Saturday, November 14, 2015

Adventure: The Witch's Friend (update 5)

Introducing The Witch's Friend!

This adventure will be a bit of a different CYOA, focusing on probably one particular transformation rather than a bunch of branches and endings. It will also be run differently; rather than me coming up with a bunch of directions a particular page can go to, every page's comment section is a forum for suggestions on what should happen next.

I will basically pick my favorite suggestion(s) from those given, and branch off events from each. More than one mutually compatible suggestion may make it into the same page after the one in which they are suggested.

What's New? 
Update 0-It exists! Now seeking suggestions for moving forward from the beginning.
Update 1-Two branches begun! Fair warning, even events and facts prior to the story's beginning may differ from one branch to another until established somewhere along the branch.
Update 2-One step forward added to each of U1's branches.
Update 3-3 new bits, one of which has an image! I've amended the section above to reflect the reality that suggestions don't really just decide what the main character does next, but may dictate what other characters do and even events not connected to any character at all.
Update 4-4 new pieces (don't expect this pattern to continue though, honestly)!
Update 5-3 new pieces, one of which has an image!

Also, my rant in the Magical Day post about trying to make the site look better still applies.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fox's Beach

I don't know why so many foxes lately. I have like 3 or 4 more fox images with captions in the works for them, too. If you don't like the foxes I'm sorry, I can't help it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Winds of Change

In addition to posting this caption up, I'd like to call everyone's attention to the "Writing Status" up in the top-right area of this blog. I've changed what information it gives from "vague idea of my current ability to write" to "information on how far along various projects are in hopes of giving some clue as to how long until a new thing is posted".

Included is a note on how many of The Witch's Friend pages already posted up actually need more suggestions before I can continue; if you want to help with that issue, look for pages with just 1 or 2 comments on them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Midas Journal 16

Entry: May 1
Yesterday night, after suppertime, Lue called me. She opened with, “Kael! Uuh, we have a problem. Or, I have a problem but you're involved. Or..”
“What is it?” I said.
“Weeelll, you know how I introduced you—or Kayla—to someone, uh, about a week ago?”
“Yes. Brian. We had a talk about that.”
“And! In light of that talk I'm willing to call this situation my problem. But as a friend I'd like to ask for your help even though it totally isn't your problem, and it's definitely, completely not your fault.”
“What. Is the problem.”
“Uh. So uh. The problem is, Brian's been getting kinda, well, he asked me if I had seen you since last Friday. Seen Kayla, I mean. I may remind you that I have a lot more experience of the world than I look or sound like I do, and judging by his behavior I think he likes you. Likes Kayla, that is.”

I didn't say anything for a few seconds, and she added. “Umm, yeah, I know, this is bad. In keeping with my promise of not playing matchmaker I haven't given him a straight answer, which I find harder to do than you'd believe.”
“So, what do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, I generally believe the truth is the best option for an awkward situation. But if I told him that you're a recently-awakened reality warper who can change between being a boy and girl nearly at will, and are therefore not interested in any relationship at all right now he'll probably think I'm deflecting his questions by saying crazy things. I do that sometimes, it wouldn't be an unfair assumption.”
“So you want me to..”
“I could point you in the direction of his house, arrange it as a meeting between you two, and you could show him what the deal is so he'll believe it. Anyway, hearing you're not romantically interested in general from someone else's mouth is a lot less effective than hearing it from yours. Or—”
“Or from Kayla's, yes. You can stop doing that please.”
“Sorry. But you see what I mean? I know, I'm asking you to fix my mess and all. If you don't want to it's fine, I can just say Kayla moved or something? He might not buy it but a straight lie like that would send a message anyway.”
“No, it's..”

I sighed, I thought for a minute about how being around him as Kayla had made me feel. I thought about what Threa had suggested. I thought about how Lue was my friend, like it or not. It felt like about five minutes' worth of thinking but it must have been only a few seconds because it wasn't interrupted by the other end of the line. Finally I said, “It's fine. I'll talk to him. Soon as possible. When is that?”
“Hmm, I'll have to check with him but probably tomorrow. I'll text you the details after I get in touch with him. And, um, Kael.”
“Thanks. I don't know if you understand how bad lying and dodging around questions like I have been makes me feel. And I'm glad you trust me enough to not accuse me of playing matchmaker again.”
“Well, if you were, it would blow open as soon as I talked with Brian again anyway.”
“Heh, yeah, there's that.”

The next person to call me was Adena. She said, “Hey! Kael, guess what!”
“Uugh, you're supposed to actually guess something when someone says that. Whatever, anyway, I figured out some more cool stuff I can do with my magic and I wanna show you! Like, tomorrow sometime?”
“I'm, uh, not sure when I won't be busy tomorrow. Long, annoying story.”
“That's fine, day after?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Okay, so meet me at the ice cream place a little after lunchtime maybe?”
“Sure.” So I can bet I'll have to write another entry for whatever insanity happens tomorrow, too.

But anyway, the reason I'm writing this entry is what happened today. This afternoon I went over to the address Lue sent me as Kayla and rang the doorbell. After I waited outside for a minute or so Brian opened up. In the time between I had been careful to focus on what I was going to say in an effort to keep myself from getting nervous, but I did feel nervous once he showed up, thanks largely to the same sort of feelings as before. This meant it hadn't been a fluke, which was, well, bad, I thought.
“Hey,” he said, “uh, Lue said you wanted to talk to me about something?” Well that was good, he seemed nervous too. For possibly reasons that might make him more upset about what I had to say, which was bad. After however long it took me to ping-pong that through my head he said, “Err, I mean, not out here of course. Come on in.”

He led the way into his living room, which was thankfully empty, and offered me a seat on a couch before taking one across from it. “Soo, uh, what's up?”
I had been thinking about how to introduce the topic since deciding to meet with him about it, and I was still pretty sure a good way to do that didn't exist, and if it did I probably didn't have it, but I had decided on what to do anyway, no matter how bad an idea it turned out to be, because stalling an hour while there trying to come up with a better way was worse than anything else, I figured. “I, uh, need to show you something, and then I need to explain all about it. It'll really be easier if you don't interrupt me, okay?” I said.
“Okay, sure,” he said, nodding.
“Good.” I decided to poke my own shoulder with the opposite hand even though I was using the 'built-in' turn-into-Kael power because I figured it was very important he know that my power usually was involved touching from the get-go. Once I had turned completely back into myself (with Brian looking surprised and confused, but keeping my 'don't interrupt' rule very well), I took a deep breath, and then poked my other shoulder with the opposite hand and shifted back into Kayla, wearing slightly different clothes because I hadn't concentrated on that detail at all.

“I was born as the guy you saw me turn into,” I said first, “named Kael. The morning after my eighteenth birthday, about two months ago, I suddenly became able to change people by touching them. S-specifically, turn guys into girls? With some kind of strange wish-fulfillment angle to it that I'm still not sure I completely understand. At points after that I figured out how to use my power on myself, I unwillingly or accidentally changed five or six different people. Err, I met Lue that way too.” (She had given me permission to mention that, I'd asked her.) “The way my powers work is kind of ridiculous, it doesn't just change a person's body, it moves reality around so that most people think they've always been that way, and even people who know they weren't can remember both what it was like when they weren't and a 'new' version of things where they were.”
There were a few seconds of silence before I realized he wasn't sure whether or not talking at this point would be interrupting. “So, uh, there's a lot more details than that but if you ask me what you want to know I'll know which ones are actually important,” I said a little awkwardly.
“Lue and I have been friends for at least a couple of years,” he said, “are you saying some..most of that, is...fake?”
“Not really? I don't understand how my powers work, but your memory of things is probably more real now than a version where she wasn't around.”

“So, you're not usually, uh, you don't usually look how you do now.”
“I, um, usually like to stay as my original self, yeah. I turn into Kayla to...well, for a bunch of reasons, but it still feels weird and I have a hard time thinking of it as really me most of the time...”
He looked up at a corner of the ceiling for a few seconds. “Err..this is kind of awkward then. I, uh, I guess Lue told you as much, but I might sort of like you.”
“...I..hope you can understand how weird that is for me.”
“But,” I could feel some heat on my cheeks as I tried to spit this out, “since we first met I think I might, sort of like you too? I'm, just not sure what to do with that because I definitely don't want to stay as a girl for, I mean I don't know how to deal with the idea of dating a guy, and I don't know how to make sense of, uh..” I trailed off, not sure what I was even trying to say at this point.
“..And you said your power could change anyone? Like, you could turn me into a girl if you wanted to?”

“Well..I-I could, but I mean I don't want to do that to anyone who doesn't want me to, and I'm not totally sure my power doesn't mess around with people's minds, which I am really not okay with and trying to figure out how to be sure about...”
“But, what if...” He stopped, and looked like he was thinking.
“What if what?”
“Well, uh, my first idea was that maybe you could turn me into a girl and I could try dating you as a guy? I mean, you being the guy. If we still think we like each other after you did that. Y-you could turn me back if you wanted to too, right?”
“I..think so. My power has a weird bias, but at the least I think I've figured out how to give someone a power to shift back and forth like I just did without my help.”
“But then when you started talking about messing with people's sounds like you'd need someone to help you make sense of that, right? If you turned me into a girl and then put everything back the way it was maybe I could tell you if it seemed like you messed anything up with my head.”
I briefly wondered if he had somehow talked to Threa before I got there.

“Uh..are you sure you'd be okay with all that?”
“I mean, your powers sound pretty powerful, but they didn't make Lue your love-slave or anything, so I know they wouldn't do that to me, either. And what you could do is just make me turn back to normal whether I want to or not, you know, if I got messed up so that I didn't want to change back. Maybe after giving it a week? And if I agree to that now then you know I'm definitely okay with it.”
“I don't...get it, why do you want to do all of this stuff for me?”
“Well, I mean, it's not totally for you. I'm a little curious what it's like on the other side of the fence, and uh, this is gonna sound a little weird I think but..I don't think I've ever wanted to go on a date with someone so badly in my life.”
“Y-you want to go on a date with me?”
“Yes. I mean, probably. I definitely feel that way right now. And, w-we could sort out the details after I'm a girl and you're a guy, if I still feel that way. Right?”

He stood up. “Okay, so, I'm ready to try it if you are.”
“Y-yeah,” I said, also standing up and turning myself back into Kael first.
“Er, how does this work exactly?” he said as I walked over in front of him.
“For whatever reason, my power works by touching whoever I want to change...or, really more often it works when I accidentally touch someone I didn't really want to change, and keeps working whether I want it to or not.”
“That's what you meant by accidents, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, now standing in front of him. I could 'feel' that he was definitely going to change if I touched him. “Are you ready?”
He nodded, and I reached out my hand and gently poked his forehead. I tried to tell my power to only do what he wanted it to do, and not anything else.

Brian closed his eyes for some reason. From the point where I'd touched him, his skin started to shift, getting a little paler and visibly smoother. The stubble on his face shrank away, and he shuddered slightly after the change in his skin spread down past his neck, probably because the rest of his skin was changing the same way. He was barefoot, and after a second or two I could see it spread down through his feet.
As soon as that was over, Brian started shrinking. He had been a little taller than me (Kael) and as soon as I noticed he was shrinking he was already right at my height. The shrinking was more than height, with his clothes looking baggier on him by the second, and he quickly reached down as his jeans slipped off of his legs to grab his boxers before they did the same. His face and hands and feet all looked smaller, and his shoulders were visibly narrower; his exposed legs looked slimmer and, as I'd guessed, their hair was all gone, too.
Next, Brian's hair started to grow out. Its color looked like it was fading, like a picture left out in the sun too long, and it grew relatively slowly (compared to how mine tends to grow, at least). He made a small “Mmh” sound in a voice higher than usual, and then muttered “I feel..warm..” in a voice still rising in pitch. Then his ears grew out into wolf ears again, except that their fur was now completely white (which his hair was fast approaching). And then a tail sprouted from his back. It was big, bushy, and white like his ears, and I noticed it was swishing back and forth slowly.

He finally stopped getting shorter when the top of his head was at the bottom of my neck, and his hair stopped growing just short of his shoulders, now completely bleach-white like the fur on his ears. Next, his clothes started to change: The pants on the floor turned into a small pair of denim shorts, his shirt turned white and grew longer sleeves but otherwise shrank close to his body, and then started to split apart at the center, growing buttons and button holes but only leaving one button attached by the time it was done. He didn't have any curves yet, and just looked like a scrawny guy, but his underwear quickly shrank into a tiny pair of black panties anyway, and I made a point of not looking there even though his eyes were still closed.
With his shirt split apart like it was, I could see that despite being small and scrawny-looking Brian still had a six-pack...and then, about as soon as I'd noticed that, he didn't. His stomach seemed to turn softer and smoother, and then, with his shirt clinging close the whole time, his waist shrank inward and his hips pushed out and back. “A-aah, w-wow,” he said, his voice already sounding like a young boy trying to imitate an older guy. His cheeks were turning more and more red as his body shape changed, and then his mouth opened again with a surprised “Aaah!” in a high-pitched girl-voice. I risked a look downward and saw that the panties had pulled completely flat between Brian's legs: He had just become her.
Then, with another, shorter “Aah!” in the same voice her chest pushed out into breasts. They were small at first, but kept growing, cheered on by a small “Mmmm” from deep in her throat. I started to remember that her name was Brie, and all of a sudden I started feeling nervous. As her breasts filled out into what must be a C cup at least, I started getting the same kind of racing-heart jitters I had had when I first met Brian, as Kayla.

When the changes stopped completely, Bria opened her eyes one at a time, and I saw that they were now red. “Wow,” she said, “you didn't warn me it would feel this good.”

“Uh, e-everyone says it feels good but it never does for me, it just feels kinda weird and awkward,” I said, not sure why I was even talking at all.
She looked up at me for a few seconds, her tail still wagging and traces of the blush still on her cheeks. “Uh..what?”
Without any warning, Brie pounced up at me and threw her arms around my shoulders, and planted her lips directly on top of mine. I was too surprised to react for a second or two, and once my brain started to come back from its blue screen of death my first instinct was to put my arms around her and return the kiss for a few more seconds before finally coming slightly more to my senses and pulling my head away. I couldn't make myself let go of her, though.

“Arf!” (she actually made kind of a high-pitched bark) “Well, I definitely still wanna go on a date with you,” she said, grinning. Then she blushed slightly and said a little more nervously, “Th-that was my first kiss, by the way..”
“Um..” I knew I was blushing, too. It had just hit me all at once: She was so cute, and hot, and beautiful all at once. The feeling of her breasts up against my chest, and her arms around me, and her face so close to mine, was unlike anything I'd ever felt before, as a guy or a girl. “I-I uh, second for me. B-but my first one was kind of stolen, and short, and not—uh, I mean, that was..on a whole different level.”
“I'd never know,” said Brie, “You're a really good kisser, Kael.”
I thought about bringing up the subject of maybe putting her down for a good several quiet seconds and then said, “U-uh,” which she responded to by pulling her face up to mine and taking another kiss, slightly longer than the first one. Then, as if she'd sensed my thoughts, she let go of me and easily hopped back down to her feet, leaving me dazed for several more seconds.

“Um..are your, uh, parents around? You're a little indecent, I mean, uh, it's a good look for you but this may be hard to explain,” I said.
“Oh, they're out for another hour or so, Kael,” she said, grinning mischievously. “But I know, with all the stuff you're dealing with we should take it slow..” she stepped back a bit.
“Um..any idea why your ears and tail grew out like that?” I asked, a little desperate for something to talk about.
“Oh, uh, for some reason I have a lot more moonlight.” She must have seen that I didn't understand that, because she added, “Werewolves use moonlight as power to change forms, you know, and we change completely on the full moon whether we want to or not because we always absorb too much moonlight and have to burn it off. Some people—like me now, I guess—have bodies really good at absorbing the stuff, and have to keep some wolfy looks all the time to keep from randomly going full werewolf at inconvenient times. Why, do you not like it?”
“Oh, no, I uh..well I've never been in a position to think about it this way before but I think I like them. They're, kinda cute,” I said, my cheeks getting hotter again.

“Heehee. So, uh, how's Monday night?”
“How's—oh, the date. Yeah. Monday's, Monday night is fine. Like, for supper?”
“Mhm,” she said, nodding. “You can pick the place, as long as it has meat. And not stupid expensive fancy junk, either.”
“N-no, I don't think I could afford that anyway.”
“Casual dress.”

So now I guess I'm going on a date Monday night, too. The first date I've been on with anyone. I don't feel all that nervous about it, honestly, but that probably just means that whatever controls panic in my brain is way too far behind to have even noticed it yet.

And then on the way home Lue called me. “Kael! Hey. Did you, uh..turn Brian into a girl?”
“Yyyyes. But it was, well he wanted me to because after I explained all the stuff—”
“That's fine, that's fine. I was just trying to figure out why I remembered two different versions of...well, everything about her all of a sudden. Ju~st like the way I remember two versions of events in my own history.”
“Yeah, that's..usually what happens when I, uh, change someone. But it's usually just me and the person who got changed that remember the two versions...”
“Maybe it's because I knew Brian so well?”
“No, that can't be it. Ad—er, at least..two other people I've changed only remember the original versions of each other, and had to tell each other about having been changed at all. It—ohh.”
“I told my power to change Brian exactly how he wanted to be, or tried to at least. Maybe he wanted you to remember both versions so you wouldn't be confused, or so he wouldn't be confused.”

“Why would that be confusing?”
“We promised each other I'd turn..her, back after a week. She's helping me find out if my power actually screws up people's minds or not. Hopefully.”
“It didn't screw up my mind. Well, not too much anyway, just enough for everything to feel natural, you know.”
“That's the thing, I—I can't be sure if when people are convinced their own minds haven't been changed that that isn't just part of what was changed, you know? So, something like an actual test is, should be good. For that.”
“If you say so. But if you find out it does mess up one's identity the way you're worried about, can you handle wrecking people's consciousnesses again to fix it?”
“Uh..what do you mean? I, I'd just put back whatever I broke, right?”
“But to the person I am now—for example—that'd be just breaking what was still in working order.”
It seems like it's always Lue making everything more complicated to figure out. Why? But I didn't say that, I just stopped, leaned back slightly and made a sound like “Uugh” into the receiever.

“...Well, at least I could make my power not break things whenever it acts again. I'd know what to tell it not to do, I mean. It's really better if it isn't doing what I'm worried about in the first place and I can just know for sure.”
“Of course it is, that'd be the easiest thing. But you really should decide what your moral imperative actually is in the hard case before you find out. So you don't go around harmfully altering folk's minds on a crazy impulse.”
“Yeah, again. If I basically have already.”

And I just can't wait to see what Adena's deal is tomorrow. I think the best I can hope for is it not making more problems for me to deal with.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The "Best" RPG Ever-16

On the way down the long, dark corridor, Mika paused and looked around as if she'd lost something.
"What's wrong?" asked Nora.
"Oh, I was just wondering where our fluffy wolf friend went."
"I gave him the day off," said Zack.
"When did this happen?"
"He said he was hungry," said Katherine, "and we offered to buy him a steak or something and he acted insulted. So Zack said he could go hunt for food today, as long as he came back without it by tomorrow morning."
"I was very specific about that," added Zack, "I don't want to wake up tomorrow morning to the smell of a dead deer or something."

The hall finally opened up to a large theater, ruined in the same manner as the castle's antechamber, with an elevated stage up front. Standing in front of the curtains, there was...something.
Zack and Katherine entered at the same time, and both paused, half-jumping back.
"What?" said the cat-girl "That's--"
"me?" said Zack, stealing her line.

"No, it's..." The psion near-automatically took a peek at the knight's sensory input, and trailed off. They were each seeing it as themselves: "Zack" was in a wedding gown and very uncharacteristically giggling; "Katherine" was in some rags, knelt over and crying.
"Eeyaah!" Before she could say anything else, the others came in, and Nora stumbled backwards onto her butt on seeing it, while Mika just looked confused.
"What do you see?" said Katherine.
"G-giant s-s-spider," said the weaver, terrified.
"Some kind of..angel thing?"
The cat-girl crossed her arms and glared. "What is this, a boggart?"

"Well, it's not attacking us or anything," said Mika, holding out a hand to help the elf up. Zack growled, a low, deep animalistic rumbling.
"Then we probably shouldn't..Zack?" said Katherine. He raised his sword and started to charge forward at it. "Hey, wait, it's not--!"

Before Lynn's eyes, a vertical rip in space over the ash pile suddenly became quite visible. "Look out!" she said, at the same time as someone with a very large sword jumped through, landing with a deep chop through the air, and at the same time as Rayna said "Yipe!" and instinctively hopped aside.
The person—a white-haired woman, apparently human, taller than both of them—stood back up and looked between them with a bright-bordering-on-disturbing grin. Rayna turned fully around to face her, uneasily holding one of her fans.
There was a second or two of awkward silence. "Um...hello?" said the illusionist.
The stranger's grin widened a bit more, beyond what seemed like it should have been possible, as she readied her weapon, moving it as easily as if it was a knife, and then she said "Blooood," the act of which opened her mouth to show a row of absurdly long, sharp teeth.
The fox-girl's eyes visibly widened at this, and she gave a small sidelong glance of are you seeing this? to the archer.

She charged forward and slashed straight through Rayna—well, through an illusion, the real one ducking aside with an "Aah!" as soon as the woman had begun to move. She turned her run around, not missing a beat, and started running toward Lynn.
The archer drew and threw an arrow at her as a distraction, which she deflected—not that Lynn noticed as she had already about-faced and started running away. "Why are you attacking us?!" she yelled, partially in an effort to figure out how much distance there was, whether or not the stranger was closing.

"Mister sword is starving!" said the stranger, who was in fact very close, just before making another wild downward swing and forcing Lynn to quickly roll aside. She sprang back up, prepared to take a hit for the loss of time, but saw the swordwoman running in the opposite direction, toward another illusory Rayna. "You have so much blood, I just need a little bit!"
The real fox-girl appeared next to Lynn and gave a small finger-to-lips 'shh' expression while the woman sliced straight through the illusion and another one appeared a bit farther ahead of her.

The illusion said, "How much is a 'little bit'?"
She stopped in front of the illusion, holding the blade one-handed so she could gesticulate. "Okay, so I lied, I need like a lot of blood, like maybe a severed arm's worth or oh! brains are full of the stuff, right?" She turned around and started running at the real people again, and they scattered.

"Sorry, we kind of need that to live!" The archer half-looked over her shoulder to see that she was indeed the current target, and then just kept running forward, pushing herself as hard as she could. Maybe Rayna would think of something--


Lynn was blind-sided by something very large, flat, and bumpy smashing against her right side with a cracking sound the human body shouldn't make, and went flying into the air, hitting the ground a couple of yards away, rolling to a crouched stop. She tried to get back up but barely managed to turn her head upward between gasping from air after the sprint. The thing that had hit her was a very long, thick, rough wooden club, which was in the hand of a gigantic, fat, miscolored muscular thing.

The stranger caught up with where she had just been (in front of the brute), it swung its club down at her and she met it with her sword. "Heey! That's such a lame weapon. Bruises don't bleed right at all!" After ducking aside, she stabbed it in the the leg, and it staggered backwards a couple of steps.

"Hey, are you okay?" Lynn turned to her right, where the fox-girl was.
"Hh...I uh," she tried to get up and her entire right side protested. "OW I don't think so."
Rayna turned toward the stranger with an angry look, but paused on noticing the brute actually responsible for the injury. " that an ogre?"
"Yeah, probably."

The swordswoman, meanwhile, was busy killing it. It was strong and durable, and had a big club, but she was apparently a match for it in strength and far faster, anticipating its movements long before they made any impact. Whenever her sword cut or stabbed through its flesh, it came back out with an unnatural flow of blood swirling into it in defiance of gravity or really any comprehensible physics at all. The sword wasn't stained at all by the blood, it seemed to just disappear on touching the blade. She was also laughing like a maniac.

"That's uh..we should probably get out of here."
"I agree but I think my broken rib would rather stay here." Lynn tried to stand up again, more carefully. "Nngh..ow, ow...aah!" Most of the way up, she twisted wrong and lost her balance, but Rayna caught her and helped her the rest of the way. "Look, if she's still berserk and blood-crazy after killing that thing and remembers we exist you're gonna have to make a break for it."
"Don't worry, we're invisible right now."
"I'm pretty sure that doesn't matter."
"Well, I'm not just gonna leave you to die."
"Better me than both of us."
"Whatever, just go for now."
"I was hoping you wouldn't say that." Lynn allowed herself to be led on a slow turn-around, and then start moving away from the noise of the fight.

The knight's blade went straight through the image of himself in a wedding dress, and it disappeared. He turned around, ready to block an attack, but heard its voice (which sounded like his) again, coming from the other side of the room. Giggling.
"It's true, it's true. I'm gonna marry a prince and live happily ever after!"
"Shut UP!"

"What? I-it's not what?" said Nora.
"It's not physically there. If he used his senses for half a second he would—hey!" Katherine jumped out of the way of Zack's lunging stab. "I know you don't like me but—HEY!" The second shout (in response to a follow-up chop, which she barely managed to duck under) was accompanied with a psionic shout in his mind, and the knight staggered backwards a couple of steps, eyes closed. When he opened them again he shook his head slightly and blinked at the cat-girl a couple of times. "What?"
"Stop attacking me!"
"I wasn't—oh. Oh." He sheathed his sword and put a hand on his forehead for a few seconds, and had a look of concern when it was removed. "I'm so sorry..a-are you okay?"
"I'm fine, you broadcast your moves like a mile off anyway."

He looked around a bit. "Where did the—it go?"
"No telling, it disappeared when you slashed at it."
"I thought it was—"
"Where I was, yeah. Whatever we're dealing with is using some kind of mental illusion or something, which is especially concerning since my powers should block that sort of thing for me and didn't."

"So wait, how are you so sure it wasn't there?" said Mika.
"I couldn't smell it. There wasn't any scent at all coming from where it looked like it was, and considering Zack is part wolf that should have been even more obvious to him."
"Look, I'm really sorry, okay? I didn't mean to—"
"Then just listen when someone's tryin' to tell you something next time. Sheesh."

"...Hmm." Nora had walked over next to the stage, with her eyes closed.
"What is it?" said the witch, coming closer.
"The unnatural..whatever it is..probably what we're dealing with. It was on the stage at some point very recently." She opened her eyes, looking slightly frustrated. "I'd know whether it was there when we entered if I'd been paying attention earlier, it's just—I've always been r-really afraid of spiders, it caught me off guard."
"Well, can you see where it went from there? Like, a stronger signal coming from some particular direction?"
"Uh..." Nora closed her eyes, turned her head around a bit, sniffed the air. "It's..the trail's a little stronger that way," she said, pointing toward a partially-blocked passage deeper into the castle.
"Then I guess we'll have to go that way," said Zack. "We still don't know enough about whatever this is to report about yet."

The blood feeling, the feeling she got whenever the blade made contact with her gigantic opponent and found more delicious hot red fluid to drink, was exhilirating beyond description. It was more than an emotional shift; she felt stronger and more capable somehow, and the world seemed to slow down around her, making the big oaf's clumsy moves even easier to dodge and counter than ever before.

Her sense of blood seemed stronger than ever, too, she could feel the two small ones leaving and tell just how much more this big one would take before it died and how long its blood would stay fresh after that. And while she thought fleetingly of not killing it, letting it heal and regain its blood to be drunk another day, there was a kind of irresistible momentum that kept her striking at it. Like a bunch of sharks, the blade had started a feeding frenzy and wouldn't—couldn't stop until it was all gone. So when the thing dropped its club and fell to its knees, dizzy from sheer blood loss, she couldn't help but stab it straight in the heart (she hadn't known where its heart was before, but it was clearly the biggest chunk of blood available), ending its life at once and feeding the blade another torrent of its blood in the process.

When it seemed empty, fully drained, she pulled the sword back. It was..satiated. Its hunger was unending, its need unlimited, but it felt considerably dulled by the recent feast. It could eat another bite, but it didn't so badly want to at the moment. So without really thinking about it—or knowing that she could beforehand—she had the sword sheathe itself. It seemed to simply grow a big black sheath around its blade at a whim.

So sheathed, the sword's hunger seemed much farther away. It was obvious its appetite had mostly taken over her thoughts since drawing it, and now the cloud was lifted. She shook her head to clear it, her hair waving around a bit, and let go of the hilt, as it seemed much heavier all of a sudden. The weapon seemingly disappeared then, but of course it was still there, she could reach out and take it at any time. She then realized she was panting fairly heavily, and took a few seconds to regain her breath before turning around. Nobody there.

That's weird, she thought, as the pair of women she'd met at first were definitely there a second ago, and not moving anywhere near fast enough to be out of sight in this terrain. Oh, right, they'd been invisible or whatever before.

"Hey!" she shouted, waving in the general direction she thought they were. "Uhm, I've stopped being crazy now! Sorry about uh.."
"Coming at us with a sword?" said a voice rather close to her right ear.
"Yeah, that," she said, turning toward the sound of her voice, and grinning and putting a hand behind her head awkwardly. It was the fox-girl. And then her reflexes caught up to the fact that a person had unexpectedly appeared
that close and she stumbled backwards. "Aah!" Not feeling especially balanced at the moment, she tumbled over onto her back and flailed for a second or two before sitting up.

"How did you—?"
"It's just a projeciton, I'm not
actually here."
"Oh, well that makes sense...I guess? I didn't really mean to threaten you two earlier, that was mostly the sword talking."
"Uh-huh, and where's your murderously insane sword now?"
"Um..I'm not sure how to describe it other than 'sheathed' and 'away'. The main point is I'm not going to chase you around with it anytime soon."
"And why should I believe you about that?"
"Well..I'm not doing it right now am I? I mean, I don't think the state of mind I was just in is capable of holding a conversation this long without at least trying to hit someone with the sword."

"Hmm..what do you think?" said the real Rayna, who had carefully turned Lynn around to see the conversation.
"Sounds truthful to me, but you're the charisma expert. Anyway, did you notice how clumsy she is now? The sword probably buffs her stats or something."

"Well, who are you anyway?"
"Me? Um, well, my name is ah.." She paused a moment, beginning to actually process for the first time that she was, in fact, completely female. "..Aria?" After a second of thought she nodded. "Yes, pretty sure, Aria."
"Well, I'm Rayna. You weren't sure before?" said the fox-girl, one of her ears sideways.
"Well," said Aria, standing up, "drawing that big sword from the stone messed with my head a bit. I'm having some trouble remembering what I was doing before that."
"Well, do you know where you drew the sword from? You jumped out of some kind of rip in space over..that way," said Rayna's illusion, pointing vaguely toward the summoning circle site.

"It wouldn't happen to be a blank white room asking you to pick a class, would it?" said Lynn, ignoring Rayna's shusing.
"Err..y-yes? How did you know that?" said Aria, looking in the direction of the latest voice despite not seeing anyone there.
"Ray, I th—"
The archer glared at her companion, both now visible. "Rayna, I think we have another player here."

"Oh, so you're, uh, you're from Earth too?" said Aria.
"Yep," said Rayna, "originally at least. We both looked really different before coming here, though. Like, really different."
The tall woman cocked her head sideways slightly. "Different enough to have been boys before?"
"Yes, about that different," said Lynn. "You too?"
The archer looked at the illusionist for a second or two, and then both nodded. "Then I guess you can join our party if you want. You're the first other player we've run into since starting the game together."
"Just promise you won't attack us again," said Rayna, glaring.
"Well, yeah, I mean that'd be stupid. Unless there's some kind of exploit where everyone gains a bunch of money from it or something.."
The archer said, "Not that we know of—"
"—and you're not allowed to test it on either of us," added the fox-girl.
"Fair enough," said Aria, shrugging.

She walked up a bit closer to them. "So uh, you know where a town is around here?"
"Yeah, but it's gonna be slow going getting there. That ogre broke my entire right side," said Lynn.
"Which is mostly your fault," added Rayna, "so I'd appreciate it if you help out here."
"No problem," said Aria with another grin, and took Lynn's shoulder from her. "Unfh." She grunted from the effort of helping Lynn move.
"Hey, what gives? You were carrying that huge sword around before!" Rayna 'looked' at her to get her stats. "Actually...all of your stats look..well, below average at best."
"Stat buffs," said Lynn again. "You lose them when you're not in berserk mode, right?"
"A-apparently," said Aria. "I'll still help out, though! But how do you look at someone else's stats?"
"Illusionist thing. Not sure I can teach you..."
"Well, I'm willing to try and learn anyway!"