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Chapter 104 - Dreams and Delusions VII

The group settled down as the conversation continued, with Claire taking a seat at a desk and the cat positioning himself on top of it. Sylvia spent most of her time on her mount’s head, but would flutter around the room whenever she got bored, which was apparently almost all the time.

“What do I need to kill to get you magic water?”

“It’ll just have to be whatever our resident water mages happen to want,” said Beckard. “You might not even have to kill anything. I’m sure you can get one of them to cast a few spells for a quick favour or two.”

Claire’s left eye twitched. “That’s it? You just need a mage to make something?”

The cat-sith frowned as he leaned his back against a pile of books. “It’s more difficult than it sounds. Most of them are incredibly lazy and refuse to put any effort into anything that doesn’t have an unreasonably disproportionate reward.”

“Wait…” Sylvia placed herself between the pair and swung her tail to and fro. “I thought it was supposed to be natural! Doesn’t that mean it has to grow on something? Or come out of a rock?”

“I should have clarified,” said Beckard. “Anything is fine, so long as it isn’t processed and doesn’t come from an artifact.”

“Explain that earlier next time.” With a roll of the eyes, Claire crafted a large cube of ice and placed it next to him.

“Ahh… yes, right. I didn’t realise that you were an ice mage.” Beckard looked towards the block of ice, then slowly shifted his gaze to the window. “I’m not quite sure how I failed to make the connection.”

Great. Confusion backfired already. I should’ve known better than to rely on one of Father’s tactics.

“Well, whatever the case, I suppose you’ve more than paid off your debt. Thank you, child of Flux,” said Beckard.

“Don’t call me that.” Claire frowned before pausing for a moment and magically prodding the wreath. “Can I get someone to turn that into something? I need something durable. My weapons never last very long.”

The priest scrunched up his brow. “The way our system typically works is that the craftsman you want to hire will take roughly half the material you bring them, adjusting up or down depending on the amount of work you want them to do and how motivated they are.” He paused for a moment, waiting for Claire to nod before continuing. “Normally, I would say yes, but you’ll have some difficulty convincing anyone to make something out of it for you as of right now. One of the citadel’s newcomers brought in several buccontrol heads just the other day, and everyone that’s interested in them already has everything they need.”

“Mittens again,” grumbled Claire, under her breath. “Always ruining everything.”

“I’m sorry. I hate to say this, but I believe you will need something a little harder to come by.”

“Okay.” Claire crossed her arms. “Like what?”

“Oh, I know!” Sylvia perked up, leapt off Claire’s head, flipped through the air, and landed on the desk.

“Stay out of this, Sylvia. You think juice is water.” I still don’t know why I believed her.

The fairy’s excitement, which had been about as apparent as a radiant flame in the midst of a dark room, was extinguished with a flick to the face.

“Come on! At least give me a chance,” complained the fox. She rubbed her forehead as she flew back to the table and plopped herself down on top of it. Rather than sitting like a person, she was lying down like a fox. She rested on her belly with her limbs sprawled and her face forward.

“No.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss her.” Beckard chuckled into his robe as the half-elf rose into the air and began tugging on her companion’s ear, as if to lodge a complaint. “Llystletein foxes are quite knowledgeable when it comes to the lost library’s properties.”

“Yeah, see! He gets it!” cheered the tiny vixen.

Claire pushed the pest away and sighed. “Fine. You get one chance. If your suggestion sucks, I’m putting you in a drawer.”

“Don’t worry, it won’t suck!” Sylvia put her hands on her hips and puffed out her chest. “You just need to kill lords! Lords are the rarest monsters there are because there are only a few of them, and they’re at least a bit different every time, so their stuff is probably really valuable. I think.”

“If you’d prefer to do something less risky, you can always visit Brightmoss Maze. It’s a long ways away, so we rarely visit, let alone return with too many notable materials,” explained Beckard.

“Brightmoss Maze?”

“That would be the floor beneath Mirewood Meadow.”

“Oh. That place.”

“The green belt’s there too! That’s the place we were talking about earlier,” said Sylvia.

“I’ll stop by later,” said Claire. “What about materials from mirewulves?” She set her whips and clubs on the table. She didn’t exactly like the first group, and there was no harm in potentially refining the second.

Beckard nodded. “Mirewulf materials have the tendency to garner a fair amount of interest.”

“Then I’ll just need a craftsman. Who will I need to speak to?”

“Find me be what y’want, lassie.” A gruff voice came through the open door, with its owner joining it a moment after. “Fix is due for a window, me heard?”

The man that entered was a classic thrice ascended monster, a purple-skinned goblin with a crown fused into the side of his skull. Had he been standing straight, he likely would have matched her height pre-ascension, but his back was hunched and showed not a single sign of unfurling. His skin was covered in warts of all different shapes and sizes, the most prominent of which sat on top of his massive hooked nose. The mahogany red eyes embedded in his recessed sockets gave a wild, almost feral impression. His clothes were the saving grace, with the linens and leather apron both impressing upon her that he was more than just a mindless beast.

“Ah, Fred! Just the man I was looking for.” Beckard smiled, bowing his head slightly. “Claire, this is one of my old friends, and another member of the party that Zelos and I were a part of during our adventuring days. Fred, this is Claire, the young lady I was telling you about. The fairy on her head is Sylvia, her proctor, from what I’ve gathered.”

“Meeting you be something me’s been looking forward to, aye,” said the goblin. She couldn’t tell if the accent was intentional or if he simply wasn’t used to Marish. On one hand, she knew of goblins that could speak with native fluency, but on the other, the bizarre manner of speech sounded more natural than it did forced.

“Reigned as Frederick, me did, goblin king of Wappitit Woods.” He greeted her with a tip of his goggled hat.

“Claire, frostblight lyrkress,” she said, returning his gesture with a nod.

Both parties looked at Sylvia, but the tiny fox girl failed to respond. The light snoring seemed to suggest that she had fallen asleep, with the impression only deepened by the snot bubble going in and out of her nose.

“Be best at crafting equipment, me is.” The goblin walked over to the window, set down his toolbox, and put on a pair of large leather gloves. “Doing other stuff no problem either, but a proper blacksmith me is.”

“Fred is someone that I would recommend without a second thought,” said Beckard. “He may be a bit greedier than many of the others, but he’s always had a knack for using his hands, and he won’t do wrong by you.”

“Working with interesting materials be just what me do,” explained the goblin. “Ignore boring ones, no fun.”

“What about that? Or these?” Claire pointed at the wreath with one hand and lifted one of her whips with the other.

“Bores me much.” The goblin grunted as he sat down by the window. “Find something rarer and me will make whatever me can, yes.” He broke the window’s icy covering with a pick and hammered the wooden board back into place. The whole process seemed so effortless and natural that she found herself thinking that she could replicate it, despite knowing better. “Being young, should be ambitious. Kill big somethings, not boring buccontrols.”

“Fine,” The lyrkress rolled her eyes. “Then I’ll go kill Crabby Crags’ lord.”

Frederick took a moment to eye her before breaking into a wide grin. “Making good choice, lassie.” He nodded with vigour. “Bring any bones and me be content, but tail best.”

“Okay.”

Claire faced him as she spoke, but her attention was turned to the doorway. Her ears silently traced the footsteps that approached from down the hall. The information provided was strange and off-putting. There was a discrepancy between the number of feet and the number of voices, with the latter count clearly exceeding the former.

Log Entry 2795
Catgirl Detector V. 0.33 has reached level 10.

“P-please, Murtt! Let’s just wait until she’s gone,” squeaked the spellweaver.

“Don’t worry, Lova! I’m just going to go thank her,” said another female. “Nothing’s going to go wrong.”

“I have only a few doubts as to the safety,” said a male. His voice was strange. It sounded like a mix between a buzz and a hum. “With Beck and Fred both present, I do not foresee that it is likely for us to be attacked.”

All 0% catgirl, just like the elf.

As far as Claire could tell, the female was sliding along the ground, but the male companion didn’t seem to be touching it at all. He wasn’t pulling a Sylvia either; his voice was coming from too far behind the others’ for him to be using either as a means of transportation.

“Good evening you two,” said Beckard. “And thank you for getting Fred, Lova.”

“You’re very welcome, Beck,” said the moth. She was the only one to remain in the corridor. Her companions were less timid, with both stepping into the room immediately upon their arrival—not that stepping was quite the right term, given that neither party walked. Or had legs.

In the female’s case, it was more of a gradual crawl. Her roots pulled her across the stone floor in relative silence, with the only noise coming in the form of the occasional scrape. Claire immediately recognized her as an alraune, albeit one of a subspecies she knew little about. The humanoid half of the plant girl’s body was growing out of a white flower that looked more like a morning glory than the standard mandrake, and her skin lacked the usual pale green colouration shared by other members of her species. It would have been easy to mistake her upper half as one that belonged to a dryad, or perhaps another forest spirit with similar properties.

The male, on the other hand, was just a large jellyfish. Claire had heard of scyphs before, but she had never seen one in person. If not for Amereth’s ranting—and blatant disparaging of their racial speech patterns—she likely would have mistaken him for just another unintelligent sea creature. His calm demeanor and the bowtie attached to his bell both helped correct her impression, but even then, he seemed more like a pet than a person. Just like a certain other individual.

“It’s nice to meet you, Claire, I’m Myrtle, a moonflower alraune,” said the plant, after greeting her acquaintances. “Thank you for saving Lova.”

Claire nodded. “Not a problem.”

“Hello, I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” said the jellyfish. “I am Grell Starieff, infernal skyscyph.”

“I hope this doesn’t sound too rude,” said Myrtle, without waiting for Claire to introduce herself, “but weren’t you supposed to have legs? Lova mentioned them the other day when she got back, but it looks to me like you’re just a lamia.”

“She must have been imagining things,” said Claire. “I’m a lamia.” The liar unfurled the lower half of her body and opened up her flippers. “These are the closest things I have to legs.” Her gaze slowly moved across the room and settled on the very confused moth hiding in the hallway. When their eyes finally met, she greeted the insect with a smile as sweet as honey.

The silent threat elicited an immediate squeak. The terrified spellweaver ducked out of the doorway and hid behind the wall, her wings the only part of her still visible from beyond the entrance.

“Introduce enough, back to talk,” said Frederick. “Hear many rumours me is, that y’use monster parts to fight, lassie.”

Claire didn’t immediately reply. The glint in the goblin’s eye made her chew on her words before spitting them out. “Why does it matter?”

“Be a good skill to have, that is, can cause much damage. Want me stupid trainees learn from you too. Gained levels, all classes over 50, but they ain’t beat buccontrols yet and struggle with crabs.” He motioned at the disjointed group whose final third was sitting outside the room. “Take with you on next Crabby Crags run, and generous with craftsman work, me is. Will show you which parts best take too. Want do deal?”

The halfbreed narrowed her eyes. “No. I don’t do groups.”

“Do deal and me throw in extra armour. Crafted carefully, lightweight and sturdy processed metal. See easily that you wear no armour under cloak, me does.”

“I’m not taking them,” said Claire.

“Confused, deal good,” groaned Fred. Still sitting down, he turned around and leaned his back against the wall.

“See? I told you she was a stubborn one,” laughed Beckard.

“I’m not stubborn,” said Claire, “I’m rational. There’s no reason for me to take them with me.”

“Know Crabby Crags well, they does,” said the goblin. “Remember layout and know shortcuts. Teaching you, they can since you new.”

“I don’t need their directions,” said the lyrkress. “A piece of armour is not worth them draining my experience.”

And I already have a map.

“Drain experience, they no do if just watch. Will even throw in extra weapon, me made personally.”

“No,” Claire narrowed her eyes.

“Refuse, why?” The goblin shook his head. “Confused much, me is. Making great deal offer, me thinks.”

“Because I know why you’re doing this,” said the halfbreed. “You just want them to spy on me so you can learn more about my motives and identity.”

“Spying big overstatement, only want basic information and this better than following from distance. Intruding on privacy no point, me no try make you mad. Help needed. Want more hands move for lord corpse if you kill.”

Claire crossed her arms. It didn’t sound like refusing would allow her to keep her matters private. The goblin had blatantly stated that the group was going to stalk her if they weren’t made into her companions. Stabbing each of the three in the face was always a solution, but antagonizing the citadel was foolish with how little she knew about the dungeon and its various moving pieces. Even if most of the inhabitants were useless drunks, the few functional members, like Zelos, Frederick, or even Beckard could eliminate her with little to no effort. That much was obvious even from a glance.

That, however, didn’t mean she was simply going to nod along and accept. No matter the outcome, she wanted it to happen on her terms, not the goblin’s. “Give me the armour first and I’ll let them follow me around for a day or two.”

“Want pay first? Can no agree. Need leverage so know you no break deal.”

“Take that then,” Claire gestured at the wreath. “It’s not like I need it.”

“Can no take, armour much more good than buccontrol part.”

“Then let me borrow it. I’ll give it back to you before we set out.”

“Making no sense, lassie. See no purpose in lend if you no use to fight.”

“She has Archie’s runecloak,” said Beckard. “I believe she’s intending to mimic it.”

“Have Archie cloak? Get how?” He narrowed his eyes and fiddled with one of his tools.

“I got it off a borrok,” said Claire, as she recalled Zelos’ assumption. “So it’s mine now.”

The goblin shrugged and put his hammer back in the toolbox. “Borrow only while me watching then maybe okay. Can do if me keep armour and you mimic. Agree deal good now?”

“Good enough,” said Claire.

“Wait, we haven’t agreed to anything!” shouted Lova, from outside the room.

“Step into room and talk if want no ignored, idiot,” said Frederick.

“I think it’ll be fine, Lova. It’s not like we’re losing anything, and I doubt she’ll be looking to make use of all the monsters she kills. We may as well be around to salvage the goods,” said Myrtle. “And I think Velt’us is looking for more cotton anyway. Maybe he can make us something nice if we bring him enough.”

“But…”

“I am likely in accord,” said the jellyfish. “I have been thinking that it is perhaps time to replace my tie. I may even ask for another suit if we acquire enough materials.”

“Okay… fine.” One of the Kryddarian’s wings slid down the side of the door frame as she slumped over.

“Getting armour now then,” said the goblin. He got up and hobbled his way out the door, tools and all in tow.

“Well, I’m glad that’s decided,” said Beckard, with a smile and a clap. “Now, why don’t you come with me? I know you normally camp out, but it never storms for any less than a few days. I happen to have a few spare rooms, and I’m sure one of them will suit your taste.”

The lyrkress paused for a moment to narrow her eyes before answering with a nod.

“Oh, and before we go.” He placed his hands on the side of his head and made a wave-like motion with his fingers. “You may want to hide those.”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say that there have been some… rumours going around lately. You’re sure to attract a little too much attention if you keep them out.”

Claire tucked her ears in and pulled her hood over her head. “Fine.”

There were a thousand reasons to refuse, but she decided to play along. Beckard had the box’s approval, and she didn’t think the man was the sort to lie to her face. Still, her mind immediately raced to all the worst assumptions and her contingencies therefor. It doesn’t hurt to have a plan… Just in case.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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