Eve drew her circle carefully, listening to Judy’s instructions as she did.
“These coordinates should put you about half a mile to the south of their enclave. They’ve dug themselves out a place in the mountains, but the front door isn’t at all disguised, so you should find it no problem.” She bent down, and a spider scuttled onto her palm. She stood back up and then handed the spider to Eve.
“Put this little lady in your pocket. I won’t be able to see where you are, but I’ll be able to tell where she is. Telepathy from the outside is blocked, so she’ll tap the inside of your pocket to direct you. One tap is left, two is keep going straight, three is right, four is turn around. I’ll lead you to Mae and Errus, they’re usually in the same room, and as far as I can tell, they are now, so just get in there, slap a Watch on both of them at the same time, then teleport out ASAP.
“Their barrier is only one way, so you should be good. They’ll probably be able to know about the Watch, though, so they may bring up some more shielding. Just use your dungeon teleports and they…shouldn’t be able to stop you, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“That’s fine.” Eve replied, stretching a little. “Nuwa’s been in the lab with teleport methods, we’ve got an experimental way of injecting Worship into our dungeon teleport. It’s hideously inefficient and only works on us, but we’ll manage.”
“Alright. Anything else you want to know before you go?”
“How many doors do I need to worry about? Can I just use an intangibility spell?”
“There are doors, but I haven’t checked intangibility. The place isn’t at all fortified, though, so I think it should work? If not, you can just turn into something small and go under the gaps under the doors. All the individual members of their commune are strong enough to not need to worry about safety, so they’re not too on-guard. They don’t know about your Higher Being and High Arbiter stuff, since that’s stored in Kali when I spread out my consciousness, so they shouldn’t be expecting you to come using this method.”
“Thanks.” Eve said, finishing her stretching. “Be back in a few.” She activated Absent Alarm, activated the circle, waited for her surroundings to coalesce, then began to fly. The area around her was rather plain, in that there was nothing but grass around. No monsters, no trees, not even small things like bushes or other plants. Just grass and hills.
Her flight was, fortunately, fast enough that the half-mile to the compound only took her around a minute, leaving her with nine minutes of Absent Alarm left. She touched down outside of a particularly large hill, the entrance to the compound rather obviously marked by an enormous set of wooden double doors. She used Eldritch Abomination to make several extra sensory organs, most notably heat sensors, magic sensors, and a sort of telepathy that allowed her to pinpoint things that could think. Satisfied that no one was behind the door, she activated an intangibility spell and tried to stick a hand through.
It went through easily. So, she slipped in and began to follow instructions from Judy’s spider. The inside of the compound was made of a sort of smooth stone, lit evenly by some sort of magical globe. As she made her way through the structure, she took note of the people she passed.
They all looked…happy, for lack of a better word. It seemed to be business as normal, like they weren’t mind controlled by some tyrant. She supposed that was to be expected, given the way Judy had told her the mind control worked, but it was still somewhat unsettling to think that these people were, in essence, nothing more than slaves to Mai’s will.
She also noted that there were several monsters mixed among the people, completely ignoring them or even helping them out in a couple of cases. They were almost certainly also under Mai’s control, and Eve couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more of them, seeing as how they were way out in the middle of nowhere where there should be a bunch of monsters. There was probably a reason, but she wasn’t about to ask.
She checked her timer again. She was at six and a half minutes remaining, and no idea how much of the compound was left to traverse. Hopefully not much, she didn’t want to be cutting it close if she could help it.
She did, however, take a few seconds to briefly glance over the statuses of people, to get a better idea of what she was up against. Judy was right; they were tough. Any member of Eve’s family could probably take one or two, but they had been training nigh-constantly in an efficient environment for three years, and there were a lot more of these people than there were members of Eve’s family.
Another couple of minutes and she almost stopped in her tracks. There was suddenly a huge influx of new thoughts coming from below her. Monster thoughts, if she was to judge from the strangled bits that made it through the mental din to reach her. They were tightly packed together, with gaps between them such that they formed rows that must have been divided by something.
So, aside from the people she had controlled, Mai had an army of monsters. That was something Eve couldn’t stomach. It was her job to make a tide of monsters sweep over the land, not this pretender’s.
But that presented an opportunity as well. When she took care of Mai and Errus, she would find a way to take control of whatever was left of the army, boosting her own in the process.
She was snapped out of her brief trance by Judy’s spider’s prodding. She was still on a time limit and didn’t have the luxury of sitting around and observing this base. She followed the directions, and another couple of minutes later she could tell that the other Perfect Chimeras were close. To her magic sense they were shining beacons of light the moment they came into her range, far outshining the pale candles that were everything else.
She hardly needed the spider’s directions at this point, weaving around the people and monsters until, with two and a half minutes left on her clock, she breached the room they were in. They were…normal looking, she guessed. If she was to turn off her magic sense, then they wouldn’t seem that different from any of the other inhabitants of their commune.
Mai was an elven woman of average height, with short brown hair and blue eyes that gave the impression that she saw through everything. Despite her relaxed posture, there was a strangely commanding aura around her, a confidence that said she was the most important person in the room, she knew she was the most important person in the room, and she knew that she was the most important person in the room.
Errus, on the other hand, was less impressive. Despite being a full head taller than Mai, he seemed small in comparison, the type of person who would just blend into the background. His posture indicated that he very much answered to Mai, and from the brief snippet of conversation Eve heard, spoke to her in an extremely respectful tone. He was a bearkin, with black hair and brown eyes, but it just…didn’t feel like it mattered. Not with how much his attitude told the observant onlooker to look to Mai instead.
Eve didn’t waste much more time, placing a Watch on the both of them. They immediately perked up, and there was a change in the area’s mana. Eve tried to teleport out via a regular dungeon emergency escape, and while there was a bit of resistance, she got out without a problem.
That was sort of to be expected. Their base hadn’t been made a dungeon yet, and Mai didn’t seem to have a satisfactory answer to that form of teleportation either. Eve heaved a sigh of relief as she touched back onto her dungeon’s familiar ground. Whether Mai knew it or not, they had just had their first skirmish, and Eve had come out on top.
Nuwa paced in the spare avatar, thinking about how best to handle Mai. The Watches Eve was planting were sure to be a great help, but she was confident a smart person could work around them. Titania and Elenoa had tried to do so by leaving things to their subordinates as much as possible, but they still had to give instructions somehow.
Titania had done so via telepathy, and she hadn’t had a way of listening in on that at the time. But, Nuwa had made a point of having Judy teach her how to break into telepathy over scrying while Lilith was asleep, so she was confident she’d be able to listen in to that.
That was another edge she had. Most people should still be unaware that it was possible to do so. It required use of eldritch abilities, and even with the system change most people weren’t willing to experiment with those. Kali had said they were now perfectly safe, as the system wasn’t actively conflicting with them anymore, but they were going to give things more time to settle before they made that public knowledge.
Still, it was killing her not being able to know what was going on with Eve. Mae, when are we going to be able to hook our senses up again?
I’m giving it another couple of days. Mae replied. Everything’s fine now but I want to be extra sure it won’t adversely affect us if we do. If we get into a really dire situation then I’ll go ahead and hook us up anyway, but we don’t need it right now so I’m just being cautious.
Fine. Nuwa groaned. She checked the timer on Absent Alarm and found there were still five minutes left. If it ran out and Eve still wasn’t back, then she’d get really worried, but until that happened, she wasn’t going to contact her and distract her.
Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t oversee the dungeon to take her mind off of things. Well, she could, but it wouldn’t help. She had hit a point where everything she wanted required waiting an extended period of time to get, so she only had to be actively doing things for a couple of hours each day.
“Aunt Nuwa?” Carmen asked, bringing Nuwa’s attention back to the physical world. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, um…thinking.” Nuwa replied awkwardly, stopping in her tracks. “What are you doing?”
“I was going to take a walk with Fengy. Do you want to come with us?” Now that Nuwa looked more closely, Carmen was wearing shoes, something she normally didn’t do unless she was going outside.
She…didn’t really want to, but she couldn’t say no to Carmen. “Sure, I guess. Where were you going to go?”
“I was gonna go down to the river. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“No, that’s fine.” Nuwa replied, falling in line with Carmen and Fenghuang. “Do you want to walk all the way there yourself, or ride Fengy and do your walk down there?”
Carmen thought about that for a moment. “I want to walk more down there. Can you keep up with Fengy? She’s pretty fast.”
“I may not be out and about as much, but I’m still just as fast as your other aunts.” Nuwa said smugly. “I’m faster than Fengy without even trying.”
“No way!” Carmen said. “Let’s race, then!”
Um, Carmen, she’s right. Fenghuang interjected. I’m going to lose if we race.
“What? No! Believe in yourself! You can do it!”
Carmen…have you ever seen one of your aunts going as fast as possible?
Carmen frowned. “No, but…they’re people. They can’t be that fast.”
Nuwa smirked. “Alright, let’s race. I’m not going easy on you, Fenghuang.”
Fenghuang groaned mentally. Alright. Just don’t be too disappoint when I lose, Carmen.
They made their way to the surface, where Fenghuang (with Carmen on top) and Nuwa lined up, ready for Carmen to give the signal for them to start.
Once she did, Nuwa took off, leaving Fenghuang in the dust. She reached their destination in just under a minute and waited for another two as Fenghuang caught up. During that time, Mae let her know that Eve had returned, putting her mind somewhat more at ease.
Eventually, Carmen came into view, waving as she did. “Aunt Nuwa!” She called. “That was awesome!”
Nuwa puffed out her chest. “I told you I was fast!” She crowed. “Now, let’s take that walk.”
Carmen hopped down from Fenghuang, then grabbed Nuwa’s hand. “Let’s go that way!” She said, pointing with her free hand. “I found some cool spots I want to show you!”
Nuwa couldn’t help but smile a little at the kid’s enthusiasm. “Sure.” She said, beginning to walk in the indicated direction. They didn’t talk for a bit, Carmen just hummed happily as they walked. Eventually, Nuwa decided to break the sort-of silence. “So, you’re going to be three this year.” She said. “Any plans?”
“Mom and dad were talking about sending me to school.” Carmen replied. “They said they wanted to send me to the school they went to when they were growing up.”
“Huh. That’s where your parents and I met. Not sure how they’re going to deal with you, though, since you're not...fully human.” Nuwa mused.
“I don’t know what they’re gonna do either. Mom and dad didn’t tell me. I think it’d be cool to go where you guys went, though.” Carmen said happily.
They chatted about random things until Carmen suddenly pulled her off to the side. “Look at this!” She said excitedly. “These rocks are like stepping stones!” She let go of Nuwa’s hand, then hopped onto a large rock on the river, then to another.
Nuwa looked carefully at the rocks, then shot a sidelong look at Fenghuang. She’s never going to grow if you all keep making things easy for her.
Fenghuang look away guiltily. We can’t bear to see her get hurt. She’s too sweet and innocent.
Nuwa glanced back at the rather obviously flattened and smoothed rocks. No more, alright? Keep her away from really dangerous things but let her make small mistakes. I’m going to talk to Anna and Jameson, so you won’t get in trouble if she does get hurt, but you have to let her make those mistakes.
Fine. Fenghuang grumbled. I’ll let everyone else know.
Good. Nuwa said, smiling as Carmen worked her way back.
“Aunt Nuwa, you try this time!”
Nuwa acquiesced, jumping from stone to stone to get across the river and then back. “Any other cool places you want to show me?”
“Yeah! This way!”
Nuwa followed Carmen around for the next hour or two, just relaxing and letting the kid’s enthusiasm heal her. When they finished, she sent Carmen off and then put the spare avatar back into its storage location, then got back to work.
That work at this point was mostly monitoring Mai and Errus and recording details about what their assets were. It was a dull task, but it couldn’t be ignored, so she buckled down and prepared for a long, long session of spying.