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Chapter 112 - Eel Season VI

“Is that it? It doesn’t look half as bad as you said.” Myrtle’s torso grew in both length and width as she stretched to nearly twice her usual height and looked over Claire’s shoulder. Her eyes glimmered with blatant greed as she fixed them on the corpse that lay ahead.

“It appears that there are only a few parts that are too damaged to use.” Nodding, the scyph floated over and pressed a tentacle against the eel’s remains. He slowly slid the limb along the monster’s body, as if to inspect it for damage. It was a single smooth motion; he treated burnt flesh, bleeding wounds, and protruding bone all the same. “It is possible to retrieve most of it, so long as we are careful enough not to make any mistakes.”

“It is?” Claire squinted and tilted her head, but her evaluation remained unchanged. “It looks like junk to me.”

At best, the monster looked like a heap of flesh, blood, and scrap metal. The lyrkress didn’t see any purpose to anything besides its tail, and even then, she was more inclined to weaponize its spines than she was the blade of its saw.

“I can think of a few ways to use it, and Fred’s more creative than the three of us combined, so I’m sure he’ll figure something out,” said Lova. “The tail’s condition isn’t much of an issue. We were always planning to melt it down.”

You were?” The lyrkress blinked.

“Fred was going to have us help him with whatever he was making you,” said the weaver.

“You’re all craftsmen? No wonder you’re so weak.”

“We are not… exactly weak. Our ability score spreads just don’t match our roles, and we’ve yet to regain all our racial skills,” said the moth, with a pout. “We’ll be back to normal so long as we put in the time. We might even be stronger than we were before if we happen to get the right classes.”

Claire narrowed her eyes. “When did you suddenly get so bold?”

Lova flinched, taking half a step back before returning to her prior position with a twitch of the antennae. “T-that isn’t going to work. I know you’re just messing with me.”

The lyrkress held the stare for another few seconds, but the moth didn’t back down. “What a shame.”

“I would really rather you stop that.” The moth spoke with a frown. “And I would also really like you to give me my map back.”

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

I saw you looking over it earlier!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” repeated the halfbreed.

Lova grabbed Claire by the shoulders, shouting as she stared her in the eyes. “Give it back. Please, please give it back! Fred is going to put me through hell if he ever finds out that I don’t have it anymore!" Hysterical tears welled up in the corner of the Kryddarian’s moderately oversized eyes.

The lyrkress did little but blink as she tried to process the change in the other girl’s behaviour. It was strangely familiar, not because the two had ever met, but because the sudden shift from polite to pathetic reminded her of many a lady back home. Mariabelle had always been the same way, only the maid was not as quick to switch gears. She would always tear up and sniffle before raising the dam that held back her resentment.

“Don’t just stare at me! Give it back! Please!”

Claire raised her tail and pushed the moth away, face first, before turning to the two most likely to have a decent grasp on the status quo. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Perhaps she is finally over her fear of yo-”

“Shhhh, Grell!” The alraune wrapped several vines around the bottom of the jellyfish’s lobe, silencing him. “You’re going to embarrass her!” she whispered under her breath before clearing her throat. “He meant to say that she’s gotten over her fear of strangers. This is a lot more like the Lova we know.” The plant spoke up as she turned back to the scaly stranger.

“That’s not what I was asking.”

Claire pulled back her tail before quickly snapping into its original position. The second motion was accompanied with a small burst of force magic, applied directly to the Kryddarian’s face. A lighter Lady would have been flung several meters back, but Lova’s armour kept her from flying away. Though she slid only a few meters away, the lyrkress remained satisfied with the result. All she had really wanted was to get the overly excitable insect out of her face.

“Uhmmm… Claire?” Her hat poked at one of her ears as it spoke. “Why don’t you just give her the map? It’s not like you need it anymore, now that you’re tunneling through all the walls.”

“Because it’s mine.”

Sylvia leaned forward to peer down at her owner’s face before turning towards the moth and slowly shaking her head. “Sorry Lova, I don’t think she’s gonna give it to you. She never changes her mind when she gets like this.”

The spellweaver slumped her shoulders, leaned forward, and spoke with an audible sniffle. “It’s okay… I’ll just have to make another one.” Each word was heavier and more lethargic than the last. “I just hope Fred lets me off easy, this time.”

Again, Claire blinked. Why are her mood swings so violent? Almost shaking her head, the force mage turned back towards the corpse and used the full extent of her magical might to inch it towards her. “Then it isn’t junk?”

“Not at all,” said the alraune, with a smile. “I’m sure Fred would be glad to have it. It isn’t everyday that he gets to see a sawfish over 150. He’s far too lazy to gather any materials on his own.”

Myrtle walked around the room and picked up the various spines strewn all over the ground, inspecting each in turn. Most were immediately discarded, placed right back where she found them, but the occasional undamaged specimen was kept. She wrapped the ones she approved of in a bundle of cloth and set them aside.

“How could you tell what level it was?” asked the snake girl.

“We’ve killed it before,” said the plant, who was immediately made the subject of a blank stare. “I was just kidding, you didn’t have to glare at me like that!”

“I’m not glaring,” said Claire.

“Oh, you silly little thing.” Myrtle laughed and extended a vine towards the lamia, but Claire shied away from it. “We’re all a lot older than we look, Claire. You’re not as hard to read as you might think.”

The lyrkress tilted her head. “It was just a stare.”

“I’m sure it was,” giggled the flower. “Now how about we get going? We’ll all have to work together. I don’t think we can get this up to the citadel if we don’t, at least not without alerting the lord of the chains.”

Claire lowered her hood over her eyes for a few moments before raising her voice. “What level is it?”

“Perhaps in the range of the upper one hundreds or lower two hundreds.” The scyph spoke with an audible buzz as he floated between them. “It is difficult to know for certain. Few have been able to deliver a finishing blow, as it often escapes by way of flight.”

“How do I get its attention? Is climbing a chain enough?”

“Can it wait? I’d really like to get this sawfish to the workshop first,” said Myrtle. “It’ll take a lot longer for us to deliver it by ourselves, especially with the storm.” She cast her eyes towards the despondent moth girl hugging her knees and rocking back and forth. “Lova is the only one that can carry any weight with her when she flies, and she’s going to be far too tired to ferry me back up when she’s done.”

The flower girl had deployed a parachute in the form of a large leaf during her descent. It was an efficient way of getting down from the citadel, but the retractable body part couldn’t be flapped quickly enough for her to take to the skies.

“Then you can climb the chains while I distract it. It’ll save time.”

“Perhaps, but we would like to start on your equipment immediately upon our return, and we don’t have any plans or measurements,” said the jellyfish.

“I thought Frederick was working on it.”

Myrtle nodded vigorously. “He is! We’re going to be helping him with some of the less difficult tasks. I know you’re not very impressed with us right now, but we’re all level one hundred smiths, at least.”

Claire tilted her head. “What about your combat classes?”

“Late twenties if my information is correct,” said Grell.

“Thirty one, now. After the crab,” said Lova.

“Oh.” Claire grabbed the eel by the tail and began dragging it through the sand. After taking exactly seven steps, she came to an abrupt stop and slowly turned around. “Can’t I just tell you what I want now?”

“Please don’t. Fred won’t work on it if he doesn’t get to dictate the design,” said Lova. She slowly stood up from her corner, her head and arms still hanging. “He’s really bossy.”

“Fine.” The lyrkress-turned-lamia breathed a sigh. “I’ll kill it later.”

“Wow! Someone’s actually managed to convince you to change your mind about something?” gasped a wide-eyed fox. “I think that might be a first.”

“You shut up.” Hissing, she hoisted the monster’s midsection over her shoulder, pinched her hat’s whiskers, and made for the nearest exit.

Agreeing to the monumental task known as transporting the oversized sea creature was nothing short of a miserable mistake. It would have been a pain to move, even if its weight was cut in half. The beast was several times her size; having it over her shoulder made it difficult to walk and dragging it was far more effort than it was worth. Still, the less-than-combat-worthy trio had insisted that she take the whole thing with her. The monster’s tail was its most valuable part, but the rest of it could also be put to good use. The skin could be made into armour, and the bones could be used as is or processed into other goods. Even the meat was top notch, if Sylvia was to be believed. The fox’s obvious gluttony was the transportation task’s only saving grace. A few quick negotiations was all it took to convince her to lighten the load by placing it within a bubble.

Even with her help, the arduous chore remained a pain in the almost royal posterior. Claire found it extremely difficult to swim whilst moving it along the ocean floor, and surmounting the tempest had been next to impossible. Unlike the flying eggplant, which casually flew around with a fully grown palm tree on its back, they had to cut the eel’s twenty meter-long body into a series of smaller segments and transport them one at a time. By the end of it all, the moose-snake was exhausted, physically and mentally. All she wanted was to requisition her room and take another nap, but she didn’t have the opportunity to retire immediately. She was escorted instead to another stone building with firelight leaking from its windows.

The tempest was raging around her, but neither the howling gales nor the whistling winds could stop the forge from reaching her ears. The rhythmic, metallic clinking was ever-present. Once every other second, the hammer would strike the anvil, or at least whatever was placed on top of it. The sound was so distinctive that she could almost see the sparks fly every time she closed her eyes.

Though unfamiliar with the art form, she was not entirely uneducated in the way of the forge. Her father had incidentally taken her to a variety of smithies in an attempt to impart at least some relevant knowledge. Claire, however, had never been very interested in listening, not after he decided to scream at her when she first tried to play with an enchanted weapon.

Like the temple, the forge was left unlocked. Lova opened the front door with an almost impossibly simple motion. All she did was lightly press her hand against it and give it a light push. To the lyrkress’ surprise, the wooden panel didn’t seem to care for the wind. It didn’t suddenly slam shut or find itself blown away. In fact, it didn’t even move, save for when it was touched. Claire didn’t recognize the enchantment, but she certainly had to admit that the spell was doing its fair share.

Though the cathedral was packed full, there weren’t nearly as many people hanging around what she assumed to be Frederick’s home. The species were also significantly less diverse. Looking through the house-cum-workshop, she found that there were a disproportionately large number of Ryllians and insectoids, species with a relatively low sensitivity to sound, and for good reason. Though the clinking had come off as acceptable white noise at first, it rapidly degenerated into a glaring annoyance. It was perfectly consistent, save for when it wasn’t, and she hated every moment of it. Sleeping in the workshop’s vicinity simply didn’t seem possible, at least not for anyone with ears.

“Welcome to Fred’s workshop,” Lova led her through the building as she spoke. She was the only one of the three craftsmen to accompany her inside. The others were put on transport duty; they were kept busy ferrying the monster’s parts back between the foyer and the basement. “I know it’s awfully loud, but you’ll just have to wait. We’d never hear the end of it if we didn’t wait for him to come out on his own.”

“Oh, Dad’s told me about that!” Sylvia shot to her feet. “Apparently if you barge in and make him mess up whatever he’s making, he might just get so mad at you that he’ll chase you around with a hammer for the better part of a week!

“I haven’t seen him do that, but I wouldn’t put it past him.” Lova opened a door and showed the pair inside a large drawing room, complete with an expensive-looking set of wooden furniture and a room-sized carpet made of a single monster’s fur. “Please don’t do anything that would make him angry. He’s already mad enough at me as it stands.”

The furball cocked her head. “Why? What did you do?”

“I lost my map.” Lova gave Claire a look that was halfway between an accusing stare and a desperate plea, continuing only after several seconds of being thoroughly ignored. “He taught me how to make the parchment, and he made sure I copied everything correctly by hand. I was forced to start over every single time I made a mistake.”

“How awful,” said Claire.

“How awful? How awful!? You’re awful!” shouted Lova. “Please give it back! I’d rather die than be put through that again!”

The lamia climbed on top of a one-seat sofa and curled up her tail. “No.”

“Wha—” Lova tried to speak, but a magical force raised her lower jaw and shut her mouth every time she tried to speak.

“You know, Claire. She has a point,” whispered the fox. “You are being pretty awful right now. And it doesn’t even look like you’re having fun this time.”

“It’s mine now.”

The lyrkress averted her gaze. She knew that there was certainly a point to be had, but she didn’t like the idea of relinquishing her loot. While it wasn’t exactly hard-earned, it was the only long-lasting item she had gotten from the labyrinth. Nothing else ever seemed to last. All of her other recent acquisitions had broken after just a few quick fights.

“I really think you should just give it back. I won't stop telling you where things are since you can go through walls anyway.”

“No.”

Claire refused, but Sylvia continued to give her an expectant gaze, one that followed her, even when the half-moose shifted her eyes away. The silent encounter lasted for over a minute, the entire duration of which was spent with the moth in the background nervously glancing between the two with bated breath.

“Fine.” Heaving a sigh, she reached under her cloak, produced the parchment in question, and lobbed it onto the table.

It was snatched away almost immediately; Lova pulled it to her chest and hid it within her armour in the blink of an eye. “Thank you.” The Kryddarian’s antennae twitched in relief. “I really appreciate it. I didn’t want to have to spend another month starting over from scratch,” she said, in a whisper.

“It’s not my fault you were being eaten alive,” said Claire.

“I know...” Lova’s wings flopped forward as she hung her head and hid her dimming eyes beneath her blue-grey bangs.

“It’s okay, we all mess up sometimes.” Sylvia jumped off Claire’s head, walked across the table, and placed a paw on the slumped moth’s shoulder.

“We didn’t think anyone else would be entering the instance,” said the fuzzy insect. “At least not someone that would suddenly take the monsters all the way from level thirty to level eighty.”

“Oh… Oops.” All the eyes in the room turned towards the fox, who had started backpedaling with both front limbs held in front of her snout.

“And now you know whose fault it is,” said the lyrkress.

“Claire! You can’t just rat me out like that!”

Sylvia ran back across the table and drummed her pads across the snake girl’s coiled tail. It looked like she was using all her strength, but only because the motions were exaggerated to the extreme. Claire knew for a fact that the thumping wouldn’t have been painless if the fox went all out. Like the time she broke my skull.

“I can’t? Why not?”

Sylvia’s jaw dropped. “W-what do you mean why not!? We’re friends! You’re supposed to back me up!”

“Friends don’t have to back each other up.”

“Yes they do!”

“No.”

“Yes!” Sylvia raised both paws above her head as she shouted.

“Okay, you know what? Fine.” Claire pulled the fox into her arms, as if to shield her from the moth’s guilt-inducing stare. “It’s not her fault. She only did it because she’s an idiot.”

“Yea—hey, wait a second!” She went from nodding along to trying to pry herself free, but she wasn’t able to escape. Her captor kept her locked perfectly in place, even as she flailed about. “You’re making it sound like I messed up! I didn’t even know they were in there!”

“Stop loud!”

A shout came from the hallway, accompanied by a heavy set of footsteps. Its owner barged in a moment later, kicking the door open with a grunt. He was still holding a red-hot blade in one hand and an oversized mallet in the other.

“Make hard focus, be quiet or me kick out,” he complained, before turning to the lyrkrian guest. “Saw material, is good, you what want?”

Setting Sylvia down on the table, Claire created a long icy pole arm and presented it to the purple-skinned goblin. “A spear. I want a spear.”

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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