It wasn't until the farm was well away from view that you sighed. "So what we're looking at is either one or several ferals that like to attack from above... I don't like that."
"Remember the kid that went into the woods alone and screamed?" Your words made the two tamers pale. "Yeah, I'm half sure I saw him getting yanked upwards into the branches before vanishing... or at least I'm mostly sure of it."
"As good a guess as any," you muttered. "Still, we can't really treat this like dealing with some random ferals bumbling around, it's one or various predators we're looking at. Ambush sort. That means we should consider that we're stepping into a trap."
"I don't have much that could help." Kat frowned. "Liz can climb trees but I doubt she can really win in such circumstances, and Coco..." She shook her head. "She has her vines, but it doesn't feel like a winning strategy."
Tomas grimaced. "Freya is crazy good with her bow and arrow, if she can see them she can shoot them." At his words, the elf nodded enthusiastically, immediately appearing prouder. "And... Rachel, she's strong, but I honestly don't know how good she'd be at close up against something like a spider monstergirl."
"We also don't want her lighting the fucking forest on fire." Kat pointed out. "And let's be honest, she probably-"
She was about to finish the sentence when she realized the Succubus was flying overhead, but not far enough she couldn't be listening in on the conversation.
"I probably... what?" The infernal asked, grinning.
"None of your business."
"If you say so... ma'am." A cute shrug of her shoulders as she kept flying. "I do think I can be of great help in this hunt."
Tomas looked slightly surprised at this. "How?"
Another shrug and a smirk, the infernal flapped her wings and began to rise higher into the air.
"We can't trust she'll obey you... or really do anything we might need her to," Kat hissed in a whisper only after the infernal was barely a dot up above.
"I mean, I don't own her or anything, and-"
"And she's a bitch who'll probably fuck us all over when push comes to shove," the young woman said. "We can't trust her."
"Let's try and focus on the task at hand," you said. "I've got Diane, for healing. And Monica..." You glanced at the feline, she smiled back, waving at you as she kept sniffing around the grass and following the group. "I'm sure she can do a lot up close, but has nothing for far away."
"At least we know the general direction, right?" Kat tried to cheer up, pointing southwest. "We just keep going that way until we hit the treeline. If we don't have anything solid by then, we take a stop and try to figure something out."
"Seems a good four hours worth of walking," you muttered, seeing the trees at the distance and doing a quick estimate. "It would start getting dark by then."
"Both Rachel and Monica should be able to handle darkness," Tomas pointed out. "The rest of us though..."
"Do we even want to be near the trees when it gets dark?" Kat made a snort of a sound.
"What I do know is that the longer we take the fewer monstergirls there'll be that we can save," you commented wryly. "Though it's also true that it seemed they were active during the night, maybe they hide during the day and finding them then would be harder."
"And if we lay a trap?" Everyone turned to look at Kat, she shrugged. "Dunno, have Rachel run around whining that she's some poor lost whore and wait for the spiders to attack?"
"That's... not very nice." Tomas frowned. "And I don't think she'd agree to it."
"Fuck what she thinks, you're her tamer Tomas, not her bitch," Kat snapped, making him flinch. "She's our tankiest girl, not a fragile vase."
You thought about it for a very long minute.
"Laying a trap sounds like a good idea, actually, though perhaps we're best clearing out in what way first," you spoke before Tomas could complain. "The idea of laying a trap to what, to me, seems to be a group of ambush predators... will undoubtedly be something they should be less likely to be expecting."
"Trap the trappers," Kat said.
"Trap the trappers, yes." You nodded, then turned towards Tomas. "Besides that, Tomas, you need to understand that Kat has a point. I don't know enough about Rachel, but tell me if I'm wrong in that she's the sort to not do something you tell her to do just because she doesn't want to do it?"
"It makes sense, she's a person." Tomas frowned. "We'd all avoid doing something we don't want to do."
"She is probably the strongest monstergirl in our group. I'm not even sure Monica would be guaranteed to succeed going against her," you countered. "If you tell her to do something she'd find unappetizing, something that might get the rest of us killed if she didn't... could you trust she'd do it? Without that trust, we can't really consider her a part of the group at all."
The young man shrunk slightly. "But..."
"It's the reason I spent two days training Monica." Your words were soft now. "And though she definitely has a lot of growing to do, Monica has behaved very well since I've had her out hasn't she?"
Tomas glanced at Monica for a long second. "I mean... I guess... She hasn't attacked anyone or anything like that..."
"But..." He hesitated again. "Look, I don't think I can really do that sort of thing, I'm not... I don't like being that way. Rachel is not my property."
As he said this, you paused in thought for a second. "I don't think you need to be that way, right Freya?"
The Elf was startled by your question as it brought her into the conversation. "Sir?"
"Do you think Tomas should change how he is?"
"No, of course not," she replied fast.
"You're the most experienced monstergirl in this group. Do you think that all monstergirls are compatible with the way Tomas handles things?"
That appeared to light her up, her eyes focused and she nodded. "Yes, sir, you are right." She glanced at Tomas. "Master, not all monstergirls are meant to be compatible with all tamers. Some of us work better and appreciate things such as the soft warmth and enthusiasm Master has." She smiled softly, then frowned. "While others would see it as a weakness and take advantage of the kindness, treating their Masters like a disposable pushover."
As she says this, you wonder. It would make sense to consider that some monstergirl personalities would mesh best with that of some kinds of tamers. What about you? What kind of girl did you figure meshed best with yours? You thought back to Diane, enjoying the restraints, and then Monica and how thoroughly you'd managed to keep pressing on to be able to train her and help her learn.
You knew there was some strong component relating to the individual more than the breed itself, and yet you couldn't help asking yourself what sort of 'overarching personality trait' would mesh best with your own. Was there a breed of monstergirl out there that would just be extremely likely to like you just because of how you went about things?
You shake your head to focus back on the present, and what to tell Tomas...
"Tomas, what're your thoughts on what she said?" You asked carefully, nudging him to answer Freya's words.
"I... do think that not everyone is compatible with everyone else," he muttered, scratching his head.
"Freya's worried you're being taken advantage of," Kat said. "Just look at you, you're half a corpse already."
"I'm-I'm not." Tomas became defensive. "Rachel and I made a deal, she's not 'mine', so I don't own her. She's just around for her convenience until we reach Kasul."
"Do you think she'll stick to the plan the rest of us come up with even if she's not in agreement?" You asked clearly.
"I think? I guess? I think it'd be best to ask her whether she'd approve of it or not," he said. "Since she'd be a part of it after all."
Freya's face scrunched into a scowl, hidden from her tamer's sight.
"Isn't that unfair to Freya?" You asked, seeing the Elf abruptly panic at being brought back up. "She's just as much a part of this as Rachel and yet you don't feel the need to ask for her opinion. You only have asked her for counsel regarding how to best do one thing or another, and even though we're up against what's clearly a very dangerous feral, did you ask her if she wanted to risk her life for this?"
That clearly hit him where it hurt. "I... didn't," Tomas muttered, turning towards the horrified Elf before bowing his head. "I'm so sorry Freya, Rick's right, I shouldn't have taken you for granted like that."
"Master, I just wish to be of use to you," she replied hastily, shooting you a look that was half warning and half gratefulness.
"But I took it for granted, I shouldn't have done that," he emphasized.
The elf quietly nodded.
Silence fell on the group as everyone stopped, looking amongst one another. "So what should we do about Rachel?" Kat asked.
"Let's call her first." The young man turned upwards and glanced at the flying dot. He took a moment to wave his arm, trying to draw her attention.
If she saw him, Rachel didn't show it.
"Might as well walk while we wait," you muttered.
You already half expected the infernal wouldn't be coming down any time soon, so you moved ahead of the others, glancing at Diane as she'd remained quiet throughout this whole time. "Thoughts?"
"Relying on the succubus is an error, Master," she replied.
At her words, you scratched your chin, thinking back to that attack at the camp, and then at how the succubus had not gone through on her hinted threats. "I think she likes playing tough only," you commented. "But I'll have to say that I do think we can rely on her so long as we get her word out of it."
"Call it a hunch," you said. "She's kept her word so far."
The answer didn't seem to satisfy Diane very much. "Master..."
"I know you don't like it, but she's an asset we might very well need," you replied. "Remember my little presentation back at Bark? The one I gave to the others? Being needlessly abusive is only going to get us betrayed when we least need it."
"She might still betray us."
"If it makes sense, sure," you shrugged. "But what does she earn from a betrayal here? Like, let's say she says she'll agree to do something with the spider, and then betrays mid-way through. It gets some of us killed. And what does she get from that? She was in a pretty comfy place toying with Tomas, why give that up?"
The nurse frowned but didn't say anything, just walking next to you, deep in thought.
"And who's to say she likes what she's getting from him?" She finally asked after a long minute.
You looked at her with a slight frown.
"I just thought about it, Master, about being with someone I didn't quite like but that was comfortable to be with... for a while." The words were slow. "The email you received from Mister Felix mentioned she might have someone else she is loyal to, someone else she wants to be bonded to." She looked at you for a long second. "What if that other person has something to earn out of her betrayal? What if it's all an act precisely to have us lower our guard and give her the chance?"
You weren't too sure how to answer that. Yet your thoughts returned to what she'd done yesterday, her glowing hand, promising pleasure like none other. Her shock when you'd called her bluff, and how she'd almost looked like she'd been running away when she'd flown off right after.
Your gut told you your hunch was right.
But the possibility of being wrong lingered thick as you continued walking towards the treeline.