Chapter 29 - The Secret Lives of Llystletein Foxes III
“Oh, you’re up! Good morning,” said Sylvia, after setting down the kill she had in her mouth.
Claire took a moment to glare at the fox, who was humming a tune whilst retrieving a small blue fruit from a pile of branches. “You untied yourself.”
“Oh uhmm… yeah, I guess I did,” said the vixen, turning her eyes away from the other girl’s gaze.
“Well… ummm… Maybe about five minutes after you fell asleep?”
There was a brief moment of silence. Claire crossed her arms, pursed her lips, and narrowed her eyes. Sylvia, on the other hand, stared at the wall. Her gaze wandered over in Claire’s direction once every few seconds, but it returned to its prior position every time she confirmed that the other halfbreed had yet to yield.
“W-would you like some breakfast?” asked Sylvia, giving in.
She picked up the small animal she had killed, dropped it next to her conversation partner, and nudged it forward with her nose. It was a rabbit. Or at least something somewhat resembling one. Its head and torso almost perfectly identical that of a bunny’s, but its limbs were replaced by large, bald flippers. The fur covering the rest of its body was still wet, individual hairs clumped together to form tiny spikes. It appeared unwounded at a glance, but more careful observation revealed that its neck was broken, snapped like a twig.
“I told you. Stop trying to figure out what I am,” said Claire, with a sharp hiss.
“You could tell!?” squeaked the fox. “Erm, I mean, ummm… I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Awww… really? I thought I was pretty good at it. Everyone else always falls for everything…”
Are the other foxes just idiots? Or are they letting her have her way?
“Can’t you give me just one hint? Please? I promise I’ll try my best not to bother you about it again! I don’t know if I can really help myself, but I’ll at least try!”
Claire sighed. “I’m not a rabbit.”
“Are you a deer?”
“Then what are you?”
“Stop asking,” said Claire. “I’ve already told you enough.”
“Awwww…” Sylvia lowered her face to the ground, placing it atop her paws. Her ears were folded downward and her tail was kept close to the ground.
“And I don’t want that,” said Claire, pointing at the rabbit. “You can keep it.”
“It hasn’t been cooked.”
“Can’t you just cook it?” asked the fox.
“Ummm… I don’t think so. Me and mom just eat everything raw. Dad’s the only one that ever cooks things. He keeps saying that elves can’t eat raw meat, even though I’ve seen him do it before. I guess he just doesn’t like it.”
“I don’t like it either,” said Claire. “Keep your prey. I’ll sort out my own meals.”
“Okay! Thanks Claire!” The fox began humming again as she picked the rabbit back up in her jaws and carried it off into a corner.
In the meantime, the rogue took the opportunity to activate her authority skill and pick something out for herself.
- Establish Safe Zone (Cooldown: 3 days)
- Expunge Waste As Mana (200MP)
- Cosmogoblitan (50MP)
- Mimicosa☆ (500MP)
- Raven Rocket Fuel (1000MP)
- Stale Water (25MP)
- Fried Frog Wings (300MP)
- Grilled Veaber Tail☆ (2000MP)
- Hellhog Bolognese (500MP)
- Pulled Orc (150MP)
- *NEW* Spicy Shaman Sundae☆ (3500MP)
- Stale Bread (25MP)
Several entries caught her eye, with the most notable being safe zone’s cooldown. Only two nights had passed, but the menu stated that there were only three days left until it was available again. By now, she was certain that she hadn’t fallen asleep in the veaber nest. Something about the way time worked in the marsh was off. Another question for the fox.
“What’s with the veaber tail? It was 200 before it was upgraded, whatever that means,” she muttered. “Does it finally taste like something?”
Claire was willing to give the dish’s new and improved variant a shot, but she lacked the resources. Its cost had ballooned to a value that was nearly three times her total. The sundae’s price tag was equally absurd, but that entry was at least somewhat explicable, given that it had come as a reward for slaying an ascended monster.
“Why aren't you on the ceiling?” Claire asked, as she summoned a batch of stale bread.
“Hm?” The fox lifted her face from the dead bunny. “What do you mean? Weren’t you the one on the ceiling yesterday?”
“We were on opposite sides before the stupid bell started ringing. It flipped me. Why didn’t it flip you?”
“Oh!” Sylvia stood up on her hind legs as she clapped her front paws together. “Are you asking about the whisper?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a whisper, but yes,” said Claire, glancing at the log entry.
“Really? It sounds just like one to me.”
“Then you must be deaf.”
“I’m not deaf! I can hear you just fine!”
“I’m well aware of that,” said Claire, rolling her eyes. “The ‘whisper’ sounds like a really loud bell to me, a hundred times louder than you and all your shouting.”
“Really? That’s weird… It sounds like a bell to me too, but I can barely hear it,” said the fox. “Oh, and to answer your question, I can choose which side I want to be on. Some of the elders don’t even have to wait, they can switch sides whenever they want.”
Log Entry 674
Marish has reached level 19.
“Uhmmm… I’m not really sure about the elders, but the rest of us just use the bell. Didn’t it ask you if you wanted to switch sides when it rang?”
“Bells don’t ask questions.”
“Yes they do! You just have to listen for them,” said the fox. “Oh! Dad did say something weird about having to resist it, once, but I think he was just messing with me.”
“Resist it?” Claire mumbled as she leaned forward and brought a hand to her chin.
Resisting seemed difficult at best. She had been outright crippled by the bell every time she was exposed to it, and that was unlikely to change in the future; her third encounter hadn’t been any less painful than her first or second. If she wanted to push back against the so-called whisper, she was going to have to somehow mitigate its volume first.
“Did he ever mention how?”
“I think so!” Sylvia’s tail started flicking back and forth, before suddenly dropping off to the side. “But I don’t really pay attention when he rambles, so I’m not sure what he said. Why does he even go on about random things so much anyway? I’m not sure how he even has so much to talk about!”
“Useless fox…” grumbled Claire, under her breath. Must run in the family.
“Hey! I heard that!”
“Now you’re just being mean.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Claire, with the faintest of smiles. She paused for a moment to take a bite out of a freshly formed loaf of stale bread before continuing. “Have you heard of a citadel?”
“Yup! That’s where my dad lives. I’ve never visited it. He told me to stay away because the torches might see me.” Sylvia glanced at Claire. “And not all of them are willing to talk.”
“I’m very reasonable.”
“You tried to tie me up even though I told you I was going to have to go to the bathroom!”
“Like I said, very reasonable.”
“You tried to leave me in the bathroom!”
“But I didn’t, did I?”
“Well, no, but…”
“See?” Claire hid another faint smile behind a bite of bread.
Sylvia was feeling less amused, but she didn’t bother protesting. The vixen was already aware that the other halfbreed wasn’t exactly what one could call keen on compromise.
“So how do I get to the citadel?”
“Dad always leaves through a really big rock. I can show you where it is, but I’m not really sure where it leads. I’ve never left Mirewood Meadow…”
There was a moment of silence as the two chewed away at their respective meals.
“How often does the bell ring?” asked Claire, after a few bites.
“Oh, that’s an easy one! It’ll ring for two turns, then stop for two turns and start all over again.”
“What’s a turn?”
“You don’t know what a turn is?” The fox opened her eyes wide.
“No, now explain.”
“Wow, that’s really weird! I thought everyone knew about them,” said Syvlia, after swallowing a bone. “A turn is when it gets all weird, like when it suddenly gets light or dark out, or when it goes from evening back to morning again. The turns always happen in an order. First, it turns from night to day, then it turns from sunset to sunrise, then day to night, and back again.”
“Are the turns on a schedule?”
“Ummm, every twelve hours, I think.”
“So if it didn’t change to night time yesterday, and the bell didn’t toll until this morning…” Claire mumbled, creasing her brows.
“The whisper is going to happen again at the end of this turn, but it won’t be night,” explained the fox.
“I knew that.”
It’s okay Claire. You almost had it. You aren't dumber than a fox. You’re definitely not dumber than a fox.
There was another brief lull. Claire was still eating, but Sylvia was already finished with her meal, so she walked over and sat at the more reptilian girl’s side, pawing at her tail as she casted Claire the occasional sidelong glance.
“Ummmm… Can I ask you something?”
“Awwww, why not? I answered a whole bunch of your questions just now, didn’t I?”
“Because we had a deal,” said Claire. “And because you’re just going to ask me about my race again.”
“I’m not! I have a completely different question this time! I just wanted to ask if you could help us with the steelwings. I snuck back to take a look while you were still asleep, and they’re still hovering around where all our dens were clustered. I’m not really sure what they’re waiting for, but they don’t seem to want to leave.”
“Not my problem,” said Claire.
“Yes it is! That’s where the hexstone is, so you can’t finish your trial if you don’t get rid of them. It’d help us out a lot too, so please?”
“Huh? You don’t know about the hexstones? They’re these big glowy rocks with lots of runes carved into them.”
“Oh…” Claire furrowed her brows for a moment, nodding as everything clicked into place. “Now that you mention it, it did say something about a first chapter…”
And if there’s a first, there at least has to be a second.
“Aren't you one of the torches? I thought that they were all really prepared and kept track of every last thing! Even my dad always knows where he’s going and what he’s doing even though he’s a slob. One time, he got up and said he was going to do something, took a few steps, then turned around and sat back down because he forgot.”
“I’m not here because I want to be,” mumbled Claire. “I didn’t even know there was a dungeon.”
“Well… ummm… I’m not really sure about the specifics, but I think you’re supposed to touch all the hexstones. Dad could probably tell you more, but I’m not sure when he’s going to be visiting again. He normally drops by once every few cycles, or at least he tries. He’s not very consistent about it. One time, he didn’t show up for a whole season, but he brought us lots of gifts when he did. One of them was a really shiny rock that could give trees legs and stuff!”
“What’s a cycle?” asked the half-reptile, as she polished off the last bit of her loaf.
“Twelve turns. It’s the amount of time that it takes for the day and night changes to align themselves with the whisper,” explained the fox, as she looked between Claire and the plate. “Are you done with that?”
“Yes, you can do whatever you want with the rest.”
The fox pushed the plate next to the pile of branches, retrieved her shovel, and quickly covered it with dirt.
“What’s a mirewulf?” asked Claire.
“Ummmm… they’re these big plant monsters that look kind of like wolves with flowers on their heads. They’re really dangerous when it’s nighttime, but they’re harmless during the day. We might be able to find one on the way. Follow me!”
Planting her shovel in the earth, Sylvia began moving towards the burrow’s first entrance.
“No,” said Claire, freezing the fox in its tracks. “You’re just going to take me to the ravens.”
“Well ummm… yeah, but I promise I’ll show you where the citadel is after! Please? Can’t you take a look? You don’t have to do anything if you can’t, and the hexstone should be worth your time anyway if you can!”
Claire paused for a moment to consider her options. Heading to a location with a large number of ravens was risky, but she had already managed to evade them once, and she was confident she could do it again.
Sylvia was also the only guide she had. Following her around would at least help the bluescale learn a few major landmarks, assuming the fox could be trusted. Whether that assumption held true was a completely different concern with its own set of questions, but the former aristocrat was at least willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for the time being. If the orange furball had wanted to kill her, it would have done it in her sleep.
“Fine.” Setting down the clothing-ladden bag she had been keeping over her shoulder, Claire accompanied the fox outside of the burrow.