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Chapter 70 - The Cursed Effigy II

“We’re here!” Sylvia walked up to the magical door and gave it a knock as she continued to speak, her voice as singsongy as ever. “I think you already know that though, since you’ve been here like two or three times already. Wait, was it two? Or was it three?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Claire paused for a moment as she tried and subsequently failed to cross her arms. She still wasn’t used to the shard of ice stuck in her chest. “I didn’t think you would take me straight here.”

“Hm? What do you mean?”

“You didn’t try to prank me. Or make me chase you.”

“Oh! Don’t worry, I’ve got something super fun in mind. I’m just saving it for when we head to the third floor because it’s gonna take a while and stopping in the middle would be no fun.”

Hardly any time had passed since the pair had left the burrow; it had only taken them a few minutes to beeline their way over to the older fox’s afternoon abode. Claire didn’t bother using her ears to inspect the ancient tree. The interior was a separate space, completely cut off from the rest of the world; she knew that she wouldn’t be able to hear inside of it no matter how hard she strained.

“Is he even here?” asked Claire, after a brief delay.

The fox pointed to one of the thicker boughs near the tree’s base. “I think so. You see that little rectangle thingy carved into the branch up there?”

“The one with the clouds drawn on top of it?”

“Yeah! That’s his chimney, and if the cloud thingies are there, it means he’s got his fireplace going, so I think he’s probably home.”

“Then why isn’t he answering the door?”

“Dunno. He normally answers really fast because he knows I’m just gonna barge in if he takes too long.”

“I was busy,” said a raspy, masculine voice. The door opened right as Sylvia reached for its knob. “What do you want, cub?”

“Not me, her,” said the vixen, as she gestured at the half-snake.

“Who now?” Peering past the familiar face, Grant cocked a brow as he slowly craned his neck upwards. Only after noticing a familiar pair of ears did he finally nod. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. “You look different. I hope this doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten your part of the deal.”

“I still remember.”

“Good, good. I can hardly wait,” said the silvery-orange fox, with a twisted smile.

“Uhmmmm… I’m not really sure what you guys have planned, but I’m really starting to get the feeling that it’s not a good idea,” said Sylvia.

“It’s a great idea. Dixie won’t see it coming,” said Grant. “Now come on in.”

“Huh? You’re actually inviting us in?I thought you hated torches, Grant! Why the heck are you and Claire on such good terms all of a sudden?”

“Shut up and get in the house already. All the warmth’s going to leak out if I have to leave this damned door open.”

“I’m really starting to think that I shouldn’t let Claire meet dad…” muttered Sylvia, as she made her way inside.

Unlike her canid companion, the lyrkress didn’t enter right away, opting instead to give the door a blank stare. The house was so tiny that even a dwarf would have had trouble labeling it as spacious. There was simply no way for her to squeeze in with all her horsier bits present and accounted for. She was much taller than she was back when she was entirely humanoid, and crouching didn’t reduce her height by nearly as much. The moose-like chest attached to her hips was unable to bend or contort in any meaningful way.

Turning into a lamia, however, solved the problem immediately. As a full-blown snake girl, she could almost get herself down to fox height. The shard in her chest was the only thing that stopped her from glueing herself to the floor.

Log Entry 1773
Lyrkrian Shapeshifting has reached level 4.

Once inside, she curled her tail up, so as to not occupy the entire living room, before finally starting to speak. “Is it done?”

“Yes and no,” said Grant.

“What do you mean?”

“Turns out there was no need for me to make any adjustments in the first place.”

The lyrkress tilted her head, which prompted the old fox to chuckle as he went further into the house.

“I’ll go get it. Stay there and don’t touch anything.”

Claire, being Claire, immediately started looking around the room for something to touch, but found nothing of interest. The tool rack that she had spotted during both their previous encounters was empty. So that’s why he didn’t open the door right away.

“I wonder what he meant. Grant’s usually pretty good at being reliable and stuff. I wonder if it’s related to the cloak’s ability? Maybe it’s one of the super nifty ones that transforms you into something completely different when you put it on!”

“It’s nothing that fancy,” said Grant, as he returned from his workshop. “But you really should’ve tried the damned thing before you handed it to me.”

“Why?” asked Claire.

“Because of its ability, you numbskull,” said the fox. “It doesn’t need to fit you.”

“Are you sure it’s not one of the super cool ones then?” asked Sylvia. “Dad told me about one that could turn you into a giant snake! Oh actually Claire’s already kind of a giant snake already, huh? I guess that wouldn’t really help that much.”

“I’m fairly certain Zelos only told you that in jest. I’ve never heard of a runecloak with that sort of ability,” said Grant.

“Really?” Sylvia’s eyes widened. “Does that mean that they can’t make you shoot beams out of your eyes either?”

“They can do that,” said Grant.

“But then why can’t they do the other thing!?”

“It’s not technically impossible, but you’d have to be an idiot to make something like that. These take months to craft, and nobody with a brain would waste that much time on imbuing one with something so useless,” explained the tailor.

“So does that mean that it can do something other than turning her into an even bigger snake?”

“It does have something or other to do with transformation, but not what you’re thinking,” said Grant. He handed Claire the garment as he continued. “It can turn into whatever clothes you want. The size is adjustable too.”

“Wait, that’s it!? That’s so boring!” complained Sylvia. “I thought you said it didn’t have a useless ability! That totally sucks! The snake thing was way better!”

“I like it,” said the bluescale.

“Then you’re less of a numbskull than I thought. Not smart enough to actually try the thing on before handing it off, but better than the cub, at least.”

“I’m fiercely intelligent,” said Claire.

“I’m sure you are…” The older fox wrinkled his brow. “You should try to see if you can get that thing to work, and let Sylvia watch. Damned cub needs to see how much of an idiot she is.”

“Hey! I’m not an idiot! And stop talking about me like I’m not here!”

“Well, you’re not just an idiot. You’re a stupid cheeky brat is what you are. Spoiled all the way rotten.”

“I’m not a brat either! You just hate everything because you’re old!”

Ignoring the two canids, Claire threw the leather garment over her shoulders. Even with her newfound size, it was still too big for her. The back half more or less fit, as it settled atop her snakier bits, but the front half ran all the way to the ground. The sides were the worst offenders; the garment was so wide that it threatened to fall right off her shoulders lest she wore the hood.

Securing the cloak in place with her hand, the bluescale took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Without a direct prompt from its wearer, the runecloak remained as would any other article of clothing. It didn’t suddenly spring to life, nor did it immediately bestow some sort of magical effect. There weren’t even any instructions beamed into the back of her mind, as would often happen with skills.

The complete lack of directions was daunting, but the lyrkress wasn’t particularly surprised. She had secretly borrowed a number of her father’s magic mantles whenever he left the key to his vault on his desk, so she more or less knew how they worked. Starting up the unintuitive device was as easy as feeding her mana through the spell woven into the leather. The magical letters that ran along the edges lit up and glowed a bright blue-green as the overcoat began to flutter, its edges raising themselves off the ground.

But that was as far as her knowledge took her. All her father’s cloaks had demonstrated their effects immediately upon activation. Hers, on the other hand, almost seemed to be idling, as if awaiting an order. She tried to alter it by calling a familiar gown to memory, but the cloak failed to respond. Mental commands seemed equally as ineffective. Not the most surprising result, given its non-sentience and her lack of telepathy.

Nothing happened until she tried molding her mana, at which point the garment suddenly started to contort and twist with violent, haphazard movements. Its sides jerking in opposite directions, the cloth wrapped itself around her upper body and dug into her ribs and neck without mercy. She wasn’t freed from the strangulation until the leather finally gave out and tore itself in half.

“What the hell are you doing, you idiot!? Stop flooding it with your mana, it only needs a drop!” shouted Grant.

“Tell me that earlier next time.”

Maybe that’s why the one that was supposed to make you fly kept throwing me into the ceiling.

Claire grimaced as she brought a hand to her throat and took a few deep breaths. She wasn’t out of air, but she was feeling rather uncomfortable. The lyrkress had never liked having things around her neck, be they necklaces or otherwise.

“Wow, what the heck was that!? It totally just exploded! I didn’t know clothes could explode!”

“They’re not supposed to,” said Grant.

Shrugging, Claire directed her eyes back towards the cloak, the two halves of which had already started wriggling together and reforming like a slime. The tinier bits and pieces didn’t emulate the behaviour, opting instead to crumble to dust. After waiting for the process to complete, the enlightened force mage picked the cloak back up and gave it another try.

Her second attempt went a lot more smoothly than the first. Abiding by Grant’s instructions and using only the tiniest bit of mana, Claire began tweaking its form. She started small; the first thing she changed, with some difficulty, was the hood. Slits were added to its sides so that her ears could be given the breathing room they needed. She didn’t get it right on her first try, but each repetition brought her closer to the desired result. Once satisfied, after a dozen iterations, she moved on to adjusting its size to better fit her lamian proportions. Another painfully slow process.

“Oooohhhh! I get it now! She’s always going to have something to wear even if she has to shapeshift and stuff.”

“That’s right,” said Grant.

“Wait! If I had that, then I could change back and forth without having to worry about being naked!”

“Indecent,” said Claire.

“Oh, shut up! I’m not indecent, foxes just don’t wear clothes!”

“Fairies do.”

“I can’t do anything about not having clothes if I don’t carry them around while I’m a fox. It’s really not my fault, so you can’t say I’m indecent.”

“Yes I can.”

“Shush, Claire! Leave me alone already,” huffed Sylvia.

“No need to be jealous, cub. You can have it if she dies.”

“I’m not dying,” said Claire.

“Wow Grant, that’s really grim… It’s not like she’s got that high a chance of dying anyway, right? The quest Al gave her sounds pretty hard, but I don’t think it’s gonna be that bad…”

“Dying is just what torches do,” said Grant. “Especially with what’s going to happen when she runs into Zelos.”

“Wait, this again? Holy crap, you two, what the heck is going on with my dad!?”

“It’s nothing,” said Claire.

“There’s no way it’s nothing!”

All the response elicited was a pair of smiles; neither the fox-man nor the snake-lady said a word.

“Seriously! What the heck is going on? Why are you two getting along so well anyway!? It’s like you’re old friends or something! I thought you hated torches, Grant! And Claire’s the one that broke your shovel and lost your other thingy. I don’t even remember what the other thingy was, but she never gave it back!”

“It was a hammer,” said Claire.

“Tools are replaceable. The thing she’s going to do? That’ll make a memory that’ll last forever.”

“I’m really starting to think I shouldn’t bring her to the Citadel.”

“That’s okay. I can kill the slough lord first.”

“Oh, look at you. Lords already? You’re moving up in the world.”

Claire nodded.

“And here I was thinking you were just going to be another lazy gremlin, like Zelos and his friends.” The fox stood up on his hind legs and crossed his arms. “You know, all the torches that I had to guide back in my day were weaklings. Half of them had high enough stats to plaster the lords by running at them, but the—”

“Grant! We’re not here for your super boring lectures!”

“So as I was saying, they were too obsessed with staying safe to take any risks. Even the ones with high dexterity were clumsy as hel—yeowch!”

The older fox jumped high enough to hit the ceiling as the vixen bit down on his tail.

Not a bad solution. I guess Cadrians aren't the only ones that believe in violence.

“What was that for, cub!?” screamed the old man, as he clutched his rear.

“You ignored me and kept talking!”

“I don’t see how that justifies biting me.”

“If we let you talk, you’re gonna start droning on forever. I’ve sat through more than enough of your lectures already!” With a huff, Sylvia twisted her head away and walked out the door. “Come on, Claire! We’re leaving! We’re gonna be stuck here for hours if you let him get started!”

Looking between the two foxes, Claire shrugged, nodded at the tailor, and slithered after her guide.

“Ungrateful cub! Wait until your mother hears about this!”

“Like I care! Mom’s not going to yell at me just because you’re gonna be a jerk and complain! I’m all grown up already! Since two cycles ago!”

Once Claire was outside, Sylvia gave the old man one last shout and slammed the door shut.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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