"Who are you."
The girl stepped out of the shadows in a nightgown, her long brick-red squirrel tail trailing behind her. I think this was the girl I'd seen with Herzt back when we'd first met. Had he set this up?
"Hey~" she smiled as she leaned her head, her red flowing hair parting to expose her clean white neck.
"What are you doing here?"
"Me? Well I'm currently shivering from how cold it's getting~"
"You know what I mean."
"Wow~ you don't need to be so alert! I'm just here to… keep you in good company~"
"I'm more than happy being alone."
"Oh I'm sure of that. You're very much used to being alone. But it feels good, doesn't it? Having someone by your side?"
"I'm FINE. Now please-" my words were muffled by the bushy tail that flitted across my face. I brushed it away with my arm.
It was… soft…
"That felt good, didn't it?"
My silence agreed with her.
"You want to do that again?" She asked, already positioning her tail in front of me.
I brushed it softer this time, the palm of my hand flowing through her fur.
"It feels good for me too you know~" she said, her hips squirming, "I have more fur up here too…"
Her delicate fingers took my hand, leading me up towards her fluffy tufts for ears. She curled her fingers, leading my fingers into her ear fur.
"Be gentle, okay~ This place is really sensitive~" She smirked, fidgeting slightly as I did so.
I gulped audibly with how close she was to me now.
"You don't need to be that gentle, come on~ move a little more~" she softly moaned.
This wasn't something I could do, not to someone I just met…
"Hey, it's okay~ Let me take the lead and I'll show you just how good this can really feel." She said to comfort me, drawing closer.
The only thing I could do was nod.
She took the hand that was touching her tail and crept it inch by inch downwards before reaching the base just above her butt.
"A girl's skin is so soft, isn't it?" She said as my hand felt the flesh of her hips.
"How about my hair? Is it soft too?" She asked as she led the hand touching her fluffy ears through her curling red hair.
"What about this then?"
Out of nowhere she jumped up to my lips and kissed me, throwing her arms around my neck and hugging me tight. Her sudden move put me off balance and I staggered backwards.
My foot caught the edge of the bed and I toppled down onto it, bouncing on the covers.
She was now on top of me, breasts pressing me down as her face blushed with a mischievous smile. We met each other's kiss and went at it.
She wasn't there in the morning as I swept the covers off my bed.
Had it been a dream?
"It was no dream, traveler. You really did do it. If I had hands I would be clapping for you right now."
"Why are you in my head?"
"Oh I am nothing more than a friendly… neighbor… you could say. I had to move in and get my things together as any other would, but now that is done… well… I get to bother you now."
"So you're stuck with me?"
"Very much so. I look forward to working with you."
"Great, now I have more people judging me from the backseat."
A knock came from the door.
"Master Ash, breakfast is ready!" Diana called from behind the door.
I composed myself as best I could. Whatever this thing was, it was going to play the long game. I'd need to research this as much as I could if I ever wanted to stand a chance.
"Inks! You got a minute?"
"ASH! HEY HEY I FUCKING FINISHED! I FINISHED IT! FUCK YEAH!" Inks' face as she turned around already had a smile on it as she heard my voice in the corridor.
She raced over to me and hugged my lungs out.
"You wanna see- No, come with me right the fuck now because holy fuck I need someone to brag to." Inks said as she grabbed my arm and rushed me through several staircases and corridors.
"Ta-da!" Inks said as she pushed the door aside.
The entire room had been turned into a shallow pool with a single, strangely ominous copper bowl on its knee-high stand in the center. Inside lay a translucent crystalline rock that could pass for a solid block of salt.
"Watch your step by the way." Inks said, pointing down at what was a small raised edge. "I think Vlad would want me to order an entire fence for this or something but we really don't have time for that. Hopefully no one falls in when I top the pool with salinified wine, or gets dumb enough to drink it."
I finally saw the arcane markings that encircled the entire pool.
"That's a lot of circuitry."
"Yeah, you know how much of a bitch it was to write? Seriously, you have no idea how many times I scuffed the stuff when it was still wet and had to wipe it off and start it all over again!"
"So, uh, whats it for exactly?"
"Bloodstone. We're all going to add a few drops of our blood to the pool and then the apparatus is going to condense and crystallize the mixture into that Gahadrim's Labyrinth over the course of maybe a month or so." Inks said, gesturing over to the translucent rock.
"What we'd get in the end is something like this." Inks continued as she took what looked like a wrapped sweet from her pocket. She unwrapped what looked like a dark cherry drop that had cracked and splintered during its time in storage.
"Try it," She motioned, "The taste will be a bit stronger than a fresh one though so just keep it in your mouth for a bit."
I took a small broken piece and put it in my mouth.
I instantly gagged and spat the thing out, furiously rubbing my tongue to get the disgusting taste out of my mind.
The entire thing was as if some idiot of a food scientist had taken the seasoning mixture of every type of potato chip, blended it up with copious levels of sugar and salt, soaked and crystallized it out of red wine, and had sold the whole thing as a cough drop.
Holy fuck it was disgusting.
"Yeah, that's the problem with Bloodstone. Tastes like literally everyone your entire court has drunk from. I made this one for the Bulgari campaign in case we would get sieged again, and they'd all drunk from every girl between here and there. Not the purest batch I've made that's for sure. This time it'll be all homefront so the flavors shouldn't be as awkward."
"Bloodstone is fucking awful."
"Well at least it's not one of those 'Mana potions' the druids try to come up with. Stirring up ten native toxins and brewing them under the full moon. How the fuck such things don't go wrong is beyond me."
"What are druids anyway?"
"They're dendrophiles." Inks stated.
"Oh… Uhm, Inks?"
"I just sort of feel I need to tell this to someone."
"Yeah, go ahead."
"Last night, a squirrel girl came to my room. We… uhm… did it."
"CONGRATS! You're now on your way to adulthood! I mean, you're already kind of an adult anyway but-"
"I think Hertz sent her to me is the thing."
Inks stopped. "Oh, so you're feeling conflicted about it because it was that dickhead captain who organised your first time?"
I nodded slowly, the anxiety smothering my thoughts.
"Everyone's first time isn't ever how they thought it would be. It's not really something many people talk about really-"
"Inks," my voice ordered for another topic, "You summoned me here. How could I get back?"
Inks blinked at me for a moment, processing what I was trying to say. She sighed once more.
"I've researched as much as I could, and there's this one idea called the Mirrored Pond of Atlantis. In Atlantis, there was a fishing pond. A fish comes along and takes your bait. You reel it in and decide that it's too small for your dinner, so you toss it back. The fish bounces off the water as if it has iced over. Then, you see one of the Crustacean natives in the water with their own floating fishhook, trying to catch birds."
"So… you're saying that you'd need to have someone on the other side trying to actually make me come back?"
"You're half right. You'd need someone on the other side to do a ritual, but the question is whether or not you'll be caught. How can you predict where the hook manifests-"
"Inks, I get it. I can't go back." I sighed, my body sagging against the wall. I was not in the mood for philosophical musings.
Inks placed her hand on my shoulder.
"There's a lot of things happening now. You should get some rest, maybe some food. Talk to Diana, you can trust her. Also make sure to drink from her too. When this ritual is ready I can give you a front pass."
"Yeah," I mumbled.
"How can she," the Voice whispered in my ear, "She is enslaved to you. What is your pain next to hers?"
Inks… Do you know anything about… Voices? Is what I wanted to ask her so badly, but I knew what she would say.
"Voices, as in the stuff crazy people hear? Wow, I didn't realize this little could turn people crazy."
There was no way I could trust her with that question.
I couldn't trust Inks, I couldn't go home, I could never go home.
So I did the only thing I could do.
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