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Chapter 14: Politics

Arcane stirred from her thoughts when the carriage stopped at the gate of a great castle at the edge of the town. Made of stone and wood, the structure towered above the surroundings and stood at least fifteen meters tall. Guards stood at the gates, similar in appearance to Trevias. They wore simple armor and no real uniform, wielding spears of stone and wood and standing proudly with straight tails and stiff ears.

Trevias dismounted from the carriage and went to talk with them. A heated discussion could be barely heard, though none of the words could be made out. Fuming, Trevias came back to the carriage.

“We have to walk from here, princess.” Trevias informed her, shaking his head. “Idiots at the gate just won’t listen to me for some reason.”

“It’s fine.” Annabelle said, rising to her feet and stepping out of the carriage. Jasmina pushed Arcane out after her before leaving last herself, elegantly dropping down the improvised step Trevias had put at the side of the vehicle.

“Driver, await our return.” Trevias ordered, bowing while indicating for Annabelle to enter the fort. The guards stepped to the side, allowing the two women and girl to enter with Trevias just behind them.

“I’m afraid I have never met Lord Jeffers. What can you tell me about him?” Annabelle asked while they passed the gate.

“I haven’t either.” Jasmina added quickly.

“He’s a decent lord, very strict and disciplined with his men.” Trevias explained. “He’s a good man at a port city like this one, though often a bit too strict and unwilling to turn a blind eye to the most minor issues.”

“Corruption is frowned upon in my kingdom.” Annabelle said, frowning.

“It’s not corruption, princess.” Trevias backpedaled hastily. “It’s more… Sometimes, you might be better off not looking too closely at something when there are bigger issues just out of sight.”

“... Like piracy, perhaps?” Annabelle asked, picking up on something.

“Yeah.” Trevias said shortly. “Lord Jeffers only problem is if he doesn’t see it, it didn’t happen.”

Annabelle nodded in understanding.

Jasmina shook her head disapprovingly though. “Seems like a bit much to call a minor issue to me.”

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Annabelle replied. “We can only do our best to minimize their effects afterwards.”

“Right, about meeting Lord Jeffers.” Trevias said as they walked through a pair of great doors. “He’s a bit of a stickler for formality, and rank, so be careful about that. Especially seeing as the pair of you are cultivators… he doesn’t much like cultivators.”

“But you yourself are of the third tier?” Annabelle asked, surprised.

“I am, princess.” Trevias said. “And you will note I’m also a private. I’m your escort ‘cause nobody higher ranked would touch you.”

“I see.” Annabelle said, falling into thought. “Thank you for warning me.”

“Running a port like this and disdaining cultivation? That’s surprising.” Jasmina said. “I have a feeling I’m not going to like this Jeffers.”

“Lord Jeffers, Jasmina.” Annabelle corrected. “And no matter what you think of him you will be polite and follow my lead. We are on his land, in his domain, after all.”

“Very wise.” Trevias commented from the side.

“I’ve been given a recent lesson in humility.” Annabelle replied with a smile.

Trevias nodded as Jasmina shuddered. “How fortunate it was a short one.” she said.

“Indeed.” Annabelle agreed.

Arcane was examining the castle while they walked. Stone and carved wood were the totality of its decor, the dour walls a dull grey without any real character to them. There were occasional hangings, but no woven tapestries nor anything much more complex than simple radial patterns. The crest of this house appeared to be a stone anchor, chained to a straight pole. Anchor and mast, perhaps? Arcane was not sure.

There were very few people in the castle, the empty halls silent but for their footsteps even as they ascended stairs to the third level. Arcane noticed arrow slits every few meters, indicating this was very much a military fortress rather than a pleasure palace. She was a bit surprised that a military commander on this world of cultivation would disdain the most powerful weapon available… Then again, Arcane herself hated cultivation and disdained the practice of it, so she didn’t think too much on it.

Annabelle and Jasmina patiently led the way under Trevias’s direction, allowing Arcane to hang back and enjoy herself. The castle was kept clean, the stone halls clean of junk though dust did cover almost everything. The smell, too, was almost pleasant, reminiscent of wood smoke rather than human (or elfbeast) waste.

“This castle is well made.” Annabelle noted as if reading Arcane’s thoughts.

“Indeed. It has never fallen while men defend it.” Trevias replied with pride.

“Even if the other side has cultivators?” Jasmina’s voice was filled with venom. “A single sixth tier could tear this place apart.”

“Jasmina.” Annabelle hushed her, but Trevias heard and grimaced.

“It’s never been attacked by a cultivator.” He explained. “None of them have ever seen a point, I guess.”

“Obviously.” Jasmina continued before Annabelle clapped her paw over her mouth.

“We are not here to offend.” Annabelle hissed. “Control yourself, Countess.”

“Yes, your highness.” Jasmina said reluctantly, bowing her head.

Arcane noted that they were getting closer to a concentration of people and started masking her presence. Anyone who tried to look at her would find their mind slipping away and would assume she was more similar to a wall than something worth looking at. The magic wasn’t perfect, of course; some people liked looking at walls. But it would work for now. Arcane would not be involved in what came next.

The four of them came to a pair of wood doors that Trevias thrust open immediately. Light filled their vision for a heartbeat, causing Jasmina and Annabelle to start blinking repeatedly while Arcane subtly slipped past them to stand in a corner. The pair of women moved forward after their eyes were clear and stood in the middle of the hall, facing a great throne on which sat a handsome older man with hints of greying hair. He wore a wood circlet and fine fur robes, indicating he was most likely the Lord Jeffers they were here to meet.

Around Jeffers were several other well-dressed elfbeasts, their ears clean and unscarred and their tails flipping back and forth behind them like a playful cat. Arcane giggled at how catlike they were behaving, backing out of the way and pretending disinterest while fixating their attention on the interaction about to occur. Then again, she was doing almost the same thing; she was just a lot better at it.

“Welcome, travelers.” Lord Jeffers said in a deep voice, while Annabelle and Jasmina bowed before the throne.

“We thank you, Lord Jeffers.” Annabelle said, straightening up.

“Indeed. I have heard a little of your situation.” Jeffers said, his eyes indicating for Annabelle to change that.

“There is not much to tell, I am afraid.” Annabelle said with a twisted grimace. “Three weeks past a group of slave pirates attacked the Rose Kingdom and took several prisoners from both it and the nearby areas. A week and two days ago we were able to get free during a stop in the Great Desert, after which we fled back as fast as we could.”

“I see. Do you perhaps know who this pirate was?” Jeffers asked, waving one of the wallflowers over to check over a document.

“His men called him Heathcliff, Lord.” Jasmina said, still bowing. “I do not know if that is his real name.”

“Heathcliff… Interesting indeed. He does not appear to be on my list…” Jeffers mumbled. “I will have to look into this further. Could you perhaps add the name of the ship?”

“It is called the Catherine, Lord.” Jasmina replied quickly.

“Very well. You can be assured I will look into why such a vessel was able to sail freely from our shores immediately.” Jord Jeffers declared, waving the scribe back against the wall.

“That would be appreciated.” Annabelle said politely.

“And now you must be tired.” Jeffers continued easily. “I have had rooms prepared in the castle.”

“I am sure they will be satisfactory.” Annabelle said. “But now I would like to talk about my return…”

“Impatient to return to the Rose Kingdom, are you? Unfortunately I cannot send you home until I have investigated this incident fully.” Jeffers shook his head.

“I am sure there are others here who could answer far more than I…” Annabelle started.

“No, no, do not evade responsibility, young lady. You were the leader of the returnees and likely the mastermind of the escape.” Jeffers demanded. “It is your version of the events that I will require while investigating.”

“So be it.” Annabelle replied, her eyes displeased. “Could you at least send a messenger to my father?”

“I would be glad to, but I am currently short of men and birds. I will send word to the Rose Kingdom as soon as those issues are settled.” Jeffers said back, smiling down at her.

“I would be most grateful, and so would my father.” Annabelle said diplomatically.

“I would certainly hope so.” Jeffers responded, waving his forepaw. “Now, I have many issues to handle. The young soldier will escort you to your rooms.”

At that clear dismissal Jeffers gathered his scribes around himself while Annabelle and Jasmina backed out of the room and waited while Trevias closed the door behind them.

“That went well.” Jasmina said sarcastically.

“Indeed. I did not realize his hostility ran this deep.” Annabelle replied, shaking her head.

Jasmina stared at her. “You’re kidding? He’s deliberately making this difficult and you’re just going to take it?”

“Is there much else I can do?” Annabelle retorted. “We need him to return to the Rose Kingdom. Would you have me conquer this town just to abandon it immediately?”

Jasmina opened and closed her mouth several times before bowing and falling silent, her tail hanging to the ground and her ears drooping. “No, your highness.”

Annabelle nodded. “I thought not. Now, Trevias,” She said, turning to the young elfbeast waiting by the side. “Lead on.”

“Yes, princess.” He replied, bowing and walking back down the stone hallway they had entered from.

Arcane, unnoticed, followed behind them as they walked in silence.

Politics. A scourge Arcane knew all too well, and yet something necessary for any sort of society. She knew what Lord Jeffers was playing at, searching for leverage over the Rose Kingdom and ready to use whatever methods he could find to do so. Trevias’s claim that his lord was not corrupt was not entirely true; while it was possible Jeffers would stay completely within the letter of the rules and refuse to do anything directly illegal, he certainly wanted power and would use any methods at his disposal to obtain it.

It appeared the Rose Kingdom was a more prominent entity than Arcane had expected. That was both a good and a bad thing. Good, in that a stronger power gave her more selection when it came to shopping and entertainment. Bad, in that both would much more easily lead to trouble, especially in a cultivation centric world.

Arcane shook her head to dispel those doubts and decided simply to go along with this scenario until the end. Looming clouds on the horizon only she could see were likely to darken it soon, and the current winds were blowing hard, but still the sun shone down and illuminated her path.

Annabelle, Jasmina, and Trevias walked through the countless narrow stone corridors before coming to a set of doors. Trevias stepped back to let Jasmina and Annabelle go first, and waited just outside for them. Arcane stepped beside him, unable to see inside but certainly capable of hearing them.

“What is this?!” Jasmina cried.

“Tch.” Annabelle clicked her tongue. “Jeffers is certainly being difficult.”

“Difficult!?” Jasmina screamed. “This is well past being merely difficult. This is an insult!”

“Very likely.” Annabelle remained calm.

“Your highness, we must…” Jasmina called.

Annabelle cut her off. “Enough, Jasmina. We will persevere until we have what we need.”

“But your highness…” Jasmina wailed.

“What… Oh my.” Annabelle replied, her voice dropping. “This is certainly… unusual.”

“Please wait outside, your highness.” Jasmina said. “I’ll clean up.”

“That would be welcome, I guess.” Annabelle said as she stepped back out through the door.

The sounds of crashing and moving objects was heard from within the room, Arcane tilting her head and wincing while restraining herself from looking through the walls. She did not need to know what sort of thing was considered highly insulting and capable of leaving Annabelle speechless, but she did end up finding out. A bowl was thrown out of the room violently, filled with several rounded fruits. She caught it after seeing that and collected all the fruits, happily feeling the hard and full texture of the ripe apples, these a paler red almost bordering on yellow in places. Annabelle and Trevias stared at her oddly.

“Hm?” She asked, taking one of the fruits and wiping it off.

“... That is considered slave food, you know.” Annabelle said. “Most people would throw it away.”

Arcane was surprised, but didn’t drop the apple she was holding or put it down either. “Ah. No accounting for taste, then.” Shrugging, she took a small bite and let the slightly sour taste of the sweet fruit fill her mouth, smiling blissfully in delight. “Delicious.”

“... She really is different.” Trevias said, looking at her hands and then his paws. “Where did you find her?”

“She came out of the Great desert.” Annabelle answered, still looking at Arcane strangely. Arcane ignored her, happily eating the fruit and putting the rest into one of her pouches.

“I see. Perhaps some sort of slave race from beyond the desert then. If she’s never known anything better…” Trevias mumbled, thinking to himself.

However, the contents of his thoughts were inexcusable. Arcane glared at him and swallowed the fruit in her mouth angrily, but decided not to speak at first. Trevias flapped his paws after meeting her eyes and frantically apologized.

“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to call you a slave.” He started. “But isn’t meat much better than that plant garbage?”

“... You are descended from elves, correct?” Arcane asked to confirm, still glaring.

“Yes… The elves supposedly created us from beasts.” Trevias said, uncertain.

“Elves never eat meat. Only ‘plant garbage’.” Arcane explained, holding up the apple. “Still think of it as slave food?”

“Elves only ate plants?” Annabelle asked, raising an eyebrow. “How would you know that?”

“I can read elvish.” Arcane answered. “They are quite disdainful of ‘flesh eating beasts’ even if they do have ‘basic intelligence.’”

“... There are elven ruins beyond the desert?” Annabelle asked.

“Of course.” Arcane replied, noting to herself that there were likely no such things as elves had, as far as she could tell, never actually lived on this world. But considering the fear the sand lizards imbued in the populace there was no chance anyone would be able to correct her before she was gone.

“I see… So you eat plants to be like the great elves. That would certainly be a wrench in society.” Trevias rationalized to himself, completely incorrectly. Arcane just liked the taste of fruit more than that of meat.

Annabelle nodded in agreement. “It would certainly be amusing to see all those nobles frantically trying to collect slave food, though.” She laughed to herself.

“What’s so funny?” Jasmina asked, emerging from the room. “Get rid of that, girl.” She said on noticing Arcane eating the apple.

“About that, Jasmina.” Annabelle said, still laughing. “Apparently the elves only ever ate food from plants, according to some ruins this girl found beyond the great desert.”

“The elves were slaves?” Jasmina asked, misunderstanding.

“No, it was the other way around. It seems eating meat was the sign of an inferior being, and plants that of a superior one.” Annabelle explained. “Trevias and I were just imagining what would happen if the nobility found that out.”

Jasmina stared at her blankly for a bit, then tilted her head back and started to chuckle. “Yes, that certainly would be interesting. Quite a way to turn an insult into a compliment, I suppose.”

“Have you finished?” Annabelle asked.

“Oh, yes your highness. The room is prepared for you now.” Jasmina replied, stepping back and waving Annabelle and Arcane into the room.

It was larger than Arcane had expected, three rooms total including the entryway. The other two seemed to be sleeping chambers, though they also had tables and chairs set up to the side. There were only two beds, she noticed, and no bathroom outside the chamber pots she assumed were sitting under the beds.

The entryway was swept clean, the closet at the end of it bulging slightly with whatever was stuffed inside. The table in the center of it showed signs of being attacked including claw marks and cracks. There was no carpet on the stone floor, nor any decorations on the bare walls. Plain stone rooms without any charm, Arcane decided. Not the worst accommodations she had ever had, but far inferior to what she could create with ease. That wasn’t exactly an option, however, so she quickly jumped onto one of the beds and started getting used to the situation.

“I’ll take the room on the left, Jasmina.” Annabelle said from the entryway. “You take the other.”

Arcane flipped around and looked back to see Annabelle walking into the room and closing the door behind her, her tail flicking back and forth as she examined the room. Her ears perked up as she saw Arcane on the bed but other than that she remained mostly aloof and disinterested as she sat down at the small table.

“Haa… This is going to be a bit more difficult than I promised you.” Annabelle sighed as she leaned back in the chair.

“... Where am I sleeping?” Arcane disregarded the complaints about Jeffers and went for the (to her) far more important question. If she was going to be expected to sleep on the floor or in the other room she needed to be adapting to that, not this bed.

“Huh? Oh, you and I will share the bed. We should fit just fine.” Annabelle replied, gesturing to indicate it was no big deal.

Arcane heartily disagreed, but her childish appearance made her uncomfortable discussing her concerns about two people sharing a bed, especially two females. After all, it could very easily be taken to be insultingly implying Annabelle had some unusual inclinations. Or multiple, in this case.

“Kay.” said Arcane, pushing the matter to the back of her mind. She held up the apple she was slowly nibbling down to the core. “Where do I get more of this?”

“... bwahahahaha!” Annabelle stared at her expressionlessly for a while, before bursting out laughing. “I can’t say I know, but I’m pretty sure more will be delivered as an attempt to insult me if Jeffers is thinking what I know he is.”

“Kay.” Arcane nodded happily, happily nibbling the apple and indulging her childishness while Annabelle watched her with warm eyes.

“... You really are a little kid, aren’t you?” Annabelle mumbled as Arcane bounced on the bed with her fruit.

“Yep!” Arcane declared as she landed on her back and lay across the blankets. Rolling over to lay against the pillows, she curled up her legs and put her head against them.

Annabelle simply continued to watch her antics before someone knocked on the door. Arcane stiffened and peeked over her shoulder towards the door while Annabelle simply called out “Come in.”

Jasmina opened the door and slipped inside, bowing and sitting down across from her princess. She motioned for Annabelle to come closer and started whispering. “I talked a bit more to Trevias. He’s willing to listen to the other guards and see what the rumors are about Jeffers and us.”

“Well done.” Annabelle praised. “But I fear not much will be gained.”

“I fear the same.” Jasmina whispered darkly. “But it will be better than going in blind.”

Annabelle nodded and relented. “You are correct.”

“Is there anything else you need, your highness?” Jasmina asked in a louder voice. “Perhaps a change of clothes?”

“That would be welcome. Except around the chest I’m about your size, no?” Annabelle chuckled.

Jasmina looked down at her rather impressive assets and smiled wryly. “So it would seem, your highness. I’m sure I can find something.”

“You’ll do fine.” Annabelle clapped her paw on Jasmina’s shoulder. “Take Trevias with you; I don’t trust the security in town.”

“Of course, your highness. I will return shortly.” Jasmina replied, standing and bowing before slipping back out the door while calling for Trevias.

Annabelle sighed and moved over to the bed, sitting right behind the immobile Arcane’s balled form. Putting her paws behind her she leaned back and threw her head back to sigh deeply. Arcane flinched as Annabelle’s red furred tail flicked over her face, wrinkling her nose to avoid sneezing.

“Offering slave food, giving only rags for clothes, no provided money, nor even an invitation to the meals of the house… Jeffers is far past rudeness, isn’t he?” Annabelle said to herself. “But I can’t figure out what he wants! If he would just say it this would be easier, but this secrecy is troubling. Does he want freedom from blame for the kidnapping incident? Or better trade terms with the Rose Kingdom? None of that would be a lot of trouble if he would just help me return to the kingdom… It’s as if he wants to delay me by any cost.” Annabelle complained, pulling her tail in front of her and stroking it in her paws.

“Is that truly it?” Annabelle muttered in a much softer voice. “I can’t believe it of Jeffers, nor do I want to believe it of anyone, but someone helped those pirates or they would never have gotten as far as they did. But how did the pirates get so much money… Is it truly the Western nations?” Annabelle shook her head. “The Black Prince is vicious and lustful, but he is supposed to have at least some honor. Enslavement and kidnapping does not seem like his work. Then his father, or another Western power? But who? None of the rest would dare do such a thing.”

Arcane stirred and accidentally brushed Annabelle’s back with her foot. Annabelle turned around and smiled down at her.

“Sorry if that disturbed you, but I have to think about this kind of thing. Politics, you know.” She said, patting Arcane’s hair and scooting back on the bed to put Arcane’s head in her lap.

Arcane moved a bit to find the most comfortable position, the princess’s lap a bit harder than the pillow due to her ordeal. Once she did she relaxed her neck and let her head sink into the soft flesh, enjoying the feeling of being mothered by an (apparently) older woman. Annabelle laughed at her antics.

“My, my, are you comfortable yet?” Annabelle asked laughingly. Arcane just nodded, causing the princess to laugh even harder before brushing her hair. Annabelle’s fingers exposed her ear quickly, which seemed to catch her attention.

“What a fascinating protrusion. Are these your ears?” Annabelle asked, her finger poking inside and tracing out the ridges and valleys before plunging into the canal. Arcane flinched at the unexpected intrusion but didn’t prevent it. She well understood the curiosity intelligent species had with those unlike them, especially those they had never seen before. “It’s almost like an elves’ in legend. But without the pointed tip… How strange.”

Annabelle continued her examination, very carefully moving her paw around the ear and tilting her head to get a better look. The light scratch of her claw spiraled in along the valleys that led from the outer lobe to the canal, applying little pressure to avoid drawing blood. Arcane wouldn’t have minded if she was a bit more forceful. This light touch was somewhat ticklish and she could take a lot more. Human ears were far less fragile than those of cats or their descended beast races, after all.

Annabelle finally seemed content with her examination of the ear and reached for Arcane’s hand with her paw. “Do you mind?” she asked politely, pulling the limp limb up and holding its end in her hand.

Arcane shook her head, her mind not focusing on the in depth examination of her uniquely human parts occurring above her. Annabelle saw and patted her head before turning her attention to the hand, her own stubby fingers separating and rubbing Arcane’s far more delicate ones.

“Five fingers, and this length… But it is very delicate.” Annabelle commented, counting the number of digits in surprise and comparing the fingers to her own. Then she started bending them, causing Arcane to wince at the slight pain which made her quickly stop.

Annabelle started examining the entire hand in greater detail. Arcane felt her gentle paws first go over the palm and the back of the hand, tracing the palm lines and pressing down to find the myriad delicate bones within. Arcane’s raised veins also seemed to attract some attention, several of them also being traced with a light claw carefully regulated to not scratch her skin. Annabelle next moved to the pinky, pushing gently to find the range of motion and exclaiming with surprise at finding two joints along the digit. She curled it down and then pulled it back, trying to bend it the other way.

“Ouch!” Arcane cried, her finger creaking ominously as Annabelle tried to move the second joint on the pinky backwards after it resisted her gentle attempt. She snatched her hand away and nursed it in her chest for a bit, carefully putting the pinky joint back into the painless straight position.

“Oh, Sorry.” Annabelle apologized, rubbing her back and leaving the hand alone. “I didn’t realize it didn’t work that way. It won’t happen again.”

“... mm.” Arcane hummed, delicately extending her hand again and letting Annabelle continue her examination. So long as the elfbeast princess was careful, the gentle caressing actually felt pretty good.

“Thank you. Sorry if I’m a bit too curious.” Annabelle said contritely, not backing off from her examination. Arcane mentally commented that she didn’t particularly mind; before she had gained sufficient practice she herself had been like this on meeting every new species, often even less courteously.

Annabelle gently stroked the pinky in apology before taking the ring finger and doing the same thing to it. When she was bending it down she accidentally cracked one of the knuckles, jumping in surprise before repeating the gesture. No sound forthcoming she tried doing the same thing to the pinky, getting a similar response from bending down the entire finger and the second joint.

“The bones are snapping against each other.” Annabelle commented in a surprised tone. “Does it hurt?”

Arcane shook her head, then felt compelled to go a bit further. “It actually feels pretty good.” She said in a sleepy tone, letting her other hand hang out suggestively.

“Hahaha.” Annabelle laughed. “Alright, I’ll do all of them.”

Annabelle moved down to the middle finger after finishing with the ring, cracking it first before bending it backwards and noting that it could go further than the other two. She bent the joints side to side to make Arcane’s nails overlap before running along it with her claws, making Arcane giggle softly at the ticklish sensation. Deciding to ignore that, Annabelle moved on to the index finger and performed the exact same examination on it. The index had the greatest range of motion, though, so Annabelle spent a bit more time running her fingers over it and bending all the joints every way she could before flipping the hand over and going after the thumb.

Arcane breathed softly as Annabelle bent the nail through 180 degrees of motion, gently tracing the thicker joint and squeezing all along it’s length with her finger pads.

After finishing with the first hand Annabelle reached down and gave the other the same treatment, an impromptu manicure Arcane was more than happy to allow, before letting both hands down. Arcane then jerked in surprise and turned her head rapidly as Annabelle’s paw ran along her leg towards her foot.

“Sorry. Is it not okay?” the princess asked, withdrawing her hand.

“... Just surprising.” Arcane replied, relaxing again and letting Annabelle turn her around to put the pair of feet in her lap. Arcane couldn’t stop giggling as her bare soles were tickled by the princess’s paws and claws.

“What’s so funny?” Annabelle finally asked, trying to catch the foot jerking about while Arcane laughed.

“Feet are ticklish.” Arcane explained. “Can’t control it.”

“Ah, like underarms or some people’s sides?” Annabelle explained to herself. “They do seem more sensitive than my paws.”

“It’s worse when you’re gentle.” Arcane commented. “Light touches tickle more than hard ones.” As she said that Annabelle’s tail lightly flicked over the sole of her foot, causing it to jerk uncontrollably as Arcane choked on her laughter.

“Like this?” Annabelle said, firmly grabbing the foot and pushing her paw into the sole. The solid grip did not tickle and Arcane was able to stop her leg from moving about any further. “I guess so.” The princess answered herself, lifting the foot to examine it more closely.

Arcane’s foot was far more fascinating than her hand had been. The occasional accidental tickle aside, Annabelle seemed concerned with every part of the structure and how it reacted to stimuli. Pressing her paw against the heel she let out a breath in surprise at how hard it was before running the same pressure along the bridge and up to the ball. Arcane sighed in pleasure, the foot massage also a welcome side effect of the examination.

“This feels good too?” Annabelle asked in amusement.

“Very much so.” Arcane answered, wondering if she could convince the princess to give her a fuller massage along the back and limbs. She was slightly worried, though, that the next place Annabelle would examine would be the base of her spine where her tail attached. She could allow it, but it would be rather embarrassing.

Annabelle, fortunately, seemed unaware of Arcane’s worries and was comparing the two feet, bending the stubbier toes and applying pressure all along the base. She then reached for a hand and pulled Arcane’s arm back to compare a hand and a foot.

“They are completely different.” Annabelle noted. “You never walk on these, I guess.” She shook Arcane’s hand while putting the two on top of each other.

“Nope.” Arcane said simply, still half asleep and enjoying the examination.

“I see. Nor, I guess, do you grab anything with your feet? Very interesting. I assume our kind are capable, though few do in upper society. Though I doubt we are as good with either as these fingers of yours.” Annabelle said, putting the hand back and resting the foot next to the other. Then she hesitated.

‘Knew it’ Arcane said to herself inside. “Don’t touch my panties.” She said out loud, indicating for Annabelle to proceed with what she clearly wanted.

“Okay.” Annabelle replied, rolling Arcane onto her stomach and pushing the dress up past the hips. But when she saw Arcane’s underwear she hesitated, as the spine clearly continued past the lace triangle’s upper limit. “How about just a bit?”

Arcane shook her head, but apparently the gesture was not seen and the silence was taken as assent. Annabelle pulled the panties down just far enough to expose the beginning of her butt, her fingers fondling the base of the spine and making Arcane feel extremely uncomfortable.

After a few minutes Annabelle finished, having been warned several times by Arcane not to touch her in certain places. Arcane straightened her clothes angrily while Annabelle thought about what she had seen.

“Well, you certainly are not an elfbeast.” Annabelle said at last.

“No.” Arcane snapped, still grouchy at being assaulted.

“I’m sorry.” Annabelle said. “You can do me if you want.” She proposed as repayment, holding out her paws to Arcane.

“No need.” Arcane declined.

Annabelle seemed crestfallen, but then seemed to think of something. “Can I see your ears again…” She trailed off, seeming to realize that she may have stepped over a line (or several) she wasn’t supposed to. “I guess not…”

“Sure.” Arcane surprised her by assenting. “Just don’t go under the clothes.”

Annabelle seemed surprised for a bit then crawled forward before she could change her mind. Arcane was facing up on the bed, her closed eyes looking at the ceiling and her entire body relaxed, allowing Annabelle to easily move her around.

“Fascinating.” Annabelle said as she exposed on of Arcane’s ears, tilting her head to better see it. “It’s so weird, like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Arcane didn’t reply, but Annabelle seemed to get interested in something else. Reaching her paws over, she touched Arcane’s closed lids and was about to open them when Arcane grabbed her wrist and lifted it away. “Don’t touch.” She warned, reaching her own hand over to her eye and peeling it open herself.

Annabelle was treated to the sight of a milky white orb glazed completely over, obviously incapable of seeing anything. She gasped in shock as Arcane closed the eye again and glared at her with the closed lids.

“You’re blind.” Annabelle declared.

“Not exactly. But don’t touch.” Arcane warned again, letting go of the paw and letting her head fall back to the pillow.

“I’m sorry.” Annabelle said. She played a bit with Arcane’s nose before getting to the lips. “Can you open your mouth?” She asked politely with her fingers just over the lips.

Arcane complied, letting the stubby fingers invade her mouth and rub over her tongue. Annabelle seemed surprised at how smooth it was, unsurprising considering that cat’s tongues were usually pretty rough, and counted the teeth carefully. Doing her best not to spit, Arcane pushed the fingers out with her tongue and closed her mouth, turning her head away to indicate she was done with that particular experience. Annabelle seemed crestfallen, but she regained her excitement by playing with Arcane’s fingers and wrist again.

Arcane was somewhat used to being an unusual animal, whether to the void swimmers who had first found her or the various species she had interacted with over her life. She usually found it was simply better to let it happen than try to fight back, at least when dealing with interested individuals. Groups she rejected, as they were more likely to keep records and demand far more in depth examinations that went beyond what was polite or modest.

Annabelle’s playing continued until Jasmina returned and knocked on the door.

“Your highness” the noble girl bowed as she entered with a rather large burden of clothes. Trevias followed and deposited a similar pile on the table before retreating and closing the door behind him.

“I picked out a lot.” Jasmina explained, handing Annabelle one of the dresses and a triangle of fine fabric. “We’ll see what fits.”

Annabelle immediately took her shoulders out from her dress and let it fall to the floor, causing Arcane to flip over and look at the wall. Annabelle saw her and giggled, not bothering to react while letting more fabric fall to the floor.

Arcane remained in that position while the pair tried on many dresses, conversing all the while.

“This one suits me, don’t you think?” Annabelle asked.

“Very much so, though we don’t have the right jewels to go with it.” Jasmina answered.

“No we most certainly do not. On to the next, then.”

“Perhaps this fur…”

“Ah, marvelous.”

“Yes, that very much suits you, your highness.” Jasmina exclaimed after a brief rustling of fabric.

“So it does. When will I wear it, though… It certainly is not for traveling.” Annabelle complained, more rustling and a few footsteps entering Arcane’s ears.

“There is a dinner tonight. Trevias found the time and place.” Jasmina answered.

“I see. Then let us plan to attend; Jeffers cannot drive us away from that without risking much.” Annabelle replied. “And I was looking forward to good food.”

“So I planned, your highness. Now, if you just add this…” Jasmina replied.

“Yes, yes, very nice.” Annabelle answered, her dress rustling. “Now, for you…”

“There was this…” Jasmina responded.

“Amazing! That will work perfectly, Jasmina.” Annabelle said happily. After a brief interlude Jasmina stopped moving and Annabelle turned to Arcane. “You can turn around now, Arcane.” Annabelle said.

Arcane obeyed, turning her body and her attention towards the pair. She looked them up and down, seeing the furred dresses they were wearing with a few precious stones attacked by stone clips. Annabelle had a deep shade of red in her attire, predominantly fur covered with an underside of fibery fabric. Her tail was hidden by the folds of the long skirt, and her paws matched the color perfectly. Jasmina wore a lighter shade of tan, the color appropriate with her blondish fur. Her clothing was much lighter than Annabelle’s, with more fabric and less fur covering everything, but overall it was very similar.

“Looks great.” She complimented, looking between the two. “Have fun.”

“Oh? You’re not coming?” Annabelle asked.

“They have apples?” Arcane responded, holding up the half eaten fruit. Both elfbeasts’ faces fell.

“Ah… no, they will not have those.” Annabelle replied, shaking her head.

Jasmina agreed. “Perhaps this is for the best…” She said, shuffling the pile of clothes behind her. “We’ll be back then.”

Annabelle looked at her one last time as the pair left the room, but Arcane curled up to nibble on her apple again, perfectly happy to stay right where she was. A few childish pleasures like jumping on the bed, trying on clothes, and eating in her room were planned for the next few hours, and she had no intention of wasting them with a boring noble dinner she was sure to be mocked at.

Jasmina and Annabelle closed the door and disappeared, their voices and Trevias’s heard outside slowly fading into nothingness. Arcane smiled and went over to the pile of clothes. There was something in her size here, she was sure. And she just had to see what it would look like.

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Acarnina

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