Alyssa closed the door to Svotty’s office, stepped over one body, moved to the desk, and sighed. Was it a bad sign that she didn’t feel ill anymore? When she had killed the two in her home, she had felt queasy. Not just queasy, but she had actually thrown up. Now, even looking at the mangled body lying on the floor, Alyssa didn’t feel much but exhaustion. She had had a bit of stomach churning ten minutes ago before Tenebrael had shown herself. Now? Nothing.
Things had gotten out of hand.
So drastically far out of hand that, even though she had experienced every moment of it, she had no clue how she wound up where she was.
Too much acting. Too much bluffing. It was exhausting. All she had wanted with her evening was to sit around the inn and test out some magic. Now here she was, sitting in the basement of a brothel whose proprietor she had murdered. Murder? Was it actually murder? She hadn’t been in immediate danger, but keeping herself from being sold surely counted as self defense. Or was it all semantics. Did this world—This city have self defense laws?
Her list of things to learn was drastically exploding to an unreasonable size.
Shaking her head, Alyssa knelt down and quashed her feelings of guilt. Not guilt over killing him, but of what she was about to do. Svotty wasn’t here. Just a body. Tenebrael had taken his soul, something she could confirm just by looking around for the large pig. He was well and truly gone and she couldn’t afford to let his affluence go to waste. Patting down his body, she quickly found something. A brown pouch. Two flat pieces of some kind of leather stitched together to make a purse. It clanked as she picked it up. Looking inside, she smiled. Coins jangled together within. The same bar-like money that she had received from Yzhemal, though there was far more than she had been paid. Several of the coins were flat gold pieces. Altus, if she remembered correctly. Lots of silver medi and a handful of bronze prav.
At least that was something. She still had only a vague idea of the value of this world’s money, but it should get her a single room in a moderately well-off inn on the other side of the city. But there was probably more in the room. If the working girls were really going to stay and carry on their same job, they would probably need funds to keep going. But there was probably more elsewhere in the brothel. The day’s earnings probably wouldn’t be down here. They could use that. With her guilt further assuaged, Alyssa pulled open the drawers of the desk.
But had to pause as someone knocked on the door.
The sudden sound, even as light and dainty as it was, made Alyssa jump. It actually took her a moment to realize just who was likely on the other side of the door. Once she did, she wasn’t sure if she tried to calm down, but couldn’t help the thin layer of sweat from forming on the palms of her hands.
With the chair still pinned under Svotty’s body, Alyssa just sat on the edge of the desk, shotgun lowered but ready, just in case. “Come in,” she said.
The beautiful woman—the mimic stepped into the room. She paused at the body in the doorway, looking down at it and giggling ever so softly. Careful to step over it, she moved over to just in front of Alyssa. The other three followed her in. The elf, the bee, and the lizard. They lined up in front of the desk, keeping a fair distance from Alyssa, thankfully. Not that she was nervous, but… well, she might be a little nervous. The lizard looked weak with her scrawny arms and blunted claws, but the bee somewhat unnerved Alyssa. Though Alyssa noted that the elf had her hands on the lizard’s arms, leading her along.
“First, before anything else, I’d like to say that if I say something that offends you, I’m sorry. It isn’t my intention. The only monster I have ever interacted with was an injured harpy a few weeks ago.”
“My my, how civilized for a human.”
“I’m Alyssa,” she said, choosing not to respond to the mimic’s minor barb. Being monsters who had been slaves—sexual slaves at that—to a human, they probably weren’t overly fond of her in general. And that wasn’t even taking into account whatever it was that had people and monsters hating each other. “You are..?”
“Ufufu~ Call me Kasita.”
“Kasita. I’ll remember that,” she said as she turned to the elf. “And you?”
“Enrique,” Alyssa said, repeating the name for a bit of affirmation. She almost told the elf that it was a good name, but stopped herself. What if it was a human given name? Or what if it meant something in some other language? Best to remain silent and play it safe. Turning to the bee-girl, Alyssa hesitated. “Can you speak?” With a mouth that looked like it needed hinges to open, she wasn’t actually sure that the bee could talk. She hadn’t so far either in this room or back in the larger room.
The wings twitched a little, as did the lone antennae. “Can. Speak.”
Alyssa jumped in her seat, eliciting another giggle from Kasita. Ignoring it, she focused on the words. They were… stilted. But sounded like… When Alyssa had been a child, her family had a large floor fan. She and her brother quickly learned that if they talked into it, their words came out all chopped up. Hearing it from the bee-girl wasn’t scary, just unexpected.
As with the others, Alyssa repeated the name. “Pho. I apologize if your name also includes the vibration. My throat can’t make that noise.”
“Un. Necess. Essary.”
“Good to know.” With another nod, Alyssa looked to the final person in the room. Unfortunately, the lizard didn’t make a move to respond. Was she even aware of what was going on around her?
“Rizk,” Kasita supplied. Her smile turned to a frown, but it didn’t do so the normal way. There was a slight flicker around her mouth, not unlike a television with momentary poor reception. In one instant, she smiled. The next, she frowned. “Poor girl. She used to be so full of fire.”
“Is she alright?” Alyssa asked with a nod toward the lizard—Rizk. She already knew the answer. No one who acted like that was alright. At least not a human. Maybe it was normal for a lizard. Probably not, though.
“Regrettably, no. The years here have not been kind to her. She has been beaten down and broken.”
A deep scowl crossed Alyssa’s face. “Will she recover? Can she recover?”
The mimic hummed in thought, glancing back over her shoulder. “Perhaps if… exposure to you humans were minimized, her mental health might improve.”
Alyssa nodded. As she did, her eyes flicked to the heavy chains around the arms of three of the four in front of her. Since they weren’t attached to anything, they had to be more symbolic than useful. Maybe they were somehow magical, but they looked entirely mundane. Like something one would use to secure a heavy load to a truck. “Can those be removed? I can’t imagine they’re helping her state.”
“Her bindings?” That was the elf. Her voice was deeper than Alyssa had expected, but smooth. She stepped forward, eyes wide. “You’ll remove them? M-Mine too?”
Nodding again, Alyssa held out her hand. “Let me see?”
The elf hesitated for a moment, drawing her hand to her chest. Patiently, Alyssa remained as she was, offering what she hoped was an encouraging smile. It worked. The elf took another step forward and slowly stretched out her hand.
The chain was heavy. Extraordinarily so. A few metal links dangled from the main manacle. Just those weighed half as much as a bowling ball. And the lizard had several more links on each chain than the elf. The bee, Pho, had only the cuffs around her thin limbs, no links, but the cuffs were probably weighty on their own. Yet they all moved around like it was nothing. Maybe a little sluggish, but not even half as much as Alyssa would if she had been forced into those things. How strong were these monsters? Had they started out this strong? Or had carrying this weight made them stronger?
A chill ran down her spine. Just a slight shudder down to her toes at what these four might be capable of unfettered. As bad as she felt about their chains, it was almost a relief to note that she wouldn’t be able to open the manacles.
“Looks like this needs a key. I didn’t exactly have a chance to ask Svotty where he kept valuable things before I killed him, so unless you know…” Alyssa trailed off at the elf’s expression. It was like a grown adult who moved into their own apartment only for them to find out that Santa wasn’t real when no presents appeared under their Christmas tree. And also got a phone call five minutes later saying that their parents had died in a horrific accident. “I’ll look for it,” Alyssa said, moving back around the desk. “It’s probably here somewhere. Unless…” Again, she paused before she could rummage through the desk, looking up to the mimic. “You can turn into anything?”
The mimic quirked an eyebrow. “You’re odd for a human. Promising to remove our bindings? Speaking cordially? Helping us?”
“I dislike slavery. The humans upstairs said that they wanted to stay. If they don’t leave, I’m not going to let myself lose sleep over it. But you didn’t say that you wanted to stay. You said that you couldn’t leave. I don’t like that.”
“So it is pity then?”
“It’s help. I don’t know if you want to accept it. Maybe not. My plan might get us all killed for all I know. I’ll ask you all what you think before.” Well, if it looked like it would come to that, she would probably abandon the monsters without hesitation. She had a feeling that Tenebrael, as much as that angel liked her messing with the book, wouldn’t hesitate to eat her soul if she did end up dying.
Now that she was considering it, she couldn’t see the monsters’ souls anymore. None of them had any caricatures hovering around them. The spell must have worn off.
Shaking her head, Alyssa focused on the mimic in front of her. “Before that, however, you can turn into a teacup? Or anything? Can’t you turn into a key?”
“Ah, well, unfortunately, I can’t turn into something I haven’t seen before.”
“And Svotty was careful to keep the key out of your sight.” That explained why she lacked the manacles that the others had. That and her apparent weakness. And, if she could turn into a teacup, she would presumably be able to escape from any chains, but so long as she never saw the key, she wouldn’t be able to free her comrades. “But… I am a possibility?” Alyssa couldn’t help but ask. She was curious to see the mimic’s abilities in action.
Instead of responding, a shimmer crossed over her form. Her alabaster skin darkened to a moderate tan and her golden hair dulled and browned. The shape of her body shifted as well. Muscles grew over her lean and lithe form as she grew an extra inch or two. Her frankly absurd chest shrank down to a far more reasonable size. For a few moments, she continued wearing her sleeveless evening dress. Alyssa made special note of one difference. Where Alyssa had a series of tribal tattoos running from her shoulder down to her elbow, the mimic’s arms remained bare. That area quickly became covered as her dress stretched out into Alyssa’s long sleeved shirt.
Soon enough, Alyssa had a mirror standing before her. The whole process took only a few seconds. Thirty, tops. But the more she stared at herself, the more Alyssa felt unnerved. It was just a subtle drop in her stomach like a roller coaster dipping. The problem was that it was just like looking in a mirror. Her hair was slightly longer on her left side—by design, not accident—but the mimic’s hair was longer on the right side. It got even worse when the mimic started inspecting her body. She ran her hands over her face, chest, back… The simple curiosity on her face—Alyssa’s face—as she cupped her butt actually made Alyssa shudder.
“You have a nice body. Stronger than I expected.”
Which raised the question of how the mimic knew what her musculature was like while not knowing about the tattoo. A mistake? Or maybe there were some nuances to the magic that Alyssa didn’t understand.
But hearing her own voice speak only compounded the unnerving problem. “This is a lot stranger than I thought it would be. And, ugh, is my hair really that bad?” Alyssa ran her own fingers through her own hair, grimacing at the feel of grease. “I need a shower.”
Alyssa did not giggle like that. Hearing herself do so… she shuddered. In doing so, she blinked. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to return to normal.” In the one second that she had her eyes closed, Kasita reverted to her normal form. “Thank you. That was much faster going back.”
“I am quite used to this shape. Men find it pleasing. Easier to twist around my fingers.”
“Right.” Looking away from the monster, Alyssa focused on the group as a whole. Only half focused. At the same time, she started pulling open desk drawers. Ostensibly, she was looking for the key to their manacles. And, despite her momentary concerns about their strength, she would hand it over without hesitation should she come across it. However, she hadn’t had a chance to search the desk for herself yet. If she found something else that looked valuable, useful, or simply interesting that wouldn’t be obvious as having been Svotty’s, she wouldn’t hesitate to pocket it.
“My plan,” Alyssa continued, “is to walk you out of the city. Nice and simple.” Was incense valuable? Probably. Unless it was illegal. Were certain drugs illegal? There was so much that probably counted as common knowledge for other people that she just didn’t know. But spotting another, much larger bag of money, she couldn’t help but smile. That would be handy. She doubted that she would be considered wealthy, but she should be able to buy time to get situated in the city.
“Walk us out? How—Ah… I see.”
“Yep. If anyone has a problem with you, I’ll just tell them that you’re slaves I’m selling to some magical researcher outside the city.” Would that work? Honestly, she wasn’t sure. She had seen a few elves around, in chains of course. If there were laws about taking them in and out of the city that she didn’t know about, there would be hiccups.
Though, now that she thought about it, the mimic could pretend to be a human and walk the others out. No need for Alyssa to get involved at all. As soon as she realized that, she looked to Kasita. “Or, could you walk the others out? Pretend to be a human slave owner? I’m sure the others would be more comfortable with you rather than another human calling them slaves.”
The elf nodded twice, not hiding her eagerness for the revised plan in the slightest. But Kasita giggled again. “That could be possible.”
“I’m sensing a but…”
“But, while I might be able to walk out, that’s only because you humans rarely look twice at one another. Rarely being the key word. There remains a slight chance that they check to see if I am one. Which, as you might expect, wouldn’t be fun for us.”
“There are ways to do that?”
“A few monsters, such as myself, can disguise themselves as human. There are a handful of spells that were designed to reveal such creatures.”
Alyssa nodded. That made sense. If there was some sort of war between humans and monsters, weeding out infiltrators would be an imperative. “My original plan then, unless you see something wrong with that as well?”
“Ufufu~ You would know more about human reactions to your plan than I would.”
“You would be surprised,” Alyssa mumbled as she pulled open a second drawer. There was a notebook inside, some kind of ledger. It had long lists of names followed by numbers that were presumably dates and monetary amounts. Whether that was money spent or money owed, she didn’t know. Whatever the case, she snapped the book shut and tucked it back where she had found it. The names meant nothing to her and it could tie her back to Svotty. Though, in replacing it, she found something a little more immediately useful.
“Keys!” Her exclamation got everyone to look up. Even Rizk turned her eyes to Alyssa’s direction, even if she didn’t react much beyond that. There was a large iron ring with a whole set of keys attached to it. The keys weren’t modern. Each one looked like the stereotypical old-fashioned key common to cartoons or movies. Apparently there was one thing Hollywood got right. Two of them were overly large. They wouldn’t fit in the relatively tiny manacles. Door keys, perhaps. However, one looked just right. The shade of the iron even matched the metal around their wrists. “Enrique, we’ll find out if this is the right key if you would be so kind as to lend me your wrist.”
This time, the elf didn’t hesitate in the slightest as she practically threw her arm in Alyssa’s face. Her overexcited stare was tempered with a giddy sort of nervousness as she eyed the key. The whole room, even Kasita, went utterly silent as Alyssa placed the key to the keyhole. It fit. A good sign. When she turned the key, a loud click shattered the silence. Enrique stared at her wrist in complete disbelief as the manacle fell from her wrist and landed with a thud against the desk.
“It’s off.” Her voice was a whisper. Barely loud enough for Alyssa to hear from only an arm’s length away. Water welled in her eyes. After a few blinks, she started crying.
Alyssa actually felt a pang of guilt. When she had first realized just how strong the elf had to be, she had thought for just an instant that it would be better to leave them chained up. Seeing just how happy the elf was almost made Alyssa cry a little as well.
Almost. She wasn’t that sentimental a person.
But it made what she had to say next all the worse. “Unfortunately,” Alyssa said slow and soft, “we should probably leave them on.”
“Wha… What?” She blinked twice, further pushing tears out of her eyes, before her gaze hardened. “What do you mean?”
Thank you Kasita, Alyssa thought as the mimic came to her defense.
“If we’re to pose as slaves to get out of the city, we need to look the part. Luckily, that isn’t too hard. We have a lot of experience.” As she spoke, identical manacles formed around Kasita’s wrists. That wasn’t the only change. Her glossy golden hair shimmered and vanished as white curly fluff started growing out of her head. Her dress and body underwent a similar change. Soon enough, except her humanoid face and her hands and feet which became hooves, she was covered in a thick wool. Her eyes, which had been normal human eyes, remained mostly the same except for the pupils. The black spots widened to long horizontal bars.
“You are a sheep,” Alyssa blurted out.
“Ufu~ Indeed. A human might wonder why you’re headed out of the city to sell someone who looks human. Selling another monster? They’ll be glad to see us go.”
Frowning, Alyssa glanced between the four monsters in front of her. Why did they all look so human? Even with the wool fur, the scales, or the bee’s wings and abdomen, they all had the silhouette of a human. From even a mild distance, she could easily have mistaken them for normal people. Back home, none of them would have looked out of place at the local comic and costume conventions.
There were some extenuating factors. This was a brothel. A brothel that catered to humans, presumably. The people who had captured or sold these monsters wouldn’t have sold a truly monstrous monster to a brothel. They needed to be appealing to human men. The harpy had been much the same as well, but the harpy was a classical monster that looked roughly how Alyssa expected one to look. She hadn’t even thought twice over its appearance. Did all monsters look like a jumble of human and animal parts?
Well, no. Enrique was an elf. Tall, slender, very Tolkien. And Kasita… probably didn’t look like an unearthly beautiful woman in whatever her natural state was. Alyssa was almost afraid to ask what that form was. Maybe after they left the city and were about to part ways, she could ask. For now, she would let her be.
“Enrique. I’ll tell you what. You can hold onto the key. That way, you know that you can take off your manacles whenever you want. Though…” They were all naked. The chained elves she had seen earlier had been wearing clothing. Not anything exquisite, but clothes nonetheless. Enrique wouldn’t be able to hold the keys if she were nude—were there laws against public nudity? “Are there some rags we can have you all wear? I don’t think marching you around the city naked would be the best idea.”
“There certainly are. If you are ready to depart, I’ll show you where. Ufu~ I must admit, I am a little excited to get out of here.”
Alyssa nodded, looking around. She hadn’t fully searched the desk, but she got a few bags of money and really, what else would there be that was valuable? And she should leave something for the women who were staying, even if she thought they were idiots for doing so. Pulling the purple cloak from her backpack, she squeezed it into one of the desk drawers. Maybe it wasn’t the best gift. Oh well. She had nothing else she was willing to give at the moment. Besides, she really didn’t want to stay longer than necessary. Alyssa did pick up the three empty shotgun shells that were lying on the floor. No real reason why. They were useless to her now. It wasn’t like they could be reused. But they were hard evidence that she had been here. No one else in the entire world would have a shotgun.
Though, now that she thought about it, the shot embedded in the bodies might be telling as well. Nothing she could do about that though.
“Alright.” Alyssa held out the keys for Enrique to take. All of them. If there was some locked door, whoever remained would just have to break it down.
The elf stared for a moment before taking the keys in an almost reverent manner. “Thank you.”
Before Enrique could break down crying again, Alyssa smiled. “Let’s get out of here, shall we?”