Sunday, August 20, 2017

Battle Vixens! - 2

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The first step was to go to the bank, and then hopefully think of a good way to start tracking the suspect...Blake wanted to do her superspeed thing to get there, but of course a normal-looking girl showing off something like that would be really suspicious. She could make herself invisible, though, up to some street camera that would see a normal girl walking along the street by the bank.

Moving through the city at full speed, the wind whipping across her hair and the fur of her ears and tail, felt great! She could even do little parkour moves like running up walls, jumping from rooftop to rooftop or even wall to wall. Her body felt small and not strong, maybe even weaker than it had been before, but it had endurance; she felt able to run a marathon's worth of sprints and not even break a sweat.
When she thought to herself, Where is all this energy coming from? the first thing that occurred to her was the sunlight on her skin. She was...what...photosynthetic on top of everything else? Well, the part that had answered before said, it was less like she was converting the light into some other kind of energy and more like..despite solidifying since her body changed form...she was light, body and energy alike. When she spent up energy running, the sunlight just replaced it as it flowed into and through her.

The general theme of her powers was glaringly obvious from the start, but this latest bit of just how they were working led Blake to the equally obvious conclusion that she had a crippling weakness, and just what it was. It might not be a good idea to use this form at night, or in unlit areas, at least not without being careful. Maybe she wouldn't disappear out of existence in the pitch dark, but it would surely make it much harder to do almost everything.

In no time, she was where she wanted to be. After finding a good place to appear from, she casually walked out back in the normal-girl disguise, and stopped in front of the shop across the street from the bank—which, of course, was taped off as a crime scene. While her image window-shopped, the real girl checked for cars coming, crossed the street, and after concluding she couldn't actually jump high enough to get over the tape did a wall-run-to-jump to get around it instead.

Now...can I track someone who's been through here? She sniffed at the air a bit...her sense of smell was better, but it's not like she was a bloodhound or anything. No, she needed to think about how her primary power theme could be used to track someone. Light...right...light was how you see someone. It scattered all over the place from the bank robber as she dashed out of here and off along the sidewalk. But...some of it was absorbed, into that sidewalk and into the walls of the buildings nearby. That was how colors worked: Some was absorbed, and what was left reflected off.

The footage from the security camera on the news had had the time. She knelt to the sidewalk, trying to feel for energy that had been light about that long ago. She closed her eyes, trying to adjust what she was seeing...and soon, it worked. Blake opened her eyes, and was aware of a kind of dark fire-like glow surrounding them. She saw light where it had been absorbed into the sidewalk back then, and footprints, small-size tennis shoes, leading in and out of the bank. The rest of the world glowed in negative, with shadows and images of the culprit where her body had blocked or reflected the light earlier that morning, as well as the same for some bugs and birds and other pedestrians. But that girl's silhouette was fairly distinct—after all, she had tall pointy ears and a tail.

Once she'd worked out how to get this kind of vision, Blake could switch in and out of it easily. Which was good; she couldn't actually see obstacles in the way like the police tape while 'seeing' like that. She parkour'd back around the tape in the direction her target had gone, and then began following the trail, carefully flipping her vision back and forth and having her image follow along at a casual pace, crossing the street at a crosswalk when possible to bring it back in sync with her body's real position.

She adjusted the time forward to keep the trail fresh as she continued to track her quarry. The trail led her eventually to an alleyway—no cameras, of course. Then her target had somehow gone from on the ground to on a nearby roof, so she had to triangle-jump her way up there and follow along the rooftops. It was a short ways off to the backdoor of a store which was closed over the weekend; she gently tried the door and found it locked. The thief had gone in and out again, then to another alley, and then...she disappeared. But another person, much taller, was in her place. Obviously, if the girl's powers worked like Blake's, she turned it off at this point. The larger shoeprints continued on, not making nearly the distance the small ones had in the same time.

The trail led to another bank, far from the one that had been robbed, and then back out, and a house. It was a small house out in the suburbs, and her ears informed her someone was walking around inside. Pacing..? Of course she had gone invisible again sometime after leaving the more crowded city streets, the image largely there so there wouldn't be anything strange to see if she bumped into someone, but she never actually had thanks to the parkouring and some rather good reflexes.

She began bending, directing, and reflecting the light: Just a tiny bit, hopefully a small enough amount that whoever it was wouldn't notice the house getting dimmer, and she had before her eyes a miniature, dim view of the inside. It was a pretty normal house...only the one person inside, and they...he was indeed pacing. Another boy being turned into a girl? Was sex reversal a thing with these powers? Blake shook her head, reminding herself to focus. There was a computer inside, a very old one with a CRT monitor. On closer inspection it overall seemed to reflect one person living alone in pretty modest means...well, of course, why would a person who already had a lot of money want to steal?

Well, it didn't matter—she just needed to bring him in. Except...well, the police were looking for a fox girl. So it would be better if she could get him to look like that and then bring her in, even if it was a more dangerous way to go about things. It meant giving up the element of surprise, but well, what kind of here sneaks up behind a person and clubs them in the back of the head anyway? So...Blake decided to get his attention. With a little flick of the wrist, some words in white, glowing text appeared on the wall he was facing: I know, and I'm waiting outside. Give yourself up.
Inside, the man shook his head. Her ears picked him up saying, "I...I can't. Please, just leave me alone." He sounded...pretty old. On closer inspection, the dim image she had of him did look the part.
She twirled the message into a new one: Don't make me come inside after you.
The thief made an angry, frustrated sound, and went to his front door. He walked normally enough, no limp or anything, so probably a decently healthy old man. He paused, looking out the window (but she was invisible), and then opened the door but didn't step outside.

Blake decided to appear nearby, because she was going to talk and he'd know where she was anyway. "You must've known by now there were other people getting powers. Didja think you'd get away with it for long~?" She paused, frowning to herself and shaking her head. That had come out a bit...differently from how it had been intended.
"I do not have a choice," he said, glaring at her.
She crossed her arms. "Are you gonna try to run? I can always track you down again."
He took the few steps to get outside, allowing his door to close behind him, and looked at her.

The expression she saw then was not the look of a guilty crook being caught; it was a pained, desperate look, the look of someone who knew that no matter what, they would regret what they were about to do. It made her pause for just a second instead of going to take him in, and that seemed to be all he needed.

The old man spoke, and she didn't understand it exactly. It was syllables that simply made no sense, sounded unpronouncable—it was his phrase. And as soon as he spoke it, her perception of the world seemed to slow right along with his.

A bolt of lighting struck him from the clear morning sky. His body seemed electrified but not hurt by it, arcs of electricity sparking all around him. He closed his eyes as he began to steadily shrank downward and inward. With a slight shake of his head, his gray hairs seemed to fall downward as if extra length had just been hiding, enough to frame his face, while a pair of tall ears the same light gray shade rose from his head. His pants split apart at the thighs, the top spreading into a skirt while the rest shrank and softened into a pair of black stockings, pulling close against rapidly slimming legs. The belt on the pants seemed to pop upward a bit from this motion, and grew twice as tall around his waist.
His shirt's sleeves slid down, its collar dipped, and every inch of exposed skin from his face through his arms to the bits of thigh the fluttering skirt showed instantly smoothed and youthened. Blake saw his frame push inward still more as the sleeves fluttered out into a kind of cape, and soon perceived a girl even shorter than herself, with the top of her head at Blake's chest. A tail burst out from her back in an audible fizzle of sparks, and when she crossed her arms and closed them as if to hold something a sword appeared in each, the left holding something closer to a knife or dagger while the right held one matching Blake's own.

One of the girl's eyes opened, and then the other; there was an air of fear about her, but not fear of the other foxgirl—of herself, perhaps? Again the whole change had occurred in an instant, and Blake only now had time to make her own sword appear. It wasn't a moment too soon, as the short thief-girl lashed out with the shorter sword and then the longer one, producing a wide arc of electricity with each; she was forced to duck to one side from the first and then block the second, thanking whatever properties her sword had that it didn't just conduct all that electricity straight into her.
And then—she literally turned tail and ran. Blake was still recovering from the force of the second blow, and by the time she realized what had happened the smaller girl had jumped atop her own roof, leaving an arc of electricity behind, and was running along it to get away. Apparently she could leap tall buildings in a single bound...or at least, normal sized ones.

Blake took the ground path, running around the building instead of over, and when her opponent landed she wasn't far behind. Maybe it was her smaller stride, or maybe a difference in their respective powersets, but the other girl was slower on foot than Blake and soon had to dodge a slash from her sword. The retort was quick, the short sword swiped blindly backwards to produce a wild spray of sparks. Blake had to dive to the ground to get away from them and by the time she rolled several feet from momentum and popped back up there were yards between them.

More buildings now, and the lightning-girl just sparked on top of one roof and over to another. Blake parkoured up and across behind her, but it only slowed her down enough to keep her from gaining distance again. Still, if she was just going to get a spray of sparks every time she got close, this wasn't a very good plan.
Her body went on autopilot, following the other girl's moves and deliberately avoidining getting to close to now, while she thought about it. She could just flash the girl's eyes so she wouldn't see her, or go invisible, but if her ears were as good as Blake's she'd just go by sound instead. No...the girl need to see something she wouldn't expect to also hear, and then hopefully be too busy adjusting for it to notice her persuer getting close. So when they got past this set of buildings Blake just put another building in front of the smaller girl, right where it would make sense to just now be seeing it.

The small, sparking girl seemed to take the bait, running straight for the building and trying to jump onto it. As the illusory house disappeared it left behind her opponent bouncing on the ground a few times from all the extra momentum gravity had given her after that miscalculated jump. Blake dashed around to in front of her and tried a swipe with the flat of her blade, but it met the other girl's katana as she stood back up. Holding Blake's sword in place, she looked around...they were in a hilly patch of grass on the outskirts of the town proper. With a quick motion and a burst of surprising strength, she pushed Blake's sword back entirely, knocking her off balance, and then sparked back several feet, readying her blades again.
She spoke for the first time since changing. "I-if you want to bring me in you'll have to kill me." She didn't sound as young as she looked; her voice was light and girlish, but deeper-toned than Blake's. "H-here, nobody else will get hurt." But there was a kind of unsteadiness to it, matching the touch of fear that had shown just after she changed.

"Isn't that a little—" Blake started to say, but the girl didn't wait for a response, going for a sudden X-shaped strike with her blades at the air, which produced a chaotic spiral of electricity toward everything in the general forward direction. Since she was in said, direction, Blake had to dive to one side of the attack and still felt the outer edges of it singing the fur on the tip of her tail on the way out. The small girl struck out at her aggressively, and she dodged back, remembering their considerable difference in strength from the sword clash. "Hokay then!"
The smaller girl wasn't as fast, so this was a good tactic, and she was able to dart around behind her again. A swift strike from there was met with the smaller sword, but Blake drew the sword back right away and struck from another angle, requiring a backwards block with the longer sword, and then kicked her opponent flat in the back.

"Aah!" Her swords disappearing into sparks, she turned the forward momentum into a front-flip, and unleashed a wide-branching strike of lightning from her palms back at Blake in the middle of it. This one hit, and Blake convulsed briefly and dropped her own sword instead of being able to capitalize on the awkward positioning. The smaller girl whirled around, her swords reforming from sparks of lightning originating at her wrists, and then they faced each other again, but the light-katana was on the ground.

Blake decided to use her own powers now rather than relying on swordplay, which really didn't seem to be working out all that well. She hopped back, went invisible, and made a few images of herself run off in different directions, hoping her opponent wouldn't think to use sound to track her too quickly. She took the bait, chasing after an image that ran right and slashing at it only for it to shimmer out of view. Next, the sword on the ground was recalled to light and drawn in along with much of the sunlight in the surrounding area, dimming the view considerably and forming a volleyball-sized sphere of white-red light above the impromptu arena.

Okay...lasers. Hopefully set to stun. Blake fired a single burst of concentrated light at the lightning-girl, which she saw coming and jumped aside of; it made a miniature explosion on the ground. A thinner, more constant beam was the next try; it set fire to the grass as it traced a winding path behind her. These had both looked awfully deadly to be honest, but in the middle of this shot Blake had an idea—an inspiration, even.

She was still invisible, but the extra images of her had disappeared due to concentration on the light-orb and lasers. Concentrating hard, she made an image of herself holding up her hands to direct the laser appear a few feet to one side of herself while continuing to chase the smaller girl with the laser. Her head turned at the appearing image, and she started toward it, her longer sword readied to strike. Blake—the real one—reformed her sword, turned it around so her natural movements would strike with the flat side, and when her opponent struck at her image she dropped the laser and made a swipe straight at the back of her head.

A reflex brought the smaller sword in the path of this strike, and Blake fired the heat-laser straight at it. "Mnngh!" Her opponent was forced to drop the sword as she turned around to counter; Blake caught the smaller sword, struck at her opponent with that to force her to block with the longer one, and then in the same motion Blake's own sword went straight for the forehead, and made a clean, sharp strike straight to it. It connected with a somewhat unpleasant Whap and the small girl was sent flying back and down to the ground, her other weapon leaving her hand and skipping across the ground a few times.

Blake automatically gave chase, landing with her knees on the other girl's stomach and tossing aside the smaller blade to grasp her own in both hands, bringing it up to the girl's throat—but it was still the flat end there, thankfully.

"Unh..." Her opponent seemed dazed from the blow to her head; her eyes fluttered slightly. Her body sparked with electricity, which made Blake flinch briefly until she wasn't hurting her. The arcs increased in intensity around her, flowing through the taller girl harmlessly, until finally a single stream of miniature lightning shot from the center of the prone girl's chest into Blake's, and she felt a rush like the one that had come with speaking her phrase and becoming a superpowered fox-girl for the first time.

Panting slightly, Blake shook her head. She remembered when the girl had spoken, sounds and words she hadn't understood, only now it seemed she did understand them. That memory of the phrase, those words, burned into her mind next to the one from the dream, another thought waiting at the ready for her use.

The sparking which had followed and surrounded her opponent from the moment she'd become a fox-girl stopped, leaving the world calm around them. Blake dismissed what was left of the orb of collected light, uncertain what had just happened...but when she looked back down at her former-opponent, she had the distinct impression that the small, gray-haired girl was now...powerless.

I feel like I'm slightly cheating the rules I laid out for myself a while back ("every other update should be something with an image, like a story with a major change or a caption") by posting this without something else between, because even though there is a change with an image it's not all that extravagant? But the response seemed to be very positive to the first one and I've written this one, and the next one is partway through too, and I don't like to just sit on stuff. If you didn't like this decision do feel free to let me know; I mean I'm probably going to get a caption together soon anyway but I like to see even negative opinions.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Battle Vixens! - 1

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A vast, lavish, royal audience chamber with an empty stage at the front. It was full to the brim with people: Young, old, all races and nationalities. It should, perhaps, have been loud with the voices of every modern language, speaking in confusion to people who didn't understand each other. But it was eerily silent. Everyone, it seemed, could feel the same kind of pressure...a distinct impression that whatever was waiting behind the stage had power, real power, and demanded respect.

Soon, a tall, gorgeous woman, the source of that pressure, wearing a sprawling, royal kimono that only accentuated her curves, stepped out from behind the curtain. Two tall spikes of fur rose from the sides of her head, and an interminable carpet of fur spread out behind her lower back, all slowly flowing around like so many elegant streams. From her poured forth a deep sense of elegance, intelligence, strength, and, more than anything else...power.

Although many in the crowd should have been unable to see or hear her very well from where they were, or who they were standing behind, later every one of them would remember it as clearly as if she had stood right there, right in front of them. She smiled—well, it was more of a smirk, a condescending grin perhaps. "Your world is about to be in a little spot of trouble soon," she explained gently, her voice as beautiful and elegant as her appearance and bearing. "Lucky for you I noticed~. I'm giving you an opportunity to do something about all that...a little taste of power to hold on to in these trying times. Just say these words..."

And, a sound from her mouth, but not in her voice. In a multitude of voices, one voice for every person there, every one saying something not quite comprehensible to any of their minds. But to each one, a single phrase none of the others heard stood out clearly from the multitude, a phrase in a voice strangely familiar, yet not their own. Each one found themselves repeating what they had heard, echoing it in their own voices, and felt a small rush, as if just a small piece of that incredible power the woman on stage had been granted to them by speaking this phrase. From this memory the knowledge of how to speak the words stuck deeply into their minds, becoming something unforgettable yet not intrusive, a thought like a well-trained soldier standing at attention off to the side, awaiting its call to come forth.

After this one thing they all spoke, the chamber echoed briefly with their voices. Then there was silence, several seconds of it; it felt respectful, perhaps even grateful in nature. And after seeming to enjoy this for a moment, she spoke again: "No need to thank me, really. But I will be watching, and if you want to please me..." She held up a finger, wagging it slightly like a mother admonishing her children. "...Don't. Be. Boring."

And then, all at once, everyone woke up.

"...fifth incident of its kind throughout the country this morning, and the tenth one worldwide. Security cameras were unable to get a clear image in this case as the suspect was moving too quickly the entire time, but based on the footage it seems likely the person was between four and five feet in height, and wearing roughly the same kind of costume as the others. The police are recommending that anyone who sees the suspect call crime stoppers immediately and do not approach her, just as in every other case; she is believed to be armed and extremely dangerous..."

Amory had the TV on, the news, and Blake could hear it through the wall. It seemed his roommate was always up this early to watch the morning news, even on a Saturday. He got up out of bed and went to the door, opening it to the little living room of their college-furnished apartment.
From the couch, Amory waved. "Hey, I wake you up again, man? Sorry...I tried to turn it down this time."
"I'm just too light a sleeper, I guess." Blake couldn't make himself ask him outright to just mute it and read captions, or get the news from the Internet in his room, but he could hint that this arrangement of being woken up by the news instead of his alarm clock wasn't going to work for long. He took enough steps out to turn toward the TV and see it. "What're they talking about?"
"There's like some kinda international crime spree or somethin' going on," said Amory, waving at a world map with some points on it representing locations. "Buncha weirdos in like, anime fox costumes."
Blake scratched his head, thinking about his dream last night. At the same time, he realized all the dots seemed to be west of the college town he lived in, except for the one being placed on said town. " of them here, too?"
"Yeah! They like, short-circuited the security and tore the lock off the vault and took some bills." The screen returned to some black-and-white, frame-by-frame footage of the street just outside the bank, showing a short blur of a person coming out the front door and running out of range, followed first by what looked like a large mass of light-colored hair and second by some wildly scattering arcs of electricity. "Weirdest thing is they didn't even take all that much. Don't even look like they brought bags or nothin'."

The newscaster cut in again: "We're just receiving reports from eastern Canada of another incident, continuing the pattern of moving from west to east from the international date line. Authorities across the EU and Asia have already been alerted in case this pattern continues, but it's unclear what the police of any nation are even able to do about these individuals..."
A little taste of power. That was what the woman in the dream had said. Superpowers? Blake thought. Moving faster than a camera, trailing electricity, and 'police can't do anything about it' screamed to him of a superhero's origin story—or a villain's, maybe. He could remember the words from the dream clearly, even though the figures of everyone around him were too vague to recall anything about besides that they were human.
"Uh, I can turn it down some more if you wanna go back to bed."
"No.." Blake shook his head. "I'm just gonna take a shower. Got some stuff to do today anyway."

All he could think about in the bathroom was the words, the dream, what was happening on the news right now, all over the world. Some people, probably not everyone, had been picked and handed power. They weren't all good people, if it lead immediately to a crime spree. Don't be boring. Maybe that talk about a threat coming was a lie, and she just wanted to see what kind of chaos would come from giving a random grab bag of people superpowers. Well...if that was it, then he had some too. He just had to say the words, and maybe he'd be able to do what the police couldn't—just like the heroes he'd been reading comics about all his life. It exciting idea, if any of it turned out to be true.

But not here, of course. It might be some kind of flashy power-up sequence and Amory would notice. No offense to his new roommate, but he'd only known the guy for a couple of weeks, since starting freshman year and moving in with him. He might not even understand the importance of a secret identity, and Blake really had no idea how good he was at keeping a secret anyway. So, he'd need to go find some modern equivalent to a phone booth. Not anywhere there were cameras around, obviously, and not somewhere with witnesses either.

Putting on his clothes, Blake had an idea. The apartment had "public" bathrooms visitors and employees could use. This early in the morning, probably nobody would be in there; it would be easy to tell if there was someone, too. The door swung inward, so he could block it first and then see if the words did anything. It wasn't the most...dignified place to discover one's superpowers for the first time, but it was the closest place with the right kind of privacy, and he wouldn't be somewhere weird with no explanation for why he was there if nothing happened.

Back in the living room, he glanced briefly as the news showed the map again. There were more dots scattered around Europe now. "I'm going out," he said, waving to Amory.
"See ya. Hey, look out for cosplayers."
"I always do," Blake answered sarcastically, and headed out.

The biggest, heaviest thing available to block the door with were the big trash cans they used in hopes of only needing to take out the trash every other week or so. It wasn't ideal, as the cans were designed to roll, but he figured out with a little work how to make the wheels lock, only allowing the door to crack open a bit before more force would be needed, and then there would be a scraping noise from the wheels refusing to turn. A warning system more than anything, but it would have to do.
He went around a corner to the stalls, having already found the bathroom empty, and used the big handicapped one with a good amount of extra space next to the toilet. Hopefully—if this wasn't all crazy, if he wasn't just trusting some strange dream too much—he wouldn't accidentally break anything in here. But there were lots of male residents in the complex, and this bathroom was accessible from outside, so it still wasn't likely anyone would figure out it was him.

The excitement from before, the nervousness that it was all nonsense, had mounted together during his preparations, and now Blake's heart was pounding. He took a deep breath, reminded himself it wasn't a big deal if he didn't get superpowers—he'd lived without them his whole life, after all—and not to go off the rails if he did. Then he opened his mouth again to speak the words.

They were incomprehensible as before; the syllables themselves feeling like something he wouldn't physically know how to say if he hadn't been taught specifically how. And yet, at the same time, it felt familiar to him, like the words were somehow his. Speaking them brought an indescribable rush just like the one he'd felt in the dream, but that wasn't all it brought.
Blake's body and clothes both began to glow, a pure white light emitting from him. He held up a hand, trying to make sense of what he was seeing as the light grew brighter, far outshining the bathroom lights before long, but somehow not blinding his own eyes. He felt the glow now, too, as if his mind too pulsed with light, and then with an understanding of that light.

He felt like a hologram, like his whole being was light now, a bright glow producing only itself, like the sun. And to his surprise, he began then to change shape, like the light being refracted as it continued to shine. He grew shorter and smaller, his frame slimming down and the room rising up around him slowly. His hair streamed out, pure-white bangs appearing before his eyes, more streaks of white falling across the sides of his face and down along his back. His ears stretched up and out, and another ray emitted from his back, a long tail of thick white fur appearing all at once. The light forming the leggings of his jeans from the thighs down burst out away from him and then back around his torso, becoming a jacket; his shirt split down the middle, sealing itself back together with a row of buttons. His socks stretched their way up legs that were quickly becoming much slimmer than before, stopping just above the knees.
Blake felt a shift in the nature of the light that was himself—and all at once a girl stood there instead. She felt her chest gently spreading forward into a waiting bra, becoming a small but present pair of breasts; she felt her underwear beneath the shorts she had on now turning into a soft pair of panties. The shifting of her body stopped, leaving her at least a foot shorter than before, with narrow shoulders, slender arms and delicate fingers, a flat stomach with an inward curve to the sides contrasted by the gentle outward slope to her hips. Her long hair seemed right now, framing a small, round face.

The light that was now a girl solidified, its glow fading back to a mere reflection of the light provided around her. A silvery shimmer arranged into a vertical line appeared before her, and she reflexively reached out toward the bottom, both hands taking it by the hilt as it solidified into a katana. She stood, panting slightly from her earlier excitement and from the rush of what had just happened, feeling a brief spark of a fight-or-flight response on top of that and responding by readying the sword as if it were a practiced motion.

All of this, she realized as she remembered there was nobody here and slowly lowered the sword, letting her right hand catch it, had transpired in barely an instant to anyone else, a flash of brilliant light between the man named Blake and what she was now. And what..?
"Wh—wha..?!" Her eyes popped wide open, her hands letting go of the sword; it obediently shimmered back into light and disappeaered. "I.." She looked down at her body and then bent around to see a white mass of fur swishing behind her back, finding herself much more flexible and far better at physically balancing than usual as she did so. But none of that was the main concern at the moment.
"I'm a girl!?" her voice, rather high-pitched for every utterance since the words that had changed her, sounded even girlier in this expression of surprise. She patted her chest a couple of times, rediscovering the bra, and wiggled her legs enough to feel what was there instead of what wasn't there, and every indication showed she really had become the opposite sex.

Her face burned slightly; was she blushing? It probably looked...cute, too. "W-well..this is, at least a pretty good disguise I guess." Anything was better than continuing to think about suddenly being a girl, and more than that, really feeling like one somehow. What were her powers, anyway?
Another deep breath, and Blake looked around, her tall fuzzy ears twitching automatically. She could hear people in the halls, and in the floor above her, and water moving through pipes in the ground below, depending on which way they pointed. On deeper thought, her sense of smell seemed sharper than before, too, though thankfully the unpleasantness of the bathroom's bouquet didn't seem enhanced by this effect. Her new tail seemed eager to help her keep balance, and felt somehow effective at doing so. But that was all..icing, it seemed, something like a side effect of how she looked now, which was in turn a result of the actual power the woman in the dream had granted her.
The thing that stood out to her most was the light. She could feel every ray of light in this room, trace it back to where it came from, bend it and move it and alter it as she wished. With a wave of her hand and a small exertion of will she bent the light near her until the stall door displayed a reflection of her body, as if it were a perfectly clear mirror. After examining it for a moment with another blush (this one she could see and feel, and yes it did look cute), she closed her fists and made a pulling motion; the reflection disappeared and light throughout the bathroom dimmed as it was all absorbed into a small white orb held just in front of her. That was enough concentration of light to shape into a burning, cutting laser if she wanted, it felt like. She dispersed the light back to its normal place, causing the room to seem brighter for a few seconds before returning to normal.

And the sword...with a thought, it returned to her right hand in the same manner as before. It was light just as her powers were; she could disperse it into light at will no matter where it was and retrieve it from nearby light, but only into her own hands. She took a small step back to make space and then made a few short swings in the air with it; it felt lightweight (ha), balanced exactly to whatever her body's current build was. Blake had never touched a sword before in his life but she found herself moving with the precision and ease of an expert. The blade was razor-thin, deadly sharp with a point at the end made for stabbing, but its material was sturdy and durable.

Releasing the sword again, she paused to listen for anyone in the hall outside the bathroom and didn't find anyone. A smile slowly crept its way into her lips and then..."Heheh...hahaha!" she laughed, not loudly but not quietly. Girl or not, this was amazing! She really had superpowers! And they weren't some terrible uncontrollable awkward powers to need to get used to; they were as natural to use as breathing. She was sure speaking the words again should turn her back, but...she didn't feel ready to turn back just yet. A superhero's first discovery of powers isn't supposed to just be like "hey, that's cool" and then they go back to their normal life right away; they're supposed to run around, try them out, find somebody to help or something! She wasn't going to make the mistake of trying to make money off of a wrestling match or something, she was going to do some good before turning back.

Flinging open the stall door, Blake went to where the trash cans were, covering the distance effortlessly in about a second. She paused there, looking back and forward again as she realized what she'd just done—apparently the whole 'light' theme extended to super-speed too, not exactly light speed but certainly enough to do some very easy sprinting. Shaking her head and smiling again at how amazing that was, she started moving the cans out of the way.
The problem with the next step occurred to her at this point. Blake was on camera going into this bathroom, and someone paying attention would know he was the only one inside; if a girl with a fox tail came out it would give her away right away. Frowning and looking at herself in the mirror for a second, she realized the solution was simple. With an outward pulling motion of her hands, like pulling a pair of sliding doors apart, the image reflected from the new girl's body changed to become that of Blake. She looked at it in the mirror for a moment, thinking was I really that tall? but feeling somehow confident that her own powers knew what she'd looked like. She moved the cans the rest of the way to where they'd been before and stepped outside.

Next, Blake walked out of the building. She just had to be careful not to bump into anyone or say anything, both of which were pretty easy this early in the morning, and soon she was out on the street. She looked around, trying to discern whether any cameras were still watching, or witnesses for that matter; to her surprise a new aspect of her power surfaced to tell her the light she emitted wasn't being seen or recorded. So it was safe to drop the illusory boy...but then, it would look weird for a girl with fox ears and a tail to go running around town, wouldn't it? People like that were all over the news committing crimes; it was definitely a bad idea.
With a closing-doors motion, the fox-girl changed her appearance into one very close to the real one, but with no parts borrowed from an animal and...brown hair, she decided. Her clothes were normal-looking enough once all that other stuff was taken care of. After taking a second to give her eyes only a brief look at her own reflection she smiled slightly and nodded.
"Hmn hm hmm~," she bounced a bit on her feet, humming a few notes to herself in satisfaction with the illusion. And then..ears drooping slightly, she thought, why did I do that? It was kind of a silly, maybe even...girly thing to do. She really felt very much like a girl, it seemed, as if it were part of the package of new knowledge along with what her powers were and how to use them. Frowning and crossing her arms, she reminded herself that acting differently only helped people not know who she really was, and shook her head a bit, deciding not to worry about it.

Well, there were no criminals around to chase after. After all, why would someone commit a crime on a street next to a well-traveled college-owned apartment, shortly into the morning, with not just regular police around but campus police even closer? Duh. And Blake hadn't thought ahead to what she would do to find a crime to stop. But the idea occurred to her, and it was an obvious one of course but still..what if she could chase down the person who robbed the bank? There was a crime she knew had happened and hadn't and wouldn't be solved by the police, after all, and on top of that the person who did it had power just like she did, so maybe she was the only one who could stop them anyway! It was perfect.

And, a new episodic story begins! I feel like some kind of reference to Kampfer with regard to this story is inevitable, so I may as well bring it up myself. I have never actually watched Kampfer aside from a few small bits and basically the only thing I know about it is that some people in modern day become super-powered girls for some reason, and the main character is a guy who's one of those and also turns into a blue-haired girl. Suffice to say that wasn't really a major inspiration for this story, and any similarities between the two storylines aside from the really obvious (superpowered girls are involved and one of them is a guy when depowered) are likely to just be coincidental.

The idea for this story sprang up as I was looking for images to use in captions and stories and noticed a fair number of them that fell under the rough category of "fox girl with a weapon". I thought maybe I could stitch together a story using some of those images for the characters, and that's pretty much where it is now. Not a lot of plans have been made but I know what'll probably happen within the next 2-3 parts or so, so hopefully you like it enough to look forward to more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-37

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Aria practiced meditating in Blood Demon World. She didn't really have much choice—Katherine hadn't shown up, and despite having a lot more confidence about flying out over the abyss she couldn't make the static do anything on her own. So she sat down, crossed her legs, stared straight out at the gigantic demon in the distance. Maybe it was the training she'd gotten in meditation, maybe it was some of the self-control and blood hunger weakening abilities she'd learned that day, but somehow she did manage to pass the time in a much more mentally peaceful state. It was maybe an hour, she guessed, since falling asleep when her temporarily fox-like ears twitched at the sound of someone else appearing. She opened her eyes and turned to see Katherine standing there—not a cat, but the whole woman this time, wearing blue PJs with a pattern of white cat-paw-prints on them.

"Ah, hey, welcome. Meditation works, kinda." She stood up. "You learned a new trick?"
"A few of them," the catgirl nodded. "So I'm going to get us a setting by bridging your mind with Mika's, but uh..well, she looks a little different."
"How so?"
"Well, she's..." Katherine patted her own boobs with her hands. "..taller, for one thing."
Aria put her fists on her hips. "Now you're just making me curious. Bring 'er in!"

As easily as a flip of the switch, the static was replaced with Mika's setting again. She stood in her new body, in the dark forest from before, looking at a tree which very much didn't appear to belong. It had vibrant colors all over, its fruit were cartoonishly bright star and circle shapes, even the lighting on it seemed much brighter than that on the rest of the forest. "Hii," she said, waving over her shoulder but not turning around. "I'm trying to figure out what's up with this tree."
Aria came up next to her. "It is pretty weird. What's up with you, anyway? Trying to steal shapeshifters' thunder?"
"Hmn? Oh right. No, this just sorta, happened. I had aaa...growth spurt!"
"What, you eat one too many demons?"
She smirked. "Well, I wouldn't say 'too many'..."

"Hey, uh.." Katherine, floating a few inches off the ground near them, waved. She generated a table and some comfy chairs for them in the clearing near the tree. "One of our members isn't feeling too well, so I'm gonna be in and out of here all night to check on them. I'm the only one who can do that while still asleep, after all."
"Yeah, that's cool," said Aria. "Hope she gets better. Or, he?"
Katherine's ears folded slightly. "Me too." She disappeared to go check.
"She feels responsible," Mika explained, heading over to the new furniture. "I think all of us do."
"What, for a disease?"
"It's a thing the demon did to him. So it's sorta my fault. But I'm not really sure how bad it is and I can't spend all my time worrying about it, so I'd rather talk about literally anything else."

"Okay..." Aria sat down, stretching out. This was so much better than the ground. "So like, how do you keep that on you?" The shifter pointed to the witch's chest, specifically the part of her dress barely hanging off of it.
"I dunno, magic?" she shrugged. "I'm not making any kind of conscious effort. This whole new comes with powers and improvements, too. I feel so much more capable of stuff!" Mika picked up one of the big chairs one-handed to demonstrate...although of course this was a dream, so just thinking she was strong was enough to do that. Putting it down again to sit in, she leaned forward excitedly. "I feel like a different person. I—what if I use a different name?"
"Well, that seems a little drastic, maybe. I mean, you are still you, aren't you?"
"I am, but.." Mika tried to think how to explain it without revealing that she'd already changed her name once, since that would involve talking about the whole "game" thing. "It's like...Mika feels like a chirpy little girl's name. I feel more...womanly than that now, I guess. I'm sure I look it, right?" She made a sweeping wave, and Aria shrug-nodded.
"What about Mira?"
"It's pretty, I guess. You'll have to convince your friends to call you that, though."
"I don't think it'll be too hard," she said. "I mean..." She paused, initially starting to say Zack insisted she was a boy and got everyone to use male pronouns, but then realizing she did not want to say that. It felt...mean-spirited, in light of recent events. "...they're, ac-cepting," she finished with, slightly awkwardly.

"What are we accepting now?" Katherine reappeared floating above the third chair in the set, and let herself sink down into it. "I'm kidding, I can hear the whole conversation in here whether I'm here or not. I mean, I'm literally the bridge making it possible."
"Fair enough," said the witch, "we'll tell each other secrets in person later. So what do you think?"
She shrugged. "Mira's a cute name. I mean, it's less adorable-cute than Mika, but I guess you are too. It's almost sad, though."
"You just don't like being the shortest one now," said Mira, smirking slightly.
"I really don't care about that. I'm gonna be able to float as much off the ground as I want in real life soon."

"So how's your friend?" said Aria.
Katherine's ears folded down again. "He's..not great. He keeps moving around and pulling at the sheets, and making little whining noises. I'm surprised nobody else in the room's been woken up by those, really."
Mira just crossed her arms and frowned again. "Literally anything else."
"Yeah, yeah, just asking. So you're friends with the uh, dragon girl Rose too, right?"
"Uh-huh!" the witch nodded cheerfully. "What about her?"
"Well, she surprised us by coming back into town tonight. She's staying in the Broken Dragon, so if you're not busy you could go visit her. Tell her about your, uh, growth spurt."
"Oh man, how am I gonna explain that to her?" said Mira, looking slightly distressed. "I don't really know how she feels about summoning demons, but she's all about nature and they are pretty unnatural. So, I'm less natural after eating them by extension too."
"I wouldn't worry about it," said Katherine. "I think it's more just that she really likes plants than anything about nature in particular. Besides, she seemed happy enough around you before, even after we explained what a witch is and does."
"Yeah...I guess you're right," Mira nodded, looking relieved.

Zack dreamed...he was a woman. She had the same body he'd been running around in for weeks, which of course was a girl's, but it was more than that: The mental content of the dream indicated that she was, in its context, absolutely and completely female.

She was in a vague impression of a bedroom with a large, soft bed, too big for one person. She was in a frilly set of panties and a soft, very revealing nightshirt of some kind. She felt physically warm, and burned with desire for...someone. It was obvious that a man was supposed to arrive...supposed to have been here ages ago. But there was no one here.
She paced around the room, lay on the bed and turned over and around, totally restless. The warm feeling grew less comfortable over time and fueled a deep-seated frustration. It never occurred to her to leave the bedroom or try to sleep; the only thought there was was "Where is he?" Repeated over and over, "Where is he?" It didn't feel like it mattered who exactly he was, as long as he appeared before long.

But nobody showed up the entire night. Zack woke up to find the bedding mostly off of the bed, entirely off of him, some of it torn up. He felt exhausted, restless, hot, and more than anything the deep sense of frustration from the dream lingered. The sun was up, but just barely; the others still seemed to be asleep.

He pulled himself off of the bed and sat up, then carefully stood. His legs felt weak and wobbly, even more than before. There was something really wrong, he couldn't let them see him like this. He stretched over to get some day clothes, a shirt and pants, and put them on without standing up.
"Zack?" The knight jumped. Katherine's voice; he turned around to find she'd gotten into the bed next to his, and was leaning up on an elbow looking at him with a concerned expression.
"Gh..go back to bed," he said quietly. Talking was a little hard. "I need to..go to or whatever..they have here." He tried to stand up; his knees shook and he just fell back to his seat on the bed again.
"I'm glad you agree," she said, getting out of bed herself. "It doesn't look like you're in any condition to take yourself, though. Lemme change clothes real quick and I'll help you there, okay?"
He wanted to argue; this was embarrassing enough without someone else coming with him, much less her, but...she seemed to be right. "Hhh...fine."

Zack had to more or less use the psion as a crutch the entire way there. He had never felt this...weak or useless before. They were early enough in the morning that the healers weren't all that busy and let him into an office right away. After handing him over to what she guessed was a nurse-equivalent, Katherine stayed behind in the waiting room.

A stern-looking elf woman came in to see Zack. "Tell me what's wrong," she said curtly.
" did something to me, and I don't...I feel strange," he said, shaking his head in an effort to clear it. "I', I can barely walk. I can't stop..thinking," he said finally. It was true, that train of thought had been in the back of his mind since the dream. He'd had to close his eyes a few times on the way there to avoid looking at some men on the street, and bite back an urge to run after them for...something.
"Hm." She nodded as if to herself. "It sounds to me like you're just in heat."
"In..heat," he repeated slowly. That was a thing?
"Correct. A perfectly normal state for a mammalian beastfolk female in the right conditions. It probably caught you off-guard since a monster did it to you instead of those conditions. I assume you do not have a significant other, or this would have sorted itself out already."
"N..." Zack had to pause, swallow, try not to think about the idea of having a 'significant other'. "...No."

"Well, normally one's body only goes into heat when the mind tells it to," she said. "Whatever the monster did to you must have confused your body, but ultimately that drive always answers to your mind. If you don't want to just..." she paused, as if trying to find how to put it tactfully, "...satisfy that urge, things should return to normal within a week if you simply ignore it."
"Ig...nore it? How?!" He wanted to stand up to yell that at her but knew better than to try.
"Calm down," she snapped, sounding slightly annoyed. "I am not suggesting you should attempt to do that without help." The healer went over to a drawer and pulled it out, retrieving a necklace with a small metal charm in the shape of a 'female' symbol out of it.

"This is an abstinence charm, it suppresses the normal attraction of women to men. Usually people will give this sort of thing to their young daughters in an effort to help them get through puberty." She handed it to him, and after glaring very briefly at the shape it took he put it on. "It should in your case suppress the signals from your confused body enough to function normally until things get back to normal."
Zack felt better immediately. The strange feelings between his legs faded off, the heat over his body lifted away mostly, though not entirely, and after a moment he felt able to breathe and talk and move normally again. "Thank you," he said finally. Then, lifting the charm enough to look at it again: "I...assume these don't come in any other shape."
"The shape helps the charm work," she said matter-of-factly, "Why?"
"No reason." Just my luck, he thought, tucking the charm under his shirt.

The elf nodded. "Now, if I'm not mistaken you're of the party that stopped those bandits a few days ago."
"Right.." he said, assuming she wasn't mistaken about which bandits.
"They had been raiding carts with important healing supplies we can't get out here any other way. You've saved more lives than you know by stopping them. You won't have to pay for this visit, or if you need anything else from us in the future."
"Oh. Okay." Since she seemed to be not charging them out of gratitude it didn't make sense to say 'thank you' for it, but he wasn't sure what other phrase to use. Zack stood up, and found that his legs worked normally again.
"Are you hurt in any other way?" she asked.
"I don't think so, no," he shook his head.
"Then go, I have other appointments."

Back in the waiting room, Katherine stood up to greet him. "Well, that was fast." She observed that he still had a slight blush on his cheeks, but seemed to be walking more normally, and had far less erratic thought patterns.
"It..wasn't hard for her to fix," he said. Then he added more privately in a thought to her, That demon put me in heat. Which apparently is something beastfolk can be in.
"Well, I'm glad. I'm sure the others will be relieved too." She led him just outside the building, and around toward a less crowded alleyway. "I wish we'd just come to the doctor last night, you seemed like you were suffering in your sleep."
"...You're right," he said after a pause. "To tell the truth, I've always had trouble...I don't like, telling other people when I have a problem."
She frowned at him. "What do you do, just hope it goes away?"
"I...well, normally I would just go to the doctor and not tell anyone else so they wouldn't have to worry about me. But this was..." His blush brightened. "It was embarrassing. It still is. I don't want anyone to know about it. That let it in."
The catgirl gave him a concerned look, and spoke kindly: "It used some kind of charm was magic. You're not to blame."

"I thought about killing you," he retorted quietly. "You, and the others. I—for a second it felt like the right thing to do, like what I should do. I would've tried, if, if it hadn't—that's not supposed to be..." He sighed. "You three are the only friends I have in this world, and I thought about hurting you. It wasn't just something I was forced to think, it was...whatever that magic was, it's not like it made up entirely new ideas. It tapped into something I was already thinking, or—feeling, or..." Zack held his head and let out an animal growl of frustration, not finding the right words to explain.
"We might be on your side, but we're all still part of a situation you want out of," said the psion, nodding slowly. "And, I bet it feels like you're the only one who still wants to go back to Earth. Right?"
"Well, it's not true. I've got people back home I want to see again too, who I'm sure are worried about me if, you know, time has passed back there at all. I'm sure the others feel the same way. I know, it's still different; you...don't just want to see people again, you want to go back to being you. Right?"
He nodded.
"I should feel stranger than I do about my own body, I admit," she said with a slight sweeping motion at it. "Something about this place, or whatever happened to us when we changed, just makes it so easy to accept who and what we are now. I think it's just your raw stubbornness that keeps that effect—or at least some of it—from working on you, honestly."
He crossed his arms, mock-frowning. "Gee, thanks."
"Well, even if we don't feel the same way you do about the changes, we're still here for you, alright?" She pulled herself up to him in a side-hug, and he surprised her by returning it after a few seconds. His tail wagged and even brushed itself against hers a couple of times before they released, and returned to facing each other. "I'll try to be a little more understanding, and I think I can get through to Mika to be, too."

"Okay, now we need to get back to the others," said Katherine after giving that last thought a few more seconds, putting her hands on his shoulders and looking up in his face. "Like it or not, you're our fearless leader, and we did have a disaster of a fight last night. We need to talk about why, and hopefully figure out how to do better against this kind of attack in the future. And.." She frowned slightly, releasing him and taking a small step back. "..However guilty you might feel about briefly wanting to hurt us, you know, Nora actually did get hypnotized into trying to attack me. She never landed a hit of course, 'cause I'm way too fast for her, but..."
"We need to make sure she's okay," said Zack, nodding. "Anyway, I'm starving."
"Yeah." The catgirl smiled and followed the knight back to the tavern. By the way, did the healer tell you anything about heat besides that we can go into it?

Katherine reappeared in the dreamscape. "Uh, he's getting up. I need to wake up and help him get to the doctor, which means splitting your dreams back up."
"Aww, too bad," said Mira, but shrugged.
"Hey, is it morning?" the shifter asked.
"Pretty early still, but yeah."
"Can you sorta..snap me awake, so I don't have to wait around in boring demonland by myself?"
The psion thought a moment. "I think I can do that. You wanna wake up, Mira?"
"No," she shook her head. "I could stand to sleep in a little more, maybe try and figure out what that sugary tree means. Besides, I think Zack really won't want even one person to see him in that state, much less two, and...I think you'll have a lot more tact than me about all this."

This made Aria the first one in her party to wake up, and after a quick trip to the bathroom and a change of clothes she decided to wake up the others, too. "Hey, get up, we've probably got a busy day ahead!" she said semi-loudly first, which was enough for Clera to sit straight up and look around. Rayna's ears twitched a little it but she and Lynn pulled the covers over themselves. "Aww, c'mon. It's a bright new morning! The sun's already up."
"That's no excuse," Lynn mumbled. Aria went and sat on the side of her bed since the fox-girl appeared to be getting up by now.
"C'mon, everyone else is up." Since the human girl was face-down, she patted her back a couple of times. Except at this point the "Rayna" who'd gotten out of bed and stretched shimmered and disappeared, revealing the real one still in bed and back to half-sleep. She popped up and bent over to put her head close to the fox ears and said, "Hey!" which made her jump. "I want you up, not your illusion!" Clera had quietly headed to the bathroom herself by this point, leaving Aria to keep trying to get the others up. After a while her stubbornness won over theirs, and everyone was dressed and headed down to breakfast.

Once they were seated, the winged girl surprised her with an unusual question: "Aria..when is the last time you bathed?"
"Um..why, do I stink or something?" She gave a small sniff of one of her arms; there wasn't anything really to smell there.
She tilted her head slightly. "I mean, have you done so since arriving in this world? There is something I am curious about when it comes to shapeshifters."
"Well, I haven't, no," she shook her head slightly. "Have you?"
Clera shook her head, but Rayna volunteered: "I did!"
"Me too," sayd Lynn quietly.
The foxgirl continued uninhibited: "I recommend it, it's refreshing to take a relaxing bath now and then. Anyway, what were you curious about?"

"Well...when you change sizes, you gain or lose mass, which already spits in the face of the conservation of matter," said the winged girl. "..But also, you gain or lose an appropriate amount of skin. I was wondering if, for example, a shapeshifter is covered in dirt, shrinks as small as possible, and then grows as large as possible, how much of the body is still covered?"
Aria raised an eyebrow. "Well I guess I could see if they have mud baths or something and test it out. But I mean, it's probably just gonna be arbitrary magic and just depend on whether I'm fully covered or not, like gain new dirt fom growing If I'm covered but if there's just a tiny patch just expand and contract the size of it."
"I suppose it would be more accurate to say I am concerned about microorganisms. If there is something living on your skin does some of it simply disappear or more of it appear?"
At this the shapeshifter shivered. "Eegh. I don't really want to know that. Look, I'll take a bath tonight and report back to you on what the suds do or something. For now can we just think about what we're gonna kill today?"

"I mean, there's not much point in that until we look at the quest board," said Lynn, "we don't even know what's available.
Rayna raised a finger. "Ah, I do actually! A HUD upgrade skill I took let me see a menu of all the currently available quests on any board I've been to recently enough, and even a list of quests we've completed. Did you know 'survive Aria's attack' counted as a separate quest from 'investigate the suspicious symbol on the ground'?"
"Well, read it out then I guess," said Lynn. "What sounds interesting? And...compatible with the need to kill things," she added, briefly looking to the shifter again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-36

When something came out of the portal, it came out fast. It was human-sized and purplish in shade, but little more could be determined from the blur of motion by any of the party before they went to attack it. Zack's blades went through the air, and he had to duck back right away as Nora's rock went over her target—it had ducked, and in the instant of not running that caused they could finally, briefly see what it looked like.

It looked like a man, maybe about average height. Purple skin, red hair, fit and muscular but not particularly bulky, not wearing much in the way of clothes. It, or he, had a thick tail ending in a sharp black spike, and black horns from the top of his head. Katherine threw a knife at him while he was busy standing up, but he caught it in his left hand by the blade, taking only a small cut as he transferred its hilt to his right hand and used it to swat aside her other shots and then toss backhanded at Mika. She was still exhausted from the ritual and slow to dodge, forcing Zack to go to her and block with his larger sword instead of pressing another attack.

The demon rushed toward Nora, completely ignoring a blast of fire from her hands and stopping just shy of her reach. She was about to duck back when his eyes caught hers, and..all of a sudden she couldn't move. Her face was hot, and she felt..strange. Time seemed to slow for a moment, and it felt like she was the only one there with him. He smiled—intensifying the strange and now pleasant feeling between her legs and the heat in her body, and he made a small noise, a kind of smug chuckling "Heh."

All of this took a couple of actual seconds at most before Katherine took another shot at him. This one he ducked under but—seemingly on purpose—allowed to graze his shoulder. Nora, a strange red glow over her eyes, looked at the catgirl with an enraged expression and rushed at her, tearing up the nearby ground to attack. She had to jump out of the way. Nora!?
Zack made it to the demon and rushed it with a series of strikes, but it felt like he was moving in slow motion as it danced easily around them. What's going on?
Her mind's—I can't reach her! The psion was forced to retreat more as Nora shot a few blasts of flame straight for her.
Charm spell! Mesmerise! Keep trying! Mika's voice. She had mounted her broom now, and tried a swooping slice with her scythe. The demon dodged this too, and when Zack tried to take advantage of that move to stab it with his shorter sword it grabbed that by the bladed and jerked it out of his hand—he was stronger than he looked, and the knight was misbalanced to keep a hold of the hilt.

Then the demon started stabbing and swiping at Zack with his own weapon. He took his larger blade in both hands, blocking and dodging every attack but not finding the space or time to counter. It stood up fully for an instant and looked him in the eye; Zack felt something strange between his legs, a heat in his cheeks, but took the instant to make a sharp sideways slice at the demon, expressing rage that it was trying to do that to him. It limboed under the attack and chained that into a backflip, jumping over another swooping attack from Mika.
Can you—stun it? Zack's mental voice sounded slightly shaken, less composed and confident than usual.
I've been trying, it has mental defenses! Katherine was having a hard enough time trying to dodge a whip of water and stay on her feet against a gale of wind simultaneously, and worse than that, the efl had chased her well away from the main fight by now. She couldn't even stun Nora as seemingly whatever effect the demon had on her had given her a share of those defenses.

Should I try a bomb? Mika suggested
It resists fire, what do you think it does with demon fire? Zack went on the offensive, swiping at the demon as quickly as he could. It seemed to dance around his strikes easily, passing up numerous opportunities to counter as if it was just playing with him.
I only have like two tricks! Pumpkins?
It'd be a distraction at least!

Mika put away her scythe, useless as she was with it, and started throwing ordinary pumpkins at the demon, raining them from above as fast as she could. It sliced a few of them apart in midair between blocking Zack's attacks, and then switched to catching and throwing them away like it was part of a juggling act. Every time its eyes met Zack's he felt more of that strange feeling and warmth, and...for as much as he consciously tried to ignore and deny it, he was starting to like it.
Forget it! This isn't—working. Even as effortless as thinking to the others normally was, it sounded like he was having trouble. Mika decided to try another tactic, landing behind the demon and coming at him again with her scythe, this time from the ground. Her attacks were clumsy flailing strikes but at least seemed to have more effect than the pumpkins had at forcing the demon to focus on dodging instead of whatever it was doing to the knight.

Zack! Are you okay over there? Katherine risked splitting her concentration to try and give him a hand, boosing his mental control with some of her own. At the same time she made the less pleasant decision of going for a more physical solution to her current problem, turning her knives hilt-first on Nora and aiming for the head.
I'm—not, I'll..I can't—I...
She had a brief private conference with Mika: Great, he's losing it.
I'm trying to help!
I know, I know.
Finally, a blow connected. Nora flinched back hard at a sharp blow to the side of her head; her attacks stopped at once, the glow disappearing from her eyes and her expression turning to one of stunned confusion. "W—what—?"
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMmmmngh!" She was cut off by a loud yell of frustration and rage from Zack which terminated in an even more concerning way.

The witch saw Zack yell and make a hard downward strike, his sword landing entirely in the ground. The demon darted around him and suddenly grabbed him in its arms, cutting off the yell with an unsolicited kiss. For a second the wolf-girl's hands moved as if to push him off, but then they wrapped around the demon in a return of its embrace.
Mika! Kill it! Katherine's voice, in her head.
I—I can't. It'll just dodge and then I'll hit Zack!

It felt...good, briefly. A physical and emotional release, all at once. All of the frustration and annoyance and confusion flew away, and the only thing he could feel was the demon's body against his own, its lips on his. He felt..intensely hot, but it was a good kind of heat somehow, coupled with an even better feeling between his legs. Of course...they had an audience just now, so this was all they could do. Somehow it was speaking to him without talking: All he had to do was get rid of them, and then they could be...
The demon flinched in pain suddenly, no more than a very slight jerking motion in the middle of the kiss. But it was enough. Zack remembered immediately who he was and realized what he'd been thinking of doing. His sword was still held weakly in his right hand, and now he grabbed it firmly, shoving the demon off of him with his left hand and in the same motion stabbing it straight through its unarmored chest.
Its grip on the knight's other sword weakened, and he took that too, driving the larger blade farther into its torso while hacking wildly at its head and arms and anything else he could reach. Zack knelt over onto the ground as it fell onto its back, burying his blade through the demon's body and into the ground until its crossguard touched its chest and refused to go deeper, and still pushing at the hilt after that, continuing to punch any uninjured part of it with the other blade as frequently and quickly as he could.

The wolf had run into the circle and bitten the demon's ankle. As soon as Zack snapped free the wolf drew back a few steps and spat blue demon blood on the ground, clearly disgusted by the taste. The others ran up to find the knight still striking, tears coming from his face, screaming continually despite having made himself hoarse, Mika looking too terrified to approach him.
"Zack!" Katherine came closer to him first, trying to exert some kind of calming influence on his mind. "You can stop, it's dead. Zack. It's dead."
He let go of the larger sword and dropped the smaller one on the ground, levering back to a sitting position, audibly heaving long, staggering breaths in and out. The catgirl knelt over, trying to get a good look at his face. He was still crying, approaching sobbing, between breaths. "It''s over, Zack. You killed it."
In between gasps for more air, he managed: "G...Good. T—...Tell Mika to, to eat the soul already and let's g...get out of here."
Mika didn't come any closer yet, although a part of her desperately wanted to run up and suck the delicious soul out of the corpse. Katherine sat down. "Are you...okay?"
"I'll..I'll be fine." His breathing was steadier now, but still sounded shaky; his face was bright red. "Just—do it already!" Some of the rage from before tinged his voice.

"Y-yessir!" Mika ran up to the badly mangled corpse and raised her hands over it. Something deep purple and fire-like rose from about the location of the sword through the demon's chest, and after matching the witch's chest in height it flew into her. She breathed a contented sigh in spite of her worry over Zack, unable to entirely contain how good the latest addition to her power felt. But there was something more to it, even...

The others watched as the witch began to be surrounded with a purple, fire-like aura, as if she was overflowing with power after the latest meal. "Oh..o-oh!" she said softly, closing her eyes as she felt the power of the souls she'd absorbed so far flowing outward, to the rest of her body.
She felt her ears stretching out first, lengthening out to the sides and gaining pointed tips. Then her whole body began to stretch, pushing itself upward and outward. She grew taller, her figure becoming more pronounced and her breasts in particular pushing themselves out bigger and bigger. Her clothes rearranged, her dress fading to a pattern of dark red and black, the color fading from her stockings to create pure black and white stripes. Her hair grew longer, her wings grew to match her increasing stature, gaining a couple of small spikes, and her tail lengthened slightly, both gaining a slight purple tint. Her voice, let out of her throat in a series of small, steady "Mmh"'s as the changes progressed, deepened. Her body grew not just in size, but also stronger and more agile. She even felt smarter and cleverer, more powerful with her magic and just more capable overall. Before long, a new woman stood before the others.

She opened her eyes again; they'd turned bright purple, like the demon she'd just eaten. " That was, kind of a rush," she said, trying to get used to having a deeper voice again. "I feel like..I should be a lot more useful to everyone now!" she said, smiling and nodding confidently.
In the time it had taken her to change, Zack had managed to stop the crying entirely and surruptitiously wipe his face dry. He still felt angry and beyond that, very strange, but forced himself even to smile. "Good. Great." The knight pushed himself up, ignoring a hand offered by Nora, and moved a little unsteadily to his weapons. Somewhere in the course of its soul being taken the demon's body had evaporated away like a puddle of water.

Zack drew the larger blade out of the ground, took the smaller one, and sheathed them both, moving carefully and slowly as if he was concerned he'd fall over if he didn't. Then he went over to the wolf, who was sitting watching him, its tail wagging in a way that seemed...concerned. He reached over and patted it on the head a couple of times, which it didn't move to prevent. "Thanks. You saved us." It barked in response. "No, I—I'll be fine. C'mon, let's..let's get back to town, okay?" He seemed to be mostly talking to the animal, but when he started in the direction the town was in the others guessed he meant them too and followed.

He seemed to stagger and wobble strangely, as if he couldn't quite get his footing, the entire way back. Nora trailed behind the others, dead silent, and if either of the girls in the middle looked at her she just looked away, pretending to have noticed something in whatever that other direction was.
After a while, Katherine couldn't take the total silence anymore. She didn't want to distract Zack or force Nora to talk or listen just now, so she went for a mental conversation with just Mika. So..what's the new part of your tree look like?
Tree? The witch's mental voice seemed to have somehow deepened to match her physical one. Oh, right—uh, it says 'Incubus'. Which is weird 'cause I'm still a girl. But uh, it has a bunch of passive physical enhancement abilities, like strength, speed, endurance and stuff. And there's some charisma enhancers, some, uh, charm type spells, and..oh!.some higher up spells joining this to the fire branch are actually transformation stuff. I wonder if I could...
Yeah, go for it maybe, but—Katherine waved slightly to Zack, especially to whatever his present condition was—Please don't mention it right now. Or, ever until you're really sure it'll work. We don't...I really don't want to give him hope and then it turns out to be false, you know?
I understand, yeah. Oh, hey, also: My base stats changed. It's like it took a bite out of the massive luck I had before and then spread three times that much across everything else. I might actually be halfway competent in a fight now. Maybe.
That's good. The scythe's a little more your size now, too.
Oh, yeah! Man, I nearly forgot what it was like to be tall. Well, not tall really but—
Taller than me! interjected Kathrine, now the shortest of the four. The witch's eye level matched up with about the tips of the catgirl's ears standing straight up now.
Yeah, but I mean, like, kinda normal sized? I wasn't all that tall of a guy so this feels about like what used to be normal.

Oh, but... Mika nodded subtly in Zack's direction. He's, uh, definitely not okay. We something about that, right?
Yes, absolutely. We do need to get to town first, and after that I can just tell he'll be too stubborn to go to anyone for help just then. So we'll sleep on it till morning, and if it's not fixed by then we are going to whatever this world's equivalent of a doctor is right away whether he wants to or not. Even if it is magical in nature, I'm sure they're trained to deal with that stuff too.
Mika frowned. I'm sorry I..couldn't do anything to stop that, whatever it was it did. Or even, interrupt it.
Your objection was totally correct. had enough of a mind for mental defenses, it had enough to have planned the whole thing out. Plan A: It charms our strongest member with something more powerful than the weaker one it used on Nora and uses him as an ally to help kill us. Plan B: It dodges if you strike so that same strongest member gets hurt. But I don't even think it knew the wolf was around until he bit it.
So the little guy pretty much saved all of us. If that animal won't let me feed it a steak tomorrow I don't know what I'll do.
It let Zack pat it on the head tonight. Honestly, I'm starting to think it's kind of tsundere for us—in aaan, animal-human, non-romantic relationship sort of way.
Hahah, tsundere? Mika managed to keep her internal laughter from producing more than a slight upward curl of the right side of her lips outwardly.
Katherine imitated a deep, angry voice: 'Grr, I'm only following you around because your alpha beat me in a fight.' And then a high-pitched, squeaky one: 'Oh Mika help me, the alpha's been in the library for months and I'm sooo lonely~!'
Stop, stop! I'm gonna really laugh. As it was, the witch had to pretend to cough a couple of times. To the others, this was the only short break in the silence throughout the entire trip.

Everyone powered up, and then they played around with some of those powers in a training yard by the guardhouse for a bit; before they knew it it was already well past time for supper. The Broken Dragon was the only place they knew of open so late, so there they went. Aria was saying: "So, even with the uh.." (she paused on realizing they were in public, and decided against the word 'bloodlust') "..weird hunger of mine mitigated a little, I still think it'd probably be a good idea to get something for it tomorrow. Since we sorta had today off. And then we could take a real day off after that?" She waved vaguely toward Lynn. "Go on another date or whatever?"
The human girl just blushed and nodded, with a slightly annoyed "Yeah, yeah."
Clera tapped Rayna, next to her, on the shoulder and pointed at the window on her opposite side. "There is a dragon in the window."
"Yeah, I've seen it." She turned toward where the winged girl was pointing, thinking she meant a decoration drawn on the window. "It's very—oh." Rose was approaching the tavern on the street, looking in much better spirits than she'd left that morning. She had changed her clothes to a short dark blue pleated skirt and something resembling the top part of a girl's school uniform but with all the sleeves torn off. "Wonder why she's back so soon?"

"I thought you liked her," said Lynn teasingly, referring to their conversation on the way to the community center.
"I do, I'm just—didn't she need to be in her forest for a while to not have dragon instinct problems?"
"And wasn't it like a half a day away?" said Aria, equally as concerned by this development. "Did she stop by for like two seconds and decide everything would be fine?"
"Well, stop asking nobody and ask her, silly," said Lynn. Indeed, the dragon-girl walked into the building, looking around. Rayna waved to her and she came running over eagerly, stopping next to the booth and squtting over to bring her head level with them.
"Hiii! I'm so glad you're still awake!"

"Well, I take it your hoard was fine?" said Rayna, reaching over and patting her on the shoulder a couple of times. She seemed not to mind the gesture, just continuing to smile and talk.
"Yep! Just like I left it. Er, well I mean like, the plants grew some like they always do but—yep it was fine! Iiiiiii..." she paused, attempting to think of an excuse for her new skills. "Fffffound a plant. Uhm, an herb. I totally forgot about, that makes—y-you know, because I haven't been around people in a long time. The herb totally makes a dragon, like, less..hoard, care-y about-y. Uh."
"It's okay, we know what you mean," said Lynn. "How come you came back so fast though? I thought you'd at least want to tend to a few plants or something first."
"Well, I did tend to the plants. All of them. That's when I found the uh, herb. Yeah, I took care of some pruning and planting and harvesting and stuff, made another basketful to take to town, spread the grass out a tiiiiny bit farther," she said, her ability to speak coherently returning when she started telling the truth, "but then I, um. I remembered a way to get back to town faster!" 'Remembered' was much simpler than 'I found an herb' to describe a new skill she'd learned. "It's like a, cart thingy, made of plants. It doesn't work in a place without plants but there's grass and stuff all the way from there to here if you weave around some rocky parts."
"That's pretty cool," said Aria cheerfully. "How big is it? Can you take someone for a ride sometime?"
"I can make it bigger or smaller, it's harder to carry more weight but I'm sure I could get one or two people in it!" she said. "Oh, but.." She realized that it'd be more helpful if at least the four of them could come along some time. "I...have a, ideas! For how I can make it better later, and then it'll be able to take lots of people!"
"Cool, cool," the shifter nodded, ignoring Clera glaring at her.

Rayna changed the subject. "So how long are you planning to stay in town this time?"
"Hmmnn..I dunno, a day or two maybe? I saw some neat places last time when we were going to eat and I wanted to look a little closer at them. And uh, hang out with you guys or the other nice people I met before if there's time, maybe," she added nervously, blushing slightly.
"Well, I think we have to work tomorrow," said Rayna, "but we're probably taking the day after off. So at least I can hang out with you then if you want."
"Okay!" The dragon-girl chirped happily and nodded, smiling brightly at the prospect. Maybe the other girls—well, three girls and the one that wasn't—would be around tomorrow, then. "Umm, I'm sorry for interrupting your supper. I think I'll go ask for a room, uhh, if they'll let me wait to pay for it after I trade some of my flowers I brought to someone tomorrow."
"You're not intruding on anything," said Clera, "perhaps we could ask the waiter for a chair."
"Aww, that's okay," Rose said, beaming at the invitation. "I really should get some sleep though, 'cause it's kinda late. I'll see you later though!" She popped upright again and went over to the bar to see about that room. She didn't want being tired to make her say anything weirder than she already had, and it was late after all.

Here we get to a part of Party 1's (Zack's party if it's not clear what I mean) story that I've had planned for a long while now, but which was and will be a little difficult to write out in exactly the right way. Hopefully I'm doing a decent job at it so far.