Zaria was careless - Chapter 02 - Out for a Day of Relaxation
--- Mardiors - North Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
Zaria was humming as she was scrubbing the path to the shrine buildings.
The statue was already polished, the roof was cleaned, the walls were dusted and checked for damage, the floors were waxed, and the wooden stairs were treated again with magic and resin.
She knew she should clean the long stairs to her shrine, but she liked their slightly overgrown look. Grass peeking from the seams between stones gave it a more natural look.
She kept the toori clean though. She had repainted them a few months ago.
Now she was waiting for her grapes to ripen. Her small shrine was actually large when it came to area size, but she used most of it to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, and magical plants. It was not enough to feed her naturally, but she cheated by having a large underground area where magic met science and she had large hydroponics.
She looked up at the bright summer sun.
"It's too bright, screw it, I'm going full nocturnal, time to sleep."
Zaria stopped the cleaning and left the bright sun. A nice long nap sounded wonderful.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Throne Room ---
Half a million.
The Empress wanted to scream.
Half a million of gold was gone.
In numbers 515685 gold coins were lost, stolen, misused, misappropriated, embezzled, misplaced, skimmed, spent on blackmail and bribes, misallocated, and inappropriately gifted.
She looked at her dress, it was 150 gold coins.
Her choker was 2 silver coins.
A stand full of food and a tuna caught by Levi were three or five gold, she couldn't remember.
A game had cost silver coins.
And somehow those fools of a family, the officials, the military, the ministries, and servants had managed to make over half a million of their total yearly one million budget disappear into nothingness and things it was not meant for. Summer was only ending and already the money was short and expenses had reached over three million gold.
She may have been at her job only for three months, most of this time she had fought tooth and nail against prejudice and politicians that ignored her.
She needed a vacation.
She needed cheaper clothes, she should fire all those royal beauticians and tailors.
Neither did she need fifty servant girls and maids, nor did she need one hundred personal female guards.
Why did every ministry need a senior minister, a junior minister, a vice minister, and a junior vice minister? Why did each of those have a head secretary, a personal secretary, and two junior secretaries?
Each official had their own secretary for some reason.
All of them had at least a personal servant, and those in higher positions had multiple personal servants and each of those had their own servants.
And the military structure did not make much more sense. There were over thirty ranks in the military, and that applied to the army and the navy each.
Where did the aerial combat division come from? They did not have dragon riders or flying carpet riders. Why did they have a staggering forty-six ranks?
She should have never accepted the job, no matter how much her father had pushed, and she should have dumped it on her uncle in return for her freedom.
It had been the worst idea she had ever had, she had hoped for freedom to make her own decisions, now she was busy rooting through bureaucracy and corruption.
She would have to start cleaning up and fighting people who had spent decades in their positions. Probably everyone had connections and was going to cover for each other as well.
"You there." She pointed at her senior secretary. "You are retired."
"What do you mean, your Majesty?"
"You are showing your age, your writing is getting slow, so you are retired."
"You cannot retire me, your Highness." The older man rose. "I am too important."
"Guards, get him out of the room, escort him home. You are fired too; it is not up to you to decide whom I should meet and whom I shouldn't." She pointed at her personal secretary. "Guards, remove this one as well."
The junior secretary was not present, she knew she had one, but she had never seen him or her. "Someone get me my junior secretary."
She checked her staff listings, and went through pages of details, names and positions numbered in the thousands just for the administration.
In addition to her maids, she was supposed to have personal servants, royal servants, palace servants, and some public servants.
She had wondered why she had never seen them since she had arrived at the palace.
The most suspicious thing after the Aerial Combat Division was the Ministry of Secretaries.
She had to merge several ministries as well.
The Ministry of Food Testing could merge with the Ministry of Agriculture. There was no need for a ministry that demanded several tons of food each year, she had seen the officials, too fat and drunk to move.
She had put it off long enough, it was time to become unpopular with the officials.
First would have someone, probably her junior secretary, translate what all those ministries did in theory, and what they actually did.
There was one thing she could deal with immediately however.
At least once someone found that secretary.
--- Mardiors - North Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
It was another beautiful day.
"Yuki, what do you think of barbeque today?"
"How about a nice thick steak?"
"I'll go shopping then."
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Empress Office ---
The servants had mostly been fired, it seemed that they had been lording their privileges while doing nothing to earn them.
That had caused an outcry from nobles, the Ministry of Servants, and the servants' families.
The firing of her secretaries had caused a complaint from the Ministry of Secretaries, not that she had cared. Allocation of secretaries, according to rank and experience. No, she did not want a secretary that changed her words into 'appropriate language'. She had also taken her junior secretary as her real secretary. It seemed she had been assigned to the senior secretary due to her looks, and had been ordered to accommodate the senior secretary in any way. Nothing had happened yet, but it just showed how much the degeneration and corruption had spread. The Ministry of Secretaries had tried to reassign the girl, but the empress had overruled them.
"How is the research into the Ministries going?" The Empress asked her secretary.
"It's slow." The secretary admitted. "I am waiting on the statement from the Ministry of Delays, they are delaying their response. The Ministry of Secrets replied with a 'It's a secret'."
"Cut their budgets to a tenth."
"Yes." The girl made a note. "I'll send it to the Ministry of Spendings and the Ministry of Finance."
"Why do they each have separate budgets for everything? And why do various Ministries have separate taxes?"
"I have no idea; it doesn't make sense." The girl admitted.
"Now, I want you to set up an invitation. There is a cowgirl tailor in the harbour city I want to invite, and make my clothes."
"A cowgirl tailor?"
"Just off the main street." The Empress explained. "She is really healthy. She made a good dress for me when I was at the festival."
"The one where the Leviathan gifted you the fish?"
"No, she gifted the aquarium, I caught the white fish, the other one was a present."
The two looked at the aquarium.
The girl asked a question that had been on her mind a lot. "Are fish supposed to be this affectionate?"
"I have no idea, even Levi was surprised." The Empress sighed; she was sure the weird albino was at fault. Maybe she should really visit her. She needed a proper dress first, one that fit her, the goth dress she had done not seem appropriate to visit a shrine and would be a pain to take off for the hot spring. Most of her garments were royal and far too ornate or too casual for lounging around her rooms.
"You are calling the Leviathan, the Goddess of the Seas, Levi?"
"She told me to." The Empress ignored the awestruck look on her secretary's face. "Now, I'll dictate a letter to invite the tailor to the palace."
The secretary prepared herself for the orders.
--- Mardiors - North Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
Zaria was sweeping the stairs while humming an elven melody.
It was a calm and relaxing day.
Aside from that only a teleport for some shopping was planned. The marketplace about two thousand kilometres away was a great place to get honey, they had a lot of types.
She needed to stock up on the mead too.
"Honey's Snowy Dream" Zaria mumbled; she suddenly remembered the date about a month ago. "I should stock up on it as well, just in case she ever visits."
She smiled and picked up the pace, 3562 steps were left to clean.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Throne Room ---
"Your Majesty, the soldiers have captured the prisoner you personally wanted." One of her personal guards announced.
The Empress tried to remember whom she had ordered captured and brought before her. Sure, she had filled the prisons with corrupt nobles. "Which prisoner?"
"A cowgirl, you ordered her to be brought before you."
The Empress had a very bad feeling about this. "Bring her to me, as she is."
"As you command."
The Empress closed her eyes and sincerely hoped that some idiot had not done something weird to her order. She had checked and signed what her secretary had written. It included the description of the shop, and that the owner was a tall cowgirl. She had tried to remember more, but all she had managed was to remember the hypnotic swaying.
All too soon her hope burned, crashed, and died painfully.
It was the tailor, who clearly remembered her, but then froze upon realizing what her sitting on the throne actually meant.
"Kneel you beast, you are before her Majesty our Empress." One of the guards ordered and moved to kick her in the back of her knees to force her to kneel.
A flash of gold.
The guard got blown away before he managed to strike the cowgirl.
The Empress rose, her hand raised from where she had fired the golden orb of power. It had been just a small one luckily for the guard.
"I invited her, who ordered her to be taken prisoner?"
The other guard dropped in a perfect dogeza. "Forgive us your Majesty, we were ordered to arrest her and bring her before you."
"Bring everyone who was involved with my orders here, now!" The Empress ordered. "And drag that out of here." She pointed at the passed-out guard.
"As you command your Majesty." Her personal guards hurried to obey. The way their Empress was radiating power meant that they wanted to be anywhere but here, and the sooner they found anyone involved, the sooner she would hopefully calm down.
"Are you alright?" Victoria switched from Empress to worried. "Did they hurt you or do anything to you? Someone get a medic or healer to check her out, better get my royal medic."
"Moo?" The tailor meanwhile was confused.
Victoria approached and swiped her hand across the shackles which shattered without injuring the cowgirl.
"So, Empress?" The confused woman asked.
"Yes, somehow it ended like that." Victoria was inspecting the damage, and did not like what she saw. "First I am going to clear up this mess. Then we get you healed and washed up. I wanted to invite you to make several dresses for me. As in really invite, not this. Did they really do nothing to you?"
The remaining officials, her secretary, and the guards who lost the chance to escape knew that it was a real fuck up. They knew their Empress was firing and imprisoning people, the most obvious ones first naturally.
Now they were afraid that this had been the last straw.
"I got groped, and roughed up a bit." The seamstress hesitantly confessed. "Since I was to be your personal prisoner, they thought it unwise to damage the goods before you turned me over to them. There was no time for more since they hurried. But they promised to take really good care of me later."
A storm of power with the Empress at its centre as the cause.
A golden aura grew around her.
"My soldiers should not be savages."
She spoke calmly.
"I ask forgiveness for what was done to you."
The cowgirl grew very flustered.
Empress, Dragon, Friend of Zaria.
And that person was bowing to her.
"Moo!" The cowgirl looked around in a panic, she needed someone to help her with this situation. Everyone ignored her or stared ahead and pretended not to see her. "It happens, and you will punish them. Please rise." She begged.
"Sit with me." The Dragon strode to the throne and sat on one side of it.
"I am dirty, my clothes are two days old, and I haven't washed properly in two days."
"Sit with me."
It was a calm voice, asking to sit.
But it felt like an order.
The moo slumped and obeyed.
A few people detached with excuses of checking what was taking them all so long with the Empress permission.
Plans to use the gullible girl were discarded as she was clearly a Dragon, and it seemed that she had actually inherited their temper as well.
The hall was silent.
Nobody wanted to draw her attention.
A feeling of relief spread when the summoned people finally arrived.
They walked casually into the hall as they talked. "A sudden summons, that is what the daily review is for." An older man in a military uniform was saying as they entered the throne room.
"It is as you say. Urk." The man in ornate secretarial robes replied before a wave of anger and power hit and enveloped them.
"I ordered you to appear, not to walk leisurely." The Dragon was not amused. "Are you disobeying orders?"
"No, your Majesty." The ranked military officer declined.
"Why are you standing at the door?"
Everyone now hurried inside, they arranged themselves according to seniority.
The soldiers and lowest secretaries knelt.
The seniors aside from several war veterans that understood what was happening remained standing.
"Who allowed you to stand before me?"
The power grew denser, a golden fog started spilling from the throne at the centre and down the stairs to it to the assembled and very nervous fools.
They dropped to their knees and sat properly in seiza.
She picked out her secretary in the back before the line of common soldiers.
"Maria, rise and come to the front." The Dragon ordered her personal secretary.
"I hear and obey, your Majesty." The very nervous girl approached the throne, ignoring the feeling of the golden power coiling around her feet.
"Do you remember the order I dictated to 'invite' the tailor next to me."
"I remember it clearly; you invited the tailor you bought a dress at during the festival of the Goddess Leviathan of the Seas to the palace at her convenience." The girl recited.
"Your Majesty, we have secured the letter." A royal guard offered as her superior handed her the object and sent her to the throne.
The Dragon accepted it, checked it, and then handed it back. "Is this the order I dictated?"
The shuddering secretary accepted it from the guard. "Yes, it is the order your Majesty dictated."
"What happened to it?"
"I handed it to a messenger, it is the one over there."
The woman in question slowly raised her face. "Your Majesty."
"What happened to my order?"
"I delivered it to the Junior Secretary of the Senior General of the Army. The man over there."
"Why the junior secretary?" The Dragon asked.
"Because we are not allowed to deliver to the Senior General directly, and the Senior Secretary never accepts anything personally."
"What did you do with my order?"
The Junior Secretary looked up, then thought better of it, with head lowered he responded as the pressure on him mounted. "I read it and handed it to the Senior Secretary, your orders are not mine to handle."
The Senior Secretary looked at the young Empress. She had power, she had strength, but she was still a child. "Your Highness, your letter was not fitting for your place."
"And it is your place to change my orders?"
"As the position of Empress is yours, you are not meant to invite, your word is order."
The Dragon on the throne took the new letter. "You ordered her to be brought before me as soon as possible."
"As was your command." The Senior Secretary.
"Throw him into the dungeon for falsifying royal orders and Lèse-majesté." The Empress was not amused.
"How come a small secretary thinks he knows better than I do what I want?" The Dragon started the man down who found it suddenly impossible to speak as the golden fog wrapped around him in tendrils. "Who am I?"
"Your Highness." He barely croaked out.
"I am the Empress." She rose. "What is my proper title?"
"Your Majesty." Most called out with a few of the older one’s present calling out the ancient title of 'The Dragon'.
"Yet a small official called me 'Highness'." She waved a hand. "Remove that."
Two very happy junior guards enthusiastically grabbed the former Senior Secretary who suddenly realized that power plays were not something the Empress cared about. She was Power.
"Did you see my order, or only the falsified one?"
"Only the falsified one, oh Dragon."
"I will judge you and your work later, what happened to the order afterwards?"
The Senior General spoke calmly as he explained. "After I signed it, I had a messenger deliver it to the 3rd Senior General of the region containing the individual."
The Dragon looked around.
"I was the messenger. I brought it to the Junior Secretary of the 3rd Senior General."
The Empress started to see a pattern.
She was right. The Senior Secretary had changed the order to arrest. The Junior General of the region had gotten the order to immediately arrest the cowgirl seamstress and bring her to the capitol before the Empress without delay.
The Dragon had removed three senior secretaries, and worried no less than five generals.
"It is clear that the secretaries are imagining things far above their station. I don't care right now about what has happened before my rule. But I expect all of you to check every order you have obeyed during my rule, where has it come from, what was done, did it change? I expect the report in a week."
Nobody dared disobeying.
They all however saw sleepless nights in their near futures.
"Throw all the soldiers that had been 'escorting' her in the dungeons. I don't need savages driven by lust or greed in my army. I will think of a suitable punishment after they are interrogated and confess to all their deeds."
"Royal Medic, care for her wounds, maids, bathe and clothe her afterwards. We will dine in my room tonight. Everyone dismissed, leave before I get really angry."
It caused a mass exodus.
"Moo?" A very confused and overwhelmed cowgirl found herself escorted out of the room with way more courtesy than was normal for someone of her rank.
In her rooms, the Empress relaxed, the golden aura faded away, she staggered as the power left her.
"Victoria?" Charlotte asked once the golden aura faded away and they were alone. "What happened?"
"Those fucking morons!" Victoria growled. "You remember how I said that I invited the cowgirl tailor that made the Gothic Lolita dress?"
"Yes? I expect she should arrive in a week or so." Charlotte pondered. "Preparing for the journey, organising the shop, and possibly finishing any urgent work."
"They brought her today, as a shackled prisoner."
Charlotte opened her mouth, then thought better of it. "They brought the healthy cowgirl you invited as a prisoner?"
"Actually, a different question." Charlotte changed the main topic. "That power and dread I felt all the way over here coming from the throne room, that golden glow that made me want to run or kneel. That was you going Dragon, right?"
The Empress sighed. "I have been training my magic and power."
"My acquaintance at the festival explained a few things."
"You mean date."
"It wasn't a real date."
"Holding hands, buying lingerie, and giving your presents? That was a date." Charlotte smirked; she had long weaselled the full story out of the reluctant Victoria.
"She told me about magic and power. My head is burning and I have no energy now."
"It was really impressive, take a nap?"
"I need to have dinner with her." Victoria informed her friend and maid.
"You are fine, you can nap for two hours, I'll just send anyone trying to disturb you away, I'll tell them you are too angry for company."
Victory pondered for a moment, then walked over to her bedroom, and plopped face down onto the bed.
"Stop, I need to remove your make-up and your ornamental robes."
There was no response.
"Fine, not like it is the first time I take care of you while you are asleep."
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
Zaria was leaning on her broom.
"Impressive, someone actually tapped into their dragon power."
"If they manage it a few more times, I might actually go and visit them."
She put it out of her mind. Cleaning her onsen was far more important.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Empress Private Dining Room ---
"You are looking much better." Victoria greeted the tailor. "What is your name actually?"
"Moo?" The cowgirl flinched. "Maries, your Majesty."
"Relax, my name is Victoria, this is my personal maid, Charlotte." The Empress looked at her friend and maid, and found her staring at that. "I told you."
"I am trying, but I can't look away."
"Moo?" The cowgirl was confused for a moment before she realised what was going on. "Moo~" Then she proudly stuck out her chest, causing both human girls to stare and follow the bounce with their eyes.
"I am trying to look away." Charlotte admitted.
"It is difficult." Victoria confirmed.
"What did you invite me for, your Majesty?" The very healthy woman asked.
"I wanted to ask for several dresses."
"Noble going out for a stroll."
"Like last time?"
"Not as ornate actually."
"Have you planned on anything specific? Clothes depend on the situation."
Victoria pondered for a moment. "I need a casual set for when I want to walk about the city."
"Rich girl on a stroll?" The seamstress asked.
Victoria nodded. "Then something more casual, loose clothing that looks good but can be used to train in."
The Moo pondered for a moment. "Black and gold, top and pants."
The Empress decided that it sounded acceptable.
"And something more casual to visit a ...." She stopped for a moment. "... well to visit her."
"She invited me to her onsen, I will need something to wear there."
"She invited you to the oldest shrine?"
"The oldest shrine? I have a card telling me to come to a smaller shrine."
"I need pure white and miko red for that. And her onsen is strictly no clothing I heard."
"I thought that red and white is reserved for shrine maidens?"
"If it, is you, it is allowed, they are her colours after all." The seamstress replied with complete conviction.
Victoria had the feeling that she was missing something, but she was tired and decided not to care about it for now.
--- Mardiors - North Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
Since that one dragon episode there had been no other.
Currently the more powerful and sensitive inhabitants of the north were speculating what had triggered the event.
Someone tried to assassinate a royal, a royal had gone on a drunken rampage, someone had tried to get touchy with a royal.
Zaria herself didn't care, as long as it didn't impact her or the north, it was all fine. She knew however it had been anger, if that was the newest Emperor going on a power trip, she would have to smack him down.
Right now, it was not worth investigating.
Currently she was cooking in preparation for the Goddesses night out, food and drink, and relaxation in the onsen were the topics.
It was a once-a-month occasion for the Goddesses to relax, and for Zaria it was the occasion to show off.
Now she just hoped that Levi would finally deliver the tuna.
Despite her size, and size of the brain, the snek had a terrible sense of time, and that was coming from her who was fey.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - Empress Private Dressing Room ---
Victoria tried to blank her mind, but the moo attending to her was bouncing and those were brushing against her now and then.
The other tailors and seamstresses were rather uncomfortable that a newcomer was attending their Empress.
They could scoff at the commoner moo all they wanted, but she did good work.
Several were clearly planning on getting rid of the newcomer.
The servants in charge of helping the tailors and seamstresses however were happy, unlike the current staff, the newcomer was friendly, easy to talk to, and she wasn't bragging or demanding favours.
The only thing everyone present was unsure about were the colours of the new outfit.
White with that shade of red was reserved for the shrine maidens.
The white top with the red skirt and red choker was clearly going against convention.
For the current staff it was good however, they were waiting for the repercussions.
The moo however was satisfied with her work.
--- Mardiors - North Side - An Unassuming Higher-Class Building ---
Being an Empress was a pain, Victoria decided once again.
From the Palace she had taken her royal Carriage to one of the royal buildings in the city, from there she had taken a small and stuffy underground tunnel to this building, it had several servants and while clear that it was owned by nobility, it was however not associated with royalty.
Actually, it was the building of her royal medic.
Now she was leaving through the servant’s entrance.
Her secretary had been so kind and had drawn her a map of the way to the main shrine, which was pretty easy actually. Follow the large street to one of the main streets, follow that to the river between the north and south, then cross the river, find the winding main street up the mountain, and don't go up the mountain street with the toori.
According to her invitation she was supposed to find a different path somewhere further east up the mountain.
Soon she realized that the closer she got to the river the more looks she was getting.
Another thing she realized, the closer to the river she got, the more other races she could see.
She arrived at the river, she saw a larger bridge a bit further down, and a smaller pedestrian bridge nearby. She chose the smaller bridge, she had a small bridge in the royal garden, but this long slightly wobbly bridge was interesting. She wondered if she should send someone to inspect it since it was wobbling quite a bit.
The girl stopped in the middle for a moment, the swaying was clearly felt here.
"Stopping for the sway?" A dwarf carrying a large backpack stopped beside her when he saw her frown at the bridge.
"Oh, yes, I am wondering if it is safe." Victoria replied.
"It isn't." He fired back. "It was supposed to get repaired three years ago, but budget cuts took care of that. It was supposed to get repaired last year, but things dragged on, and then the mess with the Emperor became public. I guess we know what happened and where the gold from the budget cuts went. Now it was supposed to get done a month or so ago, but still not even an inspection. The missy from the oldest shrine went and did something to it so it doesn't break, but it really needs an urgent repair."
"She did?" Victoria wondered. "Well, I guess it is not surprising." And it wasn't, she probably did something to make it stick together with magic she suspected.
"Yeah, power to spare that one."
"Very true, I am off to visit her actually."
"She invited me."
"That explains the colours I guess."
Victoria looked at herself. "I asked a tailor I know to make clothes to visit her, are the colours wrong?"
"Normally yes, a lot of peeps dun like it when others wear miko colours. If she invited you, then it's fine."
"Thank you for the explanation." Victoria bowed to the elderly dwarf.
"Oy, none of that, normal working person here, no need ta bow."
"Still thank you for the explanations, it seems I need to have some people reminded to do their work."
"Little Lady is a noble then? Know someone who works at the palace?"
"Yes, actually I work at the palace."
"Good luck, if I had ta work there, I'd be stone out drunk every night."
"I know what you mean, every day more things gone wrong."
"There there." The old dwarf patted her back. "It could be worse, ya could work as the emperor, all the good ones run into idiots, and all the bad ones drain ta coffers."
Victoria felt that it hit a bit too close to home. "I know she is trying to weed out corruption."
"Poor girl, either they are gunna block her, or they will have her removed. Make sure to get out of the palace as soon as you can." He waved at the bridge. "Better not mention this one either, someone took the gold fer it, enough to make someone disappear many times."
"Do you know a good bakery?" Victoria decided to change the topic. "I want to get some pastries."
"Sure do, why don't ya come with me, my home is further up the mountain. If the one that invited you is an albino, you need some good sweets."
A few passers had their ears twitch when they heard it.
"Yes, white long hair, a bit weird."
"She wouldn't be of the fae if she wasn't weird."
That explained a lot, Victoria decided. "Isn't she a bit tall for that?"
"Don't mind it, I don't think there is anyone that can make sense of that one. That one is plain weird and powerful." The dwarf started to walk. "We can walk and talk little Lady."
"I realised that after she dragged me off to visit Levi at her fish stand."
"The Leviathan, she insisted I call her that, and when a Goddess insists, you obey."
"Haha, that makes ya already smarter than many folks." The dwarf mused as the two crossed the swaying bridge. "That one likes fruit, I dunno about it, but my daughter always likes the bakery. See over there, the ugly green building?"
"Yes, I see it."
"Was supposed to be some office for river tax, ya know, crossin' sides. Later they wanted a bridge tax." The dwarf snorted. "Now they hiding in there and spending ta day drinkin' and eatin'."
"More useless officials, there are a lot of those." Victoria made a mental note to have the ugly green building removed.
"Every noble wants their kids to earn well and make contacts. We all do, but it's worse with the officials, too many emperors looked away or took bribes, if ta new is serious, she'll have a bad time."
Several of the people listening in had 'overheard' everything, someone invited to the oldest shrine and calling the Leviathan by a nickname was not someone you should annoy, even if her colours were very strange. It gave the red choker a different meaning however. So they quickly spread to pass the word.
Gossip was a powerful thing, it liked to spread, change and travel faster than it should.
When the very different pair arrived at the main street, Victoria gathered curious looks instead of unfriendly ones.
The rumours were very different however. Chosen of the Leviathan and the floof's lover were the most common ones.
"That restaurant over there has great sausages, if you are a dwarf at least. I think young ladies are more the light food type." When the dwarf had heard that it was her first time in this area, he decided to talk about it. "That smith over there is one of my drinkin' buddies, if ya ever need a proper dagger, ask him. I'll tell him to await you. So, you can replace that flimsy toothpick you have."
Victoria blinked, then pulled out the well-crafted stiletto type dagger. "I heard a good artisan made it?" The Empress wondered if she had gotten ripped off again.
"Looks decent for human make, I'd show you how bad it is but I'm afraid I'd break it, the enchantment is shoddy too."
Victoria made yet another mental note, this time to have her personal and the royal weapons checked over by a dwarf. She spun the stiletto around and offered its grip first to the elder guiding her. "Feel free to break it, I'll just have it reported as the shoddy work it is."
The dwarf laughed. "I like ya missy. Look, it goes like this." He took the dagger, then pushed against the flat side of the blade with a finger.
Half of it cleanly snapped off.
"See, rubbish sold to pampered nobles for looks, let's introduce you right now." He picked the broken part of the blade up and walked off leaving Victoria to follow.
The girl wondered if people being friendly was normal. Or maybe it was just that other races did not care about ranks. She hastily followed into a side street, then they approached a larger building with a large reinforced door.
The dwarf kicked the door open. "Oy, Grom, got a customer fer ya." And got an iron ingot to the face.
Victoria winced when the object impacted with a sound that spoke of high-speed collision and her guide fell over. "Are you alright?"
"Dun worry about that rude idiot." A deep voice came from inside. "Yer a customer?"
"Yes, my stiletto is, well it was, bad." She picked the pieces up.
"He tested it." That was a statement. "But yeah, this is a noble toy, show me yer hands."
Victoria held out her hands.
"What's yer magic?"
She made a golden orb float above her palm.
"Ohh, dragon, that pumps mah blood. Eyy ya stupid ass, why didn't ya tell me sooner we got a dragon blood in town."
"Shut it you old drunk, ay only met her when she was glarin' at ta bridge."
"A human dragon with sense? I like ya little missy."
Victoria decided non humans were weird. She hadn't met many, but all the ones she met were plain weird. A fae that kidnapped people on dates, a Goddess that sold fish at a stand, a moo that did not know what personal space was, and now two dwarves that seemed to get fired up over the weirdest things.
"Oyy, why is she wearin' those colours?" The smith asked his friend.
"Cause she is invited."
"Invited, by her? That makes things easier." The grin was visible through the splendid grey beard the smith had. "Where did I put it?" He started rummaging through several shelves and chests.
"What is going on?" Victoria asked her guide.
"He probably made somethin' before that he thinks is perfect for you."
"Found it!" He came back with a slender long dagger, the blade was pure black, and the grip was black leather, and the heft was white. "Here, try channeling yer magic inta it."
Victoria tried to keep up with the enthusiastic smith and channelled her magic. Golden light spread in veins across the black blade, larger veins in the middle and then smaller and finer ones towards the sides, the edge turned completely golden. Victoria swayed when the pull on her magic became greater.
"Hehehe, it works!" The smith cackled.
And got punched in the face by his friend. "What the hell did you do this time?"
"Dragon scale for the blade, dragon bone for the heft, and dragon leather for the grip. Laced with a little moon silver." The smith declared proudly. "I thought it would be fun to make a weapon from a dragon for a dragon. I had trouble neutralising the black dragon magic, so I mixed some powdered white dragon into the core. The more little missy will use it and imbue it with her magic, the more golden it will become."
"You made something weird again." Her tour guide mentioned. "Doesn't this mean that only dragon blooded would be able to use it properly?"
"Why do you think I had it lying around for decades, I probably made it some seventy years ago."
Victoria braced herself against the wall as she cut the draw on her magic, she felt really tired now. Work had tired her mentally, now the dagger had tired her magically. "How much is it?"
"Hmm, since you are the only one who can use it. How about one platinum coin?"
Having learned her lesson last time, her money bag held a few platinum coins, several gold coins, some silver coins, and a few coppers. Even without using it, she knew this dagger was already way better than the ten-platinum stiletto. Her thoughts switched to the albino she was on the way to visiting. "Can this be enchanted?"
"Enchanting dragon materials is very difficult."
She decided to clarify. "Can it be enchanted by someone who does things like this?" He pulled back her sleeve and showed the bracelet.
"Oh, that is one of mine." Victoria's tour guide recognized it.
"You are Grovlimg?" Victoria was surprised.
"Yes, he is, as depressing as it is." Grom was staring hard at the bracelet. "What the hell is it with those enchantments?"
"I agree, it was supposed to be a 'Bracelet of Beauty', I am not even sure what it is now."
The two dwarves were staring at the golden bracelet intently.
"So, can she do it?"
"Oh sorry. We got lost in trying to figure out what the spells are." Grom replied seriously. "Whoever did that, will have no trouble enchanting my dagger."
"Wait, you said she? Do you mean her?"
"The one I am visiting."
"What are you talking about?" Grom asked. "You mean she enchanted it?"
"We are talking about her coming over to visit her at the oldest shrine, remember?" Grovlimg reminded Grom. "No reason to worry in that case."
"Not sure there is anything she can't enchant." Grom gave Victoria another once over. "That explains the choker. You can also ask her about training you with the dagger."
"I will, I should probably leave since I still want to buy the sweets."
"Return to the main street by following this one up, turn left, 2nd street right the third or fourth building is the pastry shop. Just tell them that you are going to visit the oldest shrine, they should have recommendations." Grom explained.
Victoria wondered if all dwarves were so frank. "Thank you for the knife, I will take my leave now. Best regards."
"Take care little missy." "Visit if the dagger gives trouble."
Victoria took a deep breath as she left. The magic usage had left her tired. In addition to being tired mentally from overworking and dealing with the ministries, she was still tired from manifesting her dragon power, and now she was magically exhausted.
And she still had to go up the mountain.
Taking a few deeper breaths to steady herself she waited until she did not feel like falling over.
Finally, she felt like she could stand without bracing against something. Slowly she left the smithy behind and made her way to the pastry shop.
The inside of the shop smelled sweet and was nicely cool. She waited in line and ignored the curious, scandalised, and surprised looks that were going her way.
"Greetings, this shop was recommended when bringing something sweet when visiting someone." Victoria showed the invitation, she had the feeling that mentioning aloud where she was going would not be a good idea.
The effect was instantaneous as the catgirl's ears and tail went up after taking a look at the invitation. "Uhm, I recommend the 'Apfelstrudel im gezogenem Strudelteig' although the creamy strawberry tart is better, but unless you can use cooling magic it won't last until you reach the shrine."
"Cooling magic?" Victoria pondered for a moment. "I'll take that tart over there; I will try cooling it." It looked very creamy, and the type that clearly was not meant for long range transport.
The confused catgirl placed the tart before Victoria who then focused on cooling it.
There were several gasps when the tart completely froze over.
"That was a bit too much." Victoria deadpanned. "But I think I know what my mistake was."
"That is wonderful." The catgirl gushed.
"I will give you a pay two take three deal if you freeze a few more, that means more people can take them with them."
Victoria wondered why it mattered so much, then she realised, this was probably one of those cases of structured magic against free magic. "Very well, what do you want me to freeze?" Maybe remembering snow and ice for cold magic had not been the best idea.
Victoria froze several tarts, and bought the strawberry tarts and the 'apple something' she had not seen like that yet.
A layer of biscuit (beginners should buy it)
A small layer of jam to keep the biscuit from soaking up the cream
Cut up strawberries and cream
Top off with cut in half strawberries
Apfelstrudel im gezogenem Strudelteig: (Apple Strudel)
The dough is layered like in puff pastries, but not the same type actually, it is much thinner, you can buy the thin rolled up dough usually, the 'gezogener strudelteig' means it is really thin
Denser apples, the type that is not too juicy
Roll out the dough layers
Cut the apples and put them on the dough, leave a bit on the side open to allow for rolling up
Sprinkle with cinnamon, raisins, sugar (sugar dependant how sweet it is)
Roll it up gently, 'glue' the free part to the rest with a bit of egg
Smear the top with egg to get a nice colour and prevent total drying out
It is done when the dough is a nice dark brown, and the apples are soft and juicy
This time she wanted to cool it down less, more like the chilled dessert she had eaten.
"Wonderful, reapply it after an hour." The catgirl gushed.
As Victoria left, she wondered how distorted her sense of values was. Not counting the discount, she had paid three silver and four coppers.
The world she lived in usually used gold coins as the lowest denomination. Often her daily handlings could be counted in piles of gold.
"I am really sheltered and clueless." She realised, maybe she should start doing undercover inspections. But she could already hear the complaints about it from Charlotte and her guards.
She was supposed to go out and relax, and she had already found more work. A damaged bridge that was in serious need of repair, and an ugly building full of officials who were wasting money.
She took the scenic and winding main road. Honestly, the various houses of different styles gave the north a flair that was missing from the south. The taller and often imposing buildings in the south lacked the relaxing feeling the north had a lot.
Sure, she saw poor people too, and a few beggars, but she couldn't compare them to the ones in the south, since she had never seen them in the south. She really needed to get out more.
She arrived at the street to the main shrine. She saw a lot of people going up. Now she tried to find a street or path that ran along the forest.
"Are you lost?"
She looked up and found herself staring at a shrine maiden wearing a fox mask. She realised that her in white top and red skirt really had similarities with the white top and red pants the miko was wearing. The mask the black haired fluffy eared shrine maiden wore was much less detailed than the one the albino had worn. "Ah yes, I am looking for the path to the oldest shrine, I am invited."
The shrine maiden reacted in a very predictable way. Ears and tail went straight.
"In that case, go down the street, at the lamia cafe turn left, there is a candy store, I recommend the candied fruit for the fairies. Then return to the street, follow it until the 'Dryad Forest Glade' further along the forest, then go left again and you will arrive at the edge of the forest, turn right, and at the toori enter the path. If you get swarmed, feed them with the candied fruit."
"Mind noting that down?" Victoria asked. "It is my first time here."
"Sure~" She handed the invitation over, and the miko went to a small stall at the bottom of the stairs and started writing.
She could see the moment the other two shrine maidens at the stall realised where she was invited.
"Here you go." The miko had returned. "Please remind her to visit us more."
"I will, thank you for the directions."
"Have a nice trip."
The lamia cafe was as expected manned by lamias. For Victoria it was the first time seeing the long scaly lower bodies. The scales looked wonderful in the sun.
"Do you want to enter?" A waitress offered as Victoria stopped.
"Oh sorry, it is my first time seeing lamias, the scales have such a beautiful shimmer."
The waitress and another nearby one clearly perked up.
"It is a lot of work keeping them perfect like this, and keeping people from touching."
The waitress pointed at a sign.
"Don't touch the waitresses!
"Don't touch the scales!!!
"Remember to order something
"Spending hours without reordering is not allowed"
"Spending hours?" Victoria was confused.
"Some humans seem almost hypnotised."
"Really?" Victoria wondered. "I can sort of understand, but this is a café."
"Right?" The waitress coiled up happily. "Now why don't the men understand that?"
"Maybe it's a male thing?" Victoria wondered. Most of her corrupt officials were male, so maybe it was really something that made only sense to males. Though it might be because most officials were males and the servants were often pretty girls
"Feel free to visit anytime, you will be welcome any time."
Victoria found herself handed a business card, it seemed that the waitress was named 'Lizzy'. "I will, next time maybe."
The Empress in civilian clothes almost missed the small side path to the candy shop.
There she found a smiling granny selling various candies.
"Welcome young one, do you know what you want to buy?"
"Greetings. A shrine maiden recommended your candied fruit for fairies?" Victoria
"Ah, visiting the forest."
"No, visiting the oldest shrine, I am invited."
"Have two bags then, I recommend the raspberries."
"I will take three then."
"Here you go dearie, two silver, one copper."
"Thank you, have a pleasant day."
Victoria checked her coin bag, and realised she had underestimated things. She should have packed more silvers. And she should have taken a larger shoulder bag, the three bags of candy were rather large.
At the very relaxing looking dryad cafe she almost took a break. But wanting to finally arrive took precedence.
Finally, she had arrived at the path, the small toori and a well maintained yet a bit wild looking path that disappeared into the forest.
Suddenly a bit more nervous, she entered.
It was a bit humid yet not hot inside. The shade felt nice too.
However, the sweat from walking in the sun for so long did not evaporate.
She walked, feeling tired, yet also feeling rather refreshed, and in addition to mental and magical exhaustion she was adding physical tiredness as well.
Soon the path turned into stairs that wound up the mountain through the forest.
"I should have brought a water bottle."
Looking from the palace at the main shrine it had looked like a long walk, but she had clearly underestimated it, the many side trips had not helped.
Then from the corner of her eye she saw something. Looking properly however she didn't see anything but forest. She reapplied the cooling magic to the tarts and continued.
She found a bench; it was a place where you could overlook the city. It was still in the shade. She sat down for a moment to rest. "It is far." She saw her palace on the opposite mountain. It looked small.
She was thirsty, she rose to get to her target sooner hopefully.
Around the next bend of the path, she found a small spring. Left and right of the drinking pool were fox statues, and on the head of the statues she saw fairies.
"Hello, I am just here to drink." She greeted them. A few rose and fluttered off, several stayed behind however. Victoria picked for the three remaining ones the candied berries. "Here for you." The fairies hesitated, until a purple one quickly flew over, grabbed one of the treats, and flew to a tree branch where she inspected the candied fruit intently before tasting.
After a sound of approval, the other two also grabbed the berries.
Victoria used the now free spring to wash her hands, and after some hesitation to splash her face and remove the little make-up Charlotte had absolutely insisted on.
When she was pretty sure she had washed everything, she could off she drank some more and looked up.
Fluttering all around her were fairies in all kinds of colours.
Fairies were only taller than an adult's finger, but the magic they wielded was immense.
Slowly she reached for the bag of candied fruit and pulled a few out.
"Do you want some as well?"
Then she found herself literally swarmed.
In no time the first bag was emptied. She could even see some fights break out.
"Wait, I got another bag."
Her plea went mostly unheard.
"Stop!" As her frustration had risen, her draconic power had responded and laced her voice.
Most of the fairies quickly fled.
"I have another bag." She explained and pulled it out. "Those that haven't taken one yet can get one."
This time it was not a mass swarming but a nicely ordered, by fairy standards at least, pick up.
Finally done with distribution she had about half of the second bag left, and continued her trek. With some of the fairies swarming around her, and a few of the most daring ones sitting on her shoulders and head.
"Is it still far away?" She asked.
Unfortunately, she could not understand what they were saying, and the gestures did not follow any trend.
After a while she reapplied the cooling magic as she realized that she had lost all sense of time.
--- Mardiors - North Mountain - Oldest Shrine ---
After another stop at a spring she finally arrived, it was in time too, she felt exhausted on all fronts and she was hungry.
It was a clean and surprisingly large shrine. The doors were open and showed the lifelike statue of Tamano no Mae. The offering box was off to the side next to stand with talismans.
A path went past the ceremonial shrine area to behind it.
Some fairies flew off following the path and disappeared behind the shrine building. A few others flew over to a rock where something white and furry looking was lying.
The white fur uncurled to reveal a white fox with black ear tips and a black tail tip. It yawned, stretched, then jumped off the warm rock and approached Victoria.
Victoria wondered why she had the feeling it was asking her what she was doing here. "I was invited by an old and powerful albino." She tried to explain, while wondering why she was explaining to a fox.
"Kon~" The fox snickered and then walked off following the fairies that had flown off, it looked a bit weird as several fairies had decided to sit on its back and rode it.
Victoria followed, deciding that either the fox was smart, or maybe not a normal fox, considering everything that had happened until now, she suspected the second.
"I have a guest? That's rather rare."
Victoria heard the voice and saw the fairies flutter out of a building that looked more like a home behind the shrine.
Then her kidnapper appeared, only she looked different.
"Oh, hello and welcome to my shrine." The albino greeted her and approached with a smile. "Honestly, considering how I teased you and dragged you all over the place I never expected you to visit."
Victoria however was mentally stuck. "E-ears? T-tail?"
The albino had foxy white fluffy ears and a foxy white fluffy tail.
"Yes, I took human shape since threading tails through holes is not pleasant and a pain."
"You are kitsune!" Victoria accused the albino, it made sense, sort of, since that race was serious about the weirdest thing at times.
"Yes, and what happened to you? You seem tired, out of magic, and sweaty." The albino approached the human girl and took her by the hand. "Why don't you come inside first, want tea and a snack first, or maybe a bath? I cleaned it after the last party."
"Party? At a shrine?" Victoria had trouble keeping up. It explained a lot, including the age, and the teasing, the weirdness, and the bit about Levi. Her thoughts were still a bit of a mess.
"Once a month I host a 'Goddess Night', my shrine counts as neutral ground, so almost all the goddesses come over, relax, drink, flirt, fool around, play, and let some steam off."
"The shrine is a meeting ground for the goddesses?" Victoria felt overwhelmed.
Zaria simply pulled her into the building, had her change shoes into comfortable indoor slippers and then showed her a door down a hall.
"Why is there a table on the ceiling, and why are there bottles stacked in a pyramid from both the ceiling and the floor?"
"A certain someone decided she wanted more space, so she played with gravity. You can now walk up the walls and on the ceiling, I put the extra table and pillows there so they would have something to sit on if they wanted to."
"And the futon on the wall?"
"One of them fell asleep on the wall, so I prepared a futon for her."
"I think I will take a bath now to freshen up, the onsen is normal?"
"It is magical naturally, also good for relaxing from fatigue and good for the skin." Zaria pointed at a door in the surreal room. "Either through there or down the hall and left."
"I'll take the hall." Victoria decided the room was just too weird.
"I restocked shampoo and towels; you find them in the changing room on the right in the cupboard. I recommend the red one, the young rose soap and shampoo seems like it would fit you. If you prefer something else violet is violets; bright yellow is light lemon; orange is mandarins; green is pine; darker yellow is cinnamon, honey and vanilla; brown is cinnamon honey; blue is water lily; or simply smell them, the box has the samples for smelling with a description. I made them all myself."
"How many types did you make?"
"I brought 'Apfel Strudel' and strawberry tarts." Victoria felt amused when the ears and tail visibly perked up on the two foxes.
"That calls for a gentle black tea, now go ahead while I put it away." The albino turned to the fox. "Watch over her in case she falls asleep."
"I am not going to fall asleep."
"Famous last words."
Victoria felt weird bare like this without Charlotte around. She could wash herself, and she knew who to use everything, but she had always had helpers.
"Over twenty." Her host was understating things again. The sample box held at least twice that. Some of which she had never heard before. What was a sleeping orchid? It smelled relaxing, too relaxing actually. Maybe she was far more tired than she had thought.
"Still picking out?" The voice and warm touch on her back made her flinch and drop the sample.
It was caught however, sealed, and placed back.
"You seem really exhausted, sleeping orchid is a bit too much, but a light lavender should be fine." Zaria picked out a light purple sample and offered it.
"Yes, I think I will try it." Victoria decided that she had too much to pick from. Then she remembered that she was bare.
She looked at the equally bare albino and realised again how incredibly beautiful the kitsune was. "You know, the ears and tail just look right on you."
"Thank you, I take good care of them. You are very beautiful as well."
Victoria felt the eyes on her body, it was clearly very different from the looks the maids gave her, no she felt it caress her body, the face, the neck, the breasts, her belly, down there, the legs, and the hands. She blushed and felt the urge to cover herself against the gaze full of desire.
"I got you to blush again~"
"Sit, I'll help you wash."
"I am very confident in my skills, even the goddesses praise me."
It sounded tempting, and risky. "I expect you to … behave." Victoria wondered how to formulate her warning.
"Behave like what?"
She should have expected that. "Do you want me to behave like a proper maid?"
"As you wish Mistress~"
Victoria heard the voice and wondered how the word 'Mistress' could sound so sensual. A look back made her take another look. Somehow the kitsune was now wearing a maid headband, a choker, sleeves that looked like they belonged on a maid uniform, a tiny apron that covered exactly nothing, and a garter belt holding up past knee socks or something.
"Does Mistress want a full body wash?" The albino poured warm water over her guest. "Since we are bathing together, my name is Zaria, Kitsune Shrine Maiden of Tamano no Mae."
"Victoria, wait, Zaria?"
"Yes, a pretty popular name, I know." Zaria used a washcloth to do a first cleaning of the smooth pale back before her. "You are really tense."
"Work is hell." Victoria decided to complain.
"I'll give you a massage later, raise the left arm."
Victoria found herself obeying out of reflex, she had to admit that the albino knew what she was doing, maybe there was something about the praise from the goddesses.
In a short time, she was washed, and now the albino was doing unspeakable things to her head and hair, getting her hair washed and the head massaged was not supposed to feel relaxing enough to make her fall asleep. She even ignored the softness pressing against her back and the two harder peaks pressing against her skin. She wanted to complain how she had been touched and washed everywhere, but she felt too mellow and it had all been done with a washcloth.
When she was picked up and carried into the warm water of the hot spring she only gave a small murmur as a token of resistance.
"You are really exhausted, while I understand the path is long, and work was hell, what happened to your magic?"
"Greedy dragon dagger and reapplying the cold magic." Victoria mumbled through the warm and wet cloth placed on her face.
"Show you later." Victoria felt herself drifting as the heat from water seeped into her tired body.
She gave in, for some reason she had the feeling that the albino behind her would keep her safe.
"She fell asleep." Zaria commented aloud.
"Kon~" Yuki replied, floating beside them.
"I expected her to complain about her lying on top of me actually."
When Victoria woke up it was on a futon, dressed in a bathrobe, covered by a thin blanket, in what looked like a large kitchen with a large open door that led outside, and the albino wad humming as she cooked. Upon further inspection she saw her clothes hanging outside to dry, and the sky seemed to be far darker, indicating evening. How long had she slept? How had she ended up on a futon in the kitchen? She then realised that she had fallen asleep on the albino, naked, in the onsen. She blushed again, she allowed what was basically a stranger to wash her, touch her, and then had fallen asleep skin against skin. It was shameless! It was something that only lovers or married people were supposed to do!
"Good evening, did you sleep well?"
Victoria hid her blushing face by pulling the blanket up.
"Yes, I saw you naked, yes I washed you, yes I held you in the bath, yes I carried out after a while, yes you were sleeping deeply, yes you are beautiful, no I did not have my way with your body because I prefer my partners to be awake, no I did not do anything to you, yes you were practically exhausted, yes your magic is still recovering, yes I found the greedy dagger, no I did not play with it yet."
Victoria pulled the blanket down, and found the albino kneeling beside her with the tail in her lap while looking down at her.
"I don't know what came over me." She admitted. "I am sorry for …"
"Stop." Zaria interrupted. "You were tired, I invited you over to relax in the onsen. Honestly it is flattering that you trusted me enough to let me wash you and that you relaxed enough to fall asleep on top of me." Zaria offered a hand. "Now you are probably very hungry. People tired like you are often a bit sensitive stomach wise, so I made some lighter dishes."
Now Victoria felt a bit intrigued, hadn't Zaria mentioned cooking for the dragon cook and inspiring him? She realised she hadn't thought her trip through properly, what if Zaria had been away? What if Zaria had been busy? What if there was no food? "I didn't think this through." Victoria admitted aloud.
"Oh please. With how exhausted you were, magic aside, you were practically running on pure will. Sounds like an interesting trip actually. How did you end up with a dragon dagger while on the way to my place?"
"It's a long story, what should I do about the sleeping fairies on top of me?" Victoria had not risen yet but she took the offered hand while looking down. On top of her and beside her were various faeries lying, a few were awake, but most were resting or lazing around.
"Simply get up, or if you want to be nice, put them on your pillow." Zaria replied, while picking one up with her free hand.
Victoria had trouble believing that the fairy did not seem to mind it and was now trying to find a comfortable position on Zaria's hand, but then she got placed on the pillow next to Victoria's head where she quickly calmed down.
Carefully and slowly, Victoria pulled from under the blanket, she got some protesting noises, but once freed she arranged the sleeping ones on the pillow.
The others flew around the kitchen.
Once done she looked around and found the albino back at the stove and accepting something from fairies who seemed to be helping her cook.
She joined, despite never having cooked before. "Are fairies supposed to be this friendly? I know you are fae, but I am not."
"Let's say that you count sort of as a friendly dragon, then it seems you fed them, and finally you are approved by me. My rank as a fey is pretty much as high as it gets, but since I am part of the free unbound fey, there is no such thing as titles."
"We are fey, though I am also spirit and more. Other races call us fae but we prefer the term fey. Though calling me kitsune, honey, sweety, floof, that one, oh yes, works as well."
Victoria gave into the urge and punched the albino in the arm.
"No domestic violence honey."
"Do you have to be so …" Victoria tried to find a word for it.
"No, but it makes you relax." Zaria took a spoon from a fairy and scooped up some soup from a pot. "I think it is done." She offered it to the only human present after blowing on it.
Victoria tried to take it but Zaria pulled it back.
"I can taste it myself."
She gave in. It was good, but she really hoped she wasn't blushing. The unhinged kitsune was very clear in her interest and she had trouble dealing with it. If it were someone else like her normal suitors, she'd have no trouble. However, the often-infuriating floof somehow kept on sneaking past her guard with actions that seemed normal and casual.
"Does this count as accepting food from fey?" She asked.
"Yes and no, though it is more an 'invitation to courtship' thing than a surprise with enchanted dishes. The grooming and pampering are more of a kitsune thing."
Victoria looked in Zaria's blood red eyes. "You are serious."
"Mhm~" Zaria took the small human hand. "There is something about you that feels nice, that I got to see you again, and that you trust me, makes me even more interested. You listened when I spoke, you didn't run away when you saw how strong, powerful I am. So yes, this is me stating my interest in you."
Victoria had no way of controlling her blush.
"Being related to the royals, and no need to deny it after all I saw your magic and the dagger accepted you. Means that you probably have an endless number of suitors, or you are even engaged, but I think you are not engaged, some of your reactions are too sheltered for that." Zaria raised the hand and kissed the palm. "Now you have an old floof added to the list of those courting you."
Victoria knew her face was burning. "You are right, I am not engaged, but I am related to the royals." She did not say that she was the Empress. "This has to be the first courtship I am actually accepting."
"I am honoured my Lady." Zaria gave the back of the hand a kiss. "That said, try not to overwork so much, it's bad for your health."
Victoria opened her mouth and closed it again. "Ministry reforms." She responded.
"Who did you annoy to get saddled with that job?"
"My father." It was true, if her father had not been how he was, she wouldn't have to deal with the mess that the ministries were.
"Feel free to rant." Zaria replied. "But maybe after we eat, I even bought 'Honey's Snowy Dream' in case you ever decided to drop by, now I just hope some random goddess didn't find and drink it."
Victoria found herself handed the pot with soup.
"Chicken soup, afterwards roasted chicken filled with apples and chestnuts, steamed vegetables, egg rice, for dessert what you brought."
"I am really hungry." Victoria admitted.
"Not surprised, it's evening now, and the last time you ate is probably breakfast. You are skipping meals, aren't you? You are way too thin."
"Coming from you that sounds weird." Victoria argued. "Are all fey so slender and light? When I was moving them, they hardly weighed anything."
"Feel free to carry me around, and no, I am really slender, even for kitsune, I have always been."
"What did you make for them?" Victoria found that the table had small tables on it, with small plates and bowls. It was clear that those were for the fairies. The higher chair had a wider but flatter bowl. And the fox was sitting in it waiting.
"Yuki right, are you a normal fox?"
"That sounded like a no. Are you like Zaria?"
"Another no. Are you Fey too?"
"Is that a sort of yes like Zaria?"
Victoria looked from the smirking fox to Zaria. "Explain."
"Yuki is magic, started out as a fox familiar, and now? Meet the smartest being you will ever meet." Zaria explained as she poured soup and vegetables into pots.
The talk during dinner was lively. Victoria explained how she had arrived at Zaria's place. Starting from the bridge and the first dwarf, the dwarven smith, the dragon dagger, the pastry shop and her experiments with magic, the friendly catgirl miko, walking around the north, and finally the fairies in the forest.
Zaria was laughing and got a sweet chestnut thrown at her. "That was … you really don't go out much." The kitsune giggled. "Well, starting from the bottom. Yes, the bridge is currently enchanted, it is just a stability spell so it does not break anytime soon. That tax or something office? The ugly green was to show presence. The dwarves you met are part of the not greedy artisans. So, if you show interest, things can get pretty interesting."
"Like the dwarf at the festival? He was very fired up; did he recognize you?"
"Yes, so did the moo, the dragon cook, the catgirl, and naturally Levi." The floof replied amused. "But the panic from getting paid with a platinum coin was all you."
"I already realised that." Victoria huffed. "A full uniform of the palace is ten gold. I have the feeling that it actually costs one gold after walking around. I mean a tart is one silver, sweets are also cheap, I got that dagger really cheaply."
"I have seen a few of those, one or two gold should be it at most." Zaria confirmed.
"Now I have to report idiots in a greenhouse, misappropriated funds for a bridge, a worthless stiletto, and readjust my sense of value."
"It is not wrong to think in gold coins as a noble. But often prices as a noble are overinflated."
"That sounds right." Victoria admitted.
She felt very full, she had eaten less than the fox and the kitsune, but she was feeling very full. Now there was still the apple pastry and the tart waiting for her. The way the fairies were eyeing them gave her an idea. "Is it fine to share them with the fairies?"
"Sure, wait I'll help you." Zaria left the table and returned soon with another plate and tiny plates and spoons. "How much?"
"Half of both, I ate too much but it was really good." Victoria honestly praised. She really wanted to hire the kitsune as her cook, but an Empress dating a cook was weird, and she doubted the kitsune would agree.
The fairies clearly appreciated the gesture. If the swarming was any indication.
She had dealt with such a situation before however.
"Stop." She ordered.
Things instantly calmed down.
As expected, the fox and Zaria only had amused smiles as their reactions.
"One after the other and don't be greedy."
The faeries obeyed and the chaos on the table lessened.
"Tea my dear?"
"Yes, thank you." She sipped the black tea. "Slightly bitter, it is really good."
"I bought it at a market on the other side of the world."
"Teleportation, like I told you. Teleportation is the way to travel." Zaria then pulled out parchment, a quill and an inkpot from somewhere. "Now the important part, tell whoever that you are staying over."
"What do you mean staying over?" Victoria gave the kitsune a guarded look.
"You fell asleep last time. So now we enter again with you awake and enjoy the 'Honey's Snowy Dream'."
It sounded nice.
"You are still low on magic; the fatigue won't disappear with just a nap. I suspect you have a lot of work waiting for you."
Victoria slumped. "The work never ends."
"See, take some time off, how much time have you taken off since you started?"
Victoria tried to remember.
"And I mean full days of nothing to do."
When was the last time she had had a day without a meeting or something happening?
She couldn't remember.
"Seems you can't remember."
That hit home.
"For health and amusement reasons I am forcing you to take the day off and to stay and relax."
Could she? Victoria wondered. There was nothing urgent planned. Charlotte would fret and worry, but even Charlotte had two days a week off unless something important happened.
"I'll stay." She decided and wrote a note that Charlotte could confirm, naturally it was coded, so her friend and maid knew everything was fine. "And how will she get the note?"
"Like this." Zaria took Victoria's hand and instructed her on proper letter sending. "Focus your magic, The parchment is just a container for your message. Now change it, give it wings, let it fly to the one you want to send the message to."
The parchment turned into a small golden dragon. It circled Victoria once then flew off through the open door, with some fairies tailing it in curiosity.
"That's … it felt like it had structure, but at the same time letting it flow freely. The magic I mean."
"There is a message spell like that actually. Not everyone is suited for pigeons, also in many occasions it's not useful to use it. At night a bat would blend in, a hawk is less likely to get hunted, a falcon is faster. I am surprised though; you are far more draconic than I expected."
"And you are far fluffier than I remember."
"Thank you~" Zaria took it as a compliment.
"No, first let's sit on the porch, and finish our tea."
Thinking of Charlotte reminded Victoria of something.
"Did you know that Levi gave me an aquarium with one of her scales for the fish?"
"Really? That means she likes you." Zaria smiled happily. "Are the fish still as affectionate?"
"Yes, they even confused Levi."
"Pot calling kettle black."
Charlotte was very surprised when a small golden dragon followed by fairies entered through the window, circled her twice, then landed before her and turned into a parchment.
She decided to ignore the fairies that started exploring the room.
She read the message.
Then she read it again.
"Victoria is staying out?"
"The Empress, she is staying over." Charlotte was worried.
"Don't worry?" The cowgirl reassured calmly. "She is in the safest place there is."
"She is visiting Zaria, the great Kitsune of the north. Or if you want, 'The White One'."
"The invitation she had was to the first shrine. It was with Zaria that she appeared in my shop."
"Let's turn your dagger into something less needy and less likely to take over your mind." Zaria offered as she opened what seemed to be a garbage bag.
"What?" Victoria felt worried hearing that. "What do you mean take over my mind?"
"That dark dragon? It was plain evil, so they count as tainted. And taint can spread." Zaria was rooting around inside the trash and found a few scales that were white, however depending on the light seemed to shimmer greenish, reddish, blueish, and gold.
To Victoria the scales felt like something, she couldn't put her finger on what.
"You can feel it." Zaria explained. "These are scales from your Goddess."
Victoria's eyes widened.
"Scales from Sylpheed the Goddess of Air, Fire, and Dragons."
Victoria saw five national treasures. The scale in the treasury was smaller, small bits had been chipped away over time, and it did not radiate power or whatever it was like the ones in Zaria's hand.
Then they rose and the black and gold dragon dagger rose.
Then they merged.
"Take it, hold it, pour your magic into it. I'll pour mine in too."
Victoria was freaking out. The crazy floof was merging scales of the Goddess into a dagger. Into her dagger.
She obeyed however. The dagger drank her magic, it was not greedily like before. It was a gentle flow, she could feel herself get tested, and she could feel magic that felt amused, calm, relaxed, and playful. She knew it was the albino before her. It was like bathing in a warm lake. It was humbling, ever since she had gone dragon, she had suspected her magic was large. Feeling the kitsune however made her feel small, tiny even.
Then it was done.
The blade of the dagger was now white with golden veins and shimmering in gold, red, blue, and green. The handle was now white, the grip had turned golden.
"Did you just make a national treasure?" Victoria asked incredulously.
"No? I mean that is a personalised dagger now, nobody else will ever be able to wield it properly."
Victoria gave the weapon a helpless look. "You added five scales. Each scale is a national treasure."
"Want a bag full of Goddess Relicts? I got scales, hair, and clothes from them."
Victoria corrected herself. Her newest one seeking to romance her, treated priceless relics as garbage. "How rich are you?" It slipped out.
"Most of my riches are items actually, but everything I collected over time together? I am not sure because I would probably break the world economy."
Victoria raised her arm with the changed 'Bracelet of Beauty'. "Did you know that this is already a national-grade treasure?"
"Really? I mean the craftsmanship is good, but it is not at that level."
"I meant the enchantments."
"Yes, oh." Victoria confirmed. "Your common sense when it comes to magic is as bad as mine when it comes to money."
"Not you too." Zaria gave Yuki a flat look.
Victoria actually felt relieved. The albino was not perfect. She giggled.
Victoria wondered how she had ended up being washed again.
This time she was awake.
And this time the one washing her was a love interest instead of a random acquaintance. An acquaintance washing her was already bad, but a love interest before they were even courting officially?
Victoria really wondered about her situation. The albino was powerful, always a good choice. The albino was very well connected, that was even more important when marrying into royalty, unless you needed someone neutral to calm the situation. The albino lacked common sense when it came to magic, that one was a big point since in two meetings she had gotten one national-treasure grade bracelet, and one world-treasure grade dagger. She was a great cook, Victoria licked her lips, she was stuffed, but the gentle taste of the chicken was still in her memory. She was beautiful, that was something important as well when it came to showing off. She was perfectly capable of protecting herself, though Victoria suspected anyone less than legendary level would have a hard time killing her, now she wanted to know how good Zaria was when it came to escaping assassinations.
"Your mind is far away. Do you want to turn around or to wash your front yourself?" Zaria found Victoria to be far away and in deep thought as she gently washed her love interest, she was not sure how it had happened, but something about the little dragon simply tickled her fancy. When the girl did not turn, she decided to continue, the poor girl was probably working through everything she had heard. "I'll start washing your front now, I have to say, you have very nice breasts."
Victoria admitted to herself that there were negatives. Marrying a shrine maiden from the north, one who was obviously very high in the hierarchy was bound to have effects. Then there was the call for an heir, though if she died either the old fae could take over, or someone from a branch family could get adopted into the main family. It was an issue, but not a very big one. The bigger problem was that they were both female and some idiots would try to marry them both, or rather coerce or force them to marry. Somehow that seemed likely, and very likely to fail.
Actually, Zaria seemed to be very familiar with gods, so harming her might call down the wrath of the gods upon them. Levi had clearly been a lover before, so now it was going to be a big issue if someone harmed them or tried to force them. Sylpheed too, Tamano no Mae as well. Probably other goddesses she didn't know about as well. Didn't that pose an apocalypse scenario in case Zaria got harmed? She wondered if that was a good or a bad threat, if Goddesses openly visited, that would really strengthen the relationship and protect them. Not many were stupid enough to raise the wrath of the gods. Naturally there would always be idiots who wanted more power.
On a personal level, the albino was affectionate, knowledgeable on anything but enchanting, clearly rich, and not bound by common sense. Victoria remembered their interactions. Yes, the floof was a flirt, clearly holding secrets, but considering she was someone who partied with the Goddesses and attended to them, it would be more surprising if there were no secrets. She was both relaxing and mind boggling. She was fey, spirit, and kitsune. It was very non-human. Then again, she was dragon blooded, and lately tapping more and more into the draconic parts of her blood. She was sure the albino would be able to take care of her if she ever went too far.
"Tilt your head back, I'm going to wash your hair again."
Victoria collected her running away thoughts. It was clear that courtship with the albino had more benefits then negatives, however the kitsune was really easy-going. Her deciding that dating an Empress didn't matter at all seemed more probable. It was obvious that they both had secrets and were holding things back. Maybe they should court first, see if they were compatible before confessing? Victoria had to giggle as she imagined "Sorry honey, I am actually the Empress." She wondered what the albino would confess to, fairy queen, greater spirit, divine messenger of Tamano? The name fit after all. Was she really already planning her confession when they just decided to date? Why was she feeling warm and feeling skin against her back?
"Welcome back, you were thinking a lot."
Victoria looked around. Had she been so focused that she was washed and somehow landed in the onsen without realising it? Why was she on the albinos’ lap? Why were they cuddling in the water?
"You were lost in thought, if you are like that at work, no surprise you are so exhausted." Zaria gave her a squeeze. "I have no idea what you were thinking about, but you were probably overthinking, too serious, and checking too many possibilities. And no, I did not read your mind, you were barely frowning, smiling, grinning, annoyed, and more. I am good at reading people. Most would lose in games against you however."
"You washed me again." Victoria remembered.
"Yes, I did, it seems you are used to being washed."
"Those are maids, that is different from being washed by …" Victoria wondered which word was the right one to be used here.
"Someone who is courting you and is clearly enjoying washing your wonderful body?"
Victoria blushed, her position on the albinos’ lap with the more modest but very firm breasts pressing into her back was not helping. "I can sit on my own now." She managed to brokenly say.
"A pity." Zaria lifted the human girl off her lap. "I enjoyed holding and cuddling you."
"You are shameless." Victoria accused.
"If I were, I would have taken advantage of you." Zaria pulled two cups and a bottle closer. "Here, have some chilled 'Honey's Snowy Dream', like I told you that time, and without fish."
Victoria thought about throwing a small tantrum, but decided against it. Sulking didn't suit her so it was out too. "Thank you." She sipped the golden coloured liquid. The cool sting of alcohol hit, then the sweetness and a flowery taste followed. She could appreciate the taste changing as the liquor warmed in her mouth. Then she saw something from the corner of her eyes.
The bottle was standing on the water. Zaria's cup was standing on the water. Yuki and Yuki's cup were standing on the water as the wet and dripping fox lapped at the liquor.
"Should she be drinking that?" Victoria wondered.
"She has a better alcohol tolerance than most dwarves."
Victoria examined the small fox. It was hard to believe.
"Mine is better than most Goddesses." Zaria remarked. It was actually far better than almost all gods and greater beings. But even though she had limits, they were just insanely high.
Victoria looked around. And found that she had a great view of the city and her palace lit up by the evening sun.
"I made the wall transparent from our side and asked the trees to move out of the way." Zaria mentioned casually.
"Is asking trees to move out of the way a fey thing?"
"No, it is a spirit and nature thing."
Victoria looked down at the city she was tasked to take care of.
"It looks even better when it is dark and they light the lanterns and lamps." Zaria mentioned as she stretched. "Soaking with someone feels nicer."
Victoria drank some more as she compared her relaxing baths that were alone or with Charlotte attending to her with the casual soaking she was doing. "I am clearly too sheltered." She admitted.
"But you are coming out of your shell. Would you have walked through the north before? Would you have started comparing gold to silver and copper? Or would you have gone out to see the city for yourself?"
"No." Victoria sipped some more and felt the cool liquid burn down her throat. "I was really locked up. Only now I have to work, something my life until now barely prepared me for."
"You grew up and became an adult." Zaria replaced the empty bottle with a new one. "No matter what you do, you will find moments you are not prepared for at all."
"I find that hard to believe in your case."
"I am old." Zaria admitted honestly. "Even if it happens rarely, it still happens." She smirked. "A drunk Goddess of light and healing basically mounting and having her way with her twin sister of death and darkness."
Victoria took a few moments to work through that. "Aren't the twins supposed to be mortal enemies?"
"It made the morning after very interesting, with the dark sister making the light sister take responsibility and being very affectionate. And the light sister having a mental breakdown and trying to fend off her sister." Zaria giggled at the memory. "She did the honourable thing and took responsibility. I think she is mostly confused about how affectionate darkness can be."
"Darkness is affectionate?"
"Amusingly, very much. Sex spells and magic technically are classified as dark by many races. After all it involves pleasure, pain, love, sharing emotions, bodily fluids, forced stimulation of the partner, and more."
Victoria blushed as she parsed that. "You are naturally capable of such magic."
"No need, I am skilled enough without it, but if you ever want to try it, I know a lot of spells~"
"I am so proud of you, you just cursed me aloud."
Victoria splashed the floof.
Zaria laughed and refilled the cups again.
"You are weird." Sip.
"I am~" Zaria agreed.
"You are very weird." sip.
"Why am I so comfortable with you?" Sip and refill.
"Because I don't care about your position, money, family, and so on?"
"You don't care." Sip.
"I do care. But it is just about you, because you seem interesting. You are smart, nice and pretty." Zaria poked Victoria's cheek. "I am rich enough and powerful enough that all that matters to me is the person."
"I accept your courtship." Sip.
"Annoying floof." Sip and refill.
"That is what makes me interested."
"I don't want to work." Sip.
"They ignore orders, reword them, and don't reply to what I need to know." Large gulp and refill.
"Officials, ministries, or who?"
"All of them!" Victoria took a big gulp again. "Why do we have an Aerial Combat Division when we don't have dragon riders, airships, or anyone capable of aerial combat? I don't understand it!"
"There is an Aerial Combat Division?" Zaria was surprised. "Let me guess, it is all human?"
"Yes." She drained the cup again. "And they have endless ranks, and don't reply to inquiries about what they are actually doing."
Zaria nodded at Yuki, Yuki nodded back and left the bath. "Come here. Administration only makes sense on a small scale."
"Refill." Victoria demanded. "Then there are the idiots who simply change orders into what they think is correct."
Zaria pulled the complaining girl into her lap again, a little magic would prevent alcohol poisoning, and it would let her rant it all off. "Here, have another cup."
"And then there are the people that do their jobs without doing their jobs." another big gulp followed. "Like servants you never see when you actually need them, they are always busy somewhere else."
"Fire them all, and replace them?"
"They are all useless nobles who got their spots through family connection." Victoria grumped as she waved her free hand annoyed.
Zaria wondered how frustrated her poor overworked love interest actually was. "There there, if you need people, I know some people who can offer either trustworthy people, trustworthy people for the right price, or people who would love to work in administration where they can actually push people around."
"You know everyone." Victoria mumbled as she sipped from her cup while staring at the two fluffy ears.
"The ears and tail are for lovers only." Zaria warned.
"They are sensitive. Grooming is a kind of foreplay for me."
"Pervert." Victoria drained her cup yet again.
"I just enjoy pampering and being close with my loved ones." Zaria caught Victoria before she slipped off her lap. "Being intimate is a nice feeling, trusting each other with mind, body and soul is really wonderful."
"I don't want to overwork; the work never ends." She drained the cup in one go. "Refill!"
Zaria smiled wryly, this rant and breakdown was far worse than she had expected. She had been careless about this. Not that she had any issues with dealing with the aftermath. "If you need auditors and people for administrative positions. Just ask."
"Replace all of them, draining money, going over budget, corrupt and overpaid."
"You are making fun of me." Victoria started poking one of Zaria's collarbones in annoyance.
"No, I really have people who can help, but there would be consequences."
"I need all the help I can get."
"Just give me a budget and what you need to get done. Or give me a goal and I'll have them deliver a proposal to you."
"Can you get the half a million of gold back?"
Zaria was actually surprised. "Half a million is gone?"
"Yesh, like for the bridge." Victoria turned her empty cup over. "Poof, gone."
"I have an idea who could help find out what happened." Zaria helplessly refilled the cup. Somehow letting her pass out seemed to be the best solution.
Victoria seemed to remember. "You need to show me how to use the dagger."
"We are in the onsen, relaxing."
Victoria pondered for a moment, then nodded. "Did you know that guards and soldiers are perverts?"
"They grope prisoners, or do worse."
"Are you sure it's safe in the palace?" Zaria liked the palace less the more she heard. She had hoped things would improve after removing the last corrupt Emperor. She sent Yuki a telepathic update on the situation. She got a reply that made her grin ferally.
"Your smile is weird."
"Sorry, I just had good news."
Victoria looked around. "How?"
"Is that speaking through the mind?" She sipped while watching Zaria.
"Your smile was not nice."
"Because I got confirmation, I can help you."
"You can?" Victoria eagerly drained the cup while blinking at Zaria.
Zaria found herself hugged and breasts meshed against breasts. "You are drunk."
"Am not, I lost my cup, give me yours."
Zaria handed it over and filled it with yet another bottle. She had saved six bottles from the Goddesses, and already four were empty. "Here you go."
Victoria leaned into the albino as she sipped from the confiscated cup. "You are pretty."
"So are you."
"You are too pretty."
"I think that is one of the rarest complaints I get."
"I think you are weird."
Zaria decided that it was time to put the little dragon to sleep. The overworked girl already overpowered the first drinking spell and was clearly in need of some deep rest. "Come look, it is dark and the city is alight."
She carried the drunk girl to a spot with a better view.
"North has more colours." The girl complained. "The palace burns around a hundred gold each night."
Zaria sighed at the workaholic. She tapped the nose of the girl who was sipping from the cup. "Enough of that, just relax and enjoy." She hugged Victoria from behind and cast a slow sleep spell.
It was obvious the girl was fighting it, but with her magic still not refilled and mind and body still tired from overworking she soon succumbed.
Zaria lifted the girl and stepped onto the water. It was time to go to sleep.
She looked down. "I guess I'll make sure to keep you another day. I don't know how badly the current Empress is overworking you, but you need a week to completely rest up." She threw a sharp look at the Palace on the other side of the valley. "Only because of her I am helping."
Tails increased to mind shattering amounts as physical tails and trans dimensional ones faded into being and reality twisted to accommodate them.
"Let it be known to the world. I Zaria, eternal Shrine Maiden of Tamano no Mae am courting Victoria the little dragon blooded. To harm her is to harm me. To stand against her, is to stand against me. So, I have declared." Power receded and reality restored itself.
Zaria looked down. "You are unfair, I announced it to the world despite this only being our second meeting. Things are moving quickly once again, like in my youth." They carried the sleeping beauty to her bedroom, where she towelled the girl off.
As she turned to clean up the kitchen and prepare for tomorrow, something happened.
She looked behind her where the young human had grabbed her tail and was nuzzling it.
"Pervert." Zaria complained as the sleeping girl snuggled the tail and pressed her breasts and face against it.
She had a bad feeling about this.
All around the world and heaven and hell being of power heard and felt the announcement.
Some reacted with surprise, some laughed, others celebrated, and many drew plans to find out who the little dragon blood was.
In her realm Tamano no Mae sipped her sake and giggled as she toasted to the announcement and wished their favoured shrine maiden luck. Then she left to tell the news to the other Tamas.
Sylpheed started fretting. Zaria was nice enough, but whoever had captured her interest clearly was her kin, and dating Zaria was chaotic at best.
Leviathan accidentally swallowed an island as she heard the news. She hoped that nothing that mattered had lived there. She had been relaxing in her true size when the announcement hit her. Then she smiled remembering the two affectionate fish. "The fish are always right."
The twins of light and darkness were cuddling when they heard. They shrugged, and went back to their realms intent to inform their servants about the announcement. Ordering the devils and angels to behave was easy, after all if Zaria was ready to cause a banana peel incident when annoyed, what would she be like if her beloved came to harm? Nobody wanted to know.
In the plains Fenris slipped and ploughed into a forest. When she pulled her head out, she spit out the earth that had gotten into her mouth. First, she would find a lake to clean out her mouth, then she would curl up and figure out what to do.
A certain Succubus Goddess stopped her writing. "Now I want to meet the little dragon." She looked down at the newest book she was writing. She was itching to write a Kitsune Goddess and Maid story, but first she would need to find out who the little dragon was. Maybe a little dragon and kitsune maid was a better topic?
The fey courts were very curious. There was a reason why neutrals were in a safe and relaxed position. That reason was the floof. Now the floof was courting a dragon. Fey and dragons rarely intermingled, but it happened. Both sides sent envoys to each other. This was a topic that concerned their race, they would have to ask their neutral contacts for information before deciding how to handle the situation aside from making sure the little dragon was safe. If they did not, it could mean the return of that cursed banana peel.
Deep underground the Queen and Goddess of the dark elves rose, then rubbed her temples. Her race really looked up to power, now having to explain to them that Zaria was courting would either cause her lover to get tested, or to instantly get voted into the president position of that Zaria fan club. She needed more information. "Summon the assassins, the spies, and the diviners." She paused. "Forget the diviners, call for traders and dancers instead. I have a need for fast information."
On the opposite side of the elven spectrum the Queen and Goddess of the high elves sighed in relief. Having a lover would probably calm that chaotic floof down some, unless her lover was the active type. She frowned. "I hope this dragon does not have a thing for high elven princesses." She was the true Queen, but each elven forest had their Queen. That meant there were plenty of princesses. "Call for a gathering of the queens. I have important news to tell."
The Dwarven God decided to get very drunk. That floof getting hitched was going to throw the world into chaos again, he would have to remind everyone to prepare for war just in case. And more importantly to start brewing. Zaria getting hitched would mean parties all over the world. That meant a lot of drinking, that meant a lot of coin to be earned.
A certain vampire queen and goddess woke up. Sleepily she digested the message. Then her coffin failed to open. She realised that her coffin was partially smashed since she couldn't move her legs. "Nyah?" She morphed into a cat to slip through the rubble of the castle she had borrowed. "I am the vampire goddess now?" It was a title and power that automatically bestowed itself to the oldest and most powerful vampire in existence. She became a bat and promptly got lost since the surroundings had changed too much during her long nap. "I'll have Zaria explain to me what is going on." The loli catgirl Vampire Goddess would take a long time to arrive unless she would find someone to turn her around.
On the moon a rabbit woke. As the announcement continued the ears visibly perked up. "Hahaha." She laughed then jumped off the bed and through the closed doors. The door shattered and blew off their hinges. But the bunny ignored the shards as she wove through them and shot down the hall. She shot past confused guards and maids, she stopped hard before a window, she opened it then jumped out, making her way through a garden to a statue. She did a flying kick at the statue that shattered, or rather the outer skin shattered. "Stop sleeping Luna, Zaria found a waifu~"
The figure that rose from the dust was a completely unharmed floppy eared moon hare. She was tall and had a sleepy look. "I know, do you think she has a soft lap?"
The standing ear bunny gaped, she opened her mouth to cuss the moon hare, before she realised something. "You know, it's Zaria, so she probably has."
"I am going to visit them." The moon hare faded away.
The bunny that remained behind opened her mouth, then she closed it. Finally, she growled in anger. "You shitty Goddess, don't leave your Saintess behind."
Victoria woke slowly. Something furry and fluffy was tickling her chest, arms, and face. It felt warm, soft and it smelled nice.
When she woke, she found white and soft fur on her face. She looked down, the long fluff was being cuddled by her and pressed between her breasts. Then it went past her stomach and led to a white back and ended above a pair of white buttocks.
She was hugging a tail.
She was hugging Zaria's tail.
The tail felt very huggable.
The voice sent a shiver down Victoria's spine. That voice sounded off Victoria decided. It called out to something primal.
Victoria had a bad feeling when she realised that the white back looked slightly sweaty. Then the floof turned around.
The look in the red eyes was passionate, the pink tongue slid out and rewet the pale pink lips. Then the mouth opened. "You are evil~"
She had been called 'evil' but the voice seemed more passionate.
Full of desire.
Victoria hugged the tail tighter at the sheer desire.
Zaria closed her eyes as she shuddered and made a moaning noise at the back of her throat.
"Do you remember what I said about my tail and my ears?"
Victoria tried to remember; she had a feeling it was very important.
She immediately released the tail like it had just burned her.
"I spent the whole night being teased~"
Victoria felt danger.
"A night full of foreplay~"
Victoria felt her purity was in danger when the white body moved above her.
"I am very aroused now~"
Victoria felt something drip onto her legs and looked down.
"I am literally dripping~"
Victoria wondered if it was possible to get any redder when her face already felt on fire.
"I am having a hard time holding back~"
Victoria wondered what holding back and lying down on top of her had in common.
Victoria shuddered as the hot and sweaty body moulded against hers.
"Hold me tight until I calm down~"
Victoria carefully wrapped her arms around the heated white body.
"Keep holding me please~"
The voice was literally begging her, she pulled the albino tightly against her and shuddered when Zaria buried her face in her neck.
A whimper left her mouth when she felt something wet and warm slide against her skin.
The wet and slippery feeling where their legs and lower bodies were touching felt awfully close to sex for her.
They just decided to start courting the evening before, and here she was having a floof she had teased all night rubbing and pressing against her.
Victoria just hoped that whatever Zaria meant by holding tightly worked before she found out how two females had sex.
The next hour had felt like hours to the human girl.
"Sorry about that, but you seemed so happy hugging my tail that I would have had to forcibly pull it away from you. I did not expect to get teased and played with for a whole night. If you will be as good awake as you were asleep with the nuzzling and squeezing, I am going to have a very good time in the future."
Victoria was glad she was facing away from the kitsune with how much her face felt on fire.
Understandably she was being washed again. The sweaty and dripping kitsune having been glued to her for an hour had made a bath a priority.
"Are you alright now?" Victoria asked.
"No, but I can deal with this much." Zaria replied casually.
"You are not?"
Zaria stepped in front of the tease. "I am still horny and dripping. But I have calmed down enough to not jump you and to make it to the evening when I can rub one off."
Victoria could see and smell the arousal when the floof stepped in front of her. "Pervert!"
"Says the one who played with my tail all night~"
"Sorry, but you could have escaped any time probably."
"You looked so happy hugging and nuzzling my tail."
"You set me up."
"All is fair in love and war~"
"Does washing me at every chance count?"
"It is part of the whole grooming and skinship we kitsune are into. We are a touchy race, it is even worse for me since I have succubus on the spirit side."
"You are a horny bundle of fluff." Victoria accused.
In response Zaria grew white succubus wings and horns that curved around her ears.
"Any more surprises?"
"How do you manage to stay so serious when washing me?"
"I am mainly a shrine maiden, then an adventurer, but I am a certified maid."
"The Goddesses I spoiled approved."
"I think I had enough surprises for now." Victoria decided.
"I have a good surprise for you waiting on the dining table."
Victoria wondered how the albino seemed to switch from flirty pervert to rather professional washer.
"Before I forget, washing each other falls into pampering and grooming."
"And foreplay?" The question slipped from Victoria's mouth before she could think better of it.
"Foreplay too, my breasts are not as big as yours, but I can wash you with them." Zaria offered. "But it is not something you normally do when you start courting and dating."
"I think we broke all normal courtship traditions already."
"No, we didn't, we didn't have hot, needy, and passionate sex."
"Tail molesting dragon."
"That has to be the weirdest insult or name calling I ever heard."
"It fits." Zaria finished washing her lover.
"Want me to wash you?" Victoria offered, even if she was very unsure how to wash someone else properly.
"Only if you want me to lose control and jump you to have a lot of passionate lovemaking."
"Not this time then." Victoria moved ahead to soak.
Zaria smirked because the girl more or less implied that it would happen another time.
After the bath Victoria was staring at the table with a lot of folders on it with Yuki looking incredibly smug and sitting on top of the pile.
"More paperwork?" Victoria hesitantly asked.
"Not paperwork then, good." The human relaxed some.
"Actually, it is to reduce your paperwork." Zaria explained.
"Kon kon kon."
"The top folder has some quotes for information prices. As a freebie you get a description of the ministries, what they supposedly do, what they actually do, and a quick guess of funds embezzled for the last three years. Focus on this year since the new Empress started her reign." Zaria translated.
Somehow Victoria suspected from the way Yuki was smirking foxily while radiating smugness at her that the fox knew exactly who and what she was.
She placed a finger on her lips in shushing motion.
The foxy smirk grew wider.
"You are way too smug about this." Victoria complained to the fox.
She took the top folder and looked into it.
"Wait, only one million for information on about thirty million of which probably twenty are recoverable?"
"Family price~" Zaria translated again.
Victoria nodded. "I guess approved."
"Kon" Yuki held out a paw.
The confused Victoria shook it.
"Enough business, breakfast is ready."
It reminded everyone that they were actually hungry.
"I should have asked before, but why am I wearing a shrine maiden outfit instead of my dress? And am I using your underwear?" Victoria asked as she was facing Zaria on what seemed to be a small training ground.
"I sewed the underwear, and the uniform is one of mine. We are using it because we will get sweaty during training."
"You sewed it?" Victoria asked. "How did you know my sizes?"
"I washed you."
That response made as much sense as anything else did. "What are we doing here?"
"I am going to teach you how to use a magical dagger properly." Zaria explained. "You already started using free magic, continue training, you can use it as a casting implement as well, it should boost draconic magic. Boosting magic, presence magic, and flight magic should get a boost too. The dagger itself when you charge it, can boost its sharpness and most importantly. It can cut magic."
"Cut magic?" Victoria asked.
"Shoot something at me."
Victoria fired a golden orb at the albino who slashed through it with her hand causing it to shatter and disperse. "Like this." Zaria announced. "It is not something that I expect you to manage immediately. First lesson: properly imbuing magic into your dagger."
"I'll go and get it."
"No, summon it."
"It is your dagger, it is attuned to you, remember it. Remember how it took in your magic, remember how it felt in your hand. Now hold out your hand and call it."
The more draconic girl held out her hand. Then she remembered it. Her dagger. Now white and gold. Shimmering in red, green, blue, and gold. A world class treasure. Probably enchanted to an insane amount. It felt warm. The grip was comfortable. She was holding it.
Zaria smiled. "See, it's easy."
Victoria looked from the dagger to the albino. "You did something to it."
"No, it is bound to you, well, me too."
"Because you added your magic." The girl felt something off. "Wait, you said it is only usable by dragons? I mean dragon blooded."
Zaria looked around. "I'll show you another time, but let's say I can use pretty much anything."
"Okay?" Victoria decided she was overloaded with information anyway.
Zaria waved her hand and a normal looking dagger appeared. "First lesson, imbuing magic. So, you stop hesitating." Zaria slashed the dagger against her wrist at full strength, only to have the blade snap off. She threw the hilt off to the side and summoned another dagger.
"Now you turn to try. Since I feel you'd hesitate anyway. We will do something different." Zaria handed Victoria the dagger and then grabbed a handful of her floor length hair and straightened it between her hands. "Cut it."
"Don't worry, it will grow back within minutes even if you manage to cut it. So, try to cut it with the steel dagger."
After realising that the albino floof was serious about her trying to cut her hair, she gently slid the dagger against the hair, to no effect.
Another try with more strength did nothing again. Finally at full strength again nothing. Not a single hair was cut.
"Now use your dragon dagger, but don't imbue it with magic."
Victoria did not hesitate this time. She managed to get the same result.
"Now charge it with magic."
It took her a while to find out how to imbue magic properly. It took a while but she managed to cut through all fifty or so hairs.
"Here look, it's growing back."
Victoria looked, and realized that it was true. The handful that she had sheared through with a lot of work, was visibly elongating. "Why did I do it to your hair?"
"Now that we are courting, I want to make something for you to keep you safe. Do you want a ribbon, an anklet, another bracelet, a choker, or a collar?"
"You are going to enchant it." It was not a question.
"Of course. You know better materials, better magically conductive materials, and highly magical materials are better for enchanting and magic item crafting. Even if they can be more temperamental."
"You are going to use your hair." It was again a statement.
"What else am I supposed to use? I am making something for you after all."
What scared Victoria about this was one thing: Zaria had access to relics from Goddesses, but instead chose to use her own hair.
"I am tending towards choker actually." Zaria admitted.
Then Victoria realised something. "Is that another kitsune thing?"
"Sort of? I mean the neck is a vulnerable spot, so allowing someone to place something there, it means a lot of trust. You wouldn't allow a stranger access to your neck normally. It is worse for us who have stronger instincts than humans."
Victoria felt her face heat up again. That meant that the albino had trusted her and had really been interested even back then. "Wait, today in the morning. When you had me hold you and you licked my neck and throat."
"Calming the instincts." Zaria admitted. "Thank you for letting me do that."
"I was more scared of being ravished instead of being harmed." Victoria touched her neck where she remembered the warm tongue had been caressing her.
"So, have you decided what you want?"
Victoria pondered. On one hand an anklet would be easily hidden. However, she had the feeling that using a choker would hold far more meaning. "I will take the choker."
The happy smile was accompanied by a happily swishing tail.
Victoria realized that she just had made her vixen very happy.
"I'll make it when you rest." Zaria bundled the hair up and placed it off to the side. "Now first let me see what you know about dagger usage."
"I am actually more used to a pair of glaive knives for ceremonial dances."
"Good, this one is more of a hidden weapon than a ceremonial one. I will make you some proper ones that are ceremonial for blade dances and for combat war dances." Zaria waved her hand and suddenly held a fan. She opened it to show a beautiful drawing of a cherry tree, while at the top of the fan ribs were extended blades.
"Alright, I will show you."
The early afternoon was spent with Victoria showing basic forms, and Zaria correcting them.
Lunch ended up being a barbeque.
The group ate a lot.
Afternoon was a nervous Victoria doing mock fighting against Zaria. This transcended into spars.
"Remember your magic."
"You are draconic, don't forget you can boost your body."
"Imbue your dagger."
"You forgot to move your feet."
After hours of exercising her body Victoria felt tired. She was out of magic, she was out of stamina, she was dripping with sweat, and her body felt like it was a soft noodle.
"Oops?" Zaria poked a leg.
"It felt really satisfying." Victoria gasped. "But I think I overdid it."
"I'll give you a massage after a quick bath."
"You just want to wash me again." Victoria accused.
Zaria nodded. "Naturally, it is a part of the need to pamper and groom." Zaria paused for a moment. "I guess skinship too, depending on how we bathe. But I think just a quick wash before the massage, and a long soak after dinner."
"I need to return tonight."
"I have obligations."
"And no real time off until now, so sorry, you are staying."
"You can't make me stay."
Zaria just poked the lying girl in the ribs.
Victoria paled when she realised that squirming out of the way was impossible. "I guess you can."
"Yes, now stop trying to squirm. I'll carry you inside." Zaria looked down at her with a foxy smile. "Now I will send a message explaining that you are returning tomorrow."
Victoria raised a limp hand. "I'm not sure I can do it. I am almost out of magic."
"Don't worry. I'll make my message follow yours." Zaria pulled parchment, quill, and inkpot out again. "Sorry, tired Victoria out, I am making her rest, she should be back tomorrow around lunch time." Zaria wrote and then the parchment turned into a fox that ran off through the air.
"I am going to get washed yet again." Victoria complained as she found herself in a princess-carry.
"Do you want to stay sweaty and sticky?"
Charlotte paused in her fretting when a white transparent fox appeared and sniffed her before jumping onto the table and turned into a parchment.
Considering that the fairies seemed ecstatic upon the message she decided it was important to read.
It had been an interesting day for her with the inclusion of fairies. The poor secretary was hiding since the fairies had taken to braiding her hair. Only she couldn't undo the rather elaborate hair style with an ahoge that moved according to her mood.
Charlotte quickly found out that fruit and sweets kept the chaos to a minimum.
She opened the parchment and found fairies on her head and shoulders seemingly eager to read the message as well.
"Sorry, tired Victoria out, I am making her rest, she should be back tomorrow around lunch time."
Charlotte first felt scandalised, then she remembered where their Empress had gone. However, kitsune had already gone on a date with her Mistress. She had even bought her that underwear.
You don't buy something like that normally unless you are interested.
Charlotte felt her face burn up.
If Victoria went there for that, it was no surprise she got tired out.
Now she had to find the secretary in hiding who would have to clear today's and tomorrow's schedule. Then she would have to reschedule everything for two days later.
In the bath Victoria found herself washed while her limp body was leaning against Zaria. She was sure that the floof was enjoying this far more than she should if the happily swishing tail was any indication.
She hissed when Zaria raised an arm. Her body was limp and hurting.
"Let's skip the bath and soak." Zaria decided. "I have salves and oils that should help. While healing it with magic would be easy, it would negate the physical effects of the training. Recharging your magic is easy too, but needs a nice long kiss, with tongue."
"I'll wait until it regenerates." Victoria replied. "And I know it was extreme training, but I don't feel like redoing it."
"That means a deep massage, while at it I will realign your spine and some other things."
"Like this." Zaria gave Victoria's head a controlled twist.
Victoria paled when she heard the cervical vertebrae made a crunching noise. After a moment of indescribable discomfort, her neck felt better, like a pressure she didn't know about was gone.
"I'll do the rest later."
Then Victoria got really confused when a second Zaria stepped in front of her and gently lifted her leg. "Why are you in front of me when I can feel you behind me?"
"You already recognize me by my breasts pressing against you." The Zaria behind her teased.
"Want to feel mine to check if I am real?" The Zaria, who was washing her foot asked.
"Zaria, what did you do?" Victoria demanded.
"I am just in two places at once." The Zaria behind her replied.
"I went back in time after I finished washing you since being here twice makes it easier. Oh and you can just pee into this bucket."
Victoria coloured. "How did you know?"
"It already happened to me." The Zaria before her shrugged. "I thought I'd offer the bucket, but then you insist on going to the toilet. And I have to be there, or you will fall off."
Victoria now switched to paling, she tried to move her body, but the body felt like an overcooked noodle. "This isn't pampering, this is shaming!" The girl complained.
"I'll carry you." The Zaria behind her told her as the one before her rinsed her and fetched a bathrobe.
The following scenes were omitted to preserve some of Empress-chan’s dignity.
Victoria was staring ahead with dead eyes as the two Zarias washed her.
Her dignity was crushed.
Her protests had been ignored.
The time travelled Zaria picked her up and carried her to the bedroom.
There was no protest when the obstinate floof then started with the massage by realigning the bones.
Victoria returned to the world when Zaria was doing unspeakable things to her foot. She wanted to be angry. She wanted to ignore the floof. But it felt too good.
"Mhm" An almost moan escaped her.
The massage was clearly professional and not sensual. But being touched everywhere as muscles were massaged deeply and her body was stretched was the lesser evil. She was being seen during the shameful act.
After being rolled this way and that, massaged in various positions, the massage changed from the almost painful one to a relaxing one.
"We are done, you can rest and heal now."
She wanted to stay angry.
But the soft and gentle touches were warm and relaxing.
She felt the long hair dance across her back.
"Sorry but not sorry." The melodic voice whispered in her ear. "Sleep and relax."
It was almost hypnotic.
She felt herself drifting away.
Even almost asleep she felt the warm body lying against her and the warmth and soothing feeling spreading through her.
When she woke, she found herself entangled with the annoying albino laying across her.
Looking outside it was just dawning.
Her body felt livelier than before.
Her magic was fully recovered.
She felt better than she had in a long time.
She peered at the sleeping albino in deep suspicion.
She could admit that the feeling of skin against skin was very pleasant.
However, she was before marriage.
Doing such things before marriage was shameless.
However, Zaria had said that grooming and such were a part of kitsune and succubus courtship, or something like that.
The succubus part worried her.
Was casual sex part of it too?
She needed to figure things out.
It seemed that courtship across races was not without issues.
"You are thinking too hard."
Victoria looked down at the albino who took her hand.
"Something is worrying you, and I hope it is not work, so let us talk about it."
"It's all going too fast." Victoria explained. "I mean, we started courting, and already we are …"
"Cuddling naked, touching, and seeing each other bare."
"Yes, things like this should be done after marriage."
"Thank you for thinking about marrying me." Zaria gave the worried human a squeeze. "And I know what you mean. It is going rather quickly." She straddled the worried girl. "Let's go on another date next time."
Victoria turned her head away from the albino. "A date?"
"Your turn to pick a spot, and if you don't know where to go, then simply tell me where you want to go and I can teleport us there. If it is another country, that is fine too." Zaria smirked like a fox.
"I'll think about it." Victoria admitted. "Now get off me."
"I will make breakfast then, we skipped dinner."
Victoria dressed in the dress she had arrived in.
She followed the halls to where she remembered the kitchen was and opened the door, only to close it again.
She opened the door again only to find a Zaria embroidering a choker with her hair. Another Zaria was painting a mask with a fine dragon motif. The last Zaria was cooking.
"Two wasn't enough?" She wondered.
"Well, since you are poking the hornet's nest, I need to make sure you are protected." The Zaria doing the stitching replied.
"I am doing a little something so you have an easier time fighting back against stronger enemies."
"No war spells!" Victoria decided to add, she had no intention to accidentally raze a city when getting on over her head.
"Nothing like that." The mask painting Zaria replied. "A normal but pretty sheath for the dagger, and since you are a dragon a fox mask seemed wrong."
"That mask is enchanted." It was a statement.
The painting Zaria shook her head. "No, actually not true. I will enchant it, in case you really need it, you can charge it to heavily boost your offensive abilities. Speed, dexterity, strength, and your draconic abilities will all be boosted. If you are in over your head, either to quickly overpower the enemy, or to give you a chance to safely escape."
"Mine is actually towards protection." The embroidering Zaria said. "I will feel it when you are in great danger, hurt dangerously, or killed. Also, immunity to poisons, venoms, mind magic, most curses, and you will be harder to hurt."
The cooking Zaria explained as well. "The mask can be summoned like the dagger. The choker can be willed away. You can wear the mask when walking through the north or the shrine, it will serve as an identification for you as well. It should also help with more powerful entities."
"Aren't you overdoing it?"
"Someone at the palace has gone dragon not long ago, and the royals tried to breed the dragon blood before. So, watch yourself. You can always use the mask to train your dragon power, it is close to your magic, only more primal and instinctual."
Victoria felt very glad none of the Zaria's was facing her. She wondered if she should mention that it had been her that had gone dragon, but she decided against it, she wanted to know more about it first.
"Are all kitsune so protective?" She wondered.
"Yes, but it is also a powerful people thing." The kitsune admitted shamelessly. "The more power you have, the more endangered anyone near you is due to random idiots. The closest example you are familiar with will be nobles, or even royalty. How many assassinations and kidnappings happen? Oh, can't forget the poisonings and blackmail. For that you need guards, taste testers, medics, and much more to prevent, protect, and keep safe."
The dragon mask painting Zaria seemed satisfied with the way she drew the black and gold dragon face.
Victoria felt the pressure when magic was invoked. Some felt sort of familiar, some reminded her of Levi's divinity, some felt like the fairies, then there was the feeling of draconic magic, and finally several things she couldn't recognize. The albino was definitely overdoing it.
It got worse when the other albino started enchanting the strip of white silk that was her future choker. The third one that was cooking came over and cleaned the table before she started to set the table for breakfast.
"Are you crazy?" Victoria asked. "I can't wear national or higher-level treasures."
"Considering they won't work for anyone else?" Zaria gave her love interest a foxy smirk while Yuki radiated smug from her chair at the table. "If you don't want to wear them, they will simply go to waste."
Victoria sat down and wondered how to convince the albino otherwise.
"""You can't stop me~"""
She shuddered as the three Zarias' spoke at once. "Stop that."
"Do you …" "... prefer it …" "... like this?"
"No!" Victoria denied vehemently. "You speak." She pointed at the cooking Zaria.
"Ham and eggs, tomatoes with pumpkin seed oil, and freshly baked bread are fine with you?" Zaria asked.
"Yes, sounds good, I am really hungry."
"Actually, you said yesterday that healing would remove the benefits. Shouldn't I be hurting all over?"
"Normally yes, but there is a magic that loving witches can perform. The boost their partners natural healing through sex and skinship. Actually, it was more like sharing it or even transferring it."
"So, you shared your probably insane regeneration with me?"
"Yes, during our sleep I simply shared myself with you."
Victoria swallowed. That sounded like a very intimate technique based on trust and intimacy. It sounded like a large commitment from the albino. "Why?" she asked, confused. She couldn't understand it. Then she realised she should probably clarify.
"Why do people feel? Why do people fall in love? Why did I see you and talk to you? Why did you catch my interest? I have wondered as well." Zaria admitted, and the other two Zaria left the room. She approached the suddenly very nervous Victoria.
The white hand gently caressed the soft cheek. "The first thing that caught my attention was your hair." Zaria remembered fondly. "Then when I saw them following you, I simply decided that you didn't deserve to get robbed if you were trying to blend in, even if it was badly. After you got dressed up properly, I realised that you were actually pretty. Spending a festival with a pretty girl sounded fun. Then as we started talking, I realised that you were sheltered and smart. You also seemed to have a thirst for new experiences. Your reaction in the red street was so cute."
Victoria blushed as she remembered that part, and the still unused see-through thing that Charlotte had probably placed somewhere.
"I really had to fight a laugh when you tried to pay the poor catgirl with a platinum coin."
That hadn't been one of her proudest moments. However, she had learned from it. The warm hand caressing her face was distracting.
"Then I realised that you had power, untrained, unrefined, and not human. You didn't overreact to Levi; you didn't seem opposed to holding hands. I felt reluctant to part since I enjoyed it. So, I gave you the invitation without hoping to ever see you again. I knew I was interested. I knew you were intrigued by how different I am. The next step had to be yours."
Victoria realised that it was true. The kitsune had offered, but hadn't pushed.
"Then you came back, I was happy, the fairies like you, Yuki is amused by you, and our bodies seem to be very compatible."
Now Victoria blushed again.
"I could have gotten away from you any time." Zaria admitted. "But you seemed so happy nuzzling and hugging my tail that I let you. You also held me tight properly and let me calm down despite us being naked. Getting to wash and pamper you was a very bonus."
Now the human turned a deeper shade of red.
"That you are powerful is a nice plus, since normal people are so frail. You however have a lot of potential as a dragon." Zaria released the face and picked up the dagger, mask, and choker. "You have drive, you want to learn, you want to do things on your own I can see, but you are not above asking for help."
Zaria handed her the dagger. "This is your dagger, I just refined it a bit."
Victoria rolled her eyes. Adding Sylpheed's scales did not count as a bit. She accepted it however.
Zaria then held out the choker and the mask. "These two are different however. Accepting them means that you are willing to try to be with me despite my quirks, the strange company I keep, and my desire to keep you safe."
"You forgot the teasing, the skinship, the pampering, the washing, and desire for me." Victoria added.
"I file it under quirks." Zaria replied. "I will be a part of your more sheltered world; you will be a part of my rather wide one."
Victoria watched Zaria. It was clear from the held-out items that the kitsune clearly wanted to be with her. The big question was: did she want to? Like she had pondered before, the risks were many. The benefits however were less at first glance on a personal level. The Empress in her said yes. It was power.
How did she feel about it? It seemed unfair to Zaria to base this on benefits alone. The crazy floof was interesting. She was chaotic. She had seen things she would have never experienced otherwise. While embarrassing it was true that getting washed by her and feeling her skin against hers was very nice too. The tail felt really wonderful, she would have to be careful with it however. It held a thrilling danger in it as well. She decided to go with emotions instead of calculating as the Empress.
She had fun. She had enjoyed it. Despite that terribly embarrassing moment at the toilet. Being watched during that was humiliating.
"No more watching me on the toilet."
"No more overworking and overdoing it."
"How do you put that choker on? I don't see a clasp."
Did she really want the pervert in her life?
Surprisingly the answer was yes.
With her she could be herself. A girl that was dragon blooded. She would have to explain a lot sooner or later. "We both have secrets."
"Of course. I am sure mine are far worse than yours." Zaria admitted.
Victoria sincerely doubted that there was anything bigger than her being the Empress.
"You might regret it." The Empress at work warned.
"You don't feel like the type that would date me for a contact in the north."
Victoria felt amused. That had been something she had thought about. She was doing something she shouldn't, she was acting on feelings. Feelings that said that she wanted the ancient albino kitsune in her life.
She took the mask and put it on. It simply stayed in place and felt oddly comfortable and right. Then she lifted the band of silk and hair that was going to be her choker.
"I accept you."
And she did. She had the feeling that this courtship was going to be a final one. The floof was something she felt she wanted in her life. Something she needed for some reason.
The band dissolved into strands that crawled up her arms and then wrapped themselves around her neck.
Reforming into the white choker.
"You really do." Zaria was surprised. That she had not expected. It had been a bit careless of her. But she had been accepted. Not her courtship, but actually her.
There were endless things she would have to explain.
One of them was being old enough to have seen worlds being born and then dying.
Another was the fact that she was the most powerful being, period.
That she was the true power behind the north.
"I have to confess something."
Victoria had a bad feeling.
"All gods and greater beings know that I am interested in you."
"I may have announced it to the world. So, they will know when they see you."
Victoria tried to decide how she felt about that.
"So, expect Levi to visit soon."
"You said you have an aquarium with her scale. She can find it."
"Should I expect more?"
"Tamano no Mae?"
"I am her shrine maiden after all."
"Possibly Sylpheed. You are a dragon and that dagger has her scales. So if you channel a lot of power, she will know."
She had suspected it. Hearing it spelled out felt like a headache however. "Any other immediate concerns?"
Zaria handed a scroll over. "These are the files on the ministries, simply break the seal on a large table. Expect the official Guild Master of the information guild soon. A very healthy dark elf, not moo levels but close. And probably wearing a skimpy ninja uniform. That said, she will take proper looks at her chest and legs as a compliment."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes. If she annoys you, tell her that she would look better in a collar and nothing else."
"Why do I feel there is more?"
"If you really want to reward her for some weird reason, offer to spank her."
"Do you know any normal people?"
"From those I regularly interact with. Probably only the shrine maidens at the other shrines?"
Victoria was speechless. "Wait, didn't you say Yuki was the Guild Master?" Left unsaid was that nobody sane would call a full shrine maiden normal.
"Yuki is the real Guild Master. She is the official one, and does most of the day-to-day stuff."
Victoria looked at the smug arctic fox.
Yuki literally radiated smugness.
Zaria shrugged a bit helplessly. "Don't worry about it, and don't overthink it." She went to the kitchen. "Now that the serious part is over. Time to eat."
Once the table was set Zaria gave Victoria an amused look. "Dear? You should take the mask off to eat."
The very embarrassed Victoria quickly took it off.
After a comfortable breakfast Zaria enchanted Victoria's bag to have more space, and gave her some shampoos, bathing salts, soaps, skin creams, lotions, and perfumes to hand over to her maid with a booklet filled with instructions. Then she added some cookies, a bottle of 'Honey's Snowy Dream', and a water bottle. Finally, the most important thing. A pair of towels. A small one and a bathing towel sized one.
"Towels? I have my own though?" Victoria questioned.
"Towels are important." Zaria responded. "You can use them for everything. They are essential survival gear. These are enchanted for cleanliness, temperature control, resilience, softness, durability, pleasant sleep, camouflage when hiding, not slipping when used as clothing, quick drying when hung up, pleasant scent, … I am forgetting something."
Victoria decided that this was the weirdest one yet. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"You can use it as a towel, pillow, blanket, rope, bag, headcover, dress, rag, carpet, bathrobe, emergency flag, and so on. The towel is a tool of huge possibilities."
It made sense, yet it just sounded so weird.
"Now, the next one, only use it in case of a life-or-death emergency." Zaria smirked foxily. "Or when you need to buy time, or you are surrounded by people that are obstinate and deserve hell. Drop It, then don't move until I come to pick you up."
Just looking at the fragile looking glass sphere made Victoria want to run and hide from the banana peel inside. "Zaria?"
"Is that?" Victoria had a really bad feeling. Banana peels had a certain stigma, and considering what the floof had pulled out before, she was really worried.
"A highly enchanted and cursed banana peel." Zaria explained. "Also known as a calamity class chaos bringer."
"I can't take it!" Just having that menace near her was worrying.
"If you are ever facing something high ranking, and you need to buy time. Show it, use it. Then sit down, and wait for me." Then she placed it into the very worried Victoria's bag. "It is an 'in case of emergency' thing."
"Is our courtship going to continue like this? With you abandoning common sense, and clearly being overprotective."
Zaria simply smiled. "Probably? I mean I have heard complaints before from those I dote on."
"I hope you calm down soon." Victoria was honestly scared of her bag.
"Now we need to get going though." Zaria reminded her future mate. "You are supposed to be home by lunch."
"We will continue this discussion." Victoria promised.
"Sure, but good luck changing my mind." Zaria took Victoria's hand and laced their fingers. "Let's go."
"You are coming too?"
"At least to the bottom." Zaria waved at the path. "Might as well show you a few tricks in case you are in a hurry."
"Why does that sound ominous?"
"I will show you the wild path. The fey, the dark ones, the spirits, and other assorted ones walk the wild paths. They are very magical; you might actually change race walking there until you are more settled. My protection would prevent anything bad from happening, but since I think you'd look really cute with a tail, horns, fluffy ears, or a few scales … it wouldn't protect you against that."
Victoria gave Zaria's fluffy tail another look. Having her own tail wouldn't be so bad maybe. Though she was more draconic, so probably she'd get a scaly tail.
"And considering you accept me, you have touch permission now, but be aware that I will probably jump you in response." Zaria warned.
Victoria peeked at the tail again. "Something to remember for later."
Zaria smiled at the response and decided to pull her along before she realised what she had said. "Let's relax and enjoy ourselves."
"I feel rather nervous though, I mean my bag and what is inside are probably worth more than the palace."
"Sounds about right. And relax, not like anyone else can take things out or steal your bag."
"Isn't it common sense to enchant a bag with security? You can give others permission to use it, they need to hold it and you need to hold it, then you imbue both your magic and you think of giving permission."
Victoria took a moment to imagine Charlotte going through the bag, and ending up dropping the banana peel or misplacing something. "I will better take care of it myself." She decided.
"It will be a good place to keep important things, since only you, or me, can take things out or put things in."
Victoria had an errant thought. "Are you the one who cleans the path and steps?"
"Yes. Takes about a day. I usually do it in two parts. The viewpoint is about in the middle."
"I met the fairies there at that spring. I forgot to take a bottle and I was thirsty." Victoria admitted.
"No worries this time. I have enough to keep us hydrated."
"I would probably be surprised if you didn't." Victoria decided that this type of banter and casual sniping was pleasant. She did not need to watch her every word.
All too soon fairies started following them.
Then she saw something else. They had dragonfly wings, and there was a clear separation between the two types. "What are they called?" She pointed one out.
"Those are pixies, they tend to be mischievous, even for fey. If you ever plan on having a pranking war or want someone to have 'terrible luck' you can give them a hint about the target. If it is just a few pranks, then ask the fairies. If you want to ruin someone, ask both and make it a competition."
The only human present gave the fluttering swarms a thoughtful look. "Do they occupy buildings too?"
"Yes, but if you mean those ministries, I know where a few poltergeists are. Also ghosts and spectral lawyers."
The last one sounded weird. "Lawyers at a level that not even hell wants them."
"I think I met one of those."
"That had to be the most arrogant and overbearing person I have ever met, and I work at court."
"If you ever need proper representation, I know a trio that is … let's say if you are in the right, you will win the case."
"Why does that sound ominous?"
"Angel, devil, and fey."
Victoria tried to think of something to say to that mix. She failed.
"Their rates almost cost you your soul and sanity, but they are worth it when you really need them."
"I hope I never do."
They passed a spring. "It is an underground spring, this one and the one further down are fed from the mountain top."
"It is really tasty water."
"The water over there is imported. So, it lacks that fresh taste."
Victoria really wanted some of that.
Then a white hand appeared and filled a transparent water bottle. Then a second one was filled.
Victoria accepted the arm around her and the two bottles gracefully and put them in her bag after sealing them.
"Feel free to visit me any time, and feel free to come for more and visit me while at it."
"Yes, I will come to visit you again." Victoria took Zaria's hand again.
"I am just making sure." Zaria happily laced their fingers again.
The pair continued their walk with fey flocking all around them.
They stopped for a bit at the outlook.
"Why a view at the palace? I thought the sides don't agree with each other."
"The reason is a different one." Zaria explained as she sat down and pulled Victoria into her lap with the tail lying around Victoria's lap. "It is pretty far away."
Victoria made an agreeing noise as she squirmed into a comfortable position.
"We are also almost level with it. And that is the reason. To give those who come by here a perspective. This spot is pretty popular actually. A lot of confessions happen here. Most fey also stay above this level."
"That makes sense." Victoria pulled a mischievous pixie out of her cleavage. The pixie flew off giggling.
The pair cuddled on the bench.
"I don't want to go." Victoria admitted. "So much work."
"How about this? Once a week we meet up on a date? If you are worried about people recognizing you. Just wear the mask. Another masked date sounds fun."
It sounded nice.
"Why once a week?"
"Something so you remember to take days off. Don't let the slave drivers at the palace get to you."
"Want me to show you a wild path?"
"It would be better; I won't get surprised then."
"And I should check if the path is still direct." Zaria remembered.
The pair rose and then stepped off the path past a bush.
Victoria saw a circle of mushrooms. "A fairy ring?"
"Please step in and be welcomed."
Zaria pulled her along and together with the fey they stepped in.
Victoria couldn't put her finger on it, but something had changed. Zaria led her through the trees to a path. It had massive toori. "Hard to miss, right?"
Victoria looked up, and up, and up. "Aren't they a little too big?"
"No, some who visit tend to be on the large side."
"Also, aren't the trees really large too?"
"Ancient forest hidden from the normal races."
She looked to the side where something massive moved around the trees.
"Old places tend to be connected. I lined the main roads with toori." The albino pulled the curiously looking girl with her. "Simply walk from one to the next, then you will be safe."
The pair went around a bend, past a pond, over a hill, and arrived at a cross section. "That one is the gateway at the bottom of the path, that one leads to the depths, the dark deep of Levi's domain. Over there is the path to the plains and dragon territory, this over there leads to the main shrine." Zaria pointed the paths out. "And here are the signs, in case you forget, can you read them?"
"Snake den? Watery grave? Toasty dragons? Middle of nowhere? Fluffy shrine Maiden's? Fox Den? Somewhere far away? Place where people suck?"
"Yes, it seemed appropriate." Zaria admitted. "The last one is a rather rude and racist kingdom on another continent."
"Fox den, is that you and Yuki?"
"Who else would it be?"
Victoria spoke faster than she could stop herself. "How about your Goddess? Tamano no Mae is a fox as well."
"When she is on this plane, she is either getting spoiled at the main shrine, or whining at me to get pampered at my place. Right, you will meet her sooner or later, call her Tama, remember when she is being too obstinate or about to do something incredibly stupid grabbing an ear and pulling on it is perfectly valid."
"I can't just grab her ear."
"It is fine."
"But you said the ears are sensitive."
"Yes, but I said when she is obstinate or about to do something stupid. We kitsune can be pretty stubborn."
"I realized that." Victoria agreed.
Zaria continued. "We also tend to be devoted and often have someone or something we focus on."
"Oh, your focus is me?"
"Yes, pretty much. But I am patient. Now place your hand on this toori and imagine something like a door opening, then channel some magic."
Victoria sighed. It was more free magic, it was useful, but where had all the structured and logical magic gone? She suspected it had met her floof and then died with heart failure.
Victoria watched the path beyond the toori. "It looks so normal?"
"That is the normal one." Zaria agreed. "Let's go."
They passed through followed by the fey and holding hands.
"Pity, it is over. You are always welcome here." Zaria had a sad smile on her face.
"Don't worry, I will see you next week." She hesitated for a moment. "I will try to send you a dragon."
"I will be waiting for it."
The air turned slightly awkward.
"This isn't like me, come here." Zaria pulled Victoria close, and kissed her.
It was possessive, passionate, involved a needy tongue, and made Victoria hold onto the needy floof.
The glittering string of saliva connecting them made Victoria very self-conscious. Wasn't this the type of thing that only happened in those romance novels?
"Now I feel much better." Zaria said happily.
"I feel wobbly." Victoria didn't trust herself with standing alone yet, her knees felt weak, and her body tingled. "Needy floof."
"Yes~" The needy floof shamelessly confirmed.
Victoria pulled the needy floof down a bit and kissed the cheek. Then she put on the mask to hide her blush.
"Take care, see you next week." She called out to Zaria who had a smile on her face, and a hand on her cheek.
"Have a safe trip."
Zaria did not feel like walking back. She simply faded away.
Zaria appeared at the top. Having a lover working at the palace meant she had to start dealing with nobles again.
Maybe a small guard just in case?
She'd have to make plans and then offer them for approval.
But first, it was time to continue cleaning, she still had a room with weird gravity to clean up and a lot of trash to remove.
Victoria walked away happy that the mask was covering her burning cheeks.
"Are you coming with me?" She asked the few fairies that were still flying around her.
Since they continued following, she guessed they were tagging along. She still had one and a half bags of candied fruit left, so she was probably safe there.
Walking back through the street she realised that people were looking at her differently.
She saw awe, curiosity, and friendly smiles. Fairies and the mask made a lot of difference.
Since she did not trust herself with a different path, she backtracked the way she had arrived. There was the dryad cafe, past the sweet shop. A lamia waitress saw her and waved while clearly showing off her scales.
"May the floof bless you~" A catgirl miko greeted her.
"May you always be fluffy." The rather surprised Victoria tried to return the greeting. Inwardly she cringed at her badly thought-out reply.
The catgirl giggled. "Dragon~"
"Cat~" Victoria fired back.
"I love the mask, who granted it?" The catgirl peered at the mask. "And why are they following you?" She waved at the fairies.
Victoria smirked under her mask; she had a feeling there was going to be a big surprise. "I was visiting her." She pointed past the main shrine towards where she thought Zaria's shrine was. "And they decided to tag along."
Seeing the catgirl's tail poof out was funnier than it should be. Victoria couldn't help it, she giggled. "Calm down." She pulled the candied fruits out. "Here, everyone can have one." The fairies quickly went and picked the hand clean except for four pieces that remained. "Share it with the others."
"Take care~" Victoria decided to leave the overly nervous catgirl alone after handing the sweets over.
--- Mardiors - North Side - Grom's Smithy ---
Victoria managed to get lost twice by taking the wrong side street before finding what she thought was the smith.
She looked at the door suspiciously.
It sorts of looked correct.
She used the heavy, and rather low placed, door knocker.
After a while the door opened. "I ain't takin' orders, how many times do I have to tell you?" Grom had opened the door, and his complaint had trailed off in a question. He lowered the hand with the heavy hammer he was holding.
"Greetings, I am here just to show what kind of insanity she did to the dragon dagger."
"Ah, it is the little missy."
She called the dagger.
"What the frigging heck is this?" Grom stared at the white dagger. To him it was clear it was sleeker, sharper, and actually nothing like the stubborn temperamental thing he had given her before.
"Sylpheed’s scales were added."
Grom dropped the hammer on his foot.
Grom blinked. "The scales of the Dragon Goddess?"
"Where da heck did, she get things like that?"
"Party a few days ago."
"I … I don't know what to say."
"Imagine how I feel having that dagger."
"Compared to them missy is normal?"
"Very normal." Victoria marvelled at being called normal, and it was actually true. Compared to Zaria and Levi she was normal.
"And them?" He pointed at the fairies exploring the smithy.
"They decided to tag along."
"You takin' 'em home?"
"You want to tell them they can't come?"
"Nah, yer life sure gettin' more interesting."
"Yes, I don't mind it."
"Thank you fer lettin' me see that."
"Thank you for making the first one."
"Ye paid, it's all yers."
She left with the fairies following her.
--- Mardiors - Centre Valley - People's Bridge ---
Nearing the river, she took off her mask and put it in her bag.
She had ended up a bit further off the bridge than she had planned.
On the way there she glared at the ugly green building.
She had to admit the slightly swaying bridge had a unique feeling.
Then she crossed it and returned to the south. She looked around, and wondered at the differences. The buildings were different, people seemed less friendly, and there was more of a hustle.
Victoria walked to the medic’s house. She knocked at the back. And found herself quickly ushered in.
Where a fretting Charlotte and several fairies greeted her together with her royal Guard Captain and several of her royal guards.
The fairies mingled, clearly chatting and exchanging impressions.
"My Lady, please follow us to the palace."
Victoria was regretting going through the endless tunnels underneath the city. The things you had to put up with as an empress.
"Let us go, I will debrief you once we are back." She ordered.
Compared to the long forest path, walking underground like this in a dark tunnel was far worse. She went and put her mask on, a little boost to her physical ability was just something she wanted.
Finally, they were at the stairs that led up to the palace proper.
There they went up the stairs, which was less pleasant than the shrine stairs in the forest as well.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - The Palace - Empress Office ---
Finally, they were there, and the guards did a double take when seeing their Empress in a dragon mask. It fit, but it gave them not so pleasant flashbacks to that time in the throne room.
Victoria just pointed ahead.
They continued on.
They entered the more populated areas. Victoria allowed herself a hidden by the mask smile when she heard the whispers. It seemed that they were taking her for a shrine maiden on the way to visit the Empress.
It was something that was almost confirmed when she was led to the royal chambers.
Finally, they had arrived, Victoria had them follow her to her office.
Her secretary, her Guard Captain, and Charlotte were present.
She took the mask off, and watched amused when the fairies started exploring or the ones already familiar with the area were showing the others around.
She checked the fish.
They were still cuddling and currently swimming through the underwater forest part.
"I know I am late, but it was a very productive excursion." She pulled the remnants of the stiletto out. "Found a dwarf who tested it, and snapped it with one finger."
The Guard Captain accepted the broken weapon. "The same supplier sold us the swords, halberds, and spears for your personal guard."
"Have them properly tested, if not I can find us dwarven made weapons."
It was amusing how the Guard Captain perked up at that.
"Maria." Victoria called her secretary.
"Yes?" The ahoge stood up straight at attention.
Victoria looked at the ahoge.
Maria blushed. "They did it." She pointed at the fairies.
"I guess they like you."
Maria did not feel happy about that, especially since the fairy population had probably quadrupled.
Victoria looked at her tea table critically, it should probably be stable enough. She pulled the scroll out, placed it on the table, and broke the seal.
The scroll unfurled and turned into a pile of folders. Victoria snagged the top three, the ones that were about the financial situation and possible plans, and put them into her bag.
She waved at them. "A proper explanation on how useless the Ministries actually are. Also, it seems that the money for the bridge repair of the pedestrian bridge near that green office of some Ministry was embezzled three times already."
Maria's ahoge made a question mark. "I think I read that the construction was put off."
"That is not what the word on the streets is. Draw me a draft for one million gold coins, mark it as a personal project of mine. If someone complains, file a delay notice with the Ministry of Delays, once that expires, send them to the ministries that deal with money to get some document demanding to explain the expenditures, if they get it from one of them, send them to the other one. Remind the Ministries before that that if they decide to quickly solve that request, that they need to reply to our requests first. Otherwise, I'll have to call out bias and decline their replies."
The ahoge was wagging amused. "That basically blocks any inquiries until next year at least."
The Guard Captain frowned. It sounded a bit dishonourable and devious. "Your Majesty, we need to get you a new weapon."
"No need, I am already armed properly." Victoria declined.
"It needs to be tested and approved."
"Like that stiletto?" Victoria held out her hand and the white and golden dragon dagger appeared in her hand. "A dragon weapon, I suspect it will even cut through most non-magical weapons without issues." Victoria remembered the gruelling training, the floof could be a slave driver, she suspected she had done that so that she could just play or rather wash her again. She managed to keep the blush due to the memory of the events that had happened then out of her face. "Dwarven made and Shrine Maiden enchanted." She decided that telling them about what had gone into that dagger was a big no. "It even cuts magic."
The Guard Captain looked downright envious.
"It cost me only one platinum coin. The enchantment was free afterwards." She decided to twist the truth a bit. "It was a personal favour; they reworked the dagger too. The dagger can only be properly wielded by me though." Victoria hesitated for a moment but then went for the throat. "The original was made by Grom the dwarven blacksmith."
"Master Artisan Grom?" The Guard Captain gasped.
Maria's ahoge turned into a confused question mark.
"May I touch it, Your Majesty?"
Victoria handed it over.
The Guard Captain's arms buckled from the strain of keeping the weapon aloft. "It doesn't like me." The now sad woman almost whined.
Victoria simply made it appear in her hand. "I was with them and a Senior Shrine Maiden the whole time." Victoria waved at the fairies who were now watching the fish, and the fish that were watching the fairies. "So, my safety was assured. Dismissed."
"As you wish Your Majesty." The Guard Captain bowed. "Please have the order for weapons testing filed soon." The woman left and closed the door behind her.
Finally, Victoria let herself relax and then made herself comfortable on the couch.
"How was it?" Charlotte finally lost it and asked curiously.
"Did you know that many in the north don't even know or care if the emperor is male or female?"
""What?"" That shocked the two other girls in the room. The ahoge standing straight at attention.
Several fairies started flying all over the room confused.
Victoria pulled out the bag of fruit. "Please put this on a plate or something for the fairies." She handed it out to Charlotte.
That caught their attention.
The fairies started swarming around Charlotte, who calmly emptied the bag into a saucer.
"Let her put it down." Victoria ordered. "Everyone can have one, and line up. I don't want to see everyone in a feeding frenzy."
That freed the area around Charlotte and the flock settled down on the table.
"Why do they listen to you?" Maria asked, the ahoge vibrating for some reason.
"I count as a friendly dragon."
The ahoge slumped.
Several fairies landed on Victoria and made drinking motions.
Victoria raised her hand and tried to call her bag to her, it fled from the desk to the couch. She pulled a water bottle out of it and handed it to Charlotte, "Fill a small saucer or something for them to drink from."
Charlotte gave the bag a suspicious look.
"Yes, it is enchanted, secured to me."
"Really?" Charlotte poured the clear water onto a saucer.
"There are plenty of other things in there." Victoria teased and let the two girls stick their hands into the seemingly empty bag. Then she pulled out the other water bottle.
"Wow." The girls were impressed.
"Yes, the bag, the mask, the dagger, the towels, and the choker. Maybe something else while I wasn't looking and forgot to tell me about it." She reached into the bag and checked the contents. The bottle of mead was going to stay safe for now, that dangerous sphere was there in case of emergency. Then she felt cloth. She pulled it out, and held the shrine maiden uniform she had worn before and the newly made underwear.
Everyone looked at the clothes. Then she pulled out bottles of shampoo, bathing salts, soaps, skin creams, lotions, and perfumes with the booklet filled with instructions. This was followed by the cookies, the bottle of mead and the last bag of candied fruit. Finally, she pulled out a pillow. It looked sort of familiar, she suspected it was one Zaria had made.
"Put the clothes in my room, they are very comfortable. Place the pillow on my bed. I am not sure when she snuck them in there. The toiletries are for my bath, the booklet has some instructions, and the cookies." She looked at the fairies, then she put the candied fruits and cookies back in the bag.
"Maria." She pulled the folders with the information on more than just the Ministries out.
"Yes, Your Majesty?"
"Here. I approved the top one, one million for information worth millions. Someone from the Information Guild will probably drop by. If what I suspect is true, have them pile the million gold in the treasury in a corner, with a note 'Empress Project' on it."
"As is your will, your Majesty."
"Now, catch me up on the last days and work."
"Already?" Charlotte wondered.
"I don't want to get smothered by work tomorrow. I took almost two and a half days off. From now on I will take off one day a week."
"Only one?" Maria wondered. "According to my research the ministries all take the weekend off and at least one day during the week."
Victoria frowned. "Why is everyone bothering me each day then?"
"I … I have no idea." Maria admitted, her ahoge doing some sort of twisting formation.
"It is a free day for the nobles, so they use it to visit you."
"From now on, weekends are off, and Wednesdays are for nobles to visit, appeal, and whatever." Victoria declared annoyed. "I will skip any evening parties that are not Monday to Friday, and any day parties that are not Wednesday or Saturday."
The other two girls blinked in surprise.
"I slept more in those two and a half days than I slept in the four preceding days."
"I told you to take time off." Charlotte grumbled.
"I know, I didn't realise how tired I was until I relaxed and fell asleep."
"You actually simply fell asleep, at the place where your suitor lives?"
"Charlotte, not now. You can come to grill me for details tonight, and we can chat a bit more." Victoria hoped that her being tired after working would hold Charlotte back a bit.
Now she needed to prepare for what was to come.
After a lot of tedious and pointless work, work that made Victoria wonder whose bright idea it had been to make a form for everything, and why she needed approval for everything from some Ministry or another. She really needed to clean that mess up.
At least that ahoge was funny. It had been very amusing to see it swish happily when she left while Maria had decided to tackle the pile of information on the Ministries.
Now she was eating her dinner, and admitting to herself that the floof somehow made simple dishes taste far better than the exquisite and complex things she was eating now.
Then she bathed, the scent being somehow familiar from one the baths she had taken with Zaria.
Charlotte sat right next to Victoria as she was bathing. "How was your date?"
Charlotte smirked. "So, something happened!"
"We are courting." Victoria decided to throw Charlotte a bone.
Charlotte blinked. She opened her mouth, then she closed it again. After a few moments she managed to put her thoughts into order. "Do you mean courting as in the courting before marriage?"
"Yes, that one, apparently she likes me a lot. She is weird but relaxing."
"So, it really was her, the one from your date at the festival?"
"A female kitsune, she is a Senior Shrine Maiden to Tamano no Mae and a certified maid. She is very old too."
"Really? How old?"
"At least over 750 years." Victoria remembered the time they had met Levi. "Probably older."
"Aren't kitsune one of the races that grow stronger over time?" Charlotte wondered.
"So, this choker that can't be removed is from her?"
"I can turn it invisible." Victoria let it turn invisible, she decided to leave out that it was a national grade if not world grade magical treasure.
"You are actually serious." Charlotte realised.
"I have the feeling, even if she knew that I am the Empress, she wouldn't care. She calls her Goddess Tama and the Leviathan Levi. The Goddesses have a party once a month at her place."
Charlotte was impressed. "So, do you have a nickname for her already? Zaria is kind of a popular name after all."
"How do you know that?"
"Maries told me."
Victoria thought about the affectionate albino floof. "Actually, I just called her a floof a few times."
Charlotte couldn't help it. She started laughing. "Really, calling a suitor a floof."
Victoria splashed Charlotte.
Charlotte took revenge by dumping a bucket on Victoria's head.
In the end the two played around a bit more, something that had Charlotte dripping all over the place, while Victoria was still sitting comfortably in her bath.
The fairies couldn't hold back any more and joined the war.
"Are you sure you want to risk dating her?" Charlotte was worried, Empress dating the great kitsune of the north? That would cause huge ripples.
"Amongst all of those who want to be my suitors, is there anyone else who likes me for being me? Anyone else who can probably take anything those nobles throw our way and can laugh it off?" Victoria replied lazily as she floated in her large tub amongst the many just as relaxed fairies.
It hit Charlotte. The way Victoria was speaking, the way she had that small smile on her face. "By the Gods, you are in love!"
"What?" Victoria was surprised.
"You are totally in love, just now you totally looked like a maiden in love."
Victoria denied. "No, it is impossible, we just started courting."
"Something happened while you were there, did you bath naked together?"
Victoria remembered the many baths.
"You are blushing." Charlotte cheered, it was like a romance tale, two opposing powers finding love. "Did you sleep together?"
Victoria turned her head away, sleeping skin against skin, and cuddling the tail, had been wonderful.
"You did!" Charlotte whispered now blushing a bit herself. "Did you two kiss?"
Victoria dove under water.
Charlotte was impressed and worried. It had been very fast, but then again, Victoria was a late bloomer, and Zaria … Zaria wouldn't care that Victoria was an Empress. If the legends were true, and the rumours, if she didn't like an emperor, the emperor was removed.
She would have to tease Victoria later, now she had to make her resurface before she drowned herself.
--- Mardiors - South Mountain - The Palace - Empress Chambers ---
Later that night Victoria lay in her bed, and felt that something was off. The bed was soft, a bit too soft, it was also very large, easily capable of holding more than one person.
She felt alone.
She was actually missing the warm body against hers.
Or the ticklish feeling of the fluffy tail against her skin.
And the warmth of skin against skin.
Had she already been corrupted?
Wasn't this far too soon?
Hadn't they only decided on courting just now?
The kitsune had made it a point that she was very serious about it.
When had she fallen?
Was what Charlotte had said actually true?
"Annoying floof, you are even on my mind when you aren't here." Victoria complained.
She called her choker back into existence.
Then she pulled that pillow closer and hugged it.
It smelled like her.
"Evil floof" she complained to nobody.
She soon fell asleep hugging the pillow tightly.
1: Yes, sweetness deserves its own chapters. Votes: 6 5.9%
2: No, it's fine even if monster chapters appear. Votes: 72 70.6%
3: I don't care. Votes: 24 23.5%