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Chapter 103 - Dreams and Delusions VI

The journey from the savannah to the citadel was just as smooth as the journey from the archipelago to the savannah, which was to say it wasn’t smooth at all. Claire was struck by another three lightning bolts, each of which sent her plummeting from the skies. The halfbreed was made to feel the full extent of nature’s wrath, but the wreath she carried remained completely unharmed. Neither the leaves nor the fruits had suffered any damage, no matter how many times they were fried. The wind was a greater threat to her loot than its accompanying thunderstorm. She couldn’t help but worry that the literal fruits of her labour would be taken by the hurricane and consumed by the sea cow floating its way through the storm; the silly creature had tried to take a bite out of her plunder every time they passed each other by.

Despite the many trials and tribulations, she was eventually able to land atop the floating isle. It was difficult to make out any notable landmarks with the skies as dark as they were; she missed the usual tree and crashed into a random building. Claire herself was fine, but the impact reduced the half-destroyed structure to a pile of rubble. Her face was a bit sore, but only because she had landed on it. The elongated branch in her arms stopped her from using the forelimbs to soften the blow.

“You really need to work on your landings,” said Sylvia. She floated over to Claire’s head and set herself down atop it. Her weight was virtually unnoticeable, courtesy of the neutralised vectors.

“And you really need to shut up,” said the moose-snake, as she rubbed her jaw.

“I’m just trying to help!”

“And last time you ‘tried to help,’ you nearly got me killed by a giant frog.”

“That was last last time! I literally just helped you get something you needed!”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Let’s just go.” The blueblood pushed her way out of the rubble and started walking down the street. She wasn’t familiar enough with the town’s layout to know exactly where she was, but heading towards the light flickering in the distance seemed like a good start.

“Wow! Can’t you at least say good job or thanks? Or anything at all?”

“I said ‘whatever.’ That counts as something.”

“No it doesn’t!” The sentient hat tugged on Claire’s ears, pulling them to the sides, as the lyrkress so often did to her cheeks.

“Yes it does.”

The bickering continued as they moved through the settlement. For once, the rogue didn’t bother hiding. Even if there were others out and about, which there clearly weren’t, the storm would keep her obscured from afar.

Like the savannah, the citadel shook every time the wind howled, and far more violently at that. The ruined castle town was far smaller than the other floating island, and its anchors did little to keep it held perfectly in place. Every galewind sent a tremor through the town, and the more powerful blasts had it lurching, bouncing to and fro like a pebble washed away by a flood. She doubted that anyone but the fox was at liberty to consider paying attention to more than just the position of their feet.

Despite the terrible weather, the drunken settlement was as lively as ever. Roars of laughter filled her ears as she closed in on the town square, the very same howls and cackles that she had heard during her first visit. The sole difference she noted was their source. Rather than coming from all over, they stemmed instead from a very specific subset of buildings, all of which were relatively intact. Of the three undamaged structures, the noisiest was none other than Flux’s temple—her destination. From the clinking of cups alone, she could tell that there were at least several dozen people inside. And if Zelos’ and Beckards’ accounts were by any means accurate, then just about all of them would be drunk out of their minds.

A frown drew itself on her lips as she recalled the stench of vekratt. She knew what it was like for a legion of otherwise brave men to be reduced to a horde of intoxicated, involuntary celibates, and she had every intention of staying as far away from the mess as possible.

“Can you turn into a fairy?”

“Ummm, sure I guess. But why?”

“Because you stand out too much as a fox.”

“Ohhh… we’re going sneaky? Okay!”

Sylvia took a small bracelet off one of her rear paws and placed it in her mouth. Claire hadn’t even noticed the leafy accessory; it had been nigh invisible beneath all the vixen’s fur. The strange bangle’s purpose became immediately apparent as her four-legged companion shrank. It was her dress, the same one she had used as a pair of pajamas. Moving with incredible speed, the fox girl donned the outfit before the light enveloping her body faded and emerged from her transformation fully dressed.

“There, done.” Sylvia climbed back into her companion’s hood and hid in her hair. “Is this good enough, or do you need me to shrink some more?”

Claire flattened her shard into a mirror-like shape and looked for the tiny fairy half-hidden in her hair. “Good enough.” Claire cracked her shoulders as she turned into a lamia. “You can shrink more?”

“Mhm! And I can get bigger too. Remember how big some of the fairies in Darkwood Hollow were?”

“As big as people.”

“Yup! I can get even bigger if I really want to, but I’ve never really seen a point. Being tiny is way more convenient.”

“Can you change sizes as a fox too?”

“Of course, silly. How else do you think I’ve been fitting so snugly on your head?”

“I don’t know.” Claire shrugged. “It’s not like I can see you. Not most of the time, anyway.”

“Oh, right... Anyway, I’ve been shrinking, just a littl—” The fox froze as her mount strayed from the building’s front entrance. “Uhmmm… Claire? Where are we going?”

“Inside.”

“But there’s a door right over there!”

The lyrkress ignored the head ornament, who had pointed at the proper entrance, and climbed her way up to the nearest window. It was made of nothing but a slab of wood, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t quite wrench it open. It didn’t budge, in fact, it didn’t even wiggle regardless of how hard she pushed and pulled.

“I think they’ve probably sealed it shut with magic so the wind doesn’t blow it away,” said Sylvia.

“Great.” She slowly turned her head and gave the fox a look, a dead, accusing stare.

“H-hey, don’t look at me! It’s not my fault they decided to board up for the storm! It totally makes sense! Everything would be going straight to hell and back if they didn’t! I didn’t tell you right away because I didn’t think you were going to climb up the wall and try to wrench open a window!”

“I didn’t even say anything.”

“Yeah, but you were about to!”

“Blame your overactive imagination. Not me.”

Claire reached on top of her head and, after a moment’s hesitation, scratched the tiny fairy’s ears. Even with neither hand on the wall, the half-snake remained exactly where she was. She had no trouble slithering right up the brick surface. Its jagged edges were no different from footholes, as far as her lower body was concerned.

“Oh, whatever! It’s okay. I forgive you,” chirped Sylvia.

“You better.”

“Wow! Okay, fine! I take that back! I unforgive you!”

“Too late. I’m already forgiven.”

The rogue returned her hands to the window and resumed pulling on the wood. She dug her fingers into the hardened material and tried to remove it from its frame. It wouldn’t budge, even with the increased leverage, so she fell back on plan B and punched it. When even that didn’t work, she resorted to ‘punching’ it even harder. Raising the wreath overhead, she bashed its stump against the wood, over and over until the protective spell succumbed to her brute force.

It started to crack after a few seconds of pounding, but she wasn’t able to continue. A notable commotion had started to leak from the other side of the wall. The howling gale muffled the sounds and made it difficult for her to hear them in any detail, but she could clearly tell that someone had noticed that something was happening to one of the windows.

That was why she did the only sensible thing. The lyrkress scooted several windows over and put the branch away. Evidently, there were too many people around for her to continue without a change of plans, so she pressed her palm against a piece of wood and froze a small patch by emitting a burst of cold air. The resulting ice spread like a tumour, slowly growing atop the wooden divider until it was fully enveloped. Once certain that her grip on the panel was solid, she twisted her wrist, wrenched it backwards, and removed it outright.

Nodding contently to herself, she turned towards the fresh hole and came to a sudden stop. Because she wasn’t alone. There were already two people in the room. One was a Kryddarian, who was sitting up in bed with one of her four arms pointed at a window with a mysterious dent, and the other a hairless cat, leaning over said window whilst scratching his head. Both slowly turned their eyes towards her and froze, just as she had half a moment prior.

Log Entry 2794
Paralyzing Gaze has reached level 13.

I really don’t think that counts, Box.

“Lova, Beckard, Good evening.” Claire greeted each with a nod as she casually slithered through the hole. After dragging the deer’s wreath in behind her, she even tried replacing the window, but it didn’t quite fit the same way it used to, so she set the wood down and froze the gaping hole shut instead.

“It’s still morning,” whispered the fairy lying prone on top of her head.

“I know,” she replied, just as quietly. Her words were spoken without any visible lip movement.

“Then why are you saying it’s evening?”

“Because they’re already confused. If I confuse them even more, it’ll take them longer to recover.” The rogue walked towards the pair and dropped a pair of items by the moth girl’s bed. “This is what I owe you. Buccontrol fruits for magic water, and mirewulf wood for magic wood,” she said, in a much louder voice. Turning around immediately, she made for the entrance she had created in a bid to return to the great outdoors

“H-hold on.” Beckard ran in front of her and squeezed out a stutter before she reached the window. After taking another moment to catch his breath, he climbed onto a desk, positioned himself atop a pile of books and double-checked to ensure that they were eye-level.

Claire took the opportunity to quickly glance around the room. It was a quaint bedchamber made almost entirely of stone, with the exits and furniture the only exceptions. The window frames were wooden, just like the panels that kept them shut, and the doorframes were similarly constructed. The relative lack of personalised decor provided the impression that the Kryddarian was more of a guest than a permanent resident; the curtains were too thick to belong to one of her kind. As night dwellers, Kryddarians preferred thinner drapes so that they could bask in the sunlight as they lazed the day away. It was a near universal trait, shared by most members of the species.

The guest in question was, for whatever reason, trying her best to avoid Claire’s gaze. She refused to look at the uninvited visitor and shrank back whenever she became the center of attention. Why is she so scared?

“I’d like it if you could stay a moment,” said the cat.

“Of course you would,” said Claire. Both her tone and expression were neutral, as they always were when she had to deal with old men.

“But before that,” he turned to the moth, “Lova, I know you were about to turn in, but could you please get Fred and inform him that your window needs fixing? I doubt you’d be able to sleep for long. It’ll get drafty once the ice melts.”

“S-sure, I’ll get him to come right up.” The moth girl gulped, nodded, and scampered out of bed, making for the door with an impressive burst of speed.

Both parties wordlessly watched her depart, but the silence didn’t end, even after she left. Claire stayed quiet and kept her mouth shut as she waited for the man to put his thoughts together.

“There are a few things I’d like to ask, so why don’t we get the most obvious one out of the way first?” He looked towards a certain broken aperture as he continued. “Is there a particular reason you chose to come through one of the windows?”

“I was wondering about that too!” said Sylvia, as she popped out from under Claire’s hood.

“A window is easier to fix than a door,” said Claire.

The monk and the fox took a moment to exchange glances, with both pausing momentarily to process the statement’s implications.

“Uhmmm… Claire? You do know you don’t have to break things to use them, right?”

“The main entrance is still readily accessible,” said the cat. “Someone would have let you in if you had knocked.”

“I didn’t think the window would be locked,” said Claire.

“Then why didn’t you just drop back down and head through the door when you found out it was?” The fairy flew over to Claire’s shoulder and climbed down her arm, as if to demonstrate her solution.

“Because the window was locked.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” shouted the two-legged fox.

“Yes it does. It annoyed me, so I got rid of it,” said the half-snake, matter-of-factly. “And windows are just small doors. There’s hardly a difference.”

She had always treated the manor’s windows as door-substitutes, largely in part because they were far more convenient and accessible. The maids often scolded her for the supposedly improper behaviour, but their warnings went unheeded. Most would give up upon discovering that she would blatantly ignore their lectures, with Marie as the only exception. As a purebred cervitaur, Marie had twice Claire’s leg count, but the halfbreed had no trouble escaping her. The maid lacked the proficiency needed to scale the random objects that the guilty snake-moose climbed, and to make matters worse, she had never been very athletic to begin with. Outrunning the deer girl was as easy as repeating the action that prompted the scolding to begin with.

“You can’t just randomly get rid of things because they annoy you!” said Sylvia. “Look at what you did to the poor window! It’s completely broken!”

The cat chuckled. “It’s okay. We can just have it repaired.” He shuffled his hands within his cloak, clasping them together as he nodded in what seemed to be understanding. “I can certainly see why Flux went out of her way to mention that you were a bit of a troublemaker.”

“I’m not a troublemaker,” said Claire. “I’m just sensible.”

Sylvia floated on top of her head and plopped onto her hood. “Claire…”

“Sensible,” repeated the centaur.

The old priest shook his head as he continued to laugh. “It wouldn’t be right for you to be one of Flux’s children if you didn’t have a quirk or two.”

“Wait, you’re really just not going to say anything about her busting through the window?”

“I don’t really see a point.” He gestured at the icy panel that kept it closed. “She’s stopped the storm from getting in, and Fred can have it fixed in no time.” Jumping off the table, the feline walked towards the wreath and ran his fingers across one of its branches. “The more pressing issue is that, while I certainly do appreciate you bringing some materials in, I’m not sure what this is supposed to be for.”

“You said you needed magic water,” said Claire. “Magic fruits have magic juice. Magic juice is just magic water.”

“Unfortunately, Claire, that doesn’t quite work.”

The blueblood’s gaze slowly shifted towards the ceiling. Or more specifically, towards her hat.

“I-I thought that it’d be fine!” stuttered the fairy. “I-it’s pretty much just water if you purify it!”

“Purifying it disqualifies it for use in rituals.” The cat placed his paws behind his back and smiled. “But I really do appreciate the effort. It’s not as if these materials are useless. We can still have them crafted into something useful.”

“They might not be,” muttered Claire, under her breath, “but Sylvia is.”

“Hey! I’m not useless!”

“Says the stupid dog who thinks juice is water.”

“Argghhhh! I’m not a dog, and I’m not stupid!” Sylvia tugged on the other halfbreed’s hair. “I hate you so much!”

“And that’s why we’re friends.”

With a wide smirk on her face, Claire plucked the tiny fox girl off her hood and gave her nose a boop.

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Spicy Space Squid

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