[Vol. 5 pt. 10] Patch 3.0:
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With an unknown amount of time between now and when the enemies from the depths will attack, Fenrir can not afford to waste time and he now finds himself preparing for a trip into the mountains.

The mountains that have stood tall and proud since their arrival to this region are the tallest that he has ever seen both in reality and in-game. While their bases are hidden behind the forests surrounding them, the snow-covered peaks reach high above the clouds. They stretch from the southern end of the coast to its northern end, and they are part of a massive range that sprawls from this eastern coast to the western coast of the continent. Though, the mountains at this end of the continent are far taller and more impressive than they are elsewhere.

And somewhere within these mountains are the supposed dragons that Fenrir wishes to make an alliance with.

For this mission of his, he was only planning on bringing Rao, Azalabulia, and Nell, but Cassiel and Serra decided that they want to tag along. After all, they’ve never met any dragons before, and who wants to pass up that opportunity?

Rao and Shogun make a great scouting time, Azalabulia is just powerful and likely an invaluable asset in case any fighting happens against strong opponents, and Nell is on good terms with one of the world’s serpents. Serpents and dragons are basically members of the same family to Fenrir, so he’s decided that bringing her along would be a good idea.

With only four of them and Shogun, they wouldn’t need much supplies and getting around would be easier. But now, with Cassiel and Serra wanting to tag along, they have a bit of a problem. Not only is their manpower going to be unevenly split between those working on preparing the defenses while most go into the mountains in search of dragons, but they have to take more food and carry more supplies than they otherwise would have had to.

Had this been back in the day, Fenrir would have had no problem telling unnecessary people that they would potentially be detrimental to a mission – especially one as potentially important as this one. But now? Well, it’s just a game and he wants his girlfriends to be happy, so why not?

“It’s probably not going to be too pleasant climbing through mountains, and you might get hurt. Just keep that in mind,” Fenrir tells Cassiel and Serra.

“I’ll be fine,” Cassiel says. “I’m more worried about the others.”

He knows that she has a good point. Cassiel has never shied away from getting rough and dirty, but… Nell is Nell, Serra is Serra, and Azalabulia is Azalabulia. He can’t easily imagine any of them being the types to handle climbing around in mountains.

This is when Nell expands her wings out to lift a few feet up off of the ground. “I think I will be fine as long as I can do this!” she says.

“I… I completely forgot you even had wings,” Fenrir says.

“That is rather understandable since I never use them! I much prefer walking with my own two feet when I am in-game, after all. I must admit that I do not feel fully comfortable doing this, either. It is… a very odd feeling.”

“In that case, we only really need to worry about how Serra and Azawaza will do.”

“I’ve got this,” Serra says.

“How so?”

“Look,” she says, pointing down at the ground by his feet.

“What?”

“Look closer.”

Fenrir tilts his head before crouching and looking down at the ground, not seeing anything other than grass.

This is when Serra climbs up onto his back, wrapping her legs and arms around him. “I’ll be fine as long as you carry me,” she says.

“You know this is going to make it even more dangerous if I have to carry you around, right?” he asks.

“What if I do this while you carry me?”

She slides her feet down toward his crotch.

He quickly grabs them to pull them back up to a safer and less perverse spot.

“You don’t need to go that far,” he says.

“I’ll pay you back later then,” Serra says, giving the back of one of his canid ears a quick nibble which causes him to jump.

Fenrir stands up with Serra still clinging to his back. She then slides down him since she doesn’t need to be carried quite yet, resulting in her shirt getting caught between their bodies and ending up covering her head as she accidentally flashes the others.

“You’re ridiculous,” Cassiel says, grabbing onto Serra’s shirt and tugging it down.

Serra replies with a thumbs-up as Fenrir turns his attention to Azalabulia.

“Have any experience with mountain climbing by any chance?” he asks, expecting the worst. She’s older, a teacher in reality, and has spent all her time being a magical caster type in-game. He doubts that somebody like her is going to have much experience with climbing. There is also the fact that she’s just so clumsy and—

“Tons!” Azalabulia answers. “I was raised in Colorado, and we always went out on the weekends and during summer to go hiking, mountain climbing, camping – I – I can teach all of you how to do it the best way!”

Fenrir blinks a few times. “Huh. So you’re more of an outdoors kind of girl than I thought you’d be.”

“I have to admit it’s also part of why I wanted to go to Alaska – to experience the nature there! Unfortunately, I never did find anybody to go snowboarding and skiing with… wait!”

“What?”

“We have all these mountains here! We could get Tabitha to make snowboards for us, right?”

“You get really excited about this sort of stuff, don’t you?”

“A-ah… sorry. Is – is it weird? It’s probably not feminine at all… I – I was always worried that—”

“Don’t worry about anything. It’s nice to see that you get excited about things other than explosions, and I’m sure that Tabitha could make something like snowboards for us.”

“Are – are you sure?”

“Come on, Azawaza. You know that none of us are going to judge you for being into outdoors stuff. If anything, that just means more activities for us to enjoy together. Right?”

“Sounds fun,” Serra says.

“Just think of everything that could go wrong!” Nell says.

“There aren’t any mosquitos or invasive bugs in this game, so I don’t see why not. It’ll be harder to get me to do anything in real life unless you get me tons of mosquito spray, though,” Cassiel explains.

“See?” Fenrir asks.

Azalabulia blushes, twirls some of her hair around one of her fingers, and looks away slightly. “Y-yeah.”

“Good. Now, as soon as Rao and Shogun are ready, we can get going.”

“What’s taking them so long anyways?” Cassiel asks.

“No idea.”

Meanwhile, below The Shoebill’s deck, Rao is struggling to convince Shogun to come with him.

“Bro, come on,” Rao says, reaching a hand down toward Shogun only for Shogun to lightly bite his hand before going back to what he was previously doing: cuddling with Rock.

“I know you don’t want to be separated from your girl for long, bro, so I swear we’re not going to take long. Come on.”

Shogun looks at Rock, looks up at Rao, and then barks.

“I didn’t raise you to be this stubborn. Come on, you’re going to be flying the whole time anyways, so you won’t get to see her even if she does come with us.”

Rao knows that he has to be careful not to say the real reason in front of Rock. Truthfully, they all know and agreed that Rock—being made out of rock—would be too slow and clumsy to bring along with them. She doesn’t have a full range of movement compared to regular dogs. If she trips and falls, she might be in serious danger since her body breaks relatively easily from blunt impacts. Her limbs are especially at risk. So, to have her go with them when they’re going to be traversing dangerous terrain that is easy to trip on and fall long distances, none of them want to risk bringing Rock along.

Except for Shogun.

“We need you, bro. How else are we going to fly ahead and scout things out? The only reason they even want me to go is because me and you can team up and scout for them,” Rao pleads.

Shogun ignores him and curls up against Rock whom is more than happy to cuddle back up against him.

Rao takes a few moments before asking, “Bro, you know why she can’t come, right?”

Shogun lifts his head and nods.

“Then why do you still want her to come? You know she’d be in danger, right?”

Shogun shakes his head.

Rao sighs and looks at Rock. “Yo, Rock. Do you actually know what’s up?”

Now it’s Rock’s turn to nod her head.

“So, you know how dangerous it is?”

She nods again.

“Do you want to come?”

Rock barks and licks the side of Shogun’s face.

“You know bro isn’t going to be happy about that, right? It’s going to be up to you to convince him to let you come.”

Rock nods and stands up, getting Shogun to stand up as well.

“Alright, I get it. You two are a package deal now. If that’s what you want, it’s all good, but good luck getting past the others.”

They ignore his words to instead run up the stairs to the deck together.

“Seriously. What’s up with everybody around here being all in love with each other? Even the shortie has got a crush now,” Rao groans to himself before heading above deck.

“It’s okay. You might find somebody someday. Maybe,” Oleander says, poking out from behind the mast as soon as Rao steps onto the deck.

“Dude, you were listening to all of that?”

“Listening to you talk to Shogun and Rock was too cute to pass up. And funny. It’s especially funny since you couldn’t get your way with them.”

“That’s messed up. You shouldn’t listen to people when they don’t expect it.”

“Just like how you shouldn’t go around flipping girls’ skirts to see if they’re actually girls or not?”

“I – I mean, come on, I admitted I fucked up and apologized.”

“I know, but I’m still going to tease you for it.”

“I see how it is.”

“Good! Anyways… don’t feel too bad. I’m sure even somebody like you will find somebody someday.”

“It’s not like I feel bad or anything.”

“You sure about that?”

“I mean… I guess I’m kind of jealous, or maybe bitter, I don’t know. It’s not like I’m upset or anything. I just… I guess I kind of want to know what it’s like, or something, probably. I don’t know.”

“You know, Rao, you’re actually pretty likable when you’re being honest! Plus you’re not super douchey anymore. Aaannddd, you are pretty handsome. So, just be patient! Maybe you’ll find some cute girl up in the mountains. You never know! After all, I wasn’t expecting to meet my Cor in some bar full of huge, oily, muscly men. And I doubt that Fenny was expecting to meet… four girlfriends in this game.”

“He’s way too lucky.”

“I know, right? But Fenny has always been lucky. You just have to hope that some of that luck rubs off onto you! It’ll happen even faster if you rub yourself against him.”

“No.”

“Boo. Come on, join the cute side! We have cookies. And lots of cum. Like, lots of it.”

“I’m going now. See you in a few days, bro.”

“Mhm! Me and Cor will be here helping Tabitha out, so try not to get yourselves killed in the mountains. If you do get killed, just remember you’ll respawn naked over here where everybody can see you.”

“I won’t die. You’d enjoy getting to see me too much.”

“You know it!”

Rao shakes his head and waves to go and rejoin the others.

There, Fenrir is dealing with Rock’s insistence on wanting to come with them.

He didn’t want to just outright go and tell her that she wasn’t allowed to come because he is worried about her getting seriously hurt. His girlfriends are just players of the game and will respawn if they die. Rock won’t. If anything were to happen to Rock, there would be no way to bring her back.

But, at the same time, she’s his dog. She’s been with him since the very beginning. She hasn’t gotten to do much with him lately, so it wouldn’t be fair to keep on sticking her to the sidelines hoping that she’ll be content just lazing around with Shogun. As much as he wishes she would be happy just doing that – living a nice, safe, lazy life… he knows that she wouldn’t be happy with that if her master is going out on adventures without her.

“Alright, Rock,” Fenrir says, squatting down so that he can be eye-level with her. “You can come with us, but you’re not allowed to get hurt. Alright? I’m going to retire you to nothing but being-lazy duty if you get hurt.” He wouldn’t actually, but he’s hoping that the threat will be enough to get her to be extra safe. “And just bark if you ever need help. If the ground is too uneven or there is a cliff too high to climb up or anything, just bark and I’ll help you out. Don’t try to do it on your own if you’re not sure. Alright?”

“Helicopter parent,” Cassiel says under her breath.

“I’m not a helicopter parent. I just care about my dog and don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Sounds like the kind of stuff my dad would say to me to give me a bunch of rules.”

“You know, some rules are alright to have. We can’t just screw rules completely.”

“We can if rules get personified,” Serra says.

“What?”

Serra wiggles her eyebrows.

“Oh. No, there is no Rules-chan, and we’re not going to screw her,” Fenrir says.

“Boring,” Serra pouts.

“Just let her come with us and stop worrying so much. Rock will be fine,” Cassiel says.

“You know, you were worried about her, too,” Fenrir calls her out.

“Y-yeah, but she obviously wants to come with us really badly, so let’s just let her.”

“So, just because she wants something really bad, she gets her way? What if we have kids and you tell them they’re not allowed to do drugs, but they really want to?”

“That’s not a fair comparison.”

“Yeah, but you have to have rules before then. If you suddenly introduce rules only at the most extreme time to do so then they’re not going to listen.”

“Hmph. I guess…”

Fenrir sighs and says, “But, I promise that we won’t have too many rules. Only the really important ones. Alright? No helicopter parenting.”

“Good.”

“Kiss and make up now,” Serra says.

“It’s – it’s not like we were fighting or anything. There isn’t really anything to make up for, is there?” Fenrir asks.

Though, when he looks up at Cassiel, he sees her annoyed with the fact that he’s not kissing her.

He surrenders and kisses her before there is anything to actually have to make up over.

“Are you done being all lovey-dovey in front of everybody now? We’re on a tight schedule, bro,” Rao says.

“Right. Alright. Let’s just take this wagon up to the base of the mountain and then we’ll go from there,” Fenrir says.

“Why don’t we just let him fly around in the mountains by himself until he finds something? Don’t you think that’d be way easier than having us all go up there ourselves?” Cassiel asks.

“Shogun won’t go too deep into the mountains when it’s just us. I think he’s worried about something up there,” Rao says.

“Will he go deeper into the mountains if we’re nearby?”

“I think so. Right, bro?” Rao asks Shogun.

Shogun barks at Cassiels.

“That’s a yes,” Rao explains.

“I got that,” Cassiel says. “As long as this works… are we ready?”

“The wagon’s got all the supplies in it already, so yeah,” Fenrir answers. “Just gotta load up on it and head out.”

And that’s exactly what everybody does.

“Don’t bring back any more girlfriends!” Oleander shouts, waving in the distance.

Serra looks back at Oleander with a smirk as if she knows that there is no way they will be returning from this trip without at least one more girl in their party that she is allowed to do lewd things to.

“It’s not like I’m planning on getting more girlfriends or anything like that, but I do think it’d be nice to see Nell with a dragon girl,” Fenrir says.

“Yeah,” Serra says and nods.

“Why is that?” Nell asks.

“Because. You’re a serpent. Dragons are dragons. So, a scaled, winged, tailed, horned girl from the water with a scaled, winged, tailed, horned girl from the mountains. It would just be… I guess the best way to explain it is that the theme of it would be interesting,” Fenrir explains.

“I see! Yes, I do agree that such a theme would be interesting and rather exciting. It could be like a battle to see who is superior! The victor could enforce their will and desires over the loser, and—”

“You’re imagining yourself as the loser, aren’t you?” Cassiel asks.

“Of course!”

Fenrir shakes his head and looks over to Azalabulia who’s sitting across from him in the back of the wagon. “What else don’t we know about you, Azawaza?” he asks.

“A-about me? Like… like what?” Azalabulia asks.

“I don’t know. Anything. We didn’t know that you were an outdoorsy type, so what else is there that we don’t know?”

“Ah, umm… I was attacked by a bear when I was younger.”

“Seriously?”

Everybody’s attention is on Azalabulia now. Even Rao, who is steering the wagon, is turned to look back at her.

She nods and says, “We were hiking, and I saw a cute bear cub who I thought was on his own, and he wasn’t scared of me, so… I – I wanted to get a bit closer to take a picture, and then his mom charged me and knocked me down.”

“How the hell did you survive that?” Cassiel asks.

“My mom always kept a gun on her just in case whenever we’d go hiking or camping. So… she saved me. I don’t remember much after that since the last time I was conscious was in the hospital. My right arm and some of my ribs were broken, and I was got cut up pretty bad. I still have all over my upper half, but they’ve mostly faded.”

“Sorry,” Fenrir says. “You don’t have to tell us anything personal like that if you—”

“Don’t worry about it,” she interrupts. “I’ve told the story hundreds of times before. In a way… I was kind of happy that I got attacked. I was never more popular than when I was that girl who survived a bear attack. I was worried I’d get bullied over my scars in school, but nobody cared. Everybody wanted to hear the story and look at my scars instead. I know now that they were probably talking about me behind my back and just treating me like a show, but at the time, it didn’t feel that way.”

Azalabulia pauses to look around and see that everybody is staring at her. “A-ah, sorry. I guess I got off topic and started being all weird and personal…”

“You’re fine,” Fenrir says. “You didn’t say anything weird or wrong.”

“I want to hug you,” Serra says. She then proceeds to do exactly that.

While Azalabulia is getting hugged by Serra, Cassiel leans close to Fenrir to whisper, “I feel bad for the cub.”

“Same, but it had to be done,” Fenrir whispers back.

Then, when he looks at Nell to get her reaction, he notices that she looks like she’s trying to… hold back?

The truth is that Nell wants to comment on how wonderfully tragic the whole thing sounds, but she doesn’t want to be insensitive since she knows that this is serious, but it’s just so perfectly tragic, but she must be a good girlfriend and not fetishize her girlfriend’s traumatic past, but why can’t she get attacked by bears and treated like a show by her peers?

In the end, all she does is sigh before saying, “I am glad to hear that it worked out in the end for you! That must have been truly terrifying. The closest I have ever been to being attacked was when a kitten scratched me, and my only time spent in a hospital was to get my tonsils removed.”

“It’d have to be the accident with my legs for me,” Fenrir says. “Oh, yeah, Azawaza, you don’t know. Basically, got my legs crushed by a truck. Spent some time in the hospital after that.”

“I – I think I would rather be attacked by a bear again than have my legs crushed by a truck. I’m sorry that something like that happened to you,” Azalabulia says.

“Eh, it’s no big deal. What about you?” he asks Cassiel.

“Only time I’ve ever had to go to the hospital was after an ex was a dumbass and overdosed. I went with the hospital, stayed until his parents got there, and then told them to tell him for me that it was over the next time he woke up,” Cassiel answers.

“You really had a bad time with exes.”

“I know.”

“What about you, Serra? Any hospital tales?”

“I burned my butt,” Serra says, getting confused looks or choked laughs from everybody.

“H-how?”

“One of my dads has a portable grill thing, and he wanted to make breakfast in bed. I don’t really remember how… but I fell on it and didn’t get off fast enough. That’s why I have a burn mark on my butt. Cooking food in bed wasn’t allowed after that.”

“I guess some rules are good,” Cassiel says.

“Yeah. And damn, I didn’t even notice the mark, so it must have healed pretty well,” Fenrir says.

“That just means you don’t look at my butt closely enough,” Serra pouts.

“Alright, alright. I’ll look extra hard the next time the opportunity presents itself.”

“You’re so weird,” Cassiel says.

“Truly,” Nell agrees and nods.

Fenrir doesn’t even bother trying to defend himself. He knows what he said.

“Rao. You’re up since you’ve been listening in this whole time,” Fenrir says.

“Hospital visits?” Rao asks.

“Yeah.”

“Uhh… I’ve been a bunch, but never for myself. Lots of accidents happen in construction, and I was usually the one to drive workers to the hospital whenever we didn’t feel like calling for an ambulance. Last time was when a guy got most of his arm peeled off when—”

“Feel free not to go into too much detail.”

“Or do!” Nell says.

“Anyways,” Rao says, “yeah. For myself, uh… I guess there is one time, but it’s kind of personal.”

“Come on. We all opened up about our personal stories,” Fenrir says. “But, if you’re really uncomfortable, you don’t actually have to.”

“I mean, I don’t mind talking about it since it’s funny to me, but we’ve got a bunch of girls here.”

“Just say it,” Serra says.

“Yeah, we really don’t care if it’s something about what I think it’s about,” Cassiel says.

“Alright then,” Rao says. “I went to the hospital when my balls were burning really bad. I thought something was wrong, like I accidentally got a disease or something since I used a public bathroom earlier that day and my balls touched the seat, so I thought maybe I caught something somehow. Turned out it was just some kind of weird reaction to the new brand of shampoo I bought.”

While Serra and Fenrir are both trying not to laugh too hard at how simply stupid that story was, Cassiel, Nell, and Azalabulia don’t exactly look amused.

“That was something,” Fenrir says. “I’m not sure what it was, but it was something.”

“It was the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard for somebody going to the hospital before,” Cassiel says.”

“Come on, I know it’s funny now, but I was seriously scared back then that I’d have to get my balls chopped off or something,” Rao explains, causing both Fenrir and Serra to go back to laughing. “Felt like all my sperm was replaced by acid or some shit.”

Fenrir and Serra lean over as they try not to laugh too hard while Cassiel lets out a loud sigh.

“You know it doesn’t even work like that, right?” Cassiel says. “Just… everything about your worries is so wrong.”

“Sure, I know that now, but I was only eighteen at the time. I was terrified that my tanks were defective all because I wasn’t careful and let my balls touch a public toilet seat.”

Azalabulia finally cracks and covers up her mouth to hide her smile.

“How would you feel if the insides of your boobs suddenly felt like they were on fire? You’d be scared that your milk went bad or something, wouldn’t you?” Rao asks.

The question turns Cassiel’s face red for various reasons such as: because of how stupid the question was, the fact that he’s talking about her breasts, and how mad she is at just how stupid he is.

“It doesn’t work like that! I’m not stupid enough to even be worried about something like that!” Cassiel shouts.

Nell loses and lets out a giggle before she, too, covers her mouth and looks away. The subtle trembling of her shoulders lets them know that she’s laughing, though.

Rao, fully aware of what he’s doing, says, “Come on, be nice. We’ve both got two things dangling from our bodies that are important to us. You should be able to relate to my pain instead of making fun of me. I wouldn’t call you stupid if you thought your boobs were going to fall off after accidentally… I don’t know, bumping them into a bathroom door or something.”

His latest words might not be as funny as his earlier ones, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he’s keeping the stupidity train going which is causing everybody other than Cassiel to laugh hard enough that they can’t breathe.

It doesn’t help that, at this point, just hearing each other laugh is enough to make them laugh even more.

“It – it hurts,” Fenrir groans out, holding his abdomen as he laughs.

“Now imagine that in your balls, bro,” Rao says.

Fenrir wheezes and really wants to stop laughing at this point, but he just can’t.

Rao, satisfied with his work, finally returns to looking forward to steer the wagon.

Meanwhile, Rock and Shogun have no idea what’s going on nor why everybody is laughing.

Cassiel doesn’t understand why they’re laughing, either.

“You’re going to die and respawn if you don’t calm down,” Cassiel tells Fenrir, patting him on the back. “Seriously, it wasn’t even funny. Calm down.”

“It’s – it’s just hilarious to me because I was worried about stupid things like that when I was a teen, too,” Fenrir explains, finally calming down. “But I never actually went to the hospital because of it,” he says, slipping back into laughing.

“It’s only funny because they find it funny,” Azalabulia says. “This happens all the time in class… if one or two of my students start laughing about something, even if I don’t think it’s funny, I start laughing because they’re laughing.”

“I must agree,” Nell says. “However, I did find the rather… vulgar story to be at least slightly entertaining on its own. It is mostly my hero’s and Serra’s faces making me laugh.”

Cassiel looks down at the still-laughing faces of Serra and Fenrir.

They do look pretty cute to her, and she’s never seen either of them laugh this hard before. So, she does finally smile, but only out of love for her boyfriend and girlfriend. She still refuses to find anything about this funny.

Fortunately, the laughing does end by the time that the party reaches the base of the mountains.

“My gut still hurts from that,” Fenrir says.

“Same,” Serra says.

“That’s what happens when you laugh for fifteen minutes at something stupid,” Cassiel says.

“I think we were just laughing at each other laughing after a few minutes,” Fenrir says.

Serra nods.

“Besides, all of us laughing together like that is good for us. Sharing laughter is a great way to build relationships, I think. The more you can laugh with somebody, the better your relationship with them,” Fenrir says.

“Now you’re making me feel guilty for not laughing,” Cassiel says.

“Don’t worry. That just means we’ve got to find something you find really funny so that you can laugh that hard with us.”

“Good luck. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard at anything other than when my dad would tickle me, and that doesn’t count since it just pisses me off more than I enjoy it.”

“I’ll find something. Don’t worry. Before the month is over, I will make you laugh that hard without tickling you.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“I will help you however I can, my hero!” Nell says.

Serra nods, and even Azalabulia offers her support by saying, “I’ll help, too.”

“Same, bro,” Rao says.

“No,” Cassiel says while directing a glare at Rao.

“Come on. I’m funny.”

“To them. Not to me.”

“It’s alright,” Fenrir tells Rao. “I’ll figure something out to make her laugh. But, for now, it looks like we’ve got to go on foot from here.”

The party looks up at the mountains. It isn’t steep enough that they can’t walk up it, but there is no easy path for them to take.

“There’s some flatter areas once we get over this first slope, so let’s go,” Rao says.

“Alright,” Fenrir says. “Let’s find some dragons.”

“Dragon girls,” Serra says.

“Just dragons would be perfectly acceptable as well!” Nell says.

“I don’t want to know what you’re imagining when you say that,” Cassiel tells Nell.

“I am sure that you know even without me having to tell you.”

“You’ve corrupted my mind and I don’t appreciate that.”

“You will in time!”

8