Chapter 16:

Apothecaries for Hire!

Why Kill? When Witches Can Be Tentacled!

Maribell and Snazzy stared at the caravan that was being prepared for their travels. It was quite wide and long, measuring three meters by ten. By what was most distinct about it was that there were plants growing all along the outside. Vines wrapped around and hung from the roof, red and white flowers speckled along the side of the wall, and broad leaves strewn about blew in the wind like flowing locks of hair. Underneath all of that was a building that looked more like a mobile shop, with an unobstructed door at one end and window shutters on the other side. Resting on a set of metal wheels that lifted the whole thing a meter up, a stepladder was needed to go inside.

“That’s uh… something, isn’t it, Onee-san?” Snazzy commented at the vehicle that looked like a magic treehouse to him.

Maribell shrugged. It wasn’t the strangest thing to her. Traveling apothecaries often carried many of the herbal remedies they needed on hand, and they found it useful to just grow them on whatever they rode upon. For that reason, many of the plants that jutted out from the caravan in front of them could be harvested for medicine.

As Maribell pointed them out to Snazzy, he said with a teasing tone, “If only the concept of Witches weren’t so frowned upon here. I could totally see you with an oversized hat hovering over a cauldron.”

“Is that… some kind of perversion in your world or something?” Maribell leerily looked over at him, wonder how such things would seem attractive, evil entity hated by all humankind aside.

“No… leggings that leave a thigh gap between it and your skirt, along with detached sleeves that leave the upper arm exposed would probably be of that sort. I do like my zettai ryouiki.” Snazzy pondered with a tentacle stroking his chin.

“And you act like I should be used to your tastes.” Maribell poked him in the cheek. There was never a dull moment when such a creature held strange ideas even for the most mundane of things.

“How’s the thing going to be pulled anyway? It looks pretty heavy.” Snazzy noticed in town that many carriages were drawn my horses, but for a behemoth cart on wheels such as this, he doubted that a team of horses would be enough. Not to mention, one of them could reach back and snack on the plants.

“Well, there’s your answer right there.” Maribell said, pointing off to the side. An enormous scaly creature that was nearly as tall as the caravan itself crawled on all fours and was led by an equally intimidating beastkin man equipped with a battleax. Being hitched to the caravan, it popped up on its hind legs, now obvious that it towered above the ride that it was supposed to pull.

“That’s a land dragon. They are used for heavy duty transport. Gentle creatures if they come to like you.” Maribell giggled as she saw Snazzy’s jaw hang wide open. To a little creature like Snazzy, it must have seemed even bigger.

Maribell dragged the trembling Snazzy up to the pair to get a closer look. The beastkin man turned around, revealing curled horns on top of his head. Curly, white hair topped a face that was surprisingly childish looking. That was certainly unexpected given that the rest of his body was rippling with muscles that were apparent from the overalls that exposed his upper body.

The thought, bro, you really lift, didn’t begin to describe what was going through Snazzy’s mind. The level of detail carved between his muscles looked like it had been permanently set in stone. But yet, he had a baby face. And it made Snazzy cringe even more when he waved at them while cutely sticking his tongue out.

“Why hello there, Boxani, a sheepkin warrior, but you can call me Bobo.”

There was something dreadfully off about an absolutely ripped man talking cutesy. Still, Snazzy wasn’t one to refuse a simple greeting based on that. He hesitantly stuck out a tentacle for a handshake.

But suddenly, his whole body was enveloped by the sheepkin’s giant hand, which surrounded the little jellyfish’s body like a beast’s jaws.

“What do we have here? A tasty treat for my dear Jangles?” Before Maribell or Snazzy could protest, Bobo chucked the jellyfish toward the land dragon’s mouth. Too fast for Snazzy to correct himself midair, he was horrified as the jaws of the land dragon snapped open, waiting to devour the creature.

“I AM NOT EMERGENCY FOOD!” Snazzy cried in tears, but then, he collided into a large, fleshy, and slightly damp surface. His motion abruptly stopped. He felt himself being launched higher up in the air and virtually flung off. Moments later of a jellyfish swirling though the air, Snazzy landed with a heavy plop on the ground.

Maribell watched the entire exchange with a mixture of surprise and pity. From her view, the land dragon had licked Snazzy out of the air and sent him spiraling away. Bobo chuckled at their expected reaction.

“Sorry, but that’s kind of a rite of acceptance that Jangles does. She has to lick any new passengers to understand that they are our guests. Her sense of taste is super sharp, so that’s just her way of implanting friendlies.”

Maribell stepped back, now holding out a hand in fear of being next.

“Don’t worry, magician lady. I only needed one of you, and it seemed funnier to mess with the creature there. Jangles can capture any remnants of companions who have been hanging around each other. Especially those that have close contact.”

For once, Maribell was relieved that she had let Snazzy cuddle with her. Apparently, her flavor was easily detected upon Snazzy’s body. Still, that seemed a bit twisted to her.

“Caravan’s all hitched. All that’s left is to board the vehicle and head off. Wendy’s already waiting inside for you two. Why don’t you scoop the little guy up and head on in?” Bobo climbed up into the conductor’s seat next to the window side and made his final preparations.

Giving him a nod, Maribell walked over to where Snazzy’s unconscious body had landed. He was coated with dust, thanks to rolling around in the dirt after being slobbered upon, but that was nothing that his water magic couldn’t wash off. For now, Maribell pinched him by the head and gingerly walked over to the door of the caravan.

Giving a knock before opening it, Maribell peeked inside. Just like the outside of the caravan, the inside was coated from floor to ceiling with vines, flora, and various shrubbery. At least, it looked somewhat neat aside from that.

“Um, Miss Wendy? Someone named Bobo asked us to come in. We’re supposed to help guard this cara- Wah!” Maribell screamed as she felt something grab her by the leg. Looking down, a hand come out of a large trunk. Red eyes peered from the darkness from within, causing Maribell to drop Snazzy and back into a wall of vines.

The hand reached around and dragged Snazzy into the darkness, much to Maribell’s panic. But hardly any time passed before she heard Snazzy scream from within. The jellyfish, somehow fully revived, came yelling out of the darkness and leapt for Maribell’s chest. Like a monkey dangling from a tree, he bounced excitedly on her.

“Onee-san! It’s a, It’s a…”

Trying to look between Snazzy and the trunk, a head finally poked out of the shadows. The first thing she noticed was the strange ears, and then, a pair of spectacles. As the person they belonged to crawled out of the confined space, Maribell noticed that she appeared quite young.

“It’s a catgirl, Onee-san! Not a tigress, but a meow-meow Neko kitty girl!” Snazzy shouted with glee. Reading his thoughts for more understanding, Maribell suddenly smacked the jellyfish in the head.

“How could you think of having such a young girl serve you in servant’s attire?!” Maribell spat at him with a face dyed crimson. In Snazzy’s mind, a certain paradise of catgirls, of all types, frolicked around in maid outfits. Just how much does he love beastkin women! He told me that they didn’t exist in his world!

Perhaps, it was the lack thereof that made it so appealing, but he had also mentioned an absence of Witches and magic as well. Maribell wondered what the difference could be.

“Ahem, you two are my bodyguards, right?” A voice interrupted her musings. “I’m Wendy.”

Now that Maribell and Snazzy could see her clearly, she was indeed a young girl from the catkin tribe. Her strawberry blond hair fell messily over the glasses she wore, but despite her youthful appearance, a sharp focus emitted from her eyes. A purple matching outfit of shirt and shorts fitted her spunky appearance.

After the pair nodded, Wendy apologized for scaring them. Apparently, they had caught her in the middle of caring for mushrooms in the Dark Room, which is what she called the trunk she emerged from.

“Ooo, magic mushrooms?” Snazzy wondered aloud.

“If by that, you mean medicinal or poisoning attributes, then you could probably say that they are magic,” Wendy innocently answered. Maribell simply turned away and coughed, knowing exactly what Snazzy had meant instead.

Wendy was the current owner of the caravan, being from a long line of apothecaries in her family. She had inherited this vehicle not long ago. Partnered with Bobo, they went around collecting rare ingredients and selling the medicine that resulted from them. When asked how Wendy had met Bobo, she told them that they were childhood friends.

“Wait, how old is he? How old are you?” Snazzy wondered, not seeing how the gigantic sheepkin could ever have been a playmate for the petite girl that was barely up to Maribell’s chest.

“Oh, we’re both 14.”

An awkward silence blanketed the room from that. Snazzy couldn’t imagine a single middle schooler that could be so jacked. Did sheepkin possess the secrets to the extreme macho? He certainly looked like he could lift some dumbbells.

Regardless, they were now asked to guard this mismatched pair on the way towards the Kingdom of Roswalia. But then, it struck Maribell.

“Where is this important cargo that Madame Jacoux told us about?” she asked.

“Ah, that?” Wendy walked over to a desk where baskets of vials and glassware were stored. Pulling a drawer out, a clear box with many filled vials were contained within. “This is it. Medicine for the people that reside in the outer lands of Evergem.”

Maribell could tell that this medicine was important, as it was carefully packaged and stashed in such a location. But what type of medicine would warrant such a long journey that started from the central hub of Adelton? It had to be something unique to require resources from across the kingdom.

She looked over to Snazzy for his thoughts, who seemed remarkably quiet compared to his normal self. But apparently, he was humming a little tune to himself, imagining cute girls in an atelier stirring a cauldron pot. All she could tell was that it was some game that he played as a human.

“What kind of rare disease requires such special medicine to cure?” Maribell turned back to Wendy. She needed some idea of how important this guard duty was. After all, Madame Jacoux entrusted them with this task, and she was keeping her secret from leaking out to others. There was a good chance that a failed mission would invoke the wrath of the information dealer, leading to the entire world instantly knowing about her. Information was indeed power, one that easily strung along even Witches.

“Wyvern Pox, a pretty bad case of it since their herds aren’t being culled by adventurers. They normally should have moved north for the season, which is why an outbreak seems sudden.” Wendy placed the container back in the drawer. Moving to the window, she opened it and peeked out. “All set, let’s move out, Bobo.”

“Okies, Wendy!”

The crack of a whip sounded from outside. In no time, the floor beneath them started to rumble from the forward movement. At the speed of a normal land dragon, it was expected to take roughly a week’s time to arrive.

Maribell looked around at her living arrangements for that duration. At least, it was better than sleeping in the forest, despite the same ambience it gave off. Beds were a luxury during travel. The only question was whether a certain someone would drive her nuts in this enclosed space of fragile botany.

“Hey look, Onee-san!” Snazzy waved to get Maribell’s attention. After he did, he jumped into a wooden barrel and closed the lid.

“Barrel!” his muffled voice sounded from within.

Maribell narrowed her eyes. This was going to be a long week.

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