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Chapter 65 — A New Quest

I should’ve chosen a different class. Claire tossed and turned as she lay about atop the horn. Thirty minutes had passed since she had defeated the lifegiver, but she had yet to touch the hexstone or do anything even remotely productive. The entire half hour was spent trying to fall asleep, but she couldn’t quite get comfortable, no matter how much she fidgeted about.

Every position she fathomed came with its fair share of problems. Lying on her side didn’t work because her upper body was thinner than the horse-like base that supported it. There was an awkward gap between her flank and the ground, and it felt like she was putting too much of her weight on her shoulders. The alternatives were just as unviable. She tried getting around the problem logically by sleeping as would a horse, with her legs tucked underneath her and her gut resting on the ground, but soon found the approach completely untenable. Her upper body was left unsupported. She could keep it in position if she paid attention to it, but the moment she started dozing off was the moment it would start slouching. She would lean forward, her arms would hang, and she would be jolted awake.

The halfbreed was so desperate that she even tried sleeping on her back, which to nobody’s surprise, ended in abject failure. Her humanoid half was surprisingly flexible; it wasn’t impossible for her to lie atop the horn’s smooth, iron surface with her spine stretched all the way out, but it was certainly as uncomfortable as uncomfortable could possibly get. There was a tiny ridge right where her two backs connected, and the way it jutted out made it impossible for her to lie flat. It was like there was an arm between her back and the hardened surface she was using as a bed.

Wait! I’ve got it!

Urged on by a sudden flash of inspiration, the lyrkress turned back onto her side and tucked her tail into the empty space that bothered her. It was the perfect solution. Until it wasn’t. The prehensile appendage was struck by a wave of discomfort right as she was finally about to drift off to dreamland, a wave of pain and numbness. The prickling sensation that stemmed from the fluffiest part of her body spread throughout her rear every time she so much as twitched; her tail had fallen asleep before her.

I hate this.

Claire bit her lips as she smacked a fist against the ground and pushed herself up into a seated position. She was already sick of her new form. Much of the fault lay with the insensitive borrok. Her prey’s illusions had drained her of the elation that had come with her ascension. What bothered her the most was that she had fallen for the trick despite being fully aware of it. She knew what illusion magic was. And she knew that her father had just been an artificial hallucination. But she had still collapsed. Right in front of him. Like a helpless, newborn foal.

Sighing for the thousand time, the bluescale walked towards the hexstone with her limp half-asleep tail trailing behind her. Moving without the help of her snakier parts proved surprisingly difficult. She had to turn her flippers into a second pair of legs to reduce the amount of effort involved.

Her mood was even worse than it had been just a few minutes ago, but she decided to touch the hexstone nonetheless. She knew better than to let herself laze around; she would never stop if she started.

The environment shifted as Claire pressed a hand against the runic monument. Unlike both the previous instances, the force mage was able to perceive the spell at work. She knew little of the theory that went into transporting one’s consciousness, but she could feel the countless complex threads pulling at the very fiber of her being as she answered the head librarian’s summons.

“You’re late.”

Alfred greeted her with a smirk as the transfer completed, a wide mocking grin akin to that of a child with a prank at the ready.

“The quest says there are more than two days left.”

“That doesn’t mean I wasn’t expecting you earlier.” He fiddled through the documents on his desk as he spoke. “I didn’t think you’d waste a day fiddling around with clothes. It’s not exactly the sort of behaviour you’d expect from someone with an impending deadline, you see. Most of the others panic and run off the moment they see the timer.” His hands eventually settled on a particularly crumpled piece of parchment covered in three different kinds of illegible text. “Read this. We can save the talking for when you’re done.”

The page slowly floated over, bobbing through the air as would a jellyfish in the water. Claire tried to reach for it, but it disintegrated before her fingers made contact.

Log Entry 1759
You have read The Lost Library’s Third Chapter. It has been transcribed into your native language as the following log entry.

Log Entry 1760
Hello, trial-goer, and congratulations on completing your quest and finding a third set of instructions. Llystletein is a challenging environment, in which even the best may find it difficult to thrive, but know that the librarians will always be present and willing to provide you with guidance. All you need to do is seek them and ask.

Comprehending the contents of this message will grant the following boons:
- An audience with the Head Librarian.
- An immediate upgrade to any Catgirl Detector skills.
- An upgrade to the Llystletein Authority skill that provides low level access to the library’s records.

Log Entry 1761
Catgirl Detector V. 0.17 has been forcefully evolved into Catgirl Detector V. 0.32. Tracking has been assimilated into Catgirl Detector V. 0.32. This assimilation has earned you a proficiency bonus.

Great… just what I wanted…

Sighing internally, Claire opened up the skill and read along as her ears were made privy to its description.

Catgirl Detector V. 0.32 - Level 3
There exists a fine line between a preference and an obsession. You have somehow managed to cross this line whilst remaining entirely unaware of your problem. Continue down this path, and those that are closest to you are sure to hold an intervention.

Effects
- Amplifies the effect of the Catgirl Enthusiast achievement.
- The tracks left behind by others become more clear to you.
- You are capable of discerning the precise extent to which anything is or is not a catgirl. This feature will activate automatically in the presence of any individual that is systematically related to or associated with catgirls.
- You are able to designate a creature as your target and track it if it is within 3.25km (2.5km + 0.25km/level) of your location. This range may be increased by a percentage correlating to the extent to which the target you are tracking is a catgirl.

Requirements
- Stalk at least one sentient individual without its knowledge.
- Raise a lower tier Catgirl Detector skill to level 10 or higher.

“Another thing that I wasn’t expecting was for you to kill the watcher.” The old mage started talking almost immediately after she finished listening to the goddess. “You would’ve made it to Borrok Peak a full day earlier if you had let him show you around.”

“Which one? There were lots of watchers.”

“The one you killed, of course.”

“That doesn’t narrow it down much.”

“Right… of course. I nearly forgot you were murder incarnate.” Alfred shook his head as he emptied his pipe atop a small earthenware plate. “I was referring to the first one you met. You do realise that he was meant to be your guide, yes? That was his lot in life, his sole purpose.”

“I don’t care.”

“I’m guessing you don’t care much for the borroks either then?”

“Not at all.”

“Really? You aren't even the slightest bit curious? I know for a fact that the sentinel mentioned a few interesting tidbits before he died. He was a bit of a loud mouth, that one. Oh, and before you ask, that wasn’t meant to be criticism. I always do find it a pleasure to see a borrok develop its own personality.”

Claire was tempted to remind the celestial that she really didn’t care about the bug-monkeys, but opted to stay silent. The old man was clearly looking to rant, and she figured that she could use his outburst as leverage further down the line.

“You see, the borroks were meant to be a more monster-like species, a minor experiment, if you will. I was mixing feline features with primate-ones so I could figure out all the quirks ahead of any more important procedures.”

A peculiar scene played out as the old man tapped his empty pipe against his desk. The seemingly sentient magical stick that was his wand descended from a nearby bookcase and started waving itself around. With a short series of flicks, it opened a drawer, retrieved a set of dried leaves, and relit the old man’s pipe before returning from whence it came. Staring up at it, the halfbreed realised that it was working autonomously. The magical catalyst was moving the library’s tomes to and fro, sorting and rearranging them as it danced through the air.

“I was planning to discard them after wrapping everything up, but one thing led to another, and I realised that I was going to need to make monsters for people like you to hunt,” he said, as he leaned back into his chair. “You see, the system’s current iteration is quite interesting in that it doesn’t normally quantify a number of stats that relate to intelligence and the ego, except when risk is involved.” He flashed a cold smile. “I’m sure you’re starting to see where this is going.”

“You made them sentient so they’d be better cannon fodder.”

“That I did,” he said. “To be more precise, I gave them the capacity to learn, which is often considered more valuable than a true sense of self.” Alfred put his hands together and leaned forward as he puffed on his pipe. “The metrics seem to suggest that it’s much deadlier, on average.”

“Okay. I don’t care.”

“Really? Even after all that?” Alfred sighed and slowly shook his head.

“I know you’re just trying to rile me up.”

“That’s normally supposed to make it even more offensive,” complained the old man.

Claire shrugged.

“Well, there goes all my fun. Plans A through E out the window, just like that.” He propped his face up against one of his fists as he sulked. “Is there any chance I can get you to openly judge me and yell at me for being a selfish prick anyway? It’s been a long while since I last had the chance to relish the opportunity.”

“No.”

“Please? I’ll even give you some ability points if you step on my face.”

Claire paused for a moment to blink. “No.”

“And why not?”

“You’d enjoy it. And you’re disgusting.”

“So uncooperative…” The prehistoric human slowly shook his head. “Fine, you win. Go ahead and ask your questions. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”

“Do I get any more quests?”

“If you want one, then I’ve got no choice but to deliver.”

Log Entry 1762
You have received a quest - The Lords’ Last Regards

Primary Objectives:
- The Lord of the Holt is slain.
- The Lord of the Chasm is slain.
- The Lord of the Slough is slain.

Bonus Objectives:
- The Lord of the Holt is slain at night.
- Consume the flesh of 10 distinct mirewulves.
- The Citadel’s forces do not participate in the battle against the Lord of the Chasm.

Deadline: 31 days

This quest’s reward is a high-tier skill that unifies a number of your existing skills. Additional functionality will be provided based on the number of bonus objectives completed. The skill to be selected will depend on your skill levels and ability score distribution at the time of the quest’s completion. Failing to complete this quest before the deadline will result in the forfeiture of its reward.

Claire furrowed her brows as she followed along with the Goddess’ voice. It took her a brief moment to figure out why she had a vague recollection of the Lord of the Holt. It was one of the mirewulves that Slyvia had mentioned in passing, and if memory served her correctly, it was apparently very powerful.

“Do you have anything else, or will that be all?” asked the celestial.

Claire paused for a moment before crossing her arms in front of her. Since she was in spirit form, the position worked surprisingly well. Her arms were able to fade right through her icy chest spike. “How am I supposed to sleep?”

She had almost wanted to ask the demigod about the eternal flow, but refrained in the interest of secrecy. Trusting him was next to impossible, and him knowing of her circumstances was unlikely to make it any easier.

“By closing your eyes and contemplating the futility of your meager existence, of course. How else?”

“I mean my posture.”

Claire looked down at her body so that she could point to the different sources of her discomfort, only to find that she was not in her lyrkrian form. She was back to being a plain old halfbreed, which both confused and alarmed her. Neither emotion was shown on her face, but the old celestial had somehow understood that there was something to be done.

“Ah, yes. Your avatar isn’t up to date. One second.”

He leaned forward and started fiddling with some of the things on his desk as his wand looped through the air, drawing runes of pure mana. One brief flash of light later, the rogue suddenly found herself staring at the top of the man’s hat, instead of his face.

“The Llystletein subsystem is hooked up to the core the same way all the others are, but it’s got a few quirks that I never bothered ironing out.” Leaning back into his seat, the human took a long drag from his pipe. “What were you saying again?”

“I don’t know how to sleep. Nothing feels right.”

“Typical centaur pains,” he said, with a chuckle. “The first step would be to not sleep on top of an interdimensional mountain-building. Just find yourself a waist pillow or something once you get back down onto the ground.”

“Where am I supposed to get one of those?”

“Well, you could ask the foxes to make you one, or you could go looking for the settlement on the third floor. Either way works.”

“The citadel?”

“That’s what they call it, yes. It’s a bit of a silly name, considering that they’ve simply repurposed a small run-down fort, but it’s not my business to tell them how they should be referring to their things, I suppose.”

Claire frowned, but didn’t comment any further.

“Okay. That’s it. You can send me back now.”

“Really? That’s all? You don’t have any more questions.”

“None.”

Or at least none that I want to ask you.

“You can trust me more, you know?” The old man heaved a sigh. “But I doubt me saying that is going to do much for your opinion.”

Claire nodded.

“Before you go, there is one thing I want to ask you.”

“What?”

“Where did you get your spirit guardians?”

“From my force mage class,” said the halfbreed, matter-of-factly.

“The class isn’t meant to come with any guardians. You need to form contracts with them if you wish to tap into their powers.”

Claire shrugged. “No idea then.”

I always thought that they were just figments of my imagination. They weren’t supposed to be real.

“Strange, very strange indeed.” Alfred pulled his hat forward and obscured his eyes and he started to mumble. “Llystletein doesn’t contain any spirits that prefer projecting themselves as horses or snakes, and it’s effectively cut off from the outside world. I’m not sure how it’s possible for you to have contracted them.”

“Oh, great. Another person that gets lost in their own thoughts.”

“Oh, no, no, no. That thing and I are quite different, thank you very much,” he said, as he raised a hand to his chin. “Either way, I think I’ve kept you here long enough. I can figure the rest out on my own. Off you go.”

With a light wave of the hand, the celestial sent the lyrkress away.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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