Chapter 67 — A New Quest III
A mix of fire and ash billowed from the volcano’s spout like hot water from a geyser. The superheated jet stream crowded the night with streaks of red as it separated into a thousand scalding projectiles. The spirit’s anger filled the sky, obscuring the heavens with thick, black clouds of dust. Beneath the moonless firmament, there ran a dozen fresh rivers, made of the molten rock. Flaming avalanches surged down the infernal alp with seemingly unparalleled vigour, but Claire remained far ahead of the all-consuming wave.
Log Entry 1768
You have completed one of “Destroy Borrok Peak’s” bonus objectives.
You have been awarded 5 of each ability score.
The final bonus objective will remain active for the next 54 hours.
She had started the descent with a dolphin-shaped snowboard underfoot, but abandoned the faulty instrument before she so much as got a fifth of the way down the mountain. The gargoyle wasn’t large enough to support her lyrkrian frame, nor was it flat enough to provide a boost to her speed. Its struggling had only served to delay her, so she disposed of it by haphazardly chucking it into a mound of snow.
To an outsider, it would have seemed as if she was simply making a mad dash away from the mountain’s summit. But Claire knew better than that. Because Borrok Peak was isolated from the rest of the library. The volcano was floating in an otherwise empty void; simply making a break for its base would not get her to safety. She would be swallowed by the wave as soon as she reached the bottom and ran out of places to go. That was why she was following in the centaurs’ footsteps. The trail they left was still fresh in the snow, but Tracking—or more precisely Catgirl Detector V. 0.32—wasn’t unable to detect them. The combination seemed to imply that they knew of a portal leading out of the mysterious subspace—a doorway of sorts that would take her off the mountain. Further confirming her suspicions were the biome’s various inhabitants. Not all of them were able to outrun the spirit’s rage, but those that had yet to fall seemed to share her destination.
Following the centaur’s tracks, Claire eventually found herself faced with a dense but unremarkable patch of woodland. At a glance, it looked about as ordinary as could be, but all the animals and monsters that ran through its entrance would suddenly vanish, as if magically whisked away. Trusting her instincts—and the various traces of force magic she sensed around it—the lyrkress pressed forward and leapt straight into the anomaly.
Surely enough, everything changed the moment she passed the tree line. The world suddenly brightened as the fire and ash gave way to a warm, sunny breeze. The only bit of volcanic residue still lingering in the air came from within the portal.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the halfbreed stepped away from the stampede and leapt atop a nearby tree. The first branch she touched was too thin to support her weight and gave out beneath her, but she was able to stop herself from falling all the way to the ground by landing atop another wooded limb with a significantly thicker stem.
“Hey! You there, with the silvery scales! What the hell is going on!?”
A voice called for her from within the forest. Accompanied by another.
Log Entry 1769
You have failed one of “Destroy Borrok Peak’s” bonus objectives.
As no objectives remain, this quest is now complete and has been purged from your active quest list.
Craning her neck towards the ability point thief, Claire found herself looking upon a strange creature whose bare skin was marred with scars. It took her a moment to recognize that he was a cat-sith, his lack of hair a major inhibitor in her ability to identify his species. Though he was clearly of a feline make, the box that popped up above his eerie hairless head seemed to profess otherwise. The text explicitly stated that he was the exact opposite of a catgirl, with his rating sitting at a perfect -100%.
Log Entry 1770
Catgirl Detector V. 0.32 has reached level 4.
After taking two looks at the suspicious freak, the halfbreed decided that she was going to do her utmost to avoid him. She wanted to punch him at least a few times for depriving her of a non-insignificant number of ability points, but something about the man’s aura gave the impression that staying away from him would be for the best. Knowing that her social instincts were often on point, the blueblood turned around and bolted away at top speed.
“Wait! Come back!”
The cat, which tried chasing after her on its hind legs, was repelled with a well-timed vector. She didn’t know exactly where he went, after he was sent tumbling through a bush, but she frankly didn’t care. So long as he was out of sight, she was confident that she could also keep him out of mind.
Slithering backwards, Claire watched the horn distort and fade as she got further and further away. It was a strange and almost mesmerizing sight. She was tempted to move back and forth just to watch the flaming iron construct shift between its various forms. But she didn’t. The magical volcano had failed to hold her attention for anything more than a few seconds, her own body winning out by no short margain. Backpedaling was a task that was far more difficult as a lyrkress than it had been as a halfbreed. Focusing on her proprioception threw it out of tune; the harder she concentrated, the clunkier her body became.
Consciously keeping track of her whole body was incredibly difficult, now that it was several times its previous length. Moving her feet, midsection, and tail in tandem made her feel like she was juggling a dozen different tasks all at once. Her tail would get stuck on a branch every time she paid too much attention to her feet, and her body would find itself mysteriously tied up and tangled every time it slipped her mind. Centering her consciousness on the snakier parts of her frame also proved completely ineffective. Her legs constantly wound up tripping on random bits of foliage.
It took what felt like the better part of an hour for the rogue to finally master the awkward motion. Leading with her tail went from an unintuitive nightmare to just another relatively simple action. She’d become capable of leaping backwards and doing flips, and it had only cost her a few dozen embarrassing missteps. At least no one was watching.
“Wow Claire, you look really different! You’re a lot bigger and snakier now. Congrats on ascending I guess!”
A familiar fox popped out of a nearby bush. She was surrounded on all sides by magical notes and floating bubbles of various sizes, each of which contained a fish and just enough water to keep it alive.
“Sylvia.” The halfbreed adjusted the position of her feet as she turned her eyes on the orange furball. 78% catgirl? That’s really high...
“Yup! That’s me! Oh, and what were you doing just now? It looked really weird.”
“Nothing,” said Claire.
“You sure? Because it didn’t really look like nothing. I mean, you were clearly trying to do something, and it kinda seemed like a dance, but not really because your steps weren’t rhythmic enough.”
“It was nothing,” insisted the halfbreed, as she began walking towards the fox. “How long have you been here? I didn’t hear you.”
“That’s because of my magic! I know you hear really well, so I tried silencing all my steps and stuff,” said Sylvia. “I was just kinda in the area and came looking as soon as I realised you were done with your quest. Wait ummm… are you mad that I was watching? It wasn’t on purpose, I swear! I just couldn’t help myself because of how funny it was.”
The halfbreed’s silent and almost sinister approach led the vixen to take a few nervous steps back before turning around and breaking into a run. But she wasn’t able to escape. Claire suddenly appeared behind her and lifted her by the nape.
“Wow! That’s totally unfair! You’re way faster than you were before,” complained the fox, who found herself pulled into a hug. “Tag isn’t gonna be any fun anymore unless I start casting a whole bunch of spells.”
“Can you shut up already?”
“Ummm… I don’t really think you’re supposed to hug someone and then immediately tell them to shut up. It’s making it so I can’t tell if you actually missed me or not. Oh, and I’m not really good at shutting up in the first place so that was never really going to work anyway. You could’ve asked for some fish or something instead. I’m good at sharing, but I don’t really think I can be quiet even if I put my mind to it.”
“Just for a bit,” said Claire, as she gave the fox a bit of a squeeze.
“Well, I guess I can probably for just a little since you look so different.”
After getting one final phrase out of her system, Sylvia pressed her hands over her mouth and kept relatively quiet as she turned her eyes on a bubble featuring the half-snake’s reflection. She nearly started mouthing off each time she noted a major difference, but managed to stay silent until she was done. That, however, was about as long as she lasted.
“Is that enough? I’m starting to get kinda bored,” complained the furball.
“Just five more minutes,” said Claire.
“Five minutes is way too long! And isn’t that something people normally say when they don’t want to get out of bed?”
“Good idea. I should sleep.”
Covering her mouth with the tip of her tail, Claire stifled a yawn and started stamping down the foliage around her.
“That’s a terrible idea! It’s gonna turn really soon. You’re gonna get stuck running into mirewulves if you don’t find yourself a bramblewood tree!”
“I’ll deal with it when it happens.”
“I really don’t think you should! Mirewulves are super tough!”
“I have to kill their boss sometime within the next month. I might as well get used to fighting them,” said Claire. “But I don’t want to think about that right now. I’m tired.”
The lyrkress laid herself down atop a patch of grass. She tucked the fox into the space between the ground and her hips as she got comfortable and placed her head atop her arms.
“Uhmmm… Claire? I can’t really move like this. I kinda think I might be stuck.”
“Then can you move over a bit? It’s not very comfortable.”
“Thank—wait, why not!?”
“Alfred said something about foxes and pillows,” she said, with another yawn.
“I don’t know what he said, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he meant! You’re gonna crush me!” Sylvia started hitting Claire’s back with her tail, but to no avail. The soft, bushy feather duster only made the halfbreed even more comfortable.
“You’ll be fine. Catgirls don’t break that easily.”
“I’m a fox, not a catgirl!”
“Then can you move, please? I can’t really breathe.”
“Just reinforce your skeleton with magic.”
“Huh? How did you know I could do that?”
“I knew a bard that does most of the same things you do.”
“Really? That’s kinda weird. My class is really rare, and I didn’t even know there was a non-Llystletein variant,” said Sylvia. “Besides, that doesn’t make this any better! You can’t just lie on top of me because you know I’ll be okay!”
“Can you shut up? I just need a few minutes to fall asleep. I’ll get you some fish when I wake up.”
“Oh, sur—hey, wait a second! I already have a bunch of fish right here! And how the heck did you know that you could totally bribe me with fish anywa—” Slyvia’s face paled as she realised that the other girl had closed her eyes. “Wait, wait! Stop! Don’t fall asleep for real! What the heck, Claire! Claaaaaire!”
“You do know people don’t actually say ‘Zzzz’ in their sleep, right?”
“‘Zzzz,’ snored the halfbreed.”
“That’s not any better! People who are asleep can’t tell you that they’re snoring, and you don’t even actually snore!”
“I don’t?” Claire opened her eyes and furrowed her brows. “Both my parents snored.”
My mother was especially loud. It didn’t fit her image.
“Oh yeah, that reminds me… I’ve finally figured out what you are,” said Sylvia, after humming a quick tune to stop herself from suffocating. “You lied when you said you weren’t a deer! You’re a cervitaur!”
“A moose is not a deer,” said Claire.
“It totally is!”
“A moose is not a deer,” repeated the halfbreed, with a hiss. And I’m not really sure if I’m really even a moose anymore either. I’m… a lot more like a horse than my father was.
“Okay, okay, fine. You’re a moose, whatever! You’re still a cervitaur!”
“What gave it away?” said the moose, with a mocking eye roll. “Maybe the legs? Or, I don’t know, the ears?”
“Huh? The ears were supposed to give it away?”
“Really? Are you sure? They’re like three times the size of the biggest centaur ears I’ve ever seen, deer, moose, or horse.”
“That just means mine are attractive.” Claire got up off the ground, lifted the fox to face level, and fluttered her ears, as if to show them off.
If Sylvia had been a centaur, she likely would have found herself with a blush on her face. But though she was certainly a four-legged creature with big fuzzy ears, she was by no means a horse, or anything that even remotely resembled one. As a vixen, she was completely unaffected and even seemed to blink in confusion.
“Aren't centaur ears supposed to be thicker near the middle? Yours are completely straight.”
“That just means mine are attractive.”
“You can’t just say the exact same thing twice.”
“Well I did.”
“And plus, size and shape are basically the defining traits! Yours are so different they look almost nothing like centaur ears anymore!”
Claire shook her head. “They’re still centaur ears. They’re just very pretty centaur ears,” she insisted. “My father managed to financially ruin someone once by selling him a painting of my ears.”
“Uhmmm, somehow I think there are a few too many things wrong with that for me to know where I’m supposed to start,” said the fox. “But anyway! Your bottom half is completely uncovered! Who’s indecent for not wearing clothes now?”
“Huh?” Sylvia blinked. Thrice. “You were supposed to say you!”
“I mean me!”
“Yes, you are indecent.”
“Wait, this isn’t going right at all! You were supposed to say that neither of us are indecent!”
“I’m not indecent. My scales are covering everything.”
“My fur is covering everything too!”
“But what if you meet someone with an unhealthy interest in fur?”
“What if you run into someone that has a scale fetish?”
“Then I can just do this.”
After taking a breath, Claire reverted her body to the form it had prior to her ascension.
“Your clothes still fit? That’s not fair at all!”
“I know,” said Claire, with a small smile.
“Anyway! I’m not indecent! All foxes look like this. We’re not supposed to wear clothes.”
“Uh huh.” The halfbreed undid her transformation and put the fox back beneath her hips.
“We really aren't! It’d be way more lewd to put clothes on a fox! Imagine if some weirdo made me wear stockings or something! That’d be really gross… You’d at least have to agree with that, right?”
The vixen’s query went unanswered. Looking back towards one of her bubbles, she noted that Claire’s eyes were once again sealed shut—and that her breathing had slowed.
“Claire…? Did you really fall asleep?” She waited for a few moments before breathing a sigh of relief. “I guess that means it’s finally time to escape.”
A soft orange glow enveloped Sylvia’s body as she shrank to fairy size. Ears and tail aside, all her fur vanished as her body plan shifted to one more akin to that of a human.
“So that’s how you got out of those ropes…”
“Eek!” Sylvia reacted with a start and darted around half in panic as she spun around. “What the heck!? You’re still awake? What happened to falling asleep!”
“I was pretending,” said Claire, who immediately averted her gaze. “And you’re still naked.”
“Oh shut up! It’s not like I wanted to be naked, I just don’t have anything to wear right now! My clothes don’t fit when I transform!”
“Indecent.” Claire chuckled lightly as she sat up and got to her feet.
“I’m not indecent! I was just trying to escape!” said Sylvia, as she changed back into a fox.
“I believe you,” said Claire, as she cracked her neck. “Let’s go back to the den. I need to catch up on sleep.”
“You’re being really mean… but okay. I’ll show you right there!”
Sylvia pranced off, with the other halfbreed following right behind her. The pace was quick at first, but the lyrkress slowed after a few minutes of travel.
“Claire? What’s wrong?” asked the fox, as she turned around.
“I think I finally have an answer to your question.”
“Huh? Which question?”
“The one about what I’m going to do when I leave.”
“When you leave...? Oh! That question! Wait, were you thinking about that this whole time?”
“Wow, that’s a really long time to be thinking about just one thing. So what did you come up with?”
“I was thinking about confronting my father, at first. Maybe even stabbing him in the face, if I got the chance.”
“Is that because of the whole sacrifice thing? I think that’s what you said last time, right?”
“Well uhmmm… you said at first, so I guess that means you changed your mind, right? What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to keep running away.”
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Once I get out of here, I’m going to find myself a nice villa in another country and stay as far away from him as I can,” explained the halfbreed. “I can’t deal with him, so I just won’t.”
“Well… I don’t really like dealing with my mom sometimes because she can get really weird when my dad’s involved, but I’m basically stuck with her and sometimes I remember all the creepy things she did like ten years ago. I don’t really think it’s going to be that easy.”
“It’s not,” said Claire, with a faint smile. “I don’t know how long it’ll take me to forget him, or the way he raised me.”
She took a deep breath as she ran a finger across the icy shard in her chest and gazed upon the face reflected within it.
For once, there was no anxiety.
She was calm, calmer than she had been in a long, long time.
“But one day, I will.”