Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-46



"No."
"Oh come on, you're sweaty and you were covered in sticky green junk and it's still all in your tail!"
"Absolutely not." At the front, Zack was arguing with Mira.
"You enjoyed it last time!"
"I put up with it because I lost a bet. There's a perfectly functional bathtub back at the inn."
"But that's not the same!" Apparently the other four had spent some time at a bathhouse at some point, and he was more than a little body-conscious. Even without anyone explaining it directly, Rayna thought she had a good idea of why. Rose had already picked up the idea and was predictably very into it, watching the argument eagerly from a foot or so away.

Hey. She jumped slightly, having been too focused on the front to notice Katherine coming right up next to her. Even though the communication was mental, it somehow felt like the catgirl was whispering to her from that spot.
Um...yeah? It seemed like she had something to say, so the illusionist turned her attention that way.
Can you...keep calm if I tell you something? This won't make any sense to Rose...
Sure, I guess? The first thing Katherine might want to 'speak' in private about was the primary reason they'd been concerned about hanging out with a psion in the first place, and at some point she'd more or less accepted that the subject would come up and started thinking of ways to hopefully explain it. But it confused Rayna slightly to use the word 'tell' rather than 'ask'.
Look...the four of us. We're, from Earth too.

Rayna's face was neutral, but her ears stood straight up and her tail stuck straight out for a second. You...too? You are!?
Calm, calm! With a deep breath, the fox-girl managed to compose her less cooperative animal parts. I, haven't told Mira or Zack yet. About you, I mean. But I didn't feel like it was right to keep it a secret any longer. Katherine looked away slightly nervously. I'm sorry I started digging around in your mind in the first place.
Wait, how much digging did you—?
Just enough to see that you were from Earth, and then just surface thoughts, which are nearly impossible to totally filter out anyway. So I haven't seen whatever you're worried about me seeing unless you start thinking about it really hard and there it is stop please I didn't want that.
Rayna stifled a giggle. What, embarrassed? I'm not. I look good. Katherine's face reddened considerably. Consider us even now. No more mind spelunking unless you want more of that.

The catgirl nodded, that was fair enough. So, somehow or other...we need to sit everyone down, and have Rose not with us, so everyone can know what's going on with everyone else.
Rayna looked forward again, toward the front of the group. Rose was bouncing around excitedly. Well, her hoard instinct should kick in sooner or later, and then she'll want to go back to her forest for a while. That'd be a good time. The two of us were planning to take a break while the others healed up before the whole worm thing happened, and I bet Zack would appreciate some rest time to stop being sore and stiff, just for starters...
Oh, right. Are the other—Aria and Clera—they're from Earth too, right? Katherine was reasonably sure they were; some more dots had started to connect at least with things Aria had said or done since they'd met.
Yep. So we'll have ourselves an eight-person conference. I know a place we can rent out if you don't have one.
Well, we're getting a house built but it's not done yet...
A house?! Why didn't we think of that? Oh man, we need to find out if there's any big apartments available in town or something...

Katherine looked ahead toward Zack, who had that distinct "fine, but I refuse to be anything but sour about it" look. A quick skim of the recent conversation confirmed that he'd lost the argument after Nora quietly suggested the warm mineral waters the bathhouse had might be a little better for his bruises. Maybe...once everyone knows...It's not really my place to decide it by myself, buuut, maybe it won't be too late to add a few more bedrooms to the house that's already being built.
Oh, inviting me to move in with you already? That's awfully forward of you, Rayna thought with a viciously teasing grin.
I just...okay, maybe it's not such a good idea then.
Aww come on. I do appreciate the thought. We'll see what the others think of the idea later.

They came to the gates of town. While they were waiting to be let in, Katherine moved up to where Nora was, and Lynn, who'd taken the far rear to watch for any surprise monsters coming from that direction, walked up next to her teammate. "What was all that about?"
"Very interesting news, amazing new possibilities. I'll have to tell you later, though." She waved toward Rose, who was running back toward them.
"Do you wanna take a bath with us?" she said energetically. "I'm paying!"
"Um.." Lynn had not been paying much attention to the conversation at the front and didn't have any idea how to respond to it.
"We'll decide a little later," Rayna said. "Need to see how Aria's doing first."
"Ooh, she can come too! And Clera..." The sparkly look in the dragon-girl's eyes was both adorable and terrifying all at the same time.
"Y-yeah, like she said, we'll talk to them before deciding. Let's tell the Captain we took care of the big worm first, right?"
"Mmhm,
and mention how huge of a help you were with that," Rayna nodded. Rose blushed and giggled nervously, clearly pleased with the praise but flustered by it all the same. It got her mind off of the subject of bathing for now, which was more what the two of them had wanted.



After several rejections in the form of head-shaking and sighs from the winged girl, Aria finally settled on a cane that was carved to look like a gnarled piece of root with some twisting bits up at the handle and a slightly wider foot. It was always practicality with her, but the shifter eventually had to admit to herself that the more threatening-looking canes (like the one with a screaming-skull-shaped handle) combined with the knowledge that she was sharing a mind with and occasionally controlled by a blood-hungry demon maybe wouldn't have been a great combination. After that longer-than-expected shopping trip it was on to the nearest place that looked like it sold magical items.

The first couple of places just sold what seemed to be standard enchanted items in bulk. Things like basic firestarters, rings that could have an enchantment tied to objects to make those objects glow faintly when the ring was on to help find them easier, so on so forth. The shopkeepers didn't seem to know the first thing about magically-enchanted things in general besides the ones they were actually selling. So it became increasingly clear that they needed something more like a magic-item pawn shop for the identification help.

Eventually they managed to find that kind of place, with a huge Felis man standing behind the counter. He was busy arguing over the price of something with a customer when they first walked in, so Aria took a seat, thankful the place had some chairs after so much slow, careful walking and occasional almost-falling with the cane to thank for not kissing the ground. It took a good few minutes of going back and forth in increasingly small increments of coins, until it just became silly, the difference between their prices no more than this world's equivalent of loose change. Finally they were stubbornly going back and forth on prices just a couple of coins apart, neither one changing his price, until the customer finally said, "Fine! I'll just take my business elsewhere."
"Yeh, good luck gettin' a price like mine outta anybody else, buddy." The man behind the counter just let him walk out in a huff before quietly commenting to himself, "He'll be back." Then he noticed the girls waiting on him seemingly for the first time. "Ahh, welcome! What can I do ya for? Lookin' for somethin' in particular?"

"We were hoping you could help us identify something," said Clera.
"Yeah.." Aria carefully stood herself up. "I've got this crystal that's supposed to be a 'Beacon' of some kind. We can pay you to tell us about it if you want."
"Hmm. Lemme take a look first. Ain't much ta pay me for if there ain't nothin' I can tell ya's."

Once the crystal was placed on the counter, the man picked it up between his thumb and forefinger, giving it a good long hard stare. "Hmm..yep, looks like a beacon crystal ta me alright. Pretty high-quality, too. Whoever made this spared no expense."
"So..what exactly is a beacon crystal?" said Aria.
"Wha', you ain't heard of 'em? Beacons always come in pairs, the sender an' the receiver. If the sender is activated, the receiver will tell whoever's holdin' it where the sender is. From the materials, I'd guess this one was made to reach as far as the mainland."
"Hm. How exactly does one activate a beacon?" said Dr. Kellen.
"Just speak the key phrase," he said, offering it back toward Aria. "Look, if yous got this from someone then they shoulda told you what ta say ta turn it on."

"Yeah, that makes sense," she said, taking it and staring into it. "But...some magic stuff happened and made me forget a lot of things, including that. I think the person who gave it to me wanted me to activate it as soon as I could. Sooo, is there any way to figure out the key phrase by examining the beacon itself?"
"Not by just lookin' at it." He crossed his arms. "Ya got any other clues?"
"Maybe?" Aria produced the paper she'd found in her inventory. "This looks blank, but I had it on me, so maybe it's hiding the phrase somehow..."
The man nodded, pulling the paper toward him. "Now,
this I can do somethin' about. Most of the time, magic-hidden letters are pretty lazily hid. You're supposed to do some special thing ta make 'em show up, but only where the letters are is enchanted. So.." He opened a drawer under his side of the counter and pulled out something resembling a magnifying lens with red-tinted glass. "Ya use something that shows enchantments, it shows the letters." He put it over the paper, and letters appeared in green against the red:

"Speak your name, and I will come. -Loren"

"That mean anything to ya's?" He continued moving the glass around, looking for other lettering, and even turned the paper over, but that was it.
Aria sighed. "I think I know what it means, yeah. I'm supposed to remember whatever my name was before, and then the dumb thing will work." She took the paper back as well.
"Thank you for your help," said Clera. "What do we owe you?"
"Ahh, don't worry about it," he waved dismissively. "It was a good distraction helpin' ya figure out your little mystery. Just come back here if yous need something specific, or got somethin' to sell. Ah-ha!" he exclaimed suddenly toward the store's door, and they turned to see the customer from earlier coming through. "I knew ya'd come back," He said. "But since ya doubted me, I'm gonna have ta take a little offa my price!"

He nodded to the two girls again, and they moved out of the way while the customer came back up to the counter, asking how much he was taking off. The Felis man laughed and named the price he'd been saying about when the two of them had walked in; the customer reacted with anger and said his item was worth the price he'd been offered before walking away earlier. It was obvious this haggling was going to continue for a while, so they quietly stepped back outside.

"Loren wouldn't be your 'old name', would it?" said Clera.
"No, mine's supposed to start with Ar..I think the other guy's name started with an L, so maybe he's Loren. That on the paper looked like a signature to me," said Aria.
"What is your plan from here, then?"
"I dunno. Maybe look for a book of baby names from this world and start reciting every one that starts with Ar until the crystal does something. Then again, worst case scenario is that I'm supposed to remember my last name too, so...maybe I can somehow manage to make my dreams show more of my so-called past instead of huge demon void and static. Katherine might be able to help me out there, somehow or other..."
They started toward the guardhouse, where everyone had agreed to meet after whatever job the Captain had for Rayna and Lynn was done. It had been a short while since leaving the restaurant, maybe not long enough for the job to be completely finished, but with Aria's current walking pace it was going to take a while to get there anyway.



"And you are certain it was dead after that?"
"Well, my special vision reported it was dead," said Rayna, pointing vaguely at her own eyes. "It wasn't moving, it was burned all over, shocked, blown up inside, and got nearly bisected through that spot just behind its mouth."
The Captain nodded. "With as much damage as that, it would be slow to regenerate if at all. I'll have an expert go out and double-check, but it sounds to me like you more or less accidentally got all of the nerve clusters. I'm satisfied that our livestock will be safe for a while. Your payment's waiting outside, thank you."

Everyone started to filter out of the room. Mira hung behind for a moment, until the last of them have left. The Captain had already returned her attention to some papers, and took a long moment to seem to notice the witch still standing there, looking up at her. "You want something?"
"Um, yeah...about, what you said earlier. I ate an incubus last night, which comes with certain, things." She just gave the witch a long stare, an indication to keep going. Mira fidgeted nervously with her hands. "Based on my uh, research, with enough work it might be possible to combine the powers I have now into the ability to do certain kinds of transformations. Umm..you've heard, someone has mentioned to you about Zack, right?"
"That he's form-cursed? Yes. I've been looking into the source of that curse myself."
"Okay. Well, if I can advance my powers enough I'm hoping to just be able to overpower that curse and, uh, help him. With that. Buuut, there's kind of a wall to that progress. Incubus-based magic favors, y'know, going the other way? And the only way to get good enough to fight a curse like that in a way that technically goes against the grain of what I have is with some practice. B-but I'm not going to go around randomly using black magic to change people, if that's what you're wondering!"
"You wouldn't be talking to me if that was your plan."
"R-right. So, I thought it's kind of a long shot, but whenever I figure out how to do it, I might try and find people who want their appearance changed for one reason or another. Um, not crime-avoiding ones. And with their explicit permission, get practice that way. Or, I could hire people to practice on, making it clear what they're signing up for first. I'm sure I can undo a change I made myself as soon as I've learned it."

"Well, you've thought about this at least," said the Captain. After a long, suspenseful pause with her looking directly into Mira's eyes and the witch feeling distinctly unable to look away, she said, "I don't see much of a problem. You should have anyone you're testing it on sign a waiver that they understand exactly what you'll be doing first, just so nobody tries to put you in a bad light."
"Okay. U-um, thank you," Mira said, nodding.
"Just remember what I said before."

Everyone else was already outside the building. Zack, squatting slightly to be closer to eye-level with the wolf, was the one who asked, "Hey, what took you so long?"
"Um..the Captain wanted me to know she was watching me and would stop me if I turn evil." Jump back one conversation; good, good. "But that won't happen anyway, sooo..." Privately, to Katherine, she thought It has to do with me trying to break his curse but it's still way too soon to tell if I can. A brief mental nod came back.

Rose was excitedly advertising the idea of a bath to the winged girl in the other party, who looked generally displeased with the idea. Mira smirked slightly; she knew how that dragon-girl was, but hadn't expected quite this enthusiastic of an ally. She walked up and gently tapped her excited friend on the shoulder. "Calm down a little, huh?"
"Hm?" She looked back and forth, seeming to actually register the winged girl's expression for the first time. "Oh, um..s-sorry."
"Hi, I'm Mira. You?"
"...Clera." She had a look of profound suspicion mixed with something like confusion, but took the offered hand and gave a firm shake anyway.
"Yeah, I know, I'm a witch. But I'm a really nice one I promise. Haven't done a single bad thing yet."
"That's debatable!" Katherine joked. A brief backwards not helping look made her stop giggling at least.

"Anyway. This whole communal bath thing was kinda my idea. If you're really uncomfortable with it I don't want you to feel pressured into it, okay?"
"Oh, well of course it was your idea." Aria, next to Clera, was half-leaning on some kind of cane. "Uh, we've met in dreamspace a couple of times. Different to see you in person. I dunno why, but I thought you'd be taller."
Clera closed her eyes, took a deep breath. "I am sorry, Mira. I experienced some kind of irrational reaction to your...appearance." She looked at Aria for a second. "My hesitation is more to do with her condition. A recent head injury required powerful healing magic that left her with temporary, but intense, vertigo. I can hardly imagine it wise to combine that with a wet, slippery surface."

"Awwh, you're worried about me?" Aria ruffled Clera's hair a bit with her non-cane-holding hand and received a glare in response. "I'm sure there's enough strong people between us and our new friends to just carry me to and from the changing room if needed. And the towel rooms have some kinda chairs, right?"
"Yeah, there's a bench in the bath to sit in, too," Mira nodded.
"Then there shouldn't be any problem. I promise I won't stand up without somebody there to help me out. Who can actually hold my entire weight if I do fall over."
The winged girl gave a very serious expression, considering it. "Who would you consider trustworthy to handle this?" she said to the witch sternly.
"I dunno, Zack, or..." He was shaking his head emphatically. "Okay, maybe not Zack. I just had a big strength boost, so I could do it. Rose is really strong too, and pretty reliable, however, um..excitable she is."
"I'll be careful!" the dragon-girl waved from behind Mira.
"...All right. If any of you is insufficiently careful, you will be held responsible for the result."
"Yaay!" Rose cheered.

"Well, I guess we have a majority vote at this point," said Lynn, standing off to the side with Rayna.
"I'm sure it won't be too bad for you. Maybe even a little fun," the fox-girl winked.
"I already basically accepted it. That girl's like an oncoming train," she said very quietly. Rayna's giggle at the expression turned into laughter loud enough to turn a couple of heads, but Lynn just shook her head at them to please leave it alone.

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