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We walk through the white streets and ask for directions to the nearest Tribunal. Alissa ends up taking over this job as I’m slightly awkward at talking to strangers and she seems to enjoy doing it, which is the opposite of me.
The people here talk differently from Earth. Back there, people are far more cold, self-centered, and without any patience for small talk. When you can talk to anyone around the world by just using a device that’s always at hand, why would you ever waste your time and social energy on small talk with a complete stranger?
Alissa approaches someone and gives some casual comments. “Lovely feathers you have”; “what is this textile of your shawl?”; “what a lovely child, she has your eyes”; “your bow looks so well crafted, is this a Chape composite?” She seems to look for common ground while avoiding people who are too alien to her, like the merfolk. Then she follows up with a compliment or some keen observation to make the person more comfortable with her, and then she asks for directions.
Time-consuming, but we end up getting two not-apples from a nice old lady, so I’d say it’s okay.
The Tribunal’s office looks like any other government office I’ve been to. A single large hall with a high ceiling, part.i.tioned by simple, movable wooden panels instead of having all the rooms permanently built with stone walls.
Most of the floor is occupied by benches where a considerable number of people wait their turn and on the other side of the counter, Tribunal employees quickly walk through the work area carrying stacks of paper in a hurry.
The building is not very noisy, but there’s a constant humming of low voices and m.u.f.fled footsteps.
We make our way to the reception and say that we’d like to make a Precedence Report. We’ll be reporting our movements and intentions in case someone wants to talk to us about the trial. It’s our way of showing that we are willing to conform to the law and appear for our trial. The other benefit is to also create a paper trail.
If we disappear for whatever reason and Katasko says that we ran away from the trial, creating this paper trail would help us not be labeled outright as criminals and also aid any future investigation into our disappearance.
Then we also write a Complaint Report. The Enforcers being used to “escort” us back to Goldport at the expense of Este company is a clear abuse of power and an overreaction. Especially since we are upstanding citizens of the empire with two blessings from the G.o.ds and a letter of commendation from an Agent.
They could’ve just informed us of the trial without threatening us. If they don’t have enough evidence to outright arrest us on sight, then they have no justification for acting hostile, well, more hostile their usual behavior, that is. The G.o.d of Law makes it very clear in his teachings that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.
I mean, we are guilty, but n.o.body should have any evidence of that.
The whole affair smells of corruption and I want to make that clear to the investigators from the very beginning.
The Judges themselves might be corrupt, but if we get a Seeker of Truth to be called, then we can also expose Katasko’s strong-arming, which makes our response “self-defense.”
Still, a lot can go wrong, but we have the advantage.
Sitting on a bench, I fill out papers with a magic pen, then wait for our number to be called. If not for the other races and the different sense of fashion, I think that this office would look like any tropical government building on Earth. It’s always nice to find parallels to my former home; it makes me feel nostalgic.
Our number is finally called and we deliver the small stack of papers to the female attendant. She seems quite fit and immediately marches away from her desk as soon as she gives our papers a quick look. Her red peac.o.c.k feathers on her head bob up and down as she moves and looks oddly mesmerizing.
A minute later, she marches back and gives us a receipt for our report that I store safely inside my “Items.”
“Everything is done, let’s go have lunch,” I say.
“Roxy wants to be carried,” Aoi says.
“Lazy~… Anyway, we’ll walk,” Hana says.
I fly the dinghy to go pick up Roxanne and we find a Succubus restaurant.
Hana frowns and says, “Why does your race like tentacles so much? I thought you liked horns and thin tails.”
Roxanne giggles heartily and slaps Hana’s shoulder. “Horns and tails are s.e.xy; Tentacles are obscene.”
Hana’s mouth hangs open in surprise. “So you eat obscene things? What else do you eat? p.e.n.i.ses?”
“Well… pickled goblin p.e.n.i.s is a delicacy…” She looks down and adjusts her gla.s.ses, a little embarra.s.sed.
“What…?” I mutter and we all turn to Roxanne.
“It’s not that popular, but it’s something Mother loved to eat.”
“But not your Father?” Lina asks.
“No…” Then Roxanne turns to me and smiles evilly. “Don’t worry, Wolfy. Your c.u.m is delicious, but not your c.o.c.k.”
“What about the b.a.l.l.s?” Hana asks, a little fascinated.
“You deep fry them in oil and they become very crunchy. Goes well as a snack.”
Ciel gives them a withering glare and clears her throat. “Right, can we talk about something else? Like, the food we are about to eat?”
The two smile apologetically and focus on the menu.
Succubus food is full of really weird ingredients. For example: livers; toes; fingers; eyeb.a.l.l.s; brains; and of course, there’s orc p.e.n.i.s, but since it’s not goblin, it’s minced and turned into a sausage.
Thankfully, these weird plates only take up half of the menu, and the rest are much more “normal.” Though, the amount of seasoning and spice in them makes my tongue go numb.
I did discover cheddar, though. That spicy cheddar dust that fast-food chains like to put on food.
“Oh, that’s Stag Carapace dust,” Roxanne explains. “It’s a huge stag beetle monster with a bright orange carapace that is ground into dust. A few bigger monsters like to eat it because it’s so tasty.”
“You’d think that a monster being tasty would be an undesirable trait,” Lina comments.
“There are monsters that only exist, to be eaten by us, bigger monsters,” Aoi says.
“Oh? Which monsters did the dragons hunt?” I ask.
“Goblins and Rabid Rabbits. When I became stronger, I’d hunt Orcs, too.”
“Ironic that humanoids ended up adding those same monsters to our diet.”
“Humanoids are cunning. You… we, use everything we have, to survive.”
Well, the G.o.d of Destruction has been trying to destroy us since our creation, so I’d guess it makes sense for Aoi to be born with this knowledge.
We fly back to the inn to deliver Roxanne and she gives me a few pecks on the lips as a goodbye.
“Thank you, husband, for being so attentive to me,” she says and hops off.
“Lazy~…!” Alissa yells as Roxanne walks away, but she only makes my succubus laugh out loud.
“Right, so our date officially starts now. Where do you want to go?” I ask Alissa
“Hm…” Alissa tilts her head and her tail lazily wags. “Let’s just walk around and see where fate takes us.”
I’m not very excited about this, but it’s still Alissa’s birthday “gift.”
We land on one of the streets close to the market. The main road has all the high-cla.s.s shops, but the side streets hold the hidden gems.
White buildings; cute signs hanging in front; wind chimes; pleasing aromas; knick-knacks that glow and make noise; the soft clacks of the people walking by; the humming of their idle chatter. Quite comfy.
“Do you want me to carry you? We could walk faster that way,” Alissa suggests.
“Wouldn’t you get tired, then?”
“Just cast [Refresh] on me every hour or so.”
I mount my fox and we trot our way forward.
“All that’s missing is Lina,” Alissa comments.
“You enjoy her mounting you that much? I thought this was a thing just between the two of us,” I say with a cheeky smile.
She turns around and her large fox face shows fl.u.s.ter. “No! Uh… I-it’s still our thing, but… well, I miss her little legs on me sometimes.”
I lay down on her and hug her neck. “It’s fine.”
“Hm…” She feels a little conflicted but lets it go. “It’s still our thing,” she mutters.
Alissa stops by a particularly cute shop with large dark green stained windows.
I dismount without her even needing to say anything and she shifts back, then we go inside and we’re greeted by the soft scent of mint and a stuffy environment with a faint haze of smoke from incenses.
We see haphazard piles of odd books; pieces of paper with nonsensical scribbles or weird patterns; both lit and fully burned incenses occupying vases that desperately need cleaning; colored gems glowing softly; and weak magic stone [Spirit Lights] hanging from the ceiling. I feel lots of trace amounts of mana flying about; this place is enchanted.
“This is quite the shop you chose…” I mutter.
“There’s something odd in the air,” Alissa says, softly.
“It’s Eia, that drug the elves use.”
“Right… but there’s something more…”
“Well, more drugs, obviously.”
She rolls her eyes and we make our way through the books.
What’s with the atmosphere? Is this really necessary?
My a.s.s that they don’t have a warehouse. Even a bas.e.m.e.nt would suffice.
“I’d have to agree… there’s something more,” I mutter. My eyes are feeling odd, though I think it might be the smoke.
An old woman’s voice comes from behind a table completely filled with books and says, “You’re right about this shop. This one’s special.”
A stereotypical “Disney witch” gets up from the ground while carrying a small pile of books and smiles at us. She has a plump nose with a wart, pure white feathers coming out of her head and arms, a pointy black hat that matches her thin black robes, crooked teeth and walks with bad posture. An Estekabar-type demon race. “Welcome to the Clear Water. I sell all kinds of books.”
She deposits the books she’s carrying on the table and somewhere else a pile of books suddenly falls. She doesn’t even react to the loud noise and an awkward silence falls on the shop as she starts to absent-mindedly dust the books in front of her.
The way those books fell was… strange.
“What kinds of books do you have?” Alissa asks.
“No idea, I buy whatever book interests me,” the old woman says with a shrug.
“Do you have an… organization method or an index of some kind?” I ask.
“Nope,” she says and turns her back to us to dust some more books.
Alissa and I look at each other and frown.
“How are we supposed to find anything here?” Alissa asks.
The shopkeeper turns to us and gives us a toothy smile that shows all of her pure white and crooked teeth. “Well… there are books in front of you, so you found it, them, some, whatever…” She shrugs and returns to dusting.
“She’s high on Eia,” I say to Alissa through [Bind] and chuckle internally.
“As far as I know, Eia doesn’t make you this… weird.”
The shopkeeper suddenly turns to us and her stupid smile disappears. She finally shows a completely lucid and serious face, but her odd reaction makes me feel a little tense.
Alissa’s curiosity just increases and she feels like exploring. “I’ll just… browse through the books,” she says and starts flipping through the most accessible books.
“Sure…” the shopkeeper says absentmindedly as her eyes land on me and stay for an awkwardly long time. She slowly turns back to face forward and continues with her cleaning.
Gify, is there something wrong with this shop?
Screw you, you useless freeloader.
Last time you were this cryptic, you led us to Gecynd.
I take a look around and start flipping over a book about “Intelligence” potions. It’s like reading a scientific paper on something you don’t know, it looks like gibberish filled with technical jargon.
“This is [Runic Warding],” Alissa says while holding a piece of paper with weird patterns.
“Good eye. Yes, they are,” the shopkeeper says without looking at her.
Alissa stares at the piece of paper and turns it around. “It’s not defensive or offensive, it’s too pretty. It’s also not calming, so it’s not healing either. It’s… mischievous… cheeky.” She frowns and looks at the shopkeeper. “This is illusion magic. A party trick!”
The old woman finally stops and looks at Alissa with a warm smile that makes her look like a kind mother. “A perfect a.s.sessment,” she says.
Something clicks inside my head.
Nearly all of the books become transparent and then disappear. Even the clutter between the tables clears away and I see display cases that were previously hidden underneath the mountains of books. They display beautiful books with shiny covers and colorful drawings.
Some of the incenses and glowing gems disappear and a perfectly arranged grid of decorations is left behind.
“What the f.u.c.k. The entire shop is an illusion,” I mutter.
“Please, no profanities,” Moth-… the shopkeeper says.
“Sorry… but, uh, why…?”
She narrows her eyes at me and I feel a hint of a higher-than-average “Charisma.” “Keep your mind clear of impure thoughts and the little critters of illusion will have difficulty getting past your ‘Willpower.'”
Well, consider me completely vulnerable to illusions, then.
“No… he meant why is the shop enchanted with illusions?” Alissa asks, reading my thoughts.
The old woman narrows her eyes for a moment again as her eyes dart between us. Then she goes back to her stupid smile. “Because this isn’t really a shop. I’m Dokkanchee, and I’m a recruiter for the Kabara Basaree’s School of Magic. You’ve both pa.s.sed the first Trial of Illusion.”
My eyes still feel weird, though.
“You’re an illusion, too. I can feel it,” I say and Alissa nods.
“There’s something odd about your face,” she says
Dokkan smirks and her large nose starts to shrink. The wart falls off and disappears in a puff of smoke. Her teeth all straighten up and her smile becomes perfect. “The bad posture is real, though,” she says and cackles. “Well, you’ve nearly pa.s.sed the second Trial of Illusion, you still have to break the illusion with ‘Willpower’ if you want to pa.s.s.”
“I wonder if there’s a third Trial. I don’t feel anything odd anymore, do you?” I ask Alissa through [Bind].
“No. Not a thing.”
Dokkan opens her eyes wide and says, “There it is again! What is it that you two are doing? There’s something… odd going on between the two of you.”
We share a worried look.
“Of course, there is, but we aren’t telling,” I say and frown.
Dokkan laughs a little awkwardly and clears her throat. “Apologies, it’s not my intention to pry, it’s just that it’s so curious. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“What do you see?” Alissa asks.
“Not see, feel, and I feel something moving between you two. I have no idea what, and that’s what’s interesting because I can’t even describe it.”
“How do you see it?” I ask.
She smirks at me and waits a moment before answering, “I also have my own secrets that I have to keep.”
Right, an impa.s.se. But we still have the Masked Aberrant, so maybe I should study it and see what I can learn.
“Moving on…” I say and walk towards one of the display cases. “These books, are they for sale or something?”
Dokkan nods. “They are, but not for just anybody.”
“And what does it take to be that ‘somebody’?”
“A student, or a teacher of our school. Or somebody with magical qualifications.”
“Is being a ‘Scholar of Rabanara’ enough?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Don’t try to fool me, boy.”
It’s kind of annoying being called ‘boy’ in that way.
Well, I’m not Tyrion and I’m not going to be a ‘boy’ for long.
Right, levels. f.u.c.k.
“Do you have an Inspection Crystal?” Alissa asks.
Dokkan shakes her head. “Don’t need one. Students and teachers have IDs.”
“You don’t seem like you want to make many sales,” I say with a sigh.
She shrugs. “Not really, I’m a recruiter.”
“Let’s see if there’s something interesting before we try to negotiate further,” I say and Alissa nods, her ears wobble cutely.
They really do wobble. My fake ears must look like dead leaves to her.
“Wait, the test is over, why don’t you tell us what kind of books you have?” Alissa asks.
Dokkan cracks a smile and moves towards Alissa with a swiftness unbefitting her age. “Sure, sure, Miss Scholar. I’ll show you around,” she says, softly.
“I’m his fiancée, but I’m no scholar,” Alissa corrects.
“As you wish, Miss …?”
“Alissa Ryder,” she says with a confident smile.
“Wolf Ryder,” I say and send a warm smile to Alissa.
“Understood, Ms. And Mr. Ryder.” Dokkan gives her a slight bow, the most I’d imagine someone like her can comfortably bend. “Come over here, I’ll show you the more basic books we have and then we’ll look at the more advanced ones if you wish.”
We walk over to the first rows of display cases. She opens up the first and shows us a shiny book with a cover sheeted with orange metal foil.
“This is a beginner’s book that we sell to young mages who aren’t old enough to join the Magic School. This book gives them an idea of all kinds of illusion magic that they can learn without putting anyone in danger.”
Alissa blinks a few times and her ears twitch. “What dangers?”
Dokkan snorts. “Just imagine a rich, spoiled child charming their parents to do their bidding.”
I hum in agreement and say, “I can see that there’s more to illusions than just fake images. Like the book piles, those were all solid, but I’m not sure if their contents were actually intelligible.”
“Illusion is the art of making someone believe in something else. The ‘how’ is only limited by your imagination.” As Dokkan speaks, Alissa’s excitement skyrockets.
“You have a thing for illusions, don’t you, Alissa?” I ask her.
“Of course. I always dreamed of being like Nocturna.” She lifts her chin up and puckers her lips like a proud young n.o.blewoman.
“Oh, the werefox legend, I see…” Dokkan says and her eyes go towards the more advanced books. “We have a tome that describes her spells. Though you’d first need a considerable number of points in [Illusion Magic] before her spells become effective.”
“Let’s see the others first,” I say and Dokkan nods respectfully.
They are all interesting, really, but buying one is not viable for us because they all cost a few gold coins, after all. The biggest advantage is that these books have [Runic Warding] spells on them so that we can learn new spells by copying them.
Normal books about magic don’t have this because [Runic Warding] costs mana crystals and has a limited number of uses before it deteriorates; so the book can at most teach the spell to two people, if you are not completely horrible at that magic school, that is.
“Do you want this book?” I ask Alissa.
“Uh…” She suddenly gets all bashful and awkward. Her ears flicker cutely up and down. She gets it under control soon enough, but I can still feel the anxiety seeping through her [Bind].
“You could teach Hana, too. She’s been getting into [Illusion Magic] lately,” I say.
“Right… [Double Strike] is kind of related to Nocturna’s style,” she says in a quiet voice as confidence slowly enters her heart.
Dokkan gives us a diplomatic smile and says, “Sorry to intrude, but it’s mostly [Spirit Magic]. I do understand what you mean, though. The abstract concepts of [Double Strike] can easily be applied to Nocturna’s spells.”
“Yeah, I know,” Alissa says and sighs wistfully. Guilt enters her heart but she overpowers it. “Let’s buy this book.”
“A simple Proof of t.i.tle will be enough for me. But it has to be signed by the temple, not the Lord’s men,” Dokkan says.
An odd restriction, but her school is from Maoka, so it makes sense for them to trust the temple so much more than the n.o.bility.
Lina’s Trivia: The Proof of t.i.tle is just a paper signed by someone stating that they have used an Inspection Crystal on me and confirmed that I possess a certain t.i.tle. You can always lose a t.i.tle, so having a recent Proof of t.i.tle or a t.i.tle Crystal is a requirement for a variety of things. These t.i.tle Crystals are magic tools that display a specific t.i.tle, so you can always check it whenever you need it, but they are expensive as h.e.l.l.
“Point us to the nearest temple’s office and we’ll be back soon,” I say.
I mount Alissa and we make our way to the office. Goldport is bigger than Rabanara, so they have a few offices scattered around the town.
On the way there, we find a public park. There’s a cute patch of gra.s.s shaded by tall trees with wide canopies. A small fountain in the middle showers the gra.s.s around it with a thin mist of cool water. A good number of children and a few adults are taking a break under the mist.
We slowly make our way across the park and enjoy the mist for a few seconds. I see an interesting stall nearby and try to gently guide Alissa in that direction.
She’s so distracted by the cool mist that she doesn’t pay any attention to where we are going.
“Stop here for a moment,” I ask and dismount in front of the stall.
“Hm?” Alissa turns to me and tilts her fox head, then her usually inexpressive face smiles as she notices the stall.
“The red one, please,” I say and hand over a few copper coins.
The old man at the stall gives me a smirk and hands me a not-rose. Its red petals are arranged in such a way that it looks more like a fractal than a plant, so it’s quite mesmerizing.
I mount Alissa again and set the not-rose’s stalk into the fur behind her ear.
“Hopefully, flowers have the same meaning here as they do in my world,” I say.
“‘A pretty flower is a great way to adorn a pretty thing.’ A teaching from the G.o.ddess of Love.”
“Quite similar. Though, in my world, the color is more important. Red is meant to represent love or pa.s.sion.”
“That’s just the color for every one of us, then,” she says and I can feel her shrug internally.
“Yeah… you could say that the relationships are more complicated here because the entire realm isn’t almost exclusively monogamous.”
We reach the office/clinic and ask for the Proof of t.i.tle. The female attendant is quite surprised since it’s very rare for anyone to ask for that. Anyone with a relevant t.i.tle would usually be important enough to have their own t.i.tle Crystal.
The process is simple and fast since anyone can do it, so the attendant just dusts off the old crystal ball and writes up a paper for me that she signs and stamps.
Then we return to the Clear Water and show Dokkanchee the Proof.
She examines the paper for a short moment and hands it back to us. “Huh. You’re an interesting person, Mr. Ryder. If either of you ever feel like joining Kabara Basaree, I’d gladly initiate you.”
I smile at her and say, “Illusions aren’t on my path of research, so I’ll pa.s.s. Maybe Alissa will take you up on your offer, one day.”
“W-well, this is a little too much for me. I’m j-just interested in pretty illusions,” Alissa says and blushes in embarra.s.sment.
Dokkan scoffs and narrows her eyes at Alissa. “Silly girl. You’ve got talent, at least enough to sniff out an illusion and that’s the most important thing at the start.”
“I-if you say so…” Alissa says and her tail wags for a moment before she controls it. “But there’s a long way to go before we’ll have the time to come back here.”
“Hmph.” With a *poof* Dokkan pulls out a piece of paper and a magic pen. She quickly scribbles some words on the paper, signs it, then hands it to Alissa. “Keep this with you and I’ll remember you when you come back, even if it takes years. Well, I won’t wait for decades, I’m quite old, after all.” She finishes and cackles a stereotypical “witch” laugh.
We buy the book and Dokkan activates an enchantment on a chair deep inside the shop. Slowly, a complete makeover happens to the shop as it returns to its cluttered look. The illusions start out as “ghosts,” then color is added, then the transparency disappears, and then they finally gain ma.s.s.
“See you again in a few years and may this year roll better than the last,” Dokkan says and waves us goodbye. Her nose is visibly growing and the ugly wart is appearing again.
We say our goodbyes and also wish her a better “roll.”
We stop by the park again and Alissa suggests that we take a break.
“Cast [Refresh] on me so that I can sleep on your lap,” Alissa asks.
She shrinks down to small-Aoi-size and curls up on my lap. Her fluffy fur gets wet from the mist of the fountain, but it hardly changes the feel of petting her.
Her fur is so fluffy that my hand feels as much pleasure as she does and I can feel the best of both worlds just by sharing our senses. I allow her feelings to control me as much as she allows me to control her body. Her “will” helps guide my hand and it feels like we become “one” as our desires and movements synchronize.
It feels like an amazing moment, as if we were suddenly struck by lightning and energized. It’s as if we acquired superhuman strength and had accomplished something impossible. We feel unstoppable.
But, like a moment of clarity, it comes and goes with a blink, but the knowledge has already been implanted. We can become more than the sum of our parts through [Bind].
The importance of this single, fleeting moment is enormous. This single spell might be one of our most important treasures.
“Wolfy…” She starts.
“Yes. It felt amazing,” I complete.
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“If we could replicate this…”
“Then we might become the perfect team.”
“But if we go too far…”
“We’ll easily ‘merge.'”
“But can we achieve the same with the others?”
“So far only you tried to ‘merge’ with me.”
“But we don’t know if that’s really a requirement for this…”
“So, we can only wait and hope…”
She switches back into her humanoid form and wraps her arms around my neck. The not-rose on her right ear makes her just that much more adorable.
“We’ll do it, we’ll sync with everyone,” she says as her orange eyes stare into mine.
“If anything, I’m sure Gify’s ‘connection’ can help us.”
I smile wryly and say, “Yes, maybe you’re not so useless, after all.”
We go a bit away from the mist and have our cold tea with cookies in the shade. We spend the rest of our date enjoying each other’s presence, trying to catch that lightning again, that wonderful feeling that we shared.
As the sun sets and the girls come back from the hunter’s guild training grounds, we return to the inn. We catch Roxanne having a wonderful time with the golems and Aoi while experimenting with a laughing gas that she managed to create by studying the exploding arrow’s chemicals.
“Yeah, you really need OSHA,” I say with a frown.
“What’s that?” Alissa asks.
“Something that’ll save her life.”
After Roxanne returns to normal and we store the golems away, we call the maids again to help appease Hana, who’s all fired up.
We hear not just a few footsteps approach our door, but a whole army of clacking high heels.
Daiana knocks and we let her in. She enters with a completely stiff and awkward smile, and numerous maids and other staff follow her in. All of them are women, and they’re all staring at me with predatory eyes.
Hall of Fame of Patrons
The patrons who support Rupegia shall have their names sung by the bards for they deserve the glory and honor. Their names are:
Oracle Maximillian Hübner.
Lord Andrew Meyers.
Lord Samuel Lim.
Lord Michale Erwin.
Lord Joxsan Herrera.
Lord Enrique Peña Gomez.
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