

“Why [Enrage]?” Effram asked, “Wouldn’t that be counter-productive most of the time?”

I nodded. “Most of the time, yeah. But say one of the confused monsters attacks another. If I get the timing right, I might be able to [Enrage] the one that was attacked. Once it attacks back, I can [Enrage] the other one and there’s a good chance those ones will just keep attacking each other for a while.”

“Huh.” Bob commented. “I can see where that could be handy. If the monsters are busy fighting each other that makes them easier to pick off.”

“Right.” I replied. “Most of the spells I use aren’t directly offensive in nature. [Mind Blast] Is my only real attack magic, but I’m still in the process of mastering it. Other than that I can use a [Camouflage] spell to hide someone as long as they stay still. I can combine that with certain illusions for other combat tactics, but that takes coordination and practice to pull off.” 

“Well?” Effram glanced around at his teammates and asked, “What do you guys think? Personally, I think Mark could be helpful to have around, especially in group encounters.”

“I think he’d be an asset.” Bob simply stated. “We don’t have anyone who knows how to make potions, and his spells could be incredibly useful in certain situations.”

“I want him.” Kieko purred, grabbing my arm again.

Bob and Effram just gave me a look. “Well, guess that’s that.” Effram said, somewhat dryly. “It’s still fairly early, how about we take a look at the board and see if there’s a request we could snag?”

I agreed, and the four of us headed over to the request board at the back of the guild. After attempting to free myself from the overly-attached cat-girl a couple of times, I gave up. We decided to pick up an herb-gathering request, and Effram mentioned seeing a group of Iron-Bristle boars nearby. Since there was a standing request for meat and hides, it seemed like like a reasonable trial. We took the east exit out of town and turned north. A little to my surprise, the instant we were away from the safety of the walls, Keiko seemed to have a complete personality shift, turning quiet and attentive to the surroundings. As we walked, I managed to find a couple of the requested herbs, and Keiko acted as the scout for the group.

 

After an hour or so, Effram called for a brief stop, after Kieko popped out of nowhere and announced.

“Hey guys, I gotta take a shit.”

 “Really Keiko, now?” Effram sighed. 

When she nodded, Bob raised a hand. “Not it.”

“Not it.” Effram was only a second behind. 

Both turned to me. “Wait, what?”

Effram explained. “Party rule. If we’re not in a safe area and someone needs to take care of business, someone else has to stay close and make sure they aren’t attacked.” 

I understood the logic, but couldn’t help but complain. “Well, that’s a shitty rule.”

Keiko giggled at my unintended pun. “Sorry Mark, looks like you’re it.”

I grumbled, but followed the Half-Felin girl for a minute or two before she turned around. “Guess we’re far enough. Now turn around.”

I blinked, confused for a moment before sudden realization hit. “Right. I’ll do that then.”

After I turned around, there was a faint rustling followed by a metallic *ting*. A moment later, I felt something snap around my neck. The cold metal locked around my neck I felt a momentary surge of mana, then what seemed like icy tendrils burrowing into my brain. Before I even had a chance to turn around or cry out, Keiko spoke three commands in a cold tone.

“You may not cast magic. You may not move. You may not speak.”

Instantly I felt myself stiffen, and even as my mouth opened, a surge of overwhelming pain crashed through my mind. I would have collapsed, or cried out, but something prevented either. A moment later, The black-haired cat-girl walked around in front of me, a faint smile on her lips. She looked at me and shook her head. 

“I can’t believe you actually fell for that. So in case you haven’t realized what’s happening yet, let me explain. That thing you feel around your neck? It’s a slave collar specially designed to restrain mages. If you do anything to try to fight the commands issued to you, you’ll feel a truly impressive amount of pain, which will only get stronger the more you resist. Why?” She said, reacting to the look of confusion I wore. “Don’t take it personally, it’s just a job. You have no idea how much a collared Mind-mage sells for. Let alone an elven one.”

As she circled around me, I felt a mounting sense of anger and betrayal. 

“Of course, controlling a mage is always tricky. If you don’t phase your commands perfectly, they tend to skimp on their efforts. Fortunately for us, you even brought along perfect leverage. By now our associates should have collared that niece of yours as well. If you don’t want anything...unpleasant to happen to her, I suggest you cooperate.”

The moment I heard Tayla had been captured too, something snapped inside me. The world seemed to slow down as my mind raced. Even though she said I couldn’t cast spells, I could still sense my mana. The foreign mana running from the collar to parts of my brain seemed familiar somehow. Mind magic, of some variation. The thought didn’t help much, as I didn’t understand the enchantment, or the spell it was based on. Fidelus, Help! I shouted mentally.

A instant later I heard a familiar “voice” in my mind. {What’s wrong? Why are you...Gods damn it! How did you manage to get a Seal of Command placed on you?} 

What can I do about it? Fidelus was my only hope of getting out of this predicament.

{Honestly, with your level of knowledge...there’s nothing you can do. I can teach you how to inhibit the effects, but that takes time.} 

I was almost in despair from the answer. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. This was the worst-case scenario I’d been worried about from the beginning. If both Tayla and I were enslaved, her illusion would wear off and-

{Calm down, boy. You’ve still got a gambit or two you can play. Listen...}

 

**THIS SEGMENT CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT!**

 

After I heard what Fidelus suggested I was a little conflicted, but not enough to ignore his idea. Keiko had continued to speak, but now I was focused on something else. I’d been spending the last week restraining my Demonic half, but right now it was the only thing that could save me. I slowly loosened the restriction on my [Eye of Lust] and in a matter of moments, I could see a faint pink mist filling my field of view. Of course, Keiko couldn’t see it, so she continued to speak.

“Explain, in detail what spells you can really use. I don’t buy for a moment that someone who can use chantless magic doesn’t have a few tricks up their sleeve.”

I couldn’t help but answer her question, but took my time. Not only did I explain what each spell I knew did, but I also expounded on their potential uses and combinations. The whole time, I was slowly increasing the concentration of pheromones around her. Not so quickly that it was obvious, but step by step. While I did, I occasionally let my eyes roam over her, as if I couldn’t help myself.

Finally she asked, “What are you looking at? Do you not understand the situation you’re in?”

Since she’d asked me a question, I had an opportunity to shape my reply. From the way her pupils were dilating, I knew that a little push would be all I needed to execute the next step.

“I’m looking at a beautiful Felin woman. You know, I don’t really understand why you had to take this measure, you could have just seduced me you know? I’m sure that if you’d just given me the slightest taste, I’d have happily done whatever you asked.”

As I spoke, I briefly increased the density of pheromones surrounding her.

She swallowed. “You really find me attractive? I thought elves usually looked down on the other races?”

“Exquisite.” I replied. I was being honest this time. Keiko had a blend of exotic features that really did make her quite appealing.

“As far as racial prejudice is concerned...technically I’m not a full elf anyway. I doubt I’m much older than you are.” Again, I pulsed the pheromones, but this time I increased the density further.

Keiko was obvious agitated at this point. Her pupils were wide, and her breathing had gone slightly husky.

She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes off me as she murmured. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have a little fun.” It seemed unconscious, as though her thoughts were leaking.

A moment later she asked. “If I agree to have sex with you, will you cooperate?”

“I’d do quite a bit to have my cum inside you.” True, though not quite what she asked. Again I increased the concentration of pheromones surrounding her. To my eyes her body was surrounded by a deep pink fog. 

“Hah, fuck.” She exhaled. “You know what, screw it, I’m horny as hell right now. I give you permission to move and speak, but you may not attempt to run or fight.” 

The instant I was given permission to move, I stepped forward and embraced her. Almost frantically, my mouth found hers and I forced my tongue inside. While I was turned on, my I knew that contact with my bodily fluids would continue to erode her sense of reason. I ran my hands down her back, the back up under her cuisse to cup her buttocks. As I squeezed, she moaned into my mouth, twining her tongue around my own. After a minute we parted, slightly breathless.

As I stared into her eyes, I tried to use a technique I’d only used once before. Exhaling a light mist of mana, I bound it to some of the pink mist. As she inhaled the mixture, I spoke, maintaining eye contact.

“You’re feeling relaxed, at ease, trusting. You want to bare yourself to me, to join yourself with me, to feel my cum flood inside you.”

I felt my mana drain slightly, and from the glazed look in her eyes, it seemed to have worked. I wanted her to remove the collar, but suspected if I told her to do anything to much against her will, she’d snap out of it. Instead, I helped her loosen her lower armor. From her panting breaths and and the faint musk I could smell from her, it was obvious she was only thinking about one thing. Pressing her against a nearby tree, I loosened the lacings on my pants and freed myself. She was just as quick to slide her leggings down to her knees. I wasted no time in aligning myself, then practically slammed into her depths.

Seeing her about to cry out, I covered her mouth with my hand. Two quick strokes later I felt her spasm around me and she bit into the meat of my palm. The instant she came, I felt a thread of vitality linking us and I suddenly felt more energetic than I had in days. I wasn’t gentle. This wasn’t making love, I wanted to exercise one of the innate abilities of an Incubus, and to do that I needed to feed on her pleasure then inject that vitality back inside her along with my semen. It was fast, rough, and the instant I came I locked eyes with her and said a single word.

“Submit.” 

With that word I concentrated all the mist I had previously emitted, concentrated it, then pushed it inside her. The combination of pheromones, vitality and the overwhelming pleasure she felt in that instant formed a link between my mind and hers. I couldn’t read her mind, but I could sense her feelings, and due to the nature of that bond, alter them. I’d done this once before on accident, and felt terrible about what I’d done when I understood it. This time it was deliberate, premeditated and I intended to manipulate the control I had over her feelings to achieve my purpose.

I lifted my neck, causing her eyes to be drawn to the collar there. Her mind was still in chaos, but I could tell she could sense something wrong. Seeing the collar, I could feel a thought forming and twisted it. Instead of the desire to regain control, it became a sense of utter disgust. A slight frown crossed her features and she lifted her hand to the collar.

“I release you from your bondage.”

As she finished speaking, I felt the cold tendrils in my head withdraw, and the collar clicked open. A moment later, I’d snapped the very same collar around Keiko’s neck. I immediately issued a series of commands. 

“You may not move. You may not speak. You may not attempt to escape my control in any way.” 

She still seemed a little dazed from the post coital bliss, but her eyes rapidly cleared as she looked at me in horror.

Before I did anything else, I pulled my pants back up and refastened the laces. After I had, I could sense her feelings being torn between the natural submission of a Thrall to their master, and the confusion, shock and horror she felt at realizing she’d been collared in turn. With a brief moment of concentration I eased the shock and fear before I spoke. 

“Let me make one thing clear first. When I said I found you attractive I wasn’t lying. The second thing you should know is while I’m part Elf, I’m also part Incubus. I used a racial ability to establish a Thrall bond to you. You should be able to sense I’m telling you the truth. If I die, or you spend more than a week without having intercourse with me, that same bond will kill you. First however, it will turn you into mindless whore that can’t think about anything except trying to fulfill your need for sex. Since the only thing that will relieve that is me, you’ll likely lose your mind while spreading your legs for any and everything you can. You may nod if you understand.”

Keiko nodded, and I could feel the shock she felt warring with an impression of absolute certainty that my words were true. As she did, I took off my pack and rummaged inside for a moment. Finding the orange potion I’d made earlier in the day I drank it down, shuddering slightly at the horrid taste. I was facing the consequences of forming a Thrall bond after an extended period without feeding. My instincts were screaming at me to continue fucking Keiko until she was a twitching wreck, and the slight vitality I’d absorbed had been spent establishing the bond. Much as I’d like to, I didn’t have time to indulge myself. It had been nearly twenty minutes already, and I figured Effram and Bob were likely starting to get impatient.

A minute or so later, a sort of coolness washed over me. I wasn’t aroused anymore, nor was I angry, nervous or worried. My mind felt remarkably clear in that moment and I mentally blessed Myra for teaching me this recipe. Looking over at the still partially undressed Kieko, I spoke. 

“You may move to the extent of redressing and putting your armor back on. After that, stay still.”

I waited until she finished before speaking again. 

“You may not speak a lie or misleading statement. Tell me about Effram, Bob and any other allies you have in the context of the events that occurred. If something is time sensitive or important, you must say that first.”

Keiko opened her mouth and began.

**END EXPLICIT CONTENT**


--Keiko--

 

“About time Keiko, what took so long?” Effram asked, looking at the collared mage beside her.

Keiko laughed. “I actually did have to take a shit you know? I did that first before...explaining the new rules to Mark here.”

 Bob laughed. “So you made him put up with your shit before collaring him? Poor bastard, told him he was doomed.”

“Alright, we’ve wasted enough time here.” Effram clapped his hands and spoke. “Nathan and Dillon are done. You won’t believe our luck. This guy’s niece led the trainee group to a few Acid-Toads, so it should look like a training accident. Don’t give me that look Mark, your niece and that bitch Jackie are fine. Well, they’re wearing collars, but fine other than that. As long as you cooperate, I won’t let anything too terrible happen to Tayla. Of course, if you show anything less than your best…” Effram let out a smirk. “A few more scars won’t harm her appearance too much, and Bob here’s always liked little girls so you can imagine the consequences. Now let’s go.”

As the group set out, Keiko gave Mark a quick glance. Aside from the flash of worry and anger he displayed earlier, his expression had been almost perfectly still ever since he drank that odd orange potion. It was a little strange, and the way he’d coldly issued her instructions still gave her a chill. There had been no trace of the naive elf she’d been monitoring for the last several days. He’d listened to everything she said about Effram, Bob, Nathan and Dillon without even a slight twitch in expression. She even suspected that the emotion he’d displayed earlier was an act. Well, maybe not the anger.

Ever since he’d...made her into his Thrall there was a tiny corner of her mind that reflected the bond. She didn’t even have to look to sense his exact location, and whenever she looked at him she felt a disturbing urge to prostrate herself in front of him. What was worse was the creeping feeling that it was only right for her to submit to his demands. Another aspect of the link between them was a vague sense of his emotional state, and even though it was muted, she could sense an incredible amount of rage buried just beneath the surface. There was a myth about Greater Dragons. A Greater Dragon were viewed as wise, benevolent creatures. Ordinarily they would be friendly and difficult to anger, but there was supposedly a single scale on their throat that grew in the opposite direction. This was called their ‘reverse scale’ and if any dared touch it, they would invoke all the fury the dragon could muster. By capturing his niece, Keiko suspected that they had touched this dragon’s reverse scale.

At first, she hadn’t been too concerned about the damage Mark could inflict. Her investigations had uncovered that though he was a mage, he lacked any real offensive power. That began to change when she ordered him to describe his spells. It wasn’t actually the spells themselves that were impressive, but when he started expounding on their potential combinations and ability to enhance the actions of others she realized just how potent illusions could be. Worse, apparently he’d been lying about the effectiveness of his [Mind Blast] spell. She wasn’t a mage, and had never heard of the spell before, but Effram had assured her it was a simple stun. From what Mark said, merely stunning an enemy was the least it would do. Apparently unless the target was a mage, or had an extremely strong mind it was practically an instant kill spell.

As Keiko mentally reviewed her orders, she unconsciously touched her neck. The collar was still there, but apparently neither Effram or Bob could see it. On the other hand, she knew full well that the collar on Mark’s neck was just an illusion. Seeing a moment when Effram wasn’t paying attention, she slipped a hand into his pack and fished out the remaining [Collar of Enslavement] inside it. They weren’t cheap, and the group had only managed to get four of them. Nathan and Dillon had each been given one for their part of the plan, while she’d been given the one to use on Mark. It wasn’t the first time they’d enslaved a naive adventurer, and while getting caught was a risk, the money was good.

They’d been planning on leaving this little shithole of a village for days now anyway, but Effram got it in his head to teach the Felin instructor at the local guild a lesson. Unlike most people, his [Necklace of Affinity] didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the woman. Since their funds were running low anyway, the group had agreed to fall back on their old standby. They’d originally planned to capture Jackie and maybe a couple of the trainee adventurers. That is, until she’d had the bright idea that an elven mage should fetch golds instead of silvers. She’d come up with the plan and they’d just been waiting for the right opportunity. Unfortunately it all backfired in the worst possible way. At this point, she was just hoping to get out of this alive.

An hour or so later, they met up with the others. Dillon and Nathen were standing a little ways off the road, nestled in behind a cluster of Jayleaf bushes. Behind them, a petite elf girl was sitting on the ground next to a partially-disrobed Felin woman. It was obvious the two had been amusing themselves while they waited. 

“Hey boss, looks like everything went smooth on your end.” Dillon called out.

“Aw, you guys started without me?” Effram joked.

A moment later, everything turned into chaos. Nathan had a mere moment to gape as Keiko vanished in a puff of black mist, appearing behind Dillon. With a quick jerk, a bloody gash opened his throat and blood sprayed out to cover the Vulpa druid. He didn’t fare much better as an instant later a pair of throwing knives thunked into his throat and left eye. Even before Nathan fell to the ground there was a faint click, and a cold voice spoke.

“You may not move. Fus Ro Dah-Et Kroh Sa!

Abruptly Bob started screaming, then collapsed, rolling on the ground. “Oh gods it’s burning! Get it off, get it off! Dillon, Why!?” A mere moment or two later the screams faded to silence.

There was a brief stunned silence as the two enslaved girls stared at their captors. 

A moment later, Effram started shouting. “What the fuck! What the fuck is happening!? Keiko you traitor! Get this thing off me now dammit!” 

“I’m afraid that won’t be happening. Sit. Remain silent.” The only remaining male spoke. 

With a thump Effram sat on the floor, boggled eyed at the complete reverse in the situation. 


--Marcus--

 

I looked around, satisfied at how it had all played out. It was the first time I’d used [Mind Blast] on a human, so I’d pumped a truly prodigious amount of mana in the spell. Since I knew that that the lethal effects of the spell depended on how much the target belived in their own demise, I used an illusion of Dillon turning on him and hitting him with blast after blast of [Firebolt]. I’d planned a contingency, but it turned out unnecessary. After he’d collapsed, a wave a pain crashed over my temples and it took me a moment to brace myself. When I had, I’d ordered Effram to sit down and shut up.

The first thing I did was look at Keiko. “Tell me how remove the slave collars.” 

She hesitated for a moment. “Usually the person who put them on would have to say the words ‘I release you from your bondage’ while touching the collar. Since the one who did is dead, you’ll have to see a mage who understands enchantments.”

I sighed. “Since their ‘master’ is dead, what happens now?”

“The first person who touches their collars would be linked as their new owner.” 

“Alright.” I nodded. I looked at Tayla and Jackie. “Are you two...ok?”

Seeing Tayla rapidly blinking at me without replying, I surmised they were still under the effects of an order. I sighed and walked forwards, stepping over the body of a robed Human male as I did. I touched her collar and felt a strange tingle of mana. Figuring it was the ownership transferal, I spoke.

 “You are free to act in whatever fashion you desire.”

“Brother!” She jumped up, giving a quick, teary hug before bending over Jackie.

 “Brother?” Keiko muttered.

“You can move and talk now.” Tayla said after touching her collar. After a moment she said, “Hey, nothing’s happening?”

 “It can’t be someone effected by a slavery enchantment. Mark has to do it.” Keiko explained.

I sighed and moved over to the mostly naked woman. After repeating the same thing I said to Tayla, Jackie practically threw on her clothing, then grabbed the dagger stuck in the fox-man eye. Yanking it out, she stalked over to Effram. Seeing what was about to happen, I interjected.

“Wait!” 

She turned to me and scowled. “Why!? It’s this bastard’s fault that my students, why the fuck should I wait? Do you have any idea what those fuckers even did!?”

If looks were knives, Nathan and Dillon would have been flayed. "Right after we'd killed the first two Acid-Toads they betrayed us. The fucking Vulpa bound Fiona with a [Vine Wrap] so the last one could spit a glob of acid in her face. When she started screaming we all ran over only to have that piece of crap Dillon hit Argus in the back of the head with a [Firebolt]. While we were still trying to figure out what was going on, the rest of us were snared with an [Entangle]. They dragged me and Tayla away, slapped collars on us, then laughed while the toad killed Tannin. All we could do was watch!"

Her eye narrowed. "You want to know what happened next? After we got here they made your niece watch while they raped me and bragged about how this asshole" She jerked her head towards Effram, "was going enslave your sorry ass and use her to keep you in line. Now you tell me why I shouldn't end this miserable fuck right here?"

If it weren't for the influence of the [Stillmind] potion, I'm sure I would have been feeling something at her tirade. As it was, I simply felt coldly analytical. I'd just orded the death of two men, enslaved one and killed another. Logically I should be feeling stunned, sicked or shocked. I'd never killed before, never seen death up close, but all that was in my mind were the objectives I'd set for myself.

“Listen, you aren’t the first person this group has done this to." I replied. "Shouldn’t we take him to the Guild and question him first?” I shook my head. “I don’t care if you torture or kill him later, but he might have some useful information. Those two are dead already, and the remaining ones are my slaves. Keiko said Effram had a backer. I'd rather cut off trouble at the root than end up in this situation again.”

Jackie visibly took a deep break. The disheveled Felin nodded sharply and spoke. “You’re right. We should report this to the guild.” After a moment she frowned. “Wait, you said Keiko's your slave, but you're wearing the collar, how...?"

“Ah, right.” I broke the illusion on both me and Keiko. As the collars apparently switched positions, a speculative look crossed her face, and Effram’s eyes widened in shock. 

“I got lucky. Keiko did collar me, but fortunately one of my skills let me trick her into taking it off. I simply returned the favor. That reminds me, wait a moment.”

“Which one’s Nathan?” I asked Keiko.

She pointed at the Vulpa male and I spent some time rummaging around until I located a small book. I opened it and nodded, then repeated the process with Effram’s belongings. At the same time, I took a small pendant from around his neck. Almost instantly, the feeling that “maybe he’s not really the bad guy here” vanished. Interesting, think I’ll hang onto this. Even when I knew I should hate him, I still had a vaguely friendly impression towards the man. The effect was subtle, but undeniably effective. It took me a minute to find the other book I was looking for, but when I saw the same writing in both I smiled grimly. 

“Here. Should serve as evidence of a sort.” I handed the books over to Jackie and as she started reading, she made an angry hiss.

“Bastards.” She snapped the book shut. “You're right. Much as I want to kill this fucker now, the Guild Master definately needs to see this. Let me get my gear together.”

Tayla was unsually quite, but I wan't surprised considering what she'd just been through. As Jackie started fitting her armor back on, she gave me a glance.

"You might as well loot the bodies. They won't be needing their stuff anymore, and there's no sense letting it go to waste."

I nodded and started going through their packs and pockets. Considering they'd since voided their bowels and bladder it wasn't a pleasant experience. Tayla gagged, and I heard her run off to vomit. As Jackie, Tayla and I led our two back captives into town, they both wore distinctly defeated expressions. I'd tried to speak to Tayla in the beginning, but she didn't want to talk. Now that the [Stillmind Potion] was starting to wear off, I had my owns issues to deal with. For one thing, the fact that I had directly or indirectly been responsible for three people's deaths was coiling through my thoughts. That, however was superseded by the side-effects of my earlier actions with Keiko. Using my racial abilities came with a price, and my body was demanding I make use of my new thrall. In a way it was a blessing, fighting those urges were helping me avoid thinking about what I'd done.  

It took us about an hour to reach the gates, and considering I'd long-since hidden the collars with [Disguise] magic, no one looked at us twice. After we reached the guild, it didn’t take long before Jackie, George and another man I’d never seen before were seated together in a room. As an instructor, Jackie apparently had enough pull to call on the Guildmaster with relative ease. After explaining the situation, George removed Jackie and Tayla’s collars while a grey-pelted Lupine male read through the book. This, apparently was the Guild Master, and his eyelid visibly twitched as he read. The look he gave Effram was anything but friendly, and I suspected things weren't going to go well for the man.

With a sigh he shut the book and looked up at me.

“Well, this is a hell of mess. I'd say thank you for bringing it to my attention, and spend some time debriefing you, but I need to act quickly before certain people can slink away."

Turning to George, he spoke. "George, I’ll need you to get Dorcett, Janus, Helen and Erah, we’ve got some housecleaning to do. Jackie...you take a rest, if you’re up to it tomorrow you’re welcome to help out. Mark was it? Come back here around noon tomorrow. I’ll want to talk to you some more. As for these two...Mark, would you pass me their ownership? I need to be able to question them.” 

“Actually,” I interjected. “I’d like to exercise my legal right with the woman. She tried, and briefly succeeded in wrongfully enslaving me. If it weren’t for one of my skills and a bit of luck, I’d still be a slave. If I recall correctly, the Brunhilde Dukedom’s legal charter states that I can claim her as property in recompense.” 

The large Lupin man blinked then tilted his head for a moment in thought. “True enough. I can remand her to your custody then. Effram's the one I really need anyway."

I nodded. "That's fine. What do I need to do?" 

George was the one to answer this time. "It's simple enough. Just touch the collar and say 'I revoke my ownership'."

I did so, and the Gray-furred Lupin, whose name I still hadn't gotten touch the collar, then nodded at me. "Go on now, and come see me tomorrow." 

As I stood and left them room, Tayla did as well. Keiko followed. The series of orders I’d initially gave her were still in effect, so I wasn’t particularly worried about her at the moment. I knew the Thrall-Bond was slowly affecting her mind, and I'd given her a complicated series of orders that should cover everything else. Even if the Guild Master insisted on keeping and questioning her, I was confident she wouldn't have been able to reveal anything I didn't want her to. As we left the building, Tayla gave me a puzzled look. I knew what she wanted to asked, but this wasn’t the place to explain.

“Thrall bond.” I simply stated.

Tayla’s eyes widened in realization. “That’s how you got out?” She sounded a little incredulous, then burst out laughing. “Oh gods, you really screwed her, didn’t you?” 

I just snorted. 

“Come on, tell me the details! I wanna know how it went down. Wait, this isn’t the way to our inn.” It was good to see her liven up again, even if it was clear she was forcing it. Unfortunately, I had other urgent matters on my mind.

“I know, we’re staying someplace decent tonight.” By this point, Myra’s potion had worn off and I was doing my damndest to restrain myself, one of the reasons I’d made sure to claim Keiko. 

I turned down the main street and pushed open the door to one of the two better inns in town, The Silver Moon Inn. Unlike where we’d been staying, the person waiting at the counter was clean, neat and welcoming.

“Do you have two rooms available? And how much for a bath?”

“Yes sir, single rooms are 4 silvers a night, doubles are 6. The bath is available from dawn until dusk and costs 10 coppers per person.  How long will you be staying?”

“Better make it two nights. One single, one double.”

“Excellent. That will be 4 medium silvers or 20 small silvers.”

I set down my pack for a moment to fish some money out of my purse. It had swelled significantly after looting the two mages as well as taking Keiko and Effram’s money. Surprisingly, to me at least, Jackie was the one to suggest the idea. After counting out twenty silvers the man handed over a pair of keys, instructing me which rooms were ours. As we went up the stairs I turned to Tayla.

“We’ll talk tomorrow. When I turned Keiko, I took a potion to restrain myself and it’s been wearing off. I need to take care of that now.”

Tayla stared at me for a moment, then turned beet red. “Oh, okay. Um, have fun then.”

Handing her the room-key to the double, I grabbed Keiko and practically dragged her into the other room. Several hours later I was thoroughly satisfied and the Half-Felin woman was sprawled out on the bed; naked, unconscious, covered in assorted fluid and faintly twitching. 


As Mark slowly fell asleep, gray mists covered his field of vision. In a dreamlike fashion he stood up in the field of mists and looked around. A minute later he called out.

“You there Navia?”

*Pli~ing* A chiming sound occurred as a winged ball of light popped up in front of Mark. 

“That was fast! So, you had an exciting day." 

"Yeah," Mark replied. "Definitely a bit of a trip."

The ball of light strobed rainbow hues for a moment and a brief fanfare played. "Congratulations! You've earned an achievement!"

 

Notice:

Player Mark was enslaved by Player Keiko.

Player Kieko was enthralled by Player Mark.

Player Mark was freed from Player Keiko's control.

Player Kieko was enslaved by Player Mark.

Achievement Unlocked: I'm Made of Rubber, You're Made of Glue.

This Achievement grants the player +2 Wisdom and +2 Luck. Adds a random chance that spells and abilties targeted at you by another player backfire instead.

 

Mark stared at the window for a long moment before bursting out into laugher. "Holy shit! That was another player? God, she's going to be pissed! "

Navia giggled. "Dis was so amused he insisted we make an achievement for it."

"Dis? That's the God of Chaos right? That seems...remarkably appropriate. Tell him I said thanks."

"Sure~He says you're welcome."

I was taken aback by the instant reply, at least until I remembered what I was dealing with.

"Anyways, I've got a question. So what happens with Keiko's character? I mean is there some way she can re-roll or something, or is she stuck being an enslaved thrall?"

"Technically she can choose to abandon her character." Navia replied. "There's a fairly significant penalty for it though."

"What happens to Keiko if her player abandons the character?" Mark asked.

"Essentially it just gets taken over by a Player-Companion AI. They might not be Turing-Grade, but they'd be classified around Grade III. From your perspective, nothing much would change."

Mark blinked. "Seriously? Grade III AIs are considered to have near-human levels of sentience. RFO's got that kind of budget?"

"Anyway, you've got a few more things in queue." Navia said, completely ignoring his question.

Recipes Learned:

Stillmind Potion: This potion suppresses the drinker's emotions and desires. While under the effects of a Stillmind Potion, the Focus stat is boosted by 30%. Duration: 2-4 hours, depending on the quality of ingredients. Side Effects: If consumed in excess it can lead to loss of libido, addiction, or mental instability. 

Moonbane Potion: This potion prevents pregnancy and reduces menstrual symptoms ifor most humanoid races. Duration: 5-7 days depending on quality of ingedients. Side Effects: If consumed while pregnant, may result in miscarrige or birth defects.


After I dismissed that window, another appeared.

Unique Item Obtained: Amulet of Affinity.

Amulet of Affinity: When worn, this amulet causes those nearby to view the wearer in a more positive light, regardless of prior knowledge.


"Wait? Shouldn't unique items be extremely rare? How the hell did Effram have one?"

"Who knows?" Navia said in a nonchalant tone.

From the tone of voice Mark could tell she wasn't going to answer his question.

"In any case, since your character will be unconscious for another 3 hours, did you want to set some objectives before logging out? Or did you just want to sleep in-game?"

"Hmm, how long have I been in?" Mark asked.

"4 hours, give or take a few minutes."

"Actually, I wanted to ask a couple of questions."

"Sure." Came the bright response. "What did you want to know?"

"Well let's see, first...

 

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A note from pyrowind

So, now that you've read this far, I was hoping some of you might offer some feedback. How's the dialogue? Does the kinetic writing convey actions well enough? It's hard for me to be objective when it's my own writing, which is why I value constructive critism from readers like you. 

In this chapter I did a few things I don't plan on going into detail again, such as the potion-crafting segment. I just wanted to show the process once so that when it comes up later in the story I can skim over the details a bit. That way when I say "I prepared the herbs" the reader has a mental picture of what that means. On the other hand, if people like the exhaustive detail on the process, I don't mind writing it.

Other things, such as the grimoire entries from previous chapters; I plan to continue. I think that explaining the spells add to the story, and enjoy writing them. On the other hand, just because I enjoy writing it, doesn't mean that people enjoy reading it. So if you think they suck, let me know.

There was a lot of perspective hopping in this session. I wanted to give people an idea of what Tayla's skill-set was like, and the vast majority of people wanted to see some what the "gods" were up to. Hopefully that segment was enough to build some speculation.

As far as the explict content is concerned, I'll write more or less of it depending on the reaction. This time around was extremely questionable from an ethical standpoint. I don't intend to focus on that, and you shouldn't take it that I condone or endorse the charcter's actions in any way. 

Finally, thank you for reading my story so far. Feel free to tell me when things don't make sense, or I've screwed up something. As always I appeciate your feedback, whether it be via comments, ratings or reviews. 

I'm planning on doing a weekly Wednesday release. I know one chapter a week doesn't seem like much, but each "chapter" is 40-60 pages long, so please bear with me.

Till next time.


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pyrowind

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