"Well, it's time to leave ain't it?" Mr Gabriel spoke with a grumble. "You'd think I'd be the last one."
You looked at him, and then at Kat, before looking at the medical center.
"It's probably Rachel." The young woman crossed her arms.
No sooner had she mentioned the name than the doors to the center opened and said succubus had stepped out. The woman looked energetic, eager even. There was no bubbliness or fake smiles to be had; the look was positively predatorial as she stepped into the sun and glanced around.
And then looked at you.
Her lips turned slightly further up, the gesture lasted for a second before she spread her wings and took to the air.
Not far behind, Tomas had followed. Bags under his eyes, the young man looked drained, pale, and dejected. Concern flashed across the group. "Are you ok?" Kat was the first to ask.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just didn't get much shut-eye," he replied with a wave of his hand and a yawn. "I just... need to get used to Rachel."
"She could get some of the energy from Freya," you pointed out.
"She did," he replied with a heavy mutter.
The silence stretched as the group looked at one another.
"Are you sure you'd not rather stay and rest?" Kat reached out to put a hand on his shoulder.
That apparently was the wrong thing to say. "I'm fine." He shrugged her hand off, frowning. "Let's go."
Another worried shared look, but you nodded and set out towards the south of town, following the details from the quest that had been posted. Fortunately, it was a downhill march, so the group made some good time.
It was a quiet walk; you had Diane with you and Monica remained balled up. Kat kept looking at the young man and then at you, as if you had some answer to this situation. You weren't even sure what to expect let alone what should be done about it. Mr. Gabriel for his part mostly remained focused on glancing at the scenery.
Maybe the old man had some comment along the lines of "the follies of youth", but since no one was asking, he kept it to himself.
"The farm's that way." Rachel pointed southwards.
The Succubus had the solitary advantage of having flight to be able to see ahead;from where the group stood, there were only cherry trees all around. Your glances were wary as they looked up at the infernal monstergirl before they turned back to Tomas, and the bags under his eyes.
"You sure you're holding up ok?" You asked, watching him yawn for the twelfth time. You took the chance to release Monica. Now that you were getting out of the city, you wanted to have another set of extra-sharp watchful eyes and ears.
"Hm?" He glanced at you and nodded. "Sure, let's just get this over with. I'll get some sleep when we get back."
"Maybe best to let Freya out?"
The Elf materialized in a flash of red, took a second to check the situation and surroundings, and then looked at her Master. The concern was plastered all over her face even if she didn't say a word. The Elf quietly followed Tomas' weary steps.
Fortunately, the young man wasn't slowing down the group, mostly because Mr. Gabriel was a part of it as well.
The scenery shifted, trees turning into grassy fields.
"This way," Freya said, aiming the rest of you down a path through the grass that looked like any other direction you might have taken; but after a moment, you realized there was a far greater scarcity of twigs and rocks.
Silence kept stretching on as the group walked through the field.
"Seems so peaceful," Mr. Gabriel brought up as he looked around. Just fields of green as far as the eye could see southwards, with the edges of the forest to the west.
"Weird, I know," you muttered, finding that your eyes always sought the trees in the grass and looked around them, looking for something to move and trigger your sense of danger.
Monica's steps were oddly quiet. She moved, getting close, then further away from the group, and then then back again, appearing to inspect scents here and there, but not really paying that much attention to them. The hours just ticked by, the sun slowly getting higher and higher.
"Over there." Freya pointed at a fence that cut off the wild grass and marked the start of crops and some medium-sized buildings further ahead.
You circled the fence, finding the entrance and seeing some monstergirls moving about on the other side, but only one stood near the gates.
"Hello," she greeted, her tone feeling... quietly threatening.
You scanned her.
Owner: McDonald, Breed: Minotaura, Name: Bell
"You are tamers." There was a definite edge in her words that felt... off, distant. "Came for the quest? To save my sisters?"
"Where's your tamer?" Kat asked, trying to sound friendly.
"Master is inside." Her hand pointed somewhere southwest. Eyes half-focused, her brows creased, pain shot through her expression. "The spiders are in that direction."
"Spiders?" You shuddered slightly. "Any specifics you can give us? Any details or things you remember might be the key to saving your sisters. Let's start from how this incident started."
"You don't like spiders?"
Rachel's voice startled you; she'd been floating right above you. Everyone turned to look at her, but she was looking at you intently, a grin on her lips.
The bovine monstergirl shrugged from her seat, ignoring the Succubus entirely. "It was dark, we heard an explosion, we saw fire, we panicked and ran." She pointed at one of the houses, half of it burnt down. "We heard screams, we ran faster, I tried to keep my sisters together, but we got into the woods."
"Did you notice anything?" Kat prompted.
"Some of my sisters went missing without anyone noticing. When we did notice, it was when I was pulled up." Her eyebrows lowered, scowling. "I struggled, managed to shift, broke the silk, ran. Woke up with some webs still stuck to my back, Master healed me up."
You nodded at her explanation. It was rather... bare bones, but you felt like she wouldn't really tell you more about the incident; the look on her face looked haunted enough already.
"And does your tamer know anything?"
"Master had been looking for us, only found me. Set up the quest right away, is trying to find the others. You're the first to answer."
"You poor thing," Kat muttered from behind you.
You could sort of understand her point. "Could we talk to your tamer?"
The monstergirl showed some distaste but didn't comment, just standing up and walking through the yard towards the house. Her steps were steady but appeared almost devoid of strength, like she was just going through the motions.
"I think we should look up spider breeds," you muttered to the others. Everyone brought out their dexes and began reading.
Spinnertit, Spidergirl, Spiderwoman, Tarantella, Arachnae, Wolf Spider, Xerablondi, Joulogumo... And Widow. Oh fuck that last one was nasty. You couldn't properly believe that such nightmarish beings existed, but considering the bright red flashing warnings that came with the very hideous pictures as examples of what to expect ofsuch a monster...
If there was ever a warning about a Widow in the vicinity, you were turning the other way and running. "At least it's not a Widow." Kat seemed just as horrified as you. "Otherwise there wouldn't be a farm left to begin with."
"If they were able to snatch up a Minotaura, we can discard Spinnertit," you mumbled, scratching your head. "We can also discard Joulogumo since those shock their prey."
"Spiderwoman is too rare, and Spidergirl wouldn't fit the profile." Tomas nodded, appearing to have regained some of his strength now that he was focused on the entries.
"Wolf Spider seems rad but they build dens apparently," Kat mumbled. "Nothing that pulls prey 'up'."
"Fuck if I know which of these looks scariest," Mr. Gabriel muttered, glancing up and nodding a little. "Here comes the owner."
All eyes raised, watching the man approaching with the minotaur monstergirl, with one other walking close behind. "I'd thought the only ones who'd respond to the call would be some inexperienced tamers since the quest offered so little." The man gave a nod at the group.
"Thank heavens someone with experience showed up. I'm old Mac, it's an honour to meet veteran tamers." He spoke with what were clearly renewed hopes.
"Though your monstergirl filled us in on most details, we would like to confirm whether there was any additional information you had on hand?" You asked calmly, not correcting the man's assumptions about the group's experience level. "Any clue about what type of spider it could have been?"
"No, not really." He shook his head. "Never known spiders ta' be in this side of the forest, always cats and dogs, must ‘av moved there recently." He scratched his head. "Not ta mention I was too busy dealing with ‘em tamers, who thought their cock's the biggest thing in the continent, and the fire at the same time."
"No respect," Mr. Gabriel spoke sternly, shaking his head.
"I know! And now the police is 'investigating for compensation' and shite," he grumbled. "When all ma girls are out there probably dead or scared to death! It's only been a day, you gotta get ‘em back before it’s too late, without ma girls the farm won't survive."
Mr. Gabriel took a step towards you, lowering his voice. "After the dog thing the other day, I think it's clear Tessa and I are better staying here than going with you. When the fight starts, we'd only slow you down and get in your way."
You looked at the other two, the three of you looking very uncertain. "I think it'd be best, yes." You nodded at Mr. Gabriel, turning towards the farmer. "Knowing the names of your girls would help. Do you have their capture spheres? That way we'd be able to recall them."
"Under the rubble." He pointed at the half-demolished house. "Some of ‘em likely broke, not sure, having mah girl help me clear it out and try’n to not have everything else fall down on my head."
He proceeded to give you the names of the girls, all 12 of them. Kat made sure to write them down on her dex.
"Thank you, Mister McDonalds. If you wouldn't mind, my friend Gabriel will be staying here and keeping an eye on things while we head to the woods," you spoke with a nod. "He's a pet owner we're helping out."
"Be my guest!" The man nodded, looking at you with pleading eyes. "Just... please get my girls back, without them mah farm's toast."
"We will do what we can." Kat reassured him.
The remainder of the group turned in the southern direction they'd been pointed at, looking at the forest and beginning to walk in its direction. You noticed some signs of a fire that had spread across the fields just recently, but fortunately, it hadn't gotten very far. Still, to have reached the farm and scared off the occupants...
You could only imagine the whole thing had been either intentional, or a fight at a bigger scale than what you were mentally picturing.
"Monica, smell? Hunt?" You asked the feline, pointing at the fields.
She glanced at you, then squinted. Taking a moment, she shrugged, walking off and beginning to smell about while your group kept moving forward.
"Think you have any clues, Freya?" Tomas asked the elf.
"The grass was stepped on and crushed, it complains, but nothing else." She shook her head, pointing in a vague direction that was slightly eastwards to the one you were taken. "More or less in that direction."
A quietness followed, the steps on grass the only sound.