Why Kill? When Witches Can Be Tentacled!
As Maribell and Snazzy walked into the backroom, a lavish seating area filled with personal affects surrounded them. Various pieces of artwork, fragile artifacts, and decorative furniture gave the room a unique feel. It was stepping into the den of a collector’s fine things.
At a wide, solid wood desk, a lady sat, puffing out smoke from a pipe. Ears shaped like a tiger’s perked up from her blond hair as the two walked forward. Her emerald eyes had a predator-like glare to them. A fancy silk robe that screamed wealth barely held back a set of mounds threatening to spill out. This was Madame Jacoux, the proprietor of The Scratched Glass. Using her store as a front, her main dealings were in information and rare goods.
“Did you enjoy my girls? They make quite lovely company.” She tapped her pipe on a bin to knock out the tobacco before turning her head towards them. “But humans like you don’t seem to think so… well, not all humans, like your little reincarnated friend here.”
The lady gave off a chuckle, which sounded more like a snarl. Her posture seemed unguarded, yet eyes that tracked them like prey said otherwise. Despite that, Snazzy wasn’t intimidated.
“Truly sad that they don’t know what they are missing out.” Snazzy nodded in confidence. Maribell wasn’t sure if the jellyfish was too tipsy to notice the danger or whether he was trying to get on the tigress’s good side.
Regardless, Madame Jacoux laughed, who roared through the room and gave Maribell shivers.
“That’s what I like about you reincarnated folks. Even as blessed beasts, you have a unique perspective. That’s hard to come by in places like this. But certainly, there are the occasional humans who open up to the idea of having… a little fun. And for them, girls and gambling are the tip of ecstasy… as long as you have money of course.” With a curled smile, she brought the pipe up to her lips and drew a long puff.
“Viva!~ Let’s~~ Gamble!” Snazzy leapt out of Maribell’s grasp and shuffled in the air, doing the Shuffle with his tentacles. “Living the high life! I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas, but not anymore. They don’t have animal girls!”
Madame Jacoux turned away from the excited jellyfish with a delighted grin, but then, her eyes flicked toward Maribell, wondering about the other guest that wasn’t so amused.
“As much as I’d love to chitchat with this interesting fellow here, I take it that you have come here for a reason. And before you ask any questions, I already have a feeling. Our animal ears are rather keen, you know. We could hear you coming from the next district.”
Maribell focused on Madame Jacoux, listening to her inner thoughts. She was surprised to learn that they had heard the entire plan for Snazzy to warm up the crowd. Since they had heard the entire conversation, it was already expected that the two weren’t going to be trouble.
Knowing that, Maribell decided to go for the direct approach.
“I wish to know about any Witch sightings. Do you have any leads for me?” she said, listening closely for what was to follow.
And here, I thought she was going to ask something stranger… But what can you expect from a girl with such… exotic tastes in partners? Even if he was a human in the past life…
Maribell tried very hard to keep her expression blank, despite the inner turmoil those thoughts caused. While she had become very good at not showing any reaction from every disturbing and hateful thought that she encountered, that didn’t mean that it didn’t tear her up inside. Snazzy’s position on her punishment list ticked up a few notches.
“Witches, huh? Some kind of personal vendetta? Don’t go throwing away your life, though why should I care if you do? Maybe that’ll free up the little one here,” Jacoux finally answered, almost bored.
“Ah, that’s where I draw the line. Sorry, ma’am. Though this jellyfish likes fun, he likes Onee-san even more.” Snazzy bowed in apology to emphasize the point.
Maribell’s spirit returned slightly, realizing that Snazzy hadn’t truly abandoned her yet for some cheap thrills. Madam Jacoux’s thoughts were seemingly devoid of suspicions, so it was likely that she hadn’t been found out yet. Maribell was extra careful not to discuss about Witches in public as there was no telling who was right around the corner, or as she just found out, within a beastkin’s hearing range.
“Putting the danger aside, I’m chasing after someone,” she answered, leaving it as vague as possible.
Madame Jacoux crinkled her nose and held up her entire hand. “Five silvers. A cheap price for your bravery, wherever it may lead. Quite the bargain, compared to the treats and service your companion has already indulged in.”
Maribell didn’t want to be reminded of that. A stamped silver coin was enough to spend an entire week in an inn. Certainly, the luxury of fine spirits and seductive company was enough to tear through much of her hard-earned money.
Reaching into her pouch, she grabbed five silver coins and placed them one by one in a row on the desk. Madame Jacoux glanced at them before continuing.
“You are not alone in searching for Witches nearby. I hear of an adventurer party that is on the lookout for one as well. Apparently, they have a lead on the surrounding area, but they’ve been mighty secretive about it. My sources tell me that they are looking for the White Witch.”
A chill went down Maribell’s spine, something that Jacoux took notice of. Maribell didn’t like the sound of that. “They wouldn’t happen to be a swordsman and a magician duo?” she hesitantly asked.
Madame Jacoux shot an upturned brow at her. “Hmm? Why do you ask that?... But no, a believe that it was a Silver Rank party that call themselves, Conundrum. As far as I know, it’s a trio of beefy men who are out to get rich quick and think bringing in a Witch would line their pockets.”
She jotted down the details of the group and where they hung out. Standing up and leaning over the desk, she handed the slip of paper to Maribell, before speaking in a whisper. “Between us, these are just some horny men who have had a taste of the beastkin service and are working their tails off for more. A rumor this might simply turn out to be… or it may not.” She leaned back afterwards with a smile.
Maribell was left with a look of disgust. Ignoring that last statement, she had a lead now. But it didn’t sound like a very good one. What she spent could be recovered with a few monster material harvests, so it was better than nothing.
Thanking the information dealer for her time, Maribell turned to leave. Snazzy, who had been patiently waiting for her to finish, bounced jubilantly out of the room first.
As Maribell approached the door, she heard one last piece of advice.
“Be careful where you poke around. You just might find the one thing you’re trying to avoid.”
Maribell turned back with a look of puzzlement, wondering what she could mean, but just then, Snazzy poked his head back in.
“Can I go finish my boobie time?” he asked.
“No, I am not paying for any more of your recovery indulges,” Maribell said firmly. Snazzy’s question had broken her train of thought. She pushed the jellyfish out in annoyance, leaving the room in silence.
Moments later, Snazzy’s head popped back into the backroom.
“You spoke of gambling. What games of chance do you have to ensnare my non-existent jellyfish heart?”
But before Madame Jacoux could answer, a palm gripped Snazzy by the top of the head and yanked him away. Needless to say, Maribell didn’t want any more excuses for Snazzy to wander here on a whim.
After Maribell had dragged Snazzy from his beastkin paradise, she examined the slip of paper. On it, the familiar words, Tabernacle Inn, were written. That was a typical hangout and place to spend the night for adventurers. Maribell herself had stayed there numerous times before.
But the problem with that was, people might recognize her and ask questions. Personal questions that she had difficulty thinking of a roundabout way to answer, as a sense of familiarity was first to leave her mouth. At least with strangers, her lack of ability to lie was tinted by vagueness. There were no preconceived expectations of what to say, as she could play it off as the other person’s misconception.
But for the people who were still fresh in her memory, she knew what they expected of her. A sense of knowing exactly where things stood bound the truth to her lips. Even with how short of a time she had known Snazzy, it was getting hard to play off anything but the absolute truth. The smallest detours in phrasing that conflicted with what Snazzy knew of her felt like she was being strangled.
The lingering insecurity of losing even this little bit of leeway made Maribell wonder at times whether she could continue like this for much longer.
Regardless, she needed Snazzy’s help to find out what this Conundrum group knew. As they came to the specified inn, the two of them split up. Snazzy walked straight through the front door, while Maribell snuck around the side, peering through the windows to find a good place to spy.
As described by the note given to her, Snazzy approached three men lounging around a table, counting their coins. The patchwork armor and dirty appearances made them look more like street thugs than adventurers. With scruffy beards and sloppy posture, Maribell guessed that these men weren’t very serious when it came to their jobs. The fact that they appeared much older than her also told of their slow progress, if they were still Silver Rank and hadn’t quit by now.
Maribell approached the window where their table was at. She didn’t need to look anymore. By closing her eyes, she could hear their thoughts even better than the words exiting their mouths.
Surprised by a random blessed beast in jellyfish form approaching them, they instantly relaxed when Snazzy struck a conversation with them about the beastkin service girls. Maribell wondered why men couldn’t stop thinking about their libidos. That seemed to be the most common thing that flew out of a man’s stray thoughts. Groaning in disgust of Snazzy’s continual reference to men of culture, she shook her head as to how easily their lips became loose. In the span of ten minutes, their talk ranged from visual preferences in women that Maribell wanted to wash from her ears to exchanging shanties about their favorite encounters.
“I’ve got an Onee-san as wild as the sea~ ♪! Fire away, her magic goes~ ♪!
Between the curvy thiccness, there I will be~ ♪! Oh no, my tentacle blows~ ♪!”
Maribell didn’t need to see anything to picture Snazzy and the men waving around mugs in song. While he was doing a great job at blending in, she really wanted to be there to smack him. Just when she thought that he had forgotten his mission, Snazzy’s mind shifted gears.
“Hey guys, I heard that you all were looking for some nice bounty along the lines of a Witch. Tell me, are Witches tasty?” he said with a smirk.
“Who knows? Haven’t met one before. But the three of us damn near ran into one not long back.”
“A Witch can’t be all that hot if they’re constantly on the run. I’d rather grab those riches and blow it all away on some beastkin ladies while sipping on fine spirits!”
“She’s probably some hag that lives off the land and attacks unsuspecting travelers and takes their manhoods as trophies.”
Snazzy laughed at their statements, before his tone suddenly shifted. “Ain’t that right? Why don’t we go catch us a Witch then? If you bring me to that spot, I’ll use my handy homing sense to flush out one. I’m a blessed beast with a gift! Then, we can go enjoy all the ladies we want!”
Maribell clenched her fists at their insults, biting her lip at the stinging accusations. But then, she heard Snazzy’s thoughts.
These guys are such blithering idiots. Say that again about Onee-san, and I’ll electro-tentacle punch you in the jaw!
Maribell took a deep breath to calm down. Ignorance was like a disease. It spread with every spray of the mouth and plagued others with its symptoms until one no longer recalled what it was like to be free of it. And the misconceived belief of what Witches were, boiled down to what the Kingdom allowed its citizens to see and hear. Ugly descriptions of temptresses using illusions to fool people, beaten and butchered carcasses of women accused and captured as Witches.
What little bit of fresh air that Snazzy provided from the townspeople of Arnhem could easily be wiped out by the Kingdom. They would purge the entire town if they had to. And that was exactly why Maribell had to be on the run. She couldn’t make allies of anyone who couldn’t fight. And for that, she needed the other Witches.
Luckily, these men were as stupid as they looked. They perked up in excitement at the mention of a homing signal for Witches. That was most certainly a lie. Maribell could tell that Snazzy was acting for her sake. She smiled as the men took the bait and spilled out their entire plans.
Promising to meet him the next morning, Snazzy split off from the gang. After floating a good distance away from the Tabernacle Inn, Maribell joined up with him as they returned to the inn for a quiet night this time.
Maribell made sure that his belly was good and full of liquor such that he was too exhausted to cause any trouble. She didn’t need any more rumors to spread.