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Chapter 89 - Giant Frogs and Wooden Dogs

“That was fun!" Sylvia stood up on her hind legs and stretched her shoulders as she stepped out from the instanced domain. Though they took a completely different exit, they were placed exactly where they entered, within the spiked cave with a large, round boulder as its centerpiece. “It’s a shame we didn’t end up solving the maze.”

“You didn’t even have to deal with the maze. You had a map,” said Claire, who stepped out after her.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t looking at it. I thought it’d be more fun if we didn’t know where we were going.”

The lyrkress rolled her eyes. “That wasn’t fun. It was frustrating.”

“Frustrating stuff can still be fun!”

“No it can’t. Do you know how many times I got teleported?”

“Oh come on! The teleporting wasn’t even that bad!”

“Yes it was.”

Finally free from the stressful prison, Claire shook her head as she set her baggage down along the shore. In one arm, she had held the rusty metal cutlass she had torn off her most recent buccaneer kill, while the other had contained the moth lady that she had reluctantly decided to rescue. Though not literally in hand, her axe was also present. Modifying the cloak allowed her to strap it to her waist, as one would a sword.

“You’re just saying that since you’re bad at having fun. You wouldn’t know fun even if it slapped you in the face!”

“I’m not bad at having fun.”

Sylvia gave the half-moose an exasperated stare. “Uh huh… Then why don’t you like playing tag?”

“It’s a children’s game,” said Claire. She approached the water as she spoke, spearing a fish with her tail and throwing it at the fox.

“So what?” asked Sylvia, as she grabbed it with her paws. “It’s good for getting better at moving around and using skills and stuff. Who cares if it’s a children’s game?” Opening her mouth wide, she tore the fish’s head off in one bite, even though it was half her size.

“I do. And you should too. Aren't you older than me?” The half-horse speared another fish and brought it to her face. Investigating it with a flick of the tongue, she concluded that, while it wasn’t repulsive, it also wasn’t very appetising, despite what the half-elf’s gusto might have otherwise suggested.

“Ummmm… I think Al said you were sixteen, right?”

“And a half.”

“Then I’m about one and a half times your age.”

Claire stopped smelling the fish and turned to her travelling companion. “One and a half times? Didn’t you say you just came of age?”

“Yup! I’m a Llystletein fox. We don’t come of age until we’re halfway to thirty.”

“If you’re in your mid twenties, then that’s just all the more reason you should be ashamed for playing children’s games.”

Turning the fish sideways, the lyrkress took a hesitant bite. Surprisingly, the scales and spines were irrelevant. Her jagged teeth crunched right through them without even the slightest bit of resistance. The taste wasn’t as strange as the smell, but though she didn’t dislike the snack, she also didn’t find herself enjoying it.

“There’s nothing wrong with tag. You’re just a grouch.”

Claire was about to open her mouth and refute the claim, but stopped as she heard a dull groan from right behind her. Spinning around, she realised that the moth lady was starting to wake. The gears in her mind ramped up to speed as she tried to figure out how she was supposed to deal with the potential hostile, but they ground to a halt before making any meaningful progress. The only way she had ever learned to approach a Kryddarian was with a blade in hand. That was why she opted for the universal solution. Lashing out with her tail, she smacked the spellweaver in the face and put her back to sleep before she could fully regain consciousness.

“Uhhhh… Claire? What was that for?” Sylvia blinked a few times as she looked between the victim and the assailant.

“She’s Kryddarian.”

“I don’t think that means you’re supposed to hit her.”

“Kryddarians hate Cadrians. She’d just give us trouble if she woke up.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to beat her up!” Sylvia walked over to the moth and pawed at her to see if she was still alive—not that she could tell the difference between a living moth and a dead one.

“It was the only idea I could think of.”

“What about… you know? Tying her up?”

Oops… Claire averted her eyes. “Too much effort.”

“Claire…” The fox sighed as she covered her face with her tail—the canid equivalent of a facepalm.

Pretending not to see the gesture, the rogue got up, threw her half-eaten fish back into the water, and slung the moth over her shoulders. “What’s done is done. Let’s go, before she wakes up again.”

“Where are we even gonna go?”

“The citadel,” said Claire. “But only for a bit. Crabby Crags was good for experience.”

“Oh, right. We should probably drop her off.”

“And I need to speak to your father.”

“You wanna talk to dad? What for?” Sylvia furrowed her brow. “You’re not messing with him again, are you?”

“I’m not. The map has a special monster marked on it. Five skulls and a crown. I want to know how strong it is.”

“Oh! If you’re thinking about the one I’m thinking about, then it’s actually a lord, but I’d have to look at the map to be sure.”

“You can do that later.”

“But you’re dropping her off later.”

“And?”

Sylvia swallowed the rest of her fish. “Wait… are you gonna take her map?”

“Medical expenses are covered by the government, and the government requires funding.”

“I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean…”

“It means I’m taxing her to recoup the cost of being on ambulance duty,” said Claire, as she began making her way towards the closest civilization.

“I think I’m starting to see why people hate taxes.” Muttering under her breath, the fox stepped into the water and followed in the lyrkress’ footsteps.

____

The switch from force manipulation to vector manipulation completely revolutionised the way Claire approached air travel. Though flying was still awkward, the control that the upgraded skill provided was a merit in nearly every circumstance. The upgrade made it possible for her to make more drastic mistakes. One small twitch could send her tumbling through the aether, but at the same time, she was also much quicker to steady herself after an error.

Crabby Crags’ limited space had prevented her from experimenting; there simply hadn’t been enough room to do any of the things she had in mind. Escaping it, however, provided all the freedom she needed to loop through the air and perform all sorts of ridiculous manoeuvres. Had her passenger been awake, she surely would have found it necessary to empty the contents of her stomach, but the spellweaver was given a light smack every time she began to stir. It was a primitive solution, but not even Sylvia, who kept bringing either a paw or her tail to her face, could deny its effectiveness.

Flying from Crabby Crags’ entrance to the citadel was only supposed to have taken five-odd minutes at Claire’s new top speed, but playing around with vector manipulation drastically extended the timer. At some point, the lyrkress had even wound up in a game of tag; she didn’t settle down and come to a stop atop the citadel until she was nearly out of mana, half an hour or so later.

From the usual tree, it was but a straight line to the office building that doubled as Flux’s temple. After making sure that no one was watching, Claire dropped down from her hiding spot and tiptoed her way over. She snuck into the yard, set the moth down atop the doorstep, and stepped back.

“I know you're awake.”

There wasn’t any response at first, but pinching the kryddarian’s sensitive antennae made her squeak and jump three feet into the air. To Claire’s surprise, the weaver seemed more confused than hostile. She didn’t attack, opting instead to back away and look around in confusion.

“Wait, she was just pretending?” Sylvia’s eyes were as wide as the insectoid’s. “I never noticed! Since when?”

“Since we started playing tag.”

“Wait…. Really?”

Claire nodded.

“If you knew she was just pretending, why did you keep hitting her every time she made a sound?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Claire…”

“Shut up. It was funny.”

The spellweaver perked up, as if she had a comment to add, but refrained from speaking after a brief moment of hesitation.

“That doesn’t mean you can just go around hitting people for no reason!”

Again, the moth lady reacted. This time, she nodded in a surprisingly composed and ladylike fashion, but went unnoticed. At least by the fox. Claire was simply pretending not to see her.

“I was having fun. You said I didn’t know how, so I proved my point.”

“You can’t just pin this on me! It’s your fault, not mine!”

“Well too bad.”

The Kryddarian turned around and looked at the door behind her as the pair bickered. And after breathing a sigh of relief, she finally spoke up. “Excuse me, might this be Beck’s house?”

“Yup! Or at least I think it’s his house? It’s his office thingy,” said Sylvia.

“Thank Builledracht,” she said, as she folded her wings in, around her body. “I didn’t recognize you as other people from the citadel.” The moth got to her feet, bent her head forwards, and made a buzzing sound by flapping her wings seven times in rapid succession. A traditional greeting, specifically one of the more friendly sort. “I don’t think we’ve met. I am Lova Feldstal, Kryddarian Spellweaver, and one of the warriors in the hunting party that Fred’s been tutoring lately.”

Claire nearly raised a brow, but suppressed it in favour of keeping her expression neutral. “You’re a warrior? Not a mage?”

“I was before I got here.” Lova pursed her lips.

“Right.” The half-horse lowered her gaze briefly before assuming her usual poker face. “I’m Claire, Frostblight Lyrkress, and this is my pet.”

“And I’m Sylvia Redlea—wait a second! I’m not your pet!” Sylvia gave the other halfbreed a look of disbelief as her tail went limp and slowly fell to the ground.

“You’re a fuzzy, four-legged creature that follows me around. That makes you my dog.”

“I’m a fox! Not a dog! And I can’t be your pet because you’re my pet!”

“Exc—” Lova tried to join in on the conversation, but she was ignored and spoken right over.

“You’re insane.”

“No I’m not! You’re a derpy weakling that needs my constant care and attention! You get lost every time I take my eyes off you! If you’re not my pet, then I don’t know what you are!”

“You’re derpier than I am.” Claire narrowed her eyes. “And you don’t take care of me. I take care of you. I even feed you.”

“Excus—” Again, she was cut off, this time, by the fox.

“I feed you too! Remember the fish? I even gave you a rabbit once!”

“I’ve fed you more. All of today, yesterday, and the day before.”

“That’s just becaus—”

“No excuses,” said Claire, as she magically pinched Sylvia’s mouth shut. It was a simple operation that required nothing but magically seizing the top half of her jaw with one hand, the bottom with the other, and clapping vertically.

“What is going on out there?” A fourth voice joined the conversation as the cathedral’s door was pushed open. Out from the entrance stepped a face that all three people happened to recognise.

“Nothing,” said the moose.

“Ummm… I wouldn’t worry about it. We were just being silly,” said the elf.

“Good afternoon, Beck. Sorry for the noise,” said the moth.

“Lova? You made it! I thought we lost you!” He clapped his paws together. “Thank the gods. I’ve been worried sick, ever since I heard that Murtt and Grell had run away without you. What happened?”

“They were… eating me again. These two happened to come across me while I was trapped.”

Again?

“Thank you Claire, and you too, Sylvia. We were putting together a rescue mission, and you saved us a lot of time, effort, and maybe even lives.” The bald cat smiled at the two in turn.

“You’re welcome!” chimed Sylvia.

You didn’t even do anything.

“Does this happen often?” asked Claire.

“Of course not.”

“All the time.”

Lova and Beckard spoke at the same time, with the girl denying the allegation and the cat confirming it. Looking between the two, the lyrkress slowly shook her head and breathed a sigh.

“Let’s go, Sylvia. We’re leaving.”

“Already? You could at least stay for a meal,” said Beckard. “It’s almost dinnertime, and we’ve yet to thank you for rescuing Lova. I’ll even ask her friends and instructor to tag along. I’m sure they’d all be glad to meet you.”

Claire stopped for a moment to look at him with her usual icy glare. It was a chance to integrate herself into their society, and in a relatively favourable light at that. The citadel didn’t seem as hostile as she had initially suspected. If the Kryddarian, of all people, had refrained from stabbing her in the back when given the chance, then she was unlikely to be in danger so long as she didn’t run into any of her father’s sworn enemies. That, however, was assuming that there would actually be a good impression. And while she didn’t understand why the moth didn’t openly condemn her for the half-hour or so of abuse, she felt that the citadel’s impression of her was likely to plummet if it ever came to light. Which it most certainly would, with the circumstances as they were.

“No thanks,” said Claire, as she started walking away.

The fox looked like she had something to say, but after waving goodbye, followed her companion down the road.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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