"So... the Doggirls?" You offered. There were some shared nods, Tomas being the most begrudging of the lot. "Sounds like a nice simple low-effort first quest then."
The monstergirls appeared to react differently- most were looking from one tamer to the next, and then at you. Were they trying to determine the relative positions within the group? Rachel hadn't stopped smirking, and the only two monstergirls who appeared to be ignoring these shared looks had been Tessa and Monica.
"Master?" Freya drew Tomas' attention, even with Rachel currently one step away from starting to remove pieces of cloth from him. "I think we should prepare before heading out."
"What a cute little button, all worried for Master's safety," Rachel cooed at the elf, switching tracks instantly. "Don't you worry one bit, I will make extra sure Master will stay safe and sound no matter what, kay?"
"She does have a point though." Tomas had to pry himself a bit away from the woman's grasp, now turning his attention fully towards the elf. "What do you suggest?"
That caught both monstergirls slightly by surprise. Rachel looked the most thoughtful of this turn of events, but Freya instantly puffed up with a tentative eagerness. "Well... what do we have?"
"I've got the list." Kat offered, now approaching the Elf with her dex, and you felt like this was not a spontaneous offer. "Let's review this for a sec."
Your eyes glanced at Rachel. The infernal monstergirl haughtily stepping away from the others and lounging against the bench, looking at the trio for a moment before quickly losing interest. Her expression lost the perma-smile she'd had moments ago as she glanced around and then back at you. Her eyes lingered only a second, and then she glanced away.
"Help them out if you've got any input to give," you told Diane.
"Yes Master," she replied, moving to approach Freya and Kat.
The trio was quick to come to conclusions.
"We could add things to the list, but these are the more important ones we think we ought to get," Kat finally revealed, showing what you had available that could be of use. "Think we ought to buy anything from the list before we go look for the farmer?"
"Well... let's go get some supplies then," you muttered.
The shopping list was split up, and each group set out to find their own piece of it, having only enough to buy the items on their list and little else. Kat opted to go in Tomas' direction. You weren't too sure what her plans were, but God you hoped she had something good to bring out of them and maybe hash things out too.
Half an hour later, everyone had gathered at the south of Bark. "Quest has a set of coordinates," Tomas pointed out. They weren't too far from where you currently were, only a handful of hours worth of walking.
"Twigs and grass hurt my feet," Rachel pouted, hugging Tomas once more the moment the group was getting close to the town's edge, kissing his neck and ear. "Could you recall me, please Master? I would so love to get some time to rest in my ball."
"Sure," the young man replied simply, and she vanished into a beam of red light.
You leaned against Diane, lowering your voice as you noticed Freya scowling at what had just happened. "Correct me if I'm wrong here, but..."
Diane paused for a moment, seeming to consider how to express her current distaste. "What is the most dangerous weapon Master would be able to carry to defend himself back where he lived had he the ability to prepare?"
That wasn't a hard question at all. "A gun."
She looked slightly surprised at that mention, but nodded. "I studied about those, a bit," she declared, then reached out to touch her hand. You saw a dim glow as it spread up her arm; she was clearly putting effort into it. She then reached down, grabbing a sharp rock, and thrusting it along her skin.
It startled you, but the shock was double when you saw there wasn't a scratch.
"Though we are far tougher than humans on average, monstergirls can use their powers to reinforce their bodies to a degree, it makes it harder to be injured," she explained, then lowered her voice a little. "From a gun, I'd only get bruises out of the low calibre ones," she hissed. "A Succubus is several times tougher."
You felt like sighing. It seemed like this would be a hassle.
-Pack of Doggirls seen near the south end of town 2 nights ago. 1,000 SLC per Doggirl.
The "south of town" was a rather broad statement, it seemed. The "town" was, for the most part, a congregation of houses of one to two stories in height with a very small number of them being taller than that. One of the taller ones was the medical centre with its bright red roof. But outside of this, the town was surrounded by farmland.
Lots of farmland.
There were many tiny houses sprinkled throughout fields of varying shapes and crops; some looking just about ready to be picked, and others no more than a large barren piece of land that was being worked over. It felt as if each chunk of land was in its own season of the year, which felt odd, but you figured it might have had something to do with either ferals or the crop itself. Maybe there were new plants here that grew strangely.
Still, the fields were not what caught your attention.
"I never noticed there was a tall building," you muttered as you looked at the town from a distance. There was a singular tall tower near the centre, perhaps five stories tall, made out of stone, and sporting a metal extension that doubled its height. "Wonder what it is?"
"That is the town antennae, Master," Diane explained. "It has some protections to make it so you don't pay attention to it when you get close, and it's mostly so ferals ignore it."
"Ferals would attack that thing?" Mr Gabriel glanced over his shoulder to stop and grumble.
"If I may," Freya piped up, drawing attention, and she waited for a heartbeat before continuing. "Most electric and some steel type monstergirls can sense the signal towers and find them annoying, so ferals might attack it."
You noted Diane frowned ever so subtly. You had to take a moment and wonder at that as you glanced now to the proud looking Freya. Your thoughts drifted back to when you were a teacher; this felt similar to some of the dynamics when two people were trying to get attention from the unspoken 'leaders' of the social cliques. The comparison gave you a second further worth of thought- the tamers were the ones that owned the monstergirls, so maybe the reason the monstergirls were pushing to stand out was as a way to push their tamers' status?
That made you shake your head, no, it felt a bit too convoluted.
"So where do you figure the Doggirls are?" Kat spoke up as she glanced around the fields that surrounded the south and east of the town. "I'm not seeing anything running around."
"Think Monica can catch a scent?" Tomas asked.
You fought not to roll your eyes.
"We should ask the locals," Mr Gabriel said calmly, his eyes turning towards the fields and watching how, in some of them, there were people at work. "They should know better than anyone."
The others nodded at that, and you hopped off of the road and got close to one of the fields being worked on.
"Hello," you greeted the young woman. Her gaze turned in your direction before looking surprised, and then slightly nervous as she looked at the group.
She hurried on over. "Good day, sirs," she spoke, and you noted she didn't even seem uncomfortable being barefoot. "How may I be of help? The Masters are not currently at home."
"It's nothing serious," you replied with an amicable look. "I'm just here because we heard there were some feral Doggirls. Do you happen to know anything?"
"Ah." A quick nod and relief. "Yes, sirs, some of us have seen them from time to time, they like to go for Mr Douglass' fruit patches." She pointed westward, at one of the smaller farms. "I heard they're only four or five, popped up out of the forest 'bout a week ago."
"That's good to know, thank you miss...?"
"No need for 'miss' sir, I'm just Tora." She bowed, smiling slightly.
"Well, thank you Tora," you replied, returning to the others before sharing the details.
"Four or five? It should be easy to handle," Kat spoke with a determined nod.
"Don't get cocky," Mr Gabriel said firmly with a frown, to which the others nodded.
It didn't take too long to get to Mr Douglass' property. There were a couple of Elves working near the fence, so you'd greeted and asked about the Doggirls. They focused on Freya, but had explained that the canines came up during the night when most monstergirls were sleeping. The engagements had been very few, the ferals only appearing to come to steal a bit of fruit and run off as soon as they detected anyone approaching.
That was a relief- it meant they weren't defaulting to aggression.
"What now?" Kat brought up the question as she looked around. "I don't think anyone here could track them to their den other than maybe... Monica?"
"You think they'd have a den?" You asked but stopped, looking at the feline as she'd mostly been quietly tailing the group and sniffing around. "Monica, can you smell and track?"
Your comment made her pause. "Can? Tr-ack? Smell? New word?"
Scratching your head, you closed your eyes, trying to make a mental image of what you wanted to convey to Monica.
"Smell." Diane's voice made you open your eyes as you saw her approach Monica, leaning in, sniffing at her. "Smell." She smelled herself, and then leaned on you and did the same. "Smell." She grabbed a piece of grass from the ground and did an exaggerated sniffing too.
Monica took a moment, watching the nurse, then you, then taking a deep breath through her nose. "Smell?" A shared nod.
"Well, since it doesn't seem like we have anything better to do, might as well sit around and wait," Mr Gabriel commented as Diane was focusing on explaining some words to Monica.
"You sure I can't help?" You offered.
"Master, I am the alpha, teaching such simple things to harem sisters should be my duty," the nurse insisted. "It is an important bonding experience." A wink. "Worry not, Master, I am rather certain Monica has a very good sense of smell, once I've explained things properly she should be able to help."
"Ok then..." You turned towards the others, leaving Diane to work some new words into Monica's vocabulary. For the most part, you were slightly surprised at how insistent Diane was of the concept, maybe she'd been looking forward to this.
Glancing back at the rest of the group, you saw Tomas had brought Rachel out and the succubus was pinning him to the ground, touching him all over while Freya glared from a distance. Seeing how Kat and Mr Gabriel were chatting about something a bit further off, you approached the Elf.
"Hey," you greeted her, calling her over with a simple gesture.
"Yes, sir?" She glanced in your direction with a slightly worried look towards Tomas as the infernal was slowly managing to strip him.
Your eyes glanced at Rachel for a long moment, and then you glanced away. "I had a couple of questions, regarding your bow." That appeared to put her on the defensive, and she leaned the shoulder slightly away from you as she eyed you with suspicion. You quickly raised your hands. "Not in that way, I wanted to know how well you could handle it."
"I am good with the bow, sir," she stated as if it was as much a fact that the sky was blue.
"I meant for group tactics," you said. "What's your effective range? How far can you shoot accurately? And can you handle yourself in close quarters if the need arises?" There was a gesture of your head towards your girls.
"Monica is close quarters as far as I've seen, so I'd like to know how to command her better so as to avoid her accidentally getting hit by an arrow."
"Oh." After a pause, she turned away from you. acing towards the fields, her hand reached for the bow and, in one fluid motion, let loose an arrow. The whole movement had been so fast you'd almost missed it. The arrow landed a hundred meters away. Everyone had turned in your direction. "If the target is any closer than that, I will not miss unless I am blinded. And I know how to handle myself in close combat, a Doggirl should pose no serious risk to me even if she catches me by surprise."
"That's good to know," you said with a nod. You glanced at Rachel, whose molestation of Tomas had slowed, her gaze locked on you. "Know anything about what we should consider her able to do?"
Considering how her hand had stopped, you figured she could hear the conversation.
"During the fight, she had used black fire to attack from a distance, keeping herself airborne and out of their range," Freya commented a bit less amicably.
"Hm..." You rubbed your chin. "Then we might want to avoid using her in this hunt, the last thing we need is setting something ablaze this close to the farms."
"I am perfectly able to handle some mutts without my fire," Rachel now spoke up, leaving the lap of a very flustered Tomas and, with barely a flap of her wings, floating her way to land next to the both of you.
"Anyway, thanks for the information, Freya. I think Tomas might need your help to get up though," you told the Elf, giving her a wink. Turning to Rachel just as she'd been about to shoot a glare at the Elf, you brought her attention back to you with a clap, smiling from ear to ear. "Glad you could provide some information. If you wouldn't mind, what else can you do besides flying and fire?"
"Maybe, like, sir would want to see?" Her tone had switched into a bubbly little smile as she held her hand out at you.
You frowned ever so slightly, glancing at her hand before quirking a brow. "You wouldn't happen to be trying to seduce me using your powers again, now would you?"
"Oh, I would never sir," she replied, practically a purr, as she kept her hand extended.
Her smile cracked ever so slightly, but she didn't even twitch, taking a moment to regain her fake smile. She cooed a little, reaching for your hand with the other and, with a single finger, caressing the back of your hand with it. The touch was electric; every nerve on your arm lit up, goosebumps coursing through your body as an erotic tingle shook you from head to toe. You clenched your jaw as you looked at her- now the smile had moved into something smugger, her single finger drawing a circle against your wrist.
You had to lock your knees to prevent them from failing you.
"I can do this, for example," she purred under her breath. "But... stronger, much stronger. With just a touch, a weak Doggirl wouldn't really stand much of a chance. Don't you think so, sir?"
You fought to keep your face stern and impassive. "It's an amusing trick, but I don't think we should rely on it as the core of the strategy." You didn't move your hand out of her grasp, keeping your eyes firmly on hers. "It might be able to incapacitate someone, but only for a brief period of time. Against multiple enemies, it would prove a needless risk."
Her eyes narrowed, almost imperceptibly, and her nail pressed into your skin, a tiny jolt of discomfort that you held on to. "Maybe sir should be wary, lest some bad girl harms him."
"That, I don't have to worry about." You reached out and grasped the finger poking into your skin, pushing it further. You felt the sting of her sharp nail pierce it and draw a single drop of blood.
You felt a tiny gust of wind and heard the sound of dirt crunching behind you.
"Rick?" The voice was almost next to your ear as it spoke.
Even if you didn't recognise the source of the voice, judging by the way Rachel's eyes widened, you would've been able to tell exactly who was standing behind you. The succubus had frozen, and the tingling had stopped throughout your body quite suddenly. It seemed she had cut her powers on the spot.
"I'm fine Monica, just a scratch," you said, pulling Rachel's nail away from your hand and turning to look at your girls.
The feline looked down at you for a moment before reaching for your hand, leaning down, and sniffing it for a moment before she licked it. Diane was right next to the cat and looking between you and Rachel.
"I told you, it was just a scratch, Rachel did nothing," you repeated, more sternly now; your gaze firm enough Diane shrunk slightly before you turned back to look at Rachel. "Thanks for sharing the information, Rachel."
It took the succubus a split second before she nodded, turning around to leave in Tomas' direction. Diane looked at you with a silent question in her eyes.
"I did to myself, Diane, it's just a scratch."
"But... why?" She asked, her voice low.
"Because I needed to prove a point."
"I'm not a defenceless human," you said with a little smile as she took your hand after Monica had stopped licking and touched it with her glowing hands. "I've got you two with me."
Her smile glowed a little as she nodded. "Yes, sir."