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A note from pyrowind

First off, sorry for the long delay. Something came up IRL that left me unable to write for several days. Sometimes I wonder whether Murphy actively listens for people to make a claim before deciding to screw with you. 

Now, here's another 13K or so words to read.

**This chapter contains content that may be considered vulgar or distubing**

--Tayla, Halvine--

As Tayla listened to the noises coming from the room adjacent to her own, she bit her lip and covered her head with a pillow.

Idiot. She thought to herself. I can’t believe he’s having sex with her. If she was being honest with herself, Tayla was actually feeling a little jealous. She’d long suspected it, but her occasional visits to Halvine had given her a more objective point of view. Her brother was ridiculously attractive. Growing up with him, she’d always enjoyed seeing him, but when she was exposed to what most other men looked like, she suddenly realized that he was far more attractive than the average male. Then there was the fact that given his half-blood nature, he seemed to constantly emit an...aura that women seemed positively attracted towards. Something that had been made apparent by the way women seemed to blush and fidget if he gave them a simple smile. While he didn’t seem to notice, she did.  

It didn’t help that Terra had been quite frank about how much she enjoyed being his “food”. She’d shared more than one story with her, and she’d walked in on them enough times to know Terra wasn’t exaggerating. If it weren’t for what she’d seen earlier in the day, she’d probably be playing with herself, imagining what it would be like if she was the one making those gasps and moans. Her mother wasn’t oblivious to her infatuation, and had repeatedly told her it was wrong, immoral and otherwise bad judgement to fall for her own brother, but she couldn’t help it. For nearly a decade-and-a-half, Mark had been her only exposure to the opposite sex. Hells, the only person other than their mother she’d known. Even if her body had slowed its development, it didn’t mean her mind had.

Unfortunately, she had witnessed the events of earlier in the day and couldn’t help but recall them. It might be heartless, but seeing the deaths of the other trainees hadn’t phased her much. More than anything, she’d been angry to have been rendered helpless by a single spell. The whole reason she’d decided to spend a few days learning under Jackie was to improve her own abilities. If she were stronger, she’d be able to protect her brother, and maybe he wouldn’t worry so much about her. She’d spent days learning scout skills for that very reason, to be the on the frontline, gathering information so Mark could come up with the best possible plans.

She wasn’t a melee fighter, she felt that instinctively. At the same time, she didn’t feel that connection with nature that made for a good ranger. The rogue skills that Terra had taught her seemed natural, but...lacking in some fashion. While she could use a knife, it wasn’t a good fit. The bow, on the other hand, called to her. She’d always had exceptional eyesight and observation skills, and her sense for danger had generally served her well. When Jackie had described the role of a scout, something just...clicked. If neither she nor Mark were fit to fight up close, the only way to combat that was with better information. If she could spot the enemy before they were aware, the combination of her brother’s strategic mind and her tactical prowess would let them have a nearly unmatched advantage.

Mark had always been better at seeing the big picture, at making long-term plans and sticking to them. If he hadn’t he wouldn’t be the mage he was today. His repertoire of spells was fairly small, but he insisted on mastering them to a degree that seemed almost obsessive. Tayla had had a chance to get a better understanding of mages and their general degree of proficiency while under Jackie’s tutelage. Even when there wasn’t an active training session underway, she’d spent hours talking with the Felin woman.

The average mage learned a chant and could execute it in a matter of 10 or so seconds. Exceptional mages would go further in their understanding, able to shorten their chant and cast the same spell in a third of the time. It took a master, who completely comprehended their magic to be able to omit a chant entirely. With that came a degree of versatility that was unmatched. If the enemy wasn’t a mage, they wouldn’t even realize a spell was being cast. To this day, the only spell Tayla knew her brother to need a chant for was his [Mind Blast] spell. Considering that spell could outright kill an enemy in seconds, even she would have been somewhat afraid of her brother if he could cast it silently.

No, what bothered her the most was the fact that not only she’d been captured, but that it had been so damn easy. She should have been able to do something, to lauch a single arrow, to run away; anything would have been better than the helplessness she’d felt at being caught, then enslaved. She’d had to simply sit there and watch as Nathan and Dillon violated Jackie, taunting her all the while. She couldn’t figure out who was worse. Dillon had used his fire magic to torture her, then heal her with potions, while Nathan had used his nature magic to summon a vine that burrowed into her anus, only to emerge from her mouth while he fucked her.

It was a perversion of everything she’d witnessed before. Even if Mark had performed any number of obscene acts with Terra, she obviously enjoyed the entire process. While Tayla couldn’t quite why Terra had been so content with those acts, her expression and later fireside talks had revealed that she was a willing participant in them. Jackie, obviously hadn’t been. She cried, screamed and practically begged for the men to stop, but they kept going; feeding her health and stamina tonics simply to prolong their sick pleasures. Tayla had been horrified, but forced to watch the entire ordeal. All she could think about what if had been her, and they had promised that if her brother wasn’t cooperative, she’d experience far worse.

The moans from the other side of the wall weren’t helping matters. She was torn between fantasizing it was her, to remembering the events earlier in the day. When it finally grew quiet, Tayla breathed a sigh of relief, then slowly drifted off to sleep.


--Keiko--

 

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: Owned!

This Achievement grants the player -1 Wisdom and -3 Luck. Enslavement and Mind Control effects are harder to resist, and have a greater chance of success.

 

Title Gained: Slave

Slave of Marcus Allbright: Most people who see your collar will immediately realize you are the property of another person.

Title Gained: Thrall

Thrall of Marcus Allbright: You have been bound to the service of the Half-Incubus, Marcus.

Information: Incubic Thralls possess many similarities to Vampiric Thralls. Both gain a near-instinctive loyalty to their masters, and neither can long survive their master’s demise. If a thrall is not fed upon once per week various negative statuses will be applied. After one month of neglect, the thrall will expire. Thralls gain a minor empathic sense of their master’s emotional state and a sense of their location. To better serve and protect their master, thralls gain a certain amount of power from their bond.


  

Ability Granted: Empathic Bond. Allows the player to have an general mental impression of the emotional state of the target of the bond.

Ability Granted: Locate Master. Allows the player to know the general direction and distance of their master.

  

Status Affliction: Incubic Thrall. You are now permanently addicted to the bodily secretions of Incubi. Without regular exposure to the saliva or semen of an Incubus, your libido will continually increase. Prolonged withdrawal will lead to mental disorders, weakness, muscle spasms, and eventual death. You are subject to psychological manipulation from Player "Marcus Allbright".

Status Infliction: Seal of Command. You are unable to resist the commands of the one who emplaced the "Seal of Command". These commands are literal and must be of a physical nature.

 

Bonus Stats Gained: +2 Vitality, +2 Endurance, +2 Focus

 

Notice:

“Seal of Command” and “Incubic Thrall” have synergistic effects. Their mutual reinforcement will greatly reduce the ability of the character “Kekio Onitawa” to resist their effects.

 

Notice:

Due your association with an individual who has been proven to have committed numerous crimes, the Adventurer’s Guild may place a bounty request on you.

Bounty is superseded due to becoming property of the individual responsible for capturing the criminal “Effram Grayclaw”.

 

 

Keiko stared at the wave of message windows and notifications in dismay. After...falling asleep, she’d woken in the familiar chaotic landscape of her patron Deity, Dis. Before she would even process the complete disaster her last session had been, she’d been greeted by window after window telling her exactly how screwed she was.

“What the ever-holy crap is this!? Dis! I know you’re there! I want to talk to you!” She shouted.

Keiko jumped as an eight-winged, anthropomorphic set of headphones materialized in front of her.

“And that!” She pointed at him, “That’s not even a thing! What sort of Deity takes the appearance of some kind of seraphic, antique audio device? And why pink!?”

Keiko knew her complaint was illogical. She’d seen Dis appear as everything from a piece of bubbling cheese to a giant nail. She just felt the need to yell about something, anything. When she’d set her backstory as that of a minor, but rising member of an underworld criminal syndicate, she’d expected to run into any number of screwed-up situations, but this?

In real life she was the privileged daughter of a synth-protein industrial titan. She lived in a domed, climate-controlled estate, servants (human or robotic) to wait on her every need, and her medical nanites practically ensured she’d live for at least 200 years.

It was boring. Sterile, set routines. Dull conversations about politics and revenue. She was expected to have perfect manners, and socialize other wealthy scions in a manner that befitted her social status. Given her background and connections, she knew that practically every neural-interface device had their backdoors, and her family was certainly one of those with the access to them. She wanted to cut loose. To curse, slaughter, betray, maybe even get laid. Just so long as it was different and exciting. Unfortunately she knew that even in the virtual world she’d be monitored, and god forbid she ever do something to sully the great “Akimoto” name.

It had come up in a conversation with Aice during a party. Aice was the son of a majority shareholder of Reality Inc., the company behind the Mind-Link series of neural-interfaced virtual reality headsets. He had mentioned that the company was putting out their next generation of hardware, and right alongside it, a whole new concept of “immersive” gaming. The whole virtual world was created, managed and balanced by an entire cluster of Turing-Grade AIs. That was impressive enough, but what caught her attention one of the proposed game modes: Inhabitant. People who opted to play as an “Inhabitant” would have an entire set of memories crafted, and substituted for their own while playing. You wouldn’t just be playing a game, you’d be a part of the world.

The concept was fascinating, but what really caught her attention was the next part. While people who were “Players” could do the usual gamut of activities from streaming their feed to offering ride-alongs, “Inhabitants” were the opposite. There was no way to discern they were a player from within the game and all their data would be controlled and managed by the TAIs administering it.  When Real Fantasy Online first entered Beta, she’d convinced her father to get her a slot on the namelist. There were other devices, other virtual worlds, but only RFO offered that one thing she craved. Complete, anonymous freedom.

Beta-testers and Early Access players were defaulted to the “Inhabitant” setting, and even if her family wanted to, there was no way they could subvert a group of TAIs to monitor her activities within the game. She’d been playing for about four months now, and excluding the 18 years worth of memories she’d “acquired” from her character, she’d spent nearly a year in-game. She vividly remembered her training under an old assassin, her first contract, her first kill. She’d worked with thieves, murderers, rapists, and slavers, the worst of society, and loved every minute of it. Effram, Nathan and Dillon were all piece of shit scumbags, the likes of which had practically ceased to exist in the modern world. It was for that very reason she found her life in RFO so...fascinating.

For the last “real” month she’d been planning a break with the group. She knew Effram had a unique artifact and she’d been coveting it ever since she discovered its ability. A magical artifact that would make people naturally like and trust the wearer? Gods, the thought of the sort of crimes she could pull off with that kind of ability practically made her drool. Unfortunately, stealing the artifact and betraying the organization she worked for would have had her hunted down like a dog. When she’d heard about Mark from Effram, she’d come up with the perfect plan. If she could enslave a mage with illusion magic, not only would she have a way to disguise herself, but his spells would be the perfect complement to her own abilities. After spending a few days covertly monitoring him, she’d pitched her plan to Effram and the rest, positing the value of a skilled elven mage on the underground slave market.

Unfortunately, it was a disaster. Not only had she been somehow tricked into freeing him, she’d been enslaved, enthralled, exposed and fucked senseless. Okay, that part was pretty awesome. Keiko admitted to herself. She’d lost count of the orgasms after the fifth one, and while she’d experienced sex in the game before, nothing could have prepared her for that experience.

Keiko’s train of thought was interrupted by Dis’s somewhat hurt-sounding comment.

“Hey, I don’t choose my manifestation, and what’s wrong with pink anyway?”

Keiko replied. “You know that technically speaking, pink isn’t a real color right? It only exists in the human brain.”

“Well, yes. "The headphones spoke. "But one could argue that all colors are simply a product of the human mind. Beside, the fact that it’s imaginary only makes it more appropriate for a manifestation of Chaos. To be honest,” The pair of winged headphones somehow gave Keiko a conspiratorial wink. “it’s my favorite color.”

Keiko shook her head. “Nevermind. Anyways, what the hell is up with this!? Didn’t you say that if I captured that Elf I’d gain a couple of powerful assets?”

“Yes. I did, and if you’d been successful, your plan to betray Effram would likely have gone off without a hitch. Sadly for you, Mark managed to turn the tables. If you had earned enough Favor, I might have intervened in some fashion. As it is, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to utilize an Agent bound to the service of another player.”

Keiko sighed. “Now what? I’m stuck as a slave? Fuck that.”

“You always have the option of incarnating as another character.” Dis replied.

“And lose all the time I’d invested in that character?” Keiko retorted. “There’s only a day or so until the public release, I’d have to spend months to get a character built up again. Forget it.”

Keiko sighed. “I might still be able to salvage this. If I can get Mark to fall for me, maybe I can manipulate his actions. I’m going offline for a bit, I need to think. For now, Keiko should be obedient while trying to figure out a way out of the situation. She should do whatever she can to build up trust and affection, work on gaining Mark’s confidence, and find out whatever secrets he has. Before I sign out though, show me my character sheet.”

*Ding*

Name: Keiko Onitawa Race: Half-Felin
Age: 19 Sex: Female
Class: Assassin Job: Infiltrator
Title/s: Shadow Knife, Slave, Thrall
 
Stats:
 
Strength: 11 Endurance: 9>11
Vitality: 12>14 Agility: 15
Dexterity: 13 Reflexes: 18
Intelligence: 11 Wisdom: 10>9
Focus: 12>14 Attunement:0
Aura: 7 (Maxed) Charisma 12
Luck: 9>7 Lifespan: 70
 
Influence: [Black Hand: 17], [Adventurers Guild: -20], [Regional: 0]
 
Racial Traits: Natural Weapons, Natural Climber, Night Vision, Improved Senses
Special Abilities: Shadow Step
Skills, Weapon: Shadow Knife, Illusory Knife, Silent Strike, Assassinate, Cut Throat, Throw, Double Throw, Triple Throw, Quadruple Throw
Skills, General: Infuse Aura (Intermediate), Anatomy Knowledge (Basic), Poison Knowledge (Intermediate), Unarmed Combat (Intermediate), Knife Mastery (Advanced), Throwing Mastery (Advanced), Set Trap (Basic), Disarm Trap (Basic), Lockpicking (Intermediate)
Skills, Infiltrator: Feign, Silent Step, Mask Presence, Hide in Shadows

 

 

Keiko nodded to herself. Yeah, it took way too much effort to get built up this way, no way I’m going to give up now. Besides, Keiko shivered, squeezing her thighs together, being fucked like that was mind-blowing. I wouldn’t mind experiencing that again. Worst comes to worst I can always make a new character. I’ll just have to see how this all plays out.

“Log-out” Keiko spoke, and a moment later a notification appeared.

Logging out in 3...2...1

 


--Mark, ???--

 

I climbed up a set of worn stone stairs, looking around as I reached the summit. I wasn’t the first person here, a half-dozen or so of the others had gotten here first. We were all similar in appearance however, clean white-gray robes, shorn hair and anticipatory expressions on our faces. There was a single man dressed differently, wearing a purple robe and staring at the sky. Instinctively, I did the same. In the distance, a swarm of dark clouds were gathering, moving in the direction of the peak we all stood upon.

As the air temperature plummeted, the purple robed man turned around and looked at the group gathered before him. His gaze flitted from person to person, indifferent, aloof, almost haughty. He didn’t say a word, and none of us dared to speak. We were all here for a chance, an opportunity rarely offered, and this man was the only one who could offer it. The sky darkened, and thunder rumbled in the distance, vibrating deep in my chest. Even with this person examining us, my attention wandered, and I looked at the clouds now gathering above. They were dark, nearly black and heavy with rain yet unfallen. As I watched, a bolt of lightning arced from one cloud to another, provoking another peal of thunder.

While I stared into the sky, I realized something was different. Interlaced into the dark gray-black clouds were deep purple mists, almost unnoticeable. The scent of ozone grew stronger, and I suddenly realized the purple mists had grown stronger. Lost in thought, I only vaguely noticed the purple-robed man, moving from person to person. He briefly stared into the eyes of one person after another, then shook his head and moved on.

While this happened, my attention was suddenly caught by a solid sheet of purple fog, closely passing the peak of the mountain. I turned to the others, as if to ask if they saw it, but no one seemed to pay attention to it. Perhaps they’ve seen this before? I thought to myself. Suddenly, the man was in front of me, looking at me with an intense expression.

I didn’t have time to react before his hands reached out to either side of my head, grasping it firmly before staring into my eyes.

While I was trying to notice what color his were, he spoke. “I see lightning in your eyes!”

The moment he spoke, a buzzing sound filled my head, and my view faded to gray. As if repeating the scene from before, I saw clouds gathering, growing dark and condensing. A single bolt of blue-violet cracked down from above and it seemed as if it were in slow motion. Every nuance, every detail was clear in my mind. It was as if I were the lightning, and the lightning was me. A peal of thunder. The lightning struck again, this time a rippling wave, branching dozens of times.

As the vision faded a vague sense of excitement, verging on desperation took hold of me. I didn’t want it to end, I didn’t want to let go of that lightning. I reached out towards the storm clouds above in some fashion, and pulled. A moment passed, a sense of loss began to take me. In that moment the same bolt of lightning I’d first witness struck, slamming towards the earth, its thunder echoing. The man smiled at me, moving on to another person, but I couldn’t be bothered to notice. Not wanting to lose the feeling, I reached again, and a wave of branching bolts swept through the clouds.

Before I could realize it, the clouds and thunder had begun to disperse, and I was left alone on the peak with one or two others, the purple-robed man looking at me proudly. Even so, I hardly payed attention, a tiny spark arcing between a pair of fingers. While the storm was gone, I knew I had gained what I sought.

You have gained the Lightning Affinity.

Affinity rating: Excellent.

You may now cultivate the power of the heavens.

 

The vision faded and I slowly regained consciousness. A dream? I thought to myself as I sat up in bed. It was rare that a dream was so vivid, and even now I could remember every detail, almost as if it were something I’d experienced personally. That’s right, I never did get my affinities checked, I wonder if I actually do have an affinity for lightning. Even if it had just been a dream, something about it had affected me on a profound level. My musings however, were interrupted by the by the sensation under my palm. Warm, squishy...I looked over. Ah, right.

There was a Half-Felin girl laying in the bed beside me, naked, and looking somewhat worse for wear. When I sat up, I had inadvertently placed a hand on her breast to support my position. Now that there was a bit of daylight, I could see her better than last night. There were a handful of faint scars on her abdomen, thin white lines that marred her otherwise unblemished dark-colored skin. I squeezed her breast again, somewhat academically. Hmm, bigger than Terra’s were. I noted. At the squeeze, Keiko made a noise then opened her eyes. I was greeted by a somewhat uncomprehending look for a moment before she spontaneously jumped out of bed and backwards, landing on all fours.

Seeing her her tail standing straight up behind her and the almost panicked expression on her face I chuckled.

“Oh calm down, would you?”

 “Nyo! I can’t take anyone more of that, that...You, you demon, monster, pervert, maniac…”

“Master?” I suggested, noting how she’d suddenly acquired an odd accent to some of her words.

Suddenly she slumped down, sitting on the floor. “Right.” She said bitterly. “Master.”

I could sense the mix of emotions coming from her, mostly a sense of unwilling resignation. I rolled my eyes and got out of bed. Since I’d satiated myself the night before, there was no longer the sense of overwhelming need. Now I could merely appreciate her exotic beauty without feeling an overpowering desire to push her down. Of course, it was first thing in the morning, and when she looked up again, the first thing she saw was how I was standing at attention.

“So what, you’re going to use your ‘property’ again?” She asked in an acid tone.

“Yes.” I stated, then started to get dressed. “Not now though. Last night was more a matter of necessity. I don’t like losing control of myself like that.”

Seeing me dress, she gave me a curious expression. “Necessity?” Now that she was a little calmer, her earlier accent had vanished again.

I nodded. “Yesterday, when you put a collar on me. I was forced to use certain racial abilities. Those abilities have a price, which I forcefully suppressed with a potion. Once it wore off, I quite literally had to have sex with someone, and I wasn’t exactly in a clear state of mind. I explained my race before, right?”

Keiko nodded. “You’re an elf.” She tilted her head, puzzled, then tried again. “You’re an elf.”

I smiled faintly at the evidence that one of my commands was working. I’d previously instructed her that whenever she would speak, write or otherwise refer to my origin, she may not use the term “half”, nor anything but the word “elf”. If she wanted to speak, write or otherwise refer to me, she must use the word “elf” in place of any other way of describing my race. Only when she was obviously speaking euphemistically was she permitted to say otherwise. It might not fool a Truthseeker or an Oathstone, but it was the best I could do.

I waved my hand at her. “That’s fine, you can’t say it, remember? Still, I’d gone for nearly two weeks without feeding, and using those racial abilities just exacerbated things. I’d apologize, but, well, you did try to enslave me and threatened to have my sister tortured or raped if I weren’t cooperative. I’ll be blunt. Yes, I will be periodically having sex with you. Quite frankly, you’ll need to seek me out more often than I’m required to...feed. Generally I can go for two to three weeks without ‘feeding’. You’ll probably find it impossible to hold yourself back for more than a week.”

Again I felt a wave of resignation sweep over her. If it weren’t for how the bond subtly influenced her emotion, I’m sure there would have been more anger, unwillingness, and hatred. In time, even that resignation would fade.

I’d spent a lot of time talking to Fidelus when I was younger. While most of that time was me seeking out his knowledge of magic, he had been an Incubus while he was still alive. When I had first been coming to grips with my own racial heritage, his explanations and advice had proven invaluable. Having his guidance had given me a deep understanding of the strengths, limitations, and costs of my abilities. [Eyes of Lust], my personal variant of pheromonal control was a prime example.

Most Incubi passively generated a sort of aura about them that made women lose their inhibitions. Fidelus had explained is as an intangible sort of...not-quite scent, using the word pheromone to describe it. Using one sense or another, Incubi gained a degree of control over these “pheromones”, releasing or contracting them at will. The difference with my control mechanism was an unmatched degree of precision. For comparison [Scent of Lust] would allow an Incubi to literally smell the degree to which their pheromones were emitted, but their area of influence was fixed. Where they could make an entire crowd of women lose their minds, I could target specific individual. The price for that control was that my own libido was increased when I used it.

Another thing he’d explained was how the relationship between an Incubic Thrall and their master. When the bond was first formed, it was somewhat weak. Even then it had an effect of automatically suppressing negative thought and emotions towards the owner of that bond. Among other things, as the bond grew stronger, the thrall would be granted increased stamina and vitality, the ability to sense their master’s location, and a near-fanatical desire to protect them. It also allowed me to sense and...tweak the emotions and desires of my thrall, something that Fidelus found fascinating. His variant of pheromonal controls hadn’t given him that ability, though he could maintain several thralls at once, something I instinctively knew I couldn’t manage.

Honestly, I loathed the entire concept. Terra had been an accident, a result of playing around with [Eyes of Lust] while we were in the middle of intercourse. At first it didn’t bother me, after all, what sort of teenage male doesn’t like the idea of a cute nympho bunny-girl? The control I gained over her desires even let me tweak her to my liking. She’d always been fairly dominant in our sexual encounters, preferring to maintain control of the pace. It only took about a month to turn her into a complete submissive, entirely willing to get down on all fours so I could fuck her up the ass. She’d even happily service me after, wearing a dreamy expression as she cleaned me with her mouth.

I wasn’t sure when it hit me, when I felt there was something wrong about what I was doing. All I knew was that at one time, Terra had been proud and vaguely dissatisfied at being my “food”. After she became my thrall, she had become completely shameless. Any request I had, no matter how degrading, was met with willing, even eager participation. I think what changed my thoughts was imagining how I’d feel if someone had done that to Tayla; turned her into their thrall. It was worse than slavery. Slaves could at least keep their thoughts and feelings. This power subverted them, practically changed a person into someone else.

This time was somewhat different though. I had a personal grievance with Keiko. I didn’t intend to change her too much, at least beyond what the bond would do on its own. At the same time, I didn’t have any compunctions in using it to ensure her loyalty. When I’d briefly questioned her, I had realized that Keiko was an incredibly dangerous woman. Now that she was, legally, my property, I saw no reason not to make use of that.

I mentally reached out to her emotions, subtly shaping them as I spoke.

“The fact of the matter is that while I can live without you, you cannot live without me. Honestly, I’m torn on what to do with you. You’re attractive, sure, but I can always find a whore or just seduce a woman off the street to take care of my needs. I also don’t want to worry about the risk that you’d be willing to die, as long as you took me down too. The reason you wanted my sister as leverage is pretty obvious now. While the orders a master holds to their slave are absolute, they’re also very literal. Just like I escaped my collar by exploiting a loophole in your orders, I wouldn’t blame you for trying to find a loophole in mine.”

The Half-Felin looked up at me, a mixture of worry and curiosity on her face.

“So what are you going to do with me then?”

“I’ll make you a bargain.” I said, injecting a thread of hope into her consciousness. “As long as you don’t actively work against me, I’ll make the demands I place on you as reasonable as possible. I won’t go out of my way to humiliate you, sell you, or force you into a dead end. Honestly, Tayla and I could use a companion with your skills. Neither of us is particularly experienced with the outside world, so your knowledge would be a real asset.”

Keiko eyed me doubtfully for a moment, then smirked. “Yeah, you two are a bit too naive to be wandering around without a nursemaid.”

She stood, apparently unconcerned at her nudity. “I was planning on betraying Effram and the rest of those assholes anyway. Not how I was planning on this playing out but still, things could be worse I guess. So, what’s the plan boss?”

I blinked. If I couldn’t sense her emotions, I never would have believed the sudden change from a moment ago. Her mood had shifted from a wary resignation to a sort of wry acceptance in a matter of moments. I hadn’t even had a chance to do more than inject that tiny thread of hope into her feelings.

I coughed. “Well, I was thinking a bath first. We should probably clean up after last night.”

Suddenly she looked down at herself, apparently noticing her state of undress.

“Nyah! My fur’s messed up!”

Or maybe not.

After Keiko and myself were dressed somewhat presentably, we went next door and knocked. I figured that if I was paying for two baths, I might as well pay for three. Besides, it had been weeks since either of us had a real bath. Rags and buckets just didn’t cut it, and until yesterday’s windfall, I’d been too miserly with the coin to move to a better inn.

“Who is it?” Came the voice from inside.

“The jerks that probably kept you up half the night.” I replied.

I was long past being embarrassed at being caught in my sexual escapades. Spending 7 years in a four-room cabin will do that to you. Both Tayla and Aylssa had complained about the noises Terra used to make, and Keiko had likely been louder. I wasn’t exactly restrained last night.

Sure enough, the door swung open to reveal my sister’s scowling face.

“At least you recognize it. Did you have fun?” She asked, somewhat sarcastically.

“Wait a second, your face! What…?”

Obviously over the night my [Disguise] spell had lapsed, and Keiko had always believed Tayla’s scars were real.

“Oh, right.” I concentrated for a moment, the spell now almost effortless after the constant practice.

“Nyah!” Came the startled exclamation.

Looking back at the flustered cat-girl I ordered, “Do not reveal the fact, or nature, of the disguise on Tayla to anyone without my explicit permission.”

Returning my gaze to Tayla I continued. “The catgirl and I need to clean up, you want to check out the inn’s baths?”

As soon as I said the world “bath”, Tayla’s eyes lit up and she pushed the two of usd out into the hall. As she moved past, she turned her head.

“You guys coming or not?”

Fortunately, no one had rented them out this early in the morning, otherwise Tayla might have inflicted some form of violence. The sheer intensity with which she greeted the proprietor caused him to be a little nervous, or perhaps it was the twisted, half-melted side of her face. Either way, he hurried to have a slave fill the tubs. I have to admit, I was both pleased and astonished to discover the pair of large copper basins had been inscribed with runic enchantment characters. Well, guess that explains why a single bath costs as much as a meal. I thought to myself. On the other hand, when I sunk into of of the tubs, I felt the twenty coppers well spent.

For the extra five coppers, I gotten a small bar of soap and a pair of rags. I suppose I could have argued that for the silvers I was spending I should have gotten the soap for free at least, but seeing Tayla’s impatience curbed my urge to haggle over it. I guess having a pair of enchanted bathtubs is part of how the justify the price for the rooms. Still too expensive though. I glanced over at where Keiko and Tayla where fighting over the soap and rags.

“Nyahah! They’re mine now!”

“You!...Actually, on second thought, you can have that one, I’ll just go soak with Mark.”

As Keiko triumphantly claimed the second copper tub, along with the soap, Tayla walked over to mine. I eyeballed her for a second, having expected her to use the other tub, along with Keiko.

“Mind if I join you?” She asked.

I paused briefly before replying. “Aren’t we a little old to be bathing together?”

Tayla just raised an eyebrow. “You’d prefer I soak in a bath with the cat whose fur is matted with your cum?”

I scratched the tip of my ear as I looked over at where Keiko was furiously scrubbing herself clean. Looking back at Tayla I coughed.

“Right. Um, hadn’t thought of it like that. Feel free.”

After Tayla slipped into the tub it felt a little crowded. While it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen her naked before it had been nearly a decade since we’d laster taken a bath together. Granted, she didn’t look much older than when we had been bathing together. With how slowly Elves matured, she’d barely developed in the last ten years. Still, I felt a little awkward. Over the last week or so, she’d brought up the subject of my condition; both how I was planning on handling it now, and what I’d do while we were traveling.

Over the last half-dozen years, I’d discovered I could go somewhere between two to three weeks before the Incubic blood in me started to take over. Between Fidelus’s explanations and my own experimentation, I learned that having intercourse wasn’t strictly necessary to sate my needs.

Incubi and Succubi were similar in many ways, being the male and female of a species of a demon known as Lilin. Much like Vampires, they needed to take in the vitality of others to survive. In the case of Vampires, this was done via the medium of drinking their prey’s blood. They were assisted in this by possessing powerful hypnotic abilities that both allowed then to enthrall their targets, and cause them to forget they had been fed upon. This allowed them to feed in a covert fashion; preventing others from becoming aware of their presence.

While Vampires propagated by having others take in their blood, Lilin took a more...traditional route. Instead of stealth and shadows, Lilin operated very much in the open. As a race, they tended to possess a remarkable amount of physical appeal, assisted by their ability to control attractive pheromones. Where a Vampire drew vitality from blood, Lilin drew it from the spirit. When a man or woman is in the height of pleasure or agony, the barrier of their spirit weakens, allowing a Lilin to tap into the vitality of their soul.

As could be imagined, both methods of feeding pose a danger to their respective prey. If blood is overdrawn, a person’s body collapses and they can die. On the other hand, if one’s soul is overdrawn, that person’s spirit can be damaged or destroyed. Having sex is actually a stabilizing process for a Lilin. By constantly feeding spiritual vitality back into their prey, a Lilin can ensure they don’t cause them to lose their mind or die. In fact, Succubi are generally considered more dangerous than Incubi, as they don’t possess a ready medium to transfer vitality back into their “food”.

For a Lilin, this feedback cycle isn’t actually necessary, but a way to ensure their source of sustenance isn’t destroyed. Careful experimentation with Terra had proven that I could stimulate her to orgasm and siphon tiny bits of her spiritual vitality without damaging her. Unfortunately, to safely feed in such a fashion would require much, much more effort. There was only a matter of seconds during a person’s peak that the barrier granting access to their spirit weakened, and siphoning a safe amount of spiritual vitality during this time required immense concentration; unless you were sending spiritual vitality back at the same time.

If I were starving, such concentration would be nearly impossible, which left me at an impasse. If I were traveling alone with Tayla I would have two choices: Do it the simple way by having sex with her on occasion; or else regularly bring her to orgasm when I wasn’t starving so I could take constant, tiny sips of vitality.

Since this vitality was something as necessary to me as bread or water, I’d taken the time to explain all of this information to her. Tayla had, not particularly in a subtle fashion, indicated that she didn’t mind either way, giving me a bit of a headache. I might love Tayla, but I’d never been particularly attracted to her. She was beautiful, I just didn’t see her in...that way. Never mind that our mother had explained it wasn’t socially acceptable, it had just never really occurred to me. I wasn’t an idiot though. It was obvious that Tayla was both willing and interested.

When were were still kids, I was much more intimate with her, tickling, hugging, and wrestling with Tayla. After we reached ten, and I kept growing bigger, while she...didn’t, that mostly stopped. It wasn’t that I was stronger than her, if anything it was the opposite. By the time I was a head taller than her, it just felt wrong; something reinforced after I awakened to my Incubic heritage.

Now that we were sharing a bath, I couldn’t help but recall our earlier conversation, along with how I’d mostly dodged how we’d handle it if I needed to feed. After Tayla scowled at the Half-Felin, now completely submerged, she turned to me.

“So. Now that you’re covered for ‘food supplies’ and we’ve got a windfall of silver, what’s the plan? We aren’t staying here much longer right?”

“Yeah, what are you two doing in this shitty little village anyway?” Keiko, having emerged to hear Tayla’s question, asked. “Elves aren’t exactly fond of any kind of half-breeds, let alone ones with your ancestry. One one hand, you don’t act like you’ve been living with that sort of prejudice, but on the other, neither do you seem to have any of the instincts I’d expect from someone living in a human kingdom.”

While I explained, Tayla retrieved the soap and began washing herself. I didn’t go into excessive detail, simply explaining that Tayla and myself had been living in the Shadewood until a monster came and destroyed our home. Keiko asked a few questions, such as why I used [Disguise] to mask Tayla’s appearance and what our objectives were. After a while, the dusky cat-girl nodded.

“All right, so you’re ignorant, but not total idiots. Flatty there probably would have attracted the sort of attention you wanted to avoid. There’s some things we should probably talk about if I’m stuck with the two of you though.”

The three of us exited the bath and I led the way back to my room. Once there, Keiko perched on one of the beds cross-legged and gestured for us to have a seat on the other. I was a little bemused at how she’d taken on a sort of instructional role, despite ostensibly being my property.

“Alright.” She said. “First things first. Mark, you can’t just be telling people you’re a user of Mind magic, especially considering your..." Keiko paused, seeming to look for a term. "racial heritage. That’s a great way to end up dead in a ditch or collared.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Look," She explained, "mind-mages are relatively rare and they tend to work for one of three sorts of people. Nobles, temples or...my sort of people. Nobles are one of the most dangerous, if they find out an unaffiliated mind mage is in their territory, they’ll tend to have them assassinated. Nobles tend to use their mages to incite rebellions, spy or otherwise cause trouble in the territory of other nobles. Temples tend to use theirs either to brainwash people into being fanatics, or train them to be mind-healers. Depends on the God they serve. Any mind-mage who doesn’t serve their God is considered a threat. Last is the underworld.”

Keiko paused, grimacing slightly before she continued.

“The group I used to work for had a couple of mind-mages I knew about. One was responsible for putting enchantments on slave collars, and wore one herself. The other though...he was one of the higher-ups. Never got his real name, the guys just called him the Mindflayer. Supposedly he could wipe people’s minds and give them new sets of memories. We needed to place a mole, brainwash someone, extract intel, or have someone make a binding oath, he did it. Lots of nasty stories.

Point is, all mind-mages either are, or are part of some sort of major power. When I had you tell me all the spells you could use it was pretty obvious that you’ve got fairly limited ways to defend yourself. Unless you’re so powerful that others wouldn’t dare make a move on you, letting people know that you can use any kind of mental magic is a fairly bad idea. Someone’s bound to either off you on the chance you're someone’s pawn, or try to make you one of theirs. Mix in what might happen if someone discovers your bloodline and you’re just asking for trouble.”

I nodded slowly. I hadn’t really thought about it, but what Keiko said made sense. While it din’t have the flair the Evocation did, Mind spells were all fairly insidious. With an Evoker, the worst you had to worry about was them throwing fire or lightning at you. Sure, being lit on fire sucked, but if a Mentalist was skilled enough, they could make someone set themselves on fire. At the moment, the most I could do was play with a person’s state of mind, but eventually I might be able to completely rewrite a person’s personality, much like this “Mindflayer” could supposedly do. At the same time I made a mental note of how she'd already subtly worked around my order to not call me anything but an Elf.

“All right. That makes sense, what else?” I asked.

Keiko looked satisfied, and  though our bond I could sense she felt pleased I was listening to her.

“Next, you need to either get yourself some damn armor, or hire a mean-looking merc to travel with us. Some teenage pretty-boy walking around with a sexy Half-Felin slave and a little elf-girl? You walking around unarmed and unarmored makes you look like an easy mark. No offense, but you look like a pussy.”

Tayla snorted, and Keiko and I both looked at her.

“You know, she’s kinda right. If I didn’t know you could kill Direwolves with a handful of words I wouldn’t think you were any sort of a threat.”

“Speaking of, “Keiko interjected. “How many time can you use that black-spear thing anyway? Is it a once per fight sort of thing, or is it more like a [Firebolt]?”

Since Keiko was already under orders not to disclose my abilities to anyone else, I wasn’t worried about sharing the information, and replied honestly.

“Based on my mana-pool alone, I should be able to cast it about ten times before being depleted. In a real battle?” I paused, remembering the piercing headache I’d felt when I used in yesterday. “If it’s a common monster it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. There seems to be some kind of feedback though when I use it against something more intelligent though. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe three times against a human before I wouldn’t be able to think straight.”

“And that’s your only real means of attack?" Keiko asked. "I’ve never seen you wear a sword or even a bow before.”

I sighed. “Yeah. I mean, I can occasionally hit a target with a bow, but I’ve never really trained with weapons before. Tayla’s the only one with any skill there.”

“Great.” Keiko scowled. “Well, if you’re planning to make it as an adventurer, you either need to pick up some skills, or get some more people in the party.”

“So what sort of skills do you have anyway?” Tayla asked. “I saw you do that sort of...poof thing, and you had a bunch of knives strapped on you the other day. Are you some kind of Rogue?”

Keiko’s tail flicked in an almost agitated fashion as she replied. “Please. I am, or was, an Assassin. That ‘poof’ thing, as you called it, was an ability called [Shadow Step]. It lets me merge into the shadows and reappear from any other shadow within thirty feet. It takes a lot of energy, so I can only use it a few times before I’m exhausted. As for my other skills…”

Keiko let her teeth show in a feral grin. “I was trained how to use a knife since I was a child. Whether by knife or by poison I specialize in silencing people, permanently. I can blend into the shadows so well you’d never know I was there before it was too late. I’m also good at imbuing weapons with my aura, so even armor isn’t much of an issue.”

“Anything else?” I asked, curious. I probably would be a little unnerved at this point if she wasn’t my thrall. As it was, the more capable Keiko was, the more I was pleased to have her on our side.

Keiko rolled her eyes. “I’m decent at infiltration. I can use [Silent Steps] and [Mask Presence], and I’ve practiced blending into crowds or acting like a part of one group or another. Also have a little bit of skill at picking locks and disarming traps.” Apparently she was a little annoyed at my lack of reaction.

After that we spent some time sharing our respective skills and abilities with each other. While Effram had been a deceitful ass, he had made a good point. If a group of people were going to work with each other, knowing what the others could do was an important part of being an effective team. Keiko was actually a little impressed by Tayla, and showed some envy over her ability to use  [Mark Target]. Apparently not many people could use that little trick with aura.

After that I left her and Tayla to shop for the supplies we’d need to travel, giving Keiko orders to obey Tayla’s orders as if they were my own. While they did that, I left to visit a leatherworker to be fitted for some basic Iron-Bristle hide armor. Given the small pile of silver I’d looted from Effram’s group, we had enough of a surplus to afford it. Keiko had recommended I learn to use a shortsword, and since I knew nothing about weapons, left it for Tayla and her to pick out. By the time I was done being fitted, it was time to visit the Guild for my meeting with the Guildmaster.

It was surprisingly busy inside, groups of people moving in and out of the guild at a steady clip. Seeing Priscilla working the information counter, I headed over to greet her.

“Hey Priscilla, what’s going on?” I asked, nearing the Half-Laquine.

She looked a little ragged as she replied. “It’s been chaos since last night. Apparently the Guildmaster got ahold of some information about a group of people running an illicit slaving operation. He and a few of the senior members ran a raid last night to capture a group posing as adventurers.”

I coughed. Apparently the Effram and that notebook had had more information in it than I thought.

“Speaking of.” I said. “He asked me to come by around noon, should I just head up or…?”

Priscilla’s eyes widened. “Wait, you were the one that gave him that intel?” She shook her head, and her left ear flopped over. “Never mind, I don’t want to know. Hold on for a minute, I’ll go check if he’s free.”

As she headed towards the stairs she absently straightened the ear that had flopped over. Once more, I offered my praise to the man who’d made her leather pants. There was no way something that tight was anything but deliberate. A couple minutes later, she reappeared at the bottom of the stairs and gestured for me to come over.

“He said he’s only got a few minutes, but to head right up. Oh, and could you hand me your guild ID? I need to update it.”

I was a little puzzled but agreed anyway, fishing out the leather throng that kept the metal plaque around my neck.

“Thanks! When you’re finished, it’ll be waiting for you.”

I nodded, and moved past her. The Guildmaster’s office was at the end of the hall on the second floor, and it only took me a minute or so to reach it. When I knocked, a deep “Come in” was the reply. I opened the door and was greeted by the sight of the large, grey-pelted Lupine man I’d seen last night. He looking up from a pile of paperwork and gave me a long look.

“Mark, was it?” He asked, still eyeing me. “Have a seat.”

As I seated myself, he reached a calloused paw over and spoke again.

“I didn’t introduce myself yesterday. I’m Artoris Silverfang, Guildmaster of this branch of the Adventurer’s Guild. For better or worse, I was knighted sometime during my career, making me the closest thing to a noble in this neck of the woods.”

“Sir Silverfang.” I politely replied, shaking the proffered hand.

He grimaced. “Just call me Artoris, or Guildmaster if you prefer. Unlike some, I never wanted to be given a noble title. Frankly, it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth.” He smiled faintly. “Except when I need to lock up a few traitors.”

He gave me a weighing look. “Tell me, have you ever heard of the ‘Black Hand’?”

I shook my head. “Can’t say that I have.”

“It’s a criminal syndicate.” He began to explain. “Unlike some of the petty gangs you see in the city, they aren’t just petty robbers and thieves. They dabble in a number of unsavory practices, illicit slavery, blackmail, assassination...you name it and they probably have their hand in it. They also like to covertly take over little frontier villages like this one. You might imagine my surprise when I started reading that little book you brought me and saw the name of one of the guard captains in it. Thanks to you we had quite a busy night.”

I scratched the point of one of my ears. “I just saw it mention that a few adventurers had been captured and figured you’d be the best person to bring it to.”

He nodded. “And I’m thankful you did. Effram’s group was apparently working for the Black Hand. The captured adventurers were actually a minor part of what was going on. Unfortunately we can’t get too much out of him, even with that slave collar. Apparently a Mentalist laid a fairly strong compulsion on him to prevent too much from leaking. Fortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the guard captain he’d been in contact with. Now that we know they’re targeting us, there’s some measures we can take.”

“So why are you telling me all this?” I asked, a little puzzled.

Artoris replied. “Mostly by way of warning. Even if that Half-Felin of yours is a minor member, you might find yourself with more problems than she’s worth if you hold onto her. I managed to verify you and your niece were targets, so you have a valid claim to her, but you may want to consider passing her off. Actually, one thing you said yesterday made me curious. You mentioned that she had managed to put a slave collar on you. How exactly did you get her to take it off?” He gave me an inquisitive look.

I hesitated for a second, remembering Keiko’s comment about not revealing my abilities with mind magic. After a moment I mentally shrugged. George already knew, and as the vice-head I’d be surprised if he hadn’t mentioned it to Artoris.

Distorting the truth a bit, I replied. “She only ordered me not to cast spells or run away. I have a some minor talent in the field of Mind magic, and employed a hypnotic technique to convince her to speak the words of release. Since it wasn’t technically a spell, I took advantage of the loophole she left in her orders.”

I shook my head and smiled wryly. “Frankly I was lucky. It’s just something I came up with to help my niece fall back asleep when she wakes up from one of her nightmares. I honestly didn’t think it would work, but in that sort of situation…”

Artoris smiled, baring his canines. “George mentioned that you use Mind and Illusion magic. I thought it might have been something like that.”

As I didn’t want to proceed to much further along that line of conversation, I spoke, as if just remembering something.

“That’s right, George mentioned something about testing elemental affinities. I was wondering if he’d be available for that sometime today?” I paused, then added, “I was planning on leaving Halvine sometime in the next day or two.”

“Hmm, I suppose I could add that to your reward. I’ll take you to see him when we’re done here.”

“Reward?” My ears perked up.

Artoris chuckled. “Officially, I can’t pay you anything, but you did us a favor by bringing this to our attention. I’m having Priscilla add some points to your guild ID, 5 red and 1 black. I also prepared a map of this part of the country for you. It might be a little outdated, but it notes the sorts of creatures you’re likely to encounter and the general lay of the terrain.”

He slid over a piece of folded parchment. When I opened it, I couldn’t help but smile. One thing I hadn’t thought of getting a hold of was a map. Maps were nearly as valuable as books, running over a gold for a poor one, and tens of gold for an accurate one. Even then, it was hard to know whether they’d be accurate. The one Artoris had just passed me, while not incredibly detailed, was more than I’d ever expected to get my hands on. Not only were roads and towns clearly marked, there was some indications of terrain and local monster habitats.

“Thank you.” I said sincerely. Even if I pooled all the money Tayla and I had earned until now, we likely wouldn’t have been able to afford something like this.

Artoris smiled. “You’re welcome. I don’t travel much anymore so it’s just been collecting dust. I’d rather pass it to someone who can get some use from it. Are you familiar with reading one?”

When I admitted I wasn’t, Artoris spent several minutes explaining the map key and scale notations. Apparently he’d used it for several years, as there were a number of corrections and notes he pointed out as well. After he finished with that, he walked me down the hall to George’s room.

“Hey George, you busy?” He called, opening the door.

The gray-robed mage looked up from a rather large tome on his desk.

“Artoris? Not at the moment." His brown eyes darted in my direction. "I see you’ve brought our elf friend. I take it the two of you have some business with me?”

The Lupin man chuckled. “Not me. Actually, Mark here mentioned that he was planning on having you test his elemental affinities. You mind waiving your usual fee?”

“I suppose.” The older man shrugged. “Come on in Mark, have a seat.”

The Lupin man slapped my back, almost causing me to stagger. “I’ll leave the two of you to it then. Thanks George!”

As the door shut, George smiled at me, brown eyes twinkling with amusement. “Well, you caused quite a mess yesterday.”

Scratching the point of one of my ears I took a seat. George and I had spoken several times over the last week or so and while I wouldn’t call him a friend, he was more than a mere acquaintance.

“Not intentionally” I said, smiling wryly. “It sort of just, well, happened.”

He chuckled as he stood, walking over towards one of the shelves lining the wall. Taking down a crystalline bowl, he started speaking.

“Testing for your elemental affinities is something every mage should do at some point. As you may know, there are 6 primary elements: Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, Light and Dark. Strictly speaking, an affinity for Fire isn’t necessary to cast fire magics. However, when you cast a magic in line with your affinities, the results tend to both be more powerful, and consume less mana. In fact, many mages specialize in casting spells from a particular element for this very reason. In addition to the 6 primary elements, there are a number of so-called secondary elements. Ice, Lightning, Gravity, Space, and Time being the more notable ones.”

He set the crystal bowl between us and paused to chant a short spell, drawing a wand from his sleeve as he did. “Incra Thro Manat Du Cabre!” The tip of the wand glowed blue, and a visible thread of mana ran from its tip to the center of the bowl. After a minute, the crystalline bowl was filled with a what seemed to be a glowing blue liquid. A bit to my surprise, my senses told me this was practically pure mana.

“Now, testing for a mage’s affinities is a relatively simple process.” He continued, “Although it requires a tool like this [Bowl of Refraction]. What I’ll need from you is a drop of blood, just a single drop near the center if you would.”

I paused briefly before taking my belt knife, and pricking my finger. As the crimson bead pooled, then dropped into the bowl, ripples of light formed on its surface.

Manat Doeth Faril Okras Rekt Su Calim.” Geoge's brown wrinkled as he chanted.

At the end of the incantation, there was a nearly instantaneous change. The ripples that had been radiating outwards from the drop of blood reversed, converging on it. A moment later, a strange image filled the center of the bowl. It almost looked like what the roots of a plant would look like from above. Two of the roots were much larger than the rest, one a dull black, then other a blinding white. More than a dozen other tendrils reached out from the center as well, some short, some long, some fat, others thin. They varied in color: Red, green, blue, yellow, purple...as many different shades as there were roots.

While I examined the strange image, George began to explain, using the wand to point at different tendrils.

“The colors indicate the elements, while the thickness and length illustrate different aspects of the affinity. The longer the strand, the greater your innate control over the element. On the other hand, a thick strand indicates how strongly the effect of a spell related to that element would be magnified. For example,” He pointed at the red tendril.

“This strand indicates your affinity for Fire. It’s neither short nor long, and reaches about halfway to the edge of the bowl. This is an almost textbook example of a purely average talent for Fire. On the other hand.” He pointed at a long, thin blue-white tendril.

“This strand indicates Ice. It reaches almost to the edge of the bowl, showing you have an excellent degree of natural control. On the other hand, with how thin it is, it also indicates you’d need to use nearly twice as much mana as you would for a Fire spell of the same degree. I’ll use [Ice Spike] and [Firebolt] to explain the difference. If [Firebolt] would cost you ten mana, [Ice Spike] would cost your twenty. On the other hand, while you’d only be able to roughly guide a [Firebolt], you’d be able to maneuver the [Ice Spike] through numerous obstacles.”

I was fascinated. This wasn’t something I’d ever had Alyssa or Fidelus explain before, and I suddenly realized how important knowing all this could be. I spent the better part of an hour reviewing the results with George before coming to a good understanding of my personal affinities.

For one, Light and Dark were by far and away my best. Light magic covered such things as light manipulation, but also generative processes, such as healing magic or wards. Dark, on the other hand, had very little to do with actual darkness. It was primarily related to spiritual magic and degenerative processes. Considering my dream earlier, I was a little disappointed to see that I had practically no affinity for Lightning. I had strictly average affinities for Fire, Wind, Water and Earth, but a moderately impressive affinity for Time, and a hint of Fate affinity.

After we’d finished, George shook his head and gave me a wry smile. “I’ve heard of mages who focus on a school of magic to take advantage of their affinities, but this is absurd. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were practically born to practice Illusion and Mind magics. With your affinities simple illusions likely cost you practically no mana, and most Mentalist spells would be far more effective coming from you than most mages.

“Must be Fate’s hand at work.” I chuckled, then frowned slightly. “Given my high affinity for Light magic, I’m a little confused why I could never pick up my mother’s Abjuration spells though.”

“That’s likely due to your affinity with Dark.” George explained. “You’d likely have the same issue with Necromancy due to your affinity for Light. Quite frankly, you’re likely to find most other schools of magic difficult to practice. A person’s mana is inextricably linked to their spells, and one’s mana always bears the signature of their affinities. Some spells simply cannot be formed if the mana used to cast them contains certain elements. Given how your elemental traits are distributed, you might be able to cast certain Divination spells, or perhaps Transmutation or Alteration would make for a tertiary field of study.”

“I see.” I said, thinking to myself. “Thank you George, you’ve been very patient with your explanations.”

George waved a wrinkled hand. “I don’t often get the chance to lecture anymore, I rather enjoyed answering your questions.”

Curious, I asked, “Did you used to teach?”

He smiled. “Years ago. I used to give introductory lessons at Ashford Academy.” He laughed. “At least until Artoris started dragging me off on his adventures.”

We continued to chat for a while longer, and I eventually bid the older Human mage farewell. When I went downstairs, Priscilla waved me over and returned my guild ID. I flipped it around to the side listing my points and noted what I had so far. 17 Blue, 2 Orange, 5 Red and 1 Black. While it wasn’t anything near what a more experienced adventurer would have, I didn’t look like a complete newcomer anymore. Actually, given the requirements for the Halvine request board, there weren’t many that I wouldn’t be allowed to take now. Of course, this was a bit of a moot point considering Tayla, Keiko and myself were planning on leaving in the morning.

As he began walking out the door, curls of mist swept up from the floor beneath. Only moments later, it became an all-consuming fog. Oddly, he didn’t feel concerned, perhaps only slightly puzzled. Even that dissipated as the sound of adventurers talking faded to nothingness, leaving only the silent gray mists. Mark kept walking for a moment, then stopped, mind becoming clear.

“Navia?” Mark asked, puzzled.

Maybe I need to take a piss? He thought to himself. That thought was interrupted however by a notification window.

 

System Update Notification:

Real Fantasy Online will be undergoing maintenance for the next twenty four hours in preparation of the Public release. During this time, we apologize for any inconvenience.

At this point we would like to announce the availability of two game modes: Player and Inhabitant. We thank all of our Beta-Testers and Early Access players for helping us perfect the “Inhabitant” mode. Due to your feedback, we understand that not all players are comfortable with the idea of memory substitution, or the perceived lack of control over one’s avatar. “Player” mode was created as a response to this. At this time, please choose whether you would continue to play as an “Inhabitant” or migrate your status to “Player”. The two game modes will be summarized.

  

Inhabitant: As an inhabitant of the world of Real Fantasy Online, you will forget everything you once knew, and be reborn as a character within the world. Rest assured, while your memories of Earth will no longer exist, the actions of your character are still your actions. You begin your journey in the world of Real Fantasy Online with memories that pertain to your selected character. Have you ever wanted to be someone else? To be a Hero, or perhaps a Villain? The memories you gain in RFO will be merged with your core personality traits to create a new you.

Warning: As a backstory can contains years or decades of memories, taking to role of an “Inhabitant” may have certain effects on your real personality. Given this potential side effect, “Inhabitants” must sign a waiver of liability with Reality Inc.

Player: Much like virtual worlds before it, you may retain your thoughts and memories or Earth, potentially gaining a strategic advantage. On the other hand, the world of Real Fantasy Online is like no other before it. The inhabitants of this virtual world are fully self-aware, and while the Gods will issue an announcement to the world, no one can predict how these “NPCs” will react to the descent of beings from another plane of existence. Some may fear you, some may worship you, others may seek to kill you.

  

Advantages and Disadvantages:

Inhabitant: Inhabitants may be from any sentient race and their appearance will be pre-generated. Inhabitants do not possess a level system and must learn every skill manually. Conversely, there is no limitation to the skills that may be learned. While selecting a class and backstory will give the player certain skills by default, it is entirely possible for a mage to become a master swordsman. When a player is not in control of their character, they continue to exist and an advanced AI will be in control of their actions. While the AI may not learn new skills, all ordinary tasks will be handled in a fashion concurrent with the player’s behavior. Generally speaking, it is impossible to distinguish an NPC from an Inhabitant, but players who choose this game mode may give guidance to related to their character's actions after every session. If an inhabitant dies, the player may choose to reincarnate, and their new character will retain a portion of their previous characters skills and abilities.

Player: Players must be human, and will retain characteristics of their actual self. They may choose general body size, shape and musculature, but all players will possess golden pupils. Players possess a fixed level and class system. Players gain levels for their class by performing related actions, and automatically gain skills when they have reached certain experience thresholds. They may not learn skills outside their class, but may learn class related skills much faster than an ordinary inhabitant. When a player logs out, their body remains inert and vulnerable, unless they are within an area controlled by their patron Deity. When logging out elsewhere, it may require that the player’s body be guarded by a fellow player, or an inhabitant of the world. When a Player dies, they lose 10 levels of experience and are respawned at the last Shrine of Navia they prayed at. If they are below level 10, that character will die and a new character must be created.

  

Migrate Character?: Yes/No

 

Mark paused and stared at the notifications for a long while. Well now, that’s a hell of a note. He thought to himself. There were advantages and disadvantages to both, at least on paper. The truth of the matter was that until they started to play the game, most people would take the comment about “NPC” reactions as exaggeration. Honestly, knowing just how alive all the “NPCs” seemed, he fully expected that when the first wave of players descended that they might well be labeled as invaders. Still, the main reason he liked the game was simply that he enjoyed “being” Marcus Allbright. Sure, it wasn’t really game-like, but frankly that was the point.

Mark had played any number of games over the years, spent decades of time in virtual worlds, been a beta-tester on more than one occasions. He’d learned to exploit game systems with the best, building over-powered characters that could take on dozens of other players at once. The thing was, they were all just that, games. Real Fantasy Online felt more like a second life, and while he wasn’t the OP hero of legend, he actually kind of liked it that way.

Without a second thought, he selected [No]. Moments later another window appeared.

Thank you for playing Real Fantasy Online. World Update will be complete in 23 hours and 54 minutes. Now logging out.


When Mark took off his headset, he almost jumped a deafening BO~OM rattled his apartment. When he realized it was just thunder, he shook his head and got up out of bed.

No wonder I had that dream. Mark thought to himself. He’d opted to sleep in-game after talking with Navia for a bit. There was a reason it had been so vivid, it wasn’t actually a dream. Closer to a memory. Years ago, when VR worlds were still fairly new he decided to try a game called: Way of the Immortal. Quite frankly, it wasn’t that good. It was a fighting game based on wuxia-style novels. You could practice “Cultivation Techniques” which gave you new moves, and as you battled other players you gained “Martial Prowess”. You could force other players to fight by wagering “Face” and couldn’t learn new “Cultivation Techniques" unless you had enough both “Face” and “Martial Prowess” to get accepted into a school.

There was only one place the game stood out. The cut scenes where a player gained new abilities were probably where the developers had spent most of their budget. The dream he’d had as “Allbright” was actually a near-perfect recreation of the scene where he’d first started learning “Lightning Style”. For some reason, that scene had left a deep impression on him.

Walking over to the wall, he touched a panel that turned the window transparent. It must have been around midnight. The sky was pitch-black, but only for brief periods before the torrential downpour was illuminated by flashes of lightning. Mark was entranced as he watched bolt after bolt strike, some single, brilliant pillars, others arching like an inverted tree. The thunder rumbled constantly, with an occasional deafening boom shaking the room. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a storm like this.

Almost unconsciously, he imagined himself standing outside. Being beaten about by the rain, the scent of ozone heavy in the air. “I see lighting in your eyes!”  The man in the purple robe had said, gripping his head on either side. As bolt after bolt of blinding blue-white struck, Mark recalled the tingling, invigorating sensation the game had simulated. Deciding to humor a childish impulse, he clapped his hands together, remembering his favorite pre-battle stance.

“Taste the power of Lightning!” He yelled out, visualizing the crackling sound, smelling the heady scent of ozone, seeing the….

“What. The. Fuck?.” Mark said, staring at the rope of electricity buzzing between his palms.

A moment later he felt himself grow light headed and collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

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A note from pyrowind

Tried to make a more reasonable looking character sheet for Keiko, and I might go back and re-do Mark's earlier one. This chapter was actually a bit of a challenge for me. I was interrupted in the middle of writing this and had somewhat lost my train of thought when I got back to writing. 

As an aside, the "dream" that Mark had was actually one I had a couple of weeks ago, and since it's so rare for me to be able to remember one it made a cameo. I was originally planning on doing something similar, but with a different ability.

As always, I'd appreciate any feedback you have. Thanks for reading!


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pyrowind

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