Chapter 69 – The Cursed Effigy
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Chapter 69 - The Cursed Effigy

Claire beheld at the scene in front of her with her head cocked and her arms crossed, the latter action only made possible by her ethereal form. Together with the disheveled human standing beside her, she hovered in a small room made of tiles, staring blankly as the man’s body lay face down in a porcelain tub large enough for him, but far too small for even a young centaur. A trail of bubbles slowly leaked from his mouth as he remained perfectly still, a surefire sign that his submarine expedition was not going as planned.

When she next blinked, everything but the man and his bubbles went through a sudden change. The tub turned blue and grew to over ten times its previous size, while the room’s walls vanished in favour of a wooden fence. They were outside, in a yard, where he was once again drowning his heart out.

The next shift produced a similar image, albeit with the homely backdrop replaced by a beach. Yellow-beaked gulls were perched over his unconscious frame, pecking at it as they would have a piece of stale bread.

“Swimming. Important.”

Two words appeared in the back of her mind as the man turned around and spoke at length. But neither the exposition nor the summary were necessary. The slideshow had more than spoken for itself.

“Learn?” Another sentence was summed up into a single word, a question the halfbreed answered with a nod.

Lamias were semi-aquatic. The race and all its related subspecies were capable of taking to the water if they were unable to find lands that suited them. As a baseline, the average individual could hold her breath for roughly two straight hours. It was a far cry from the eternity that a more specialised breed could spend beneath the waves, but impressive nonetheless.

In a similar vein, centaurs and by extension cervitaurs were also well acclimated to a life by the sea. Their powerful legs made them excellent swimmers, capable of crossing large bodies of water with shores as distant as the horizon. As far as her bloodline was concerned, Claire was meant to be an excellent swimmer, a marine athlete extraordinaire. But for reasons beyond her understanding, she remained completely and utterly incapable.

The skill had eluded her for as long as she could remember. She had tried picking it up in the bath, at a number of lakes, and even in the ocean, all to no avail. All sorts of tutors had tried to remedy the issue, but not even Amereth, the shark lady and Ryllian native that served as the manor’s resident chef, was able to provide any meaningful guidance. According to her—and everyone else—floating was meant to come naturally, but the halfbreed would unconditionally sink straight to the bottom of any body of water she entered.

Still, she was willing to give learning the skill another shot. The mysterious ghost had already managed to teach her how to use artifacts, and he had even boosted her Unarmed Combat Mastery level during one of their previous encounters. There was no reason to think that he would be unable to impart the knowledge she needed to keep her head above the water.

But… didn’t he say something about teaching me ‘real martial arts?’ What happened to that?

She raised her fists as they shifted to the usual dark room and punched the air a few times before cocking her head at him. He didn’t seem to get what she meant right away, but a few repetitions, with a fancier set of actions accompanying each, eventually led him to snap his fingers in realisation.

“Martial arts?”

Claire nodded as the words appeared in her head, to which the man responded by crossing his arms and leaning back on the empty space behind him. After what seemed like a full minute of contemplation, he shrugged, smiled, and nodded.

Clapping his hands, he teleported his body into the room and activated the artifact that was the glowing box. A phantom copy of the device that manipulated it appeared right in front of her, as it had during their previous session. Several words she failed to understand appeared on the screen as the rectangle flashed. She recognized the foreign-looking letters, but the terms that they formed failed to register. The halfbreed tried pointing at them with her brow furrowed, but they faded before she was able to catch the unkempt phantom’s eye.

She was a bit annoyed, but turned back to the artifact’s display nonetheless. It couldn’t be helped. There was no way for her to effectively communicate the information she wanted, and she doubted that it was anything of note in the first place. He likely would have gone over it if it was.

The scene that she had been expecting finally came after a series of bright black screens. The detailed environment and the oddly imperceptible character were both present, only this time, the artistic rendition bore a brand new form. It was wearing a different cloak and seemed to have an elongated body that started with a pair of hooves and ended in a soft, silky tail. A sense of familiarity bubbled up from within her, but she still couldn’t quite pinpoint its identity. It was just out of reach; she could feel it against her fingertips, but she couldn’t quite grasp it. Something in the back of her mind, a feeling akin to a sense of foreboding, was stopping the last piece from falling into place.

“Practice.”

Log Entry 1771
Detect Force Magic has reached level 14.

Claire nodded and reached for the non-existent device in front of her. She knew it wasn’t there, and that she couldn’t touch it. But her hands naturally settled on its various parts nonetheless.

The man started with simple inputs before switching to more complicated ones after confirming she could still keep up. Unlike the previous session, which was spent smashing an opponent with a series of different moves, he did little but repeat the same ridiculously complex sequence. The person on the screen was throwing a fuzzy monkey-like creature into the air, beating it half to death, and stomping it into the ground, over and over and over again. Until the artifact that kept the fighters imprisoned suddenly went dark.

A very confused Claire glanced at the spirit, who slowly shook his head as he pointed at a much smaller device featuring a set of glowing red numbers. She didn’t know what “11:56” was supposed to mean, so she spun back around, but found the man no longer present. Like the room, the phantom had vanished, leaving her to fall through the darkness, with nothing to show for any of her efforts.

Bells started going off in her head as the pitch black abyss was suddenly flooded with light. When she next blinked, she found it replaced by a light brown ceiling featuring a thick net of roots. A ball of fluff was standing on top of her chest, actively pawing at her face. The soft, squishy pads were oddly comforting, so much so that she would likely have drifted back to dreamland, if not for the noise assaulting her mind.

“Claire! Wake up! Come on, hurry! You’re going to get turned if you keep sleeping!”

Pushing the fuzzy limb away with her tail, Claire twisted her face away from the fox and placed it in her arms. “Five more minutes,” she said, with a small smile.

Log Entry 1772
Basic Force Resistance has reached level 4.

“You don’t have five minutes! The turn’s already about to start!” Syvlia leapt over the lrykress’ tail and started pushing down on her ears. “Wait a second! You’re just messing with me, aren't you! I bet you’re only saying that because of the thing yesterday!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the half-lamia, as she sat up.

Despite the lack of a fox-shaped pillow, Claire’s waist felt surprisingly comfortable, no doubt thanks to the bubble the bard had made her the previous night. The magical mass of air had padded her hips and kept them from bending at an odd angle.

“I knew it! You don’t even look sleepy. You were totally just faking it to mess with me.”

Claire took a moment to make her eyelids droop as she leaned forward, turned her gaze distant, and repeated herself. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Wait a second! What the heck? Now you look just like you did last night! That’s gotta be a skill or something, right?”

“Not at all,” said Claire, as she took off her mask.

Washing her face with a stream of stale water, the lyrkress dusted off the cloak she had donned the previous night and stretched her upper body. She would have liked to loosen up her lower half as well, but the burrow was too short and lacking in legroom.

“So what are we gonna do today?” asked Sylvia. “Oh wait, what was your quest again? I think you said something about it yesterday but you didn’t actually tell me all that much because we were too busy talking about all your adventures and stuff.”

Claire smiled softly as she recalled the previous evening. It was the first time the two had spoken in comparable amounts. Urged on by the curious fox, she had recounted her exploits in all their gory details.

“I have to kill lords,” said the cervitaurian snake. “Three of them.”

“Kill lords? Already? Wow, Al’s really making you pick up the pace. So which ones are you up against, other than the mirewulf? ‘Cause there’s like a whole bunch of them. Oh, and are you gonna go right now? Err… maybe not, since you should probably have breakfast first.”

Claire nodded as she popped open her authority skill and used it to summon a batch of bread. Watching the food form in front of her left her feeling strange. Something seemed to be bubbling up within her core. The bizarre sensation came with a distinct sound, sourced from between her legs and flippers. Is that my stomach?

“Why is my stomach rumbling?” she muttered, under her breath.

“Isn’t that just because you’re hungry? It’s either that, or you’re sick, and you don’t really look sick to me.”

“I don’t get hungry.”

The seemingly logical argument was rejected with a frown as Claire pressed the tip of her tail against the part of her that was complaining.

“Huh? What do you mean? Everyone gets hungry,” said Sylvia.

“I’m half lamia. Lamias don’t get hungry.”

“That doesn’t really make any sense. How do you know when you’re supposed to eat if you don’t get hungry? You could randomly start passing out and you’d have no idea why!”

“We start to lose our strength if we don’t eat, and if we wait long enough, our health regeneration will start slowing down, but that’s about it,” said Claire.

“Starving yourself like that is just plain unhealthy... You know you die if you don’t eat enough, right?”

“Only if you let your health regeneration go into the negatives.”

“It goes negative!? I really don’t think it’s supposed to ever get into the negatives! At least not because you didn’t eat!”

Claire shrugged.

“Oh, I know!” Sylvia’s tail straightened as her ears perked up. “It’s probably because your body changed after you ascended, and moose snakes get hungry like normal people.”

“Maybe.” Claire nodded. “But I don’t know if that was my stomach. I don’t even know where it is.”

“Well if that’s the part that was rumbling, it’d have to be your stomach, right? Where else would it be?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you touched it! You have to at least kind of know, right?”

“My guts spilled out of here yesterday,” she said, as she pointed to the humanoid part of torso.

“Oh uhmmm… well I guess that’s one way to find out. Wait, if that’s where your guts are, then where are your lungs?”

“Same place.”

“Really? Then what’s the rest of you for? Is it just all muscle? I don’t think so...” Sylvia started pressing her paws against the half-lamia’s underside as she continued. “I think you might just have more than one stomach or something. And maybe more other organs too.”

“Dunno.”

“Hmmmm… How do you use the bathroom?”

“I don’t.”

“Huh? What do you mean you don’t use the bathroom? You can’t just not use the bathroom! Holding it in is really unhealthy, and my dad even said that you’ll explode if you never go.”

“Don’t you have Llystletein Authority?”

“You mean the skill? The one that lets you make all sorts of food and stuff?”

Claire nodded.

“Mhm! Mine’s maxed,” said Sylvia. “I got it when I was really young and I use it all the time even though fresh fish tastes way better than everything on the menu. Wait, are you saying that it’s what’s making it so you don’t have to go to the bathroom?”

“Maybe.”

“Woah… I’m going to need to go bug Al to get that added to mine. I can’t believe he was hiding something that useful this whole time! I’m so mad I’m gonna chew on his hat when he isn’t looking,” huffed the fox. “Oh wait… maybe it’s on purpose. I need to use the bathroom to water things for my chores…”

Claire frowned as she more or less ignored the furball’s rant. Speaking of the authority skill reminded her that it was supposed to have been upgraded, but it looked no different at a glance. There weren’t any new lists, categories, or entries anywhere to be seen.

“How am I supposed to access the library’s records?” asked the lyrkress, as she swallowed a freshly baked piece of stale bread.

“The records? Ummm… you’re gonna have to find a terminal. I don’t actually know where any of them are because Al likes moving them around all the time.”

“Useless.”

“Hey! I’m not useless! I can help you lots if you just tell me which lords you need to kill.”

“Holt, slough, and chasm.”

“The holt’s gonna be really tough… It’s super good at magic and can basically use the entire forest and stuff against you, so I think you’re probably best saving that one for last. The lord of the slough isn’t all that strong, but you should probably start with the lord of the chasm.”

“What kind of monster is it?”

She picked up a second piece of bread as she finished the first. Her stomach was still bothering her, even though she had consumed a full meal’s worth of food. Is it because I’m bigger now?

“I’ve never actually seen it because it’s on the next floor, but everyone says that it’s a big fish that can jump really high and swim on land.”

“Glutton.”

“Hey! I mean um… you’re not wrong, but can you really blame me? Just imagine how tasty it’d be! I’ve eaten all sorts of fish, but I’ve never eaten a fish that can swim through rocks! I bet it’ll come pre-salted!”

Claire rolled her eyes. “What’s the lord of the slough?”

“Do you remember the frogs you used to break Grant’s stuff? The Lord of the Slough is just a really really really big one of those, but he only kind of exists.”

“Explain.”

“It’s kind of like a ghost, but not really? You’ll get it when you see it.”

Claire shrugged.

“Anyway, I really think we should check out the lord of the chasm first since I think my dad knows a lot about it. He talks about it sometimes when he visits, so he should be able to give you lots of info, way more than I can give you on the other two.”

The lyrkress paused for a moment to consider her options. Based on the observations she had derived from the werebears and centaurs, she was at least relatively confident that she had finally become strong enough to handle the citadel’s combatants. At the very least, she would likely be able to mount an escape if she put her mind to it, courtesy of a certain pair of make-believe animals.

“Fine. But I want to stop by the tailor’s first. He might’ve finished early”

“Oh yeah, Grant was supposed to do that thing for you. How’d you manage to convince him anyway?”

“You’ll see when we visit your father.”

“Ummm… somehow I have a really bad feeling about this.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll just be a harmless prank.”

“You can’t just tell me not to worry! You’re just making me even more worried!”

“Not my problem.” Having finished the last piece of bread that had come with her plate, Claire transformed her legs and slithered towards the cave’s entrance. “Hurry up. Let’s go.”

“Oh, fine,” said Sylvia with a sigh. “But I’m not helping you with my mom if whatever you do makes her go crazy!”

Climbing out of her makeshift home, the fox hopped in front of her companion and led her towards the older fox’s abode.

___

Claire
Health: 2345/2345
Mana: 4627/4627
Health Regen: 630/hour (1260/hour)
Mana Regen: 3306/hour

Ability Scores - 82 Points Available
- Agility: 379
- Dexterity: 345
- Spirit: 311
- Strength: 290
- Vitality: 315
- Wisdom: 551

Racial Class: Frostblight Lyrkres - Level 50.37
- Paralyzing Gaze - Level 6.65
- Ice Manipulation - Level 1.73
- Lyrkrian Shapeshifting - Level 3.92
- Thermodynamic Regulation - Level 4.37

Primary Class: Llystletein Bloodthief - Level 53.88
- Assassinate - Level 11.39
- Bloodthief - Level 9.83
- Charm Catgirl - Level 1.00
- Cloak and Dagger - Level 8.73
- Envenom - Level 13.08
- Manathief - Level 9.32
- Phantom Blade - Level 5.95

Secondary Class: Llystletein Force Mage - Level 41.31
- Basic Force Resistance - Level 4.01
- Catgirl Detector V. 0.32 - Level 4.14
- Detect Force Magic - Level 14.72
- Force Manipulation - Level 13.16

Unclassed Skills
- Artifact Manipulation - Level 2.50
- Axe Mastery - Level 1.04
- Club Mastery - Level 11.35
- Dagger Mastery - Level 11.26
- Dancing - Level 7.35
- Digging - Level 11.99
- English - Level 25
- Llystletein Authority - Level 5.24
- Makeshift Weapon Mastery - Level 17.12
- Marish - Level 19.07
- Sewing - Level 1.42
- Sneaking - Level 14.34
- Spear Mastery - Level 5.46
- Sword Mastery - Level 8.38
- Throwing - Level 7.26
- Unarmed Combat Mastery - Level 14.53

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