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/qst/ - Quests

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You are Mouse, the Ogre. Driven by both your human upbringing and monstrous nature you embarked on a quest to purge the Taint corrupting the world you inhabit. This is your story.

You are not alone on your journey. Several companions, all of them unique in their own ways, were with you from the start:
-Phineous, the orcish duelist and appreciator of aesthetics
-Smutkin, the human bard who forsook depravity for resolve
-Sparky, the imp who found affinity with the force of light
-Tithe, the diminutive gargoyle, originally fashioned as a joke

Over course of your adventure you were joined by new friends:
-Diana and Minerva, guardian golems made as playthings of the old faith, finding new purpose in their convictions at your behest
-Chloe, the shadow of the Queen and her most devout retainer
-Elle, the royal courier you saved from rogue humans
-Harriet and Janet, scouts you rescued from clutches of the Black Dog mercenaries.

Presently you find yourself in a back alley of the Cathedral Fortress warehouse district, intent on searching for and finding Elle's friend, a fellow courier that went missing, you suspected in connection with human guilds' business and potentially relevant to your own quest. You were accompanied by the two golems, Elle the courier, Janet and Harriet the scouts, with Sparky furtively peeking out of the bag slung over your shoulder.

And you had to decide how to proceed next.

Information Elle was able to obtain confirmed that her friend has been sighted in the area, but with next to no information of his current whereabouts. The vague directions promised search no more successful than looking for a needle in a haystack.

"Perhaps we should try a different approach." You say, prompting your companions to momentarily drop their thoughtful expressions and look to you expectantly. "In your descriptions you made it seem like your friend has some sort of reason to come here, something that may have disturbed him. Perhaps we could try to figure out what he was after by looking for whatever it was he was also looking for."

"I suppose that could work... but how are we going to discover what he was looking for? It could be anything. He may have simply been out to shop... but I guess he was searching for something important."

"Well, as his friend, do you have an idea what he'd consider important?"

"His family, for sure. He had a sister, but she was back south." Elle looked into distance in thought. "By extension, I think he'd sympathise if there were innocent people in danger. But in that case he'd likely go to guard first. Unless he thought..." The courier frowns. "No, wait, I think I'm getting sidetracked into very specific hypotheticals. But I think I have an idea what to ask for. Let's go."

With a nod you look over your group and set out to follow the courier into the streets of the warehouse district.
After brief consideration you forsake the idea of splitting your party, deeming it too dangerous, especially with Tithe assigned to watch over Smutkin and Chloe on their investigation. However, you repeat your approach from earlier where you and the golems keep some distance while Elle and, this time, also Harriet and Janet, walk slightly ahead to look around and ask the people walking by.

It's probably for the best, as even with your now relatively civilized outfit you still stand out and make for quite an intimidating presence that people generally avoid appearing to look at.

Fortunately, your human companions have no such problems, as workers leaving or returning to work, or going on an errand, are seldom opposed to being chatted up by the young woman or the twins. And so you slowly make your way through the district, keeping a deliberate, calm pace, giving your companions time to work while listening in to the chatter.

There's not much of it. Perhaps it's simply because of the change in image given by your new wardrobe and two robed golems accompanying you, but commoners passing by fall silent.

After you pass maybe a third warehouse, the routine is interrupted and the three humans approach you with an assortment of concerned frowns.

"I think we found it." Elle says. "From two people now I've heard that there was some strange movement around a particular warehouse recently, with a lot of guards suddenly appearing and a drunk getting killed after an altercation with one."

"Guards do not usually resort to lethal force?" You ask.

"Not to the described extent." Elle shakes her head. "These guards are said to be exceptionally prickly and their arrival lines up with that of caravan my friend was accompanying." The blonde courier turns to the twins. "Harriet and Janet think they spotted the place."

"That's right. We were no more than one block ahead, as per instruction." Harriet reports. "There's a well guarded warehouse up ahead. Going by the livery, it belongs to the traders' guild proper rather than any individual company."

"The guards look attentive and professional. I counted eight of them around, but there may be more inside." Janet adds.

"It may be unrelated, but... I think this is the place." Elle concludes.
"What would you like to do?" You ask her, and she hesitates.

"I... was thinking I could walk up to them and ask. If they work for the guild, my status as courier could at least allow me to talk to their supervisor."

"But if they are responsible for your friend's disappearance, that would mean they already don't have qualms about attacking a courier!" Harriet objects.

"We can sneak in after you. I can." Janet says.

"No, that wouldn't be necessary. If I'm gone too long, we will have confirmed their culpability." Elle says. "If they're innocent, they'll have no reason to hold me."

"I still think it's too dangerous for you to go alone." Harriet reiterates.

You quietly curse to yourself for not having Chloe with you. Although even with her uncanny stealth abilities, you'd probably be worried of sending her alone anyway... you hope she's safe under Smutkin and Tithe's supervision as it is. In the meantime, though, you have to play with the hand you were dealt.

>Go with Elle's plan. Let her walk in and ask about her friend, if she gets in trouble then you can respond accordingly.
>Try sneaking in. Or rather, have some of your companions sneak in.
>Use the force. Professional guards or not, they are unlikely to have anything that could stop you if you came knocking. However, doing so could lead to trouble of political variety down the line, especially if the warehouse is, in fact, not linked to your case.
>You could hurry back to the cathedral and find one of the princesses to accompany you or otherwise arrange a legal inspection of the suspicious warehouse. However, you don't know how much time that would take and whether involvement of authorities would give the potential scoundrels a forewarning
>You still have the pass issued by the councilor... it doesn't seem like it would apply to this situation but maybe it would be enough to bluff and intimidate the guards to let you in... but if they don't buy it, you may find yourself with enemy at your back.
>other plan
white woman quest?
>Go with Elle's plan. Let her walk in and ask about her friend, if she gets in trouble then you can respond accordingly.
>You still have the pass issued by the councilor... it doesn't seem like it would apply to this situation but maybe it would be enough to bluff and intimidate the guards to let you in... but if they don't buy it, you may find yourself with enemy at your back.
Give the pass to Elle while she asks about her friend
>Go with Elle's plan. Let her walk in and ask about her friend, if she gets in trouble then you can respond accordingly.
not really. why ?
Remembering something, you take out the document left to you by the scheming councillor. Although given what transpired later, you could not be certain how much weight it still held, it was still something bearing sigil of one of the noble houses and as such could impress and intimidate a guard.

"If you're willing, then go." You tell Elle. "But first, maybe this could help?" You hand her the pass.

"That... how...?" She accepts it, eyes wide with surprise, and looks it over. "That appears to be quite a powerful document... unfortunately, it's issued by house Arcturus so it may not do much to impress guild officials, depending on their level with the bureaucracy. But it may be worth a shot. Thank you, sir." She places the letter in her pouch. "Wish me luck!" She smiles and heads out towards the guarded warehouse.

As she rounded a corner, you turned to the scouts.

"Harriet, Janet. Keep an eye out over the place as best you can."

"Yes, sir!" The twins salute and head out - not by following Elle outright but rather helping each other climb on a nearby rooftop, presumably in search of a suitable vantage point.

As they vanished from sight, you were left with nothing else to do but wait, and as you idly surveyed the scenery, your focus slipped and you mind began to wander, surveying the circumstance you found yourself in. Depending on how your current investigation would go, you still harboured intent to attend the banquet the princesses wanted to use as an opportunity to talk to some of the notables. Alicia mentioned someone from traders' guild - could it be someone with a connection to this warehouse? Suppose you may end up finding out. More pressing issue, however, at least from point of view of the humans, would be what benefit could be derived from that event in regards to the mercenary situation. Would it ensure preparedness and loyalty of the knights? Could it lead to at least some of the mercenary contacts renouncing leadership of their apparently inspiring and charismatic leader, or divulge some of his plans?

There was also the question of Celestine's sermon. Would it truly be able to reach the hardened mercenaries' hearts? You know that heartfelt emotion must have reached yours, at least, but that was from the moment when you were born.

The practical side of your mind was convinced the Taint would not give in easily and you had a struggle ahead of you. Theoretically, you could leave the human alliance to face their own crisis while you went on to pursue your quest, but for multiple reasons you could not really see yourself doing so, not after the support they've given you; or after seeing them smile. That was something... you wish you could see Olga and Chloe doing more often. And on that note, it has been a while since last you've contacted your queen. Perhaps you should do so tonight, perhaps you'll even learn something useful until then.
"Leader, sir!" Harriet's voice comes from above. You look up to see the scout crouched on a roof. "I'm sorry, but we can't keep track of miss Elle. We circled around the compound, but there was no way we could take to get in without significant risk of detection. Janet is watching one entrance and I'll go back to watching the other one though."

"I see. Thank you, Harriet." You nod back. That was... less than ideal. You had hoped there would be at least some office window with a view where the twins would be able to at least confirm that Elle's safe, but that didn't seem to be the case. "Did she at least enter without incident?"

"The document she produced when entering seemed to have passed scrutiny." The scout said. "Is something wrong?" She asked, seeing you frown.

"Hopefully not." You say. In fact it could be very bad, if the guards decided to call her bluff with their own. Hopefully she will be on alert enough, but the numbers were not in her favour...

>You can't afford to wa

"Leader." A flurry of a braking maneuver kicks up a cloud of dust as a diminutive gargoyle descends next to you.

"Tithe. What's wrong, Smutkin and Chloe are in trouble?"

"Not yet, at least not likely. However, I've decided to notify you due to likelihood of interference of operations."

"Interference... They are around here?"

"Smutkin has successfully baited contact of the client and is currently accompanying the contact to meet the client." Tithe nods. "I resume the watch momentarily, but it appears-"

"Sir Mouse, a carriage has stopped in front of the warehouse - mr. Smutkin and lady Chloe walked out of it, accompanied by another man!"

Well, this was becoming a clusterfuck fast. You would need to talk to Smutkin later to discuss with him if he wasn't getting too overconfident, but as it stood, you had three of your companions entering what was shaping up to look like an ogre pit. You would need to choose your next course of action with care - and speed.

>Now you really couldn't afford to wait any longer. You'll take your companions and go in loud.
>This is fine. Everything is fine. Elle, Smutkin and Chloe are all formidable in their own right. They got this. Wait some more.
>Although it seems a fool's errand, you could try to sneak in... somehow
>Maybe you could try talking your way in... but how?
>You really need some local authority to back you here. Head to the cathedral to grab at least one of the princesses to support you... but do your friends have that much time?
>other idea
>Now you really couldn't afford to wait any longer. You'll take your companions and go in loud.
>You really need some local authority to back you here. Head to the cathedral to grab at least one of the princesses to support you... but do your friends have that much time?
Send Tithe to warn a princess while we do this, being observant and fast means he can find and talk to them quickly.
>This is fine. Everything is fine. Elle, Smutkin and Chloe are all formidable in their own right. They got this. Wait some more.
>Send Tithe to the cathedral for one of the princesses, you need backup.
>Sneak in, but be ready for a fight.
For a few brief moments you agonize over your options. Between the three of them, your companions still formed a deceptively capable force, you knew. But they were not in a good spot - outnumbered and separated, and without the picture you now had. No, you could not afford to sit back now.

At the same time, the terrain did not favour you. You needed support from the princesses if you didn't want to end up taking on the city guard on top of whatever sinister agency you were contending with here.

"Tithe, fly to the cathedral compound and find at least one of the princesses. Tell her where we are and what is happening." You tell the gargoyle and turn to your companions. "We have to go in and help our companions."

Your statement is met with looks of assent and determination. You look up at the twins. "Did you see some possible path we could take to have a shot at entering the warehouse without alerting the guards?"

"Unlikely, sir." Janet says. "Although it may be possible the main entrance is less outwardly guarded now. There was some shuffling going on when I left my post to alert you of the new development."

"Very well. Good job." You nod and turn to the golems, pondering your options briefly. "Diana, Minerva, you look relatively nonthreatening. You'll go first and try to disable any guards at the entrance by surprise." You turn back at the scouts. "You stay on top of things, intervene as necessary, follow me in once you see me entering."

The two scouts salute and you nod again.

"Should we use lethal force?" Diana asks. The question gives you a momentary pause. It was still theoretically possible whoever was in that warehouse was blameless, but chances at this time seemed approximately nil.

"Try to do without, but not at expense of your safety." You decide.

"Understood." The golem says.

"Alright. Let's go."

You set yourself in motion, heading in the direction of the warehouse. You keep your pace slower until the golems round the corner to give them a head start, then pick up, trying to chase away thoughts of whether your hesitation put Elle, Chloe and Smutkin at unnecessary risk.
By the time entrance to the warehouse comes into view for you, the golems have already taken out the pair of guards, crumpled helplessly on the ground on either side of the door. You almost regret not having seen them pull it off, but for now results were enough. There was no commotion suggesting other guards were alerted, but you were sure someone would notice nobody's at the entrance in short order.

As you approach, Diana hands you a key she presumably took off one of the guards. You pause only briefly to confirm the golems are ready - a vain gesture, but one that's rewarded with a barely perceptible tingle of what you've come to recognize as light-aligned energy. Your first instinct is to suspect Sparky, which has been furtively peeking out of your bag, but realize that it's Minerva who is giving you a faint smile which you reciprocate with a nod before turning back to the business at hand.

You unlock the door, brace yourself in case you needed to leap into combat - and give it a gentle push.

There's nobody inside. At least not in the immediate vicinity. What you can see is a short corridor leading into regular looking, if empty, warehouse.

Without easing much of your tension you enter, the golems following you close behind.

As you advance - noticing new sets of footfalls approaching you recognize as the twins' catching up - more of the empty warehouse is revealed to you. You can make out some scaffoldings and fixtures laying around in the corners among a few crates and some tools. There was no even layer of dust, suggesting that there was at least some traffic going through the place, but it was clearly not used for its ostensible purpose as a store room.

You could make out freight door. They may have been used recently, but were currently barred.

At the side of the storeroom was a door leading to what was presumably administrative section of the warehouse and so were the most obvious place to investigate. Elle, Smutkin and Chloe would all be taken there, would they not?


There was something in the air that didn't sit well with you.

"You can feel it too, boss, can't you?" Sparky whispered from the bag. "Something smells bad here. Really bad."

Golems maintained silence, but they and the twin scouts were looking around vigilantly.

"Can you pinpoint the source?" You ask quietly. "Does it come from there?" You add, indicating the office door.

"Um... I don't think..."

"Sir, I think I've got it." Janet whispers. Your attention snaps to the scout. The boy was pointing at a section of the floor. Harriet crouched down to take a closer look.

"Tracks that cut abruptly off! Nice catch, Jay." She comments. "There, a trapdoor. Rather large. There has to be a mechanism to operate it..."
Looking around, you sweeped the room again in haste. If you were a switch to a hidden trapdoor, where would you hide? If the guild, or whoever was really running this place, was trying to keep something about this warehouse a secret, they would not have suspicious levers just poking around in the open.

Your search leads to frustration as you can't immediately make out any place that would invite inspection. You might as well start poking the walls for cavities as there were no readily apparent features aside from...

...of course.

"Maybe... it's simply out in the open." You murmur as your gaze rests on a hook hanging overhead from a crane fitted to the roof. Following its cords to a caged gear assembly with a couple of wheels for controlling the machine.

After few moments of hurried experimentation you figure out which wheel does what and after closer inspection of the trapdoor you are able to find a slot where the hook can be attached. With some creaking that leaves you once again anxious about the suspiciously missing alarm, the trapdoor is lifted revealing a stairwell descending into darkness below.

With little choice and time constraint hanging overhead you venture onwards and downwards.

Lower landing of the stairway is lit by a single dimly flickering torch that gives about as much light to show a corridor that leads away and into the darkness, presumably well past the warehouse's floor plan. Presently, however, that doesn't interest you much as there's another source of light - an arch leading into a chamber below the storeroom you descended from. You approached it cautiously as a very angry voice was yelling from it.

"How could she have given you the slip? Can I literally not turn my back on you without fucking up somehow?"

"Fuck you! It's all your fault, she was coming along fine until you brought those two! Couldn't you just wait for two minutes?" Another voice retorted, no less angrily.

"Gentlemen, please." Another voice, this one calm and smooth, interjected. "I'm sure Rickard will remedy his failure momentarily, is that not right?"

"Um. Yeah... sir."

"Good, go, then. In the meantime, let us take a look at this marvelous specimen..."

You did not dare to approach and peek into the room while the conversation was ongoing, but now you had an idea of what was going on, and the most immediate prediction based on this came to fruition in the next moment.

"Oh fuck." The guard said as he froze in his tracks upon coming face to face with you, circumstance you quickly adjusted into face to fist.

As if on cue, a sound of bell came ringing from above. Making use from the little bit of initiative you still held you quickly made the necessary steps forward to enter the hall from which the guard had just emerged.
"Who dares?" The smooth voice from earlier spoke, less composed now. You take in the scene before you, quickly gathering what information you could to press the inevitable violence.

You stood at entrance to a large hall, likely mimicking much of floor plan of the storeroom above. Its edges were shrouded in shadows, main source of light being a pair of braziers in the back, supplemented by a few torches affixed to supportive pillars. Most prominent feature of the room was a purplish sigil drawn on the stone floor in the approximate center. You were unsure whether it was because of the peculiar paint or some sinister power infused in it, but it seemed almost alight.

Behind the sigil, from your perspective, stood a robed man, the smooth voice and a familiar figure. You have seen this man before - in the ruins, accompanying princess Maia and the mercenary leader. He was clearly surprised by your intrusion, but that likely wouldn't remain the case for long. Next to him stands another, unfamiliar, man. This one has a hood obscuring his face, his posture only marginally more tense than that of the magician.

Off to one side stood a pair of armored guards accompanied with what might have been an officer, at least if his marginally better adorned armour and visible face was of any indication. These three were poised around two familiar figures - Smutkin the bard was giving you a subtle grin from below his hat. Chloe was next to him, clad in an outfit she must have obtained as part of disguise - it was fine, light, likely luxurious and leaving little of her lithe body to imagination. She was looking ostensibly downcast, but from your spars with her you could tell she was tensing before action.

Finally, several oddly complex shapes emerged from the shadows on the other side of the room - the glint hinted at metal and glass, perhaps some sort of alchemical apparatus?

"Wait. It's you. That damnable abomination!" The mercenary magician says, frowning with recognition. The hooded man briefly turns to him, then to you.

With the scouts and golems behind you, the numbers looked well on your side. But magic could be a terrible gamechanger, and you knew to expect guards to rush in from behind you before long. It was time to make a decision.

>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
>Maybe you could try and taunt the man into divulging something?
>Rush the guards instead. That should ensure no matter how vigilant they are, they won't be able to interdict your companions.
>Rush the hooded man.
>other course of action
>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
Geek the mage first
>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
Dont go over the sigil though, if possible who knows what foul magicks could it be.
>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
Glass Cannon must fall first
>Rush the spellcaster immediately. Mage cannot cast if you disable his face. Well, maybe they can with some effort but it ought to distract him enough.
Remember the basics of CQC
The mercenary mage was the most obvious threat and neutralizing him your first priority. Your first instinct was to charge straight at him, but you were somewhat apprehensive about the ominously glowing pattern you'd have to cross if you took the direct route. Fortunately, layout of the hall offered you some opportunities.

Without further hesitation you propelled yourself towards one of the supporting pillars, grabbing it and using it to adjust your momentum while also briefly using it as a cover. It's probably a good thing you did as with corner of your eye you saw a purplish flash from mage's general direction followed by an unnatural sizzling sound coming from the pillar.

You didn't spend time to dwell on it as you made quick strides down the hall, passed another pillar and came face to face with the mage. His companion, the hooded man, stepped aside to avoid placing himself in the path. That meant you would have him at your back as you passed by, but that was hopefully of secondary concern to dealing with the mercenary spellcaster who in the meantime was lining his hands up for another shot. You only had moments to reach him...

In the meantime, your companions have not been idle. One of the guards was clutching his side as he faced off against Smutkin and his staff, the other guard was lying on the ground in a growing puddle of blood. Chloe was nowhere to be seen, and the officer was backpedalling in a defensive stance, his attention darting between Smutkin and Harriet who stood against him, her sword drawn.

Diana was guarding the entrance against reinforcements while Minerva looked like a genuine statue, having taken a contemplative stance, presumably preparing or working some magic of her own.

Janet had his bow out and just as you were nearing the mage, let fly an arrow in his direction.


To his credit, the mage barely flinched at having his arm struck. Nonetheless, the spell sizzled out, allowing you to close the distance and swing your weapon.

It should have connected. You were certain of that. But instead of expected sensation of impact of metal against soft tissue, your mace felt like it hit solid rock, sending force back up your arm that almost knocked the handle out of your grip.

Your opponent's face was contorted with anger and pain but he managed to focus enough still to maintain some manner of defence, an intricate pattern hovering in front of his left hand, his other arm disabled.

There was another sound of impact, a weaker one, as Janet's next arrow struck harmlessly into an invisible wall.

Or has it? The spellcaster visibly winced.
You adjusted your posture and pressed your attack. The mage's defences were visibly capable of being overwhelmed and you had to -

A new sound, a hiss unlike any serpent you've encountered, grabbed your attention from behind.

The hooded man was some sort of magic user as well and took this chance to act. Strands of darkness streamed from his outstretched palms towards you, not that easy to spot in the gloomy underground but all the more ominous. There was no time for you to respond - but luckily you didn't need to. For one, you still felt soothing envelope of whatever it was Minerva bestowed upon you as you entered. But it seemed that particular effect was not to be tested right now. A scaly little hand reached out of your bag, pointing against the hooded figure, and from around it wisps of light coalesced into a streak of light traveling in the opposite direction.

"Wha-?" The hooded man got off in a raspy voice before the attacks met each other and the voice was drowned out in a bubble of supernatural silence that gives way to a weak tremor in - air? You're not actually sure. But in either case, the attack is thwarted by Sparky's counter - the hooded man clearly did not expect such contingency, as he momentarily froze.

Giving you a chance to do something about it. But going after him would mean leaving the mercenary mage to his own devices. You had to make a choice...

>Finish off the mercenary mage while he's on backfoot, trust Janet to notice the masked spellcaster and keep them distracted.
>Go after the masked man now, trust Janet to suppress or finish off the mercenary.
>This is probably not the best idea but... you have their attention for sure now. Maybe you could try asking them to surrender, or try to trick some answers out of them?
>other plan
>Go after the masked man now, trust Janet to suppress or finish off the mercenary.
>Go after the masked man now, trust Janet to suppress or finish off the mercenary.
Well, the merc is down one arm and has to focus on defense, so let's chase the masked one
>Go after the masked man now, trust Janet to suppress or finish off the mercenary.
...and the choice was clear. The mercenary mage was already suppressed, but this strange spellcaster could potentially pose a fatal threat. You need to deal with him - or her - quickly.

As if to drive the point home, the masked man made a rapid series of gestures and another cluster of dark wisps headed your way. Sparky that managed to foil the previous attack burst free of the bag, again weaving light to counteract the shadowy strands.

"A fiend - abomination-?" The man managed to express as you bore down on him, profiting from his distraction as his attack once again broke down, if less dramatically than previously.

"Shadows undone, darkness begone!" The imp jeered at the man who decided to resort to different means of combat and produced a short bladed weapon of an unfamiliar design.

Too late. His fixation on your companion cost the masked one dearly as your mace came at him - and this time it struck exactly as it was meant to.

With a pained, surprised yelp the masked man reeled back and his blade clattered on the ground. Proving his discipline and martial prowess uncharacteristic for a spellcaster, he managed to avoid collapsing flat on his face and was on his way to regaining his footing as you closed the distance you just created.

Briefly you contemplate asking the man to surrender so that you could interrogate him... but his hands are already raised and flexing into another of his likely arcane gestures and his stance shows no signs of hesitation. With an internal sigh you finish him off. He makes an effort to dodge and evade, but with the wound he already suffered it's not even a contest.

As his body drops on the floor you are free to look around to see how rest of the fight has been unfolding.
What you see is that the focus of the fight has shifted entirely towards the hallway you came from, Diana and the scout twins holding them off. Minerva was standing behind, a flow of luminous particles drifting towards the twin scouts.

"Kin's down!" One of the guards in the entrance cries.

"It's ogre!" The other says. "Let's flee!"

"Don't you dare! It's just a bunch of bitches. Don't let them get awa - ACK!"

One of the guards turned his head to check on whoever was commanding them from behind. It turned out to be a costly mistake for him as Diana swung her spear around and delivered a rapid, forceful thrust into his chest, causing him to drop limply on the floor and distracting his companion enough that although he blocked Harriet's next thrust, Janet's blade struck true.

Smutkin was standing to the side, his hand resting on his flute, his previous opponent laid low at his feet.

As for the mage... he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. Dark stains on his robes evidence of wounds. Chloe's work, perhaps? He was not quite dead, as evidenced by laborious heaving of his chest... and in a final act of defiance, sudden rise of his left hand pointing at the magical sigil.

"Corrupted blood in the circle!" He cackled. "My parting... gift... fo-ghrk."

The hand dropped and the spellcaster fell silent, presumably for good.

Following the gesture you noticed a dark, glistening trail from the first guard to have died... reaching the sigil in the center of the room.

For a moment you hesitated, wondering if maybe nothing was happening. Maybe the mage was mistaken.

Then the sigil flared up, bathing the room in a mixture of light and shadow. There's a guttural rumble that appears to come from anywhere but nowhere in particular, and a rush of displaced air. And then, the sigil was gone.

In his place stood two monstrous humanoids, roughly your size, their monstrous features exacerbated by the dim light of the room.
They roared, together. To your ears it sounded like a mixture of a pained wail and angry growl.

"Boss, I have a really bad feeling about this." Sparky said, hovering next to you.

As if to make the imp's point for him, one of the humanoids' arms shot forward, seemingly at air, but following thud and a rush of movement you noticed your half-elven friend scrambling to evade another attempt at grabbing her, accompanied by a rumbling sound that may have been a chuckle or a laugh coming from the large fiend. The other was intently looking over remainder of your companions, seemingly ignoring you.

Taking stock of the new situation it appeared the guards and the mercenaries were beaten. It was just you, your companion - you could just see Elle come in - and those two demons. Numbers looked in your favour, but you knew from experience that those could be misleading.

In any case, you would need to make a move before the demons would decide it for you.

>Try to taunt them into attacking you. If you can get them to focus on you, your companions should be able to find a way to deal with them. Assuming, of course, that you're successful...
>Charge into them. This should guarantee that they take you seriously, but if they respond quickly enough you may find yourself having one of them at your back.
>Focus on one of them first, relying on your companions to deal with the other one
>other plan
>Focus on one of them first, relying on your companions to deal with the other one
Considering that they have some sort of ranged attack, albeit not that fast, going on 1 will be enough
>Focus on one of them first, relying on your companions to deal with the other one
Odd, I thought I had voted already
It was not a ranged attack, he just reached out because he noticed her sneaking up on him.
>Focus on one of them first, relying on your companions to deal with the other one
Whichever pit these creatures came from, you'd send them back. Sizing them up, you felt confident you'd be able to take one on by yourself - and even if you are wrong, you would be at least able to hold out for your companions to overwhelm the other.

"I'll take one, you focus on the other!" You command. Your announcement of intent didn't seem to be taken seriously by either of the demons as one of them advanced towards Chloe while the other seemed to have chosen Elle as object of his attention. You took the chance to at least allow yourself some relief on seeing the courier safe and sound. But still, priorities!

What your words failed to do, your weapon succeeded in accomplishing. As soon as you made your first pass at the monster's back the creature spun around with agility that was above what you had expected of it. You took this as a reminder not to underestimate your opponent as it fixed you with a ferocious grin and moved to attack. He fought unarmed, which gave you a range advantage, though its pain threshold must have been rather high since it gave no signs of discomfort as you swatted some of his attacks with your mace, dodging others. On the other hand, ferocity of his onslaught forced you momentarily on defensive. Flurry of attacks gave you no opening to attempt a decisive blow even if you decided to risk committing to it.

You spent few moments like that, defending yourself from the demon that apparently at this point acknowledged you as a threat to be neutralized. You hoped your opponent would show a weakness or some sign of fatigue, but so far neither seemed forthcoming.

In the meantime, your friends circled the other one as it pursued your half elven friend. Luckily, Chloe seemed quite able to weave and dodge the blows, although it was quite clear she'd find herself in grave danger if her opponent would land a solid hit on her.

You'd like to give yourself some credit here, she clearly learned from your spars.

The demon was undeterred and seemed content to attempt to grab the nimble half elf... at least until Janet let loose from his bow. The arrow found its mark in the creatures neck - to absolutely no discernible effect, save for the demon turning around and directing its aggression against the young man. Janet got away with another shot that grazed the monster's arm before withdrawing. Harriet was there to harry the demon as he advanced - but she was not quite as fast as Chloe. Although she managed to barely avoid being struck by a swipe of the monster's hand fully, the glancing blow was enough to put her off balance and onto her backside. That was not all - as the scout fell, you felt a soft discharge in the air, and a sheen of golden light that you didn't even notice was there splintered and dissipated - presumably a protective charm worked by Minerva, penetrated effortlessly by the creature's attack.
As the humanoid stopped to refocus on the momentarily helpless scout, Elle lunged forward with her sword. And it drew blood, prompting an angry growl from the creature. It must have still been taking the fight at leisure pace as following Elle's successful strike it moved at speed that took the courier by surprise, grabbing her sword arm.

Just as was the case with Harriet, the protective barrier dissipated with no visible effect, like a bubble popping in the wind.

"Ah!" Elle grunted as she struggled against the hold. Her efforts must have appeared amusing to the demon as he seemed to ease off his fighting stance and emit another noise you now identified as laughter.

Returning to your own duel, the other demon is quick to punish you for splitting your focus as you did when you heard your friends having trouble with their adversary. With a wicked grin the demon slipped an exceptionally swift strike into his next flurry of blows, slipping past your guard. Your effort to dodge leaves you with a gash on your arm. Sensation of pain from having your thick skin actually split is not something you're too used to, even though it's not an entirely unfamiliar thing from your earlier days. Still, for now it bothers you as it may impair your ability to continue to face off against the demon if the fight drags on.

"Careful, boss." Sparky says from behind and you feel a flow of energy invigorating you, your wound closing.

Well, that's one less worry for you, it seems and can't help but grin as you press forward against your opponent, his face gone from smug grimace into one of dismay.

Between getting a better measure of your opponent and being motivated by your vague awareness of your companions' struggle - Diana and Janet's ferocious attacks forced the other demon to release his grip on Elle after his attempt to use her to shield himself proved ineffective against the multiple attackers - you found yourself back on the attack with renewed vigour.

Subtle, but dynamic tune echoing through the hall, probably helped in ways you couldn't put your finger on.
From then on the tide of the fight had turned decisively in your favour. Your opponents dismay turned quickly into concern, then desperation and ultimately, after your mace landed several debilitating hits, genuine fear.

Still, the creature did not ask for mercy, so you gave it the best you could. Once it was weakened past ability to put up defense you finished it off with a forceful strike to its head and the demon fell limp on the floor, just as Smutkin's tune reached its finale and silence descended once again on the subterranean ritual hall. Looking around you saw the other demon had also fallen, succumbing to the diverse array of injures. Your companion stood around, nursing small cuts and bruises but otherwise unharmed. The battle was over.

Before anyone of you said anything, someone else broke the silence. A gasping cough came from a corner of the room.

The mercenary mage was not quite entirely dead. Although if the pool of blood he was sitting in was of any indication, he wouldn't be long for this world.

"What... are you?" He managed to say.

You fixed him with a suspicious stare, ready to inflict additional violence at faintest hint of magic.

At the same time, this may have been an opportunity for you to glean something from his final words.

"Holy magic... carnival of monsters... what a farce." The mage doesn't seem to wait for your answer. "You are heroes... no?" He nods in direction of where Sparky was hovering. "You can... heal me. Let me go."

"Why would we want that?" Chloe asks darkly, brandishing her dagger.

"Because... captives. Inside." He turns towards the apparatus in the far corner of the room. "I can... release. You will... kill..." He coughs.

>Agree. You came here to save someone after all.
>No. Put him out of his misery. You can't take the risk.
>Heal him, but keep him captured. He may be more useful alive after all.
>other plan
>Heal him, but keep him captured. He may be more useful alive after all.
We just need to keep him alive long enough for the princess to arrive.
And we can keep him gagged and with bound hands to avoid him from casting any more magic
>Heal him, but keep him captured. He may be more useful alive after all.

>gag him and threaten to break his feet or hands.
>Heal him, but keep him captured. He may be more useful alive after all.
Yes heal him but threaten to break his limbs if he tries anything. Not so sure about the gagging part tho.
>Heal him, but keep him captured. He may be more useful alive after all.
The authorities will like having a prisoner.
I think you need to talk to use magic, hence the gag.
"Sparky, patch him up." You decide with relative ease, and the mage responds with his pained grimace twisting ever so slightly into a trace of a grin.

Chloe gives you a glare that shows a mix of incredulity and annoyance. You try to reciprocate with one that says "please trust me."

"Can you tie him up, please?" You tell her aloud. She gives a resigned sigh and moves to do as asked. You turn to the golems. "Keep close watch on him. If he tries to work any magic, end him."

"As you command." Diana and Minerva say as one.

"Wait... That was not..." The mage protests as Chloe cuts up some piece of a dead guard's clothing into improvised bindings and immediately applies it even as your imp companion pushes a stream of healing magic towards the gravely wounded mercenary. "That was not the deal. Let me go, or I won't h- mmphphf!"

Chloe added a gag to the bindings. "He's not going to be helpful, I can tell. I really hope you know what you're doing, Mouse."

"I do." You assure her. She just bites her lip as she swallows a retort. You turn to your companions in general. "Good job, everyone."

"Um, leader, sir... do you think...?" Elle speaks up, worried, gesturing towards the shadowy contraption in the corner.

"Let's take a look."

Elle overtakes you as you head towards the corner to take a better look at the construction you had little time to pay attention to previously.
If you had hoped you'd be able to discern its purpose and function at a glance or with some cursory inspection your hopes were to be dashed this day, as the contraption resolves into a labyrinth of tanks, pipes, valves and connections with no obvious purpose or markings allowing you to divine one. One thing that seemed apparent was confirmation of the mages' words mentioning captives, as one prominent feature - or three of them, in fact - were three large glass tanks, easily large enough to contain a human-sized creature. Two of them, in fact, have.

From other major elements you could with some effort discern there was what may have been a crane to manipulate the glass tanks, and a through sized similarly to the tanks, possibly designed to accommodate them - or their contents.

Elle was looking at the spectacle with mixture of horror, relief and disappointment, her sympathy apparent for the two mostly naked females suspended within, neither of them obviously the friend she came looking for.

"How are we getting them out?" The courier asked.

"I don't wish to take chances. Help should be already on the way, someone in the cathedral should be able to figure out how to get them out safely - or convince the prisoner to do so."

If the mage heard you, he made no visible attempts to contradict you, aside from glaring angrily at you.

"So that's what he wanted me for." Chloe says, prompting you to give the machine another look, or more precisely the captives within. The women, though bruised, were no doubt beautiful, with a striking quality to their features that you eventually pinpointed in slightly pointed ears. The women must have had an elf somewhere in their ancestry.

"What manner of sick experiments were going on here?" Smutkin growled. "I admit, this is not what I expected to find."

"We can take a look around. Perhaps he kept records here somewhere." You say. "But first, Elle, you were looking for your friend. Take the scouts and take a look around, it should be safe for the time being. Still, don't venture out of earshot without telling us."

"Yes. Thank you, sir." The courier nodded and, exchanging looks with the twins, headed off towards the corridor.
You and Smutkin, meanwhile, turned your attention to more mundane articles next to the machine - a desk with drawers, and several shelves. The shelves were lined with boxes and vessels, randomly opening one of the boxes showed it to contain an amount of metal screws; picking out a transparent bottle showed a viscous liquid rolling around. You concluded that these items were meant for operation and maintenance of the contraption.

Smutkin took exceptional care to study the drawers in the desk before attempting to open them. Some of them could be opened freely, yielding an assortment of tools. One however put up some resistance - at least until Chloe brought a keyring she found somewhere on the captured mage.

"Could it be...?" Smutkin murmured as he opened an unmarked tome. "Drat." He cursed. Although the book contained a number of sketches you suspected were linked to the machine, the descriptions were written in either some sort of cypher, or just horrible, horrible handwriting.

A muffled snicker came in response to the bard's frustration. However, before you could decide whether risk of ungagging the mage would be worth it to try and secure his cooperation, commotion from the entrance diverted your attention.

"Mouse! Chloe! Everyone, is anyone hurt?"

Lady Celestine was flanked by a pair of soldiers clad in gleaming metal armour decorated in white and gold. The elven idol herself was dressed in her regular ceremonial trappings. You could make out Tithe peeking out from behind.

"Oh...!" Celestine covers her mouth with her hand as her gaze finds the two fallen demons, one battered to death by your mace, the other having succumbed diverse assortment of wounds your allies inflicted upon it.

"We're fine." You assure her. "We were looking for a missing person and came across this... hideout of depravity."

"Fiends... called forth this close to the cathedral." Celestine's expression hardened. "How despicable. How shameful. Mouse... thank you, and sorry, thank you for excising this..." She trails off when she notices movement of the tied up mercenary mage. "...sinister aura surrounds this man."

"As far as I can tell he was in charge of this site and is responsible for summoning these two." You indicate the two demon corpses. "Do you have ability to keep him neutralized?"

"I see... Yes, I have faith in the temple guards." Celestine nods and turns to one of her escorts. "See to it that the man is taken to the dungeons."

"As you command, lady Celestine."

"We have managed to subdue some others of the guards as well." You remark.

"The two at the entrance have been taken in for questioning. The guard captain was nervous to see guild livery, but given what we've found - what you have found - I don't expect the guild to be able to weasel out of this." The elf spoke, her outrage subdued into resolve.
"Mouse!" Elle's voice comes as the courier walks in, straining herself to carry man that looked to be more bruise than a person, with Janet supporting him from the other side. "Mr. Sparky..." Elle called. "Your- your holiness?" She adds as she notices the other new arrival.

"Say no more." Celestine says and the darkness around recedes to an eerie, yet comforting golden glow gathering around her - then rushes like a torrent towards the man Elle and Janet were supporting. There's a sharp intake of air from him at the shock, then followed by deep, calm, rhythmic breathing. His legs give out below him, the courier and the scout carefully guiding him down as they gently prop the now peacefully sleeping man into a seating position.

Elle wraps her friend into a hug, her concerns washed away and allowing her to enjoy the sensation of relief. "Thank you, my Lady." She says. "Thank you, everyone."

"That was AWESOME!" Sparky fluttered in. Celestine's guard drew blade and only the elven monarch's quick gesture kept him from doing more.

"You're that light-touched one I've heard about..." She said softly, her expression once again one of tender serenity. She reached out towards the imp to stroke his head, something Sparky eagerly leaned into. "A light-wielding Imp. Such a strange occurrence. Such a... wonder."

It must have looked bizarre. In this scene of carnage, amidst the eclectic band that constituted your company, the reincarnation of goddess was petting a warped imp.

At any rate, you thought to yourself, that was that then. With the missing person rescued, prisoners secured and the site under control of the local authority it appears your work here is done... oh, right, the women captured in the machine.

"Lady Celestine, if I may...?" You speak, prompting the elf to look at you.

"Oh, Mouse, just call me Celestine. If you haven't earned that then I don't know who might."

"Thank you... Celestine." The guard at her side shifts a bit, perhaps slightly uncomfortable at seeing this interaction between his goddess and an ogre. "But there are more people in need of help here. I was wondering..."

"Lead on."

It's just a few steps and Celestine's reaction is much what you'd expect it to be, one of horror and revulsion. It takes few moments for her to tear here gaze off the captured women to look over rest of the contraption.

"I have no idea what this machine means, or how to gently liberate these women." Celestine spoke at length, dropping your spirits by a bit. "However," She went on, and the air grew tense as the power once again swirled around. "I am not required to be gentle in this case."

>Wait and watch. You're quite certain Celestine would not do something that would endanger the captives, although the same can't be said for the machine. Nothing of value would be lost there.
>Stop her. There must be a way to extricate the women without wrecking the machine which could then be studied.
>Stop her, and suggest something else
>other idea
>Wait and watch. You're quite certain Celestine would not do something that would endanger the captives, although the same can't be said for the machine. Nothing of value would be lost there.
The mage said that he knew how to operate the machine, but I don't trust him enough
>Wait and watch. You're quite certain Celestine would not do something that would endanger the captives, although the same can't be said for the machine. Nothing of value would be lost there.
>Wait and watch. You're quite certain Celestine would not do something that would endanger the captives, although the same can't be said for the machine. Nothing of value would be lost there.
The influx of power is not something you can see, and you'd be hard pressed to describe the sensation. Perhaps it's something akin to Sparky describing traces of various flavours of magical energy as smells?

Or perhaps the feeling was just a subconscious response to cues you're picking up with other senses, such as hostile intent from seeing a wild beast preparing to pounce?

In this case you are confident this is not the case. The power flows and gathers around the elven lady, like a wind that nonetheless does nothing to disturb the light, flowing ribbons that make up her ritual garb; visually, the only cue would be tension of her pose and focused grimace steeling her normally gentle visage.

This changes abruptly as the magical flow stops for a briefest moment into a moment of stillness, as if the world around was taking a breath. It almost felt as if the darkness had deepened around you, the torchlight seemingly dimming. And then it was like a dam broke.

Burst of radiance that dwarfed the flow that you felt previously flooded the chamber; its intensity should have left you blinded or in pain, but you felt nothing of the sort. The wave enveloped you like an embrace, leaving a hint of wistful nostalgia as it receded.

Somehow, none of that overwhelmed your senses entirely. You could still note the serene look of satisfaction on Celestine's face as she let loose. You could hear soft gasp coming from Chloe, satisfied hum from the golems and an ecstatic "wheee!" from Sparky.

And you could see the ruin wrought on the unholy machine, its component disintegrating, layer by layer, component by component, waves of radiance leaving behind dissipating ash scattered as if by solar winds, up until the only pieces left are the two occupied tanks that remain briefly suspended in air like two miniature suns.

Finally the light begin to subside and the two dimming objects descended softly on the floor. There was a moment of silence, followed by a weak draft of air that may have been collective sigh as everyone who was holding their breath remembered to breathe again. Two women, unharmed, were laying on the floor where the machine once stood.

Celestine blinked.

"Thank you, mother." You barely heard her whisper.
Looking around, everyone was kneeling out of respect. Well, not quite - Chloe remained standing, though her expression showed that she too was awestruck by the spectacle; And Sparky was busy flitting around, energized.

"Lady Celestine..." The lady's guard said reverently.

The elven monarch turned around.

"Rise, my friends. You all served well the cause of righteousness this day, and I thank you for it." She looks at the two women that were slowly waking up, taking in the surroundings and blinking in confusion. "There is still work to be done. Sir Frederick, please, see to it that the rescued are given assistance they need."

"My lady, my duty..." The guard spoke up to protest, presumably against leaving his lady alone.

"Be not worried, child. I know I am among friends here."

"As... as you command, my lady." The guard concedes and moves towards the captives.

You feel yourself relax as you realize your work here is well and truly done now. Of the machine, nothing remained except for the notebook Smutkin took to his knapsack, though you wonder if it could ever be useful. Although it could potentially provide some insights into demented mind of the beast's servants, rescuing the captives took precedence over such dubious knowledge.

It was time to turn towards the future. And speaking about time, it was no doubt getting late enough that you should be making way back to your suites if you wanted to clean yourself up for the party. The thought prompted you to look at your outfit, damaged by fighting and soiled by blood and sweat, with a degree of sadness.

Your thoughts were interrupted by Sparky stabilizing himself to the point where he could fly up next to Celestine.

"Miss, can you teach me how to do that?"
>And so this thread comes to a close.
>Mouse and his motley band will return!
>Work and fun alike comes more slowly than I would have liked, but such is the nature of things.
I'll be waiting for the next thread, as always
>Mouse and his motley band will return!
And so shall we. Thanks for the thread.
awesome thread !
cant wait for the next one :^)

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