Chapter 104: Good Night
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“Ah,” was the only sound Theora managed to get out initially, entirely unprepared. Sure, yes, she’d seen Gonell a few minutes ago, but the idea of actually running into her while neither Dema nor Lostina were conscious caused her anxiety to spike.

If she said the wrong thing here, Gonell might never talk to any of them again.

“Why here,” Skulduggery came to Theora’s rescue by managing to produce something coherent.

Gonell shrugged. “Saw Theora toss herself around in the sky and heard your footsteps. Thought I’d say hello.”

Skuld huffed. “Why here,” she repeated.

After a short frown, Gonell raised her eyebrows. “Ah, I see. We came to investigate an item from the treasury of Laville Castle.”

“Oh,” Fiantanne said. “Are you Gonell, then? Have heard of you. Feel free to fetch what you need.” At that, she blinked. “Wait. It’s not the Lodestone, is it?”

“Lodestone?” Theora asked.

Gonell nodded. “The Lodestone, yes. That’s what we are after. It’s a little chest stored inside the castle. It contains very sensitive information.”

Fiantanne shrugged. “It’s loaded with protected glyphs of the highest order. In fact, there is some old evidence that the entire castle has been built just to harbour it. It’s not possible to remove it without first destroying the entire building brick by brick. The makers were so confident, they even wrote the words ‘free for the taking’ all over it to mock anyone who tried. And then they put ‘DO NOT OPEN’ on the lid despite the fact that it’s locked by the strongest magics. They were so full of themselves.”

Theora flushed red, and she was thankful for the night obscuring her face. Now she’d done it, accidentally picking up the unheavable coffer. How could she have possibly known the chest was supposed to be stuck there?

“Don’t fret,” Gonell’s companion said, in a gruff and standoffish voice that didn’t exactly fit the content of what he was saying. “We shall not remove it; merely investigate and gain hints at its contents.”

“My uncle used it to blackmail the King,” Fiantanne said. “I’m pretty sure whatever’s inside is truly devastating. It’s the reason why our town doesn’t have to pay any taxes. That said, I’m not sure my uncle even knew what was inside; he used the mere idea of it for blackmail.”

The man nodded. “We would like to gather the information therein to topple the crown.”

Fiantanne gave a little sigh. “Let me guess — you’re Fran Fan?”

At Theora’s questioning gaze, the girl added, “A Summoned. [Detective] Class. Those glasses let him see clues, even replay events that happened in the past, in order to pursue certain [Truths]. Scary person, if you cross the asylum. He investigates deaths related to people under Gonell’s protection.”

“Usually, yes,” he said. “Today, we are on a mission to find the Lodestone and assess its viability. On a different note — you seem to know a lot about us.”

“I was researching rebellions and revolutions, and your order came up,” Fiantanne said with a shrug.

Oh, this was rather bad, wasn’t it? If he was a world class investigator, he’d probably find out that Theora was the one who took it. She was in big trouble.

“I happen to have taken it with me,” she wanted to say, but—

 

ERROR.

Action restricted. Cannot deviate from original author outline.

 

She blinked. Why did this cause an error? Were the two of them not supposed to gain access to the coffer? Were they not supposed to find it at all?

Oh, dear. Had Theora accidentally retreived an item that was central to the entire plot line of the original novel? What in the world could be inside? Again, she felt the strong urge to open it. But she swallowed it down. No opening suspicious coffers while Dema and Lostina were asleep.

“Good luck,” was all Theora could say in response. She knew that ideally, she’d go with Gonell, because Lostina and Dema wanted to meet up with her, but… Accompanying them back to the crime scene seemed like an awful idea. “I hope you are doing alright. Once you are done with your research, would it be possible for us to talk? We would wait for you at the next settlement.”

Gonell frowned, then shrugged. “Only one way to and from the castle, so if you stay at Fruda, we might run into each other on our way back. No promises, though.”

With that, they received a nod from Fran Fan, while Gonell’s gaze fell on Lostina.

“Tell the girl I said hi,” she murmured, and then fetched her companion, and soared back onto their original path.

“So… we’re going to stay in the next settlement until they come back, then?” Fiantanne asked, raising an eyebrow. “You just decided that?”

“Ah,” Theora let out, realising she’d imposed that on her while trying to coordinate the plans of Dema and Lostina too. “If you are opposed to it, we can continue without them,” she said. At this point, she really didn’t feel like letting the girl walk off alone — at least not unless specifically requested. “It’s just that my companions wanted to talk to Gonell. We met her three months ago, and… things happened.”

“Huh, I see,” Fia hummed. “Well, I don’t mind. Gonell’s a valuable asset, so getting on her good side sounds nice.”

Theora blinked. “That’s not how you should talk about people…”

Fia turned around with a soft ‘hmph’ and continued walking. 

Lostina was still in deep slumber, giving no signs that she was about to wake up again. Could Fran Fan replay Theora’s entrance into the treasure hall? Would they realise what she’d done? But, if that would lead to a change in the outline, why hadn’t her picking up the coffer thrown an error? Shouldn’t the author have prevented her from doing it in that case?

She sighed.

“What’s got you worried?” Fia asked. “If you make random noises like that, I can’t focus on my thoughts. And my thoughts are important.”

Theora grazed a bunch of hair out from her face. “I wasn’t sure how to identify the item we wanted to steal from your treasury.”

“Ah,” she said. “That something, right? What does the item do?”

“Well, Lostina needed it,” she said, pointing at her in the wagon. “I’m not sure what it does.”

Theora was still unsure whether she could just give the name.

Fia took a closer look. “What’s her Class?”

“[Pretender],” Theora said.

“Oh? As in, an impostor to the throne?”

Oh, right. It had that kind of meaning too, in feudal settings, right?

“I don’t think so. As far as I understand, it’s a Class that can be used to infiltrate and gather information.”

“Oh! Judging by her Class… For example, she might have wanted an Amulet of Irrecognition. Mhh… or, perhaps, a Circlet of Memory Transference.” She shrugged.

It was only after walking a few more steps that Fiantanne suddenly halted, and swirled her head back to Theora, tossing her hair around in the process. “I’m so sorry!” she let out.

“What?”

“Leap of logic,” Fiantanne said, rubbing the side of her head as if to punish herself. “My brain must have short-circuited. It may be unlikely that she wanted to fetch an item that corresponds to the abilities of her Class. Perhaps she wanted an item that does something her Class can’t do. In any case,” she added with a smile, “Doesn’t matter. Don’t need the item.”

“Why do you think we don’t need the item?”

“Well,” Fiantanne let out, eyes still on Lostina. “I can easily produce most magical item effects using alchemy. All she has to do is beg.”

“I see,” Theora replied. “That’s reassuring. Thank you.”

“No need to thank me. I only require praise.”

 

They continued following the trail for a while longer, until Fiantanne said they’d made it close to the settlement.

“Are you sure you won’t come?” she asked Skulduggery, who had indicated as much before. “You’ll be able to sleep with us if you turn into a person.”

The rhino huffed.

“Fine, then. Don’t complain later!” Fiantanne gazed into the dark forest that would lead back to the path into the village. She sighed. “Actually, maybe I should sleep outside, with you… Chances of being recognised are rather high.”

Theora felt a little torn; on one hand, this made her want to stay outside with Skulduggery and Fia too, but on the other hand, she preferred Dema and Lostina being in a proper bed until the potion’s effect would wane off. In addition, if they slept out here, they might miss Gonell on her return journey.

“Will keep her safe,” Skuld murmured in her low, grumbling voice as if she could read Theora’s thoughts.

“Yeah! Skuld is warm! Can I sleep on your back? Please let me sleep on your back.”

While the two of them were discussing the proposal, Theora untangled a few pillows and blankets from her Lostina-Dema-package, and offered them to Fia.

“We will be in the settlement soon, so take them instead, to stay warm at night.”

 

And so, with another few drops of the gravity-defying potion, Theora made the last stretch to the village, found an inn, and paid for a night’s rest.

Once in their room, Theora gave Dema a change of clothes and cleaned her — it was something she’d done many times before, not only during those seventeen years when Dema had been injured, so she was used to it. Plus, Dema had done it for Theora too, when she’d been too tired to move much. She felt a little reluctant to do the same for Lostina, since they didn’t know each other that well, but in the end, it was more important to keep her healthy.

Lostina had a cosy pyjama set; a long sleeved top with pentacle star shapes with fitting pants. Meanwhile, Dema typically slept in her undergarments, although Theora had at least given her fresh ones.

Both of them were really warm. Warm, and soft, and cosy, and Theora really had to coordinate with Dema whether it was alright to sleep in a bed with her in a situation like this; typically, she’d always been able to ask, but now, she couldn’t. And she wasn’t going to just sleep next to her like that, just because she wanted to. Yes, probably Dema would be alright with it, Theora couldn’t imagine any other reaction than Dema outright pulling her into bed once the question was asked, but still.

Once done, Theora sat down on her own bed. She took out the coffer, and once more, felt the urge to open it, and once more, fought back. 

Something used to blackmail the King. Something Gonell and her companions were looking for as well. Something that must have, without doubt, played a large role in the original plot line. Would trying to open it give her an outline error? Would it cause a rewrite? 

She stared out the window.

Hey you. Do you still feel like things are dangerous?

 

Head in the Clouds. I’m really not sure. 

 

Thank you for warning me.

 

Head in the Clouds. Hey now, I have to be useful sometimes, or you’ll forget about me!

 

I won’t forget about you.

At that thought, Theora felt a chuckle inside herself, and couldn’t help but feel that it came from the Skill too. 

Head in the Clouds. What a charmer you are. But it’s time to sleep, don’t you think? Let’s see if the others can make sense of this all tomorrow. Bye!

 

Hi! Thank you for reading!

In case anyone here is interested in fluffy wholesome Girl's Love eggfics, I wanted to share with you a story written by a friend of mine: Don't Be So Emotional. I read all chapters this morning and ugh, it is cute. ><

See you on Monday~

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