Each week a piece of artwork will be showcased in this section chosen from the contributors and members of H.C.
Here we have an awesome Black Widow piece done by the extremely talented
DWOAH: Lion-O vs Leo WhitefangDeadliest warriors of all historyLion-O vs Leo WhitefangThe heart and soul of the King of the Jungle! Lion-O info:Height: 6 foot 4Weight: 225lbsWeapons: Bare Hands, Sword of Omens, Claw ShieldStrengths: Is the Prince of the destroyed planet Thundera and the Leader of the surviving Thundercats, Immense physical strength (Can destroy stone with his punches and can cut through it with greater ease with the Sword of Omens, Can lift hundreds of tons, Pulled the Demolisher’s Spaceship out of the sky, Is the strongest of the Thundercats, The Sword of Omens can increase his strength to the point that he held a breaking planet together), Immense durability (Tanks hits from the likes of Mumm-Ra, Can survive a blast from the Sword of Plun-Darr, Survived heat comparable to a planet's core, Can survive the vacuum of space, Survived being frozen solid), Superhuman speed/Massively hypersonic reactions (Beat Cheetarah in a footrace, Can dodge Lasers), Is a master combatant, Can control all other less sentient Cat species, The Eye of Omens can grant him ‘sight beyond sight’ (This grants anything from mind reading, X-ray vision to even seeing into the past), The Sword of Omens can perform a multitude of different feats (From energy projection, Pyro/Cryokinesis, Telekinesis and even provide healing), The Claw Shield is near unbreakable and possesses Grappling Hooks and a Smokescreen, Can call the Sword of Omens to his hand at will.Weaknesses: Suffers a weakness to Thundrainium which drains his strength, Is fairly dense, His life as well as the life of the rest of the Thundercats is tied to the Eye of Omens and if it is destroyed he will die, Is incredibly hotheaded.Leo Whitefang info: Height: 6 foot 5Weight: 183lbsWeapons: Bare Hands, Dual Greatswords Strengths: As the 2nd of the 3 allied Kings of the United Kingdom of Illyria Leo is one of the most powerful characters in the Guilty Gear universe, Immense physical strength (Can harm the rest of the Guilty Gear roster, Is a match for Ky Kiske and Sol Badguy, Cracked Bedman’s frame with Johnny’s help when Bedman can tank attacks from Slayer going all out), Immense physical durability (Can tank attacks from the rest of the Guilty Gear roster, Survived a fight with Bedman, Regularly shrugs off serious sparring sessions with Ky Kiske), Massively FTL speeds (Can keep up with the rest of the Guilty Gear roster, Casually matches Ky Kiske’s speed), His willpower is so strong he can manifest projectile Weapons with them, Can alter the shape of his Swords at will, His Greatswords are powerful and durable enough to clash with the likes of Sol’s Fireseal and Ky’s Thunderseal without even chipping.Weaknesses: His ego can get the better of him, His strong commitment to enforcing justice can force him into fights that heavily go against his favour.Battle begin!“What do you mean no?! It’s been like...two weeks since our last sparring session!” Leo complained over the phone to Ky, banging his Fist against his desk and nearly warping the dense wood of it “yes I know last time we destroyed Ayers Rock and I already told you that I’m having it rebuilt!...What do you mean you can’t just rebuild a mountain?”.Before Ky could respond the sound of crashing from above drew Leo’s attention before a Cat-like man suddenly burst through the ceiling a split second later, Leo just managing to jump out of the way as his call was cut off by Lion-O landing on the communicator before his impact split the desk clean in half as it collapsed under his weight and impact.“Damn, really miscalculated that jump” Lion-O groaned as he picked himself up, shaking the wood splinters out of his hair as he then looked around “where did I even land?”.“Hey!!!” Lion-O then heard a bellowing roar to his side, looking over to see an extremely pissed off Whitefang standing over him “you broke my desk! That was the finest mahogany!”.“Really? Smells like cheap birch to me” the Thunderian responded as he picked out more wood splinters from his mane, his comment only acting to enrage Leo more as he suddenly surged forward, grabbing Lion-O by the throat before throwing him full force across the room, sending him crashing through several walls until he landed in the streets outside.Springing to his feet after bouncing a few times off of the concrete Lion-O drew the Sword of Omens to defend himself as several of Whitefang’s Elite Guard marched out of the building he had been thrown from “WHO DARES STAND AGAINST ME?!”.“AN UTTER FOOL SIR!!!” the Guards responded to Leo’s roar as the second King emerged from the building himself grasping two Greatswords in his hands.“WHO CHALLENGES ME?!”.“ONLY THE BRAVE SIR!!!”.“WRONG!!! Both are fools!” Whitefang barked back before leaping forward, bringing his Greatswords down as Lion-O jumped out of the way, the Blades cracking the concrete upon impact before he dragged them out of the ground and swung them to clash them against the Sword of Omens.The Swords rebounding off of each other both Swordsmen recovered quickly to strike at each other again, their Blades clashing again and again before Leo ducked under a broad swing of the Sword of Omen’s and brought his Fist up, striking Lion-O in the stomach with both his Fist and hilt of his right Greatsword, lifting the Thundercat off of his feet before jumping up himself to deliver a crushing left to Lion-O’s back, sending him to the concrete hard enough to crack it.As Lion-O landed Leo swept his Greatswords across the ground to strike the Thundercat again, sending him back into the air before willing an X shaped metal emblem into existence, the second King then launching it at Lion-O sending him across the street to make him crash into one of the adjacent parked cars with enough force to heavily dent it and shatter all of the windows on it.Pulling himself from the car Lion-O swiftly jumped up to avoid another hit from Whitefang, the Kings Greatswords slicing the car clean in half as the Thundercat landed deftly behind him, Lion-O then raising the Sword of Omens to the air, charging it with electricity before firing it at Whitefang striking him in the back.Exclaiming as his body seized and spasmed from the shock Leo fell to one knee before grunting as he was suddenly bound by Grappling Hook wire fired from Lion-O’s Claw Shield “you dare try to restrain a King?!” Leo roared as he flexed his arms, effortlessly snapping the wire and turning around just in time to feel the Sword of Omens plunge into his left shoulder as Lion-O rushed in for a stabbing attack “bastard!”.“Sword of Omens! Give me power beyond power!” Lion-O barked to which his Sword fired a large beam of energy, sending Leo crashing through several of the buildings behind him before causing the last one to collapse on top of him.As the building fell Lion-O breathed a sigh of relief before preparing to shield his Sword only for the buildings rubble to suddenly explode outsides as Leo burst free, his long coat now burned around and his left shoulder heavily blackened from the Swords attack but the King was still very much alive “you think you can best me with such a pitiful attack?!” he roared before charging at the Thundercat with speed unreadable to the human eye, reaching him in a fraction of a second before launching him to the air with an upwards sweep of his Blades.As he was made airborne again Lion-O managed to control his ascent, rolling in the air before stopping to face Leo who leapt up after him, the Thundercat releasing a thick Smokescreen from his Claw Shield which blanketed the area “damn it!” Leo barked as he missed his attack and landed deep in the thick Smokescreen “where are you?!”.“Sword of Omens, give me sight beyond sight!”.A split second later Lion-O was on the attack, the Sword of Omens granting him the means to see through the Smokescreen to strike at Leo again and again, rushing through the Smoke at blinding speeds whilst the second King blindly swung and swiped at the sounds of his rapid footsteps.Getting cut and sliced again and again Whitefang let out an enraged yell before slamming his foot down to stand his ground, gripping the hilts of his Swords tighter before starting to spin them at extreme speeds, the action causing large gusts of wind that blew away the Smokescreen revealing Lion-O to him once again, allowing the second King to swiftly block the latest attack from the Sword of Omens.“Tsk, you’re strong for an old man!” Lion-O grunted as he felt his arms straining to hold the Sword of Omens forward.“Strong? My strength is ten times that of any man!” Leo snapped back before proving it, starting to push back against Lion-O forcing the Thundercat back inch by inch, the Sword of Omen starting to wane with every passing second causing Lion-O to call upon it once again.“Sword of Omens! Give me strength beyond strength!” the Thunderian barked as his Sword began to glow again, multiplying his strength to the point that it quickly matched and even overpowered Whitefang as he quickly broke the Weapon lock and threw his arm out in a powerful backhand, the impact of it making Leo’s eyes widen with shock before he was sent flying over the horizon with a surprised shout.Landing several dozen miles outside of his city Leo’s body made a deep crater in the ground as he blinked a couple of times in shock that he had been overpowered, the second King slowly picking himself up to see an approaching dust cloud in the distance, Lion-O running at him with such speed it kicked up the dirt and grass from under his feet.Readying himself Leo showed Lion-O that whilst at that moment he might have had the strength advantage the second King had sheer speed, avoiding a swing from the Sword of Omens as the Blade passed so close it cut off a couple millimetres of his beard.Angered by the Sword messing up his facial hair Leo struck Lion-O across the stomach with both Greatswords, drawing blood as they cut through the Thunderian’s abs, making him grunt and double over as his blood stained the ground in front of him.Left staggering by the hit Lion-O raised the Sword of Omens to try to block Whitefang’s next attack only for the Blade to be knocked clean out of his hands leaving the Thundercat to defend himself with his Bare Hands, taking several swings at the second King, missing most of them before landing a powerful haymaker upon Leo’s face.Whilst the punch caused a small shockwave Leo just smirked at the hit before sending Lion-O staggering back with another strike from his Swords before charging energy into them, turning the bladed ends of them into the shapes of Lion Heads as he charged at Lion-O with enough force to ignite the air around him “take my Blades! Harder than any steel!” he barked as he launched himself at the Thundercat.“Sword of Omens! To me!” he commanded, calling his Sword to his hand before holding it up to try to block Whitefang’s charge.“And add to their strength my dignity and grace! WINDRAD DES WELTRAUM!!!” the second King roared as he then made contact with Lion-O and the Sword of Omens.Upon the Blades making contact Lion-O’s eyes widened with horror as the Sword of Omens outright shattered, his Sword giving way before the Eye of Omens was struck by the second Kings attack, the Eyes pupil widening as if with shock before it was destroyed as well, the very instant it was Lion-O’s heart stopped before his body was struck by Leo’s attack, being completely obliterated by it before the resulting explosion incinerated what was left of it, leaving Whitefang standing in a blackened crater.Looking around for any remains of his opponent Leo then smirked as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small dictionary, flipping through it before stopping on a page and pulling out a pen to make a small alteration “the sole reason you lost? You weren’t me”.Winner: Leo WhitefangAnd that my dear readers is why I main the absolute monster that is Leo Whitefang in Guilty Gear.So why does Leo defeat Lion-O?Well when it came to strength both combatants were fairly equal until Lion-O called upon the Sword of Omens to grant him an advantage in that match up but in every other category Leo took it quite handily, being able to keep up with opponents like Slayer and Jack-O Valentine who can faster than the speed of light and durable enough to take hits from the likes of Sol Badguy and Bedman meant that when Lion-O eventually out strengthed him Leo could simply just tank everything through at him or just outright dodge it until he landed the killing blow.So out of these two Lions it was quickly made apparent who the true King was.
Kat and Mouse 3: Real AdventureAfter hearing a few echoing ‘Whump’s’ from the door, Katherine shouted, “I’ll be there in a minute!” She thought, Who’d be here at the ass-crack of dawn? Whoever it is had better be bleeding, as she undid the lock. A frigid breeze cut through her Tom & Jerry sweatshirt and pajama pants, causing her to shiver as she opened the door. “Holy…” “I’ll accept that as a greeting,” Candi said. The bob-haired girl had on sneakers without socks, a pair of yellow shorts that would more accurately be described as a denim thong, and a yellow baby-doll top with a blazing comet emblem. Steam rose from her shiny skin. “You’re either here to get me to go to the gym as a kind of Dickens ‘ghost of eating binges past’, or you’ve got another job for us to do,” Katherine replied. “Are you gonna come in, or are you waiting for me to freeze to death?”“I didn’t wanna be rude, and you’re kind of blocking the doorway,” Candi replied. Katherine took a step back and to the side, letting her friend close the door. As Candi did that, Kat felt a wave of heat hit her. “You’re like a furnace.” She slowly looked over the girl from bottom to top, seeing that Candi had heart-shaped calves that matched her own thighs in width, quadriceps that showed deeply grooved separation between each section of muscle, brick-like abdominals, and biceps that stood out from her arms in rising arcs. “You look… different from last time,” Kat held the corner of her lower lip in-between her teeth. “It must have been an eventful week. Did you just assign a butt-load of stat points?”“I’m gonna answer your first question first,” Candi answered. “I’m not going to brow beat you into heading to the gym. Your own conscience will do that. I’ve also got us a job, and it isn’t with Throg this time.”“Who is it with, then?” Kat asked. “I know you’re not going to have us at a convenience store. Also, don’t you make enough from your modeling and clothing line so that you don’t have to do anything else?”“I like getting these odd jobs with you because they’re fun. Also, have you seen how much I eat? I need the extra money for food. This machine–” she gestured at herself– “needs fuel! I also like how we’ve got to figure out some kind of puzzle each time,” Candi raised both arms, closing and opening her fists as she stretched. As she did so, the motion caused her biceps to swell out to past fingertip height, while her lats flared out to the sides, nearly tearing the stretchy top she wore. “I had a kind of a boost when I was in the faerie realm. I was hired to do a jailbreak, getting Shayna out of prison. The job had to be done right away, so I wasn’t able to get you to help.” She lowered her arms back down, smiling a little as she saw her friend staring. “There’s a drawback to having high stats. I get half experience rewards when an opponent has lower hit points than my damage bonus.”“Going on a fantasy adventure is something I’d really like to do,” Kat mused, “It would be a good break from the urban city things we’ve been doing. Isn’t breaking someone out of jail against the law?”“I was told that in the faerie realm they see it as part of their way of life. They sort of look the other way as long as it’s not violent criminals, like murderers who are being freed.” Candi said. “I can see that you like the effects of your boost,” Katherine sat her hand on one of Candi’s protruding biceps. “I’m not going to feel sorry for you because nearly everything is too easy for you to kill with one hit.” She gave a squeeze, blanching her fingertips while not even denting in Candi’s skin. “If I can guess at your way of thinking, you’re wearing a Comet Girl styled outfit as a way of saying that you want to be compared with her.”“My thought processes are extremely subtle,” Candi replied. “It is impossible for anyone to ever guess my motives.”“You know that my personality requires me to not give in to your blatant exhibitionism or to stroke your ego,” Katherine said.Candi tilted her head to the side and pushed out her lower lip into a pout.“Using the adorification power against me isn’t fair,” Kat laughed. She turned her head a little to the side and half-lidded her eyes. “Us mortals are defenseless against it.” She slid her hand over Candi’s bicep peak. “Since I haven’t built up any defense, I’ll have to oblige you this once. It’s pretty obvious that you’re more muscular, since her maximum flex is to wrist height and your resting size is to fingertip height. The vein that goes over your peak is probably as thick as my wrist. I’m not going to dare to hold onto it. I’ve heard the safety warnings about what could happen if a normal human were to subject their body to the force of a Goddess’ heartbeat. I don’t know who has the larger tits, you or her, but you’ve gained a letter or two. Your boobs and bicep peaks enter a room before you do. Is that enough to satisfy your need for me to state the obvious?”“I was prepared to shift into my were-mouse form if necessary,” Candi said. “I was going to find your cuteness breaking point.”“Dream on. I know when I’m beaten,” Kat sniffed.“I’ll consider this to be enough payment to let you know what the job is. Your compliments and gawking are pretty much my only payment for going on adventures, since it seems that the cash is always gone before it’s my turn to get a share of it,” Candi replied. “This job is going to be awkward at first, since we’re going to meet up with Queen Gouda, whose prison I broke Shayna out of.”“That could feel a bit strange for you,” Kat said. “How did you get this job and how are we going to get there?”“One of her lieutenants, Lady Neufchatel, found me and sort of told me that I owed the Queen a service due to my actions.” Candi replied. “I couldn’t tell her no. I was caught breaking their laws and need to pay back some kind of restitution. She gave me a key to open the gateway at the park.”“This sounds a lot more like a job– or indentured servitude– for you, not us,” Kat said. “How did you meet the fairy Queen’s representative and when did this happen?”“I was woken up about a half hour ago by a dark blue elf and told that I had volunteered for this,” Candi answered. “She didn’t tell me that I was to do it alone. That means I’m not being forbidden to have help.”“Why didn’t you ask Nikita or one of the superheroines instead of getting me?” Kat asked.“Do you want the inspirational answer or the honest one?” Candi asked in turn.“I would like the honest answer to be inspirational,” Kat said.“I could solo most of the monsters in a fantasy game, so I don’t need help fighting,” Candi said.“Yes. The modesty is really working for you. You should keep that up,” Kat said.“I was about to say that I’d need help against the weird stuff,” Candi replied. “I can’t punch a ghost. That’s where your equally weird powers come in. You’re also fun to show off for.” She paused for a second. “There’s also the chance to get some cool stuff as souvenirs and to see the exotic locations.”“I was just giving you a hard time,” Kat said. “You don’t have to try and sell me on the idea. It’s not like I’d ever go, ‘no, I’m not going to accompany you on a trip to another world.’” She used her free hand to pantomime waving ‘goodbye’. “So, when do we go and what should I pack?”“We have to go now, and don’t pack anything,” Candi replied. “We’re going to be given supplies when we get there.”“Pajama pants and a sweatshirt to meet a Queen?” Kat asked. “I’m no expert, but that feels like taking dressing down to a new low.”Candi shrugged her shoulders, deepening the grooved striations on them momentarily. “We’d probably be in trouble for doing that if she was holding court. I’m expecting her to meet us in some hallway for about ten seconds.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a thin silver chain with an oak leaf shaped pendant. “This is the gate key. Could you wear it? I’m going to try and draw all of the attacks onto me, so I don’t want to risk it getting damaged.”****Candi slowed down and then stopped the bicycle. “Here we are. I’m sorry that I don’t have a fancy way of getting us around. I don’t fly and can’t teleport.”“And since you refused to tell me the location, I couldn’t drive us… I think we need to address these issues you apparently have with cars.”“I’m being environmentally conscious,” Candi said. “Being out in the open is also a lot more fun than sitting in a metal box.”“I will grant you it’s not as bad as it might’ve been if I hadn’t been riding with a human-shaped blast furnace; I only froze half my body. I think my nipples might fall off, though, so maybe we can hurry up and get indoors?”“The gazebo is in the middle of the park,” Candi replied. “As far as I know, you just hold the key and will the gate to open. Fae are very outdoorsy. At least the few that I’d met are.” Candi led them a few hundred yards to the small wooden building. “Time for you to work your magic.”“I guess that’s a ‘no’ on the going indoors, then,” Kat groused. She pulled the pendant out from under her sweatshirt and held it up. “So… what’s supposed to…” the pendant flashed and Kat’s eyes burned incandescent as a glowing doorway sprung to life in the center of the platform.Kat blinked. “Never mind, then. Coming?”“Oh, absolutely.” Candi stepped through the gateway. She felt weightless for a second, and emerged with her hair standing on ends. Her eyes took a few seconds to adjust, while the higher oxygen levels made her slightly dizzy.“Candi?” Kat murmured as the therianthrope struggled to get her bearings.“Um?” Candi asked, rubbing her eyes.“I blame you for this. I told you we’d be underdressed!” “Greetings,” a short, blue colored elf said. “I’m glad that you did the sensible thing and agreed to my summons.” She rose from the chair at her desk and crossed the room to where the pair had stepped through the doorway. As she did so, her brocade gown swam over her shifting hips. “I am Gouda, Queen and Sovereign.”“Oh… Um... ““That’s Candi, the impetuous,” Kat cut in, “and I’m Kat, the inadequately accoutred. Thanks for seeing us on… abbreviated notice.”The elf smiled slightly, “I prefer to see to important matters immediately. Statesmanship can wait.” She sat a hand on Candi’s protruding bicep as she looked at her. “Since you saw fit, Miss Candi, to sneak into my basement and free my highest value prisoner, I think it equitable that you offer a service as payment of her bail.”“I didn’t know that she was beneath your fortress, your majesty. I was just told that I was to free her from prison.” Candi replied. “I’m also kinda sorry for whatever damage I did.”“You only broke years of defensive enchantments and terrified everyone inside of my mountains,” She said. “A lesser strategist would seek revenge, rather than recruitment. Would you agree to pay for the damages you’ve caused by doing a small favor?”“I’d been told that offering an open-ended favor to a fae could be very dangerous.” Candi said.Gouda laughed, “You do have some small amount of wisdom.” “I believe the standard contract is for payment for services rendered,” Kat interjected. “You can’t charge her for the damages to your fortress; you would have to appeal to her former employer for that… which, I suspect, would be inconvenient. What, exactly, are you offering and what are you offering it for?”The Queen frowned momentarily, “Very shrewd. I never handle these mundane details personally; instead, I would ask you to apply to my chatelaine, the Lady Neufchatel.”A slight cough came from the side, where the taller elf had been standing silently. “If you’d please accompany me, we could attend to the details.” The thin, armored woman turned her head to look towards the doorway.Candi looked, then turned back to the Queen, “Then, by your leave.” She bowed her head then turned to go out of the room, slipping from the elf’s grasp. Neufchatel followed the two into the hall, then walked past them to lead them to an office that was furnished more simply. The passages they traveled were carved from granite, with every inch polished. Stress cracks could be seen in places, along with chips of stone that had recently come loose. As they got inside, she gestured, causing lanterns to glow. “Candi, Miss Kat. As you know, there is a war underway, with multiple forces working to plunge this kingdom into chaos.” She sat a hand on Candi’s upper arm. “You would be working to preserve the rightful order, and to preserve this civil society. Your payment will be to claim whatever you find along your mission, other than your objective, for yourselves.”“As an opening bid,” Kat said, “it kind of lacks punch.”“You’d also be allowed to keep the equipment that you purchase and the remaining gold from your provisioning expense.” Neufchatel answered.“Why didn’t Queen Gouda ask one of her students that came here from our world?” Candi asked.“Simply put, they are not skilled or capable enough for this. We also don’t want them to perhaps fall into temptation to work for the enemy.” Neufchatel answered.“I’m a little confused about something,” Candi said. “She wasn’t angry at me or at what happened. Wouldn’t having someone important freed be kind of bothersome?”“Your friend touched upon something that should not be mentioned in the Queen’s chambers. That is the most likely place for others to have planted auguries.” The elf replied. “Shayna is too valuable as an easily manipulated force to keep locked up. She lives to aid others, and there is nothing wrong with pointing her where her altruism also aids the Queen.” She smirked, “We also know that it is not good to summon a goddess and then anger her.”“Queen Gouda paid to have Shayna freed from her own prison?” Candi interjected. “Oh-kay,” Kat said. “That’s being sneaky. She gets to have the satisfaction of capturing her enemy, then gets to blame the breakout on some mysterious outsider.” She paused, “How much gold are we being given for supplying ourselves? Ah… not aelf-gilt.”“You won’t be disappointed,” The elf replied. “You won’t be as wealthy as a knight, but you’ll have enough to keep you in food and drink for a good amount of time.”“That’s nice for a start,” Kat nodded. “How much are we being paid on top of that in order to render services?”“You’d both be offered minor titles as reward.” Neufchatel replied.“I think we’ll pass on titles, all things considered,” Kat said, shaking her head briefly, “unless they’re officially honorary titles. We’re not swearing oaths of fealty. Honestly, though, as nice as being ‘milady’ sounds, it lacks substance. What else have you got?”“The Queen has idle lands that she scarcely has use for. I am sure that a parcel could be deeded to you upon successful completion of your task. I do not wish to be unfair to my patron.”“Independent estates? Free from the Queen’s influence and governance?” Kat asked.“If you desired any services from the queen, you would, of course, have to pay taxes, but if you choose to abstain, that would be your right,” Neufchatel confirmed.“Then we have a deal,” Candi said. “Whoa!” Kat said, holding up a hand. “I would like to know that the lands we’re getting aren’t somehow really unpleasant, if that’s okay.”“It won’t be a trash pit or abandoned mine,” The elf replied. “It also won’t be a district of the capitol city. You will be deeded a portion of the countryside.” She used her free hand to sit a paperweight at one end of a curled parchment, then pulled it open. “You just need to sign at the bottom and you’ll be given the full information to begin your service.”Kat took the pen before Candi could sign. “Give me a moment, as your agent, to read through this, please.” She flattened out the page and scanned through the document. “This… This is too simple. There’s no hidden clauses or vague passages.” Kat looked to the elf, “You’re offering a simple payment? Wow.”“You can’t have surprises as exceptions if you never have things progress simply,” Neufchatel answered. “You two sign, then I sign and we proceed.” Once the document was set with a wax seal and put into an envelope, she said, “You are to go to the caverns of the Artificer’s Guild and retrieve the clockwork golem. By studying its manufacture, the Queen will know the weaknesses of any of their constructs. The map shows how to get there. All you need to do is put it into the holding pouch, then bring it back here.”****“Everyone’s staring at us.” Kat said.“You said ‘us’ and not ‘you’,” Candi replied. “Isn’t it good to be noticed?”“I’m in pajamas with fuzzy bunny slippers,” Kat raised one of her feet. “I don’t think being in a clown costume counts.”“It’s how people joke about what starting characters do,” Candi replied. “They go into town with nothing but a bag of money and buy everything new.”“If this were midsummer, that’d be true to life. I don’t get dressed up to go to bed when I’m sweating balls,” Kat snorted. “You’d be happy walking around in nothing with people gawking, but I don’t really want to stand out this way. I bet you’re thinking about doing it, now that I mentioned it, aren’t you?”“I’ll now list telepathy among your many abilities,” Candi pointed to a shop window painted with ‘Urban Fashions’ in an arc over the word ‘Seamstress’. “How about if we get dressed first? We can’t go adventuring with you looking like you just woke up.”The shop’s bell rang as they opened the door. “Given the weather, I’m not getting a slinky dress with my boobs falling out, much as I might like to,” Kat said. “Adventurers are always immune to cold, but I need wardrobe compromises to keep warm.”A cheerful looking brownie dressed in an art nouveau bustled dress greeted them from the counter. “Welcome. Welcome adventurers.” The short woman stepped down from behind the counter and hurried over to the pair. “I can tell that you two are in need of my skills. I look forward to helping others look their best.”“I'm looking for something that'll be comfortable and not make me look like a Boris Vallejo painting,” Kat said. “I’m not the one who’s got the build for it. No stomach windows. I don’t need to show off my paunch. I’m also not going to be up front fighting things, so I don’t need it to be extra durable.”“Do you magically come up with designs that fit our personalities?” Candi asked.“You’re not supposed to say things like that,” Kat punched Candi in the shoulder and winced. “No one is supposed to ever question things like that.”“It’s all skill,” The short woman replied. “In the absence of guidance, I fall back on my years of experience.” She sat her hand on Candi’s bicep. “Let me guess. You’re looking for something that shows off your impossible to obtain attributes.”“Isn’t that the most important reason to have custom tailoring done?” Candi asked. “You guessed right that we’re adventurers.”“It wasn’t much of a guess, dearie,” the brownie chuckled. “Only adventurers have such impossibly defined muscles, especially on the diets we provide here in Faerie.” She looked over to Kat. “For you, I see… a long, concealing robe in dark colors to demonstrate the gravity of your power, right?”Kat shook her head. “I was thinking something more along the lines of Dragon Sorceress Zyra from League of Legends, to be honest,” Kat said.The brownie cocked her head, “I’ve heard of the Wizards’ League, who are waging war against our Queen. I don’t know who the League of Legends are.”“I don’t think that video game references are the best idea,” Candi said. “Are you sure that you don’t want a set of grey and black leather tights and a hooded cloak to help you hide with?”“You want me dressed as a thief?” Kat sat a hand on her hip. “Really?”“Come on,” Candi said. “Can’t you see yourself carrying a pair of daggers and stuff like that?”“If I was carrying a dagger, that might be okay. Lots of people carry a dagger,” Kat said, raising an eyebrow. “If I had paired daggers, people might expect me to know how to use them.”“You can bluff,” Candi replied. “If you’re good at it, you’ll never have to prove it.” She looked back to the proprietor. “I’m dressed sleeveless because I end up tearing whatever I own.” She tightened her arm and leg muscles, swelling them out. “I’d prefer something sheer, to show off rather than something that looks like a tent.”“Have you considered wearing paint?” Kat interjected. “Also, try not to do that indoors. The thumping’s going to shatter the window.”“I can keep both of your ideas in mind, but it might cost a bit,” The brownie said. “I”d like payment upfront. No offense meant, but adventurers sometimes include unsavory types.” Once the brownie took her coins, Kat looked at Candi, “That’s just cut a sizable chunk out of our budget. Clothing here is awful expensive.”“Food and other supplies will probably be cheap,” Candi responded. “We could save money by hiring a chef. He’d say ‘Umber hulk is the stone crab of the underdark’ and cook whatever monsters I kill for our meals.”“Thank you for that convincing argument for veganism,” Kat snarked.“We’re going to save costs on weapons, so that will help,” Candi looked to the curtained-off area in the back of the shop. “She must be sewing at incredible speed if she’s going to have our things ready in half an hour.”“Magical sewing machine?” Kat replied. After half an hour, the gnome carried out a tissue paper package, wrapped with a ribbon. She handed it to Kat, saying, “Here you go, dearie. I hope that it is to your liking.”“Thousands of dollars worth of gold should be enough for something pretty nice,” Kat replied. “Do people pay that much per outfit for a week’s worth of clothes to adventure with?”“Only adventurers, sweetie. Other people know the market.” She replied. “The cloth has a minor enchantment to keep itself clean and maintained. That doesn’t mean it can reform itself from being destroyed by a fire or anything like that.”“Is mine ready?” Candi asked.“Yours will take a couple of minutes to finish,” The brownie adjusted her glasses. “I just had hers done quickly.” She went back into the work area. When she returned, she said, “I matched the color scheme of what you have on now,” The brownie said. “Making everyone’s clothes in black is unimaginative.”“I’ll have no problems being the target,” Candi said.“You said that you wanted to tank,” Kat replied.“Let's get into our adventuring gear and stop at the provisioners. Then we can head out,” Candi said. “Here?” Kat asked.“Do you want to rent a hotel room just to change in?” Candi asked, slipping her sneakers off.Kat sighed, pulling the sweatshirt over her head.”I really, really do,” Kat admitted.Candi peeled her yellow top off, leaving her bare breasts hovering in front of her.“You know, that isn’t human,” Kat pointed at Candi. “Normal people are affected by gravity.”Candi stuck her tongue out. “Who wants to be normal?”Kat held onto Candi’s bicep with one hand to steady herself as she pulled the pajama pants off, leaving herself in a nightshirt and panties. “You’ve got me there, partially.” She grabbed the ribbon on the clothing package and gave it a tug to the side, unraveling it. “Okay. This is something I can see bringing home.” Kat spread the contents across a padded bench and started getting dressed. “Aren’t you going to change as well?”“I’ll wait my turn. I’m curious as to what you’ve got.” Candi replied.Kat took several minutes to get dressed, ending by cinching the lacings on her outfit. She had calf-high boots, leather pants that had laces going up the outsides. A blousy shirt disappeared beneath a leather corset. She had fingerless gloves and goggles with cranberry lenses. She looked in a standing mirror and turned slowly.“It is too tempting to say something inappropriate about how that makes your butt look,” Candi said. “It does a good job of enhancing your features. Can you see your toes?”“Only if I use a mirror- the boning in this corset makes bending over… difficult.”“You’re going to be getting some attention in that,” Candi undid the button and zipper on her denim shorts and slid them off, leaving her fully undressed. She picked up her outfit. “It looks like I’ve got something much simpler than what you have. She slipped the one piece dress over her shoulders, with it falling into place as sleeveless, with her having an oval cutout going from her breasts to below her navel. The upper outsides of her breasts were also exposed. The dress was sheer down her sides and had a thin piece of fabric that fell to nearly knee level in front and back, while thin chains went to the sides over her exposed hips. She slipped a pair of matching, yellow, low cut boots over her feet. “Wow, I like it. This looks really, really nice.”“You’ll be able to transition seamlessly from slaughtering your opponents to seducing them,” Kat said.Candi half-closed her eyes and slowly turned around, with the sheer fabric clinging to her, revealing every striation. “Is it working?”“Since I’m not dead, then yes. I’m questioning my sexual orientation,” Kat replied.“I thought you were bi-”“Yeah, but half that equation isn’t standing in front of me in a sexy dress,” Kat said.“You’ve got some drool on your chin,” Candi said. “Are you ready to stop at the next store?” She swayed her hips as she left the seamstress’ shop. Kat blinked, shook her head, and followed her friend out into the street. “Where are we headed next?”“You’ve got the city map,” Candi replied. “There’s got to be somewhere that sells the kinds of supplies that we’d need.”Kat rolled her eyes and pulled out the map. “I don’t think they have department…” She trailed off. “I’ll be damned. What do you suppose this is?” She pointed.“There’s a store called ‘Orc’s Mart’ that’s listed as adventuring supplies,” Candi then pointed at a different spot on the map, “Adventurer’s Paradise is here, at the opposite side of the city from where we are. Since you don’t like walking any further than you have to, let’s go to the first one.” They walked several blocks along the narrow streets until they came to a storefront with the words ‘Orc’s Mart’ painted on the windows in choppy, brutalist style lettering. A pair of carved wooden, hulking figures loomed at either side of the awning. Candi said, “Those look like they’ve walked out of a nightmare.”“I ain’t skeered,” Kat quipped. “Not as long as my tank is escorting me. Come on. Let’s buy out the store.”“I get extra experience rewards if I keep you from taking too much damage,” Candi walked into the store and held the door for Kat. “That’s a nice touch. All of the signs are done in the same blocky style as on the windows.” She walked over to a shelf, and paused, “Rope only comes in 50-foot coils?”“All poles are ten feet in length, too. Not even collapsible.” Kat cocked her head to the side. “How do people ever use any of this stuff?”“Maybe you’re expected to have tools to cut things down to size,” Candi suggested. “Is there a hardware department?”“Do you really need things like a hammer or a pry-bar when you've got near-infinite strength, miss Universe?” Kat asked.“What if I don’t want to get my hands dirty?” Candi asked.“Bite me, earth-goddess,” Kat replied. “I’m not carrying any tools that you don’t need.”“Then that leaves stuff like a tinderbox and…”“You’re a space-heater,” Kat interrupted. “We don’t need a fire to keep warm, and I can see in the dark, remember?”“Then we just need to get some food, armor and weapons,” Candi walked over to where there were some suits of armor standing along the wall.“So… you’re thinking that armor is going to make you harder to hurt?” Kat asked. “Really? And, besides that, you’ll have to have the armor significantly altered or you’ll just bust out of it.”“I can get a huge set of steel plate armor and put stilts in the legs so it’ll be like medieval mecha,” Candi said. “Shouldn’t I have a set of something just because it’s what’s expected? I’m sure that there’s something that’ll fit. Is there anything here that I could try on?”“I think I saw some lengths of ribbons back in the arts and crafts,” Kat suggested. “You’re not getting anything to stay on and in the same shape over these –” she touched Candi’s biceps – “or these,” she finished, laying her finger on the top of Candi’s pecs.“Jars of paint are in the arts and crafts department, too,” Candi replied. “Some of the excitement disappears when you’re looking for armor as a fashion statement rather than protection. I could go with the always popular chainmail bikini.”“I’ve seen cartoons about that. Is it true that chainmail bikinis have the same armor class as enchanted suits of full plate mail?”“We could always put you in one so that you’ll be better protected,” Candi said. “Or we could both get them if you want encouragement to wear it.” She looked around and then darted over to where a sign read ‘Fetishwear: Half-Off Sale!’ “We’ve hit the jackpot. You’ve got the fur boots and bikini to keep you warm. I’ve got the chain bikini. We’d have to flip for the metal spiked leather bodysuit.”“Frankly, I think the bodysuit is made for me except that it’s clearly fetishwear. You can’t wear it- you’d split it up one side and down the buttcrack.” Kat held her tongue against the corner of her upper lip for a second, “That doesn’t mean I’m not buying it for myself anyways.”“Does that mean I fight monsters in this fashion runway dress, or do I get the chainmail?” Candi asked.“I’m not going to say yes or no,” Kat replied. “The thought of heavy metal sitting over my boobs when it’s freezing out isn’t my idea of fun.” She pursed her lips. “Actually, the idea of putting heavy metal on my boobs so that they end up squishing flatter than pancakes doesn’t really sound fun, either.”Several minutes later, Candi was dressed in the chain mail, with the small triangles of the top barely covering more than a third of her breasts. “We’ve got armor and food. Now all that’s left is to get weapons.”“You accomplished the impossible, Candi,” Kat said. “You’ve found something that technically counts as being dressed, yet shows almost every square inch of skin on your body.”“I could always add something to cover up,” Candi replied.“Hell no!” Kat replied, “Where would the fun be in that?”Candi pointed to the rack of maces, daggers and various swords. “Which one do you want, and which should I be carrying? I’m tempted to get some kind of oversized axe.”“I’ll get the daggers, since you won’t let me say no to it, but you don’t need anything,” Kat said. “You really don’t need a giant axe or sword. I’ve heard about what happens when non-giant people swing giant weapons around.”“Awe and inspiration for those on her side?” Candi asked.“Not exactly, unless her side is awed and inspired by seeing her spin like an uncontrollable top,” Kat sniffed.“Oh,” Candi replied. “I forgot about momentum. It’s a bad idea to use a weapon that weighs more than I do. How about just a sword, then?”Kat put a finger to her lip. “Hm. Let’s try an exercise… this is going to cost a couple coins, but I think it will be worth it.”“Um?” Candi asked.Kat picked up a short sword and held it out in front of herself with two hands. “Okay… I want you to put your hands on either side of the blade, right? Now push your hands together as far as you can.”Candi put one palm at the end of the pommel, and the other against the tip of the blade. “I’ll stop if I feel it pinching against me.” She pushed her hands towards each other about halfway, with the metal squealing as it was crushed. “It’s good so far.” She then clapped her hands together, splashing out a glowing red spray of steel. “Whoops…”Kat prudently took a step back out of the way of the glowing metal. “Yes. A sword is definitely needed in order to reduce your combat effectiveness. You should get one of those.”Candi peeled the remaining amounts of glowing steel off of her hands and stomach, rolling them into a ball. “You’ve made your point. It looks like we’re ready to go.”Kat chewed on her lip for a moment. “You know,” she said pointing at the metal ball in Candi’s hand, “that gives me an idea. Have you ever considered carrying sling stones?”“I’ve got my meteor hammer that I used for short range attacks, but I stopped using it when I snapped the cable a couple of times.” Candi replied. “I’ve got zero skill in using a sling.”“I’ve seen how fast your reflexes are, or I should say I’m not able to see how fast they are,” Kat said. “You’ve got ranged attacks with unlimited ammunition.”“Splattering people by throwing things through them just doesn’t seem right,” Candi said.“The difference in doing the same thing at touch range is?” “How about if I only do that for monsters or robots?” Candi asked.“As long as I don’t meet my demise due to your sense of fair play,” Kat replied. “I can’t think of anything else to buy. We’ve got a fortress to raid.”****A few days later, the pair was seated on a pair of rocks in a hilly area. “Have you been able to figure out the landmarks so that we can find the entrance to the Artificers’ caverns?” Candi bit a piece of dried food and crunched on it.“I have to be honest,” Kat mulled. “This map always seems to make sense when I’m looking at it, but it never seems to match anything that I’m currently seeing. There was supposed to be a spire over there –” she pointed “– and we’ve been travelling in the right direction, but now it’s over there.”“Heather told me that the geography here is conceptual rather than physical,” Candi replied. “Places are where they feel like they should be. I think that works to make it both easier and more difficult to find anything.” She snapped the chunk of food she had in half with a sharp ‘Crack!’ and held out part of it toward Kat. “Aren’t you having breakfast?”“Yeah, no. I like having teeth. How are you eating that?”“It’s supposed to be soaked in water for a few hours before eating it, but it’s better this way,” Candi replied. “It’s the first thing that I’ve had in a couple of weeks that’s had any feel to it. Everything feels like I’m biting through jello.”“The hidden downside of super strength,” Kat mused philosophically.“On the plus side, nothing goes to waste,” Candi replied. “I can squish bones with my tongue.”“That's… More than I needed to know,” Kat said. “I’ll stick with my own, non-crunchy breakfast.”“How are we supposed to get inside?” Candi asked, “Do we fight some monster, or steal the door keys from a sleeping guard?”“If I’m being given a vote,” Kat said, “I’d prefer something that doesn’t involve potential death or dismemberment.”“Maybe it would be a good idea for me to go ahead a bit as we get close to the entrance,” Candi replied. “I could sneak around and see if there’s anything guarding it or if there’s any traps.”“You’re able to sneak?” Kat asked.“It’s a racial ability,” Candi answered. “I don’t have to pay points for it.”“I see. And game mechanics say that it’s unaffected by wearing shiny steel, right?”“I could change into the fancy dress or my jeans and halter top, but I’m not giving up the added protection that the chainmail gives me.” Candi replied.Kat blinked very slowly. “Yes, that added protection is certainly substantial.”“It covers a good, um.. Five square inches,” Candi said. “It might be magic. Okay, it isn’t. Stay back a bit in case there really is something lethal guarding the back door.” Candi led the way up a few hundred feet of steep hillside and paused as she got to a crest. She gestured to Kat to come up the last steep bit.Kat scrambled up the last incline, sometimes using her hands to get over the steepest parts. “Okay… so it’s time to camp out, right? Maybe a nice, quiet night to rest and recuperate and eat and not get hunted and killed by bad guys?”“We’ve been camping out for the last few days,” Candi replied. “You’ve had all of the fresh food that we’ve found. Throwing smoothed rocks through animals to hunt them is pretty effective. It leaves almost a quarter of them still remaining. Anyways, we’re at the way in. We can find the golem, pack it up, and be out right away.” She pointed down into the bowl like depression in the hills. “The door’s right there, framed by a rusty lion.”“Yeah, that looks friendly,” Kat muttered. “You walk into the mouth. The mouth that has teeth like stainless steel razor blades the length of my arm. That’s encouraging.”“If you were building an underground lair, wouldn’t you spend that little bit extra to have a really cool looking entry?” Candi said. “It’s like an awning, but designed by a terrifying evil magician.” Candi hopped over the five foot high carved lip on the crest of the hill. She then held onto it from the opposite side, pulling herself up to look over it. She reached down with her other hand. “Need a lift over?”“I’m certainly not jumping.”Candi pantomimed opening and closing her hand. “Well?”“I’m not letting you close that bazillion ton vice grip onto me until you’ve had more practice,” Kat reached one hand onto the top of Candi’s head and the other onto the side of her protruding bicep. She pulled herself up to sit her foot on Candi’s hand and climbed over.“Hey, no pulling my hair!” Candi said.“It worked,” Kat replied. “How about you go ahead first and get the door open?”“Sounds good to me.” Candi crossed the fifty or so feet to stand in the lion’s mouth at the door. She turned back, saying, “There’s three slides in a kind of a puzzle on here. Do you have any suggestions?”“There’s only so many combinations,” Kat said. “Is it something that’ll take all night to go through?”Candi pushed the slides all the ways up and gave the door’s handle a slight tug. She moved the first slide a little then gave it a second try.“Can’t you just kick the door off of its hinges?” Kat asked.Candi looked back, “That could collapse the roof into the passages. It also might set off some kind of alarms.” She tried another combination, leading to a loud, ‘Clack!’. “That didn’t open the door.”“I predict that it’s not something good.” Kat said. She wetted her lips. “And… why am I suddenly starting to smell ozone?”“Lightning’s gonna hit?” Candi shrugged her shoulders. “First,” Kat said, “there are no clouds. Second, magic smells like ozone. Everybody knows that.”“It does?” Candi then saw the entryway shudder, with the tongue that formed the walkway lifting. She leaped out and rolled to a crouch as the lion’s mouth snapped shut. “That was almost a really fast fight.”“Aren’t you invulnerable?” Kat asked as the animated lion pulled itself free of the hillside.Candi looked back to her, holding her fingers up like quotation marks, “Magic… I don’t wanna find out if I’m not immune to that.” The lion shook chunks of rocks loose from its mane. “It’s looking for a fight,” Kat said as chunks of stone landed around her. “Let’s not give it one.” She sprinted towards the entrance. “Open the door fast!”Candi ran past her friend and leaped into a punch, crumpling the metal door as her fist and forearm sank through it. She staggered back as she lifted it overhead and was overbalanced by it. “Hurry up and get in!”Kat ran past Candi, huffing as she went inside.Candi used her free hand to push the door off of her arm and followed Kat in, scooping her up over her shoulder as she went into the passage. The lion leaped at the entrance, slamming into the hillside as it reached its paw in, knocking Candi forward a few steps. “Kat?”“Uh, yes?”“How was there a doorway in place when the iron lion got up?” Candi asked as she set Kat down.Kat thought for a couple of seconds as she caught her breath, steadying herself with a hand on Candi’s arm. “More magic?”“That’s as good an explanation as any I could come up with,” Candi said. “Do we have a map or anything written down about how to find our way through here?”“We’re in a tunnel that’s carved into a mountain,” Kat replied. “I doubt it’s filled with passages like it’s Swiss Cheese. Also, I think that anyone inside of here probably knows that we made our way inside. My ears are ringing from you punching through the door.”“I failed my stealth check,” Candi said.“In epic fashion. I know six-foot giant women who are more stealthy than you, Candi,” Kat said. “It’s part of your charm.”“I might as well stand with my hands on my hips and ask the Artificer’s Guild to surrender,” Candi replied.“Comet Girl would be proud of you,” Kat said.“If I bleached my hair I could be a stand-in so she could take some time off,” Candi replied.Kat looked at her, then looked over her head, “You’re planning on wearing stilt-shoes, I take it?”“My disguise as her would need a bit of work,” Candi said.“You’re also too buff, pipes princess.” Kat gave a squeeze to Candi’s bicep peak. “I’ve got a pocket flashlight so you can see your way. You’re not able to manage complete darkness, after all. There’s no reason to pretend to be locals.”Candi’s cheeks blushed pink, “Thanks for noticing.”“It’s pretty obvious, but I don’t want you to get too over-confident,” Kat replied. “You go first, just in case of trouble.”“Too bad we didn’t purchase a bunch of torches that could fill the corridors with smoke for an authentic adventure experience.” Candi said as she started down the winding steps that the entrance led to.“We’ll just have to make due with the intense heat you give off and the near-deafening thumping from your pulse.” Kat replied.“I’ll take it as a compliment when you say that I’m hot.” Candi said. “Are you going to draw up a map as we go, or should we be confident that we can find our way back out of a single hallway?”“I have to wonder if a map of the spire would be any more useful than a map to the spire. I guess we can try; I got paper and chalk,” Kat said. “It’ll slow us down a lot, though; I don’t have a table to write on unless you bend over and flex your lats.”“It’s painful to refuse your invitation,” Candi replied. “We’ll pause to jot down notes if there’s forks in the passage. I’m already thinking of giving the spire a bad review due to it not being enterable. It’s just a hundred yard wide, really tall point of rock. I’ll tell people that it’s a tourist trap.” The steps ended at a landing with a metal-shod stone door. “Now we’re in a real adventure dungeon!” Candi grabbed the ring in the center of the door and pulled. There was a sharp ‘Snap!’ as the lock sheared off. “I’m picking locks the fast way. There’s a spring device pulling the door shut. I’ll keep it open, because it’s a bit heavy for you.”“You think it might be? A foot-thick door of metal and stone? Yeah, I’m thinking it might be a bit out of my league,” Kat said as she strode out and across the room to the door on the other side of the chamber. “Hey, this one’s made of wood and has a simple mechanical hinge. Gimme a second to get it open.”“The first door is spring-loaded,” Candi said. “It really is a tourist trap.” After Kat passed through the far door, Candi looked to see the girl’s footsteps on the dusty floor. She thought, Just in case, I’ll walk in her tracks. As she got halfway across the room, the paving stone snapped in half. The floor dropped away all at once, with Candi shouting, “Kat!”Kat spun and looked back just in time to see a huge slab of stone drop past the open doorway. The top of the block fell to nearly the same level as where the floor was moments before. “Gyah! The roof fell in with me,” Candi pushed herself to a squatting position, raising the block of stone that was on top of her as she did so. “Kat? Can you hear me?” She called out as she stood up. A little bit of light filtered in through the space between the block and the four walls, allowing her to see where she was at. “It’s the pancaking pit trap.”“I can barely hear you,” Kat called down. “That block is a really effective sound barrier.”There was a loud grating sound as the floor of the room raised up a few more feet as Candi stood up. “I can hear you just fine.”“That makes sense. You get better ears to compensate for my better eyes,” Kat said. “I think there’s a locking mechanism for this block. Hold on a second.”Kat clambered on top of the block. “I can’t quite reach it. Can you lift the block another foot?”“I’m already at fingertip height,” Candi replied. She lowered the block and thought for a second. “I can toss it up, but that might end badly.” “Almost certainly with me standing on top of it,” Kat agreed. “I need to find something to stand on top of. Any ideas?”“Now I know why the block got so heavy all of a sudden,” Candi grunted with effort.“Any more smart remarks about my ass and you’re gonna be on your own,” Kat sniffed.“Just a second,” Candi replied. She concentrated on shifting to her therianthrope form. As she went into mouse-girl form, she gained enough height to raise the block another inch. She sat the end of her tail on the ground and tensed it. “I really never thought I’d ever do this…” As her tail straightened, it lifted her feet from the ground. Candi’s voice was a little higher pitched as she said, “Hurry up! The floor’s not going to support this much pressure.” Kat took her dagger out and pried the locking mechanism open so she could see the mechanical workings behind it. It was like a series of 2-way door latches all controlled by a single mechanism. Kat jammed her blade in place and hammered it in as far as she could manage.“Let me back down, now. I need to get in place before you put the block back,” Kat said.Candi lowered herself to her feet and brought the block down to head level, “What did you just do, and what do you mean by putting it back into place?”Kat scooted off the block and stepped back past the door. “I’ll explain the first part as we walk. As for the second part, you need to toss that block straight up enough to get it past the point where it started before.”Candi pushed both hands straight up, sending the block up several feet before it dropped back to her. “That’s not far enough. Second try!” She squatted and then straightened as she tossed it up, with the block reaching nearly to ceiling height. It fell a little off-center, catching in place halfway down. “That looks good. Anything that lets me out of the pit works.” “There’s a little problem with that,” Kat said. “This passage has to be open for us to get back out.”“Oh, I didn’t think of that…” After a few seconds, the side of the wall gouged out as the block dropped back into the pit. “Problem solved! This is as easy as a carnival game.”“I really don’t have any advice to give on this,” Kat said. “This is pretty new to me, too.”“This next toss will get it into place,” Candi announced. She leaped up and pushed upwards at the same time. “Yah!” The stone block went past Kat in a blur, slamming into the ceiling with a loud ‘Crack!’ which shook the room. Some 90 tons of stone hit the roof at high speed, then dropped onto the metal brackets. “Yeah! We did it!” Candi shook her fist in the air. “We need some video game fanfare music right now.”Kat looked uncertainly at the locked ceiling. “I’m so glad they didn’t shear…”“I think it’s a requirement that we cause some kind of structural damage when we go somewhere on a job,” Candi hopped out of the pit on Kat’s side of the room, then stepped to where her tail wouldn’t be in the way if the block fell. “I’ll tell you how I got the block raised that extra foot if you tell me how you got the locking mechanism into place.”****After exploring the caverns for over an hour, Candi said, “I thought dungeons were supposed to have monsters in them. All we’ve come across is traps.”“I don’t think most real dungeons ever had monsters in them,” Kat mused. “I mean, think about the upkeep. What would you feed them? It’s not like foolhardy adventurers would go wandering in on a daily basis, right?”“The owner could sell maps to people in bulk,” Candi replied. “That would keep a steady supply of fresh dinners. It would be sort of like having self-delivering pizzas.”“I don’t know if I’m more amused or horrified at the idea of Adventurers-Ready-to-Eat, sealed in their own tins,” Kat snorted. “I suppose that explains one thing I was wondering about: why would anyone put food down here with all these traps around it? You’d risk dismemberment every time you needed a loaf of bread.”“Maybe it’s a kind of memory test,” Candi said. “You have to remember to disable all of the instant-death rooms.” “We’re using cheat mode for it. Send the hyper-muscled invulnerable tank to disarm traps the easy way.” Kat said.“That almost makes sense, except for you getting through some traps ahead of me scott free,” Candi sniffed.“I really don’t want to experience what a pit of snakes or a half-ton pendulum feels like,” Kat replied. “Those would definitely ruin my new apparel. You’re the one who bought armor, after all.”“We’ve got the checklist of traps almost complete, don’t we?” Candi asked.“Pit trap, sliding block… does animated statue count as a trap?” Kat mused. “There was also the spring-loaded scythes and… oh, yeah. The rockfall with the Indiana Jones-style shooting spears. What’s left?”“There’s always jets of fire or acid,” Candi suggested helpfully.“Bite your tongue!” Kat shuddered.“There is a plus side to them storing food down here,” Candi said. “I liked the dried fish and pickled vegetables.”“You’re able to bite through steel and digest rock,” Kat replied. “I put zero credibility on your opinions as a food critic.”“We’re on an upward incline,” Candi tried to look out into the darkness. “Doesn’t that mean that we’re now headed to the regular entrance? That’s how it is in pretty much every game book.”“You’re as much of an expert on that as I am,” Kat said, “but my guess would be that it means we’re walking into a rolling-boulder trap.”“It wouldn’t make sense for a trap to be repeated,” Candi replied. “It needs to be a new one. Maybe a river will be diverted into the hallway, or there will be an army just waiting for us to walk in on them.”“It’s gotta be something… look at the colored floor tiles!” Kat pointed out. “They’ve even got symbols carved into them.”“Eep!” Candi stopped and stood on tip-toes. “That’s the first time I’ve seen you look frightened since we’ve arrived,” Kat stepped around Candi. “You tensed up instantly.”“Shouldn’t you hang back for when the adventure-party killing machine activates?” Candi asked.“This is the first time we’ve entered an area that I’ve felt comfortable in,” Kat pulled her cellphone out of its pouch. “Hold that pose, though. The lighting in here is doing wonderful things for your physique.”“You’re risking a potato masher of doom or swarm of trolls.”“You’ll open the door at the end of this hallway just in case either of those are waiting,” Kat replied. “I just want to record some showing-off so that we’ll meet the quota.”Candi waited a few seconds before relaxing. “You’re ruining the suspense.”“Next time we’ll bring along some theme music to set the scenes,” Kat gestured to the door. “That’s your job.”Candi walked the few dozen feet to the oaken door and pulled on the iron ring that hung from it. The sound of the locks and restraints snapping and popping was followed by clicking and whirring. “Uh… I think something’s been activated inside of there. You might want to duck behind some cover.”“I am behind cover. If I duck, I’m invisible behind you,” Kat said.“I’m not really a good wall,” Candi replied.“Are you claiming your abs aren’t harder than stone?”“I’ll pop the straps for the armor if I flex my lats enough to give you extra cover.”“Prove it.” Kat said.“After we’re out of the Tunnels of Trapitude,” Candi replied. She shook the door by its handle and then pulled it open, holding one forearm in front of her face. After a second, she looked inside. “The clockwork golem’s in there. We might have to fight it.”“Maybe,” Kat said as she peered over Candi’s shoulder. “Why is it walking in circles?”“That’s kind of a let-down,” Candi replied. “I was looking forward to fighting it.”“Maybe it slipped a gear,” Kat said. “Give me a few years to study mechanics and I’ll fix it so that you can smash it apart.”“The hall was a false alarm, and I fell for it,” Candi said. “That’s gonna hurt my experience point reward. Hand me the magic bag and I’ll put the golem away.”“You don’t think being over-levelled for this by a factor of a thousand is going to hurt your XP, but falling for a false trap will?” Kat laughed. “I want some of the XP kool aid you drink.”“I don’t want to have to go through all of the traps again on the way out,” Candi handed the back back to Kat. “I’d rather fight through whatever army’s waiting at the entrance. The Artificers’ Guild probably will have a hoard of wind-up soldiers. We can always use hyperflex cheat mode to flatten them.” “Just make sure that there’s no one inside the automated armor first,” Kat said. “Slaughtering guards is bad karma. And, while we’re at it, make sure you don’t accidentally squish me, too.”“That would deprive me of my number one fan and the main supporter of my website,” Candi replied. “It would also be like setting off a negative karma bomb.”“Fear my retributive strike!” Kat unlatched the room’s other door and opened it. “That’s a long step down…”“We should have bought one of those fifty foot lengths of rope,” Candi said. “Want a lift as I hop down?”“Very much, thanks. I’d like to not end this adventure with a broken leg.”Candi grunted with effort as she scooped Kat up to have her sitting on her forearm. She took a couple of deep breaths and then dropped the ten or so feet to the ground below, squatting as she landed to try and absorb the impact. “Give me a little bit to recover.”Kat hopped down out of her friend’s grasp. “Take your time. I think I recognize this room. We’re close to where we came in!”“You’re not going to humor me with any remarks about me struggling to hold you up, are you?” Candi looked down the hall to see sunlight coming in. “It should be an easy trip back to the Queen’s fortress.” Kat approached the door ahead of Candi, then drew back as they heard a low growl emanating from outside. “Uh… I think we may have forgotten one last trap,” she said.“I don’t think we’re going to run past it like how we entered,” Candi replied. “That means fighting it. Do you have any suggestions? I haven’t faced anything like that before.”“If it’s magical, it has to be powered by something,” Kat said. “Either some sort of device or else a rune or symbol that allows it to draw power from the universe, otherwise it would have stopped functioning a long time ago. Look for something that doesn’t fit?”“I’ll search for that once I have it subdued and pinned in place,” Candi replied. “It looks like I’ve got to fight something meant for a full party to handle.”“If you can just keep it from killing me, I can try and find a vantage point to observe,” Kat suggested. Then you can focus on not getting dead yourself while I try to figure out how you can kill it.”“You get to be my mentor while I do the hero’s journey thing,” Candi replied. “I will come out of this with the great wisdom that only the display of extreme violence can impart.”“Yeah,” Kat said. “Go with that.”“It’s pacing. I can tell because my greatly enhanced senses can tell that the ground is shaking.” Candi said.“Your enhanced senses are the envy of all us mere mortals. Do they also tell you if it’s closer to or further from the door?”“That’s beyond my level of divination,” Candi said. “We’d need a real magician for that. We’ll have to do this the easy way.” Candi walked to the entrance. Her quarter inch long fur stood on end as the enormous iron lion walked past the open doorway. She stage-whispered back to Kat, “It’s close by. I’ll wait a few seconds for it to move, then catch it by surprise.”Candi held one hand behind her, with her palm up and fingers together. She waited a few seconds and ran outside. The anthropomorphic mouse paused to look around and blinked as she saw the metal beast pivot and launch itself through the air at her. It landed just shy of on top of Candi and one enormous paw flashed out, not quite faster than Candi could react. She spun into a kick, with the metal ringing as the lion’s forelimb was extended out to the side from the impact. “Hah. You’re fast, but not fast enough!”Kat sprinted out behind her friend as the giant cat began to recover. “Keep it off me while I make for the treeline!” she yelped. “I’ll spot you from there!”“I was worried this was gonna be a tough fight,” Candi shot back over her shoulder, “but this thing’s just a pussyca-aaah!” She didn’t finish her comment as the monstrous feline’s jaws closed around her waist. It lifted her into the air and shook its head violently, then flung her away.“Ow!” Candi cried. “That hurt!” There were puncture lines where the jaws had closed around her, but fortunately, the fangs had missed their mark and none were too deep.Kat skidded to a halt just beyond the edge of the clearing and turned back to watch the battle, just in time to see the beast lunge for a second time. “You’re not landing on me…” Candi stepped back as the lion hit the ground with a loud thump. Blood seeped from the multiple pokes into her skin around her as she waited for it’s attack. “Is it gonna bite…” She was hit from the side by the lion’s paw as it swept at her with blinding speed. Candi managed to roll to a crouch just as the golem lunged forward. “Oh, no you don’t!” She punched its lower jaw, collapsing in the metal with a loud ‘Grunk!’ as it snapped at her. “You’re not getting those teeth around me again.” The lion retreated a step. As it backed away, the metal over it’s jaw creaked and popped, slowly pushing its way back out. Candi didn’t pursue, immediately, holding her stomach as the bleeding over her abs slowed. “That took a lot out of me,” Candi muttered. “Its magical bite must make it harder to heal.”“I think I’m getting the pattern,” Kat called. “If I’m right, its next move will be to pounce again.”“It’s like a video game boss,” Candi said. “If it’s predictable, then we can beat it.” She sprinted forward when it leaped, so that she was in back of it when it landed. “What’s next?”“A…” Kat wasn’t able to finish before the metal monster spun and slammed its huge paw into Candi’s legs, sweeping her feet out from under her. “Sorry! Bite next!”“No-no-no!”Kat sucked in a deep breath as the lion’s jaws descended on her friend. “It’s not alive,” she muttered, “my powers won’t work on it… but they’ll work on Candi.” Her eyes glowed in the dim light and the lion’s head snapped up, looking for all the world as if it was sniffing the air.“Oh,” Kat said. “That can’t be good…”Candi had her hands outstretched, in an attempt to grab onto the lion’s fangs when it suddenly moved away from her. “It’s pausing.” “I think I got aggro,” Kat gulped. “Sorry!”As the lion turned away from her, Candi grabbed onto its tail and pulled. She was dragged across the ground, her heels leaving ruts. “I don’t weigh enough to hold it back!”As the giant cat gathered itself to pounce again, Candi bounced and landed with her foot stuck deeply into a divot carved by the beast’s claws. Before she could be pulled back out, the mouse bent her knees and drove her heels in, jamming herself into the stone. “Hah! Caught it!”“The tower!” Kat gasped. “It’s drawing its power from the spire!”“That’s really cool, but not really helpful. Can you stop it?” Candi asked“Do I look like an archmage?” Kat shot back. “I don’t have that sort of power.”“I’ve got an idea!” Candi shouted, “It’s a way to break two things at once. This thing’s weight isn’t a problem. It’s leverage that’s needed, and I’ve got it now…” The lion pulled against her, trying to ready itself for a leap. She thought, That’s just what I needed for it to do. Candi squatted down, with her heels pushed against the dip in the mountain plateau. She then sprung forward, her calf and quadriceps muscles swelling out. She pulled her arm forward in an arc at the same time, swinging the golem overhead in a blur. The stone surface of the plateau cracked and lurched from the recoil as Candi sent the golem in an arc towards the spire. “Did I aim it right?”Kat got up from her knee, “Warn me next time you’re going to cause an earthquake?” She shaded her eyes from the sun. “It’s going… going… Hit!” There was an echoing boom as the lion crashed into the base of the spire, causing the stone monolith to collapse into a pile onto it.“I think we got it,” Candi replied. “Queen Gouda would probably be surprised if we showed up with that thing at her fortress.”“Let’s not do that,” Kat said. “I don’t want to be too close to that if, by some odd chance, it managed to re-animate.”“I noticed something else,” Candi said. “It has nothing to do with the job we’re doing here. You seem to get extra-snarky whenever I come up with a ‘finishing move’.“Psychological defense,” Kat replied. “Being a mortal in the presence of a physical demigoddess requires a degree of snark or else I lose a portion of self-realization. Don’t take offense.”“This is something that maybe I shouldn’t be saying, but you’re not the first person to call me that. Another superheroine sees me as her patron goddess,” Candi said. “It’s sort of a huge responsibility that I’ve gained all of a sudden.”“Anytime you have vastly disproportionate power compared to others, it’s a responsibility,” Kat agreed. “If it helps, I described you as a physical demigoddess, not a religious one. A description of muscle power, if you will, not theological power.”“Having your sister being an angel sort of gives you a perspective on that, doesn’t it?” Candi asked.Kat nodded. “And if I’m not dropping to my knees and worshipping my twin sister, I’m not going to do it for anyone else.”Candi thought for a second, holding her lower lip in her teeth, then blurted out, “Shayna prayed to my biceps. I feel that I’m now responsible for helping her if she ever needs it.”Kat reached over and lightly touched Candi’s upper arm. “She prayed to your biceps?” She asked. “Do they have willpower of their own? Decision-making abilities?”She shook her head. “They just tingled when she did it and I heard what she was thinking to them.”“Weird,” Kat said, still touching. “Angel told me she sometimes hears prayers, too. Maybe you are evolving into something semi-divine.”“I’m kind of happy with this being my final form, but I know what you mean,” Candi replied. “I had hoped to earn the title of superheroine because of actions and not just because of abilities. Living up to people’s needs is going to be more than a full-time job.”“It’s also not really healthy unless your newfound divinity comes along with the ability to act outside of time and space. You still have a mortal brain, right?”“I don’t feel myself becoming transcendent,” Candi said. “I don’t notice myself aiding others at a distance on some kind of automatic reflex.”“Right. So… some advice: you have to be a little bit selfish, sometimes, or else you’ll burn out, and then you won’t be able to help anybody.”“I’ll need to learn how to take some vacations from living for others, or I’ll never have a life of my own.” Candi folded her hands together in front of herself as she talked, the motion causing her biceps to swell. “I think that’s a good reason to look for odd jobs like this. They are time out sessions.”Kat kept her hand cupped over Candi’s arm as it grew, “That’s enough metaphysical stuff for now. How about if we collect our rewards from the Queen? I’m looking forward to being a titled Lady.”****“I think you did very well on this deal, my Queen,” Lady Neufchatel said.We traded a tract of monster-infested property for valuable information,” Gouda set down her jeweled hairbrush and turned from the vanity mirror to face the tall elf. “Granting semi-independence to useless land on a disputed border with hostile neighbors isn’t a loss. If anything, the kingdom has gained from this. If those two want to deal with the problems that region has, all the better for us.”“Oh, I agree whole-heartedly,” Neufchatel nodded. “Having a sorceress and a goddess protecting the border is like a wish come true. As long as the Goddess remains pleased with us, we should have nothing but gains from her presence.”“Please remember your oath to serve the throne,” Gouda got up from the bench and smoothed out her embroidered robe. “Oh, I recognize the difference between respecting the needs of my nation and that of my own personal guidance,” Lady Neufchatel replied. “I will not waver in my loyalty to you. It’s just that she seems so comforting and empowering.”“Candi has a compelling aura about her,” Gouda said. “She is cloying and cute, almost disturbingly so. Her companion is shrewd and enjoys matching wits. Katherine should have been born a nephilim dark elf.”...
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