Arc 4 Ch. 22: A Cat’s Pride, Part III
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It’s been a while since Part II, but this title felt like it fit the chapter. Here’s a link to Part II for the curious~

“Good morning, Beryl!”

I woke up to Alice’s smiling face next to me, but instantly I knew something was wrong. Her smile was a little too wide, and I could feel the bare tips of my breasts rubbing against my bedroll covers.

“Why… Why am I naked!” I shouted.

Alice blushed. “All your clothes burned up after you saved us with that spell, remember? But that’s okay, because I brought something for you to wear!” She handed me a surprisingly small bit of dark clothing.

When I held it up, it looked like some kind of one-piece swimsuit, except there were no shoulder straps…?

Sighing, I got up and stepped through the leg holes. For some reason, the suit didn’t have a back; it opened low enough over my butt that my fox tail could hang free. When I tried pulling the top over my bust, the bottom of the suit strained against my crotch.

Wait… this is a…!

“You made me put on a bunny girl suit?!”

Alice blushed even harder. “That’s the only spare clothing we have,” she said. “And Beryl, even if it’s a little small… I think it looks really good on you~!”

My breasts threatened to burst out of the suit’s dangerously revealing top. Damn it, I can’t wear this thing! Why the hell does this fantasy world even have bunny girl suits?!

Well, maybe this would still be better than walking around butt-naked…

“Ara ara,” Viela said, winking at my barely-covered chest. “Did you get a little bigger up there, my love?”

Titania covered her crotch. “Ohh, a fox girl in a bunnysuit!” she gasped. “Um, B-Beryl… I need to go adjust my armor…”

Goddammit, this can’t be happening! This is a nightmare!

I had to hold my bouncing breasts with an arm while running out of the cave. I didn’t make it far.

Outside our camp, a table with two chairs had been set up. A pair of wolf-lizard monsters with dark scales sat in each chair, drinking tea with biscuits.

“I daresay,” said the first dourling, “humans haven’t the slightest bit of shame!”

“Quite right!” the other scoffed. “What will they come up with next? A cat girl suit?”

Oh for fuck’s sake, I should have known! I’m getting out of here!

***

After realizing I had been dreaming, I quickly roused myself awake. A sigh of relief escaped me when I realized I wasn’t naked in my bedroll.

Then I felt a surprising tightness around my chest—and something snug around my crotch.

No, it can’t be…!

I threw off my covers and stared down at myself. Oh, I was just wearing a pair of my spare panties… and a disturbingly familiar piece of dark fabric that looked like a nightgown… or a tunic.

I’m back to wearing my crappy starter tunic all over again? Who even put this on me!?

Sighing, I fell back onto my bedroll, instinctively grabbing my fluffy fox tail for comfort.

I almost wish I could go back to that crazy dream…

***

When I finally got up for real, I confirmed the worst. After casting Beryl Nova to save the party, whatever clothing hadn’t burned to a crisp had been blasted to pieces—including my enchanted cloak.

No! I spent a whole platinum on that thing! At least it served me well while it lasted…

Thankfully, my boots appeared mostly intact. In the heat of the moment, I had been focusing my spells around me rather than below me.

And now I was stuck wearing my starter tunic. Maybe the other party members could spare some other sensible clothing for me. For some reason, this tunic felt a little tighter around my chest than I remembered… Hopefully it was just my imagination.

After Alice saw I was awake, she ran over and threw her arms around me.

I gently returned her hug. We didn’t say anything, but we didn’t have to. I could tell that this was her way of thanking me—or maybe she just needed a hug after everything that happened last night.

Titania had apparently stayed up all night, clearing the monster bodies from outside the cave and making sure the area was secure. The lancer was fast asleep in her bedroll, even as the day was approaching noon.

With the witch’s herb bag filled, we had already taken care of the reason we came to the Dourland… and then some. Still, we could all probably use a day to recover after that night.

I sat on my bedroll, idly running my fingers through the black fur of my fox tail. Maybe I would just stay like this for as long as I could. After what happened in the clearing, I had to admit that my sharper senses as a fox girl came in handy for hearing surprise attacks.

Plus, I wouldn’t be able to stay like this forever. Once we got back to civilization and the human-dominated capital, the Church might consider someone like me just another rogue fox spirit like Viela. I really didn’t want to think about what could happen in that case, so I went back to petting my tail.

Ohh, playing with the white fur at the tip feels pretty good too…!

I froze when I felt a pair of eyes staring at me. Freya was leaning against the cave wall, watching me with a dour look on her face.

“Um, this is, I was just…!” I cleared my throat. “So, do you need something?”

Freya sat down in front to me, still with that surprisingly serious expression.

“I don’t have the words to thank you enough,” she said. “For what you did last night.”

I scratched my head. “Oh yeah, that was nothing. I mean, that’s just my job to take care of my party, you know?”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” The snow leopard spirit blushed for a moment before continuing. “I want to fulfill the promise I made.”

I spent a minute trying to figure out what she meant. After another minute, I still wasn’t sure.

“The nightstalkers!” Freya said. “I said I would do anything if you killed them!”

Huh? Oh, that’s what she was talking about? “I don’t think anyone would hold you to that,” I said. “You probably saw that some of them got away, too.”

Not to mention that Freya might have been the only one who remembered that anyway…

“That doesn’t matter,” she said. “The ones who weren’t broken in body will be broken in spirit. They’re as good as dead. I’m confident I can hunt down the injured ones that escaped, and the snow leopards who call this mountain range their home will want them finished off, too.”

Freya thumped a fist against her chest.

“Besides, that’s my pride as a spirit! I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep. And the day we met, I… I’m thankful you were the only who didn’t take advantage of me or my cubs…”

She even remembered that? That must have been the time when we thought Freya was just a normal snow leopard about to attack us. Viela cast a Pacify spell on her and fluffed her helpless body while Alice and Titania played with Arwen and Sasha. I was mostly just baffled at the party’s reaction, but Freya didn’t need to know that much…

“Alright then,” I said. “But you are aware of what ‘do anything’ implies, aren’t you?” I couldn’t help grinning a little.

Freya bit her lip. “As long as it doesn’t get between me and my cubs,” she mumbled.

Hmm, what should I ask of her? A handful of amusing ideas came dancing to the front of my mind. There were all kinds of funny—or satisfying—things I could try to make her do, but making her angry wouldn’t do us any good in the long run.

Plus, she had spent days trying to fight Viela after the fox spirit nearly destroyed her pride…

Freya didn’t seem to have much skill with magic, but I had already seen what she could do in combat. Compared to the average human, Freya might be the strongest unarmed fighter in this whole world, at least in her snow leopard form. However, a sinking feeling struck me when I looked her over.

As a feral spirit, Freya had snowy fur covering her hands and feet all the way up to her wrists and ankles. Even if she could hide those with gloves and boots, she still had her two round cat ears over her snowy head of hair. And even with those covered by a hat or hood, there wasn’t much she could do to disguise her long, fluffy snow leopard tail.

Freya was still wearing Titania’s buttoned shirt—a little dirtier now—but she also really seemed to hate wearing clothes.

No, having her do anything in the capital would be all kinds of impractical. Since she was quite literally a rogue spirit, she wouldn’t last a day before the Church went after her. But if there were some way we could still bring her power with us…

My eyes wandered over our camp until I spotted Alice. The young witch was kneeling down, petting Sasha with one hand while brushing Arwen with her other.

What would Alice ask the snow leopard spirit to do…?

Oh, of course!

After listening to my idea whispered in her ear, Freya’s cheeks turned a brighter shade of red.

“B-Beryl, this isn’t a game!” she stammered. “Do you know what that represents for us spirits?!”

“What was that? You aren’t backing out of your promise now, are you~?”

“Urkh… The elders back home would lose it if they found out about this…!”

Freya got up and walked over to Alice.

“Alice, with all the time we’ve spent together, and after how much you’ve cared for Sasha and Arwen… I consider you a part of my family now.”

Alice was speechless for a moment. “Uh… Yeah, me too! I mean, I felt like you were already a part of our family, in a way!”

Freya sighed one last time. “But I never imagined I’d want to ‘do it’ with a human…”

Alice blushed harder than I thought was humanly possible.

“D-D-Do what?!”

***

When I first asked for Viela’s help with this ‘project,’ her lips curled into a frown.

“Beryl, a soul bond is a lifelong commitment,” the fox spirit said. “Even if it wasn’t dangerous to have more than one, the ritual was only created for a soul bond with one partner.”

Viela wrapped her arms around me, pressing her heavy breasts into mine.

“Only. One.”

She blew a breath of hot air on my neck, making me shudder.

“Y-Yeah, I know! This isn’t for me!” I quickly shot a glance over at Alice.

“Oh. Good~.”

Viela gave me a kiss on my cheek before letting me go.

I had never seen her get that serious about anything before. It wasn’t like anyone else knew how to set up the ritual diagram! Did she really get jealous thinking I asked because I wanted to do it with Freya…?

***

After we all gathered in the cave’s inner room, Titania included, Viela began chalking two circles surrounded by a series of complex geometry into the floor.

Alice trembled with excitement while she watched. I knew she would agree to this, but when the moment finally arrived, even Alice could get nervous with anticipation.

When she had finished, Viela motioned for Freya and Alice to take their positions inside the ritual diagram. Oh God, was this what it looked like when Viela and I had done our soul bond? It really did look like they were about to get married!

Well, they were about to get married, in a way…

With that same surprisingly serious demeanor, Viela ushered the rest of us out of the room, following close behind. She really did take this ritual seriously; it must have been some kind of spirit cultural thing.

The corridor leading to the inner room lit up—Freya must have activated the diagram with her mana—and then we waited. Fortunately, I got to play with both snow leopard cubs in the meantime.

Titania cleared her throat. “Beryl, um… I just wanted to tell you ‘good job’ for last night.”

“Oh yeah, don’t mention it.”

Although we had no reason to be concerned, somehow it felt like we were all sitting outside a hospital’s operation room, waiting to find out how it went. Even Sasha and Arwen could tell that something was up.

One minute passed into the next—until after what felt like hours, the cave’s corridor finally darkened again. We all rushed deeper into the cave to find Alice and Freya embracing each other, their eyes wet with tears.

“Oh, Freya…”

“Alice, I didn’t know…!”

They must have both seen an emotional memory from the other’s past. Maybe I’ll ask Alice about her world and previous life later…

Viela surprised me with a quick hug and a kiss.

“Wh-What? Why?”

“Just because~.”

When Alice and Freya finally pulled away and Freya spotted her two worried cubs, she tried running over to them. She didn’t make it more than a few steps before nearly falling over, flailing with her arms.

“How do you humans keep your balance without a tail?! And this skin is way too smooth!”

Even though I had been expecting it, the first look at Freya’s new ‘human form’ still took me by surprise. The snow leopard spirit looked like a different person without her cat ears and leopard tail, and even her hands and feet were bare with fresh, flawless skin. It wasn’t even a minute spent checking herself out before Freya shook her head, shifting back into her usual half-human appearance.

Alice giggled at the sight, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Freya, your voice sounds different!”

It only took her a second to realize why. Slowly, she reached both hands over her head, quivering when her fingertips met the pair of round, snowy ears overhead.

“I’m… I’m really…♡!”

Alice trembled again when her hands found the long, fluffy snow leopard tail that was poking out beneath her robes. When she wrapped her new tail around her body, her face lit up with a heartwarming smile that took my breath away. Then… Alice hugged her tail and squealed with joy before falling over, rolling around on the floor while giggling like a schoolgirl.

We all stared at her, speechless. Even Viela was at a loss for words.

Titania shuffled next to me with an anxious hand rubbing her neck. “Beryl, are you sure this was a good idea?”

I gulped. “She’ll be fine. Probably. Uh… let’s just keep an eye on her…”

 

Spoiler

;)

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