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A note from Spicy Space Squid

Sorry for the delay, I was preparing for the writathon.

Chapter 93 - Giant Frogs and Wooden Dogs V

Seeing the squirrel prompted Claire to repeat the same set of actions that she had just a few days prior. She consumed over three thousand mana and froze him with a fully empowered paralyzing gaze before storming up to him, her hooves thundering against the sand. An icy pick was formed at the front of her foot as she drove it straight into his neck. The blade failed to pierce his fur, but the momentum carried through and sent him flying through the air. She even threw in a few casts of apply force after the impact, just to make sure she put as much distance as possible between them.

Both Sylvia and Zelos were left completely dumbfounded. Their jaws hung wide open as they watched Mittens crash into an unlucky bird and plummet into the ocean.

“Ummmm… Claire? Weren’t you trying to like… you know… sneak around and stuff so people at the citadel didn’t end up learning too much about you?” asked the fox. “Because I’m pretty sure kicking people isn’t how you stay inconspicuous.”

“I don’t care. He deserved it.”

Zelos blinked a few times and took a deep breath as he lowered his gaze. “That was… not what I was expecting. I take it the two of you already happen to know each other?”

“He’s wronged me. Twice.”

“Then I suppose this isn’t going to be the best time for me to tell you that I was planning for the two of you to team up.”

“I refuse,” said Claire, her voice and expression both perfectly neutral. “I’d rather die.”

“I don’t know what he did, but I would at least like to mention that he’s really quite reliable, despite how he may seem at times.” The elf looked back towards the sea. “And speaking of, there he is right now.”

The squirrel was running across the sea, sprinting over the water as if it were just more land. His steps were neither light nor particularly heavy; they made tiny splashes, but no major distortions. Claire couldn’t tell if his ability to walk on water was a skill or simply a factor of his raw speed. Whatever the case, five seconds was all he needed to skid to a stop right in front of the elf, the fairy, and the lyrkress.

“That’s the third time that’s happened. At least I didn’t have to run up the chains this time.”

“Shut up, Mittens,” hissed the rogue. “No one cares.”

“Mittens? My name is Ge—”

His attempt at speech was put to a premature end as Claire repeated her actions. Paralyzing him again, she punted him in a completely random direction before raising her hoof and washing it with a stream of stale water. Only after a bit of excessive scrubbing did she finally turn back around to face the others, as naturally as would someone that hadn’t just committed an obscene act of violence.

“Uhmmmm… Claire?" Still in fairy form, Sylvia floated over to the other halfbreed and took a seat on her shoulder. “You should at least let him introduce himself. I’m kinda starting to feel sorry for him.”

“No.”

“Wow uhh… you must really hate him.”

Shrugging, Claire tried to paralyze the man on his way back, in hopes that he would fall into the ocean and drown, but he shook the status condition off and continued to sprint without pause. She was so annoyed that she nearly broke her poker face, but it continued to hold steady, even as she retracted her shard and crossed her arms. The lyrkress wanted to try again, but she only had a sliver of mana remaining, and if he was able to resist a fully powered glare, he was unlikely to be affected by a weaker one.

That said, she wasn’t about to give up. Running at the beach, she intercepted him as he reached the shore and once again gave him the boot. The third attack didn’t propel him nearly as far, but seeing him crash into a nearby tree was enough to abate most of her annoyance.

“I’m sorry, Geoff. I didn’t realise that you two were on such… hostile terms.” Zelos smiled awkwardly as he approached the squirrel, who fell out of the palm headfirst and landed with his face in the sand.

“No worries. I know exactly what’s going on, and I really don’t mind.”

Geoff, as the elf had called him, pushed his head out of the beachfront and shook it before picking at his ears with a finger and digging out the sand stuck inside. Glaring at him again, Claire realised that his frame had shrunk dramatically since their first encounter. He had lost roughly half his height and was now only a bit too big to be a regular, non-monstrous tree-rat. His colour was still the same bright brownish-red, but his tail seemed to carry a number of darker hues.

“You do?” The elf blinked.

“Yes, of course,” said the rodent. “This is just her way of expressing affection.”

Claire nearly shuddered. The thought of regarding the veaber with anything but disgust brought her to the verge of emptying the contents of her stomach.

“Well, if you don’t mind, then I won’t comment,” said Zelos, as he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Ummm… did you hit him in the head or something?” whispered Sylvia.

“I hope so.” Claire walked up to the squirrel and gave him a cold, condescending gaze. “Leave. Now, or I’ll kick you again.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. I get it, you’re shy, but don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine,” said the squirrel.

“I hate you.”

“Yes, I know. I totally understand.” He winked at her.

The lyrkress felt another wave of disgust well up from within. She was tempted to follow through on her threat, but she didn’t see a point. Even after three attacks, he was completely unharmed; assaulting him with a blade of ice had accomplished little beyond messing up his fur. If violence doesn’t work, I’ll just have to ignore him until he goes away.

Zelos looked between the two of them before turning back to the squirrel and clearing his throat. “How did you meet Claire, Geoff?”

“Claire?” The squirrel’s tail curled itself into a question mark. “Ah! That must be her name. We met in Borrok Peak, before I met Carter and Marleena.”

“Borrok peak… I see.” Zelos nodded. “Right, speaking of, I don’t think you’ve met my daughter yet. Geoff, this is Sylvie. And Sylvie, this is the citadel’s newest resident, Geoffrey.”

“Hi Geoff, I’m Sylvia Redleaf, Llystletein woodfox.” The fairy waved without getting up from her position atop the half-snake’s shoulder.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied. After eyeing her for a moment, he neglected to return the formal greeting in favour of lowering his gaze and mumbling. “She’s pretty… Does it mean anything for her father to have introduced us? I did already tell him about my harem plans, so maybe he’s being a good neighbour and trying to set me up.”

Claire flicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. She was tempted to strangle him, just to shut him up.

“Ummm… hello?” Sylvia leapt into the air and waved a hand in front of the squirrel’s face, but he failed to respond.

“This happens to be a bad habit of his,” said Zelos, with a strained smile.

“Uh huh… well ummm… that’s kinda weird, but I guess I can get used to it. Claire’s weird too and I’m already used to her.

“I’m not weird. Your standards are off,” said the lyrkress.

“Yes you are!” Sylvia flew a circle around the accused before floating over to her father. “So is Geoff supposed to be coming with us?”

“That was the intention, but…” The high elf directed his gaze at the half-horse.

After a brief moment of contemplation, Claire lowered her head and pulled her cloak over her eyes. As much as it annoyed her, she owed him a favour. He had taught her to better use a blade, and she had always been taught to pay off her debts. “I’m kicking him every time he annoys me.”

“That’s perfectly fine. I don’t mind,” said Geoff.

“Shut up, Mittens. I wasn’t talking to you.”

“My name is Geoff. It wasn’t always, at least not before the truck, but it is now, and I’m actually quite fond of it, so I’d lik—mmmphphhh”

“I said, shut up.” Grabbing his jaws with force magic, Claire wrenched them shut against his will before turning towards the rest of the party. “Now let’s go. I don’t want to deal with this thing for any longer than I have to.”

“I suppose we might as well.” Taking one last concerned look at the squirrel, Zelos shook his head and started packing his things.

____

Looking upon the familiar scene that was Darkwood Hollow led Zelos to heave a sigh. There were dens and treehouses everywhere, scattered alongside dozens upon dozens of sleeping mirewulves. Some were mere saplings, freshly planted with little magic infused, and others with ages ten times greater than his own. He was always happy to visit, as returning to the tiny fox town meant reuniting with his daughter and his wife. But as things stood, that was precisely the problem.

He knew that Dixie would not be happy to see him. Through the magic of Llystletein, she was able to track his every move and follow him from afar on every occasion. She was never not watching; there was no doubt that she had seen him flush at Claire’s antics. Hence his concern. She was going to be furious and he had no idea how he was supposed to appease her. It was highly unlikely that the gifts he brought would suffice.

There were a number of foxes out and about, with most of them lazing around either in the town square, or in their favourite spots. There were only a select few that held the elf in good standing. Many still looked on him with scorn, but most had at least accepted his continued existence. It wasn’t his personality that left him incompatible with the average llystletein proctor, but rather his long standing friendship with Archibald. As a general rule, they disliked artificers and their close contacts, and for good reason. They were a celestial’s servants, and the creation of artifacts was an act long scorned by over half the pantheon.

His poor reputation with the foxes was not by any means why he felt so awkward. He had known for hundreds of years that staying in contact with the huskar would lead others to reject him. It irked him to know that even his extended family disliked him, but not enough to leave him completely devoid of hope or joy. He was much more bothered by the tense, awkward atmosphere that had persisted throughout the trip.

The elf had hoped that Claire would be able to work with Geoff, but that was obviously not going to happen. He hadn’t the faintest clue as to what had happened between them, but he knew better than to pry, at least not while they were present. Sylvia would likely be able to fill him in later on.

“This is nothing like what I saw last time,” said Claire. The chimera scanned the townscape as she spoke, her expression and tone both completely unreadable.

“That was umm… because of the um… because of the steelwings,” said Sylvia.

“You do realise that I know you set that up, right?”

“W-wait, you d—er, I mean, what are you talking about?”

“I’ve known since I killed the big one.”

Zelos chuckled as he listened in on the conversation. A raven attack does sound like something Sylvie would come up with.

Lifting the fairy off her head with one hand, Claire messed up her hair and scratched the back of her ears with the other. “And your personality has changed since then too. Your persona was chattier. You’re more sarcastic now and you get to the point faster, but you still talk too much.”

“Wow, that’s mean! So what if I like talking? There’s nothing wrong with that!”

The chimera shrugged, set the fox down, and directed her gaze forward instead of commenting any further. An older greying fox emerged from a bush a moment later. He was walking around on just his hind legs, with one forelimb hanging to his side and the other fiddling with the pipe he had in his mouth.

“Zelos.” He nodded at the elf before glancing over the group, his gaze stopping only on the squirrel. “Bit of an odd gathering you have here today.”

“Good morning, Grant. It’s nice to see you again.”

“You too, kid,” said the fox, with a playful grin. “Have fun getting in trouble. You might want to hurry over before she storms across the hollow and drags you into her burrow.”

“Please stop using my misfortune as a means to entertain yourself,” he said, as he placed a hand on his face.

The old fox snickered. “You knew what you were getting into. I warned you. Twice. You’re the one that insisted on putting it in crazy.”

“She’s not crazy, Grant. Just… overly affectionate.”

“Ummm… Dad? I think you might just be in denial. Mom’s totally crazy,” said Sylvia.

“What are you guys talking about? I’m lost,” said Geoff.

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Zelos smiled awkwardly. “Grant, this is Geoff.”

The old smoker nodded at the rodent after inhaling a lungful of ash. “Grant. Llystletein fox.”

“Geoffrey Hogdstoose, Llystletein cave squirrel. I’d like to go by Geoff.”

“Cave squirrel? Now that’s an interesting ascension,” said the silver-furred fox.

“Thank you, it was tough to get,” replied the nut-eater.

“I bet it was,” said Grant, before turning to Claire. “Excellent work. I heard Dixie scream from half the village away. Very entertaining.” He chuckled as he recalled the event. “Speaking of, there she is right now.”

“Zelos! You filthy cheat!” A tiny fairy catapulted out of a nearby tree and stabbed Zelos in the ear with an equally tiny kitchen knife. “Asshole! Manwhore!”

“Good morning, Dixie. You look lovely today. Your tail is even fluffier than usual,” The elf grimaced, but did his best to refrain from reacting to her accusations. He knew better than that. His wife was a bit of a loose cannon, and accidentally saying something that could be easily misconstrued was sure to set her off.

After goring him a good five or six times, she backed off and cast her gaze on her next target, but Grant got in front of the chimera before the tiny foxgirl could launch another attack.

“Calm down, Dixie. It was just a prank. I put her up to it.”

“I don’t care!” shrieked the angry housewife.

Zelos could feel the back of his throat run dry as he noticed the dark smile that surfaced on Grant’s face.

“If there’s anyone you should be mad at, it’s your husband.”

His suspicions confirmed, he closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. He knew exactly what the old mutt was up to.

“But she was the one that tried to seduce him!”

“And he was one that fell for it. It just means that he doesn’t love you enough.”

“He what!?”

It wasn’t the first time Grant had used the argument, nor even the first time it had elicited the exact same reaction.

“I can’t believe you, Zelos! After all we’ve been through!” She grabbed him by the unbloodied ear and dragged him back home with an uncanny amount of strength. Despite her tiny frame, she was able to haul him around as easily as a cat would a mouse.

“Damn it, Alfred… Why did you have to give literally every fox a mischievous streak?” The elf muttered under his breath. He didn’t bother arguing back. He had already resigned himself to his fate.

Suffering was simply his lot in life. He had no choice but to sit back and let it play out.

____

Claire stared at the burrow with a brow raised as she listened to the event unfolding within. It consisted primarily of the woman yelling, but there were a few more interesting noises mixed in as well, such as the clanking of chains and the click of a lock. A very interesting combination to say the least, considering that the husband didn’t quite seem to mind the wife’s behaviour.

Said wife emerged from the burrow a few minutes later, a bright smile plastered across her face. “There. Zelos and I have resolved the misunderstanding, and he’s agreed to stay at home for the next few weeks.”

“I really don’t understand how you two manage to get along, with all your umm… tendencies,” said Sylvia.

“What are you talking about? This is all perfectly normal. You’ll understand when you finally find yourself a partner,” said Dixie.

“Agreed.” Claire nodded, calmly, as if the fox-eared fairy hadn’t just threatened to stab her a few minutes prior. “It’s a fairly typical way of expressing affection. They say that, if you lock someone up for long enough, they’ll eventually fall in love with you.” It was a claim that she had heard quite often around the manor, largely in part because it was Alice’s favourite saying.

“There’s absolutely no way that’s true and you know it!” shouted Sylvia.

“I’m with Sylvia on this one. You’re ill, Dixie, incredibly so,” said Grant.

Geoff cleared his throat. “It’s normal, especially with all the tropes she’s just shown us.”

“I agree with the mentally deficient squirrel.” Claire fought back the urge to frown and took a breath before continuing. “It’s a common practice among Cadrian nobles.”

Sylvia shuddered. “That’s… scary. Nobles are scary.”

“It’s not all bad. Some guys think it’s hot,” said Geoff, with a confident nod. “Just imagine if you were Zelos. The man looks like he’s 10. There’s nothing wrong with a 10 year old wanting a thicc dommy mommy.”

A what?

“It should have something to do with the possessiveness that comes with her predatory instincts,” said Claire. Lamias frequently exhibited similar behaviour and it was more common in reputable fighters.

Dixie took a moment to look at Claire with her face going through a number of changes. What started as a hostile scowl warped between several different equally aggressive emotions before finally settling on a look of confusion.

“You… understand?”

“Of course,” said Claire. “One of my aunts was the same way. You’re perfectly normal, despite what the other foxes might be saying.”

“I… you… thank you.” A small smile crossed the fairy’s lips. “I thought you were just another one of those dumb citadel sluts at first, but I guess I must’ve been wrong.”

“I’m fiercely intelligent.”

“I can see that,” agreed the fairy, who extended an arm. “Dixie of Darkwood Hollow, Llystletein fox. It’s nice to meet you, Lady Augustus.”

“Former lady. I’ve lost the title.”

Claire returned the tiny fox girl’s faint smile as she lightly shook her hand. The entire motion was a bit awkward with the relative difference in their sizes, but they made do nonetheless. It was the thought that counted, after all.

“That hardly matters. You act like a lady, and I’ll be treating you like one. End of discussion.”

Claire pulled up the hem of her cloak and bent her knees. “Much obliged, Madam Redleaf.”

“What’s going on? I’m so confused.” said Sylvia.

Grant scratched the back of his head. “I have no idea, cub. None at all.”

“It’s really quite simple. It’s a mutual understanding between a pair of women who’ve become attracted to each other. I used to read about this all the time. Wait, does that mean she’s not a heroine, or do I just have to convince her that…”

His words trailed off as he started talking to none other than himself.

Sylvia’s tail flicked back and forth. “Ummm… I’m pretty sure that isn’t right, not that you’re listening anymore.”

Dixie put her hands on her hips and huffed before floating up to her daughter and giving her a hug. Wordlessly, she ran her fingers through her hair and even pinched the tip of her ears before finally letting go.

“Welcome home, Sylvia.”

“Wow, mom. Did you really put me last on the list?”

“Not quite.” She gestured at the squirrel with her chin. “That would be him.”

He was still lost in thought, mumbling a series of incomprehensible terms like “tsundere” and “NTR.” Though everyone picked up on his words, none were able to make any sense of them.

“Why, exactly, did your father bring that thing here?” asked the older fairy. “Even Al’s been telling us to stay away from it.”

“Dunno, he’s kinda weird,” said Sylvia.

“Maybe he’s planning on sleeping with it,” said Grant.

A bloody knife suddenly appeared in Dixie’s hands, seemingly pulled out of thin air. The force that transported it from the burrow was so minimal and precise that Claire had barely noticed it; had she not seen the result herself, she would have dismissed it as a figment of her imagination.

“Do it,” said the lyrkress.

“Please don’t. It was a joke, Dixie. A joke,” said Grant.

“Right.” With another perfectly constructed spell, she sent the weapon away and looked back at her daughter. “So you finally visited Sky Lagoon?”

“Yup! It was a lot more awesome than I thought! You should try going too, you wouldn’t believe how different it is in person.”

The mother chuckled lightly. “Al says that the outside world is even more incredible.”

Sylvia’s enthusiasm drained. “Yeah, I know, but…”

“You should go, if you ever get the chance,” said Dixie.

Her daughter lowered her gaze, averted her eyes, and muttered under her breath as she played with her tail. “That’s not going to happen ever. Unless…”

The red headed fairy smiled. “It just might, and sooner than you think.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Grant scoffed. “Nonsense, cub. That’s what it means. We’re stuck here for another few hundred years at least.”

“You’ve been saying that exact thing for over a thousand years already, Grant. Give it a rest,” said Dixie. “Have you had anything to eat yet, Sylvia?”

“Yup! Dad made us something in the morning.”

“One of Zelos’ meals? Then I doubt you had any wild game. You should try sea cow, if you get a chance. It’s good.”

It is? Claire’s ears twitched. She had refrained from trying the blubbery behemoths, but she had to admit that she was still curious of their taste, especially seeing as how the first one she met had apparently prided itself on its flavour. The claim did little but beg the question she had asked Sylvia when they first met. How did the potentially edible creature know its own taste? Truly, the greatest mystery of the generation.

“Wha!? You eat them? But they’re so cute!” said Sylvia.

“So are rabbits, and you eat those,” said Claire.

“Because foxes eat rabbits. That’s just how it is!” protested the amber-eyed half-elf.

“Just give it a try, Sylvia. Your friend there is pretty eager.” Dixie pointed at Claire, whose expression had remained perfectly neutral.

“Huh? She is?”

“Of course. She’s even letting it show, on purpose. Isn’t that right?”

Claire nodded.

“Huuuh? How?” blinked Sylvia.

The squirrel crossed his arms and grinned like the cocky pest he was. “With girls like her, it’s a matter of experience. They’re shy, but they’re also incredibly loving when you get through their shells.”

“I’m not shy. You’re just an idiot.”

“I’m going with Claire on this one,” said Sylvia.

Geoff looked around for support, but both the others were also nodding in agreement, hence why he did the most obvious thing in the world and immediately sank into thought. “Strange… they’re all teamining up on me. I was sure that I’d at least have enough affection points with Sylvia since her dad was the one that introduced her to me… What if…”

A sudden idea struck as Claire watched the rodent ponder. “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

“I thought you didn’t use the bathroom,” said Sylvia.

“Well I do now.”

Grant pointed to an area with an unusually dense brush population. “Over there.”

“Thanks.”

Grabbing the rodent by the tail, Claire walked over to the communal toilet and stopped a few feet in front of it, mainly for the purposes of sanitation. Magically grabbing the soil with her hands, she pulled it apart and dug a small hole three quarters of a squirrel deep. The idiot in question was then deposited inside, buried with only his head above the ground, and covered up with a few stray branches for good measure. Only after making sure that he was invisible from above did she return to the group.

“Don’t help him out. Even if he begs.”

“Ummm… okay, I guess,” said Sylvia.

“I barely know him, but I’m pretty sure he deserves worse,” said Dixie.

“Oh, definitely. You should see the recordings,” said Grant. “He’s as dumb as it gets.”

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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