Why Kill? When Witches Can Be Tentacled!
Just before the sun began to set, Maribell and Snazzy arrived in the Town of Arnhem. Despite traveling for nearly the entire day, Snazzy was still bouncing around with unbridled energy. Maribell, on the other hand, just wanted to grab an inn and sleep.
“Ooh, a toooown! Let’s go exploring~! Let’s go exploring~!”
“Wai-… ah, forget it. Just go burn off some more energy.” Maribell reached out but soon realized that it was futile. That thing had more energy than a little babe hyped up on sweets.
Resolving to abandon Snazzy if he caused too much trouble, she simply walked over to a familiar inn. The Cat’s Cradle – a place that she had stayed in nearly a year ago. Unless news traveled to the commonfolk already, which was unlikely, she could rest easy. The kingdom didn’t like for commoners to think that a lone person had gotten the better of it, Witch or not, so any form of authority would put a gag rule in place to minimize the gossip.
Because of that, very few people knew about the grimoire hidden as her earring. They simply wouldn’t know what to look for. Even in the previous city, she had merely slipped up and been accused of being a Witch over a dumb mistake. No one confirmed whether she, in fact, had such powers, and frankly, she preferred not to pull the dreaded thing out. Not even at the cost of her life. A skim through the tome revealed some pretty awful spells, something the kind-hearted Maribell couldn’t bear to use. It was best to leave it dormant and rely on her own magic.
Still, the threat of being pursued loomed over her. Since it escalated to the demolition of an entire city block, someone would likely come for her later. But for now, she could have a breather. The chaos had undoubtedly slowed their response and bought her more time, enough to continue fleeing the area. Because of that, the townspeople seemed to have no idea of her existence yet, despite hearing trickles of turmoil in the nearby city.
That worked better for Maribell. Fewer gossiping people to listen to. Less schemes to be paranoid about. But just in case, she listened around for any voices that sounded different than what was spoken.
Children lying about doing their chores. A cheating husband wasting half his wage… Nothing was apparently amiss. Maribell had grown used to the human tendency to lie about nearly everything. She had long given up judging people for it, unless it pertained to her.
She entered the inn with a sigh of relief at the lack of Witch gossip. The lady at the counter, hardly changed from a year ago, was a stout woman that looked like she did her fair share of chores. Maribell dreaded ever ending up like that, which was common for women who had no talent for magic and lived in the countryside. It was quite the contrast to the slim, curviness of her own.
Since she had the talent of fire, maintaining a livelihood with minimal manual labor was straightforward. She could earn a wage fighting off monsters with a wave of her hand. Not to mention, she could have good meals on the road, a luxury some avoided due to the priciness of magic kindling. Magic-imbued items were highly sought after in the world, so people respected the relatively few magicians able to make them.
Because of that, there were times that her figure attracted unwanted attention. Though rather than using that charm to seduce others, her meekness gave some throbbing hearts.
But still, who could love a Witch if they ever found out about her?
“Are ye just gonna stand there and block the entrance, or do ye have business?”
Maribell snapped out of her daydream, walking forward to request a room for the night. The plan was to wake up early, hit the shops, and be on their way. It wouldn’t do for her to stay in any given place for long. She had to move fast and look for other Witches before the kingdom’s army caught up to her.
Ever since she became cursed, she held onto hopes that she would meet someone like her that would know what to do. And if possible, some clue to break her bond with the Grimoire of Lies. If not, then the best she could hope for was learning how to not succumb to its demonic powers.
But Witches were extremely hard to locate. That was a given. They were the public’s natural enemy, so any Witch that was still alive was likely well-hidden. The few easy enough to find likely fell in a trap and met a quick death. And then, the grimoire would fly off to some unknown place, waiting to possess some hapless magician girl again.
Grimoires were known to be virtually indestructible. Neither sword nor magic could make so much as a dent in them, probably due to the massive demonic energy. But they were harmless unless they possessed a user, so everyone simply targeted the Witch that held it. Even if the grimoire was seized and locked up somewhere, it would find a way to disappear before giving birth to another Witch.
Maribell couldn’t understand why it picked her. Witches were supposed to be the scourge of mankind, were they not? They possessed an utter hatred for others and wanted to destroy the world. But she had no hidden secrets, no masks to hide behind. She was simply a traveler who tried to make use of her skills to survive. And right now, she had to fetch a certain creature.
Walking throughout the town, she finally found Snazzy, once again doing something bizarre.
As if the sight of a talking jellyfish juggling fireballs could simply be called bizarre. It was downright ludicrous!
How is he spewing fire from his mouth?! The last time he absorbed my spell was hours ago!
But now, here he was, juggling miniature fire balls between his feelers, like some clown in a circus. The fact that he also ejected a fountain of fire from his mouth made the scene even more head-spinning.
Yet, the children swarming around him appeared to love the act. They grabbed little copper coins from their equally stunned parents and tossed them into a small bin underneath Snazzy.
“Oh, why, isn’t it Master?! I was just spending some time to get to know the locals! Spread a little cheer for the kiddos! And look, I made some pocket change as well!”
The grin on Snazzy told her that he didn’t feel even the slightest bit guilty at causing a scene, what she explicitly didn’t want him to do. With a stiff, fake grin, Maribell beckoned for him.
“Come. Along. Now. We have places to be.” She quickly walked away before anyone could approach her for questions.
Snazzy gave a courteous bow to the crowd. “So sorry, Master calls. I best be on my way. Thanks for watching!” Scooping up his coins with his tentacles, Snazzy caught up to Maribell, who finally turned and gave him the stink eye.
“What? I have to flex my natural charisma once in a while. And the way I see it, if they love me, then by extension, they’ll come to love you too. Be glad! I’m giving you shout-outs and free positive publicity!”
That was, of course, Snazzy’s way of using his internet personality to solve the problem of a Witch’s unlikability. He believed that with enough exposure, people would see Witches in a new light. That was the secret mission that Kami-sama had asked of him, executed with a touch of the Snazzy charm!
However, Maribell scoffed at this lofty goal. People coming to like Witches? Impossible! You’ll just get me killed!
And without being able to agree on common ground, the two went back to the inn and went to bed.
Maribell woke up and looked out the window of her room. It had barely been two hours since she nodded off, but her nerves kept her from relaxing. Since they had retired early in the evening, after grabbing some food, it was not even midnight.
She looked around, noticing that it was strangely quiet. The lightly snoring of the jellyfish that fell asleep almost instantly was absent. Curious as to where he went, she got out of bed and crept downstairs.
“A straight, read ‘em and weep.” A burly man smirked as he flipped over his two cards, which combined with three cards out of the five placed on the table, gave him a good hand.
Beside him, the other players had already folded, all but one. The two cards attached to the tentacles of a blue jellyfish quivered, who gave him a frown.
“I only have two pair…,” he said, signaling that he had a pair in his hand in addition to what was on the table.
But as the burly man reached in to claim his winnings, the jellyfish perked up again and flipped the cards at him with a devilish smile.
“Two pairs of 3s. Four 3s. I win.”
The burly man’s jaw dropped as he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“This thing got ya good, Tomak! Too bad ya can’t see ya own face! Priceless!” One man guffawed as he gave one of the tentacles a friendly fist bump.
“I can’t freakin’ read his face! Seriously! Dem beady eyes just dun change!” The man named Tomak pounded the table, but underneath his whimpers, a slight smirk emerged on his face. He was having fun regardless.
Snazzy had woken up shortly after dozing. He wasn’t used to going to bed at such an early time, so a nap was all he could manage. Hearing a bunch of guys playing cards downstairs, Snazzy pulled out the change that he got earlier to join them.
Since they were playing for mere coppers, there were no hard feelings even when someone lost. Rather, it was a good drinking activity to pass the time. And it wasn’t every day that one could play against a talking jellyfish. They had met a talking wolf and a talking bird from travelers once, but those animals didn’t have a way to hold the cards.
Snazzy simply suctioned onto the cards with his tentacles. What the men didn’t know was that Snazzy was a competent gambler. All those sessions with his streamer friends drilled some tricks into him.
Too bad that they don’t have Mahjong here. I was a wiz at that!
The celebrations were cut short when a lady magician walked up to the table, right behind Snazzy. The jellyfish looked up and shivered. Knowing full well who was behind him, he slowly turned.
“Uh, Master? You couldn’t sleep either?”
Maribell glared at him with a sour expression. She wasn’t happy that he was causing a scene once again. To the men, it almost seemed like a wife who had stumbled upon her husband blowing away the savings.
“Hey, don’t be a sourpuss. Your, er, familiar here is actually cleaning us out. Only Lobak and Snazzy boy are left standing.” Tomak politedly tried to defend him. Already, the men had a soft spot for the happy-go-lucky creature.
“You know that’s not why I’m here.” Her tone was cold as ice.
“C’mon, we’re among friends here. Join in and have a drink! Then I promise, I’ll quietly go back to the room right after.” Snazzy pleaded with two feelers placed in front of him begging. Another was wrapped around a mug of ale, extended out to her.
After a moment, Maribell sighed. They would probably stand out more if she made a ruckus about it at this point. She grabbed the mug and chugged the ale down. With a hiccup, her face flushed a bit red.
Wait, is she a lightweight? But no matter. That makes her easier to convince.
Snazzy turned back to Lobak for the next hand. After a few rounds of getting virtually nowhere, Snazzy finally got a good pair.
But across the table, Lobak gave off a similar glare of surprise. And as the first three cards were flipped, an Ace, a King, and a Jack were revealed.
Three of a Kind!
But he felt a sense of danger across from him.
Oh no! Does he have a pair of Aces?!
They raised their bets and flipped another card over. An eight of spades. Nothing important. But then, Lobak raised again. Snazzy couldn’t help but to take him on.
And then, the last card was revealed, drawing some to grow giddy in excitement.
Another Ace?! Oh my god, why now?!
And on top of his worries, Lobak suddenly pushed all of his coins forward. “All in!”
Snazzy counted his coins. They were not enough to match his bet. He would have to fold and lose almost everything that he made earlier. Though Snazzy was in a panic, the beady expression on his face remained the same, a true poker face. He looked over at Maribell, who was quite flushed, but probably still had her bearings.
As Snazzy stared back at Lobak, he got a strange feeling. Lobak was almost certainly bluffing. He was using his larger stack as a pretext to get him to fold. And this round was the perfect setup to convince him to.
But even if that was the case, how could he make up for the remaining amount? He couldn’t ask Maribell, who seemed to have a tight string around her purse, but maybe something else would work…
“Hey Lobak, how about I fight your big stack with a big stack of my own?” Snazzy whispered.
“Whad ya mean?” Lobak eyed him strangely.
Snazzy extended a tentacle pointing toward Maribell’s chest as she turned away. Instantly, Lobak caught on.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a feel? I can convince her.” Snazzy snickered.
Lobak’s eyes hovered at Maribell’s ample busom. Even if the girl refused to, that was still a tempting bargain made between men. “You’re on!”
With that, Snazzy and Lobak flipped their cards over at the same time. And what Lobak had… was a pair of Jacks.
With a cheer, Snazzy danced in place with his tentacles up in the air. He had more than quadrupled his earnings! After sweeping the coins into his pouch, Maribell asked him, “You done?”
Like a dog – or in this case, a jellyfish – following its Master, Snazzy floated behind as they climbed up the stairs.
“So, what did you bet at the end?” Maribell asked him as the door clicked shut.
“Uh… a favor?” Snazzy felt a bead of sweat collect on his head.
“Mhm… a favor on something you don’t have access to!” Maribell covered her chest, indicating that she knew exactly what he had offered. “If you don’t know, I can hear thoughts!”
And what a lie she heard from Snazzy. At least, now she knew that her power worked on him as well.
The guests next door heard something squishing repeatedly against the wall, along with muffled screams. They simply ignored it and went about their evening.