• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Pokémon Another Way (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon / OC Isekai)

Chapter 1: Duress


the gay agenda

Another Way

After waking up in an alien body she has no control over, Sue must persevere in a world that eludes her understanding, its monstrous inhabitants as secretive as they are kind. Finding herself stranded with no knowledge of either the locals or their language, and no recollection of how her ordinary trip ended up here, even the refuge she does receive feels uncertain- especially with nobody else here seeming to have suffered a fate like hers.

Or having to deal with their dreams being used by the local deities to try to communicate with them.

As Sue uncovers more of this place's scarred, troubled history and the traumatic impact it left on those still around, and is forced to confront her own, her task here becomes increasingly clear, as does its seeming impossibility. Despite that and her very limited grasp of her own abilities, she perseveres, for her goal remains the same-

To survive and make it home, no matter what.

Xenofiction Mystery / Slice of Life, told from the perspective of someone with no Pokémon knowledge at all. Major themes include self discovery, xenophobia, overcoming guilt, and forging one's own fate against all odds or powers that be.

Tags: Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Friendship
Content Warnings: Mild Body Horror, Mild Gore


Cover art by the wonderful @anthrodyniacoms on Twitter!​

Chapter 1: Duress


Each strained breath pushed Sue closer to awareness. More and more senses began chiming in, letting her piece together her immediate surroundings. The picture being painted, however, only piled fuel for the fire of growing anxiety.

The smell of wet grass and dirt from up close, inner ear telling her she was lying down, cold wetness against one side of her body. She must’ve been knocked out in the forest by... something, leaving her lying unconscious on some grassy mud. Trying to remember what happened before all this yielded nothing, not helping any.

Making her way through a hiking trail, looking around for a place to sit down and eat lunch. There was a loud bang some distance away, and then...


There was always a risk of unexploded ordnance in the area, but she didn’t remember getting knocked out by any blast. Though, if she’d been close enough to an old bomb to get blacked out from the shockwave alone, she was close enough to have taken a bodyful of shrapnel and not wake up ever again.

Pleasant mental imagery right there.

Regardless of what exactly had happened, Sue was awake now. Birds were chirping and leaves were rustling, so she had to still have been in the forest. Which just left getting up, checking for injuries, walking through the rest of the trail, and reporting this whole… blast event to some authorities.

And getting a bath. God, could she use a bath right now.

Well, no time like the present.

With a painful grunt, Sue took in a deep breath and reached her right hand in front of where she was lying on the ground for leverage, before slowly rolling onto her stomach and pulling in her legs-


An intense shock went through her, like she had gotten cold water splashed on her back, but from her front instead. It forced Sue to finally open her eyes-

And scream at what she saw.

There was a massive, red spike jutting out of her chest, fresh mud now staining its tip. It made Sue briefly think back to the idea of having her body filled with shrapnel. She attempted to push herself onto her back and get a better view of the grotesque spike- only to feel the same cold shock from behind, yelping involuntarily.

After craning her head to see what was going on between her shoulder blades yielded no results, Sue tried to reach back with her free arm, probe what was happening in there-

And instead froze at the sight that awaited her.

This was not a human arm. It was... green, a muted shade of green, the forearm wide and much thicker than the unnervingly thin upper arm. It had three short, currently mud-coated, fingernail-less fingers, the middle one sticking further than the other two.

With more than a bit of fear at what she might see, Sue attempted to clench her right hand, and the unnatural limb in front of her obeyed. Rightmost finger bent at an angle, akin to a thumb. The sensations of her thumb, index, and middle fingers rubbing against mud and each other brought on a horrifying realization that she was attempting to fight off.

A glance down revealed that this spike and these monstrous hands weren’t the only things that were utterly wrong. The body she was looking at was not human, and definitely not hers. Breasts being gone was the least of her worries at that moment, the sight below her waist particularly hard to wrap her head around.

There were... flaps?

Sue was too aghast to come up with any other word. Several flaps of the same white and sometimes green skin, most smeared with mud, long enough to cover the bottom half of her body and originating at the waist. Surrounded by said flaps were thin, white legs, feet tiny and hard to make out, with no distinguishable toes.

Sue had no idea what kind of bizarre alien body she was hallucinating, but it was just that. It had to have been just that, a vicious nightmare! She just had to wake up, and she’d be alright-

Her thoughts were cut off by a gust of frigid wind, her entire body feeling it. Her legs, her midriff, her three-fingered hands, the buffeting skin flaps brushing against every inch of her skin. Even the spike joined in on the fun with a reprise of its cold shocks, leaving her shaking.

The wind also helped Sue notice a sight that her brain blocked out as effortlessly as it did her nose. Namely, the lock of green hair covering the center of her vision. The intermittent gusts only swayed it lightly before it inevitably returned to its original position, gently brushing past her cheeks as it moved.


Her panicked mutter made Sue realize that not even her mouth was right. The different dimensions of it and her tongue left her briefly choking up as she clutched her eyes closed again.

This couldn’t be happening, this couldn’t be happening, THIS COULDN’T BE HAPPENING!

Any semblance of having a grip on the situation evaporated by the moment. Sue’s breaths became shallower and faster as the wind continued to barrage her body, warm tears beginning to leak down her cheeks.

But this wasn’t her body, her arms, her cheeks, none of this was hers, none of this was real! It wasn’t her; it couldn’t have been her; this was some Area 51 escapee whose eyes she was seeing out of!

She had a future ahead of her, a shaky one, yes, but a future all the same!

She couldn’t be this, this freakish creature…

Sue curled up and hyperventilated as she wept in panic, the wind continuing to barrage her. She had done nothing to deserve any of this, especially not this body she found herself in. The inability to recall just what had happened before only fueled her despairing rage, expressed ineffectually through slamming a deformed hand against the muddy forest floor.

Soon enough, she’d lost track of how long she laid there, with only mud and wind keeping her company. Despair and anger burned up inside her until there was only ashen numbness left, numbness and surrender.

Guess she was a freak of nature now. Some incoherent alien out of a video game, doomed to die in here-


Her body tensed up at the thought, a snarl twisting her expression. Sue might have had no one to live for anymore, but she’d promised herself that she would carry on and make the most of her situation, regardless of circumstances. She didn’t have “getting transformed into a mutant” on her bucket list when she made that promise either, but it didn’t matter.

She was stronger than this, goddammit!

Her dad would’ve wanted her to be, at least.

Capitalizing on this surge of anger-fueled motivation, Sue opened her eyes and tried supporting herself on her right hand again. Her muscles screamed in protest, but eventually yielded as she lifted herself enough to engage the other arm and pull her legs in. Very muddy, very sore, but an ultimately successful position on all fours.

Halfway there.

Sue got an all too good view of her new arms as she gathered her strength. The sheer size disparity between their parts was unnerving, making her feel even more deformed than she no doubt already was.

Now to actually get up.

Continuing to breathe deeply, she started counting to three. After bracing for whatever might happen, she pushed herself up and rose into a kneeling position, legs wobbling painfully underneath. For a moment, she worried whether they’d be able to support her weight with their thinness.

Ultimately, there was only one way to know for sure.

Sliding one leg forward, Sue looked around for anything she could lean on in her immediate future, with a nearby tree looking like it’d perform that task splendidly.

Don’t fail me, tree.

With a loud grunt, Sue pushed on the ground as hard as she could, bringing the other foot into step- at least for a moment, before losing her balance. A few stumbled steps later, she’d managed to half lean on, half run into the tree she had previously eyed out. Thankfully, the laws of physics did not spontaneously break in these ten seconds, and the tree held.

And she avoided running into it spike-first, which, if earlier was anything to go by, would hurt a whole lot.

Her legs ached as Sue got her bearings. As much as her arms shook, they gripped the tree firmly, giving her ample time to think through her next steps.

Getting back to the trail was a straightforward enough goal to start with. Though, judging by her recent experiences, it would be no less of a struggle than scraping herself off the ground had been. The question of what would happen afterward didn’t arrive at anything pleasant, either.

Anyone else would be unlikely to react to her new appearance any better than she had. And, if the difficulty of basic movement was any clue, this body was about as suited for combat as that of an infant. If anyone, or anything, was to get aggressive with her in this state, she was as good as dead.

Maybe the green coloration meant that she was poisonous now? Not that it would help her while being attacked, but she’d take them down with her at least, eh?


If Sue wanted to avoid getting shot by the first outdoorsman she ran into, she’d have to convince them she was an actual person. Her previous attempt at speaking didn’t go well, but the situation demanded persistence.

Not that she had any other choice, anyway.

With a deep breath, she felt around the inside of her mouth out before giving speaking another go-

“Mhy n-nhame ish Shue.”

At least she wasn’t choking on her own tongue anymore. She figured she was somewhat understandable, even if far from perfectly clear. A few more attempts yielded largely the same results. Her new mouth was just different enough to make vocalizing the exact sounds she wanted a royal pain, especially when tired.

And hungry.

The chaos of realizing she was in a whole new body distracted her from many sensations; hunger and coldness chief among them. Though, far from all- and she had barely any idea how to describe some of the other ones.

It felt like... a multitude of light tuggings at something in her body. Faint and ineffable, pointed all around. Each with a different intensity and emotion attached to it, and she had no idea what any of it meant.

The more she focused, the more of these tuggings she sensed. Too many to investigate individually, but she could at least try to pay closer attention to the ones that stood out the most; hopefully figure out if they meant anything.

Something distant in the direction she was facing... maybe angry?

Another, way off to her right, afraid? Thrilled?

The sensations were almost beyond description. Sue could feel emotions, but these were not her emotions. It was almost as if they existed on their own, all around her, independent from anything physical.

Curiosity, nearby- no, not just nearby, behind her-

The abrupt realization made Sue look over her shoulder. Fortunately, it was just a sparrow or some other small bird sitting on a low branch, busy eying her out.

I know birdie; I look like something that took a bath in nuclear waste…

Guess the weird tugging sensations were nothing important. She’d probably just hallucinated them in her exhaustion, assuming her mind was unchanged between the two bodies.

She really, really hoped that assumption held true. Considering she wasn’t craving brains and/or whole human bodies, it most likely did, thank God.

The only thing worse than taking the body of a monster would be fully becoming a monster.

With a sigh somewhere between reassured and distraught, Sue braced herself for another attempt at walking, shifting her weight from one foot to another. Balancing on just two points proved trickier, much trickier than walking should be, but somehow, not impossible. Hopefully, she could maintain a regular pace, however feeble.

All that remained now was grabbing her bag and heading out on a trek... hopefully home.

Returning to normalcy in a body like this was out of the question, but catching the interest of some government agency or another beat trying to live as what was essentially a cryptid. Especially with this body having traded any ability for self-defense for... uh... yeah. With how useless she now was, there had to have been much less risk of being experimented on, right?

The world’s thinnest silver lining didn’t help much as she looked around in search of her bag. Nothing, just a monster-shaped imprint in mud and some shrubs; anxieties not getting helped any.

All that trying to shove her ID into someone’s face would accomplish is making them think she got eaten by this pale, spindly thing standing in front of them, and she was well aware of that. She needed it all the same, even if only for when authorities found her.

Had to find that fucking bag; her life might depend on it.

The extra bit of motivation was enough to make Sue finally move after a long pause. She only barely maintained her balance as she pushed forward, one step at a time. The resulting march was slow and painful, legs aching as if she’d run a mile.

And it would be at least half a dozen of those before she’d return to the nearest settlement…

Not letting that fact settle in, Sue continued to push ahead in an alien body. Each step was a minor achievement considering the circumstances- but an achievement she’d need many of if she wanted to get anywhere.

A visual scan of the nearby area only confirmed what she already feared; her bag nowhere to be seen. Time for Plan B- make it back onto the path and backtrack from there, maybe? If it was a blast that had knocked her out, her bag could’ve been too far away.

Though… she remembered wearing it before all this happened.

Considering she got turned into something halfway between a Martian and a cryptid, her tattered memory was obviously insufficient. On the other hand, it was the only thing she still had. Not even her clothes-

The abrupt realization made her stop in place as she processed the fact that she was, in fact, naked. There was no trace of her purple tee on her or the surrounding ground. Guess the clothes-likeness of these weird flaps must’ve deceived her consciousness into thinking they were an actual dress or something.

Not just a monster, a naked monster. At least she didn’t have any breasts to be hanging out for everyone to see anymore, but considering the circumstances, it wasn’t much of an uplifting fact.

Merely yet another bit of humanity taken away from her.

Gritting her teeth, Sue pushed on with renewed vigor. The surge of motivation mainly served to distract her from another breakdown, and pain worked just as well for that as anything else.

As she marched on, it soon became apparent that even her cobbled-together plan would have a spanner thrown into it. The nearby hill she was sure the path would be on ended up having none of the sorts, and neither did anywhere else as far as her eyes could see.

What she did spot, though, was much more disconcerting. A small group of gray… wolf pups off in the distance- something she’d rather not deal with even in her usual body, let alone in this freakish one. Thankfully, they didn’t notice her, allowing for a hasty-ish escape in the opposite direction.

Hope the path wasn’t that way…

Left with nowhere to go aside from ‘forward,’ Sue focused inward, splitting her attention between the indistinct forest ahead and the extremely distinct body she now inhabited. The more she looked at the jutting red spike on her chest, the more it felt like it wasn’t just some piece of shrapnel. It wasn’t bloodied, it had a somewhat regular shape, and it didn’t hurt when left undisturbed.

Sue took it upon herself to verify that last observation.

A couple painful prods later, she had confirmation that it was indeed the spike itself that hurt when touched. Its sensations felt like they came simultaneously from the front of her chest and her spine. An attempt to reach over to her back let her know that there was another, likely identical, ridge sprouting from her back.

All of which only raised more questions.

What kind of creature would just naturally grow extremities like that? What was their purpose, even? Could be that the answer to both was just “some mad scientists made it this way just to spite her.” Which, while unsatisfying, was as good as anything she’d arrive at through idle pondering.

Guess she could at least secure a double kill if she ran into something chest first.

The thought made her briefly chuckle by virtue of just how morbid it was. Shaking it off, Sue shifted her attention to her oddly shaped arms, the limbs looking no less misshapen than before. She was curious about why that was; her left hand reaching over to get a feel for her right forearm.

God, these fingers were so off-putting to look at. Why did they not have fingernails!?

As she kept examining her new body, a couple things quickly became apparent. One, the forearm was just wide and thin like that; there wasn’t much fatty padding anywhere. And two, this skin was smooth. Guess having no body hair at all would do that. Even so, the sheer... pleasantness of it all caught her off guard.

Her new superpower- being nice to the touch, as long as you didn’t prod the painful bit.


Her torso caught Sue’s attention as she glanced down at her lower half. The green skin on the sides of her chest and the arms made it look like some sort of cardigan. Which, as dumb as it sounded, at least fit into the theme of the natural appearance of this thing looking clothed.

It was also… really, really thin.

She was hardly overweight back in her human self, but this body almost looked like it was being bound with a corset underneath.

Curiously, it didn’t have a belly button, either.

An abrupt yank interrupted her mute pondering. She tripped, only barely catching herself before looking over her shoulder. The culprit turned out to be a small, prickly shrub on which one flap got caught on.

And, once she’d tripped, subsequently torn on.

Guess that answers whether these flaps felt anything. And also, if there was any magic in place that would make them not get stained with dirt and grime just by walking.

Negative, and negative.


Washing these wouldn’t be too bad of an idea if she were to find a stream. Though, was there even a point to that, considering they’d get dirty again in no time? Probably not, but if she was gonna be an alien, then at least she wanted to be a clean alien-

Above her, very alert.

The intense tugging sensation made Sue snap her head upwards. Before she could consciously process the feeling, the creature flying downwards towards her captured the entirety of her attention, startling her backward with a gasp.

Sue considered herself a relatively outdoorsy girl, despite her major. Most wild creatures were neat to her, even if she knew well enough to avoid most of them. Butterflies were cute, fluttering from flower to flower with their many colors-

Butterflies half her size, however, were fucking terrifying.

Especially the ones buzzing something at her. While she knew they weren’t known for being carnivorous, she wasn’t about to learn whether that fact extended to this mutated one. Sue took off with a frightened shriek, running as fast as her deformed legs would allow. Which wasn’t exactly fast at all, but thankfully the discount Mothra wasn’t keen on following her, merely sending her off with a low buzz.

Not that there was enough non-panicking brainpower left in Sue’s mind to notice that fact.

Her flight of fancy was cut short by the devious appearance of a tree root right in front of her. It was positioned perfectly to lay her out on the ground with a loud thud. Subconscious reflexes twisted her body to the side mid-fall, the spike getting spared from taking on the brunt of the impact.

She still hurt a lot, though, dull pain pulsing through her left side with every breath.

Judging by the lack of any further buzzing, flapping, or other animal noises more unnerving than birdsong in her immediate surroundings, she was in the clear now. Sue had absolutely no idea where in the forest she was, how she would get back to the path- or even if she was still in that same forest to begin with. One thought, however, occupied her exhausted mind most of all.


The fuck.

Was that .

Was her idea about getting dunked in nuclear waste true, and it happened to more than just her? Were there other mutants out there that wouldn’t be passive when confronted with effortless prey? Did she have any chance to survive in what was increasingly turning out to be hell on Earth?

Well, she was gonna try, no matter what. Being eaten wasn’t on her bucket list after all.

Still, the odds were getting more dire by the moment. There was always the possibility that the “butterfly” was just a one-off freak, just like she presumably was, but…

She had a feeling that wasn’t quite it.

Speaking of feelings.

The sensation she felt right before that thing appeared, that tugging she’d initially dismissed… Was it actually some kind of spider sense? There were many of these tuggings even right now, pointing all around and mostly too weak to make out. Did it point out threats? No, not threats, unless that bird near where she woke up was a threat. Living creatures?

On second thought, did that bird look normal? She couldn’t quite recall.

Sensing macroscopic living sounded accurate enough. It would be an oddly specific ability, and she had absolutely no idea how it worked. Regardless of how little sense it made, it could very well be her only saving grace here.

Behold the Spindle-Woman, whose power is being even more of a recluse than most computing science students.

The resulting dry chuckle only resulted in some further aching in her chest. An excellent reminder to get up and going again, lest something snuck up on her while she was enjoying the less pleasant kind of mud bath.

Well, nothing would truly sneak up on her, assuming her sixth sense worked how she thought it did. Still, if anything fast enough ran up to her while she was still scraping herself off the ground, she was a goner, anyway.

Not that she could move swiftly enough for that to stop being true even after she was on her way…

Let’s just... get going, try to push on and avoid everything that moves.

The soreness did not make for a good walking companion. At that point, however, it was either that or getting eaten by whatever else might have lived here. Maybe that blast she heard was a biological weapon now sweeping its way through the forest?

Sounded about as plausible as every other idea she’d had until now.

Limping and keeping mental watch for anything that moved made her already glacial pace slow down even further. She didn’t have a way of distinguishing friend from foe either, but it was doubtful she’d find many of the former in here.

What she ended up finding plenty of, mainly through an astonished realization followed by a stealthy getaway, were many more of those mutants, of all species and sizes. Caterpillars the size of her hand, slowly crawling up trees? Check. One-legged, red-eyed birds glaring at her every time she looked at them? Check.

Very poisonously looking purple rodents with fuck off big teeth scampering their way around? Check.

It seemed whatever messed her and that butterfly up had affected most of this place. Much to her continued existence, the resulting freaks were too small- or at least thought themselves too small- to try having a bite at her. In any sort of direct brawl, she was dead to everything that wasn’t one of those harmless green caterpillars.

And even that one would likely be a close matchup.

Eventually, growing hunger reminded Sue of its presence. The unpleasant sensation posed the question of what the hell this body even ate. Meat was out of consideration because of her not being in a state to hunt for any, plus without a fire she’d have to eat it raw and... no.

Just no.

*stomach growl*

Not yet, at least.

That left either fruit or the relatively abundant greenery, and the latter wasn’t arousing any more eagerness in her than raw meat. She’d need to forage for berries, maybe edible mushrooms, without poisoning herself to death. Without any idea of what was poisonous to this body.

Still probably won’t go around trying to munch on a death cap.

Something colorful caught her attention while she pondered through the ethics of checking the edibility of wild mushrooms through feeding them to these purple rats. The stark stimuli made her briefly flinch before she could focus deeper-


At the very least, something that looked like peaches. Sue had no idea whether whatever the hell had mutated this whole place had also affected the plants, but she wasn’t gonna pass up possibly the only edible fruit in this entire forest. As she stared hungrily at the treeful of goods, a problem presented itself. One she was familiar with on account of her transformation having seemingly not affected her height.

She couldn’t reach.

Even the lowest branch was barely out of the range of her jump. If she still had her boots and gloves, or even just a body that didn’t feel like it’d break on a whim, trying to climb up the tree would be an option, but alas.

No fucking way was she walking away from here empty-handed, not with her life on the line.

A nearby stick would have to suffice as far as a Plan B went.

The branches just bent and refused to yield as she whacked them, determination quickly burning up into frustration. She tried again and again, accomplishing nothing except tiring herself more and more.

Just break, GODDAMMIT !

Sue put all the strength still left in her into her final attempt- and was rewarded. A quick step back let her barely dodge the falling branch, the entirety of her attention focusing on the mouthwatering bounty hanging off it. It wasn’t even the one she had initially aimed at, but that didn’t matter-

She was famished by now, and there was a feast to be had.

It could’ve just been hunger and exhaustion meddling with her perception, but she swore these were the best peaches she’d ever had. Juices dripped down her chin as she wolfed them down one after the other, relief blooming within with each bite. In no time, most of the branch was picked clean. Eventually, she remembered to keep sensing for anything that was possibly creeping up on her.


Back to eating now.

It took until just a couple of peaches remained for her to be sated. The goodness relieved some of the constant aching filling her body- though that might’ve just been her taking the weight off her legs. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to calm down as much as she could while continuing to keep track of other living things around her.

Some excitement a decent bit off to her left, but nothing else near.

Were these emotions she could sense... actual feelings of nearby creatures? It sounded like the most reasonable interpretation of that utterly incoherent ability. Huh. Maybe that was it. Maybe she’d been unknowingly thrown into the panels of the first issue of Spindle-Woman and was just waiting for an equally absurd-looking villain to present themselves and toss several pages’ worth of exposition at her.

Fantasizing these insane possibilities couldn’t have been good for her mental state.

Sue turned her head skyward, trying to clear her mind. She could just about make out the sun’s position through the treetops. Without cardinal directions, it was impossible to tell the exact time, but with how high the sun was, it had to have been close to noon.

Which… made no sense.

It was around two PM when she had taken a break before- before all this must’ve happened. Yeah, this was likely the next day.

Explains why she was so hungry.

The local fauna were taking all the changes like champs. A lack of self-identity or higher thinking capacity no doubt helped on that front. Plus, none of them seemed to have drawn the short end of the stick anywhere near as much as she has-


The sudden blur that had streaked in front of her knocked Sue onto her back, taking her out of any more pondering. Reflex made her twist her body to avoid landing on her spike as she tried to focus on a dark gray… fox? Wolf? Whatever it was, it had red accents in its fur, and-


-it was holding the branch with the remaining peaches on it in its mouth.

After some indistinct shouting in the creature’s general direction, Sue had to call it for what it was- an embarrassing loss. Soft rattling filled the clearing after she’d kicked what was left of her bounty away, furious at the little shit for nabbing the rest of her meal. With how hard it was to get just one branch down, securing another might not even be possible.

On second thought, strutting around with a branchful of food and precisely zero capabilities for self-defense was asking for trouble to put it lightly. It would let Sue finally achieve her dream of being a full walking meal with dessert for anything big enough to realize it could just run up to her and start chewing. And… so would staying here, right next to the abundant fruit tree.

Let’s get moving.

At least her legs didn’t ache as much anymore. Her mind immediately sprang to action, fantasizing about what might happen on her way through the mutant forest. Maybe she would end up being saved by some kind of special forces that wouldn’t gun her down on sight?

Before her imagination would swallow her, something else had caught her attention. Something very, very unnerving.

She didn’t sense that off-black fox approach at all.

Whatever her tugging sense was, it was downright screaming at her when that butterfly showed up, but it remained dead silent this time. And it’s not like it didn’t work anymore; she still felt it pointing all around. Were there creatures she couldn’t sense at all then? That was a scary enough thought with her frailty, but that one was also fast.

It could have easily caught up to her by now if it’d tried.

Mutants that not even the mutant-sensing mutant could sense, and fast enough to nibble all the meat off her legs before she could even try to kick them off.


With her speed disadvantage, her top priority was getting as far from the little dark-colored thing as possible. The peaches helped with her thirst for sure, but they didn’t come close to solving all of it, making finding something to drink priority number two.


The day might have still been relatively young, sunset a good few hours away at least, but securing a shelter was vital. With the danger around every corner, Sue was more than willing to play it safe on that front.

She wasn’t sure how a shelter like that would even look. A natural cave would work, but those were likely already inhabited, or worse- have their occupants not be immediately visible and crawl out at night to enjoy an alien-shaped takeout on their front porch.

Served with extra mud and half-digested peaches.

There wasn’t a whole ton as far as alternative choices went. Any burrow big enough to fit her would’ve similarly held something very poisonous, her claustrophobia aside. Trees weren’t known for having the space for anything bigger than birds to sleep on- not that climbing on one felt possible with how frail her body was to begin with.

Something more makeshift could work, a basic tent made of leaves. Just like what she heard her scout friends describe when she was younger. Gotta take it steady, and hopefully an answer would present itself.

The only alternative was panicking, and she’d had enough of that one for a good while after her breakdown.

With her stomach filled, Sue’s trek went by calmly. As she marched on, she realized that some critters she’d seen earlier were pretty common. No good purple rats, oversized green caterpillars, and these disturbing brownish squirrels with perpetually full cheeks.

Did every critter of a given species get mutated in the same way, and these overly-toothed rats all used to be the same kind of forest mice? And, more urgently, did that mean that other humans in the vicinity also became whatever she was right now?

Sue wasn’t sure which potential answer to that question filled her with more dread.

Finding a friendly soul only for them to be just as powerless as her and them dying together out there, or stumbling upon someone turned into something much more monstrous, much hungrier, and with much less of their humanity preserved.

Option A sounded less immediately terrifying, but it was nothing if not a close matchup.

Speaking of terrifying things, spiderwebs.

Sue didn’t think herself an arachnophobe or anything. At least, not a severe one. It wasn’t fear as much as it was... wanting to keep a respectful distance between herself and spiders. All spiders.

Thankfully, almost all she was ever treated to were the occasional landmarks of their presence. Glossy webs between flowers, in the bushes, or at the mouths of various small burrows.

NOT in between trees half a dozen feet apart, larger than her bed, and dense enough to immobilize her if she were to take a single step too far.

Just what kind of spider was even capable of spinning something this big!? The question made her mind feed her many a horrible sight, icy dread going down her spine. In hindsight, she probably shouldn’t have expected spiders to be excluded from whatever had befallen this forest. She only had her own mind to thank for that, for trying to shield her already tenuous sanity from the thoughts about spiders the size of her head.

And then, she looked up.

Several of them hung motionless from the thick canopy above her. Light green body roughly the size of her pillow, red mandibles, venomous to all fuck no doubt. If she got caught or bitten by one of those things, she was a flappy goner.

Even if the markings on their backs looked like smiley faces.

Thankfully, despite what had to have been the loudest gulp in history, they didn’t immediately all set upon her. Sue took the opportunity to shuffle off to the side and break into the second panicked sprint of the day, only barely keeping herself from screaming in panic.

She ran as fast as these legs could carry her until her lungs refused service, forcing her down to a crawl. A nearby tree eventually let her pause her bodily exertion- though not the mental kind, her brain still going a mile a minute about what it just saw.

Her already tattered sense of psyche didn’t take this place also having massive, lethal, and likely predatory spiders particularly well. The prospect of sleeping anywhere that wasn’t behind a multiply reinforced door suddenly became even less alluring.

And so did just walking around for that matter, since death could come from above now.

Sue kept her pace down even after she’d recovered her breath. Part of it was exhaustion, but some of it was wanting to continue scanning the area with her senses, juuuust in case there was another of these spiders waiting on a nearby branch.

The resulting paranoia did not make for a particularly good walking partner.

Thankfully, she wouldn’t end up running into any more sudden threats. The couple of creepier-looking insects were given a wide berth, uninterested in eating her flesh.

A distant noise eventually caught her attention, the kind she recognized well enough to let herself get excited in response. Her eyes went wide, her steps gained an extra spring to them, her mind even sobered up from its fearful haze, the sound she’d heard lighting a fire inside her.

Running water.

The stream was tiny, but had enough depth to drink from. One quick tugging check later, she knelt on the stream’s bank and got to quenching her thirst, the water delightfully cold. The sixth sense warned her each time something approached down the river, making her back well off until it passed by.

A purplish serpent more than merited that response, but what followed it was much more… dubious. Sue could only blink at her newfound superpower warning her of a plant of all things. Still, she backed off a step. Her eyes were glued to the lily pad as she wondered if it would do anything but be an inanimate lifeform.

It didn’t.

With a clear stream came an opportunity to inspect her new body some more. The lock smack dab in the middle of her face kept close to her head as she looked straight down at her reflection. Her attention was immediately taken by the sight of her eyes. Massive and fiercely red, not even in the fun, stoner way. The kind of eyes that, if she’d seen them on any other creature, she would’ve assumed it to be a demon.

Who knows whether that wasn’t what she was right now either, but at least she didn’t feel like one.

After she’d gotten over her infernal gaze, her attention shifted to the spikes on the sides of her head. Touching them revealed that these either were her ears, or that’s how her brain interpreted them. Despite them sticking out a bit like this, past experience let her know they could bend and lie flat against her head.

Trying to imagine how she would sleep if she could neither lay on her front, back, nor sides left Sue staring blankly off into the middle distance.

Guess at least there was that bit of mercy in her situation.

With her thirst sated and flaps rinsed off, Sue headed downstream. The tiny river provided excellent guidance towards finding somewhere to go. It might have been only about three feet across and shallower than most kiddy pools, but it would lead to larger and larger rivers down the line and, eventually, a settlement.

After all, that’s where they tended to get built.

Paying the modicum of attention in her lower high history classes finally paid off. Though, not even her sneering teacher would’ve preferred that knowledge to become relevant under circumstances this dire.

Maybe she could even make it somewhere civilized by nightfall!

Alright, that was way too optimistic considering her track record so far. The sober moment forced her to regain her cool, and put the warm hope back enough in her head to not burn her up in despair, but still close enough to keep her motivated. Eventually, she even stopped running away as critters swam down the stream beside her, though still kept a cautious eye over them and their emotions. They were curious and confused, fair enough, but a few were also… seemingly reassured by her presence.

The only creature that could’ve conceivably been reassured by her current appearance was Marvin the Martian, and only because it meant he could find himself a mate.

Strangling the part of her brain responsible for mental imagery like that just became that much more tempting of an idea.

Despite wishing she had mental eyebleach on hand, Sue couldn’t deny that the weird thoughts made the trek much less tedious. No matter how out there they were, they let her mind wander away from the bleak reality. All the while, the spindly creature she was controlling made its way forward on autopilot, only occasionally needing Sue to check her senses for any potential threats.

Sue sure didn’t expect most of her march to be so peaceful, considering the sheer outlandishness of the creatures around these parts. Not that she was complaining, of course. Guess since everything here was armed to the teeth with fangs, claws, or venom vicious enough to murder in one swipe, nothing wanted to be the initiator since it would get wrecked even if it won the scrap?

Mutually Assured, uh, Devouring.

Intense fear and predatory instinct ahead and to her right.

Just as she pondered about nothing having tried to eat her during the day.

Her breathing sped up as she turned to make it across the body of water, away from the encroaching terror. As tame and shallow as the stream was, its coldness didn’t help any, especially with how numb her legs already felt prior to that.

Before Sue could worry about the potential of hypothermia, she realized that the hunting sensations were getting closer and closer; her eyes shooting wide. Her body broke into a sprint on its own, mind barely paying attention to what she was even running into as she craned her head to keep track of the approaching chaos; the suspects soon presenting themselves.

Hey, it’s that dipshit fox thing that stole her peaches.

Whatever it was, it was running beside another fox. One much more eye-catching, bright yellow with a red tail tip and... ear fluff, a rather generous amount of it while at it.

If not for their situation, Sue would’ve stopped to consider the hygienic implications of such an unusual fur formation.

All that had to take a seat far back in her mind for the time being. The entirety of her focus was dedicated to running and panicking, and much the same was true of the foxes. Yellow one’s mind was filled with enough terror to freak Sue out, and she wasn’t even the one actively running for her life. The gray one continued to be silent on her inner radar, but a glance confirmed it was no less terrified than their companion.

She could only feel sorry for the two- or at least for the yellow one.

The sight of their pursuer made her legs feel weak.

The spiders she’d previously seen filled her with dread, despite being immobile. This one was much bigger, much redder, and even had a horn to underline just how much one should not fuck with it. Quite a few too few legs, too, though that observation was quickly pushed aside.

Sue was not interested in joining its prey in getting eaten, narrowly dodging a tree before deciding to hide behind it and observe the rapidly ending chase. The tattered pieces of knowledge she remembered from her biology classes included spiders producing their web from their backs, not mouths.

This one conveniently overlooked that fact.

It struck true with a glob of silk from its mouth, knocking the two foxes onto their sides, leaving them tangled and feebly trying to break the webs binding their limbs, screeches of fear from Sue’s sixth sense becoming almost deafening. The beast of a spider slowed down as it approached, savoring a successful hunt. Every part of Sue’s body wanted to take off and run for the hills, run until she couldn’t anymore, away from that beast-

But she couldn’t.

Feeling this tiny fox crying in fear for its life kept her from running. A deeply subconscious impulse she had no name for or comprehension of forced her to act, to do something, anything to help this little one in need. She tried fighting that impulse with every fiber of her being, tried to run away- but it wouldn’t relent, forcing her to take the shakiest and most dreaded step in her life, toward strife.

The foxes were already making progress in breaking out of the webs. They likely just needed that thing to be distracted for a moment and they’d be on their legs again.

Just a moment of distraction, which Sue could provide.

Fortunately for her conscious decision-making, currently feeling like it was trapped in a car with a maniac flooring it against the traffic, even this inner impulse didn’t force her to provide a distraction with her own body. A quick glance around her spotted a fist-sized stone, just right for the task at hand.

She didn’t expect to have enough strength in it to throw the pebble anywhere near as hard as it did, and certainly not enough to strike the fiend with any meaningful force.

Though she could only estimate the latter from the loud screech that followed.

She immediately ducked behind the nearest outcropping after committing to the throw, mind hoping beyond hope the insect would be too dumb to connect the dots. Mortal fear saturating her sixth sense finally faded as it ran away fast, getting replaced by an equally intense relief and joy.

But that wasn’t the sensation Sue was focused on.

Anger. Seething anger. Anger at a meal opportunity dashed. Anger at being struck off guard. Anger that was quickly making its way closer, dread filling her body at the realization.


Fangs dug into the mound of dirt she was leaning her head on mere moments before, moving just in time to evade the strike. The shriek of rage that followed hastened her further, panicking mind and a pursuing threat pushing her to run faster than ever before through the body’s exhaustion.

Nowhere near fast enough to outrun the fiendish spider.

Sue’s feeble last-ditch attempt to strafe around a tree was interrupted by the beast’s own lunge, knocking her out onto her side. Suddenly, all she could see was its screeching head towering over her body as it reared for a bite. She flailed her legs, trying to push it off her. Fear of death gunked her thought process, making her close her eyes and retaliate with one last kick through gritted teeth. Something hard cracking under her strike, an ear-splitting cry- a moment of triumph.

An instant later, all these sensations were eclipsed by the burning, stabbing pain in her other leg, spreading through her body with every heartbeat.

That’s what I get for trying to be a hero...

Soon enough, it all became too much.

The harrowing realization of her upcoming death filled what remained of Sue’s consciousness. It, distant cries, and nearby steps all faded into a muted noise that then flickered away, together with the rest of her.

And then, there was only darkness.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:


The Eyes Have It
Welcome to the forums! Always glad to see a new fic cropping up around here, and this looks like a fun take on the Mystery Dungeon franchise. Interesting that Sue seems to be a world where pokémon don't exist (even fictionally), or if she's from a world similar to ours is just completely unfamiliar with Pokémon. A gardevoir is also an interesting transformation, and one that might under some circumstances make for a rather overpowered protagonist, but I like how you've made it abundantly clear here that if Sue wants to develop that incredible power she's going to have to do quite a bit of work to get there, heh.

A bit mixed on this chapter as an introduction to the story--it's definitely frustrating that many PMD fics will spend just a couple paragraphs on the protagonist freaking out about having paws or whatever and then they seem to never have issues navigating in their new body again, but on the flip side this sequence of Sue essentially beginning to figure out how to function as a gardevoir felt like it went on a bit long to me. Here's what I liked: I thought we got a good sense of Sue as a character here; she's clearly a very interior and analytical sort of person, as well as a bit snarky. It was also fun to see how much of a grounding we got in her human life; even PMD protagonists without amnesia often have only very hazy pasts, and so Sue's concern with her mundane priorities was a fun contrast. It was also really interesting to see that she doesn't immediately understand the other pokémon here. I'm not sure whether this is because they may be some form of feral/wild pokémon that can't speak the way villagers can, or perhaps because gardevoir rely on some kind of telepathy to communicate/understand others and Sue hasn't figured it out yet, or for some other reason entirely.

On the other hand, I did find some of the walking slowly from place to place, freaking out about something, then finding out it wasn't really a problem to get a bit repetitive. For a chapter of around 10,000 words, I think a little more structure would have helped to make this intro feel a little less, well, wandering. I wonder whether some aspects, such as the "peaches," could have been introduced later in the story or while something else was going on in order to condense this segment a little bit more. It looks like we may be getting an introduction to some other characters, and perhaps a more populated part of the world, in the next chapter, which I think is great! I think making the road to get there a little shorter could be beneficial, too.

I was a bit confused by the mention of Sue's red, ear-like extensions. Pretty much everything points toward her being a gardevoir, most notably the big chest spike and the fact that she's about the same size now as she was before her transformation. However, gardevoir don't have any red ear/head extensions, or whatever they are, in contrast to ralts and kirlia. Not sure if that's an oversight or meant to indicate something unusual about Sue's new form.

All in all, this is an interesting take on the traditional PMD opening, and it leaves me really curious to see how Sue deals with it when she realizes just how far from home she is. This story could go a lot of ways from here--no real hint just yet of what form the broader plot may take--but I'm sure it would be fun! Welcome again to the forums, and if you're interested in checking out some of the other stories around here, you might enjoy Places We Call Home, a PMD fic with a prominent kirlia character, or maybe Instruments of Creation, which is quite a different sort of PMD fic from this one but gives me similar vibes for some reason. You might also want to check out the Review Blitz event we have going on right now--great opportunity to get familiar with the community and maybe earn a prize or two!
Last edited:
Chapter 2: Hereafter


the gay agenda

Chapter 2: Hereafter

Sue wasn’t sure for how long she sat in her spot before snapping to awareness. It felt as if she’d dozed off into a hell of a daydream and suddenly found herself somewhere else altogether. She couldn’t say she was unfamiliar with this location, though.

Nightmares had brought her back here many times.

The campfire filled the small clearing with warm light. As opposed to the previous times, she was seemingly alone now, the only occupant of the benches scattered around the fire pit. Despite that, Sue could hear the soft twangs of a slightly out-of-tune guitar. Not masterful by any means, but competent enough to lift anyone’s mood with their simple melody.

Just like she used to play.

Recalling just what had happened for her to end up here proved impossible. Sue sighed to herself before looking around, the details emerging from the recesses of her memory one by one.

It was jarring.

Every time she’d dreamt of this place, it was merely a playback of that fateful evening, all its tears and denial. But this time? This time it was just a pleasant backdrop, utterly divorced from the trauma that had burned it into her psyche.

Sue was about ready to start humming along before an unfamiliar sound caught her attention. A few moments of focus revealed it to be a voice, feminine and dignified, its words inscrutable, its origin uncertain. It sounded like it was coming from-


The sky was filled with more stars than she’d ever seen in her life. In the middle, right above her, the crown jewel of a full Moon- massive, bright, hypnotic in its radiance. And speaking at her, somehow. With that in mind, the voice was adequately awe-inspiring.

And if only she could understand anything it was saying, Sue might have even been humbled by its words.

But alas, that was not the case. The few sounds she could recognize combined into words she had no understanding of, but which nonetheless sounded important. All Sue could do was tilt her head in response as she stared up at the celestial body, making it pause.

Sorry Moon, no hablo whatever you’re speaking.

Just as Sue was about to shrug it off, another voice caught her attention. It also came from the heavens, but that aside it was the direct opposite of the first one. Deep, masculine, and cold in its inflections, sending a shiver down her spine.

And, unfortunately, only as comprehensible as the other one- not at all.

With the Moon already taken, she wondered which celestial body was speaking to her this time. The answer… was unnerving. The entire sky dimmed whenever the second voice spoke, many stars flickering out of visibility.

It was creepy, no doubt, but it looked like all that other voice could do. The campfire remained unphased by it trying to be all spooky.

The voices appeared to converse afterward, or at least both speak. Though, the way in which they constantly cut each other off suggested an argument rather than a rational discussion. Sue might have not understood what they were saying, but she had an awareness, deep in her, that it was about her.

Sue spaced out, imagination taking her for a ride as she tried to figure out what was going on. The range of possibilities was almost endless. Though, God and Satan arguing to claim her eternal soul felt like the most plausible hypothesis. Being in a dream made her perceive all this as funny more than anything.

Moon God and Sky Dimmer Satan fighting in her head for dibs on her spanking new Martian body.

Oddly enough, they reacted to her thoughts. They both tried to address her more urgently, but no less incomprehensibly, leaving her idly pondering more.

Truly, it would be very nice if she could understand literally anything that has happened so far.

Her resignation caused the two voices to go at each other even more fiercely. They grew louder and their words harsher, increasingly accusatory. It was amusing to observe the Moon and sky repeatedly brightening and dimming in tune with them speaking, then shouting their parts.

At least, at first.

As the volume of the heavenly argument built up, Sue was forced to cover her ear-spike-things to not go deaf. Sadly, the gesture did not affect the voices’ perceived loudness.

Thankfully, before her dreamt-up ears would get blown out by the shouting match right above her head, a third voice intervened with a groan. It was unlike either of the two. Squeaky, androgynous. Its intrusion caught the attention of the first two for long enough to follow up with a comment that shut them both up, redirecting their focus back to her.

Weirdest of all though, she... recognized that third voice from somewhere she couldn’t place at all. The sensation of everyone gathered staring right at her made her squirm; unseen divine eyes pressuring her no less than the usual kind. As anxiety crept into her thoughts, a chilly wind kicked up around the scene, rapidly growing in intensity. It quickly became powerful enough to undo the campfire, and then, much to Sue’s surprise, her dream as a whole.

Before she knew it, the landscape was falling apart into a colorless void, making her look upwards. The sight of a shattered Moon with a golden falling star circling around it graced her eyes for just an instant before it too disappeared-

And then, she woke up.

The dream quickly faded from her mind as Sue laid still on the edge of consciousness. The celestial exchange she’d witnessed was equally awe-inspiring and incoherent. The exact words were a mystery, but their setting wasn’t. Her thoughts began to coalesce on the idea of it all having taken place at the campfire from the day of-


Her eyes shot open at the sudden shatter. It sped up the usual five minutes it took for her to wake up to five seconds, leaving her startled and confused. She was somewhere else altogether. The wooden wall on the opposite side of the room assured her of that much, at least. As she looked around, the thing that most caught her attention was the bed she lied on. It was even more comforting than usual because of the normalcy it represented, the normalcy she had been denied the previous day. Different from the mattress she usually slept on, but downright divine in her exhaustion after yesterday.


Recollection flooded Sue’s mind as she looked at her hand, her body having disappointingly not reverted to its former self. She didn’t have the time to linger on the unpleasant fact, the realization that soon followed taking up all her attention.

How did she survive that?

With some awkward sliding, she sat up on the soft mattress, looking down at her blanket-covered body. She braced herself for the gruesome sight she would likely see before she yanked on the covers, uncovering her lower half-

A generous amount of bandages wrapped around her visibly swollen, very numb leg. Small cuts elsewhere were all cleaned up nicely as well.

Someone had come in and helped her out.

The unbelievable realization poured a can of gasoline on the flame of hope inside her. Someone had found her! There were people there, she was helped despite looking like a demon!

She would be alright in the end!

The sheer joy that filled her was almost intense enough to make her overlook the tugging sensation informing her that someone was approaching, and rather quickly at that. As much as she wanted to hug her presumed savior, she imagined her appearance had already scared them plenty.

Plus, her chest spike would… hurt if she went about hugging the usual way.

All those reasons combined provided enough arguments for pretending she was still asleep instead. She quickly laid back down and pulled the covers over. Just in time, no less. Her body flinched at hearing a wooden door creak open, followed by two pairs of steps strutting in. They were accompanied a pair of voices- one boyish and upset, and the other much older and exasperated, yet oddly soft-spoken. To Sue’s chagrin, she couldn’t comprehend either of them, her heart sinking at the realization.

Could she just no longer understand English?

That would destroy any hopes of ever returning to normalcy unless she relearned it from scratch. How could she forget the only language she knew? It wouldn’t be any less strange than anything else that had happened so far, true, but that in particular was hard to believe.

Sue shuddered at hearing the older voice shush the younger one after a slightly louder complaint, followed by a whispered apology. Seems they thought she was still asleep. It led her to try her luck and glance at the pair, one eyelid peering open as she braced herself for what she’d see-

No wonder she couldn’t understand them. They were no less irradiated than every other creature around here.

The smaller of the two reached to her knee, but she was sure she didn’t want it anywhere near her. Most of it was cute enough, true. Light brown body, a silly red nose, a few odd cuts around its arms and front being tended to, an embarrassed expression. Its back and head were covered with a green, woody growth, the plentiful spikes sticking out of it making a solid argument for never approaching it.

The couple hedgehog quills in her shin after finding a weird creature in the park when she was little convinced her to never come close to anything spiky ever again; this one being an unnaturally green mutant only made that offer even less enticing.

While the green critter being in pain would usually elicit a bit of sadistic glee in Sue because of that grudge, she didn’t have it in her right now. Not in this body. The tugging let her feel its embarrassment and aching so clearly that all she could do was feel sorry for it.

Even if it left her no less opposed to any sort of closer interaction.

Fortunately, they were being tended to by the other creature around, the source of the older voice. Describing it proved to be trickier than the smaller one. It was even less similar to normal animals than the already oddly bipedal not-hedgehog. It reached somewhere around the letter opener on her chest, was also bipedal, and roughly split between cream and... pink as far as coloration went. The shape of the pink parts of its coat made it look like it was also wearing one.

At least she wasn’t the only creature with a weirdly clothed-like appearance out there.

The bunny-like tail and large, floppy ears were by far the most animalistic of its traits. Though, the latter was offset by the weird curls extending from them. They reminded Sue of fancy earrings- or, at least, until it grabbed one of them. It then extended that curl and held its wider tip to the smaller one’s chest, like a stethoscope.

Her history with drugs might have started and ended at the couple cans of booze she nabbed at some party while technically underage, but the sights she was being graced with were right out of a druggie’s trip.

Feeling like she’d already been pushing her luck, Sue closed her eyes and resumed her sleeping disguise. It left her relying on her hearing and the tugging sense to make out what was happening around her. Thankfully, they sufficed. The smaller creature was happier after being tended to and ran out of the building, the door creaking in its wake.

The bigger one muttered to itself before walking up to her, its approach making her swallow nervously. Unnervingly, it reacted to even that barely audible sound, speaking up towards her in a questioning tone of voice. Whatever question it had asked was immediately answered by quiet barking coming from somewhere unexpectedly close.

A closer inspection of her sixth sense revealed another creature nearby, unnoticed until now, resting just out of view beside her bed. It felt very grateful towards her and... oddly familiar. It was much more noticeable to her extrasensory perception now that it was awake, providing a clue as to how all that worked.

Did the big one actually understand that barking? Its own sounds were more like soft mumbling than anything, about as distant from canine woofs as her own speech. And yet, the two appeared to converse for a while afterward, the topic being her.

Sue had no idea how she even knew that, but was more certain of that fact than of most things in her present situation.

While she steadfastly pretended to be asleep, worry crept into her mind. What would they do once they realized she was awake? Were they the ones that had helped her, or… Did they simply drive out the humans that did? Were they also mutated humans? Would that even matter when the push came to shove? So many questions, so few answers-

Sue froze solid as a soft hand was placed on her shoulder, gently shaking her afterwards. It was accompanied by the bigger one’s voice muttering something again, a worried question judging by its tone. Guess as well as she had tried to hide, it wasn’t enough. She tensed up, bracing for whatever was to come before prying one eye open.

The big one was looking down at her. Their blue eyes softened as it grew increasingly concerned in emotions and expression alike. It spoke again afterward, no less uneasy, to which she just sighed, unsure what to do. It was expecting an answer, an answer she couldn’t provide, leading her to mutter out in defeat-

“I-I chanht undershtahnd yhou, shorry.”

She had no idea what to expect in response, but confusion wasn’t on the shortlist. The creature tilted its head in return, muttering something back with wide eyes. Meanwhile, a couple of yellow paws reached up onto the mattress in the corner of her vision. They were followed by the very ear-haired fox from yesterday peeking at her from over the bed’s edge, revealing the woofer’s identity.

The two beings couldn’t have been more different had they tried, but they seemed unified in their confusion. They kept trying to speak afterward for a while, their words questioning and uncertain. Sue opted to just remain silent in response, hoping she could make it clear she didn’t understand them. And judging by their reactions, they didn’t understand her either.


On the upside, they clearly weren’t interested in eating her, even if the fate of whoever built this building remained uncertain. The bigger one thought about something for a while before sighing and walking over to the other end of the bed. It pulled back the covers, revealing what Sue had already seen- her leg having been taken care of.

Unnervingly, she couldn’t move the injured limb below the knee. Whether it was temporary, she didn’t know, and could only hope for a positive answer. The big one said something that was obviously meant to sound comforting before pulling the covers back on.

Its actions so far introduced yet another conundrum into Sue’s strained sanity.

Whatever it was, it wanted to help her out. She’d just seen it patch up that not-hedgehog, and its emotions appeared to be almost entirely worry and concern for her wellbeing. Her leg was messed up enough to where she wouldn’t be doing much walking in her immediate future, and was stuck here for now.

Wherever ‘here’ was.

With these facts in mind, she could use a better way of referring to that creature, one that wasn’t ‘the big one.’ Especially since it was likely to visit her again, considering it patched her up.

A nickname wouldn’t help her much with direct communication. Still, she would appreciate getting to soothe her tattering sanity through having an actual label to refer to something- no, someone- in here with.

And not think of it as an ‘it’ while at it. Though, determining the appropriate pronouns was rather tricky. Even beyond being inhuman, its voice and mannerisms didn’t lean either way, prompting Sue to go with ‘they’ for now.

Guess she got something out of that LGBT+ club talk at her college in the end.

The only question remaining was what nickname to give them. Their ear-extension-thing made her think of a stethoscope. Maybe something medical? Especially since they just patched up that not-hedgehog, and probably also her...


Fuck it, Doc it is.

She sure didn’t have enough spare brainpower to come up with anything more sophisticated. And, considering their actions so far, the nickname seemed very appropriate, if painfully bland.

Doc was looking at her with a distraught expression.

In her zoned-out pondering, Sue appeared to have missed them asking a question. Though, with her nonexistent grasp on their language, it wasn’t like that made much of a difference. A few moments of waiting for a response later, they sighed in defeat.

Sue felt bad for them- at least, before they perked up a bit, ears rising as they excitedly muttered something. Whatever their idea was, it led them out of this room, the glimpse of grass on the other side revealing the door to be the front entrance of this structure.

Sue appreciated the resulting silence, letting her take a breath and collect her thoughts for once. Before she could get a better look of the room, a glance at her side reminded her she wasn’t alone in here, modesty kicking in. An attempt to shield her chest by pulling up the covers was made simultaneously more difficult by the presence of the big red spike jutting right out of the area in question, and somewhat pointless with an absence of any secondary sexual characteristics to hide to begin with.

That didn’t mean she didn’t try.

Despite that, Sue eventually had to concede defeat after her attempt to hold the blanket an inch or so away from the spike ended up revealing everything there would’ve been to reveal, had there been anything in there to hide to begin with. She let the blanket fall with a sigh to the audience of one yellow fox, the critter still looking up at her from over the bed’s edge.

It would also need a name eventually, but Sue’s immediate attention fell more so on the room she was in. In most circumstances, this wooden hut would’ve been scarcely interesting. Considering what creatures surrounded her, however, one question after another arose as she inspected the decor.

The most immediately noticeable thing was just how small everything was, her bed aside. The drawers and shelves lining the walls seemed more appropriate for Doc’s size than a human. Even the ceiling was off on a second look, no higher than six feet off the floor.

Her claustrophobia didn’t like that realization.

Vaguely medical-looking supplies and equipment lined up almost all surfaces. Gourds and wooden bottles of unknown substances, primitive tools including pincers, hooks, at least one saw. Nothing here looked made with any industrial tooling. At least, not within the last two hundred years or so.

Aside from making Sue hope she wouldn’t ever get into a spot where these tools would have to be used on her, it all made her question her assumption that the structure was human-built to begin with. The ceiling was much too low for that; the furniture was tailor-made for whatever Doc was, and it all looked handmade, old-timey even.

So, if this building isn’t manmade, who made it?

Unless her eyes were deceiving her, Doc didn’t look like they had enough stamina to handle the logs that comprised the walls. Maybe enough to put the furniture together, but that was about it.

On that thought, they sure didn’t look strong enough to have carried her over here, either. Which meant they weren’t alone in this general area. Could whoever helped carry her here have also helped them out with this hut?

That was at least something Sue could try to find out on her own, closing her eyes and focusing on her tugging sense-

An instant later, a very warm softness brushed against her side, making her jump.

The yellow fox capitalized on her distraction, using the window of opportunity to scramble onto her bed and nuzzle her. The quiet woofs that left its mouth drew Sue’s attention to the contented gratitude pouring out of it, warming her at least as much as its body heat.

It made sense it’d be thanking her for saving its life, but that only left her more conflicted. On one hand, she wasn’t all that sure about ascribing humanity to this mutated animal, but on the other, it had clearly communicated with Doc earlier, somehow, and was attempting to do the same with her. Even if it didn’t actually have human intelligence, it came much closer to that than any other fox she’d ever seen.

With that in mind, it would also need a nickname and a set of pronouns. ‘They’ seemed even more adequate here than for Doc, considering an absence of any obvious gender characteristics.

Looking under their tail was the last thing Sue wanted to do right now.

That left just the name. A joke at the expense of their generous ear hair felt appropriate, but she didn’t have the snark in her for that, thoughts veering toward something much more innocent. They were primarily yellow all around, ridiculously warm to the touch, so maybe something alluding to that... “Flame”? “Ember”?

Either of those made her feel like a jock that names their dogs ‘Destroyer’ or ‘Annihilator.’ It was hard to deny that her current ideas were comparatively more appropriate here- not to mention incomparably cuter.

“Ember” it was, then.

With the fox being granted a nickname, Sue could pay closer attention to them instead of tripping up over how to address them. Their warmth immediately caught her attention, more consciously this time. While it was undeniably cute and very appreciated to be warmed up by a yellow-red fluff ball, Ember’s temperature went beyond anything normal. They felt like a sweater straight out of the dryer, which was equally curious and worrying. In any other creature, being this warm would’ve resulted in it having dropped dead from a heat stroke ages ago, and yet, Ember here showed no signs of discomfort, not even panting as they got comfy beside her.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have been as surprised by that considering the existence of creatures as odd as a spider her size, a half-cactus with a face, and whatever the hell Doc was. Though, this was the first time where the weirdness extended beyond skin-deep- barring her own sixth sense, at least.

Still wonder how that tied into everything so far.

Even if she only had a fox-shaped hip warmer as opposed to any answers, they were much better than nothing. Or, worse yet, hostility at the hands of an assorted bunch of nature’s rejects. Their concern was... well, concerning, and Sue could only hope that it wasn’t related to Doc having figured out that she’d been transformed into whatever this was.

Speaking of nature’s rejects, it was a decent opportunity to give scanning the area with her off-brand Spidey-Sense another shot now that Ember had laid down. Sue closed her eyes and relaxed her body, exhaling and focusing on the sensations all around her-

Oh god, there were so many.

Middle of the woods from yesterday had quite a few blips on her radar, but it was dozens as opposed to hundreds in here. Beyond that, the tuggings here were much, much closer than those of some glaring one-legged birds out in the distance. It was too overwhelming to focus on any one sensation in particular.

Still, the emotional landscape appeared to be happy and content. Sue had to take a few breaths following her glimpse beyond while her attention returned to the world around her to the tune of an intense, if thankfully brief headache.

There were many creatures in her vicinity, most of them feeling fine. That left a few possibilities. A farm was obvious, but also the one Sue rejected the fastest. All the creatures she sensed felt... different in ways she couldn’t describe even if she’d tried. Different enough from one another to make a farm with all of them at once feel infeasible. Guess whatever her sixth sense was, it could also feel species apart, somehow?

Go-go Martian Spidey-Sense, find me a human.

A settlement was another option, though the same diversity of species made that similarly tricky to conceptualize. Humans were already going at each other’s throats with just one species. How could what felt like a hundred different ones ever hope to live together in any semblance of peace?

Despite that, she couldn’t think of many other alternatives. The surroundings of this cabin ended up as yet another mystery, thrown onto the pile.

Though, as opposed to the rest of them, she could solve it herself.

The window was a few steps away and frankly, her right leg did not look capable of walking even one of those steps. She could probably just barely limp over there with the support of good ol’ inanimate objects to lean on, letting her solve something for once.

Would be a welcome change of pace, that’s for sure.

Sliding the blanket off herself, Sue turned over to sit on the edge of the bed, preparing for the journey of a lifetime. The movement stirred Ember up from their attempted nap; the fox left surprised and again concerned, woofing something at her.

“D-dhonht whorry Embher, I’ll bhe arright-“

Right as Sue tried going for it, feeling around with her busted leg, she felt her hand being gently grabbed by something pointy, making her jump.

Seems Ember had taken matters into their own maw, holding her oversized hand in their teeth and pulling it back, and her with it.

“H-hey, sh-shtoph that!”

Attempts to yank the limb away from the little fox ended in failure. She couldn’t tell whether that was because Ember was much stronger than they looked, or her body was even weaker than it felt like.

That didn’t mean she stopped trying. The world’s most bizarre tugging war continued until her sixth sense alerted her of Doc’s return, somehow picking them out from the outside crowd.

With them being unlikely to approve of her going for a short walk with a busted leg, either, Sue gave up for now. She slid her legs underneath the blanket, shifting to her previous spot and grumbling quietly at Ember with an unamused look. Though what she saw melted right through her grumpiness. The pup had let go of her and resumed their nuzzling while trying to push her away from the edge of the bed, ineffectual as they might have been.

I get it; you don’t want me walking because I’ve got a busted leg.

Her expression remained soured as the door creaked open, though seeing what was brought in offset that significantly. Doc’s disposition was upbeat as they carried a wooden tray, packed with various foodstuffs, a jug of water, and… a couple scrolls off to the side. That last item caught her attention in particular. After investigating the treats on display, however , she couldn’t mull over it for too long. Sweet buns, rolls, a fruit salad, some grilled veggies.

The smells alone made her mouth water.

It was almost captivating enough to make Sue overlook the discussion that Doc’s return had resumed. They and Ember chit-chatted while the medic brought the food to her. a lavish breakfast delivered right to her bed. Sue wished she had some way of thanking them at the moment, however limited-

The tray being set down on her calves took her out of that train of thought.

The spot, just barely out of her arm’s reach, appeared to be intentional. A couple of dumbfounded blinks later, Sue turned to look at Doc, the humanoid having whisked away the scrolls in the meantime. They carried them further into the hut as they chatted with-


Her hunger-fueled hyper-focus led her to overlook the other being that accompanied Doc on their return.

An incredible feat with their appearance, that’s for sure.

If Doc was a vaguely mammalian bipedal creature, this one was a vaguely insectoid bipedal creature. Their coloration was split between green and yellow, and they appeared to be partially made of honest to god leaves. Some of them had visible chunks bitten out of them, without causing them any obvious discomfort. No way that could be healthy.

Though what even is healthy for a crossbreed of a mantis and a fucking bush.

Ember already spat in the face of biology as a whole through being impossibly warm, and that was pickles compared to the newcomer, whose very existence took that entire field of science and choke slammed it across the floor-

...and now everyone was staring at her because she stared at the mantis so hard.

Trying to save face, she looked back at the tray, thinking about how she’d pull it closer- before going for the obvious method.

Here’s to hoping her arms were longer than they felt like.

Her first attempt had her pointed fingertips barely brushing against the wood. She exhaled as much as she could before doubling down, gritting her teeth through the exercise.

Maybe that was the point, to get her to stretch a bit.

Quite rude, if true. Then again, it wasn’t like Doc could write down a yoga routine for her, and they knew best what she needed right now.

If only she could just get that bloody tray- UGH !

With one last lunge, her fingers just barely gripped the tray. Her back immediately complained while she pulled the bounty closer, chuckling to herself at how silly she must’ve looked. She did it. She completed the exercise, looking at Doc with a relieved smile-

Only to see uncertainty and sense worry.

Sue couldn’t help but quietly gulp at that; they were expecting her to do this, right?

What else was she supposed to have done there!?

To her concern, Doc sighed in consternation before turning to leaf-bug-whatever and chatting with them instead, Ember occasionally chiming in as well. They were discussing something about her, but knew that Sue could not understand them at all and didn’t even bother addressing her directly. Completely understandable on a rational level.

It sure didn’t help with all the worry that had been germinating inside her, though.

There wasn’t too much she could do about that at the moment, left to try to enjoy the breakfast as everyone gathered chatted about her. The warmth and flavors helped lift her spirits somewhat, letting her get lost in the sweetness, at least momentarily, and pretend none of this was happening.

That she was back on campus, enjoying a break between classes with treats from the local bakery. That she was re-energizing herself for two more hours of lectures about databases before her evening shift.

That she wasn’t god knows where, mutated into a god knows what. That she wasn’t at the mercy of aberrations of nature that could’ve turned on her at any moment.

That she wasn’t completely unable to understand any of them.

Sue’s angsty daydreaming was interrupted with a nudge to her side. A glance through her damp eyes revealed Ember to have resumed their nuzzling with soft woofs. She didn’t comprehend their vocalizations, but it was hard to interpret it all as anything but trying to comfort her.

The thought helped her avoid breaking down there and then.

This might have been one capricious hell she had found herself in, but the local demons seemed to have a soft spot for her. Suppose that’s only appropriate with her being one of them now.

Or... was she?

Her mind latched onto that stray possibility as she reached for the next berry roll. She offhandedly acknowledged that it tasted like nothing she’d ever had before resuming that worrying idea. While every moving creature in here was unnatural in one way or another, most of them were at least based on actual animal life.

But not her.

Maybe this spindly white thing was just what the humans turned into, but she had an inkling that something deeper was going on here. Nobody else was dealing with the terror of having their body gotten changed like that.

Hell, this building was built with Doc’s current proportions in mind. Quite an impossible feat if everything had simply been mutated all at once yesterday. But if not that and this freak show of a forest had existed before her ending up here, how come nobody had ever run into it before? Especially with it being in the knock-out range of a tourist trail?

There were enough questions piling up in her brain to build an imaginary fort made entirely out of confusion and hide away from all this insanity in there.

Before she could attempt just that, Doc spoke up toward her, seeming to have just finished drawing something on one of the scrolls. The jolt to her system made her realize she’d been nibbling through this roll for a while now. A nod in the medic’s direction acknowledged their callout while she wolfed down the rest of the treat.

She accomplished that in record time, Doc’s confused eyebrow being her only reward for that particular performance.

They slid the food tray off to the side and replaced it with the scroll, unfurling it right away. She immediately tried to parse the detailed drawing- but before she could get into it, Doc drew her attention to one spot in particular, charcoal-stained finger patting it for emphasis. An outline of her current body with a confusing addition- namely a small, crossed-out swirl next to it.

And then, they pointed at her.

Sue nodded in response, getting the gist of it. That one represented her. Simple enough, unless she’d somehow botched interpreting something this straightforward. With that in mind, she scanned the rest of the scroll, starting from the top left and...

Another outline of whatever creature she was.

It was slightly different in places, but was inarguably the same species. The stiff hairdo was longer, the weird skin dress was shorter, and there were extra lines drawn along their arms and face, much lighter than the main outline. Probably markings or something. They also had something on their head-

Was that a crown?

Curiously, they had a swirl beside them too, but this one wasn’t crossed out.

Whatever Sue was, she wasn’t one of a kind. It filled her with hope of getting to meet another once-human in here and be able to figure something out, maybe even get out of this middle-of-the-woods wonderland.

That hope didn’t last for long once she gave it more thought.

With everything else being unphased by their freaky bodies, a sudden transformation didn’t feel likely. The other slender thing fit that notion as well. Their markings and crown gave them a royal appearance, incompatible with them having suddenly appeared in here yesterday like she had.

So, they were a native specimen of whatever bizarre species this was, while Sue was an impostor that had only awoken in this body less than a day ago. Considering her track record of taking care of herself through all this mess, they’d definitely be able to tell. A shock of icy dread went through her at the thought.

Could that be what the swirl represented? Being a native creature- or in her case, not being?

What if that discrepancy simply meant that there have been multiple rounds of people and animals getting mutated into this freak show? What if everyone around her, including that other spindly creature, came from an older batch? Though, if that were the case, they’d still be using English, or would at least understand her speaking it…

Yeah, fat chance.

What would that other-her do once they found out she was a fake whatever-this-is?

She had no way of knowing, but none of the ideas her brain fed her sounded reassuring in the slightest. They ranged from exile for being a fake, to... being disposed of right away. Excitement at meeting someone like her evaporated within moments, with the cold, mortal fear of that encounter immediately replacing it. And with it came urgency towards figuring out how to get away from here without running into them.

If she ever ran into that other Martian, she was fucked.

If her fate wasn’t already sealed, that is.

With her head filled with a sufficient amount of dread, Sue shifted her attention to the rest of the image in front of her, starting with the figure next to the other-her. They were also bipedal, and also looked like they were wearing a dress, but the similarities ended there. A tail peeked out from behind them, they were covered in thick fur, and their head was like Ember’s. Canine with massive ears, plentiful fur hanging out of them.

They also had a swirl next to them.

The similarity between the shape of their head and Ember’s perked Sue’s attention. She wondered whether it was a coincidence, or if there was something to it all, looking at the mutant fox to confirm her hunch. It would be unexpected for them to be related, considering the sheer difference in body shape and size. The bipedal hairy ears was drawn at roughly the same scale as her, after all.

Though, it wasn’t like creatures here cared about such trivialities as coherent anatomy, anyway.

The little fox eventually noticed her glances between themselves and the drawing. They reacted with excited woofs and a scoot onto her lap before patting that particular sketch a few times, punctuating the gesture with more vulpine sounds, commented on quietly by Doc.

Guess there was something to it, after all.

Though, her brain threatened to fry itself over thinking coherently about any of it. Mammals didn’t have that kind of difference in body shape between children and adults. This looked like the result of metamorphosis or something. Sue did not want to live with the awareness that the lovely maybe-fox beside her was actually an oddly foxlike insect.

What’s next, laying eggs?

One more brick for the confusion fort in her mind.

Trying to purge the mental image of Ember being more insectoid than their appearance would’ve suggested, Sue’s attention shifted further to the right. Finally, something she could understand-

An arrow.

It led from the couple of creatures towards a fortified structure of sorts. Sue couldn’t decide whether it was a castle or ‘merely’ a fort. Suppose it only made sense with the crown on the other-her, but the suggestion that royalty would eventually rat her out did not calm her down any. Another arrow came from the castle, curling back towards her outline with several symbols alongside it.

Circle, a small slice of a circle, circle, an even smaller slice of a circle, circle.

The circles and slices along the second arrow stumped her for a hot minute, their weird sequencing perplexing. She was ready to concede and just add this one to the fort-shaped pile of unknowns- before realizing she recognized that odd shape. After flexing her remaining brain cells, the eventual realization made her eyes go wide. Not really at the obvious-in-hindsight discovery, but more so at finally cracking at least one part of this place’s mystery.

It was the crescent Moon.

So slim, like it had only a couple of days left until it disappeared completely. If these two were moons, then full circles were likely suns. The arrow had Sun-Moon-Sun-Moon-Sun written alongside it-

Other-her and maybe-big-Ember had left for that castle and would return in two days.

Not much time to plan her escape, but still infinitely more than she feared she had.

A sigh of nervous relief left her before she finally looked up from the drawing and towards Doc, nodding to acknowledge the message as she returned the scroll. She was glad to be more aware of her situation, but it definitely wasn’t the reassuring kind of knowledge.

An icy shiver ran down her spine and spikes when she tried putting it all into perspective.

In two days, the other-her would return and expose her as a fake whatever-this-is. None of the potential outcomes sounded like something she wanted to be around for.

Two days to hobble out of here with a busted leg and zero awareness of where she even was.

A gentle touch on her shoulder startled her, making her jump slightly, and almost toppling the tray still on her legs. If their emotional disposition and tone were anything to go by, Doc was trying to reassure her, the effectiveness of the gesture very limited. As much as she tried, she couldn’t hide the building anxiety all that well.

Hardly inconspicuous, but what else was she to do.

A glance around the room reminded her of the second scroll, unused for now. There was even a writing implement next to it, though Sue couldn’t say she had ever tried to draw with charcoal. For a moment, she considered trying to explain her circumstances. Sketch herself changing from a human to… this thing, visualize yesterday’s events, but…

All that would accomplish would be giving out her being an impostor right away. She likely wouldn’t even have had to wait for the king and queen of nuclear woods to come back for judgment to be passed on her.

And so, she turned back towards the tray, visibly tense as she pulled it in closer, before nibbling on what treats remained. The rest of the room soon returned to chatting amongst themselves, similarly far from upbeat.

Were they already suspecting her of being a fake, and that’s why they crossed out her swirl? Were they just waiting for the royalty to return before executing her? Was she actively giving herself away right now through her skittishness? Would she be driven out of the only safe spot she’d found so far in all this madness?

That last possibility sounded particularly likely.

The anxious bind her mind was trapped in took up too much of her focus to pay attention to the rest of the treats laid out in front of her. Thoughts about how she’d get away from here in just two days with a busted leg arrived nowhere. With her stomach eventually letting her know it was sated for now, she left the tray as is, her thousand-yard stare drilled straight ahead into the clinic’s door all the while.

Soon enough, the surrounding discussion died out, and the bug creature took their leave. The other two sent them off with warm goodbyes before heading out themselves. Ember trailed Doc as they carried the unfinished tray out, leaving Sue truly alone in here for the first time.

The anxious, cornered part of her psyche wanted to get up and run away as fast and as far as she could. The very slightly less anxious rest of her knew she would likely not even reach the front door in her current state. She needed an idea of where she was, where she could run off towards, and, crucially, how she’d accomplish any of it with her leg like this.

Looking out the window would help with at least one of those conundrums.

Sue appreciated the surge of determination that thought brought with itself, fear-driven as it was. Busted leg, a nightstand and a wall to lean on beside her, and enough adrenaline in her system to bring someone back from the dead.

Let’s do this.

Attempts to feel how much weight she could put onto the injured leg resulted in a very unhelpful answer of ‘none,’ the limb immediately buckling every time. While it didn’t hurt at the start, eventually a dull ache accompanied every motion, making all this even harder. Sue racked her brain about how she’d accomplish any of this.

Guess she could try pushing herself onto the good leg, lean against something for support, and work from there, under specified of a plan as that was. Under specified and likely to result in her splatting out on the floor.

But sadly, no less necessary.

Reaching her hands out to brace for takeoff, Sue began rocking back and forth on the mattress. One, two, up she went. She immediately tried grabbing everything in her reach, the good leg aching at having to carry her entire weight before she’d offloaded it onto the inanimate objects beside her.

Alright, she was up now. Just a few feet left.

With a stable-ish position, she kept her injured leg as straight as she could while pushing it against the wooden floor, hoping it would let her inch forwards. To her momentary joy, it appeared to work initially. Each push moved her a few inches, though not without stinging pain making its way through the profound numbness in her leg. Just stinging at first, but quickly growing in intensity as she crept along the wall, intensifying until every hard-earned step towards the window made her wince loudly, tears flowing down her cheeks.

She was too far in to turn back; she’d bear through it all.

She had to.

A ton of pain and a couple minutes later, Sue finally grabbed onto the window frame. She dragged her body towards it in wincing, teary triumph. She’d need to bend over to look out of it with how low it was set, the realization forcing an angry grunt out of her. Whatever, she could manage. She had it. Let’s do it; let’s see what this hell she’d found herself in even was.

Sue wasn’t sure what she expected to see after looking out the window like this, in the most awkward position she ever had to contort herself into. However, the reality in front of her eyes roughly fit one of her earlier hypotheses.

A multitude of creatures were walking around- some of them terrifying, some cute, some yet dopey- but none of them normal. None of them like anything she’d ever seen before. Despite the diversity in sizes, colors, and body types on display, they all simply coexisted, talking instead of devouring one another.

Among them, quite a few buildings were scattered around the visible area, many similar to the hut she was peeping out of. Many, but not all, and the other kinds of structures caught her attention even more. Burrows reaching into hills or downwards into the ground, overgrown treehouses, larger brick buildings, all mixed with no discernible rhyme or reason.

They all stretched way off to her right, far out of view- this was just a tiny slice of this settlement. She made out a well-defined treeline in the distance to the left- an obvious direction for her to run off towards once the time came.

An entire village full of mutated animals, every one different and weirder still. They all just casually coexisted despite some freaks looking like mythological beasts that could have had the other ones for dinner.

Including her.

The sight was so unreal that she almost lost her balance after staring too intently. It’s not like she hadn’t considered the idea of a village, but there was no chance it’d be real.

And yet, here it was, staring her right in the eyes.

It kindly withdrew one brick from her confusion fort only to replace it with a couple more and give her a pat on the head for trying.

There was no way all that could’ve been stuffed away deep in the woods with nobody finding out, right? Not with satellite imagery venturing further inland than any human ever had. Has more time passed than she had thought between her trip and her waking up here!?

Was this even Earth anymore to begin with!?

The loud creak from behind her cut her idle pondering off. It was immediately followed by Doc’s and Ember’s alarmed squeaks, their approached footsteps making Sue wince as she braced herself for what was to come.


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:


the gay agenda
I originally posted this fic on Thousand Roads over a year ago, and it was a fail start because I wasn't aware of how forums quite worked at the time. With the benefit of hindsight and some more experience, I'd like to try again, apologies for necro'ing this thread.


the gay agenda
Welcome to the forums! Always glad to see a new fic cropping up around here, and this looks like a fun take on the Mystery Dungeon franchise. Interesting that Sue seems to be a world where pokémon don't exist (even fictionally), or if she's from a world similar to ours is just completely unfamiliar with Pokémon. A gardevoir is also an interesting transformation, and one that might under some circumstances make for a rather overpowered protagonist, but I like how you've made it abundantly clear here that if Sue wants to develop that incredible power she's going to have to do quite a bit of work to get there, heh.

Over a year later, but thank you for your welcome and thanks for the feedback. I've heavily edited the first chapater twice since posting it here initially, but much of your original feedback still applies, so let me go through it.

Yep, Sue is completely unfamiliar with Pokemon, they are completely absent from her homeworld, even as fiction. I wanted to put a lot of focus on body dysmorphia in this initial bit, because that to me felt like the most obvious consequence of such a sudden, full body transformation. Human-to-Gardevoir is much easier on her than so many other species she might have became, and even that was incredibly difficult to adapt to.

A bit mixed on this chapter as an introduction to the story--it's definitely frustrating that many PMD fics will spend just a couple paragraphs on the protagonist freaking out about having paws or whatever and then they seem to never have issues navigating in their new body again, but on the flip side this sequence of Sue essentially beginning to figure out how to function as a gardevoir felt like it went on a bit long to me. Here's what I liked: I thought we got a good sense of Sue as a character here; she's clearly a very interior and analytical sort of person, as well as a bit snarky. It was also fun to see how much of a grounding we got in her human life; even PMD protagonists without amnesia often have only very hazy pasts, and so Sue's concern with her mundane priorities was a fun contrast. It was also really interesting to see that she doesn't immediately understand the other pokémon here. I'm not sure whether this is because they may be some form of feral/wild pokémon that can't speak the way villagers can, or perhaps because gardevoir rely on some kind of telepathy to communicate/understand others and Sue hasn't figured it out yet, or for some other reason entirely.

Language and language barriers will play a large part in the fic going forward. Telepathy as a skill isn't something known innately and has to be learned, which Sue is obviously unaware of. At the same time, she isn't even aware other beings around her are sentient to begin with, making attempts at communication unlikely even if she was aware of how to use her new body to its fullest potential.

On the other hand, I did find some of the walking slowly from place to place, freaking out about something, then finding out it wasn't really a problem to get a bit repetitive. For a chapter of around 10,000 words, I think a little more structure would have helped to make this intro feel a little less, well, wandering. I wonder whether some aspects, such as the "peaches," could have been introduced later in the story or while something else was going on in order to condense this segment a little bit more. It looks like we may be getting an introduction to some other characters, and perhaps a more populated part of the world, in the next chapter, which I think is great! I think making the road to get there a little shorter could be beneficial, too.

That's a fair criticism, and to a certain extent it's just a result of my writing style. It's long winded and "inside the main character's head" to a fault, and my main characters tend to be anxious wrecks because self-insert. For what its worth, the journey being meandering only makes sense considering Sue being so utterly lost, and the later parts of the story will callback to basically all the scaredy segments of this first chapter in one form or another.

I was a bit confused by the mention of Sue's red, ear-like extensions. Pretty much everything points toward her being a gardevoir, most notably the big chest spike and the fact that she's about the same size now as she was before her transformation. However, gardevoir don't have any red ear/head extensions, or whatever they are, in contrast to ralts and kirlia. Not sure if that's an oversight or meant to indicate something unusual about Sue's new form.

I've edited the text since but I think this might have been a case of misreading it, I'm quite sure I never specified red, ear-like extensions, anywhere, ha. I think you mixed up the mention of red eyes and the spiky, ear-like extensions, they were listed as separate things.

All in all, this is an interesting take on the traditional PMD opening, and it leaves me really curious to see how Sue deals with it when she realizes just how far from home she is. This story could go a lot of ways from here--no real hint just yet of what form the broader plot may take--but I'm sure it would be fun!

Without spoiling too much, it'll go in a rather different direction than most PMD stories, much smaller and more character-focused in scope as opposed to a world changing threat. As to how will Sue deal with the realization of just how far from home she is... same as everything else so far, "fuck it we ball", she isn't gonna let anyone eat her or burn her at the stake. Once more, thank you for the greetings and the feedback, I hope it's alright for me to respond to it much a long time later.
Chapter 3: Respite


the gay agenda

Chapter 3: Respite

Sue had no idea that it was possible for her to get scolded so thoroughly despite not understanding a single utterance said.

Or that Doc had enough muscle to drag her back onto her bed. They were none too happy about that, emotions shifting to worry as they examined her injury. The bandages had turned red; the wound burned with every heartbeat.

It was bad enough for the simple act of taking the bandage off to make Sue wince.

The medic kept their usually quiet voice up; ranting about something with enough intensity for Ember to flinch every once in a while, the lil’ fox busy comforting the once-human’s hand.

Sue was glad she couldn’t understand how exactly she was being bad-mouthed, but she still felt foul. Doc had patched her up after she got herself into trouble, and her needless expedition just undid a decent chunk of that.

Sorry Doc, I really wish I could explain any of this to you.

Without anything else to do while being tended to, Sue turned to examine her injured leg. The wound was big enough to stick a finger in, apparently not sewn shut; its current damage making her already white face go paler still at imagining how bad it all must’ve looked before Doc’s help.

With the bandages discarded, Doc rushed to grab a square of thick cloth, scooting back just in time to catch some pale blood leaking from the aggravated wound. Sue briefly wondered what they would do to actually treat the self-inflicted injuries-

It wasn’t anything she could’ve expected.

Instead of preparing any natural remedy, they laid their hands on each side of her injury. Their touch was soft. Soft and… tingly, escaping exact description, intensifying as they focused. And then, it spread, enveloping her entire leg. It melted through the aching, evaporating it like it was nothing.

Doc’s hands glowing through the process gave Sue a pause, but she wasn’t in a position to oppose any of it.

It’d be rather uncouth to do that while she was being healed.

That, and because the ritual had left her so, so tired. It only took a few minutes, but she was struggling to keep her eyes open by the time the mutant had finished doing… well, magic.

No other words to describe it, really.

She didn’t expect to be as unsurprised by the existence of actual magic in this forest somewhere in Oz as she ended up being.

The otherworldly fauna. Her own unexplainable abilities. A heaping dose of exhaustion. All those dulled her reactions all the way down to silence. In any normal circumstances, she would have freaked out about this ten times over.

These weren’t normal circumstances. That, and she had Ember beside her, tirelessly comforting her.

After Doc had finished casting their spell, Sue peeked at what they’d done. The results were very appreciated, though hardly anywhere near as flashy as the magic through which they had taken place. Her wound had shrunk a decent bit, its bleeding ceased, and the swelling reduced; a quick twitch test revealed the limb to have even regained some sensation, much to her relief.

“Thanhksh, Dhoc.”

Two pairs of eyes immediately focusing on her clued her in on her gaffe, not that she could explain what had just slipped out from underneath her skullcap. Instead, she did the second-best thing- look embarrassed and shake her head. Thankfully, Doc and Ember got the point soon enough, returning to whatever they were doing before.

What she wanted to do was take a nap, that’s for sure.

Idle pets stroked Ember’s head, motions klutzy on behalf of all her strength being suddenly gone. Trying to hold her yawn in was similarly awkward, some of the sound leaking out and catching Doc’s attention. To her surprise, it made them put the small bowl of ointment down and walk over to her while mumbling something.

Sue didn’t gain a sudden understanding of Doc’s language in the meantime, but even she could tell they had calmed down. Her relief mixed with confusion at the medic’s words, and a pinch of mild disappointment once Ember scooted off the bed.

Having not communicated their intent verbally, Doc took conveying their message into their own hands. The downward pushes on her side took Sue off guard. Her eyes went wide; arms raising to maintain her balance before she figured it out.

Fine, fine, I’m lying down.

Sue shakily laid down on her left side, leaving the busted limb accessible for any further profane rituals. To her mild disappointment, she didn’t get to see what else would be done to it.

Exhaustion knocked her out before Doc had even made their way back to her legs.

The absence of any more religious visions was reassuring in hindsight, but Sue was too knackered to notice right away. Her returning consciousness took its time as it pieced the surrounding stimuli together. Most of them were familiar by now. If anything, that made them even more welcome this time around.

An exploratory journey of her hand discovered a wild Ember snuggled beside her midriff. The clumsy motions were enough to stir them out of their stupor, squirming as they came to. Once they had finished waking up, the heater fox scooted over to her head. Her closed eyes couldn’t see what they were gonna do-

But she didn’t need them to feel the excited licking all over her face.

She scrunched her features and giggled. Her red eyes slowly pried themselves open; connecting with Ember’s. She’d only now realized theirs were just as fiery.

“G-ghood a-aphternoon Embher.”

Ember tilted their head in the cutest way when they were confused.

They nuzzled and woofed as Sue sat up; her left hand immediately returning the affection. Doc wasn’t around anymore, but a few eye-catching additions in her immediate vicinity offset that fact. The nightstand was occupied by another trayful of food, much more savory this time.

And it was the less exciting of the new arrivals.

A rudimentary crutch rested beside the tray. It looked about big enough for Sue to use; hopefully freeing her from having to mess herself up again just to get around.

Speaking of.

Sue’s leg had been patched up like the first time she woke up here. And then some. Doc spared no bandage in securing the injury. They even reinforced the bandages a bit, the end result almost like a cast.

Running away in a cast wasn’t gonna be easy.

Then again, it was still infinitely preferable to being ratted out by the local king Martian and burned at the stake.

Trying to distract herself from that foretold future, Sue focused on the food instead. The assorted goods had her drooling. Roasted fruit and veggies. Fried dumplings. A huge, savory pie, right in the middle.. Her stomach wanted it all.

Despite how large her breakfast had been, she still felt famished. Like she could vacuum the entire tray up and then some. Guess her radar used a decent bit of energy or something.

Who cares, it’s dinner time-

Sue began to stuff herself with roasted goodies, now properly able to notice and summarily dismiss the unusualness of their flavors. The light filtering in through the window had gotten noticeably orangier, giving her a pause.

Must’ve been really exhausted after Doc had patched her up.

Their absence was worrying. Though, if they were a doctor likes of which she had christened them as, they were probably needed elsewhere too. Quite a few heads around the place, and it only made sense to her that some of them would need medical attention too, likely stat to boot.

Now that she thought about it, she hoped she wasn’t taking up the only bed in this entire village.

It’d be a big shame for an actual... mutant to not get the treatment it needed in favor of a mutant-shaped imposter. Acknowledging that’s what she was didn’t lift her mood either. But… it was what it was.

A clusterfuck she would hopefully make her way out of.

Ember resuming their rightful spot by her side brought Sue’s smile back as she enjoyed a fibrous, sweet... probably vegetable. Flavor and aroma somewhere between potatoes and carrots. It tingled her tastebuds with every bite.

Foxie could scarcely resist sniffing the trayful of food up. Fortunately for them, Sue found enough restraint in her hunger to humor them being peckish. With her current portion over, she offered a roasted veggie to Ember; the hip warmer looking up at her uncertainly.

Yes, silly, go right ahead, knock yourself out.

Thankfully, a firm nod conveyed that message sufficiently. The little one wasted no time munching on the large slice of god-knows-what, freeing Sue’s hands. Most of the goods might have long since cooled down, but their spices warmed her insides and woke her right back up.

Living the best life indeed.

While she still could, at least.

More and more treats were being offered to Ember until even they started to deny them. Sue smiled once they were both done, sliding the tray away. Before Sue could decide whether to give the spanking new crutch a spin or... go back to sleep, probably, she realized Doc was making their way back.

All the while, Sue gave Ember their share of affection. What could she say? They were a godsend both as a heater and as a companion. Hopefully nobody else was getting worried because of their absence. If she’d interpreted the earlier drawing right, their maybe-parent was out of town, and they were free to fool around all day long.

The question of the second parent was subconsciously overlooked.

Doc strutted in once more, their expression lighting up at seeing Sue having already eaten. They wasted no time chatting Ember up; the leafy mantis soon following the medic in.

Repeated exposure didn’t make their appearance any less weird.

Soon after, Sue realized that the bug’s gaze was fixed on a spot on the floor beside them. They watched over something as they stepped in, the subject of their focus obscured by Sue’s bed.

What are they-


Sue’s eyes went wide as she leaned her body over the edge of the bed. The appearance of the extra newcomer beside the bushbug answered a question Sue didn’t have a chance to ask herself before now.

Namely, how did the babies of her current species look like?

The answer was absurdly tiny and incredibly adorable.

Assuming her height hadn’t changed, they were only around a foot tall. Size aside, they looked so similar to her new form that they had to be related somehow. Same stiff green hair, shaped like a silly bowl cut. Same porcelain white skin. Same pair of red spikes, except on their head instead of front.

Amusingly enough, their spikes weren’t any smaller than Sue’s. Ended up way oversized for the little... creature.

Of course, that also raised the unpleasant question of how the hell these spikes would move from their head to their chest as they grew up. Even a brief attempt to imagine the possible transitory forms left her disgusted; prompting her to banish that train of thought.

Thank god she had gotten past that... martian puberty.

Snapping back to reality, the little not-her seemed to have spotted her despite the obstacle of their own hairdo. They acknowledged her with a loud, excited squeak before walking over to her bed, the weird legs helping with keeping their balance.

They were just like a human infant.

The squeaks were a dead ringer. Their behavior was similar. Even the arm gestures reminded her of the toddler she got to babysit a few times. But… it clearly wasn’t human, and neither was Sue, not in form at least. She had no idea whether that should unnerve her, or what it implied about this world as a whole.

Oddly enough, it felt like they had somehow caught onto her worry. Their babbles grew quieter as they tilted their head up at her; confusion filling their teeny face.

How could a mutant be so cute?

…alright, that was stupid to ask with Ember beside her.

The kit purred into her side before woofing at the lil’ one, their squeaked response loud and excited. Their vocalizations were interspersed with them trying to reach up towards her; succeeding at nothing except being cute. Sue’s worry about whether the mantis would approve of her assisting them was answered quickly enough. They nodded eagerly as she leaned closer towards the baby, the bushbug nanny even making a picking-up gesture to guide her.

Just don’t try scrambling off, lil’ one. Can’t imagine falling on your... spike would be anything but excruciating.

With shaky hands, Sue pulled the tiny one onto the bed. She found them to weigh, indeed, about as much as a baby. Thankfully, her arms could handle that much. Little-her wasted not a moment before running over and pulling her midriff as they could into a hug.

Alright, this one is adorable. Can I keep them?

Their touch felt not unlike Doc’s from when they performed their magic. Sue wondered if this little one was related to that not-her from the drawing. If so, maybe there was the possibility of salvation through befriending the royal baby…

Or at least, that’s what Sue’s flailing mind latched onto as a lifeboat.

Ideally, she’d be able to ask, but... actually, hold on, maybe she could mime it out?

Sue waved to catch Doc’s attention; thinking through how to convey this alien baby being related to the alien king of the alien town. Eventually, she settled down on the most straightforward idea. She pointed at the infant attached to her stomach, then moved her hand as if writing, and finally, pointed towards the drawers.

Miraculously, Doc got her general intent.

They squeaked something before pulling out the drawn-on scroll from earlier; immediately adding more detail to it. As the piece of charcoal whizzed around the page, Sue absentmindedly supplied the tots with further affection. At least, until she felt her hand being pulled. She didn’t consciously move it, and yet it ended up right beside the lil’ not-her, much to their joy.

What’s this, intra-species magnetism or something?

Before she could think too much about that, Doc slid the expanded diagram in front of her. The couple additions were immensely helpful, confirming her hunches. An outline of the baby not-her, connected to the royal not-her. Beside it, Ember’s outline connected to the other being with a swirl next to them.

Guess royal kids love her. Hopefully, she’ll be anywhere near this lucky with royal adults.

A nod of acknowledgment later, Doc whisked the edited scroll away and resumed their chat with the bug creature. Sue was once more left alone with two important little ones and unable to communicate with either.

Though, judging by the baby noises the baby not-her made, she doubted whether anyone could understand them.

As she kept petting the lil’ Martian, the tyke trying their hardest to pull her hand into a hug, Ember snuck up on them. Moments later, they dove in and struck; attacking the infant’s side with a flurry of licks. They immediately broke into a fit of loud, squeaky laughter; vocalizations failing to escape between giggles as they flailed. Sue was too amused to intervene, laughing louder and louder at the sight. She had no idea why it was all so funny to her, but couldn’t deny the joy that bloomed within her in response.

A couple comments from the presumed grownups made Ember stop; the little one immediately splatting and panting as they caught their breath. The foxie snuggled up to them soon after; letting the Martian tyke hug them tight. Sue only barely held in swooning at the sight. She didn’t want to interrupt, simply wanting to keep petting the mini-her. They, however, had other plans. Her touch made them look up at her as they laid on their side, before feebly trying to reach up towards her.

Do they want hugs?

Smiling at that possibility, Sue reached in to pick them up; carefully lifting them up to the side of her spike. They made it harder with their wriggling, but ultimately behaved and eased out once she was done. It didn’t take long for them to look up at her from their new position; breaking into a big smile and an even bigger squeak. Their squirming let her peek underneath their bowl cut, their eyes predictably red.

Just don’t start thinking I’m your actual mommy. She’s probably just on a trip.

Doc’s words turned her head, though they were likely aimed at the baby in her arms. They then took the largely finished tray of food away, much to the tyke’s objection, for... some reason. Guess they just wanted a bite of the leftovers.

Oh well-

That’s where her train of thought would’ve ended, if not for a berry piece suddenly becoming surrounded in a blue aura before levitating upwards. Upwards, and towards the alien in her arms. She briefly caught a similar glow emanating from their eyes before it disappeared, the treat now secured in their hands.

Before the little one could bite into it, they abruptly looked up at her, confusion matching Sue’s shock at what she’d just witnessed.

Guess magic here went far, far beyond just a healing touch.

As incredible as that was in its own right, the fact even an infant could perform it only made it all more awe-inspiring. And prompted an incomparably more unnerving thought- if literal babies could do this, what about adults? Just how much further could that royal take it?

Was Doc’s magic touch just a tiny part of their abilities? Did they just magic all the logs of this building together? What about the bug-person-thing? They have done nothing magical so far aside from continuing to exist despite their appearance. Was magic restricted to certain species she just happened to be a part of?

Why was everyone staring at her?

Sue’s sixth sense clued her into being the center of unwelcome attention. She pretended her head just hurt a bit, lowering the munching baby onto her lap as the free hand rubbed her forehead. Fortunately, the excuse made those gathered resume whatever they were previously doing. In Ember’s case, that meant wordlessly asking her to continue petting, paws reaching for her hand.

Sue wouldn’t say no to that arrangement.

Soon after, Doc carried the tray out, the bug person staying behind this time. They walked closer to the bed and chittered something towards the two creatures that presumably could understand them. Ember woofed back while the little-her squirmed, tried to squeak with a full mouth, and latched themselves onto Sue’s nearby hand.

Sue had no idea what she’d done for the little Martian to adore her so much, but she wasn’t gonna refuse it. Both because of it being lovely, and because it could earn her some brownie points once their parent came knocking.

Right now, though, one of those was much more important than the other.

With everyone chilling for once, the idea of naming those around her crept back into Sue’s head. The bushbug had already visited her twice, and she imagined they would do so again in the future- likely with the lil’ one in tow. Her brain wasted no time in providing a simple and uninspired nickname of “Leafy” for the former, but the tyke proved much trickier.

The most obvious physical characteristic she could latch onto was instantly banished on account of them being an infant.

Aside from that dead end, she was uncertain what kind of nickname they ought to get. Part of her wanted to go with an actual name with just how baby-like they were, any sort of cutesy pet-like moniker feeling... wrong. At the same time, it was still an alien whose parent would want her head on a stick, best to avoid getting attached.

“Bowlcut” would certainly work as far as limiting attachment went, though it felt... rude. Not like anyone but her would ever know, especially not the infant in question. Sue soon resigned to the substandard name, somehow worse than all the other ones so far.

Failure to come up with a decent nickname deflated her somewhat.

It was irrational, sure, even more so with her stay here threatening to be temporary. Still, she couldn’t help but latch onto the only display of kindness she’d been given in this world, and being unable to match it was upsetting.

Trying to divert her thoughts away from that topic, she circled back around to Bowlcut’s show of baby magic. Instead of further worries about how would their parent eventually fuck her up, she wondered whether any of it affected her too.

She sure didn’t feel magical, extra-sensory perception aside. It made sense to her that fancy powers like that would be noticeable. Alternatively, they needed to be taught, explaining her inability to use them. Though, Bowlcut wasn’t much different from a year-old baby, and good luck teaching them anything.

Maybe she could do magic all along and just wasn’t aware of it? Worth a try in any case. She glanced around the room for an appropriate target, spotting the still-untouched crutch, and...

Realized she had no idea what to do with it.

A few thought commands were attempted- “Come,” “Up,” “Fly,” “Get over here,” but the tool remained persistently inanimate despite her trying to think it alive. Maybe she had to really focus for it to work? Her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on the crutch as much as she could- but once more, nothing.

Guess she just didn’t have the touch.

Now that she thought about it, could be that’s what the crossed-out spiral referenced? She was magic deficient, if that was even an actual term. Which, considering literal babies of this species can make things float, would definitely be a cause for concern.

Just concern, so there was a possibility that Bowlcut’s parent would see her as just disabled rather than an imposter. Though, if even the tyke could magic items around, the wild powers the adults have access to would likely let them see through this embarrassing disguise, anyway.

Before Sue could ponder the implications of technically being doubly crippled, Doc made their way back; a glance up revealing just how dim it was getting outside.

Wonder when everyone would be leaving.

There wasn’t any light source she could see, and considering this place gave off pre-industrial vibes, the best thing they had would be candles. Candles which Doc proceeded to pull out of the drawers, together with a pair of holders, though without anything to light them with.

Unconcerned by that, they laid the candle holders around the room. Once done, they headed towards the bed with the actual candles in hand, the once-human’s eyebrow raising in response.

Sorry Doc, this spike does not double as a firestarter.

Ember begrudgingly wriggled themselves from underneath her steady supply of affection, taking her off guard. Their bushy tail wagged as they leaned over the edge of the bed, the medic bringing the unlit candle wicks in front of the fox’s snout as if expecting them to spit fire.

And then Ember spat fire.

While Bowlcut’s minor act of telekinesis had her just stare in shock, the burst of flames coming from her lap warmer’s mouth made her jump and gasp, startling everyone around her. Doc stared at her for a moment before the melting wax burned their fingers, urging them to quickly insert the now-lit candles into their holders and blow off the brief burns.

Ember looked fiery, sure, but that was supposed to just be an appearance thing, not them being able to go full dragon and just breathe fire! Sue was briefly terrified at the concept, not to say baffled at how that even worked. Ember’s puppy eyes melted through that hesitancy rather quickly, especially with them looking genuinely sorry at having startled her.

It’s alright, Ember, I forgive you. Suppose this is normal for you after all... just, wow. Will have to remember not to tickle you and stay way away if you ever start sneezing.

The forgiveness was communicated with a couple pets and a smile, the fox pup immediately returning to nuzzling her. Their fluff tickled as it brushed against bare skin, but she kept her giggles from escaping. Before long, their affection was cut short after Doc spoke up towards them, the pup nodding and dashing off to the side afterwards, seemingly unbothered.

As she looked at them, confused, Leafy pulled Bowlcut over to their end of the bed, the infant immediately trying to waddle back despite being held in place. Fortunately, the motion in her peripheral vision explained it all- Doc waving at her before giving the crutch a shake.

Time to give this thing a test drive.

Sue didn’t have to be gestured at twice, shifting over until her legs were dangling off the bed, right beside Doc. The medic nodded before handing her the crutch. Its physical construction was rough, but overall similar to what she had already used a few times in the past.

Doc was evidently unsure how to convey the next part of the process to her, speaking up uncertainly towards Leafy. Fortunately for them, she knew what she was doing. Or at least, what she did back in her human body, hoping the different proportions wouldn’t make this a miserable experience.

…or an even more miserable experience.

With the crutch and her good leg in position, she pushed herself off, cutting Doc off mid-word. They backed off as she tried to balance herself, taking a few attempts before succeeding- barely, but still.

Now for getting around.

Curiously, Doc remained quiet while waddled about, evidently waiting to intervene should anything happen. But, for the first time in a while, nothing did. She kept her balance and made steady progress. Relatively slow with no practice and the crutch taking way more effort to use than she remembered, but progress nonetheless. A couple of hobbled circles around the room later, she turned towards Doc before conveying her success with firm nodding and a smile.

They seemed and felt happy, so all was well.

Their gesture toward the bed was straightforward, Sue hobbling over before sitting down and putting the crutch away. The medic glanced outside, muttering something to themselves before speaking up towards the fox. Ember woofed quietly in return, disapproval clear in their vocalizations as they scrambled back to Sue’s side.

You know Doc is right, silly, it’s getting really late. It’s time to head home.

Sue gave Ember a patient smile before sending them off with a few pats. Bowlcut was next, Leafy carrying them towards her to say goodbye. The lil’ tyke tried to scramble out of their hold as Sue waved them away, giggling at their antics.

“Ghood nhight- I’ll shee yhou all thomorrow.”

The precise contents of her words might not have been understood, but she felt her intent was transferred, anyway. Bowlcut enthusiastically waved at her while being carried out, almost knocking their nanny off balance. Ember trailed them out after one last look towards her, the door creaking shut behind them.

Doc’s mumbles caught her attention, the gesture that followed straightforward. They tilted her head, closed their eyes, and placed both their hands underneath the head as a pillow of sorts.

She wasn’t particularly exhausted just yet, but a good night’s rest would do her well, regardless. Rolling her eyes a bit, she obeyed their instructions and laid down.

Goodness, this place was comfy.

With their patient laid to bed, Doc smiled and blew the candle further away from her, plunging most of the room in the shade with the sun having set. They were about to repeat that with the other one before reminding themselves of something important. At least, judging by their audible surprise and the subsequent dash out the door.

She’d never seen them move this urgently before, their soft body downright comical while running.

After calming down her giggling, Sue finally tried to peace out. Guess putting out the last candle would be left to her. Still, she was in no rush, the faint background light rather comforting. Back at home, she usually slept with her laptop’s monitor turned on. It was one socially acceptable alternative for a night light, and this was another, even if less reusable.

Just as she began to doze off, her attempt at sleeping was interrupted by a creak, accompanied by Doc’s panting. She wanted to sleep, but some of her was more than curious to see what was so important as to make the composed medic break into a mad sprint-

A feather.

A sizable feather for sure, eye-catchingly blue at that. But just a feather all the same, placed on the nightstand. Doc looked content with themselves despite the pointlessness of their actions, mumbling with satisfaction. Realizing she had stirred to look at them, Doc simply nodded at her and blew the other candle out before Sue could act to the contrary.


Not thinking anything of it, the medic left with some more soft-spoken utterances. Sue was left in darkness, only illuminated by the faint glow creeping in through the window, and... the bespoke feather. It radiated a soft, pale shine, too weak to light up the room, but enough to be visible in the dark.

Maybe this was their version of a night light, hah.

With little stimuli to keep her awake, Sue soon dozed off. Even her overactive worrying couldn’t withstand the gentle glow that filled her eyes, the feather keeping her calm. Regardless of its intended use and significance, it sure looked nice, the pleasant shade of blue soothing her mind as it warded off nightmares.

What it did not ward against, though, were more religious visions.

The warmth was as comforting as ever, despite being wholly imaginary.

Sue warmed her hands by the fire as she slowly gained awareness of where she was once more. Familiar guitar twanging mixed with the crackling of flames as she relaxed by the campfire.

Guess these dreams wouldn’t always suck.

The sky was chock full of stars; shining brightly, as if just for her. A full moon completed the scene. Even its pale light felt much warmer, more... gentle, than its usual coldness in the waking world.

The moon god’s voice was there, too.

To nobody’s surprise, there was precisely zero progress as far as understanding it went. It took the voice stopping for Sue to even notice it, incomprehensible noises turning into background noise. Just there, until they suddenly weren’t. The expectant silence that followed left Sue unnerved, as if somebody was waiting for her to do something.

“I’ve no idea what you’re saying. Don’t you have some other dreams to be in?”

Exasperation dripped from her every syllable. None of this made any sense. She couldn’t take this “talking to a moon god” nonsense seriously, even inside her own dreams. Sue had no idea how much of this was a figment of her imagination, but she leaned towards ‘all of it.’

Despite having just been told off, the heavenly voice only kept going, urgent and insistent. It made Sue worry ever so slightly. This was all a dream, yes, but if she’d rather her mind not subject her to further horrors because of something she couldn’t understand. Speaking of horrors- the other, masculine voice appeared to be mysteriously absent, though considering everything going on, it was at best a footnote.

“Y’know, if you want me to know what you’re talking about, how about you write it down or something? Aren’t you a god or someth-“

Sue’s quip was interrupted by a gust of wind splatting a sheet of paper right against her face. The forehead curl shielded her somewhat as she flailed in surprise, the intruder soon getting grabbed and examined. A page torn out of a lined notebook, something written on it in pencil-


Oh for fuck’s sake.

The scribbling was too regular, too orderly to not be writing of some sort- too bad one utterly alien to her. Very geometric, unlike anything she was even remotely familiar with. Dozens of right and diagonal lines forming many shapes, some filled but not all. She had no idea whether one symbol ended and the other began.

It was kinda like Korean, in that it was the least completely different from Korean than anything she’d ever seen.

Around half of the page was taken up by a drawing of... something. Sue had no idea of what it was supposed to be, but it made her think of a ghost of some sort. Its body was wispy and all black, with an hourglass-shaped... torso at its core. A couple arms and a head were its only extremities, the latter looking like a white plume, a single eye peeking out from its base.

A good contender for a sleep paralysis demon, though Sue doubted whether that was anywhere near the intent of the drawing.

Given that the text was about as helpful as the sketches of penises on the margins of her actual notebooks, her attention only had one way to go. She pointed at the eerie sketch before looking up at the Moon, asking with much less exasperation than before-

“Who’s that?”

The second page hitting her face that imagined night did not startle her any less.

She grabbed the sheet of paper with an annoyed grunt before glaring at the moonlit sky with the angriest expression she’s had since ending up in this... realm; she supposed.

“You don’t have to toss it in my fucking face, you know!?”

The mighty lunar deity mumbled what Sue imagined to be an apology. She grumbled, flipped the page over, and took a good look at... mostly solid blackness. The only part not filled in with solid color was a shaded circle at the center, the various details revealing it to be the Moon.

Was that spooky ghost-looking thing... the sky dimmer Satan... deity?

No, these two don’t deserve nicknames; they can figure something out if they’re so up and mighty.

“Alright, if that’s supposed to be the spooky one, then what the hell are you, and why did you even bring this all up to begin with?”

To Sue’s relief, the response didn’t slap her in the face this time. Instead, it took a more civilized route of manifesting on her lap while she wasn’t looking, Sue blinking before grabbing the tiny bundle of pages. The topmost one seemed to contain the answer to her first question, the sketch filling up most of it-

Actually, scratch that. This one gets a nickname, after all.

Moon god is Duck now.

It was very hard to deny the similarity between the drawn creature and the bread munchers of the local ponds. The only actual differences were the tusks on the sides of its head, a curved horn, and its wings looking like flimsy, translucent arcs. Somehow. It even had a third one on its back, larger than the other two. Judging by its location, the only purpose it might have had was providing the divine entity with a speed boost while flying or swimming around.

Duck goes nyooom.

After finally easing out her laughter, Sue could take a look at the rest of the scribbles. The voice ringing from the lunar body all the while was decidedly unamused; not that she had it in her to care. The second page depicted a rudimentary comic, its plot all too familiar.

The first panel, a human with a backpack on a forest trail. An arrow connected it towards the only other defined panel, with a Martian lying in the mud. The memory was still recent, the coldness of that entire experience shooting through her body. Next to the arrow was none other than the bespoke ghost Satan, together with some more geometrical writing.

“Wait, did that other guy bring me here and cause all this?”

Duck responded with a raised tone, contributing precious nothing towards making all this any more understandable. Sue’s head tilted as she tried to figure out whether that meant ‘yes’ or ‘no’, arriving nowhere. Weirder still, the celestial voice sounded similarly uncertain, mumbling before quieting out and… sighing.

“Guess I’m not the only one confused for once, eh, Duck?”

Some more mumbles, a raised voice, almost... apologetic. Or so she thought, at least. But why would it-

Suddenly, a migraine.

It was no less uncomfortable than the real stuff that occasionally ruined her days. Her free hand reached up to clasp her head, trying and failing to banish the sensation of a rusted knife drilling into her head.

“H-hey, what the- s-stop, STOP THIS!”

The subsuming pain made it difficult to make out its response, the serene sensations of her brain frying itself eclipsing her thoughts. A roll of nausea surged through her body- and then it stopped, as abruptly as it had started.

Sue was dazed, achy, and really, really pissed at this nonsense inside her head. She glared at the imagined celestial body, getting up from her seat.

“You know what, fuck this and fuck you, get the hell out of my dreams you- whatever the fuck you are!”

Surprisingly, but not at all unwantedly, her indignation had an effect.

A strong wind kicked up out of nowhere, fierce and loud enough to eclipse Duck’s pleading. Sue didn’t care. She was fed up with it, with having no idea what was happening, with the pain inside her own skull.

Before she knew it, the dream once more came undone in front of her own eyes; pieces of landscape falling into a colorless void.

As if to spite her for the last time, the page slipped out of her grasp and slammed into her face one more time. Sue seemed it fit to just tear the stupid thing apart, about to do so before spotting a detail that wasn’t there before, the rest of the dream dissipating moments later-

There was a question mark next to the drawing of the ghost Satan now.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 4: Recon


the gay agenda

Chapter 4: Recon

As good as it felt to tell off an imaginary deity, the act ended up coming with a noticeable downside. Her old professors would’ve been up in arms at her linking the two events based on nothing but coincidence, but since they weren’t the ones that had to deal with their dreams being invaded, their opinion didn’t count anymore.

She slept like crap.

Doc shook her arm, finally making Sue commit to awareness after several hours of restlessness. Exhaustion refused to be shaken off, showing itself through groans and sand in her eyes. Eventually, she tried to sit up, the action only intensifying her soreness.

“G-good mhorning, Doc.”

The medic responded in kind as they walked over to check up on Sue’s leg. A quick visual scan later, they found the sight satisfying, in that it hadn’t changed since the previous evening. They rated it a soft squeak and a gentle pat out of ten.

Animal-person’s pat of approval.

Sue smiled and weakly nodded at the gesture, mind still not there yet. Doc chuckled briefly at her reaction before turning for the exit door.

Or at least, that was their initial intent.

They stopped right as they were about to press on the handle, pausing in thought. It took Sue almost embarrassingly long to catch onto that, eyebrows slowly raising as she watched the medic look over their shoulder at her.

A moment later, they decided to change their plans; pulling out the scroll from yesterday and getting to drawing on its clean side.

Wonder what they’re scribbling over there.

Maybe they were gonna ask her what she wanted? Not like she knew what the things she’d eaten yesterday were, especially with all the fruits and veggies she didn’t recognize. She could try to guess with the visual resemblance to actual food she’s had in the past, but that was about it.

Was this a sandwich, or some weird fruit mishmash? Not even Duck knows.

Sue chuckled at the thought, thinking back to the drawing of what apparently was the imagined Moon deity. Wonder how much of that was based on any sort of reality. She didn’t think herself creative enough to come up with all that whole cloth. It was probably just a combination of her mental exhaustion and quirks of this body.

That was the only possibility that made sense, really.

Despite everything that had happened so far, her suspension of disbelief didn’t go as far as to let her think that an honest to god... god had actually contacted her in her dreams, let alone two. Imposter from Duck-knows-where or not, she couldn’t have been anywhere near interesting enough to warrant such an act. Besides, they had clear difficulties communicating with her.

Quite pitiful for deities.

No matter what their deal was, Sue was sure she wanted nothing to do with them-

A light tap against her arm snapped her to awareness; eyes darting to the side just in time to catch the medic’s amused expression. It only lasted a brief moment before they spoke up and offered her the edited scroll. They went right back to amusement at her embarrassment, but Sue was too focused on their drawing to notice.

A pair of rudimentary comics covered the page, sharing the final panel. The first one featured Doc heading out, walking up to a counter with a tray in their arms, and returning with it now filled. The other, instead, had her tag along with them to the same counter. In either case, the end result was her cartoonishly gorging herself on food, though the latter approach appealed to her much more.

Getting to stretch her legs and get a good look at the local area to plan her inevitable getaway?

Sign me the hell up.

Enthusiastic nods, combined with pointing at the second drawing, conveyed her intent perfectly. Doc smiled widely as they whisked the scroll away, leaving Sue to get up. Now that the offer had properly woken her up, she was ready to climb out of bed; right hand holding onto the rough wood of her crutch like it was her only key to freedom.

At this rate, it may have very well been.

Once she was up, Doc nodded encouragingly and held the door open for her like a proper gentle... creature. Maneuvering towards the exit door turned out tricky; doubly so with the door frame turning out to be an inch shorter than her.

Oh, bother.

Let’s try bowing her way through.

With a calculated move that was only partially accidental, she’d stumbled out the door in one piece. A couple moments of desperately regaining her balance later, she successfully came to a stop outside; the sunlight making her squint.

She had made it through five or so meters to get to the outdoors of this village.

Time to behold the spoils.

A breath of fresh air was welcome, both in the literal and figurative senses; the chilly breeze reinvigorating Sue as she looked around. There were several cabins just like one she’d left, and a couple of larger stone buildings on the other side of the path she was standing on. Further down the road, she even saw something reminiscent of barebones machinery inside one of the more haphazard wooden huts.

And all around, creatures of all sizes and shapes, including a literal dragon flying its way overhead.

It wasn’t anywhere near the size of Smaug, but it still dwarfed her enough to unnerve her, despite being rounded and somewhat non-threateningly orange. Before she could investigate the purple mammal with overly long arms passing by, Doc tugged on her free arm. Sue got the point all well, turning to follow the medic’s footsteps as they headed further into the village. Oddly enough, they didn’t bother to lock the door to their clinic beforehand- but maybe they just magicked it shut.

Half bunny, half marshmallow wizard medics existing were one thing, but them just leaving the door to their place open when heading out was much harder to believe.

A couple of turns later, their trip led them to a massive plaza, easily the size of multiple football fields. It was filled with dozens of creatures doing everything under the sun. Snacking, talking, sunbathing, making art, or even just walking around.

It was all calm enough to remind her of a Sunday at her local park.

Most of the clearing opened towards the surrounding woods, the sight reassuring considering her foretold future. Though, on a second look, the large, well-trodden path cutting through the treeline at the opposite side of the clearing made it too obvious of a getaway route.

The edge of the plaza she’d just stepped through was lined up with stalls, most with a picnic table or two in front of them. They were similar to the ones in her world, not that there was much to innovate about them.

That didn’t mean the local mutants didn’t try.

Some tables had benches only along half their length, leaving the other half to just dangle awkwardly. A standing table of some sort?

Couldn’t be too comfortable.

Sue was too focused on her surroundings to notice the passersby. She knew only that they were there, anywhere from as short as her knee to towering over her. The overstimulation autopilot made her stumble forward for a few more paces before her sixth sense took notice of Doc trying to catch her attention; the medic waving for her as she glanced over her shoulder.

Seems they had reached their destination.

The stall looked just like Doc’s drawing from earlier. A quick look at its inside revealed a well-equipped kitchen, at least as far as pre-industrial cooking technology went. A handful of etched-in drawings of meals were displayed above the counter, though seemingly lacking anything that could denote their price. Above the pictures sat...

Uh oh.

The writing on the sign might have been crude on behalf of having been sloppily painted on, but it was undeniably the same script she’d seen in her dream last night.

Guess that part wasn’t just her strained imagination.

And if that part wasn’t, what about the rest of it? Was Duck real? And if so, just what the hell was it, and why did it enter her mind like that?

A fine addition to the fort of confusion in her head, though this particular conundrum felt... more worrisome than anything else.

Before Sue could ponder on her unusually holy dreams turning out to not be her own creations, a couple of sounds caught her attention. Namely, knocking on wood and high-pitched grunts; the Martian’s gaze snapping downwards at their source.

The creature was... a fairy.

Or at least, something fairy-adjacent, though not the Tinkerbell type. A familiar bipedal frame reaching up to her chest-mounted letter opener was welcome, but even that apparent similarity didn’t withstand a closer inspection.

They were a pink blob with a pair of arms, legs, large, black-tipped ears, and spiky… wings? There was no distinction where their face that looked drawn-on ended, and the rest of the body began.

Besides all that, they were also rather impatient.

The finding was collaborated by Sue’s eyes, ears, and sixth sense alike. Three-fingered hands tapped rhythmically on the wooden counter as they waited for something. Or rather, someone.

Or even more precisely, her.

Sue was unsure what to do. It’s not like she could just ask what each meal was. Even crudely pointing at the signs got complicated by her having zero of whatever the local currency was. Suppose Doc would cover for her, considering they took her there and would’ve grabbed something for her regardless, but being put on the spot like that didn’t help her anxiety.

Hopefully, a couple ‘ummmm’s would be enough to convey that unease.

Fortunately, Doc got what she was getting at right away. Unfortunately, they just tapped her hand before pointing up at all the presented meals; the demonstration cutting through any feigned ignorance she might have had.

Alright, what to choose now...

The sketches were far from clear. Some looked like salads, some looked like baked goods, but the rest were, at best, impressionist takes on food, mostly resembling piles of round… things. Huh, some of those might’ve been those roasted fruit pieces, and those were excellent. Though, then again, there was no way of knowing for sure.

Guess it’d have to come down to random chance.

Confusing everyone around her even further, Sue resorted to the good ol’ arbiter-

“E-eehnie, Meehnie, Mhiney, Moe-“

Half a minute and one muttered out tune later, Sue’s little lottery was done. The Martian slowly pried her eyes open to find herself pointing at a crude approximation of a jam-filled pastry. Not an awful choice to randomly stumble on.

Suppose Fate saw it fit to provide her with some well-needed reassurance.

Reassurance which was then immediately cut into as she glanced around. Doc and the pink fairy creature were staring at her, completely dumbfounded, unsure what any of that was about. She resolved the resulting deadlock by stabbing with what used to be her index finger toward the selected drawing. It conveyed the message, but an accompanying thought made Sue too distracted to verify that.

Guess what felt like her index finger was now her… middle finger. Huh.

On top of everything else weird about this body, it had an uncanny ability to accidentally flip people off. All it really took was pointing at something. The dissonance between what fingers she felt she was using and how it actually looked left her uneasy.

Neither Doc nor the other one seemed insulted at the gesture. It probably didn’t even exist here, with every creature having its own different amount of fingers; if it even had fingers to begin with.

The worry being irrational didn’t make her feel any less awkward at the realization.

While she was busy fretting about nothing, the pointy pink one got on her order, starting with the dough. Sue’s increasingly strained sanity baptized them with a very serious and not at all potentially demeaning nickname of “Pixie.”

A wooden rolling pin was a strangely familiar, but not at all unwelcome sight. It provided a connection to home, even if a tenuous and shallow one. What was less familiar was the way Pixie used it. After a few moments of using it normally, they let go of it with one hand, which then… began wagging a finger, tracing out a small circle at nothing in particular.

Things started to happen before Sue could even get dumbfounded enough to form a coherent question.

One after another, several fruits leaped out of the baskets in the back and onto the counter beside the fairy. With that done, they switched from wagging to using a knife, slicing the berries while continuing to roll the dough with their other hand.

Despite their clumsy appearance, they sure had more coordination than her college’s entire miserable basketball team combined.

Observing the fairy cook at their work turned out much more interesting than expected. Each time they wagged their finger, things just… happened. Fire lit in their oven, the berry slices leaped onto the grate above the flames, more berries flung themselves from the back. There was no consistency in their magic; and yet Pixie looked entirely in control.

A squeak from behind her alerted her to Doc trying to catch her attention.

They pointed towards a nearby picnic table before heading over; the self-explanatory gesture making Sue spare one more glance at the kitchen before turning to follow them.

Or at least, that’s what she intended to do.

Massive, glowing red eyes, almost like brake lights, were emerging from the shadows on the kitchen’s back wall. A wide grin soon formed underneath them, attached to a pitch-black body.

Whatever that demon was, its gaze was set on Pixie. It drew closer and closer without making a single noise. Sue swore it had briefly glanced towards her once or twice, as if to ensure she’d be too afraid to act. A part of her told her to run. Run like a madwoman, run as far as she could with her injury-

At the same time, she felt that same impulse to protect Pixie as with Ember and that giant spider. Except there were no nearby rocks to throw, and an insurmountable counter separated the two from her.

All that combined left her with very few options. As the shadow creature neared closer and closer to Pixie, she finally pushed through the cold paralysis and did the only thing she could think of.

Point and shout.


Her call caught Pixie’s attention despite not being understood; though all it did was confuse them further as they glanced at Sue. Eventually, they finally spotted the pointing finger and... audibly groaned. The fairy then did what nobody on the scene should’ve expected, the demon abruptly stopping-

Namely, turned around on their heel and planted a smooch right on the shadow creature’s cheek.

The action stunned the specter and Sue alike, the former erupting into a blush. Their utterings sounded simultaneously croaky and whispered, not helping with Sue’s confusion. As amused as Pixie was by their reaction, commenting on it in their twinkly voice, they only barely kept standing after breaking into bellowing laughter at Sue’s slack-jawed expression.

The spooky one soon followed, rambling on while it laughed, a well-lit spot letting Sue finally make out its shape. It was very similar to Pixie’s, a lack of wings being the only actual difference in their outlines. They even were almost the same size. If not for their introduction and looking more like a ghost than an actual living creature, she might have even considered them being related.

It took a while for her to calm down as she stared at the laughing duo, slowly processing the situation. The not-ghost had snuck up on Pixie, as if it was about to attack them. Though with how the cook had reacted to her alert, this almost felt like a regular occurrence between them. Pixie was obviously unafraid of the spook, the kiss suggesting fondness even. But if that’s the case, then why would-


Did- did she just get pranked by that shadowy gremlin?

The realization of her being a victim of a practical joke provided some well-needed relief, but she was still unamused. She was already easy to scare before all this, and her newly found frailty only made that worse. Triply so with everyone here being magical in nature, the exact extent of their capabilities unknown.

Sue really wished it to remain that way.

If the duo’s reactions were anything to go by, she must’ve made one hell of a face.

The thought helped crack her terror, a small chuckle leaving her as the pair calmed down. Eventually, all the laughter brought Doc back, the medic calling out towards the couple. Reassuringly, they were just as unamused about Sue being the victim of a prank as she’d been.

The trio kept arguing about it for a while as Sue watched on. Her foot of height on all three of them made her stick out even more than usual, her posture slouching with each passing moment.

Amusingly, eventually Pixie had to dip from the conversation as the entire group smelled smoke. A glance at the grill revealed some of the fruit slices to have leaped way past well-done and straight into the territory of charcoal pucks. An appropriate comeuppance if nothing else; the cook’s grumbling bringing mischief to Sue’s heart.

It would’ve been even better had it happened to the actual culprit.

Thankfully, Doc was keen on remedying that. Their squeaks were stern as they barraged the shadowy- you know what, if they’re so eager to spook people, then Spook is what they’re gonna be. In either case, the medic was barraging Spook and breaking through their excuses until they finally caved.

They rolled their eyes before approaching the counter, closer to Sue. Their voice was unamused, but she couldn’t care all that much about it with them having brought it on themselves. Their half-creaked, half-whispered words didn’t ring even the most remote bell in Sue’s mind, but her sixth sense let her feel a bit of genuine apology in them.

They weren’t all excuses, even if said rather begrudgingly.

Nobody was ultimately hurt, and if not for her being new to this world, she would’ve probably found it much more amusing, so...

Apologies accepted.

Spook pondered for a moment before stumbling on another mischievous idea, looking about ready to… do something involving her outstretched hand. Thankfully, Doc brought them back in line with a single pointed squeak, the specter’s excitement evaporating with a groan.

Despite their ghostly appearance, their handshake felt normal, being cold to the touch aside.

With that forced introduction over, Doc patted her side and gestured towards the table once more. And, with no more terrifying pranks to distract her, Sue gladly followed. She massaged her wrist and arm after sitting down and letting go of her crutch, not expecting them to have gotten so sore just by walking.

Guess that constitutes a workout, even if it’s the one-armed kind usually reserved for the guys.

The thought made her giggle loudly while internally regretting there was nobody around, potentially even nobody else in this entire world, that would get her joke.

That was a bit of a downer.

Before she could hit another checkpoint on the emotional rollercoaster ride, Spook spoke up behind her. They were just standing there in the open, looking sillier than Sue had expected. Their dark, unnaturally matte coloration stood out like a sore thumb.

Levitating an inch off the ground also contributed to the goofy appearance.

A loud bark of the most familiar variety caught her attention before she could think through that sight. She looked over just in time to see Ember dashing towards her. The fox immediately lifted her mood, especially as they reached their goal; leaping onto her lap with one clean jump.

“H-hehe, good mhorning Embher.”

The fiery pup responded in the only correct way. Namely, by climbing on the table and smothering her face in very warm, very happy licks. Sue was too enamored to stop them. Even Doc’s words took a while to convince Ember to ease out. They then woofed something off in the direction they came from, making the once-human glance over as well.


I’m glad to see you too, Bowlcut.

The infant and Leafy had mostly caught up to the rest of the group by the time Ember had pointed them out. Bowlcut half waddled, half ran up to the bench before stopping and reaching up towards her. Sue and Leafy alike giggled at the sight. The littlest one immediately tried to snuggle against her front after she lifted them onto her lap, her heart melting at the gesture.

Enough so to make her forget about the threat that came from their family, at least for a moment.

It was weird just how affectionate they were towards her. With how different every living creature here was from each other, they may have just been happy to see one of their own kin. Though, Sue wasn’t convinced by that explanation. Either way, there was no point in trying to rationalize their joy away, not with how cute and soothingly warm it was.

She could let herself enjoy it, just for today.

And enjoy it, she did. One hand stroked Ember as the other held Bowlcut close. The Martian tyke could not decide whether they wanted more pets, to be picked up, or to be hugged. Sue catered to all those needs by alternating between them every once in a while, much to the little one’s audible enjoyment.

Meanwhile, the rest of the table chatted amongst themselves. Doc, Spook, and now Leafy had taken up the opposite bench, the latter occasionally gesturing to make the tyke laugh.

To Sue’s relief, their discussion only sometimes revolved around her.

Considering the circumstances of her appearance and her disability, she’d obviously be talked about a lot. Not understanding their words still made her uneasy, despite everyone’s good intentions.

Or at least mostly everyone’s. No idea what was up with Spook.

Everyone else was so used to them as to see any pranks from a mile away and deny them the satisfaction. The ghost-like would groan and roll their eyes each time, but it never took long for their emotional state to go from disappointment back to mischief.

Or, once Pixie had made their way back, to elation.

Spook’s grin felt much less unnatural despite being just as massive as before. Their reaction was shared by the rest of the table, if for different reasons. The cook had brought a whole trayful of goods with them, sitting down beside Ember while handing out the meals to everyone gathered.

Sue and Doc got a piece of warm, fruity-smelling pastry each. Leafy and Bowlcut received small bowls of roasted fruits. Ember, meanwhile, got a different kind of fruit- cut in half, seared, and, judging by the smell, richly spiced. Wooden mugs of water accompanied the goods, chilled to a very refreshing temperature.

Sue briefly wondered how that was accomplished with no technology from even the same century as a fridge, before shrugging that thought aside.

With the meals handed out, Pixie got comfy. They pet the lil’ fox as they grabbed their breakfast. It reminded Sue of toast. Two flat layers of light dough, with copious amounts of jam between them. The cook’s grace was immaculate, not a speck smearing on their cheeks as they ate.

Curiously, they hadn’t brought anything for Spook.

The prankster didn’t seem to mind, preoccupied with chatting while staring at Pixie with infatuation in their eyes.

Some mixed messages being sent here.

Pixie’s arrival marked a welcome change in the topics being discussed, in that Sue, as a subject, was dropped completely. The shift was appreciated, finally letting her peace out and simply enjoy her meal without her extrasensory perception warning her about others paying attention to her.

Bowlcut’s squirming made that trickier, especially with Leafy occasionally coming over to wipe the mess off the baby’s cheeks. Still, it was by far the calmest she’s felt since she’d first woken up here.

Eventually, even that was helped. One of Pixie’s comments had the tyke squeak happily and scramble towards the cook; immediately setting upon hugging the fairy’s side. The sight of Bowlcut’s limitless affection extending to those outside their kin warmed Sue’s heart; a smile creeping onto her face as she watched.

Especially with Ember using the opportunity to climb back onto Sue’s lap.

One hand pet the little fox on autopilot as the once-human allowed herself to space out. The surrounding calmness helped a lot, the soothing emotions coming together for quasi-meditation. Sue felt her anxieties fade away, becoming meaningless by the moment.

Everything would be fine.

She would eventually find her way back home.

Meeting the royals tomorrow would go well.

And maybe, just maybe, she would learn the incoherent mishmash that constituted the local language someday.

She might not have consciously believed those thoughts, but they were a pleasant distraction from the uneasy confusion she’d felt until now.

A distraction that was eventually interrupted by a sensation of a snout touching her leg.

It was only thanks to her zen state that Sue didn’t get startled in response. Or at least, not as startled. The cold, damp touch still got a small jump out of her, one which the lil’ fox had noticed. Ember joined her in glancing under the table at the responsible critter.

Their coloration was almost as fiery as Ember’s.

Instead of a mixture of yellow and red, their coat was bright orange with black stripes along their back and hindquarters. Their shape was closer to a dog than a fox, a lion-like mane aside. They were by far the most animalistic out of any creature she’d seen in the village so far.

If not for their stripes and mane, Sue might have even confused them for an actual puppy.

If literally every other creature here was any sign, that puppy had a similar level of intelligence to her and was trying to catch her attention. They didn’t look or feel hostile, and she couldn’t sense anything negative coming from them.

Or… anything else on that matter.

The realization made Sue squint at the newcomer as Ember hopped off her lap, sniffing them up before becoming very affectionate towards them; the two immediately getting to nuzzling one another.

For the second time today, Sue’s dumbfounded expression was a cause for someone else’s amusement.

This time, however, it was kept much more covert. As the newcomer tried to stay quiet, their head... transformed into something else. Sue reeled back at the sight. Or, at least, until she realized she recognized this particular head. Dark gray with red accents and blue eyes, vulpine ears, and a black mane underneath-

It’s the little shit that stole her peaches.

And, by extension, the little shit she ended up saving later that day. Even being unable to detect them with her sixth sense checked out, reminding her of that uncomfortable fact. She sure didn’t remember them pulling anything like this shapeshifting off from the brief time she’d seen them, though.

Her uncertainty was noticed, and swiftly acted upon.

Between her blinks, the orange dog had turned entirely into that gray and red fox, smirking up at her for just a moment before reverting to their disguise.

Which raised the question of why they were hiding like that to begin with.

Sue could ponder on that mystery a bit later; right now, she was preoccupied by the pair of foxes affectionately nuzzling her leg. She couldn’t help but smile, reaching over as inconspicuously as possible to stroke the gray one’s head. The sensation that accompanied the softness of their fur was... weird. Slightly like Bowlcut and Doc weird, but different altogether.

Not uncomfortable, though. Not in the slightest.

As one imposter pet the other, she made several amusing discoveries. The gray one might have been able to disguise their appearance, but that didn’t extend to physical presence; as evidenced by her hands feeling their ears while seemingly touching air.

The fun didn’t last long, regrettably.

Bowlcut noticed the newcomer, startling them somewhat. The action prompted a slow leave; the orange canine strutting out from underneath the table. Ember escorted them out before woofing them away.

Suppose that was ultimately much more inconspicuous than dashing away in panic.

And resulted in Bowlcut reclaiming their proper spot on her lap. Sue giggled at the switcheroo before thinking back to that gray fox and their mysteries; starting with them being hidden to her extra sense.

Concentrating on her newfound radar, she looked around the clearing, trying to match each sensation to a specific creature. She had to give up halfway through at a mounting migraine, but she didn’t spot any other being her sixth sense didn’t also sense clearly. Wonder whether any creatures like that lived here at all.

And if not, why?

For how integrated this place looked, it was unnerving for that gray fox to have to hide because of something as unimportant as her being able to sense them. Especially with hundreds upon hundreds of wildly different creatures doing a wonderful job coexisting all around her.

Hell, Ember and the other fox were way more similar to each other than they were to any other creature around. Why did one have to hide and not the other?

What a mess.

As Sue pondered through it all, her mind again drifted toward names. She tried to come up with something for the dark fox, but only drew blanks each time. Nothing, not even something on the same level of abject stupidity as ‘Bowlcut.’

Not that her concern for their situation would have let her keep anything this dumb, anyway.

Sudden motion around her finally grabbed Sue’s attention. One more application of Pixie’s finger-wagging magic brought all the long-emptied dishes onto the tray; the cook carrying it away shortly after. Spook followed them out in the most direct way possible.

Namely, through the table as if it didn’t exist whatsoever.

The total lack of reaction from those gathered let Sue know that, like Ember literally breathing fire, this was apparently normal. Who knows, maybe Spook was an actual ghost and these just… existed here.

Sure wouldn’t be out of place next to dragons, fairies, shapeshifting foxes, and giant enemy spiders.

Managing to keep her shocked reaction to just her eyes going wide was a welcome improvement.

With the cook and their... sidekick taking their leave, there wasn’t much left to chat about. Any remaining topics were quickly wrapped up; peaceful silence settling in shortly after. Sue didn’t mind one bit; it was nice to chill like that.

Especially with doom looming on the horizon.

With that on her mind, she glanced around the plaza, scouting for another route into the forest. Nothing, just small pathway off to the side. Maybe she should try sneaking out on the other side of the village? Probably too predictable.

Though… if she got away before running into that royal, they wouldn’t have much reason to chase after her. They’d still maybe try out of concern. Ultimately, though, she was just a stranger, and they would eventually give up and write it off as a weirdo going back to doing weird things after getting better.

She’d just be another in what was no doubt a long list of weird events that had happened in this place. Or one of the very few weird events. Who knows, maybe the threshold for what constituted ‘weird’ here could very well be really high. High enough for her arrival and departure to not even count.

She really, really wished she could ask.

The sensation of a leaf brushing against her arm clued her in to Leafy picking Bowlcut up into their half-plantlike, half-insectoid arms; followed by a tilt of their head towards the rest of the village. Utter anatomical weirdness aside, the bushbug nanny was quite cute.

Or, at the very least, cuter than any insect or plant had any right to look.

With the baby removed from her lap, the once college student could get up herself. She fiddled with the crutch until she’d found some well-needed stability before catching up to the rest of the group.

Ember did their best at sneaking in some nuzzles as Sue hobbled along.

It may have made staggering forward just that bit harder, but it was still welcome on the principle of Ember being very cute. The once-human already wanted to pet them all day because their affection was the only thing in this world that she could entirely and wholly understand, and their every gesture only contributed further towards that desire.

Curiously, Doc’s hut wasn’t the destination this time.

Not that Sue minded. She’d had more than enough time to sit down and let her arm recover. She just had no idea where else they could take her specifically.

The breakfast relaxation helped ground her as the group made their way through the village’s streets and paths. All the species surrounding them were much easier to process now that she was sated, fully awake, and at least temporarily at peace.

She didn’t realize how many birds there were on her first journey.

They perched all around, be it on the roofs of the buildings or on an occasional pole. The purpose of the latter was uncertain until she made out a lantern-like cage near the top.

As neat as the realization that they had street lights in here was, Sue had no idea what they could have been using as a light source. Candles were much too weak. Maybe torches, like in some video games she had played? It wouldn’t be too outlandish, but she couldn’t see how a torch large enough to light up its surroundings would fit in there.

Guess she could try to sneak out at night to see for herself?

A part of her was really down for that idea, but the awareness of what awaited her tomorrow dampened the excitement. Ultimately, the entire conundrum was relegated to the back of her head, adding to the confusion pile.

By now, it was more of a bona fide confusion fort.

Thankfully, the next sight finally provided some well-needed answers.

To her disappointment, she had little time to take the ongoing construction effort in, the group briskly moving past it.

Trees were being felled in the back by a gray, rock-like bipedal rhino. Then, each log was cut to shape and prepared for assembly by something halfway between an insect, a robot, and a can of fiercely red paint. And finally, the building itself was being assembled by a creature so close to a human that Sue had to do a double take at seeing them.

Only to get disillusioned at the realization that humans only had two arms and not four.

Guess that explains where all the really huge creatures had been hiding all along.

To offset Sue feeling even frailer than before, at least the little brown... pangolin working on the foundation was much shorter than her. And quite cute at that, even with all the spikes on its back.

While they marched to their next destination, several villagers stopped Doc to exchange a few words; Sue’s arm not appreciating the resulting pauses. One creature caught the once-human’s attention in particular, their dark blue chitin standing out among the sea of fur and feathers.

The beetle towered over the medic; likely ending up even taller than Sue if their curved horn was included. Despite their size, they were quite reserved; their focus clear to sense as they left after asking Doc for something and receiving words of reassurance.

If not for their lightning fast bow towards her, Sue would’ve thought they hadn’t even noticed her.

Fortunately for her arm, the next clearing was right up ahead.

It was smaller and less busy, aside from the group of various small beings resting in front of a blue bird that, somehow, sat inside a tiny, localized cloud. Or plumage that very much looked like a cloud.

Either or.

What was much easier to figure out was that all the little creatures were an assortment of, well, children.

Children that were all very excited at Leafy’s arrival.

Each of them said something to the bushbug as they noticed them, presumably a greeting. Though, with none of them being in sync and their voices sounding like anything from rumbling gravel to outright whistling, the result was an utter cacophony that made all the adults on the scene wince, Doc especially.

Guess those big ears weren’t just for show, heh.

Thankfully, few kids were interested in her. A little green quadruped with a… leaf sticking from the top of its head and a part blue, part black bipedal dog with four ears walked over to investigate her, but that was about it.

The latter even woofed out something toward her.

Doc’s calm squeaks were enough to make them nod and scramble back to their group. A group that Bowlcut and Leafy had joined in the meantime, the bushbug sitting down beside the living cloud. The whole gathering felt even happier than before; the bird eventually resuming their singsong lecture.

Was this a daycare of some sort?

It kinda looked like one. But if that was the case, then what about Ember? A downward glance revealed the little fox to have stayed glued to her side and not even considering joining the group of assorted kids. Nobody else around was about to force them to, either. Guess they either were too old despite fitting on her lap, or were granted permission to chill with their savior in their parent’s absence.

Sue really wished she could crouch and give them a couple pets right about now.

Now that Leafy and Bowlcut were delivered to their destination, Doc quietly caught her attention and took off. Sue was left briefly surprised at them not turning right around, but quickly caught up afterward.

Seems they weren’t quite done yet.

Fortunately for her crutch arm, their next stop wasn’t far away. It grabbed much more of Sue’s attention than a mutant animal daycare, though not because of any reasons the rest of the group knew about.

The central wall of carvings narrowed into a point towards the top. It was flanked by a couple of smaller tablets, curved to face the small raised altar in front of the main wall. A large bowl sat on top of the altar, containing several feathers, the same kind as the one Doc gave her last night. It was surrounded by diligently kept flowers, their colorfulness contrasting with the imposing nature of the sculpture that loomed over them.

A graven depiction of what was unmistakably Duck took up most of the monument.

Their engraving was much more intricate than the by now hazy recollection of her dream, letting her spot some additional details. The pair of small paws on its front, to which the wing-like crescents connected. The crescent-Moon-like shape of what Sue initially thought to be tusks on either side of its head. And, last but not least, the multi-colored appearance of its wings and the crescent that arced over its back, masterfully expressed despite the limitations of stonework.

Further adding to the lunar theming, a full Moon was chiseled above what had to be a deity. Its craters looked different to how she remembered them, but were unmistakably lunar all the same.

Each tablet flanking the monument depicted its own scene, coming together to depict a guardian deity. To the left, Duck was shielding a small creature from a writhing, black mass. To the right, it was driving that same black mass away with moonlight. And in the center, it was healing a visibly injured creature, crescent wings raised high as they guided the lunar light from above. Aside from the darkness on either side tablet, none of the carvings used any paint, making the black mass stand out among the light-colored stone even further.

Guess Duck was kind of a big deal.

And probably wasn’t called ‘Duck’ either.

Doc’s kind nature helped her avoid being laughed at because of her expression for the third time today.

The medic kept themselves to a single amused comment at seeing her staring at the shrine like that before approaching it themselves, stopping next to another creature. As they got into what looked like their own prayer, Sue focused on their fellow… worshiper.

They were much larger, body shape making her think of a stoat standing back on their hind legs. The fur covering their back was velvety and dark purple while their front was cream-colored; at least the little of it she could make out.

Sue didn’t have the time to focus on a ring of glowing purple spots around their neck before they turned towards Doc and spoke up with growls and soft whines. Once the medic was done with their prayer, they joined in on the chat; Sue left unnerved at the feeling of attention being placed on her again.

Ember kept close to her all the while, their emotions uncertain.

They felt... afraid of the monument, maybe even of Duck itself. Considering Sue’s experience with the deity forcing itself into her dreams, she sure couldn’t blame them.

Right as Sue was about to say something reassuring to the little fox, a quiet, slow growl caught her attention.

Her gaze shot up, only to find the purple and cream stoat in the middle of a bow right in front of her. A bow towards her, no less. The elegance of the gesture left Sue unsure what to do before feebly trying to replicate it to whatever extent she could; the result closer to a large nod than anything.

The resulting bow-off lasted for several long, awkward moments until Doc finally intervened, their brief comment clearly taking the stoat off guard. Even with that eye-opening revelation, they continued to hold their pose. Guess she had to speak up to drive the point home-

“Hello, I-I can’t understhand you.”

She could swear she saw one of their eyes twitch as they looked up at her.

Even despite that, they resumed their graceful appearance shortly afterwards; straightening out before leaving with a brief comment. Wait, was that… contempt in their thoughts? Doc’s gentle shaking of her hand took her out of that unpleasant realization; one paw pointing further into the village conveying their intent wordlessly.

Thankfully, their destination turned out to be the clinic this time, finally.

The rest of the day passed rather quickly, for better or worse.

Sue took her time recovering, both from the injury that got her here and the exertion on her not at all athletic arm. Ember kept her company the entire day, the pair mostly just chilling.

After lunch, the meal delivered this time, she’d managed to charade through asking Doc to bring her some paper, the request eagerly fulfilled. She could tell they were disappointed when she used it to draw Ember instead of attempting to communicate, though they didn’t let it get to their expression.

Ember sure enjoyed it, at least.

Eventually, she mimed out wanting to take another walk to get a better view of the construction site. The number of differences between the four-armed creature and actual humans made her feel dumb at having to do a double take in the first place.

It also clarified that they, as well as every other monster working on the new building, were strong enough to snap her in half. Or at least, that’s what them carrying whole logs and slabs of rock Doc’s size in one hand each implied.

The evening was less gruesome to think about.

Leafy and Bowlcut paid them another, shorter visit. The tyke and Sue were once more overjoyed at seeing each other, both appreciating their faux-alike friend. All the while, the once-human tried staving off the sense of impending doom as the sun sank below the horizon.

Tomorrow was approaching fast, way too fast for comfort.

As much as Bowlcut sensed her worry and tried to cheer her up, none of it really worked. It left the little one just kinda sad as Leafy walked them back home after twilight, together with Ember this time.

Shortly afterward, Sue was left alone at last, with only mounting dread and that glowing feather to keep her company. A brief internal question of whether Doc had stolen it from what looked like a very sacred shrine made her chuckle, but it was the only relief she was gonna get that evening.

The feather’s glow guided her to sleep eventually, but it took much, much longer than she would’ve preferred. Enough for the Moon to be already high in the sky by the time she finally dozed off.

For all she knew, it was the last night of rest she was ever gonna have.

The next thing Sue knew, she was falling.

Air whizzed past her body at deafening speeds, eyes feebly trying and failing to make sense of the vision. She was surrounded by the starry sky in every direction but down, all reduced to uncountable blurry lines as she raced through the cosmic void, unable to do anything but watch.

All but one.

A single speck of golden light danced around her as she rocketed through the darkness, spiraling so close she felt like she could reach out and grab it. And she tried, many times, mind issuing the command to her body again and again. Each time, the latter refused, assuming it even existed at all; as if she was but a mere passenger.

Suddenly, a voice.

Squeaky, grating, neither male nor female. It chided her for things unknown, things unknowable; goading her towards her Fate with its every word.

And then, it flung her forth.

An instant later, she was somewhere else altogether. Bright blue, green. The golden twinkle was gone, absent with no reason or explanation. In its stead, so many others, creeping up on her, unknown and hostile. White and green and black and yellow, without shape, without comprehension.

Another blink, a spider’s maw about to devour her whole.

A silver comet crashed into her with its entire strength, shattering her body. It spoke with an angelic choir, its words beyond comprehension as they guided her towards her Destiny. Its impact sent her tumbling off course, down, down, down.

Down towards a clearing.

Down towards a campfire.

Down towards a pair of crimson eyes, staring wide at her as she approached.

Down towards these familiar guitar twangs.

Here comes the ground.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 5: Capture


the gay agenda

Chapter 5: Capture

Sue awoke with a gasp, eyes jumping around as her racing heart calmed down after the brief, but intense dream. The brightness of the room and breakfast waiting for her on the nightstand conveyed the lateness of the hour, especially with the medic themselves absent.

Best to get up and about quickly.

The sweet, jam-filled pastry and the accompanying roasted fruit were enjoyed as calmly as could be, which… didn’t mean much. Sue’s new limbs fidgeted as she sated her hunger; thoughts swirling around the very being that would be her undoing. She had no idea how much time she had left before the inevitable; the uncertainty hastening her meal.

The altar she’d seen made her wonder whether they would sacrifice her there if they caught her.

As intense as her paranoia was, Sue couldn’t quite see this possibility in particular. Incomprehensible as it might have been, Duck didn’t seem like a malicious entity, not with the scenes chiseled on that altar. They made it look out to be more of a guardian deity than anything.

Then again, nothing stopped them from executing her in a purely secular way.

The morbid thought made Sue chuckle as she wrapped up her breakfast. Though, now that she’d stumbled upon the idea, she wondered whether the blue feather that had been resting on her nightstand was playing any role in all this. Wouldn’t hurt to investigate it-

...at least, if it was still here.

She tried looking all around the room, including peeking behind the nightstand and crutch- nothing. With how important the item was, Doc had probably just moved it back to the altar. Though, that didn’t really explain why they gave it to her, even if temporarily, to begin with.

Here, have this sacred artifact as a night light.

While she chuckled at that idea, Sue felt her sixth sense act up; the sensation distracting. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on that tugging-

S-so many people...

She’d slowly gotten used to sensing the emotions of more and more creatures, but even her practice couldn’t have prepared her for this. It felt like half the village was in the vicinity of the clinic, all the little tuggings making her head spin.

Her immediate worry, as unrealistic as it was chilling, was that everyone was gathering around to make sure she wouldn’t get away. Fortunately, all she needed to dispel that fear was to look out the window. Many creatures were making their way over; heading past the hut towards something else instead.

Only one way to find out what exactly.

The premise of getting out entirely on her own, without Doc’s reassuring presence, was an unnerving one; not that she had many other options right now. Especially since all this could have something to do with the royal couple...

Once more into the breach.

Trying to keep her cool, Sue shambled over and opened the front door. She saw a few passersby raise their eyebrows or... equivalent as she stared out, but their attention was thankfully transient. And, once she’d successfully stumbled out and joined them in their march, completely absent.

As they all neared the plaza, Sue realized she could hear something on top of the din of hundreds of mutants, chatting and murmuring.

It almost sounded like a loud speech, except... being howled out.

She slowed down at the realization, sticking to the side of her path as she approached the last corner. The once-student paused in front of it, second-guessing herself before opting to first get a peek at the situation-

And good Duck, was she glad to have done that.

The plaza was full of creatures of various sizes, all listening to who Sue recognized as the second, furry royal from Doc’s drawing, gesticulating with a burning stick. As eye-catching as their spectacle was, especially with the occasional fireworks accompanying it, the being beside them took up the entirety of Sue’s attention.

The opposite, thankfully, wasn’t the case.

The not-her royal was calmly looking around with a soft smile, occasionally chiming into the story being woven. Their gaze in Sue’s direction made her dive behind her cover; heart hammering in her ears.

Her time was now.

Without wasting another moment, Sue turned around and booked it. She caught herself breathing faster and faster as she tried to push her body way beyond what it could do in her current state. After almost tripping while passing by the Doc’s hut, she was forced to finally slow down and catch her breath.

No point in charging ahead if she had no idea where to even go.

The forest path she had intended to use was inaccessible, making her think back to other potential options. She remembered another pathway leading out of the village, but she doubted it’d be a good idea either. Any established path would be much too obvious; if they wanted to find her, they definitely would with her middling pace.

Gotta just disappear into the treeline.

As she marched on, trying to stave away panic, a sight from yesterday caught her attention. The construction site opened into the woods, and there wasn’t anyone working there at the moment. Almost no onlookers either, and the ones present didn’t even acknowledge her presence.

That was her chance.

After taking a moment to compose herself, Sue slowed down her breathing and pace alike, easing into an inconspicuous strut. Just someone out on a weird walk, absolutely not an alien imposter trying to escape undetected.

Nothing suspicious here at all.

Her intentionally stilted pace made her want to push ahead faster and faster, just to be out of sight. But, if there was one surefire way to ruin her disguise instantly, it was that, forcing her to cling to whatever calmness she could manage. The distance she was steadily gaining on the village hopefully covered for her increasing shaking.

Every step closer to freedom.

She kept marching in a straight line for a few minutes, pausing intermittently both to correct her grasp on the crutch and look over her shoulder. The construction site faded further and further away each time, until, eventually, she couldn’t make them out at all behind the foliage.

Despite everything, it seemed she was in the clear now.

Focusing inward to sense anyone following her, Sue breathed a sigh of relief at finding nobody. Only a handful of other souls were present within the immediate wooded area, all calm and peaceful. And after she’d recovered from almost tripping over because of being too focused on her sixth sense, Sue could join them.

She couldn’t help but quietly laugh.

She’d made it out of there despite the royals having already returned. Nobody was pursuing her. She wouldn’t be exposed and burned at the stake, or whatever punishment the other-her would’ve decreed for her after figuring out her deception.

Granted, she had no real idea what she would do now, either.

No matter what, though, being lost was better than being dead. And, if a village like that existed, then so would almost certainly do many others. Just gotta find one without other Martians in it and assimilate while looking for a way home.

‘Just’ was doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence and Sue knew that, but it was still doable. She would do it. She would heal from her injury and eventually not need the crutch anymore. She’d find a safe place for herself, learn the local language, and then, finally, be safe.

A rock-solid plan in four easy steps.

She’d definitely miss the few friendly beings she met in her brief say back at the village. Doc, Ember, Leafy, Bowlcut, the... couple? At the pantry. And who knew? If the not-her royal wouldn’t ever figure out her being an imposter with her gone, leaving the cause of her sudden escape forever shrouded in mystery, then maybe, just maybe, they would miss her too. The lil’ fox would be heartbroken the most. Sue really wished she could convey just what had happened and why she had to leave, but alas.

Stay strong out there, Ember.

The woods remained as calm as ever as Sue marched in the only direction she was sure of- forwards. Triumph burned out into muted melancholy as her mind ventured wherever; any coherent train of thought soon giving way to idle pondering or humming along to whichever tunes she could still recall. She continued to pay only enough attention to her surroundings to not trip on a random root, withdrawing inwards otherwise.

It wasn’t gonna be easy to get used to being on her own again until she could find another place to stay.

Then again, it’s not like she had a choice-

The sudden light hitting her eyes startled her, breaking the thought thread that threatened to turn dark. The grass in the unexpected clearing was lush and softer than any other Sue had ever felt. Most of the area was decorated with stones painted with geometrical shapes, their arrangement initially ordered but soon turning chaotic as she looked further into the small field.

A glance in the other direction revealed more facts about this place, some much less fear-inducing than others.

A couple of benches sat next to the entrance to the clearing; large enough for half a dozen people and much better maintained than any forest trail bench she’d ever seen. They faced a young tree in the center, surrounded by a ring of decorated rocks. The sapling was gorgeous, barely taller than Sue, and very distinct from the other trees in her vicinity with its silver leaves.

As pretty as it was, though, the entirety of her attention was focused on the being that knelt in front of it.

The other Martian’s closed eyes and clasped hands made them look like they were praying- though with who they were, Sue should’ve been the one undertaking that act. They were in a deep enough focus for Sue’s senses to have completely overlooked them; a limitation she wished she’d been aware of beforehand.

Seeing them from closer up let Sue notice all the differences between herself and them. Shorter skin dress, longer hair, the slightly straightened curls. The most striking detail, though, by far, were the blue markings on their body. Their size and intricacy were awe-inspiring, though the muted shade blended with the green skin somewhat, making it tricky to determine the exact shape of what had to be a tattoo. The ornate patterns ran along their arms, meeting up at the collarbone above the spike before turning up towards their neck and face. They culminated in long, curly lines that ended in points just underneath their eyes.

Eyes that were staring back at her.

The rest of the expression appeared as neutral as could be, both Martians at an impasse as Sue began to panic. How the hell did she run into them!? Everything was going so well! She had managed to escape without being seen! Have they been waiting in here for her all along!? Was this place just a vicious trap she’d unwittingly walked into!?

Regardless of the answer, Sue knew she had only one way out of there.

Her body tensed up as she clenched her crutch harder, the not-her’s eyes widening before Sue finally sprung. She turned around and ran, ran as fast as she could, pushing forward in a desperate attempt for freedom, despite everything, until the exhaustion would eventually claim her-

Or at least, that was her intent; the reality of her crutch having gotten caught on one of the stones marking the edge of the clearing catching up to her fast. It sent her splaying toward the ground at the speed of gravity; leaving Sue to close her eyes and brace for the inevitable.

Only for it to not happen.

Sue waited for a second, then another, then a third still; the cold mud of the forest floor continuing to not grace her body with its presence. After a couple of anxious, tense breaths, the once-human finally managed to pry her eyes open- before gasping at what she saw.

She was suspended a foot or so off the ground, completely still. The bluish aura in the corners of her vision caught her attention as she was slowly moved upwards, the motion feeling like the air itself was gently pushing her along. A few moments later, she was left facing the not-her, their eyes aglow, just like she’d seen with Bowlcut.

Except this time, the target of their magic was her, and not some bits of roasted fruit.

Alright, adults can lift whole people, and relatively effortlessly at that...

The clearing of their throat prevented Sue from venturing any further into that panic-inducing mental thread. As her attention snapped back to not-her, she was gently lowered onto her feet. Or rather foot and crutch, the magical touch holding onto her until she’d regained her balance.

Then, the other martian... smiled lightly.

Sue had no idea what they would do to her, let alone what they were capable of. Though, no matter what, them extending a hand for her to grab was definitely not on her shortlist. Sue stared dumbfounded at the limb for a good while, not-her holding it out patiently all the while.

Given that they had magicked her out of what would’ve been a very painful fall, she really didn’t have much of a choice. If she tried to run again, less unsuccessfully this time, they would just bring her back, and likely follow it with something much more painful.

She was dead anyway, might as well.

Shakily, she reached over with her free hand, tentatively touching the other martian’s limb. The pleasant, tingly sensation she’d felt with Bowlcut and Doc was here too, and stronger than ever.

It was downright... calming.

They spoke, their voice soft and no more comprehensible than anyone else’s. After their words got no reaction from her, they looked over their shoulder and nudged their head toward the clearing’s entrance. She couldn’t walk particularly fast, but they were eager to accommodate that, slowing their pace down as they walked beside her.

The calm that had filled her mind made it tricky to think about just what was happening.

If she had any more mental clarity, she’d likely grow even more anxious at the realization that she couldn’t quite reason straight at the moment. But that was an if, and now the soothing calmness helped a lot, even if the burning questions from earlier remained unanswered.

As they walked in silence, Sue tried to get a better look at them- or maybe her, judging by the softness of their voice.

She wasn’t sure what it was, but they looked... older than she was, though far from elderly. What she presumed to be the crown from Doc’s initial drawing also turned out to be something else. It was a plain, metal circlet, material having long since lost its luster.

Just as before, it didn’t take long for them to notice her staring.

They raised their eyebrow as they looked at her, making Sue look away in embarrassment and with what felt like a burning blush on her cheeks, though she wasn’t sure if this body actually blushed like that. Either way, the likely royal not-her didn’t seem to mind to any further extent than giggling at noticing Sue’s burst of ashamed fluster.

It was reassuring, if nothing else.

She didn’t expect royalty to be this… laid back. Suffice it to say, this encounter was nothing like her worst fears, even if they seemed just as powerful as Sue’s scared worrying had them be.

If not more so.

Their giggle was followed by some gentle, upbeat words. They kept on talking to effectively nobody for a while as the pair half marched, half hobbled down the beaten path back towards the village. Eventually, their voice grew muddled and quieter, as if the royal was just muttering to themselves.

Or simply venting their thoughts out loud; let’s be generous here.

After a couple minutes, they stopped, head tilting up to look skyward with a thoughtful expression. A small, shrunken part of Sue worried whether that meant they had cracked her mystery. Thankfully, her worry fizzled away soon after as the other martian broke into song, whistling a serene tune as they marched on.

This was nice.

The gentle sound finally began to melt through the tension from before the encounter. Her shoulders relaxed, her breath deepened, and she even let herself close her eyes for a moment. Peace, serenity, cool air-

Suddenly, a distant squeak.

Moment later, her sixth sense warned her of someone panicking approaching. Panicking and familiar enough to give Sue an intuitive idea of who it was, a second sense confirming her hunch.

She sure didn’t expect Doc to be capable of making the kinds of noises they were.

Their panicked shouts mixed in with panting as they ran up the path, the sight just as silly as Sue would’ve imagined it to be based on their anatomy alone. They came to a stop once the royal spoke up, gasping for breath and supporting themselves on their short legs as they desperately tried to mumble something out in between strained gasps.

The other martian’s brief response made their head jerk up in surprise before turning to look up at her. Their emotions rapidly shifted from alarmed and nervous to still a bit nervous and decidedly unamused.

They must’ve run all the way over here to tell the queen or whoever they were about something- wait, about her? Sue’s cloudy mind made her realize that only now, after they already stopped grumbling about having to exert themselves for no reason.

Sorry, Doc.

Sue had a hard time focusing on the incomprehensible discussion even after they all got moving again. She could feel herself being mentioned from time to time, the sensation bringing an undercurrent of anxiety to Sue’s thoughts even as the forced calmness tried to dull it.

Sue really, really wished she knew what was being discussed about her, and why so much of it.

There wasn’t any hostility in either of her current companions, even if Doc got annoyed for a moment. Most of what she sensed was varying levels of concern, but worries couldn’t help but start digging at her once more, right as things were looking well for once. Or maybe because of that, overzealous mind fixated on a trap that would inevitably be sprung-

Totally not like that royal couldn’t just magically yank her crutch away.

While ordinarily realizing just how little she could do either way would’ve helped calm her, she could only chuckle weakly under her breath; the worries persisting underneath the numbing coolness in her head. Why was that coolness even there?

Why would that royal forcibly calm her like that?

She wanted the answer to be “because of their goodwill” and only that, but she wasn’t feeling too confident at the moment, that’s for sure.

The rest of the walk flew by quickly, at least. Doc and not-her kept chatting among themselves, the topic steering away from her at long last. Sue clung to whatever comfort she could as they eventually made their way back into the village, emerging onto the large plaza from earlier.

They made quite a few heads turn as they passed by, though Sue wasn’t sure whether it was because of her or her company. The casual way in which most beings greeted the not-her made Sue doubt her ‘royalty’ assumption slightly. Though, if they weren’t some sort of king or queen, then why that crown, and why that castle from the drawing...

Sue wondered if they had as many questions about her as she did about them.

Likely not, considering the difference in scale between one transformed college student and an entire civilization of mutated animals. Especially ones capable of anything from breathing fire to levitating objects or moving through solid matter.

Yeah, there might be a bit of a discrepancy there.

Just a tad.

The thought diffused some of the tension as they approached Doc’s clinic; the very same walls she’d tried running away from now returning as the only point of stability in this new world.

Sue only hoped they would remain so for longer than however long it took for that royal to find out the truth about her.

A flimsy hope, but Sue didn’t exactly have much else to hold on to.

An array of noises from inside acknowledging her arrival- toddler squeaking, leafy rustling, a couple of squeaky woofs. The sounds were immediately followed by a pair of now well-familiar paws pressing against her leg as Ember looked up at her, concern and relief mixing on their snout and in their mind. They kept on woofing for a while, their anxious relief making Sue feel bad despite how ordinarily amusing she found it. Even once they were done, they wouldn’t go further than a step away from her.

Poor sweetie.

Bowlcut almost got even louder than Ember at seeing their parent. They squeaked loudly and joyously; the tiny martian feeling made entirely out of happiness as they scrambled to their legs. It was cute enough to bring a smile to Sue’s face despite everything else going on, especially when they tried running over to not-her as fast as physically possible.

Which... turned out to not be particularly fast at all.

Fortunately for them, it wouldn’t matter; the martian tyke squealing loudly as they were magicked into the air and brought over into their parents’ arms. This entire scene was illegally adorable with how much worrying was simultaneously going on around them; Sue just standing off to the side and taking it all in as Ember nuzzled her legs. Eventually, the not-her carefully set Bowlcut back down on the floor next to Leafy and turned to face her again, beckoning her over.

Sue wasn’t initially sure what to do as the royal casually sat on her bed facing the pillow, and not even on its edge. They looked back at her over her shoulder before patting down the other half of the mattress.

Guess she was supposed to take a seat there.

This position gave Sue a very clear view of what this species’ back spike looked like, surprising her with how much smaller and more rounded it was than the front one. Almost like a fin as opposed to something you could stab people with.

The chatter in the room continued as she shambled over; Bowlcut having to be held by Leafy lest they’d try to run over to the bed right in Sue’s way. The mental image of her accidentally punting them was as amusing as it was harrowing, considering their parent was about to do... something to her. Or with her; she had no idea what all this was for in the first place.

Sue leaned the crutch against the nightstand as she sat down, orienting herself around to face the other martian. Their expression remained as patient as ever, their reassuring smile widening as they reached out a hand towards her. A soft-spoken comment to Ember got them to hop off the bed after they’d already preemptively scrambled over.

Sue had no idea what the hand’s purpose was, but figured she was supposed to grasp it, clumsily turning to face the royal. Right as she was about to take their hand, a pang of doubt made her freeze.

Just what was the significance of them dragging her all the way back here? It couldn’t have been just so they could sit on the bed together and hold hands; there was something else going on, but what? Sue feebly hoped it wouldn’t be used to show off her being an imposter right there in front of everyone-

And then, she grabbed their hand.

Even if that was the case, even if she was already doomed, hesitation wouldn’t help.

Suddenly, utter exhaustion.

Sue blinked in surprise as she found herself falling asleep within moments; the royal’s head slumping forward the last thing she saw before the same happened to her, the rest returning in the most unexpected way.

While it wasn’t Sue’s first time finding herself at this campfire- far, far from it- it was only the second time she felt awake while being here.

The usual thought-muddling fog of dreams was absent despite this clearly being one. She clearly remembered watching the other Martian doze off moments ago and her following them, but how come she didn’t actually feel asleep in here-

“Good morning, Sue.”

The first comprehensible voice she’d heard in almost a week made Sue jump in her seat, eyes jumping around the scene in search of its source. And finding it in the form of that same Martian, seemingly here in her dream, too, taking a bench opposite of hers.

“Quite a pretty place, I must say. It’s special to you, isn’t it?”

Further words snapped Sue of the shock of someone cohabiting her dreams. The not-her’s presence brought back all the anxiety she had before getting knocked out, with no more forced calmness to numb it anymore.

Sue had no idea how to respond. A straightforward answer would inadvertently reveal her extra... whatever this place was- origin, prompting her to switch the topics and attempt to solve at least one thing from her ever-increasing pile of unknowns.

“H-how did you get inside my dream?”

And another while at it, anxieties making her worry whether it would be seen as pushing it too far.

“A-and how do you know my name?”

While the first question had her interlocutor open their mouth as if ready to answer, the second made them visibly pause. They glanced away for a moment with a thoughtful expression before looking back at her, pensive but thankfully not suspicious.

At least, not yet.

For once, Sue had really wished the weirdness of this body also worked in her dreams; the silence where the sixth sense once was not reassuring her in the slightest.

“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

Oh, you have no idea...

Sue wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to her own question being sidestepped like this, nodding nervously as she tried to hold on to her flaky calmness. Yeah, it was true, but going into any further details would be the kind of mistake she’d only get to make once...

“That’s regrettable, but-“

The once-human heart skipped a beat, body shaking as she stared at the royal creature before her. She hoped to Duck that the fateful word wouldn’t be the point at which the trap was sprung-

“-but I want to reassure you, Sue, that you’re safe here no matter what.”

The trap continued to lay inert, Sue taking a good few moments to start releasing her tension, still completely unsure whether she could trust them. She didn’t have a concrete reason not to, but the elephant in the room remained untackled, making any assurances much harder to fully believe; leaving her to weakly nod as she felt drilled.

While Sue was too nervous to pay close attention, the not-her’s expression soured further in response. The attempts at soothing this lost, confused stranger weren’t working at all; only making her more concerned about some secret she thought so hideous it would turn everyone against her if they ever knew.

No way through but to be direct.

“I... I know you’re hiding something, Sue, hiding and afraid of bringing it up, afraid it’d make everyone you’ve met turn on you. There are very few acts as repulsive as to force our hands towards exile, and I severely doubt someone who had risked her life to save an innocent despite not having the inner power to do so would have done any of them.”

Sue’s body froze solid in response to these words, her brain threatening to lock up in panic.

She’d been seen through, she was done for, and there was nothing else she could do, nothing but vainly hope that their words would ring true. A glance upwards with shaking eyes found a look of genuine reassurance looking back at her, their faint smile trying its absolute hardest to melt through her fear.

What in the world was she to do now?

She hyperventilated as she tried to process it all, finding there to ultimately be no way out but ahead. There was no way she’d just be let go scot-free after all this, leaving her to confess at what felt like gunpoint, hoping to any deities, real or imagined, that things would be okay.

Duck save her.

It took Sue a while to gather her thoughts and words into something halfway coherent. Her eyes stared into the fire throughout, using it as a feeble distraction from what was about to happen. Eventually, she took what felt like her final breath-

“You don’t have to go into detail if you’re uncomfortable, Sue. I just want your fears to be finally soothed.”

It probably wasn’t even possible to explain any of this without going into detail, regrettably...

“I-I’m not w-what you think I am.”

In her anxious bracing for the immediate reaction, Sue didn’t notice the royal simply tilting their head a bit, unsure what she was getting at.

“How so? Your upbringing seems to have been rather distressing, yes, but you’re still one of us. The first Forest Guardian I’ve seen in a good while outside of my tribe, hah.”

Forest Guardian? Was that what this species was called?

Quite a weird name, if that’s the case, sounding more like a title than a scientific designation. She had no idea what they meant by ‘her upbringing’ either, but it ultimately didn’t matter. It wasn’t true, and at this point, it was too late to even pretend it could be.

“I-I’m not- or rather I wasn’t. I-I wasn’t always this- this species.”

Sue dared to peek up this time, seeing the confusion on the royal’s expression in detail. Confusion, which was then followed by some more hesitant words-

“I... alright. If that’s the case, what… did you used to be, and what happened for you to become one of us?”

She nodded shakily, expecting a response like this, reminding herself what she looked like beforehand. A pang of panic shot through her at finding that task so much more difficult than it once was, details about her past self slowly becoming muddy. If she wasn’t being held at oneiric gunpoint, it would’ve hit her even harder than it did; a couple of tears forcing their way past her eyelids.

For a moment, she worried about how she would even present her previous appearance before feeling inner reassurance; glancing to her side to see a vague outline of her human self start coalescing in the air. She concentrated on what she wore that day, how she tied her hair, the hologram sharpening with every thought. Eventually, she was done; the sight catching the royal off guard, their eyes widening in response.

“T-that’s how I looked. I-I used to be a human, and as to what happened... I don’t know. I remember walking through a forest in... my world, and then... suddenly waking up here, in this body, with no memory of what caused this.”

No going back now.

The truth was out, and all Sue could do was watch how they would react. And, if she was extremely lucky, it wouldn’t be by ending her there and then. She jumped slightly as they got up from their spot, walking around the illusionary image to inspect what was once her from every angle; Sue’s dreamed-up heart beating a mile a minute as she awaited their judgment.

“Is... is this what you were afraid of us knowing?”

Sue closed her eyes and nodded, turning back to face the campfire as she braced for the inevitable; a wave of eerie calmness filling her.

This was the end.

There would be nothing more.

All she could do was wait for it to happen, whatever ‘it’ would end up being-

And then... Sue felt an arm wrap around her, tingly to the touch, and pull her to the side. Within moments, she was sitting right next to the royal, her head resting on theirs. Her eyes shot wide open as she turned to face them, seeing the concern filling their expression. Concern and uncertainty- but the latter quickly evaporated as reassurance replaced it.

“I’m... I’m so sorry this happened to you, Sue. You must be so, so terribly lost...”

Sue couldn’t help but stare blankly in return, mind going blank at the sudden bout of affection. Was that really it? Were all her worries for naught?

“...but you don’t have to fear anymore. You’re safe now.”

She felt calmness fill her once more, not unlike earlier in the forest. This time, though, it didn’t feel as alien, as cold; a blanket of comforting warmth wrapped around her body instead of the cold clarity in her head. Moment by moment, she felt the tension slowly fade, giving way to exhaustion. At having to fear, at running away so foolishly, at feeling like she couldn’t trust anyone here, despite how friendly they seemed.

But it was over, and now it was time for healing.

The once-human shook as she was being held, dreamt up tears running down her cheeks as she felt safe, truly safe, for the first time since finding herself in this magical new world. A place where nothing made sense, and yet one in which the people were just as kind, if not even more so, than in hers, despite all their fantastical appearances and abilities.

The pair simply sat in silence for what felt like hours, all the pent-up emotions finally finding an outlet through freely flowing tears. Not-her’s gentle rocking continued, soothing the occasional sob until all that remained was peace. Peace, calmness, and clarity with which to face the world as it actually was, not the imaginary one she had almost run away from mere hours ago.

“It’s all good now.”

The quiet, almost whispered words made her look up at the royal; their expression even softer than before. Their patient, downright motherly smile provided more comfort than Sue could’ve thought possible, especially when coming from someone fundamentally not human. And yet, more humane than many people she had the displeasure of meeting in the past.

It all felt... so, so nice.

“Th-thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sue. I can only imagine all the questions on your mind now that you finally found someone you can talk to. I’ll try to answer as many as I can, starting with the most urgent one, hah. My name is Solstice.”

Sue nodded along, her mouth already opening before one of her questions was immediately answered. Not the one she was about to ask, but this answer was immensely helpful as well.

“Solstice. Th-that’s a beautiful name.”

“Why, thank you~. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about your name, too. Elegant and rolls off the tongue for sure, but does it mean anything in your language?”

She certainly didn’t expect a question of that nature, making her think inwardly about whether her name meant anything. It probably did; she remembered looking it up on trivia websites when she was younger, but couldn’t recall any findings. And regardless, even if it technically meant something, it was far from the same level of literal meaning as ‘Solstice.’

“I-I don’t think so, no. It’s just a name. It doesn’t mean or stand for anything.”

“Huh. Quite intriguing. I must admit I haven’t run into a name like that before, without meaning in itself.”

Speaking of running into things-

“I-it’s quite usual for humans... on that note, d-do you know where they could be?”

The question briefly took Solstice aback, expression faltering slightly as she shook her head.

“In truth, this is the very first time I’ve seen or even heard of kin like that. Similar to mine and my father’s in appearance, but only just, unless there’s a large mane that your recollection isn’t showing. And these clothes... not even the seamstresses in the Central City were making anything near this detailed or richly dyed.”

So that was it for getting back home the easy way...

At a certain level, Sue already knew that, especially with no sign of any human habitation anywhere she could see. Solstice having not even heard of humans was merely a confirmation of that fear.

Fear that she would be stuck here forever.

“I... I see.”

Sue nodded weakly in response. The sorrow of the realization started to nibble at her before the warm calmness emanating from Solstice forced it away, her embrace becoming that bit tighter.

“I’m sorry, Sue. I can’t imagine this being easy to process, but do not despair. Pale Lady sees many things, and I’m certain Her guidance will help us find a way back into your world.”

The connection didn’t click for Sue, the girl simply nodding her way through Solstice’s words, not thinking of them as much more than some vague religious reassurance. Despite her remaining unconvinced, the comforting words were more than appreciated, helping her avoid breaking down there and then.

Once was more than enough.

“Forgive me for asking, though. Your... original kin are not psychics, right?”

“Psy... chics?”

Both of them were left about as confused as each other. Sue at having no idea about what that word meant, at least in this context, and Solstice at Sue being unsure despite her language appearing to have a word for the relevant idea.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to...”

“I thought your tongue had a term for that concept, so that’s what I used. Does it refer to something else?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about in the first place. T-the only time I remember hearing that word used is with, like, conmen that pretended to see the future and move objects with their mind and stuff like that-“

The association took a while to click in her mind, but once it did, it was so obvious.

Bowlcut levitating that one treat a couple days ago, Solstice stopping her fall just this very day... not to mention other potentially related things, like her sixth sense or even this dream communication. These definitely fit that definition, though without the association with fraudsters.

“I think you might just have cracked that one yourself~. There’s no seeing the future like that, at least not in the way you’re thinking, heh.”

Sue appreciated her hunch being confirmed, though it only solidified an observation from earlier; making her vocalize it with it being very appropriate-

“W-wait, are you reading my thoughts or something?”

Solstice was briefly taken aback before breaking into quiet giggling and nodding.

“Yes, yes I am. It’s admittedly hard not to in here since I was the one that put you to Rest. It’s not a particularly common occurrence in the waking world if you want to be reassured of that.”

Sue sure didn’t expect her to be so nonchalant about that, as if it was just an everyday thing. Though, who knows, that might very well have been the case here; she still had no concrete idea about the extent of this species’ abilities.

An excellent opportunity to find out about just that.

“Is that just... a thing you can do?”

“Well... essentially, yeah. And so can you now, I’m quite sure.”

“I dunno... I tried doing some of that levitation thing after seeing Bowl- your child do it and couldn’t figure it out.”

Solstice was unsure about Sue’s double take, expression turning uncertain before she broke into soft laughter, trying her hardest to hold it in but failing.

Sue threatened to burn up in embarrassment all the while.

“That’s one nickname for the lil’ Comet, hehe. Even though he sure didn’t look like it, it took him a lot of practice to get to that point; the practice I heavily doubt you had any opportunities for, let alone knowledge of how to go about it.”

“With how effortlessly they- he did it, I would’ve thought it was a subconscious thing...”

“Oh, it does become subconscious, and rather quickly at that. I hope you’ll find out soon yourself~.”

“O-oh? What do you mean?”

“It’d be an honor for me to help show you the ropes, so to say. No Forest Guardian deserves to live like this, separated from and unaware of their inner power. And it’s certainly a better outcome than what Willow was afraid of. They feared that the poisoning you’ve sustained at the hands of that beast had injured your brain and rendered you unable to draw from your inner power.”

Oh goodness. The queen of this village offering to personally teach her how to use this body to its full potential. It was touching and humbling; a sting of regret at having ever doubted her intentions going through Sue’s body.

“Th-that’s... I don’t think I can thank you enough for this...”

“Neither can I thank you enough for saving my best friend’s daughter’s life. She had a terrifying premonition during our stay in the Central City, urging us to return as soon as possible, worrying something horrible had happened. And, if not for your intervention, it might have very well had.”

The outsider weakly nodded in return, almost forgetting the importance of what she had done on her first day here, thinking back to Ember and their endless gratitude.

“And it’s Spark, actually.”


Sue was caught off guard, unsure what Solstice meant there.

“The one you’ve named ‘Ember’- her name is Spark. And before you ask~. Willow is the one you know as ‘Doc,’ they’ll be more than relieved to learn that your brain is alright. ‘Leafy’ is Splitleaf, caretaker for the village’s little ones; we asked her to look after Comet and Spark while we were away. ‘Pixie’ is Poppy, a cook like no other- fortunately, because I’m not sure the world could endure having two of her in it, and ‘Spook’ is Hazel, Poppy’s wife. Made quite an introduction, didn’t she?”

“That’s helpful, th-thank you. I hope none of my... nicknames were offensive or anything...”

“Oh, not in the slightest. We’ve all been called much worse things than that to our faces, and it’s not like you did it out of any sense of malice. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, but since you’ll be getting to talk to them sooner rather than later anyway, knowing their actual names will come in handy.”

“Getting to talk to them? I don’t know the language at all though-“

“You don’t know it yet~. And besides, that won’t even be an obstacle, telepathy is handy like that.”

“W-wait what? You mean like talking to someone without speaking?”

“‘Communicating with people with just thoughts’ would be a more accurate way to describe it, but yes, essentially that.”

“That sounds... complicated.”

“Oh, it isn’t, nowhere near. In fact, it’s the simplest thing a psychic can do. If Comet knew how to speak to begin with, he would’ve been chatting you up your entire stay in Willow’s clinic. Sundance will gladly teach you the basics, and from there, it’s just practice~. I’m sure Spark would love to be your practice partner on this one, hah.”

Sue giggled quietly at the mental image of the Martian tyke babbling like he did during their meetings, but directly into her brain. It would’ve quickly become quite grating in all likeliness, but it was fun to consider.

Though... Sundance?

“Sundance is that close friend of mine I mentioned earlier, Spark’s mother. Regrettably, I won’t be able to help teach you today. There are a lot of issues to discuss on the Elders’ council following our talks in the Central City, plus a celebratory feast to organize in the evening. You’re cordially invited to sit next to me in advance~.”

Right, so that other figure on Doc- Willow’s drawing, got it. A couple further things still stuck out at Sue, prompting her to speak up again.

“Elders’ council? I thought you were some sort of royalty with that diadem... and if telepathy is so straightforward, why didn’t you use it to talk to me earlier when I ran into you?”

The comment made Solstice look sharply upwards at the barely visible tip of her diadem, as if she’d forgotten she was even wearing it. She carefully took it off before handing it to Sue to inspect, the latter taken aback by the gesture.

“Oh, the furthest thing from royalty, I can assure you of that much. I’m... hmm... in your language, the word ‘mayor’ comes the closest, but it’s not an exact match. ‘Head of council,’ I suppose? I sit on the Elders’ council and am its informal leader and our village’s political representative. The diadem is just a gift from an old friend. I can’t say I ever imagined it would be perceived as a royal insignia, hah.”

The piece of jewelry really was quite basic when looked at from up close. It was made of one continuous strand of now partially corroded metal, decorations limited to simple geometric patterns etched on the diadem’s outer side.

“And as for not communicating with you beforehand and dragging you in here to talk. You can thank Willow for that, though they were acting in the best of faith. Since you didn’t show any psychic ability once you woke up, not even your own telepathy, they assumed there was something wrong on the inside, likely caused by the poisoning. They decided against asking the other psychics in the village to talk telepathically with you, since they were worried that doing so would only exacerbate the issue. Instead, they opted to wait for me to return since I have more experience with psychic health issues. From there, I played it safe and talked to you in your dreams first, which is probably a good thing, considering what I learned here.”

It made sense when Solstice put it like that, though the latter remark made her hair stand on end, and the Elder noticed it.

“Don’t worry, I only intend to share the truth about your origins with Sundance, and that is just out of necessity, so she can teach you more effectively. If you want anyone else to know, I will not stop you; it’s your call. Otherwise, I can come up with a... cover-up story if you wish, though it’d be of a rather miserable kind.”

“A miserable kind?”

Solstice thought through her words, her expression faltering.

“It’s... not really done anymore, at least not in the tribe I hail from, but once upon a time... disposing of children which were crippled like that, either wholly unable to or only able to draw a bit from their inner power was commonplace. Some tribes sent them out to die, and some just... took matters into their own hands, not wanting to waste resources on those who wouldn’t ever be able to repay them. I thought about spreading a story that you were one of those children sent off on their own, but which managed to survive.”

Sue could only stare at her in shock; the actions described so utterly unlike anything else she’d seen from the mayor, or anyone else in the village, for that matter.

“That sounds...”

“Monstrous? Barbaric? Abhorrent? It is. It is all of these things. That’s why we’re here, to escape from the callous brutality of nature and the cold ruthlessness of those who only cooperate for survival.”

She laid a hand on Sue’s shoulder, the two Martians locking eyes as Solstice smiled once more.

“And we’re more than honored to have you here, Sue. Though I should get going now, council issues won’t talk themselves through.”

“Wh-what about me then? Isn’t this a shared dream?”

“Well, I was thinking of leaving you asleep after this place fades away. You’ve already had quite a day and could definitely use some more rest. It’d also give me time to explain everything to Sundance and for her to walk over, though it is up to you.”

Sue pondered on that choice, gaze shifting to stare at the ground. Guess there was no harm in snoozing some more, especially with how exhausting her day had been so far. Might as well take her time before meeting everyone, for real this time.

“A-alright, that sounds good. Th-thank you, Solstice, for all of this.”

The mayor bowed in response before turning her head to the sky; the dreamscape beginning to unravel around them. Solstice’s parting words echoed in Sue’s mind as her unconscious was plunged into nothingness once more-

“Rest well, Sue. Much lies ahead of us...”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 6: Reality


the gay agenda

Chapter 6: Reality

Sue’s rest was well needed, the release of tension resulting in the best sleep she could remember in... ever, really. Even after she began to come to, she took her time; stirring lightly on the soft bed in search of a more comfortable position.

At least, until one of the other occupants of the room noticed.

And once they did, there was no coming back.

Sue’s ear spikes twitched at the sound of soft thudding against the wooden floor; her breaths deepening as she listened in. The thuds were followed by chipper woofing, then deeper, more distant barks, and finally by alerted squeaks. All the while, she tried to look at all the commotion; a hand reaching over to rub the sand out of her eyes-

Before she could reach, Ember’s- no, Spark’s tongue began licking affectionately all over her face.

Sue’s features scrunched up as she was woken up the rest of the way, breaking into giggles. Her hand swerved to pet the little fox; the kit satisfied at fulfilling their mission of waking their friend up.

Which, considering the disappointed woofs that followed, was much to someone’s dissatisfaction.

As Spark paused to respond to the canine noises, Sue sat up and stretched before looking around the cabin. Somewhat expectedly, it turned out to be Spark’s parent that was the source of the disapproving sounds. They- well, she, Sundance if Sue remembered it right, were just as fluffy as she recalled from the clearing, and much less imposing. Partly because she wasn’t waving a burning stick around, and partly because she was just sitting calmly on the floor with Doc- no, right, Willow- beside her.

They are both smiling at me, so that's a good sign-

“Good afternoon, Sue.”

Suddenly hearing an understandable voice here took Sue just as aback as it did inside her dream. She could swear that the bipedal fox had simply woofed at her, but she could somehow understand it as if it was plain English spoken by a middle-aged lady; the mismatch between what her ears heard and what her mind comprehended making for a weird sensation.

“Good afternoon... M-Mrs. Shundance?”

To her relief, the ear-hairy fox simply chuckled at her confusion and shook her head.

“No need for any titles, Sue. How are you feeling?”

Considering everything, Sue felt... good.

Even beyond the immeasurable relief of not getting burned at the stake, the nap did wonders for her. Spark immediately began to nuzzle her stomach, making concentrating on any remaining bodily aches difficult; the little fox receiving some well-earned pets for her efforts.

“I-I’m doing well, thank you. Jhust... taking it all in.”

Sundance nodded lightly, woofing out again. This time, though, Sue perceived nothing more than the expected canine noises; the fox on her lap responding to her mom in kind as she picked herself up with obvious reluctance.

“We aren’t hurrying anywhere. We left a seat free if you want to join us. Let me know if you need assistance with moving yourself over.”

And again, woofs became understandable, as if a light switch had been flicked back on. Considering that Solstice mentioned Sundance helping her with catching up on the whole ‘psychic’ deal, it wasn’t a bad idea to ask her about this.

At least, after she moved her rear over and joined them instead of looking down at them like this.

“Y-yeah, I’ll probably need a hand with sitting down...”

A couple of light shoves conveyed the intent to Spark before her mom spoke up. She pulled the covers aside and shuffled to the bed’s edge. Right as she was about to grab the crutch, though, she heard Sundance speak up again-

“Hmm... it might be simpler if I moved you over myself.”

Part of Sue wanted to reject the offer and try her best regardless, but it didn’t take long for her bodily exhaustion to catch up to her; the soreness in her right arm shaking her out of that silly idea.

“A-alright, i-if it’s not a problem…”

“Of course it isn’t, Sue. Now, relax...”

As Sue awaited further instructions, she saw the same kind of shimmering aura as with Solstice earlier today envelop her body. It was light orange instead of blue, and it had much more of a physical presence, feeling warm to the touch.

Despite her knowing what was going on and having a rough idea of what Sundance was about to do, the experience was no less intriguing than the last time. It once more felt like the air itself gently pushed her around; its embrace firm and yet gentle enough to not cause any discomfort.

Sundance’s eyes were filled with that same orange shimmer, holding Sue’s attention as she was gracefully moved through the cabin. She felt her legs being folded into a lotus position before the vixen lowered her. The vixen’s grip steadily waned as Sue neared her pillow seat, giving her a moment to orient herself before the final bit of psychic touch let go of her.

The sudden disappearance of the magic touch and the warmth that accompanied it made Sue shiver a bit afterwards. However, Spark had something to say about that, taking no time before nestling herself once more on her savior’s lap.

“That’ll do it.”

Sundance’s words caught Sue’s attention as her hand auto-piloted to petting her daughter. A seed of worry about whether that action was even appropriate threatened to bloom in the once-human’s mind, though a single look at the firefox’s contented smile was enough to dispel it.

Right, got to thank her-

“Th-thank you-“

“No, Sue. Thank you . If not for your intervention, my little Spark might not be with us anymore. My debt to you cannot be overstated.”

Sue shakily nodded at that, definitely not used to receiving praise like that. It left her unsure how to respond, trying to swerve towards minimizing it-

“It’sh just what anyone would’ve dhone-“

“May be. But it was you who did it, at your weakest no less, and so to you my gratitude goes.”

Well, that didn’t work.

Guess she’d have to just accept it.

“You’re whelcome.”

Sundance’s resulting bow flustered the girl further, but her little lap warmer helped her persevere. Spark took the initiative afterwards, vocalizing her enjoyment of her constant supply of pets before woofing at her parent, helping her realize something if the expression that followed was any sign.

The small yet noticeable jolt in her brain caught the once-human off guard, making her pause. Right as she was about to resume her affection, she heard the lil’ fox speak up again.

And this time, Sue could understand her.

“Did you already do it, mom?”

“Yes I have, sweetie-“


Sue simultaneously perceived the exclamation as a squeaky howl and a voice of a girl too young to even be in her tweens. The whiplash was as utterly adorable as it was surprising, the former angle getting reinforced as Spark scrambled on her hind legs and pulled as much of Sue’s body as she could into a hug.

“Thank you, S-S-Sue...”

Contrary to her prior excitement, Spark’s voice was now hushed as it struggled with her name; the firefox’s emotions palpably changing from hype to tearful, somber relief at finally being able to thank her saviour.

Sue might not have known how to deal with praise, but dealing with children on the verge of tears was something she had a bit more experience with. A gentle hug worked each time, no matter if they were tears of sadness, relief, or fear.

“Y-you’re welcome, Spahk.”

The lil’ fox leaned forward to lick as much of her cheek as she could, sending the once-human into laughter as her free hand stroked Spark’s fur. Giggles coming from her side made Sue look up at the medic sitting beside her and Sundance; Doc- Warren- no, fuck- Willow taking a while to get their laughter under control, easing out into a soft smile.

“Awww, that’s just cute.”

Their voice gave Sue a pause, combining the distinctive elderly creakiness with being soft enough to remain perfectly androgynous. Didn’t help much with deciding on the pronouns, but Sue didn’t care all that much in the moment, perfectly content with sticking to ‘they’ for the time being.


Spark mumbled out her denial into Sue’s shoulder before yawning widely. The associated flash of a maw-ful of very feral teeth gave Sue a pause, but thankfully, she wouldn’t linger on it for long.

“Someone exhausted herself out in all the excitement, hasn’t she?”

The lil’ fox kept trying to oppose the accusations coming her way by attempting to shake herself awake, unsuccessfully. Sue reaching in to slowly stroke her tummy didn’t help towards that goal, even if it made Spark feel better.

In not too long, she was out warm, curled up on her saviour’s lap. Everyone else kept quiet until they were certain she was out. Partly to let Spark finally rest easy after these last few days, and partly to make sure she wouldn’t listen in on the... darker subjects ahead.

Or, at the very least, ones less appropriate for already worried kits.

“So- how’re you feeling, Sue?”

Willow spoke quietly, their voice calm. Sue internally thanked Solstice for soothing the medic’s worries, especially after they’ve had to deal with her nonsense over the past few days.

“I-I’m... good, really good I think nhow. I can’t thank you enough f-for your help...”

Best to just call it for what it is.

“...a-and for putting up with my nonshense.”

Her pronunciation was tangibly improving now that she finally had an opportunity to actually practice using her new mouth.

Wonder if that’ll make getting used to my old body harder once... I get there.

“Hah, it’s more than fine Sue, I’m just glad you’re fine inside your skull after all- besides, I’ll gladly take nonsense over aggression. I’ve already looked at your leg once you were done with Solstice, and it should be fine to walk on again within a few days. With all that said, I only really have one more question...”

Sue nodded along, the news about her recovery lifting her mood. As much as she was getting used to the crutch, it gave her arm enough workout to last her a lifetime. Though, if she hadn’t put it through more abuse, her leg might have already recovered by now…

“So, where do you come from, really?”


Sue’s eyes went wide as she stared at the timid medic, the earlier fear dripping back into her mind. A glance at Sundance revealed her to be just as surprised; at least she wasn’t alone in being taken completely off guard.

“What do you mean, Willow? Solstice went through-“

“-a cover up. My fur may be graying, but I’ve been watching over Sue for a few days now. It all tells me she had spent her entire life under a huge boulder, one with just enough space below to let her figure out how to use a crutch. Even though she looks and sounds like she had evolved into her current shape not even half a dozen seasons ago.”

Neither Sue nor Sundance knew what to say. The latter very much did want to say something, her mouth opening and closing a few times as she tried to gather the right words, while the former wanted to collapse underground at being seen through so easily.

“Now, now, I’m not accusing Sue of anything. I was there when she was being carried to Moonview; I saw the venom dripping from her wound. She’s a good person for sure, but that doesn’t make what Solstice had said make any sense. A Forest Guardian village exiling one of their own is absurd, but even if they had, they wouldn’t have waited until she grew up, and the idea of a helpless little one lasting fifty seasons in the wild is silly.”

Moonview. Guess this village has a name, after all.

Willow paused for a moment, their expression thoughtful before they chuckled to themselves.

“The worst part is that I have no idea just what exactly are you three hiding! Hundred and fifty seasons in this world, and nothing I’ve seen or even heard of comes close to making sense of all this! You’ve really stumped me!”

Despite their accusations, Willow’s tone remained upbeat, downright jovial through it all. It left Sue dumbfounded as Sundance sighed in defeat.

“Reality here is more outlandish than any fables I’ve heard.”

The fox’s admission made Sue glare at her, feeling a bit betrayed at Sundance just admitting the whole deceit so quickly.

“Oh, don’t worry Sue. I might have no idea who or what you really are, but whatever the truth is, Solstice trusts you, and of course so does lil’ Spark. I’ve no reason to doubt either of them, though I sure can’t deny being very curious after tending to you.”

Sue shakily nodded at their words. She got back to petting Spark after realizing she’d stopped doing that in all the tension, her soft, warm fur proving to be a very good stress reliever.

The newcomer sat in expectant silence for a while. Her gaze shifted between the two interlocutors, not sure what to say in the heat of the moment. Eventually, Willow took it upon themselves to break the impasse-

“Well I gotta say, if that’s how spooked you got by just silly old me asking you that, I can only imagine just how rattled Solstice made you. Helps put your, well, ‘nonsense’, your words not mine, in context. I am sorry for that, though; I didn’t intend to make you afraid.”

Willow actually feeling apologetic helped soothe Sue’s worries, even if that emotion was mixed with a whole ton of curiosity.

“If you want me to, Sue, I can attempt to explain based on what Solstice told me. Admittedly, I’m unclear on some details myself.”

Guess it did ultimately fall to her to provide them both with some much deserved clarity...

Here goes nothing.

“Alrhight. Guess I’ll answer the bighest point first- y-you’re right, Sholstice made her story up. I’m… from another world, I-I think.”

Sundance was following so far, that much Solstice’s explanation made clear. Willow, though, immediately had questions of their own.

“Another world you say! Sundance hails from so far, but I think that’s my first time talking with someone from across the seas-“

“Much further than that, Willow.”

The medic turned their gaze over at the fiery psychic, lifting their eyebrows as they tried to figure out what she meant.

“How so?”

“From what Solstice tried to explain to me, Sue appears to hail from another reality entirely.”

Hearing it stated so plainly made the truth of the matter hit Sue harder than she’d expected. Thankfully, the resulting sensation of emptiness didn’t get to last long as Willow’s curiosity inserted itself back into the discussion.

“Golly. You are a bit odd, Sue, but I can’t say I would’ve expected that... or someone from another realm to behave in such a familiar way.”

Sundance ‘mhm’d in response, putting the shared attention back on the interdimensional traveler. She didn’t understand how Sue could be just like them, either. Then again, neither did Sue, the once-human only able to comment on the similarities.

“Yeah, it’s weird. Thish world is so similar to my old one, almosh identical except for its creathures.”

“Identical you say? So if not for the looks of us three, this very cabin and village it’s in, the woods around it, the rivers cutting through them, the dirt below and the skies above, all that would’ve been just the same as your world?”

Sue had to give it a moment’s thought, but... yeah, that checked out. She nodded firmly, Willow’s expression turning pensive as they chewed through her unexpected response.

“Well, my mother used to tell me that the other worlds glow bright, and that’s what stars are... though I sure wouldn’t have expected worlds to have siblings like that, hah!”

Putting it that way got some lighter hearted chuckles out of both Sue and Sundance; the latter picking up where Willow left off, herself curious about the aforementioned differences.

“Since you highlighted the difference in creatures. Solstice happened to mention that your... natural form is quite similar to your current one in appearance, except for not being psychic, correct?”

“Right. There aren’t any ‘pshychic’ creatures where I’m from to begin with.”

Judging by the duo’s stunned expressions, not even Willow expected that one.

“None at all, you say?”

Sue nodded at the medic’s question, wondering whether to mention them ‘existing’ in fiction. Ultimately, she decided against it; no matter how wild her world’s imagination was, it couldn’t compare to this world’s reality.

“Well, if nothing else, that explains why you haven’t shown any of your psychics so far. Is it just a matter of not knowing how to, uh, tap into them?”

“That appears to be the case from what Solstice had told me.”

“Huh. Would’ve thought it would be all instinct.”

“Not without developing it first. Speaking of-“

Sundance shifted to face Sue head on, her expression focusing while maintaining its prior warmth.

“I take it Solstice mentioned me guiding you through developing your abilities?”

“Yeah. I-I’m shtill quite honored at that-“

“No Sue, it’s my honor to repay my debt to you in such an important way.”

Sue was once more taken aback, unsure how she should react. Eventually, she lightly bowed towards her upcoming mentor, hands continuing to provide affection for the little sleeping one.

“Thank you.”

It was Sundance’s turn to stop herself from reflecting the praise back onto her student, acknowledging Sue’s thanks with a light nod before speaking up-

“Now, before we begin, do you have any more questions you’d want answered first?”

Answering that question to its fullest extent would most likely involve several days’ worth of talking just to let her air out every single brick that contributed to the fort of confusion in her mind. Of those bricks, though, few of them came anywhere close in importance to what she ultimately asked-

“That... shrine with the feathersh in front of it. Is it for a deity or something else?”

“Hah, mother would’ve scolded the horns out of you if she heard you referring to the Pale Lady as just ‘a deity’.”

Willow’s comment was rather disconcerting, though it at least showed her the medic didn’t seem to be particularly extreme on the matters of religion.

“Now that I think about it, I doubt ‘Pale Lady’ is ringing any bells either, with how far you hail from, hah.”

“Indeed. Pale Lady, Night Mother, Moon’s Grace, or just the Moon. She’s the chief goddess worshiped in these parts for her healing and protection from what lurks in the night.”

Sundance’s clarification helped establish a more concrete link between the deity and the astral body while giving her several names to use instead of ‘Duck’. Its matter-of-fact nature raised the once student’s eyebrow, though. That definitely didn’t sound like how someone devoted would refer to their deity.

“Does ‘theshe parts’ not include you? Just asking with how you shaid it...”

“It does not. Where I hail from, the Sun is the primary deity. Nowadays, I don’t have a strong attachment towards any of them. Spending a hundred moons wandering the land and meeting all sorts of peoples changed my perspective on it all a great deal. With how many varied deities folk from all over pray to, the only conclusion I could arrive at is that deities don’t particularly care about what mortals do one way or another. Don’t let Solstice hear that.”

Sundance chuckled after her final remark, with Willow following in tow, the two remaining unbothered despite the seriousness of the topic.

“Can’t say I’ve ever been as laid back on that topic as you have, Sundance, though you’re at least mostly right. It sure wouldn’t be like the Pale Lady to take offense to other deities being worshiped either way, outside of Night Father at least. Any attempts to convince those who disagree would only result in more strife.”

Sue felt more and more doubt fill her as she listened. The mayor of this place, as well as the first person she’d spoken to in a solid week and someone she felt she could trust, was apparently a religious zealot. Willow’s brief mention of ‘Night Father’ didn’t help either, recollection of Sue’s dreams providing an excellent candidate for who could that possibly be.

“Um, why sh-should Solstice nhot hear that?”

Sundance caught to the unease that underlined Sue’s question, her smile softening as she shook her head.

“I said that in jest, we two just disagree about that point. She strongly believes that the Pale Lady personally intervenes to aid the ones under her protection, and that she’d communed with her in the past. Considering she’s still best friends with Moonview’s biggest heretic, I doubt she cares that much. Especially since the Pale Lady symbolizes protection and healing to begin with. I have to admit, the mental image of someone getting violent over others not worshiping a guardian goddess is rather darkly amusing.”

Sue couldn’t really disagree, chuckling to herself as she tried to visualize that. Imagining Solstice as the person getting offended sent a shiver down her spine, though. The Mayor came off powerful without even trying, any attempts to imagine just what would her getting violent look like freezing Sue’s blood.

“I see. Whillow mentioned a ‘Night Father’. Wh-who’s that?”

She felt the air in the room get ever so slightly colder at her words. Willow looked uneasy at having brought all that up to begin with, even if offhandedly.

“Another deity worshiped in this wider area, though his worship is shunned in Moonview. He’s the dimmest dark on the night of a new moon, protecting the night kin. In some interpretations, he’s in active conflict with the Pale Lady, being the entity she protects mortals from.”

Guess ‘sky dimmer satan’ wasn’t that far off course after all.

“Night kin?”

If the previous subject was already uneasy, this one felt almost like a taboo she had inadvertently stumbled upon. An icy chill ran down her spine and horn, making her gulp quietly before Sundance continued, her voice barely above a whisper.

“You... won’t find them in Moonview. According to the myths, they’d pledged themselves to the Night Father, who granted them protection from being revealed by moonlight or perceived by our psychic senses.”

The intimidating nature of the description conflicted immediately with the dark, disguise-happy fox she’d ran into twice by now, even if them stealing peaches provided a good argument towards them being devil spawn. The rational part of Sue couldn’t help but think there was something that Sundance wasn’t mentioning, especially with her having already seen the grey fox in here, just disguised to avoid being spotted.

“Um... why won’t I find them in Moon-“

“OH GOODNESS it’s getting late. I-I should make my rounds around the village and grab us all a snack before today’s feast. T-take care you all, I’ll be back soon.”

The uncharacteristically abrupt interruption, followed by Willow almost running out of the hut at the mention of the subject, cemented the idea that there was something more to it all. Even with that, Sundance soon made it clear she wouldn’t be humoring that question either.

“It’s... a grave subject, and I’d rather Spark not overhear it, even if incidentally. I hope that’s alright with you, Sue.”

Her stumbling upon a subject so grim the previously upbeat medic chose to just run away instead of having to talk about it wasn’t particularly encouraging. Sundance’s request only made sense, though. She would definitely have to ask more about this topic at a more private moment later.

“Yeah. Shorry for b-bringing it up-“

“Don’t be. You’re not the guilty one here.”

The vulpine psychic caught onto Sue’s unease, swiftly steering the subject back toward where it was supposed to go all along-

“You shouldn’t be worrying yourself with any of that, Sue. Now, have you been able to figure out any of your psychics thus far?”

Sundance’s question was moderately successful in making Sue focus on the point of their discussion. The darkness that soaked the earlier topic wouldn’t let it be discarded so easily, though, the issue shifting to the back of her mind.

“I don’t think so. I tried to make m-my crutch move like Bo- Comet did, bhut nothing happened. U-unless thish... being able to sense emotions counts.”

“Hmm... from what I know, that ability is innate in your k- current form. Have you been able to do anything with it, or just passively sense those around?”

“Just sensing.”

Sue’s mentor nodded slowly, gathering her thoughts on how to teach the complete neophyte in front of her. Ultimately, there was only one way to learn when starting from complete nothing.

One thing at a time.

“Let’s start from the very beginning, then. You said you attempted to do this-“

Sundance’s eyes became shrouded with orange light as Sue’s crutch floated over, stopping in mid air in between her and the once-human.

“What did you try?”

“Jusht... tried thinking it up, or ordering it to move, stuff like that.”

Sue’s extrasensory perception made it easier to track the changes in Sundance’s mood even as her expression was dominated by the increasingly less intimidating glowing eyes. It let the girl sense just how dumbfounded her mentor was at that answer, despite it not showing on her features.

“I... see. Well, the actual way you do it is much simpler.”

That was far from what Sue expected to hear. Her inability to figure any of this out had led her to think of her supposed new abilities as something that was at best contrived and borderline incomprehensible, and at worst, as a thing her human, non-Forest Guardian mind was just inherently incapable of comprehending.

“Oh. Wh-what do I do, then?”

“You just have to reach and grasp~.”

For a couple of moments, Sue was utterly dumbfounded at Sundance’s explanation. The words came off almost like a mean spirited joke considering how little of it all she clearly understood-

And then, she felt it.

The sensation that followed was nothing like anything Sue had ever experienced. Her confused brain interpreted it as something grasping her arm, an intangible arm that has been sitting folded up in the back of her head for Duck knows how long, now finally stirring from its numb stasis.


The imaginary limb was pulled out of her head bit by bit, Sundance continuing to guide it all the while. Any sort of internal mental image of it broke down as it kept expanding, soon reaching over half a dozen feet in length. More like a tentacle, or at least what Sue thought a tentacle would feel like, than anything even remotely similar to any human body parts she was used to.

“What is this...”

“An extension of your mind, your mental reach. I can only imagine how outlandish it must feel right now, but using it will become second nature sooner or later.”

Sundance let go of Sue’s psychic tendril, leaving it awkwardly hovering in midair. If it was visible, or even perceptible for non-psychics, it would probably be one hell of a sight just floating there.

“Now, try moving it yourself. Experiment, get a feel for how it weaves and shifts.”

The student nodded shakily as she concentrated on this new set of sensations, instinctively closing her eyes as she tried wriggling the neurons close to where she felt this phantom limb originate from. Eventually, this random prodding let her figure out a way to move it around. It was slow and clumsy, but it was progress all the same.


Slowly, she moved this extension of self towards the crutch that had been lowered to the floor in the meantime; her reach subconsciously wrapping itself around it once it got close enough.

And grasp...

Being unsure how to think the invisible tendril into actually grabbing the piece of wood, Sue was left trying to prod other parts of her brain. Finally, she tried to mirror using her actual hand to grasp. And, unexpectedly, it felt like it worked.

She opened her eyes to look at what had happened; her left hand gripping nothing as a small patch of white aura now surrounded the part of the crutch her mind held onto. To her surprise, Sue could feel the wood to the touch, the sensation so disembodied from any physical reality it tripped her brain.

“There you go, keep at it. Try lifting it up.”

Even in her concentration, it was hard for Sue not to notice Sundance’s emotional outlook having shifted from gloom to outright excitement. It made the realization of her attempting to crawl up to a toddler’s level of magic aptitude that bit more bearable.

Attempts at moving the crutch were only partially successful. The piece of wood shuffled weakly on the floor, refusing to budge upwards at all. Sue wanted to retry the whole maneuver in case she’d grabbed it wrong or something, before overhearing Sundance whisper-

“^Put more force in, focus harder on your grasp.^”

Sue didn’t notice the fox mystic speaking without opening her mouth, focusing further on her mental reach instead. The faint glow soon expanded to cover more of the tool, the upward motion that followed briefly lifting it off the ground-

Only for it to slip out of her uneven hold, Sue’s aura fizzling out as her eyes shot open. Just in time to see Sundance’s orange glow grab the entire tool before it could bang against the floor, settling it down afterwards.

“Definitely not bad for your first attempt. How are you feeling, Sue?”

It was a tricky question. The triumph of getting at least the minimum of progress with her psychic magic mixed with disbelief at how unreal it all felt and anxiety about her being unable to catch up to the ‘natural’ level of skill. Unease from earlier didn’t help, either.

“I’m... I’m good I-I think. Glad I didn’t turn out to be bhroken or anything.”

“Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with you, Sue. It may take a tremendous amount of practice, but I have no doubt that one day you’ll get to where you ought to be. Once we get past the basics, it’ll be much easier for you to explore your psychics further on your own.”

Sue nodded weakly in acknowledgement. The idea of self-directed learning sounded impossibly distant in the moment, but Sundance’s confidence was reassuring, if nothing else.

“Okay, th-thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure, Sue. Now, are you ready to tackle the next subject, or do you need more time to get your bearings?”

“Next subject? B-but I could only bharely do this one.”

“That’s not untrue, but with fundamentals like these, I think it’s best to introduce you to both key skill sets before going further on them. And besides, I’ve little doubt you’ll find what’s coming up even more useful than telekinesis.”

Sue had nowhere near the expertise needed to argue with that assessment, leaving her to just ask-

“What’s the other s-subject then?”


While she might have missed the previous instance of Sundance speaking without using her mouth, Sue most definitely caught onto it this time.

It’d sure be nice to figure out how to communicate with anyone here.

“Oh! How do I d-do it?”

It was Sue’s turn to reveal her excitement as her hand reached down to resume petting. Her fingertips brushed past something warm and wet where she expected to only see fur, making her look at her lap; just in time to see Spark’s impressive array of teeth, the kit getting caught mid-yawn.

And immediately nuzzling her tummy once she’d finished yawning.

The high-pitched woofs that followed were as incomprehensible as they were yesterday, confusing Sue somewhat. She could understand Spark before she took a nap, so why not now? Wait a minute, how could she understand any of them to begin with-

“That would be my doing~.”

Sundance’s part in Sue suddenly being able to comprehend everyone was obvious in hindsight, but it didn’t help make the ‘how’ of it all any less mysterious. Her confusion did not go unnoticed by her mentor-

“I suppose this subject warrants some explanation beforehand. So~,”

The sensation that followed caught Sue off guard, feeling as if someone had plucked on an invisible string connecting her and Sundance’s heads. Its abruptness made the once-human jump, resulting in Spark becoming even more affectionate towards and worried about her. A quick application of pets thankfully helped undo the latter.

“What you just felt was me drawing attention to the mental link between us. They are what telepathy is performed through.”

Wouldn’t have imagined a connection like that to be so… tangible.

“We can take glimpses at each other’s thoughts and emotions through them, and more importantly, ^communicate with just thoughts.^”

The mid-sentence switch away from spoken word was a helpful demonstration in its own right, but it raised further questions.

“Ish me understanding what you’re... well, woofing, also telepathy?”

Sue gulped lightly at Sundance getting stunned by that question, worried about having possibly offended her. Thankfully, the firefox mother quickly chuckled it off afterwards.

“It is a different form of it, yes. Instead of directly passing you my thoughts, I take the meaning behind my words and get your mind to translate them into your language, which you then perceive as hearing it. In a one-on-one conversation between psychics, there’s little practical difference between these two approaches. But~”

A moment passed before Spark noticed something, turning to look back at her mom and asking-

“Oh, oh, oh, did you do it, mom?”

“Yes, sweetie-“

“Yay! How are you feeling, Sue? Are you better now?”

The excited tail wagging that accompanied Spark’s questions made Sue’s heart melt more than the little fox’s warmth could ever manage.

“^We can use these techniques to translate others’ words and act as bridges between those who couldn’t otherwise communicate with each other. And turn ‘woofs’, as you’ve called them, into words~^”

The light ribbing was not undeserved, helping reassure Sue that everything was indeed alright. The rest of Sundance’s explanation helped too, withdrawing another brick from her internal fort of confusion.

And now to answer the little one.

“I’m feeling quite ghood, sweetie. Your mom is teaching me how to, uh, do all the psychic... thingsh.”


The high pitched ‘awoo’ that accompanied Spark’s expression of confusion really strained Sue’s willpower in keeping herself from cooing in response.

“You don’t know how to do them? But Mrs. Solstice is also a Forest Guardian, and she knows...”

Guess this was where Solstice’s cover up would come in. Unfortunately for Sue, she didn’t remember the entire story off the top of her head, and the little she recalled wasn’t too appropriate for the little kit. Sue nervously looked up at Sundance for help, with an out being graciously provided shortly afterwards-

“She hadn’t had the time to study it all, sweetie, and the bite from that nasty creature didn’t help either. But don’t worry, Sue will do her best to catch up, and once you evolve, you both could practice together.”

“Oooooh- oh oh yay! Did you hear Sue!? We’ll get to practice together!”

Sue was more than down for that, smiling even wider at the little fox. The… odd choice of words deposited a brand new brick of confusion onto her mental fort, with “does ‘evolution’ refer to something specific here” stamped proudly on its front.

“Yeah! I-I’d love to.”

“Would you mind giving Sue some space to study, sweetie? It’s important she learns the basics without distractions.”

“I won’t distract her, I promise!”

The look Sundance gave to her daughter was rather obviously unconvinced; lifting eyebrows prompting the kit to start pleading-

“Moooom, pleeeeeease!”

The mystic closed her eyes and sighed with a light giggle, looking over at her pupil afterwards.

“If you promise not to distract her and Sue agrees, I suppose you can stay beside her.”

“YAYAYAY! Please Sue, pleeeease!”

How could I ever hope to refuse a request delivered so adorably?

“Teehee, shure sweetie.”

Sue needed no translation for the high-pitched squeak of pure joy that followed. The fiery fox quickly scooted beside her, keeping her nuzzling to a minimum as her mom continued her teachings.

“So- that was that about the basics of telepathy. Now, let’s move to practice. Establishing mental links with other beings is the most important ability for any psychic to have, and serves as a foundation of much more than just telepathy. You’ll get plenty of practice during your stay here, but it’s good to get a good foundation beforehand.”

Sundance drew attention to Sue’s mental reach once more. The girl shuddered again at the strange sensation, especially now that it felt like the psychic tendril she’d clumsily maneuvered earlier was but one of many.

“Forming links is not too dissimilar from telekinesis. Instead of a physical object, focus on a sentient mind, and reach into it.”

This description of what she had to do would’ve been little more than a word salad for Sue a mere week ago. Which made her understanding the gist of it now somewhat disconcerting.

“Now, I’m going to sever our link and let you attempt forming one yourself. We won’t be able to talk until then, so if you need me to assist you, just wave at me.”

Sue felt their link break before she could even respond, the sensation so faint that if she wasn’t expecting something she would’ve shrugged it off as just her hair feeling weird.


With a deep breath, Sue concentrated on where her mental reach felt like it originated from; exploratory wriggling eventually focusing on one thread in particular. Her brain seemed to have given up on any attempts to interpret these as actual body parts. Though, if anything, that only made the sensations coming from them even weirder.

Now, towards Sundance.

The invisible extension of Sue’s mind took its time approaching her mentor. Partly because of her being cautious, partly because she had no idea how to make it go any faster. Trying to control the brain tentacle like she would an arm was somewhat effective, though not without the side effect of the real limb twitching as she controlled her imaginary one.

It was stuck moving only as fast as she would move her arm, but something told Sue that was far, far from the fastest this mental thread of hers could go.

It might have taken her a while, but she got there eventually, her reach hovering in front of Sundance’s face. Its awkward position made Sue very glad that nobody else could perceive it as she attempted to dive into the fox’s mind-

And only succeeded at sliding it into her physical head.

Sundance’s wince was thankfully not seen by her student as Sue tried to figure out what she’d done wrong. That was what the firefox meant, right? She’d reached her brain, and yet felt nothing like what she’d expected to feel, missing any sensation of things clicking into place.

Alright, where did I go wrong this time?

Sue tried thinking back to Sundance’s instructions, replaying them to herself word by word. The source of confusion refused to present itself-


She’d assumed that Sundance was using ‘a sentient mind’ to refer to a brain, but what if that’s not what she meant? It was the most probable cause of error, with everything else being obvious enough. Or at least, feeling obvious enough now that she got to literally flex her mind like this.

What else could it be, then?

The handful of ideas she eventually came up with turned out to be duds. Her mental thread continued to move around idly in the space currently occupied by Sundance’s head; the fiery psychic keeping quiet about the slight discomfort for the sake of learning.

There seemed to be an issue of some sort, though.

Eventually, Sue had to admit defeat, sighing quietly and giving Sundance a weak wave, a crystal clear voice soon responding-

“You almost got there, Sue. Is something wrong?”

“I- uh, I guess I mishunderstood what you meant by ‘reaching into a sentient mind’.”

The admission was disappointing considering her earlier progress, but it was hard for Sue to feel too bad about it, not with Spark’s constant affection.

How could a creature with this much excess ear hair be so cute?

“I see. Well, I can’t say I don’t understand your interpretation, though it is rather... overly literal.”

Both Sundance and Sue chuckled at that, the latter with slight embarrassment. It was swept aside right away as her mentor continued-

“But no, that’s not it. You’ll need to concentrate on this ability to feel others’ emotions and go beyond just them. Forest Guardian ability to sense emotions is just one facet of a sense letting all psychics feel other minds around us. A naturally very well developed facet of course, but only that. Minds will feel much fainter than the emotions they radiate, but you’ll have to learn to focus on them.”

Sue felt like she barely grasped it all, nodding weakly. Wanting to avoid another wasted opportunity like last time, she was proactive with her questions this time-

“So, concentrate o-on that sense and try focushing on just... minds, yeah?”

“Correct. It may take a decent amount of practice to even make them out, especially if you haven’t been experimenting too much with this sense yet, but I’ve no doubt you’ll get there.”

It sure was hard to get disheartened like this, heh.

The Forest Guardian nodded firmly before concentrating, her body relaxing as she withdrew from the physical senses. She dove as deep into the mental sense as she could, the emotions of the two foxes near her shining so brightly they dimmed all the ones out by their mere presence. Intense as they might have been, she couldn’t deny that adoration and a mix of patience and pride respectively eclipsing everything else felt very, very nice.

Looking past all this was gonna be tricky.

Before she could even attempt doing that, she sensed a couple of similarly bright blips of emotions making their way over. As opposed to anything warm, though, they were instead anxiety and the desire to comfort, respectively. From experience, she could subconsciously narrow the latter to Willow pretty confidently.

Wait a min-


The door slamming open snapped Sue out of her little trance. Her eyes needed a moment to adjust to daylight as Willow passed by in front of her, accompanied by someone else; their squeaks remaining incomprehensible without Sundance’s aid. After she came back to, Sue was immediately startled by the other creature’s appearance, even as the medic held their hand.

It- they seemed to be half small, mostly yellow humanoid, reaching to more or less her knee, and half a massive black maw lined with metallic teeth sticking out of the back of the humanoid’s head. The second part reminded her of a venus flytrap, but big enough to catch entire body parts and not just bugs, and otherwise nightmarish all around.

The blood didn’t help, either.

Much to Sue’s sanity, a closer look revealed it to have come from an injury on top of the maw, rather than from it having a bloody snack. Willow soon got to wrapping bandages around the maw, doubling as a flimsy way of keeping the scary body part closed.

“-gonna try to heal it some more; it won’t hurt. Is that okay?”

Sue might have had a better grasp on how the translation worked this time, but that didn’t make it any less surprising to experience. The once-human needed a moment to shake her confusion off as Willow awaited a response from the small, scary creature.

A response that wasn’t coming.

As much as her initial impression of the toothy villager was dominated by the maw hot glued onto the back of their head, taking a better look at their front half and listening to her sixth sense revealed quite a few things. Namely, how utterly scared they were, their tiny body shaking as they looked up between all the adults in the room, backing up away from Sundance.

Not what she expected, given their other half, that’s for sure.

“Joy, everything is alright, I promise. Nobody is mad at you.”

Willow slowly knelt beside the now named little one, wordlessly offering them a hug. The chompy one eventually leaned in, letting the medic simultaneously hold them and do their healing magic, one paw aglow as it carefully stroked the freshly bandaged part of the maw.

“What happened, Joy!?”

It was Spark’s turn to chime in, the lil’ fox breaking her affection towards Sue only to redirect it towards Joy, nuzzling their side. The newcomer was rather receptive, thankfully; their anxiety gradually dulling into mere unease.

“Someone had been rather mean to her and it went way, way too far. Hopefully Cirrus gives whoever did it a good scolding.”

Joy shuffled in place as she was being talked about, twiddling her hands before resting one on Spark’s head. It was also the moment at which she had finally noticed Sue; the sight startling her momentarily before she looked closer and relaxed again.

And then, pointed at the recently transformed Forest Guardian.

The recipient was left confused as the little maw tried to say something, evidently struggling intensely with speaking in general-


“Sue! I told you about her back at the playground! She’s the one that rescued me!”

Fortunately, Sue was too preoccupied by curiously watching Joy to get too flustered at the praise. The tiny one only got more encouraged by Spark’s description, slowly walking over to Sue before giving speaking another shot-


How could something with a body part this scary looking simultaneously be this cute?

“H-hello, Jhoy.”

As simple as the greeting was, it emboldened Joy enough to take a seat beside Sue, shifting afterwards to hide as much of herself from Sundance as possible. She then lightly grasped a hand that happened to be laying nearby, leaving the Forest Guardian in a bit of an awkward situation.

Not that she minded that much, especially with the scary bits tied up with bandages and the rest of the little one being admittedly quite cute. The abrupt change in her behavior still left Sue dumbfounded though, the once-human giving Sundance a confused look in hope of some explanation.

“Joy’s is a sad situation. She can’t understand us anymore; best she’s left out of this unpleasant discussion.”

“Can’t she understand you normally?”

“For the most part, no. She hasn’t been here for long and is still only learning our language. From what I’ve heard, her progress has been rather slow.”

Guess we have something in common, hah.

“And the other kids aren’t helping, sigh...”

Willow’s interjection made Sue feel even worse for the little one. Her free hand reached to pet Joy’s not-scary half, the gesture thankfully received positively.

“Are they bullying her?”

Joy might have looked... unusual, yes, but the two mouthed girl was far, far from the weirdest sight this world had to offer, or even the most intimidating.

“Some of them are, yeah. Though it’s as much the fault of the adults, we sowed this and are now reaping the results.”

Sue was following this even less now.


“Her kin is... not well seen.”

“And that’s putting it lightly. I’ve heard several people call them ‘limb eaters’. There was little point in trying to dissuade these kinds of epithets when nobody thought any of her kin would ever end up joining Moonview. But eventually, Joy happened, and now we have to work on weeding terms and attitudes like that out.”

The term ‘limb eater’ combined with the intimidating maw made Sue gulp quietly as Sundance went on; the student having to try her hardest to keep her imagination from becoming particularly lively. Instead, she focused on this village, Moonview, having thought that one of Joy’s kin would never end up joining them, the idea making little sense to her. She’d seen weirder, much weirder creatures during her stay here so far, up to and including actual snakes.

“Wh-why would they not join?”

Willow blinked blankly at her, chuckling to themselves before speaking up-

“I almost forgot you’re not from here, heh. Well, eh... from what I heard, they mostly live in caves and... prey on creatures that wander in. Not very friendly or open to chit chatting.”

Nope, nope, nope, don’t want to imagine that.

“Then how did Joy get here?”

“Astra brought her here, right?”


The vulpine mystic continued before Sue could even think of speaking up, realizing she needed to elaborate-

“Astra is our scout and cartographer. She’s on the lookout for locations we could expand to, new crops we could grow here, and for other settlements to reach out towards. One time, she found a cave to spend the night in, and Joy was there, too terrified to even think about being aggressive. With how little she is, we think she might have gotten left behind by her brood. After some coaxing, Astra got her to open up enough to bring her here.”

Poor little lim- creature.

“She did the right thing, though she couldn’t really pause her scouting duties afterwards, and the lack of someone to watch over Joy throughout the day is hitting her hard. Cirrus can only do so much to reign in over a dozen little ones. And suffice to say, nobody else in the village is exactly racing to look after a limb eater, sigh...”

Heh, not like I don’t have all the free time in the world now...

The thought of taking a little one under her wing made Sue feel much warmer than she’d expected. It led her to shake the entire train of thought off, though, lest she’d hype herself up for something that wasn’t gonna happen.

“I think she’s out on a scouting job today anyway, won’t be back until late. Speaking of, what time is it-“

The medic picked themselves up off the floor and looked out the window; the sight of many a village folk heading towards the plaza making the time of day crystal clear.

“Seems the feast is about to kick off. Best get going ourselves, eh?”

Sue’s stomach wasn’t about to argue with that idea, that’s for sure.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 7: Spectacle


the gay agenda

Chapter 7: Spectacle

Once Sue got back on her feet with Sundance’s help, the party headed out. Joy was left rather confused by all the commotion until the psychic in the room explained the upcoming feast to her. As much as the little one appreciated the vixen’s words, she was still rather afraid of her, opting to stick to the Martian of the group for the time being.

Two kids keeping close to Sue as she hobbled on sounded like a recipe for someone getting smacked with a crutch, but Joy and Spark alike were pulling it off flawlessly.

“Sho, this feast. How will it look like?”

Sundance smirked at Sue from the front of the party before laying it out-

“Those who can, help the cooks and the Elders in bringing the food to the hungry mouths. Those who can’t, take a seat somewhere comfortable, and once the meals are dispensed, the show begins.”

“The show?”

“You’ll see~”

Sue wasn’t sure how to respond to the tease. Though, if Sundance wasn’t giving her a straight answer, then it was probably gonna be a spectacle she didn’t want spoiled. One detail stood out to her afterwards, however-

“Are you not on the Eldersh Council?”

The question visibly took the vixen aback; her smile deflating as she answered.

“Not anymore. I’ve already had my share of bickering in this life.”

Suppose that only made sense, even if Sue wouldn’t have thought of that as a position one can just leave.

The plaza was as filled as it had been in the morning, though all the occupants were concentrated to just one half of it; the other left empty, seemingly intentionally. Between plentiful tables and makeshift fire pits on the grass, there was space for everyone- or so it seemed, at least.

It took a moment for Sue to realize why the fire pits were there if there were so many available tables; a glimpse of a large quadruped passing by, making it all click in her head. Suppose not everyone can sit on benches after all.

Though there was that one famous painting of dogs playing poker, so what do I know, anyway?

Spotting ‘their’ table turned out to be much easier than expected. Comet was already sitting there, distracted by the ghostly prankster from yesterday with the game of peek-a-boo involving the intangible one phasing their face through the bench the infant sat on.

If his elated squeaks were anything to go by, Comet loved it.

“Finally! And here I was thinking I’d have to grab y’all. How’s Crutches doing?”

Spook’s- no, Hazel’s voice was still as creaky and whispered as Sue remembered it, despite Sundance’s aid. Rather tricky to parse as a result, Sue almost overlooking her new moniker. But only almost, about to speak up before Willow cut her off-

“She’s doing all well Hazel, and you know full well that’s not her name~.”

“Yeah, but it ain’t like she’s gonna tell us her real name, eh?”

Alright, now was her moment-

“To the contrary, she told it to us perfectly well; it only took a bit of help.”

Not the time, Sundance!

“So her brain’s not broken then, eh? Pop was guessin’ with all that. What’s her face then?”


The urgency and accidental volume with which Sue’d said that made everyone gathered look at her with confusion and concern. Shortly after, the newcomer cleared her throat and tried again, hoping to save face-

“Um, m-my name is Sue.”

“...’Sue’, eh? Weird name. You from somewhere far?”

You have no idea.

“She is, but now is not the best of times to chat about that, Hazel. Is Poppy still in her kitchen?”

“Dunno Willow, prolly. She said Solstice was gonna come over once they were both done, though... Y’all are here and can look after the bowl cut, so I’m gonna go check up on them~.”

The spook gladly took the excuse to get away from the crowd. Before she left, though, she took a moment to pull one last funny face on Comet, stretching her face far beyond what ought to be anatomically possible. Nobody but Joy and Sue minded; the two left similarly aghast. Everyone else was far too used to the ghost’s antics to pay them any mind anymore.

The professors at the biology department would kill to get some locals here under an X-Ray.

With Hazel out of the way, the band got seated. Both Joy and Spark were practically glued to Sue, ending up beside her and on her lap, respectively. Comet wanted to join them too, but was quickly snagged away by the other adults as they sat at the other side of the table.

Plenty comfy, despite how rugged the bench was. Once the entire groupsat down, Spark leaned over towards Joy, extending her affection to the other girl; the gesture was plenty appreciated with all the scary strangers around.

Judging by the plentiful empty spots around them, it’d still be awhile until the festivities kicked off proper.

Not a bad opportunity to sate my curiosity before doing the same to my stomach later.

“So... what ish Hazel?”

She didn’t expect a question this simple to be this hard to interpret.

“Whatcha mean, Sue? ‘What’s up with Hazel’ or...?”

Willow's confusion made it clear that Sue would need to phrase it in a cleaner way, but she was unsure how. Asking about the ghost’s species felt even more detached than her original question. It wasn’t even likely to clarify anything, either. After all, she might have known now what her current kin was named, ‘Forest Guardians’, but that explained precious nothing about how her newfound magic worked.

Guess she’d have to play even dumber.

“Oh, it’s just like, she’s khinda like a ghost with how she walks through stuff...”

“But Ms. Hazel is a ghost!”

Spark’s cheerful clarification bluescreened Sue’s brain.

The assertion of the ghost-like being turning out to be an actual ghost somehow took her completely from the left field, despite her best attempts to brace herself for any more insanity of this place.

As her mind held on to a piece of wreckage to not sink, it eventually arrived at a possible explanation. Maybe the little fox just meant something else by ‘ghost’? Maybe it was just a species name, a weirdly perfectly fitting one, and didn’t actually mean what she thought it meant?

That didn’t sound particularly likely, but Sue wasn’t about to waste an opportunity to preserve a bit more of her sanity.

“Uhm, like... ghost ghost? Came bhack from the dead and all-“

“Mom told me it’s very rude to ask about that!”


Spark’s response wasn’t doing Sue any favors; the once-human looking up at Sundance with an unspoken ‘help’. The vixen herself looked as uncertain about the ongoing situation as Sue was, though she was willing to give her an out. Both to resolve the awkwardness and to learn more about the world Sue came from, hopefully.

“Sue didn’t know, sweetie. She’s from very far away.”

“Ooooh. Really!?”

The lil’ fox somehow got even more excited than before. She turned to look back up at her big friend, her wide-eyed gaze helping melt through any residual embarrassment.

“Yeah! Really far away... I-I’ve never seen a ghosht...”

“Really!? But they’re not that rare... and you knew what a ghost was already?”

Awfully perceptive for a fiery critter that doesn’t even come close to clearing my knee.

“Well, I’ve heard of them, but thought they were jusht a myth, a scary story, y’know...”

“Noooo, of course not! There are many of them in Moonview, and even more in the woods! Most of them are even nice!”

Sue wasn’t sure whether the ‘nice’ category included Hazel, but the reassurance that her soul would probably not be eaten by a wild undead spectre was appreciated. Even with that, the shock of ghosts apparently being real here still hit her hard, as if deities, fox shaped heaters, brain magic martians and plant people weren’t enough already.

Then again, not like ghosts didn’t fit with all the fantasy wildlife either.

“Uh-huh. Are they... dead?”

“Some are, others hatched like that already. There’s no difference between them, and it’s considered very rude to ask.”

Guess at least she knew that now, even if it wouldn’t undo her unintentional faux pas. At least it didn’t happen in front of the being in question; something, something, silver linings.

“Oh. Sorry...”

“It’s fine, do not worry Sue. No way you could’ve known, after all.”

Sundance’s warm smile reassured Sue, bringing relief to the once-human, especially when combined with Joy hugging her hand.

“Though, not like Hazel hasn’t been outspoken about having come back from the dead.”

Willow’s interjection made Sundance tilt her head with an ‘I suppose’ expression, leaving the outsider even more confused. The medic soon picked up on her confusion, continuing shortly after-

“It’s all a rather sensitive issue. There's still some prejudice against ghosts that had returned from the afterlife, painting them as wanting to drag others to the afterlife or hurt the living out of spite. Hard to shake off for many. After Hazel arrived here, many accused her of having come back from the dead, and she eventually snapped and admitted it. She wears it as a badge of pride now.”

Seems the ghosts she knew were still here, with the teensy tiny distinction of there also being non-undead ghosts, somehow. Whether the latter could count as alive was a question Sue considered asking for a moment, before tossing it aside; primarily because of not knowing how to phrase it.

“Uh-huh. So, was Hazel someone else here before she... died?”

“No, we don’t think so, at least. Personality didn’t really match anyone who had recently passed around that time. I was under the mentorship of my uncle at the time, and preparing the dead for burials was part of our duties. We got to see everyone that kicked the bucket, heh.”

“Wouldn’t she remember?”

“She would not. The returned ones don’t get to keep any memories of their past life. From what Poppy had told me, Hazel’s oldest memory is finding herself sitting on top of a hill, under a cloudy sky, not remembering who, where, or even what she was.”

Sundance’s explanation made Sue shudder at the thought.

Her own arrival was plenty traumatic despite being far less drastic; to imagine it with no recollection whatsoever, not even of her own name, on top of everything else, made her want to give the spectral prankster a hug.

“That’s horrible...”

The fiery fox nodded, not blind to the parallels between Sue’s case and Hazel’s. She stretched to reach across the table and lay her paw on Sue’s shoulder, the limb’s warmth comforting.

“It is. Eventually, she found us, and look at her now. You wouldn’t have guessed what had happened to her. It’s all gonna be alright Sue.”

“Yeah! Mrs. Hazel is doing good, and once your leg gets better, you will too, Sue!”

Spark’s enthusiasm and her mom’s reassurance brought a smile onto Sue’s face, the tiny ear-fluff fox getting her head pet for all it was worth.

“Heh, thank you, Shpark.”

Lil foxy’s toothy grin was almost as precious as her giggling, though slightly marred by some of said teeth looking way sharper than they ought to for any creature this cute.

“Oh, oh, oh! Where are you from, Sue!?”

“I told you Spark, she’s from very far away.”

“Yeah, but what is it like there? Oh, oh, oh, is anyone like us there too?”

Sue was unsure how to respond, for multiple reasons.

There was keeping the truth of her origins secret, of course, and while she trusted Willow and Sundance to keep that knowledge to themselves, Spark was another case entirely. Perhaps the even bigger issue, though, was just how uncomfortable the truth was. Especially regarding the similarities between the intelligent creatures here and… at the very least, not obviously intelligent animals of her homeworld.

The rest of the group was very curious, even beyond Spark’s unmistakable enthusiasm. Her sixth sense let Sue pick up on it all; heck, even Joy wanted to hear more, intrigued by the mysterious faraway land her newly made friend had come from.

Comet was the only one that didn’t care either way. He was content with his company and having very warm fur to snuggle into, expressing his approval with a high-pitched squeak.

“It’s... quite similar to here, in most ways at least. There are many creaturesh there, some like the ones here, but more... mundane.”

“Mundane? Like, Normal?”

Sue could tell there was something more to Spark’s word choice, but couldn’t determine it from her mood alone. Won’t hurt to prod some more-

“Like... th-there are creatures there that are shimilar in appearance to you Spark, just... without the whole, uh... fire, thing.”

Or sapience, for that matter.

“So Normal then! That sounds boring.”

Spark soon realized her gaffe, looking apologetically at the medic before her mom could even give her the look-

“Oh, sorry, Willow!”

“Oh, it’s alright sweetie, I get it~. Though, with that in mind, is that true, Sue? Does the place you’re from really only have Normal-types?”

They corrected themselves shortly afterwards, maintaining the pretense for the little ones-

“Except for Forest Guardians, that is?”

A truthful answer would’ve been ‘what in the world is a Normal-type’. The most straightforward answer would’ve been a flat out ‘yes’. Sue went a step beyond either of those, playing dumber still hoping to figure out just that bit more about how this weird world worked.

“I-I think so, but I’m not sure about what ‘Normal’ meansh here...”

“Whaaaaaat? But it just means-“

“No, no, Spark, that’s a fair question; especially if Sue had little to do with those outside her kin.”

Sue took the cue, nodding along eagerly-

“Yeah, I-I’ve only lived with other Forest Guardiansh before...”

Thank Duck Solstice wasn’t around, else she would’ve had a hard time not laughing at such an obvious lie.

“See Spark~? Well, Sue, you might’ve noticed how Spark and Sundance have a particular affinity for fire and warmth, while yourself, Solstice, and Sundance all have the gift of psychic senses. Hazel is a ghost, of course. You, Solstice, and Poppy have a special connection with the Moon. These are what some call ‘types’, though they’re a very vague description. Most have a type or another, or even two, but some just don’t. Those that don’t have any of those traits or gifts are bundled together as the ‘Normal’ type.”

“But what about-“

“Yes, there’s a bit more to it than that, but let’s keep it simple for Sue for now.”

Sue slowly nodded, the concept making some sense to her. The two fire foxes weren’t the only fire themed beings in here, so having a ‘type’ to bundle them all under felt reasonable at a glance. There were several kinds of these… well, superpowers, and the poor schmucks without them were the ‘Normal’ ones.

Considering the apparent power level of everyone else around, that sounded… awful.

“Okay, yeah, there are only these Normal types where I’m from. K-kinda sad really...”

In another world, all the critters on Earth could’ve been sentient beings; able to communicate with each other and live for more than a panic fueled fight to survive and pass on their genes before a brutal death...

“Eh, I’d say it’s not that bad, personally~. Though yes, that situation does sound peculiar and hard to imagine. But~ I’m also curious about you specifically, Sue. What did you used to do back there?”


Guess if Willow also fell under the umbrella of ‘Normal’, then that group also had access to magic, and stood a chance after all.

Somehow, this question turned out to be even more difficult to answer than the first one. Sure, she could say that she is, or rather was, a computer science student at a local university. But then she’d have to spend ten hours explaining every word of that sentence, including all the concepts needed to make sense of her original answer in the first place and all the ideas needed for those concepts in turn, and so on and so on, working her way up from the basics the rest of the group would grasp intuitively.

Decent odds the feast would still not have been ready by the time she was finished, but best not press her luck.

“It’s... very hard to describe. I-I can say I was studying how to use a certain very c-complicated contraption. For counthing, and other thingsh...”

‘Other’ was definitely the load bearing word of that sentence.

“Hmm... something like an abacus? I recall a few settlements using those in my travels, and I think one of the recent arrivals has even brought one with themselves. Completely beyond me how they function.”

“Uhm, yes! K-kinda like those, bhut more complex.”

Sue sighed inwardly at worming her answer to something somewhat coherent. Sundance’s answer provided an excuse to redirect the conversation away from herself, at least for a moment.

“D-did you used to travel a lot, Shundance?”

“Oh my gosh, you have no idea Sue! My mom traveled around the world for years! Right mom!?”

Sundance chuckled at her daughter’s enthusiasm, moving one paw in a scritching motion; her mental magic helping transfer her affection over towards Spark at the other side of the table.

“I suppose that’s not a wholly inaccurate way to describe it, but ‘traveled’ makes it sound a lot more structured than it really ever was. Never had a grand plan to ‘travel around the entire world’ or anything like that. I just wanted to wander until my legs fell off, see everything there was to be seen, everything and everyone, and figure myself out while at it.”

Sue could relate to Sundance’s desire, at least. She wasn’t ever in a position to just be able to let go of all earthly attachments and hitchhike around the planet for a year or two, even if she daydreamed about it every once in a while. Hell, even once she’d finished college, she’d need to save up for a good few years afterwards just to afford a week-long vacation, let alone anything more than that...

It felt so much more possible just a few years back.

She was about to wrap up high school, ready to take in everything the world had to show her; dad was still around… and then the diagnosis came, and a few months later, he was gone. Suddenly, any frivolities took a back seat to making sure she could make it through college without taking on too much debt.

Didn’t even really have the time to mourn. Just had to grit her teeth and get down to holding on...


“O-oh, shorry. Just... got lost in thought. I... definitely know what you meant th-there, and can relate a lot.”

“And haven’t been able to explore like that yourself?”

Not until now, at least.


She didn’t want to be questioned why on the spot, though, swerving the conversation back-

“It’s alright. I-I’m curious though, why did you want to exphlore, and what did you shee out there?”

The redirection away from herself wasn’t exactly subtle, but Sundance wasn’t about to make a fuss about that. She couldn’t blame Sue for not wanting to talk about her past life too much, with it likely only reminding her more about being stranded in here.

And even beside that, it’d just be rude.

“The ‘why’ question is much simpler than the ‘what’, because it wasn’t really my choice.”

Sue blinked, the revelation painting Sundance’s travel in a wholly different light.

“Wait, what? Were you kicked out?”

“Essentially, yes. It wasn’t an act of cruelty. Or at least, not an act of explicit cruelty. It was just how my kin... did things, out in the desert. Females were kicked out of the nest after they evolved and were to fend for themselves. Hunt, build their own nests, look for mates. Gain the experience and wisdom needed to one day be in charge of their own brood.”

Spark huddled on Sue’s lap as her mom went on, the once-human hoping to Duck that the poor kit wouldn’t be subjected to all that. The whole thing gave Sue a whiplash and a half. For how human-like the beings here behaved, this revelation reminded her they weren’t humans, and that their animal-ness extended beyond just appearance.

And it’s not like Sundance’s parents weren’t aware of what they were doing, making it even more vile. It was no animalistic instinct; it was a conscious choice.

“H-how could they do thish to you?”

“It’s just... how things used to be done. The conditions my kin live in, out in the desert, are unpleasant. Dens are cramped, and food is scarce. Hard to sustain a whole brood, and compromises have to be made. Brood mothers have the final say on everything, and that level of responsibility requires grit and experience. Or at least, that’s how my mother justified it. It’s heinous, no two words about it. But that’s how things were, and probably still are, out there. You won’t see me trekking back there to investigate.”

Sundance took a deep breath, shaking the mental muck off before continuing.

“I wasn’t interested in settling down. The desert sands weren’t particularly fascinating, but I knew that vastly different places lied beyond, so I kept going. I wanted to see that another world. Every so often, I ran into someone else of my kin, another den. They couldn’t take me in, of course, but it was a common custom to offer a night’s respite and for brood mothers to share any wisdom and knowledge they had. And, well-“

The fox mother smirked as she flicked her arm upwards; a stick as long as her forearm sliding out of its hiding spot in her fur and out into her grasp, its tip catching flame immediately.

“Flames might not solve every problem, or even many problems, but they make for a very effective repellent from those mistaking you for easy prey. Especially with a bit of knowledge on how to apply them.”

“Oh, oh, oh, mom can you show Sue-“

“Probably not the best idea for me to show off right before the main event, sweetie, don’t you think~?”

“I- I guess...”

The table giggled at Spark’s enthusiasm being extinguished, Sue not hesitating to make up for it with further affection.

“Besides, I never was the one for strife. I know a flashy technique or two, but most of those are only ever useful in a life of violence, and I-“

Sundance blew off the flame at the tip of her stick before sheathing it as swiftly as she had pulled it out. Its hiding place was effective enough that Sue couldn’t spot it, despite knowing it was resting alongside Sundance’s forearm.

“-chose a different path. It took me a few moons, the desert was horribly vast after all, but eventually I made it over to grasslands, and eventually, forests. Got to experience how well a good berry could taste and never looked back afterwards. Even most desert dwellers didn’t want to risk having a bite at me; you can imagine how much less alluring that became with everything in the vicinity now flammable.”

Oh shit.

Of course, Sue didn’t suspect Sundance of being willing to resort to aggression like that. Even then, just trying to imagine the sheer damage she could do if she did was unnerving, not to mention humbling.

Hopefully her lessons, be they with Sundance or Solstice, would cover self defense in not too long.

Or better yet, I’d get to go back home...

It was hard for the fiery fox not to sense Sue’s desire. Still, she kept weaving her tale, wanting to avoid drawing attention to Sue’s distress.

“It let me travel freely and relatively safely, if nothing else. Not to say there weren’t occasional fools who tried their luck, but most brawls ended in seconds with one side running away with some freshly charred fur. I saw many settlements, most of them tiny compared to this one, even back then.”

The change of subject helped Sue shake the moment of dread from before, eyebrow raising at the prospect of there being more places like this. Many, many more, judging by the way Sundance phrased it.

“So, there are more townsh like this?”

“Plenty. Ones as large as this one are few and far between. This town and the Central City, where me and Solstice just got back from, are the only two in any sort of real vicinity. To get anywhere else you’re looking for a weeklong trek, if not longer. Most settlements I’ve seen were much more modest, and didn’t let outsiders in permanently for the most part. They were more so several families banding together to share resources and watch each other's backs than anything else. Still, they were usually welcoming, if briefly and at arm’s length. Many had unique spiritual traditions, which was the other thing I wanted to explore and witness.”

Sue thought back to the Duck’s shrine, wondering how it stacked against other religions of this world; especially with Duck being real to some extent, at least as far as her dreams implied so far. Of course, they also implied that the Night Father was real, too.

Monotheistic religions are… probably something of a hard sell here.

“What did you shee?”

“Almost anything you can imagine, really. Worship of one deity, worship of multiple, worship of all, worship of none. Beliefs in uncountable numbers of spirits all around us from times untold, in an upcoming end of the world, in the natural order, in a cessation of the natural order, in reincarnation, in hells and heavens of myriad forms. Far too much to summarize. Thoroughly humbling, one and all.”

Sundance paused to catch her breath; briefly closing her eyes as she sorted through a lifetime of experiences in her mind.

“I was never particularly devoted to my worship of the sun, and seeing it all made me relax even further. Nobody really knows why we’re here and what awaits us after death, so might as well be kind to one another, and to ourselves. An afterlife may or may not exist, but this life sure does. Why not make it a pleasant one?”

The insights weren’t anything extraordinarily deep, but they were reassuring.

“Heh, I-I kinda thought you would’ve found some deeper truth of the univershe, or shomething...”

“Oh, there definitely are deep insights to be had. But the deeper the insight, the more specific it is. As far as broad principles go, being kind and not doing to another as you wouldn’t want done to you are the ones I’ve grown to appreciate the most over the years. I’ve heard more than one truth so stabbing it made me want to incinerate the person I was talking to because of how painful, yet unerringly accurate, it was. As true as they rang, none of them would mean anything to anyone in a different position.”

Sue’s resulting look made her quickly follow up with-

“I- I never actually incinerated anyone like that, just to be clear.”

Okay, phew.

Sundance chuckled softly. If it was someone more familiar with her, she would’ve gotten a bit offended by someone presuming something like that about her. In Sue’s case, though, it was more than forgivable. Especially with the girl having no prior experience with fiery beings and Sundance’s soft brag about how fearsome she used to be.

Once Sue had calmed her heart down a bit, she could chew through Sundance’s words proper. And yeah, they largely made sense. It’s not like she knew just what kind of deep wisdom she even expected to hear.

Maybe the golden rule was more profound than she had originally given it credit for?

“Okay... n-now I’m curioush, what was the weirdest religion you’ve seen in your travels?”

“‘Weird’ is a very subjective metric, you know. I’m sure I was the weird one for many. I can’t deny that one place in particular was… memorable.”

The entire table listened in closely. From Sue and Joy ready to hear about that encounter for the first time, to Spark wanting her mom to tell it again, to Willow not remembering the details all too well, to Comet just reading the room and keeping himself quiet and comfortable in Sundance’s hold with a bubbly squeak.

“I take you’re not too familiar with the Allfather, right Sue?”

The name strongly reminded her of the Abrahamic deity, making the once-human want to reply with a tentative nod. Still, she couldn’t be sure if that was quite it, leading her to shake her head instead.

“Allfather, Allmother, the Ancestor... quite a few names for them. They are said to have populated the world with living beings. How they did it depends greatly, of course. I’ve heard tales about them creating life from dust, from mud, from salt, from their own wishes, or even by breeding with themselves. A lot of variation on that particular point. They’re most often depicted as a small, pink creature with a long tail.”

“Do you really not know about Allfather, Sue!?”

She was unsure how to answer Spark’s question. Sundance’s brief description did indeed make the being in question sound even more like the monotheistic deity, though it had elements of other religions’ creation myths, so it was really hard to know for certain.

Won’t hurt to ask.

“I- maybe? They also created the resht of the world, right?”

“Not typically, no. Most many-god faiths I’ve seen assign that feat to another deity. So, that eerie place I mentioned had a faith centered on the Allfather, but according to them, they were an evil deity.”

Evil creation deity was a new one.

“How sho?”

“Their logic is rather sound on this. If Allfather created all the creatures, then they did so deliberately and with a plan. The circle of life, the split between predator creatures and the prey creatures, and so on, are all deliberate. Which makes the Allfather evil, profoundly evil, for knowing about the unceasing misery they were sentencing their creation through, but going along with it, anyway. Unsurprisingly, that faith was mostly held by lowlier, ‘prey’ species.”

Sue nodded along for now. The idea was outlandish enough that she’d need more than a moment to chew on it and find out if it truly made sense to her, but wanted to hear the rest of it.

“As such, they worship another deity, whom they call the Usurper, because it is destined to usurp the Allfather’s throne and reign over mortal beings. According to them, this Usurper will bring on a new era, one that can scarcely even be imagined right now. One where the circle of life has been broken and its suffering ended. Its form is said to be beyond comprehension; an ever-changing mass of sunset and midday, of orange and blue. That wasn’t even the memorable part of it; it would have to be the chanting. I was hungry, tired, and had stumbled upon their ceremony; they invited me over and promised food afterwards, but until then, we were to chant, chant for their deity to come, ‘Arise Usurper!’, ‘Arise Usurper!’. It was... surreal.”

“Did they at least feed you after all that?”

“Oh yes, they did, Willow. They were rather hospitable, but I opted to get going by the next day’s sunrise. It all… unnerved me past a certain point.”

Wonder what, or who, would they have had for their next dinner had she stayed…

“Why did you stop traveling, mom?”

Spark supported herself on the table with her forelegs as she looked up at her mom; all the tales so far exciting enough to make the little one wonder why would one ever stop.

“Why did I stop? I don’t think there’s a simple answer. Part of it was exhaustion, no doubt; I had been wandering around the world for over a decade by then, almost a decade and a half. I was tired physically and mentally, felt like I had learned enough, and perhaps most of all, I finally wanted to contribute to somewhere where I could spend the rest of my days. After going over every single memorable settlement I had visited in my journeys, a decently sizable village by a small stream back in the south caught my attention. By the time I got back there, it had grown a lot since I last saw it, and now it’s plenty bigger than that still~!”

“To this day, I’m not sure if I really remember when you visited us for the first time, Sundance, or if my failing memory made it up after you brought it up. By the Pale Lady, do I remember when you arrived for the second time, ha!”

“Oh oh oh, what was mom like then, Willow? Did she do something cool!?”

“She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week beforehand. The moment we sat her down and gave her food, she dozed off and slept for two days straight.”

Sue tried and failed to hold in laughter at hearing that. She sure didn’t think that herself from the last semester would have so much in common with her newly found mentor, or at least her past.

“Yes, that entire time period was a blur, but it’s hard to forget just how profoundly exhausted I was, and how relieving having somewhere safe to rest was. It’s something that I would never want to deny from another being, no matter their kin or type.”

The indirect jab in Sundance’s response went over the heads of everyone but its direct target; Willow sighing as Sue took her sights on them.

“How long have you b-been here for, Willow?”

“How long~? My dear, my family founded this place!”

Now that was an interesting twist.


“Mhm~! Well~ I suppose if you get down to the nitty gritty, someone else had a hand in it too, but that’s the gist of it, indeed.”

Spark might have heard this story enough times to not be as curious about it anymore, but that couldn’t be said about Joy. The little big maw creature stood up to peek at Willow from behind the table; Sundance holding in a smile at her antics while not looking at her directly, lest she’d got spooked.

“I had to elaborate Willow, I think we have the time for you to go into detail, don’t you think~?”

Sundance’s tone was playful as she winked at Sue. The once-human reached down to hold Joy closer while avoiding her back maw; the girl briefly wincing at the touch before relaxing into it.

“We do, indeed. So~ a long time ago, before even my grandparents had hatched yet, my clan had a modest dwelling here. Just a large burrow and a small wooden hut on the outside. We weren’t proficient craftsmen, and, well, I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that we didn’t have the shared strength to put together a sturdier shelter, ha.”

Sue chuckled inwardly at Willow’s admission.

That’s one hunch validated.

“We took pride in healing anyone who came, staying neutral in any larger conflicts and trying to compile all the medical knowledge we could. Part of it was tradition, of course; one started so long ago that the bones of anyone that saw it take form have long since become dust. But the rest was… us being rather easily pressured into inaction. We were bad craftsmen, but we were even worse at fighting, including any self defense.”

“If only you had someone soft spoken yet carrying a flaming stick to stand up for you back then~.”

“Well, we do now, better late than never, ha! It was an actual issue at the time, though. We were at the mercy of the woods in a very real way; pleading for them to not send someone mighty with a vendetta our way. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be the case forever, thanks to Granite’s forefather.”

Sundance pointed out the person in question; Sue’s attention getting psychically drawn to a gray creature with four arms sitting beside a small firepit off to the side. Despite it being her second time seeing them, their similarity to a human being didn’t result in any less of a whiplash this time.

Sue might not have known how to redirect Joy’s focus in the same way, but she could point well enough.

She lightly tapped the back of Joy’s front head before pointing out the villager in question, trying to keep it inconspicuous. Though, considering the sudden uproar of laughter that took over Granite and the rest of their band shortly after, they probably weren’t paying too much attention to their group.

“Thank you, Sundance. Sadly, his forefather’s name has been lost to time, but not his actions. He had stumbled upon our little shelter in need of aid after getting poisoned, which, of course, we gave. In return, he vowed to repay us once he had completed his pilgrimage to a sacred mountain, which he was in the middle of. We were used to promises like that; most of them were never acted upon, and we didn’t expect much once he’d left. A moon passed, then another, then a few more. I believe it had been almost two years since his original visit, but he eventually came back with a mate, and proclaimed that he was settling down near us and had taken it as his life mission to aid us and our cause.”

“Soundsh... rather drastic.”

“Oh, it absolutely was; we were just as dumbfounded as you are. Took a while to get an answer out of him; he was so dedicated to working hard that he never sat down for long. In short, he had walked towards a sacred mountain in search of guidance from the spirits, and help in finding a virtuous deed to dedicate his life towards. And, as he sat meditating on the mountain’s peak, he realized that our little clan was the right choice.”

“Didn’t he already want to help?”

“Yes Spark, but that revelation changed it from maybe building something for us once as thanks to settling down permanently and helping us expand. And help us, he did. That building you sleep in, Sue, was supposedly one of the first to be built by him. He helped us grow, and even more importantly, he made for a very effective bodyguard. We still healed all who came, of course, but now could afford to be more assertive and work to make our woods safer for everyone. And from there on... more people kept showing up. Much easier to grow past a certain size. You’ll have many travelers come by, and some will decide to settle down. Years passed, people kept coming, we kept growing. We took to Pale Lady’s worship, our nameless village turned into Moonview, we carved out a decent clearing that we’re only now finally filling in, continued to gather our knowledge and pass it down the generations…“

Willow took a deep breath, chuckling to themselves.

“And now, there’s just me left.”

Wait, what?

“Wh-what do you mean, only you?”

“I’m the last of my clan, Sue. Once I’m gone, that’ll be it for us.”

The casualness with which Willow said that was chilling. For a moment, Sue thought it was a sorrowful resignation, admitting the inevitable, but the medic truly wasn’t all that bothered by the harrowing realization, remaining as upbeat as ever.

“B-but how?”

“We kept expanding for a while, but there’s only so much you can grow if you want to avoid mingling with close relatives. It wasn’t an issue since we had the people to pass our knowledge and mission on. All things end; that’s just how life is. Considering everything, I’d say we had a pretty good run, wouldn’t you say, Sue?”

How do I even answer that?

The prospect of accepting one’s demise so calmly was completely alien to her. Any occasional trains of thought about her death that occurred to her in bed had to be exorcised with hot cocoa and funny internet videos, just to distract her from her own mortality. Even brief forays into that subject threatened to send her into a panic attack, and Willow just... didn’t care.

“I- I guess. That’s shtill sad though, isn’t it?”

“In a way it is, I suppose. At the same time, the sorrow of a loss is offset by the joy of giving something else a chance to grow instead. Life keeps going, after all.”

Guess this was something she’d be taking to bed with her tonight, and without a pleasant distraction no less.

“I guess I-I never thought of it like this.”

“Makes sense! You’re still young, whole life ahead of you, little point to coming to terms with one’s death just yet, ha! And speaking of things ahead of us~!”

Willow looked away from the table as their expression lit up; the reason not being hard to figure out- food was on its way!

Oh, and Solstice, too.

The other Martian was holding a bowl of freshly roasted treats in each hand, with a few more suspended in her magic in front of her. Her glowing eyes were even starker as the sunset crept on them, though Comet’s excited squeaks made it hard to focus on it.

“That ought to be most of it~. Apologies for the delay; there was a sad mishap in one kitchen and it took longer to get everything prepared, but we should be ready to start soon. Are you all feeling alright?”

Solstice leaned on the table, catching her breath while magically pulling her son out of Sundance’s arms and into her own. Joy huddled closer to her big friend at the Mayor’s appearance, but kept watching.

“We’re doing alright~. We were just telling Sue about Moonview’s history, and Sundance reminisced about her travels for the hundredth time.”

“Sounds like her alright.”

Sundance couldn’t keep herself mature enough not to stick her tongue out in response, sending the rest of the table giggling.

“As if you don’t have your own share of stories~.”

Solstice rolled her eyes at that, the sight slightly unnerving considering their size.

“Touche. I suppose I can be swayed into telling some of them again after the show~. But first, mind lending us a hand, Sundance? We’re wrapping things up, and a couple extra pairs of hands would help a lot.”

“You got it.”

The vulpine mystic slowly got up from her seat as Comet was begrudgingly left in Willow’s lap. With the two women gone, Sue had a wonderful opportunity to inspect the food left in their wake, the display making more than one gathered stomach rumble in anticipation. Grilled berries looking almost like cuts of meat, thick stews, browned and spiced root veggies, even ice cream! Or at the very least, something very similar looking, smelling of sugared fruits and radiating cold.

Spark’s excited barking interrupted Sue’s observation, making her acutely realize that she wasn’t exactly gonna be understanding much of anything being said with Sundance gone.

Despite the safety surrounding her, being left with nobody who could understand her was still chilling.

Sue tried to piece together what she could make out of the conversation that followed. Spark’s barks, a question most likely, were responded to with Willow’s firm squeak. The cub then tried to bargain a couple more times, eventually giving up and laying down Sue’s lap with a small grumble.

Sorry Spark, we all have to wait, which means so do you~

The once-human’s pets helped her feel better, as did Joy joining in on them, even if hers were much clumsier and had nowhere the reach. Humble as her efforts were, Spark got noticeably happier at seeing the toothy girl join in and be more active. Having the bridge of her snout pet made the kit sneeze shortly afterwards, though, a handful of sparks thankfully redirected into the air.

As much as the sight took Joy aback at the sight, it did made her giggle too. The sound was rather hoarse, but adorable all the same.

The rest of the wait went by quietly, the encampment quickly growing calmer as the sun set and the last dishes were handed out. Even the firepits were snuffed out in not too long, the tension in the air feeling downright palpable.

Sundance and Solstice kept quiet as they snuck back over to the table; shuffling silently through the dark as they took their seats. The Mayor sat down beside Sue after grabbing her little one from Willow.

“When’s it gonna shtart?”

Sue whispered in anticipation, green hair standing on edge.

“^Any second now-^”


A plume of flames erupted suddenly at the far side of the clearing, cutting Solstice’s answer off. Joy got swept up in Sue’s arms as the latter noticed her desperately trying to peek over the table; weighing more than Sue’d expected, but nowhere near enough to dissuade Sue as the show got started.

The inferno burst into a five-armed shape at its apex, raining embers over the modest, raised stage. The distance obscured most details of the two beings that stood at each end of the stage.

Red and yellow legs, white top, humanoid shape.

Blue body with white accents, bulky build with a massive tail-

And then they charged at each other, stopping Sue from taking any more detail in.

Blue one’s horn glowing bright purple took Sue aback; the display intimidating. It was matched moments later by the red one’s flurry of burning kicks, brilliant flames leaving fiery tracers in the air. All the while, the blue one dodged and weaved, much faster than its size would hint at it being capable of doing.

Flames and violet glow mixed chaotically in a blazing fast back and forth of swings and kicks; the two contenders moving around the stage as they expertly dodged anything the other tried to dish out. With one last kick, the red one jumped into the shadows behind the stage; an unfamiliar creature taking their spot.

White with a single red part, smaller, a levitating torso.

Immediately getting to work.

They launched volley after volley of glistening ice shards at the blue one, forcing them into endless dodging. Eventually, the latter counter attacked, spouting a gout of purple liquid at the white one. Their target faded from where it stood, disappearing into thin air-

And reappearing all around the blue one at the same time. Each clone laughed to itself, cacophony filling the air before the bulky one stomped the ground with all its might. Moments later, the earth erupted from underneath it, demolishing the stage it stood on and the illusions of the white one surrounding them.

The tremors made the dishes on their table ring a bit; Sue’s breath growing more shallow. She was utterly transfixed by the show; too focused to notice anyone else’s reactions, or that Joy was observing the spectacle from behind her fingers.

Suddenly, the white one reappeared behind the blue one, a sphere of dark, crackling energy between its hands. An instant later, the shadowy projectile was launched with a blistering speed, the crowd gasping-

Only for yet another contender to leap onto the ruins of the stage and take the projectile onto itself.

Brown, vaguely bear shaped.

Sue’s heart skipped a beat, only to see them get only barely staggered by the blow. The blue one leapt back into the shadows as the brown one swung at the white one, its claws leaving dark tracers that distorted the air.

It was time for the white one to be on the defensive this time, forced to dodge constantly. They finally made some solid ground with a hefty leap before answering with a brilliant blue beam that cut through the darkness; the brown one dashing away just in time for the ground behind it to erupt with massive ice crystals.

Their dodge didn’t give them any breathing time, the white one tagging out and the red one leaping back in with a fiery roundhouse kick. The brown one had to keep backing off from their aggression, aggression which left them open to a counterattack. The opening was capitalized on by the blue one reemerging from the shadows, stomping the ground with their heft again. Instead of an explosion, a massive stone spike erupted from underneath the red one; the fiery one only narrowly avoided being impaled.

At the same time, the brown one was charging up.

Small wisps of yellowish light gathered around its mouth before erupting into an honest-to-god laser, aimed at the red one and shooting off way into the sky. It looked almost like a thunderbolt against the backdrop of the night. But only almost, and actual lightning wasn’t about to be outdone.

After weaving and dodging the ray for a few moments around the tip of the stone spike, the red one leapt high into the air.

Yellow, bipedal, hidden in the dark.


Their roar was accompanied by a Thunderbolt shooting out of its body, up into the sky, and down onto the red one in the middle of an overhead kick. The bolt of electricity struck its leg before getting redirected downwards onto the blue one as they completed their kick; the intensity of the attack kicking up dirt all around the stage, shrouding it for a few moments as everyone’s hearing recovered.

Once it had settled, the performers were all standing next to each other on top of what used to be their stage. They faced the audience, lit up by fading embers- and struck a pose each.

The crowd’s reaction wasn’t too different from what Sue was used to, though; erupting into a mix of loud cheers, claps, and cries of adoration.

“By the Pale Lady, it feels like they cut it closer every single time...”

Solstice’s words fell on deaf ears, though; Sue stuck staring wide eyed at the scene as the torches around the plaza were lit for illumination, a singular thought rushing through her head.


The fuck.


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 8: Shadows


the gay agenda

Chapter 8: Shadows


The once-human’s mouth was left agape as she processed the show, the sheer power so casually displayed putting her on edge. Were those... just performers, or actual fighters? Were they an exception, or was that just how strong everyone here was?

Was there anyone around here that couldn’t break her body in half in one way or another-


Another attempt finally snapped her out of her shock. Sue blinked her daze off before looking over at the visibly concerned Solstice.

“Are you feeling alright?”

“I... yeah, I think sho. Just... didn’t expect that.”

Solstice nodded with a light smile, patting her shoulder afterwards.

“That’s very understandable, hah.”

“It was sooooo cool!”

Spark’s excitement did a great job of diffusing Sue’s worries; the Forest Guardian’s shaky hand reaching down to keep petting the kit after setting the other kiddo down. Her sixth sense let her know Joy’s reaction was not unlike her own, if with less existential dread and more awe.

“Yeah, it was. M-makesh me wonder how did nobody get hurt.”

“Practice, practice, practice. I’m sure they’ve rehearsed their entire routine in full over a dozen times before tonight, and if I know anything about Snowdrop, she’d ensured they had a plan for everything that could have gone wrong.”

Sundance’s explanation of the group’s precautions calmed Sue down a bit. Guess it all wasn’t as insane as it looked like at a glance. Still, with the sheer amount of flashy and dangerous looking moves happening in quick succession, she couldn’t help but wonder at how bad would the aftermath of something going wrong be.

“I-I can imagine. Wouldn’t it end horribly if someone did shlip up regardless, though? That all looked really scary.”

“It’d be ugly, and they’d need medical care, but there’s no way anyone’s risking death to begin with, hah.”

“And as Snowdrop had explained to me, they’re pulling their punches the entire time. They just know how to not let it show.”

Sue wasn’t sure which of these facts concerned her more. That most of the creatures here could survive a burning kick, a thunderbolt, a stone spike, or whatever the hell that laser was, or the casually admitted truth that this wasn’t even the worst any of them could do.

Drop literally anyone from here on Earth in medieval times, and they’d be worshiped as a god.

“I’m sure she won’t mind going over it all with you either, Sue, if we can spot her amongst the crowd at least. Until then, let’s eat lest our meals get cold.”

As awestruck as everyone still was, Sundance’s comment did a good job of snapping them back to the reality of having a delicious feast right in front of them. Comet reached out towards the dumplings on a nearby table, managing to pick a couple of them up with his psychic magic before Solstice put them back down.

“One at a time sweetie~. Oh, Spark, do you need help with getting something within reach?”

In her pondering, Sue hadn’t even noticed Spark’s feeble attempts at grabbing foodstuffs from the table. The vixen stood on her hind legs and tried pulling the nearby items with her front paws, accomplishing nothing but ineffectual swats at the bowls and plates.


“Doncha worry sweetie, your evolution is coming any day now and sooner or later, all these struggles will turn into distant memories. Not much space left on the bench; mind if I place your bowl on the ground, Spark?”

“But then I won’t be in Sue’s lap- I mean, I won’t be warming up Joy anymore!”

“I think Joy will manage a moment without your warmth, Sparkie~. Speaking of. Joy, do you want me to move your portion to somewhere within reach too?”

The overly toothy creature beside Sue jumped at being addressed by the Mayor of this entire village; the sound snapping her out of passively taking the display in. Both Forest Guardians felt a pang of fear rock her small body, the sensation making the once-human hold Joy closer to her side.

Solstice had no idea why one of their more recent arrivals was so spooked by her and Sundance all of a sudden. Regardless of the reason, though, she knew what to do, deciding to play it safe to win some of Joy’s trust back, hopefully. She moved Comet to her other arm, freeing the one closer to the toothy little one, before slowly reaching her hand over and offering it to the girl.

“Joy, I promise you, you’re welcome here. Everyone is, no matter their form or shape. Nobody’s gonna hurt you here.”

As effective as the careful words turned out to be, Sue felt another emotion coming from nearby. The blip of unamused scoffing was brief, almost unnoticeable, especially in how it wasn’t vocalized or even displayed on the vixen’s expression.

So many questions, and this one in particular feels like the kind you don’t ask in polite company.

Fortunately, the toothy girl was unaware of Sue’s concerns.

The entirety of her attention focused on Solstice’s green hand, the Forest Guardian’s gentle smile gradually making her less and less intimidating. Eventually, Joy reached back with her own hand; the black limb only big enough to hold on to a single finger.

Solstice sighed in relief as Sue carefully held the lil’ one closer; the gesture coupled with extra head pats, making Joy squirm and break into a light blush.

“So~ want me to move you something over there?”

This time, the little one’s response was a timid nod, as opposed to being paralyzed in fear. There was still some reluctance in her emotions and actions, of course, but not enough to make her entirely unresponsive. After a moment of consideration, Joy settled on what looked like sugared fruit slices, confirming her selection with a shaky nod.

Solstice’s smile grew as her eyes lit up; a few pieces of candied fruit getting picked up together with small portions of healthier meals. A spoonful of veggie salad, a crispy slice of bread, and a cup of water to accompany them; the latter left on the table as the rest was placed beside Joy in a small bowl.

Right as the girl was about to bite in with her front half, Sue caught her attention with a gentle pat, her smile wide and proud.

“What do you shay when someone d-does something nice to you?”

Sue might not have been Joy’s parent, but if she could help teach the wild child some manners, she wouldn’t decline that excuse. What she didn’t expect to happen, though, was for the toothy girl to stare at her in utmost confusion, her head chewing through the unintentional puzzle.

She literally didn’t know.

A great oppotunity to teach her!

“You say ‘thank you’.”

The tyke’s reaction cemented Sue’s hunch. Joy slowly nodded in response as she turned to look at Solstice, huddling closer to the friendly Forest Guardian next to her before opening her front mouth-

And vocalizing a bunch of gibberish.

It took Sue a while to figure out what happened, the rest of the table similarly confused. The eventual revelation was as simple as it was unexpected; Joy’s attempt at repeating the literal words ‘thank you’ the way Sue had said them ending up almost entirely incomprehensible.

With the once-human having cracked the mystery, Solstice wasn’t far behind, chuckling quietly before chiming in.

“Teehee, Sue doesn’t speak the same language as the rest of us, sweetie. We say it like ‘thank you’.”

Sue had to focus past the translation she was being provided to pick out the actual sounds being uttered. The phrase sounded odd, almost as if Solstice was whistling it out; her pitch constantly moving up and down.

Weird or not, Joy got the clue this time, nodding before giving it a shot herself.

“T-t-tha-thank y-y-you.”

Sue’s focus on the physical sounds everyone around her was making let her realize that Joy’s version wasn’t even close to how Solstice had said it. The little one’s vocalizations were dry and harsh, far from Solstice’s smooth whistle, with only the cadence matching up.

“There you go~ and you’re welcome sweetie, enjoy the feast! And so do you, Sue!”

Solstice’s response snapped Sue out of her bewilderment; the mystery of the village’s language added onto the mental confusion fort as she refocused on the delicious treats in front of her. With no knowledge of what any of the displayed dishes were, she opted to grab one of the sugared fruit slices and gave it a tentative bite.

Sue’s attention shifted over to Joy as they both savored the treat; the third eye confirming what the first two saw clearly. Joy was loving it, and… yeah, it tasted good, really good even. It definitely didn’t come off as something someone this young would appreciate a lot, though.

What she’d thought to be sugar turned out to be anything but; the white spice tasting very zesty, almost spicy. It was unlike anything she’d ever had, leaving behind warmth reminiscent of mulled wine.

The fruit underneath the spice wasn’t anything she recognized, either. It looked vaguely citrusy, but was nowhere near sour enough to match any citrus Sue’d had ever eaten.

Wonder if the plants here are also mutated, and I just hadn’t noticed.

Musings on the precise nature of this world’s ecosystem were best left until bedtime.

The day might have been too busy for Sue to pay much attention to having not had anything since her rushed breakfast, but now that she’d gotten some actual food in her mouth, her stomach wouldn’t let her walk away unsated. The quickly building hunger made her grab a bit of every meal within reach, starting with the dumplings that Comet had just tried to grab.

Ohhhh, that was a satisfying crunch.

The stuffing wasn’t anything to sneeze at, either. Mix of boiled grains and roasted mushrooms in thick, gravy-like sauce. Even if Forest Guardian Sue was growing increasingly repulsed by even the thought of eating meat, Human Sue still remembered how wonderful a good stew could be, and this hit all the same notes.

Sue didn’t think of herself as being terrible at cooking or anything. She made it work day-to-day, even if her meals were on the simpler side. The gourmet display in front of her, though, made her usual dinners feel like buttered toast bread in comparison; the sheer difference in richness and diversity of flavours almost indescribable.

She knew because she ended up having a bite of every single dish on the table.

Her feast continued even as the rest of the group slowed down, their chatter little more than background noise for the once-human. All that mattered was that she was getting filled up, and that her taste buds were in heaven.

Even the drinks are great!

Perfectly chilled water went a long way, but the juice in a pitcher beside it was somehow even better. Not too dissimilar to apple and mint, but with none of their cloying or unpleasant aftertaste; the tiny pinch of bitterness making it much more refreshing.

Hungry as she might’ve felt, Sue’s stomach did not have infinite capacity. As it got filled up, her increasingly heavy head shifted from savouring every bite back to pondering just what she was eating, the food coma making it a profoundly difficult task.

Right as she was about to pour herself another glass of juice, though, Sue’s shoulder got lightly shaken, snapping her back to reality with a few confused blinks.

“Hmm? S-sorry, I must’ve shpaced out bad...”

“Oh, you very much did, ahahaha!”

As her cheeks were burning in embarrassment at Willow’s comment, Sue glanced around the now much emptier table. Joy was long since done with her portion and had dozed off in the meantime, resting her head and the large black maw on her lap in a way Sue was baffled that she hadn’t noticed until now. Comet was similarly sleeping in his mom’s arms, and Spark was…

…absent, it seemed.

“All good Sue, you must’ve been starving!”

“Yeah, I haven’t had anything shince breakfast...”

“No wonder you cleaned up half the table, then. Sating that kind of hunger is its own trance, and I would know.”

Sundance smirked, helping Sue feel better about it all as Solstice spoke up.

“Shook you out since Snowdrop is around, and it felt like you had wanted to chat with her about the show her team put on~.”

The Mayor’s words woke Sue up the rest of the way as her eyes scanned the nearby tables, finding most cleaned up of any food and some already entirely vacant. Among them hovered the mostly white performer; a look from up close revealed her to look even weirder than the once-human could’ve expected.

The two extensions that she’d previously identified as arms turned out to sprout from where ears would normally be. These weren’t even the only oddity about her appearance, not with a couple of stubby horns made of honest-to-god ice and a pair of red extensions that reminded Sue of wings on her back.

It all added up to an appearance that was tapdancing on the line between ethereal, intimidating, and slightly goofy, though her graceful movements swung the needle closer to the former.

She was presently chatting with the bipedal gray rhino Sue saw topple trees around the construction site the other day. It was hard to sense their emotions from the distance, but their increasingly nervous expressions gave her the feel of someone getting shot down.

At least they took it well, all things considered.

With one last exhale, they nodded and left the icy white one with a brief comment, heading back to their group afterwards. Predictably, it was mostly other builders, with the addition of who Sue realized to be the blue performer from the recent spectacle.

With both of them standing right beside each other, their anatomical similarity became much more obvious. Bipedal with a massive tail and a horn on their head, entire body covered with massive, stone-like scales, and cream coloured parts on the front. Despite being noticeably shorter than the gray one, the blue one was behaving in a much more maternal way, patting the larger rhino on the back.

By themselves at first, but it didn’t take long for the rest of the group to contribute. Granite pulled as much of the rhino into a hug as his four gray arms were capable of. The brown, quilled pangolin settled on a couple weak pats instead, and the red metal insect and the dark blue beetle kept themselves to only words.

“Should I call her over for you?”

Solstice’s question snapped Sue out of her focus, leaving her gulping at the idea. The icy performer deciding to float over on her own and her using it to get a couple questions in was one thing, but calling Snowdrop over just to sate her curiosity was a different matter altogether.

It’d put a spotlight on her, but it’s not like there was another way of getting answers for her questions. And she was surrounded by friends to boot, can’t ask for a better opportunity to get used to being more social.

None of that’s really helping on an anxiety level, but I guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet.


The Forest Guardian distracted herself by petting the sleeping, toothy creature as she waited for Snowdrop to float over. Joy was no Spark in how comfortable petting her felt, but it was nice in its own right. Her front half was adorable, and when it laid inert like that, even the menacing maw looked pettable. Sue’s brief, tentative pets made the unconscious child squirm closer to her as-


Once Sue was done calming her racing heart, she looked to the side towards the sound’s origin. Solstice somehow kept the whistle quiet enough to not draw literally everyone’s attention, melodic enough to not wake either of the little ones up, and still loud enough to accomplish its purpose.

Snowdrop soon got the cue, turning around mid-air and hovering right towards them, her inscrutable expression gradually shifting into a smile.

“Good evening, ma’am~. Enjoyed the show~?”

Sue sure didn’t expect a creature this ethereal-looking to sound so... teasing.

“Hello, Snowdrop! And hah, how could I not? Your performance was thrilling as always, though my poor heart sure didn’t like how risky some of that looked.”

“It’s all about looking risky indeed~. How can I help you~?”

“Well~. It was Sue here’s first time watching a show like that, and she was really impressed and had some questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

Snowdrop’s attention shifted from one Forest Guardian to the other, her expression softening the more of Sue she took in. One of her ear-hands give her a little wave, one that Sue soon awkwardly reciprocated. She couldn’t deny feeling a bit weird at being eyed like she was, though she wasn’t sure if it was good weird or bad weird.

“Ah, I see~ oh! Goodness, forgive me for not recognizing you sooner~. You’re the one that saved little Spark, no~?”

Sue simply nodded, squirming in her seat as her heroic feat was brought up again.

“Well, I’ve got all the time in the world for you then~. Pleasure to meet you, Sue~. What would your cute face want to know~?”

...my cute face?

If Sue wasn’t busy being dumbfounded by the tone of the question, she would’ve noticed the rest of the table holding in giggles at her reaction. Instead, she pushed past it, hoping to get some of her previous curiosity answered.

“Umm... how d-do you ensure that nobody getsh hurt?”

Sue saw the icy one’s expression briefly falter at the way she spoke, forcing Snowdrop to rely on the mental link to get meaning out of her gibberish. She didn’t linger on it, thankfully, shaking her confusion off and answering shortly after.

“Well, that’s an awfully wide question~. Broadly speaking, it all reduces to deliberately missing when we can, keeping track of each other’s cues, and putting in as little power as we can while maintaining appearances~. A stage like that has its advantages~. Everyone is looking from broadly the same angle and from below, so we can move on slightly different planes~.”

Snowdrop promptly demonstrated what she meant. She lifted both ‘hands’ so that their ‘palms’ faced Sue, before sliding them past each other. The gap between them was so small it made them look like they were about to bump into each other- until they kept not doing that, gradually breaking the illusion.

“Very important to keep on dodging to maintain the spectacle~.”

The weird tone continued, but at least Sue was getting her answers now.

“I-I see. And what was that about putting in little power, pulling your punchesh- how’s that work?”

“Tsk~ tsk~ tsk~ I can’t just reveal all my secrets to anyone who asks now, not with so many people around~. That latter fact could get remedied if you’d like~.”

Sue’s initial train of thought went to a place much, much darker than was intended.

Sundance almost spat out her drink at overhearing it as the once-human began to catch onto Snowdrop’s actual meaning. So, she’d tell her somewhere with not as many people around, and was offering to take her there. Which probably meant a walk, most likely on their own-


...is she… hitting on me?

Sue’s face went flush at the thought, wide eyes looking to Sundance for answers. The fiery vixen confirmed her hunch with a nod, leaving Sue in a wholly unfamiliar position. And then another once she’d responded, one she hoped she would never have to be in.

“I-I- umm- I-I’m sorry Snowdrop, I don’t- I don’t shwing that way.”

She wasn’t even sure if that was the case. Even if it wasn’t, though, being put on the spot without ever having a chance to untangle her feelings about romantic attraction led Sue to stick to what she’d assumed was true.

Sue’s heart sank as she watched the icy performer sigh in defeat, her expression deflating by the moment. Something told the once-human this wasn’t the first, or even the tenth time this has happened to her.

“That’s alright. Oh well. Wish finding someone was easier...”

A motion in her peripheral vision caught Snowdrop’s attention; the frosty tease waving back at the blue rhino before speaking up once more.

“I’ll have to be going now. Though, if you ever want some more of your curiosity answered, or... anything else, I’ll be around, Sue~. Until then, have a good night, you all.”

“Take care, Snowdrop, and may She keep your rest peaceful. That show was really somethin’, I tell you!”

“Aww thank you, Willow~! We wouldn’t have gone as far as we did if not for your first aid lessons, really made us more comfortable pushing the limits. Oh, hey there Sparkie~.”

The vulpine bark of Spark’s response caught Sue’s attention as the fiery kit climbed back onto the bench beside her. Her big friend’s lap being occupied prevented her from proceeding further, but the kit didn’t let it get to her, waving her all the while.

“Sue, Sue! My friends wanna meet you, wanna come over and say hi?”

Spark’s words took Sue aback a bit, but on a second thought, she really wasn’t opposed to that. There were some obvious issues with that idea, though, ones Sundance immediately vocalized.

“Sweetie, can’t they come here? It’s much harder for Sue to walk than them.”

“I knoooowww, but their parents won’t let them! They’re not too far from here, though!”

“Will you even be capable of communicating with Sue? Maybe I ought to come too-“

“No no no, we have a psychic that can talk to her! Please mom, pleeeeease~!”

Sundance just rolled her eyes and chuckled. Sure, sure, don’t want herself to get embarrassed in front of her friends.

“It’s not me who you ought to ask for this, sweetie. If Sue is alright with it, then so am I.”

Even in the dim lighting, Spark’s puppy eyes were as super effective as ever.

“Shure, sure. Just need to get Joy off my lap, and I can come.”

“Yay yay yay!”

While Spark wriggled in joy, Joy was being levitated over onto Solstice’s lap. The brief period in between one lap and the other made her stir a bit, but ultimately her rest remained uninterrupted.

With that adorable weight off her lap, Sue got up, stretching her joints after several hours of near motionlessness. Full stomach and exhaustion made her somehow feel even less mobile than usual.

“Follow me!”

And follow Spark she did, slowly picking up the pace as her arm warmed up again.

The fiery kit led Sue between tables, firepits, and beings of all shapes and sizes, be they sitting, standing, walking or even asleep. Her passage was barely catching anyone’s attention by now, helping greatly in keeping her calm.

Enough so to let her take in all the scenes they were passing by.

The leafy caretaker she’d met a couple of times by now sat next to several unusual beings. Sue didn’t have too much time to take their appearance in, mentally jotting them down as a white sphere the size of her arm and a green-white serpent with a yellow collar, respectively. These two weren’t the only beings around, though, not with a small, brown pony and a pink, bat-like… something she couldn’t quite make out because of the lighting sneaking up behind the white sphere.

The green snake might’ve been trying to contribute to the hissed, clicked, and growled chat around their table, but they couldn’t resist joining the two sneaky beings once they had spotted them. With a brief glance around, they slithered off the bench, scooting up behind the two stealthy creatures and helping the pink bat climb onto the white sphere.

Whatever the latter was, it had seemingly just woken up, leaving the bat laughing loudly as they clung to the white mass. It only took moments before everyone else was giggling along or becoming increasingly confused, the shenanigans continuing until the blue cloud bird had noticed the bat and chirped at them to get down. Probably.

It had to have been the most pleasant sounding ‘get down!’ Sue ever heard if that was the case.

Splitleaf might not have noticed her passing by, but Hazel did.

The two locked eyes as the once-human passed by, her expression softening at the scene beside her. As opposed to any more heart attack inducing pranks, the ghostly prankster was busy petting the sleeping Poppy, the fairy cook’s head resting on the ghost’s lap. For once, it was Hazel that got flustered, looking away from Sue even as she continued her affection in full.

Guess even Hazel can be cute.

Sue had little time left to linger on that topic, though. Without any warning, Spark took a sudden turn away from the festivities soon after, constantly looking over her shoulder to check whether her big friend was still following her.


She knew the kit couldn’t understand her, but the question in her voice was clear enough. All Spark did, though, was tilt her head to tell Sue to keep following her; the gestures paired with urgent, anxious woofs. With no actual communication, this was the best she was gonna get, leaving the once-human with no choice but to follow the fiery kit.

Straight into the treeline.

“Spark, wh-where are you taking me...”

The answer turned out to be just a few meters ahead, the kit stopping and turning around in the dark. It was a few meters Sue took her sweet time getting to; her steps as slow as possible to avoid tripping on any sneaky roots or other inanimate objects. Spark waited patiently all the while, her fiery eyes piercing the darkness as her friend approached-

And was hit by a sudden wall of light.

The abrupt stimuli almost threw Sue off balance as she shielded her eyes with her free arm. Once she’d overcome the impromptu flashbang, she tried looking at what had caused it; the scene providing many fewer answers than it did further questions.

A small bonfire had appeared out of nowhere, just a couple of feet in front of her. Startling as that was, it wasn’t even the only sudden addition to the small clearing. The two other creatures that were now present took Sue aback, if both for very different reasons.

Hello again, ‘dipshit that stole my peaches’.

The lil’ dark fox remained as invisible to her sixth sense as always. A faint blue sheen filled their eyes as they looked up at her with an excited expression, wasting no time before scrambling over to join Spark in nuzzling Sue’s legs.

The other creature around the fire was not necessarily harder to describe, but for sure harder to make any sense of anatomically. They were mostly composed of a… large, pastel-colored hat, reminding her of something Merlin might’ve worn. Except this one had a tiny, pinkish, humanoid body hanging from underneath it, their pinprick eyes staring at her curiously.

There’s absolutely no way hanging like this can be in any way comfortable.

As Sue tried to focus on kinda-braid, kinda-hand, kinda-neither extensions on the back of the creature’s… hat, she suddenly felt an uncomfortable wriggling in her head. It wasn’t too dissimilar from the sensation she felt right before Sundance first spoke to her, but much, much rougher and more than a bit painful. Thankfully, it was over before long, leaving her to rub her temples and gather her bear-

“^Okay I got it! She can hear you now Pollux!^”

The very high pitched, very squeaky, very girly voice took Sue aback, as did the cheeky, boyish one that followed.

“Yes! Thank you thank you Thistle!”

The sudden voices left Sue too stunned to really process through the implications of the words. All the surprise combined with the constant nuzzles of the two kits made it difficult to keep standing, forcing the once-human to sit down on a nearby fallen log. Both foxes were there before she could even finish sitting down, with the pastel creature following soon after. As they did, though, they briefly stopped and winced in pain; one braid-hand-something reached up to rub the side of its hat.

“^S-so many people...^”

Overwhelming as the scene was, everything clicked into place soon after, especially with the darker fox, Pollux, continuing the outpouring of his affection, speaking up again shortly after.

“Thank you, thank you, Sh-s-Shue! We were goners if not for you! I-I was s-so scared, a-a-and-“

The excitement in his voice cracked at the recollection of that almost tragic day, words stopping as he pressed his increasingly teary snout into her side. Sue had enough experience with Spark to know what to do; both hands carefully petting the two fox kiddos as they huddled closer to her.

“Y-yhou’re w-welcome, P-Pollux.”

As the dark fox sniffled and calmed down, the hatted creature took the space on Sue’s other side, observing the entire scene with as big of a smile as their tiny face could contain.

“...a-and I-I’m sorry f-for stealing your P-Pecha...”

Guess I know the name of at least one local fruit now.

Sue giggled tiredly at Pollux’s apology, continuing her affection. She most definitely appreciated it, especially with how much his prank had initially spooked her, making that appreciation clear through more pets. Pollux’s fur was nowhere near as soft or warm as Spark’s, but the entire experience was no less lovely as a result.

“Apology accepted~.”

“I-I just thought it was Solstice, and d-didn’t see the difference until after...”

The Forest Guardian didn’t comment on that, filing that admission into a mental drawer to come back to later. Right now, the little ones needed affirmation, and she needed answers about what was going on here, starting with their talents.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. I-I’ve gotta shay, I’ve never run into someone that can do what you did, with that d-disguise and all...”

The comment perked Pollux back up, his expression turning sly as he repeated his feat from the previous day. In an instant, he’d once more turned into the orange striped lion-dog once more. This time, though, it only lasted for a moment before he reverted to his former appearance.

“Hehe~! We’re hard to find with our illusions~. Oh, Spark told us you’re from really far away!”

“^Yeah! And that there are only Normal types and Forest Guardians there- does that mean you’ve never seen a Dark type before?^”

The hat creature’s high-pitched words inadvertently steered the conversation over towards where Sue actually wanted it to go, the once human nodding firmly in response.

“^See! I told you Pollux!^”

“No way! Really!?”

“Mhm~. You gave me a bit of a shcare!”

“Teehee... s-sorry.”

“Don’t worry, P-Pollux, it’s okay. I’m glad I finally got to meet you. Though- you’re not a D-Dark type, are you~?”

Her question was directed to the hat creature, with the quieter moment letting her check for herself. And, indeed, the more girlish of the strangers wasn’t just not Dark, but seemingly a fellow Psychic, answering the riddle of how they were all even talking in the first place.

“^Of course not, didn’t you feel me connecting us all?^”

Sue gulped quietly, realizing only in hindsight how weird of a question by a supposedly fellow Psychic it was to ask, trying to justify it somehow.

“I-I did, I-I just wasn’t shure, I’ve never seen a- a you either.”

“^I can tell; you’re not scared! My name is Thistle!^”

The immense whiplash between Thistle’s upbeat tone and the incredibly unnerving implication of her words slapped Sue across the face so hard it left a mark.

It took her a good while to blink her confusion away as she stared at the adorable cotton candy-colored hat girl, asking the obvious once she’d recovered.

“...wh-why would I be shcared of you?”

“^My mom told me our kin are really mean and aggressive in the wild! A-and that almost everyone fears us because of that...^”

Having to explain that poked a hole in Thistle’s enthusiasm, excitement turning into somber, sadder feelings. Sue was still confused as all hell at her words, having a very hard time imagining the goofy pastel Psychic acting aggressive in any way, or even just being remotely scary.

That didn’t stop her desire to cheer Thistle back up, though. She was about to reach in to contribute some pets before realizing she had no idea where on the hat creature was alright for her to touch.

What in the world was this hat-like growth anyway-

“^That’s my hair! And anywhere on it is fine!^”

That was the one answer Sue absolutely wasn’t expecting, but the clarification was nice, she supposed.

With how subtle Sundance and Solstice were, she wouldn’t have guessed the next Psychic she’d meet would be so… nonchalant about acting on her unspoken thoughts. The realization brought with itself a pang of fear that Sue soon shook off. It really didn’t feel like this was being done for any malicious reason.

Maybe it was just how Thistle’s ‘species’ was.

Wanting to calm her down, Sue gently petting along the blue ‘brim’ of the hair ‘hat’, the surface feeling much closer to skin than bundled-up hair. Odd as her anatomy was, Thistle wasn’t enjoying it any less than the two vulpine kiddos, her pinprick eyes closing as she lightly swayed in place.

Three different kiddos to pet, a nearby campfire, a much quieter atmosphere than the feast.

As unnerved as Sue was walking here, this little scene turned out to be much more pleasant than she could’ve ever hoped for. She closed her eyes for a bit, taking it all in as she dispensed affection indiscriminately between the three, their small bodies cuddling her more and more by the moment.

Before long, though, the burning question on her mind reared its head again.

“So, why are we hiding here-“

The louder call coming from behind her made Sue jump in her seat, a glance over her shoulder barely making out a figure looking at them from the edge of the clearing. Pollux’s and Thistle’s reaction was instantaneous. The ablaze bonfire was suddenly suspended in an intense pink glow and instantly smothered as the two took off into the pitch black tree line. Spark barked something back at the voice shortly after as the once-human sat stunned at the suddenness of it all, brain still playing catchup.

Spark’s gentle yank on her skin dress finally snapped Sue out of her startle as her eyes got used to the dark again. After taking a minute to find her crutch, Sue shakily got up and followed the lil’ firefox back into Moonview. Somehow, she ended up being even more confused than before.

What were they doing here in the first place?

Why so close to the village?

Why did Thistle run too?

How come nobody noticed them sooner?

How come she didn’t see the bonfire until she was right next to it?

Could hair that looked so hat-like really be called hair anymore?

And of course, the question at the root of it all.

Why is Pollux hiding from Moonview in the first place?

In her dejected pondering, Sue almost didn’t notice the appearance of the being that had startled them all.

Would’ve been one hell of a feat had she kept it up.

The plume of pinkish flames flowing from the back of their head stood out right away; their shape almost looking like an odd ponytail. Even beside the flames, Sue felt heat radiate off of their reddish, bipedal body as she walked beside them, prompting her to steer half a step further away, just in case. The closer point of view let her realize that the bright plates covering their upper arms and torso were large, curved pottery shards, burned almost all the way to pure white.

Sue had no idea whatsoever just what they were.

Somewhat ethereal appearance, the pieces of pottery, all the flames… yeah, she got nothing. Maybe some sort of forge spirit? Not that ‘forge spirits’ ever made any sense as actual living beings, and Sue wouldn’t have ever expected a being like that to be so human-shaped in the first place, anyway. Could be a spirit, could be some sort of fire elemental, could literally just be a really hot guy.

Or girl.

Either way, they were about as confused about her and Spark as she was about them, which… fair.

Thankfully, the lil’ fox took all the talking upon herself as the flaming being escorted them closer to their table before splitting up. Spark in particular found their departure greatly relieving, immediately scooting over to nuzzle Sue’s legs once the fire person left. Most tables were completely empty by now, most of the remaining feast-goers cleaning up after themselves.

Who would’ve thought that bestial freaks of nature had better table manners than my college year.

Their table hadn’t been spared the cleanup either. Dishes weren’t the only thing that were suddenly gone, though, Willow similarly absent. Sundance sighed loudly the moment the two stepped back into view, immediately speaking up with exasperation-

“Goodness Spark, where were your friends at, the Central City?”

“Sorry! Tassel’s family was at the other end of the clearing! It took us a while to get there!”

Sue rolled her eyes at their long absence being blamed for her, but didn’t dwell on it for long. She had no idea whether Solstice or Sundance had caught Spark’s lie. Even if they had, though, they weren’t showing it in any obvious way.

“Sure, sure~. An appropriate time for us to head home as well.”


Excitement quickly burned into exhaustion for both Spark and Sue now that they were back with the rest of the group. The unanswered questions didn’t help, but thankfully for Sue, she soon grew too tired to focus on them. Much the same was true of Solstice; the older Forest Guardian looking like she was only keeping herself awake through the sheer force of will.

The two sleeping kids in her arms and on her lap didn’t help, either.

“Mrs. Solstice, what about you? Aren’t you and Sue going to bed too?”

Spark’s question staved Solstice’s sleep off that bit more; Moonview’s Mayor yawning and stretching as she switched to telepathy to answer-

“^We are- just waiting for Astra to pick Joy up and we’ll rest, too- oh there she is, thank the Pale Lady.^”

Sue followed Solstice’s line of sight at her comment, looking over her shoulder and up at the sky. A large silhouette was approaching fast, much larger and faster than any creature she’d seen in Moonview so far. The sight made Sue back a couple of steps away as the stranger finally landed near; her wings kicking up dust as she came to a stop.

Now that the once-human could inspect the scout closer, she soon realized she’d already seen her before, if very briefly. Her orange coloration might’ve been no more threatening now than it was then, but her sheer size and the draconic parts of her soft appearance did their best to make up for that.

Her satchel’s the size of my hiking backpack, for crying out loud!

“Phew, finally back home- oh no, don’t tell me I missed it all!”

Sue didn’t expect the dragon to be so soft-spoken, considering her size. Or so outwardly emotional, her body slumping forwards with a loud groan as Solstice’s nod confirmed her hunch.

“And I didn’t even find anything... is there at least some food left?”

“Mhm~! Poppy saved a hearty portion for you, though you’ll have to ask her or Hazel where they’d stashed it.”

“At least there’s that, hah- gasp!

Astra’s gasp made the whole gathering flinch; the gathered psychics sensed the reason moments before the dragon exclaimed it.

“Oh no, Joy! Where’s-“

Her voice trembled at realizing just how long she’d left the little one with no one to look after her. She was about to freak out before spotting the toothy tyke snoozing on Solstice’s lap. The Mayor’s careful telekinetic touch lifted the girl straight into Astra’s arms; the dragon’s embrace was as huge as it was gentle.

The closer point of view forced her to notice the bandage wrapped around Joy’s maw, her gasp prompting Sundance to explain what had happened.

“She’s alright, Astra. Other children sadly got physical with her to the point of minor injury. I doubt she’ll want to spend much time with them on her own anymore, unfortunately…”

Astra was aghast at the news, holding the little one that much closer in response. Emotions boiled on her soft expression, anger mixing with sadness to produce despair.

“Oh gods, I’m s-so sorry. It all took so long, I had to dodge thunderstorms on my way back, one of the snow people thought it’d be oh so funny to toss an Icicle Spear at me- and Joy got hurt a-and I couldn’t be there for her, and-...”

The dragon choked on her words as her voice wavered, eyes growing damper and damper.

“I-I can’t split myself like that... I-I don’t know wh-what to do...”

Solstice took a deep breath as she held her own little one closer to herself. She may not have had much concrete advice, but wanted to reassure Astra nonetheless, reaching up to lay her hand on the dragon’s shoulder.

“Rest for the next few days, Astra. Scouting new lands can gladly wait a bit longer. But… you’re right. We’ll need to think of something in the long term, or find someone...”

The mayor glanced up at Sue, thinking of how fond Joy was of her. Gears in her head turned at the idea, but it came with its own host of issues. Still, it was something to consider.

Consider tomorrow, in either case.

“We can do that tomorrow; no need to worry about anything more today. We all deserve rest first, you especially Astra.”

The dragon nodded wordlessly, a couple of tears rolling down her cheek as she held Joy close. Moment by moment, deep breathing slowly calmed her back down, as did gently stroking the toothy girl’s heads.

“Okay. Okay. Tomorrow. I’m- I’m sorry for all this-“

“Don’t be Astra, you did all you could. I don’t doubt that one bit. I wish I could say that of the rest of us.”

Solstice paused with a sigh, but spoke back up before anyone else could chime in.

“Take care, Astra, and may She keep your rest peaceful.”

“M-mhm. Y-you too Solstice, a-and Sundance, and Spark, and Comet, and-“

The dragon’s eyes finally met Sue’s; the firefox helped the former out as she walked over with Spark in her arms.

“Sue. The Forest Guardian that you rushed to the village.”

Astra’s eyes shot even wider at that. Before Sue could even react, she was suddenly pulled into a massive, tight hug; the dragon orienting her sideways to avoid being stabbed by her chest-mounted extremity.

“YOU’RE ALRIGHT! Oh my gosh, I kept thinking of you while flying; you got hurt so bad and I was so worried but I never had the time to check up on you and you’re alright; oh my gods, I’m so happy you’re alright. That looked so scary.”

The outburst of joy once Astra connected the dots between the bloodied, muddied and otherwise grimy being she helped save just a few days ago, and the unassuming Forest Guardian next to her was something immense. It almost overwhelmed Sue’s sixth sense, but the once-human was too preoccupied by hugging as much of the dragon as she could to care.

I’m much too tired and much too small to even come close to returning that hug, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try, goddammit!

“Yeah, I’m alright! I-I can’t thank you enough for helping me there! I-I thought I was dead there, I-I-“

Lacking any words, Sue tried to hold Astra even tighter, once more not accomplishing much. The gesture was appreciated much the same, though; the dragon’s large, scaly, and surprisingly soft arm held her close in return.

“You’re welcome! I just happened t-to be at the right place, at the right time... and from what Spark told me, so did you to save her, right Spark?”

The little fox responded with snores, having lost the battle with her own body in the meantime, making everyone still awake giggle.

“I think she’s got the right idea~. We can wait with all the thanks until tomorrow, too.”

Astra nodded shakily as she let go of Sue, the once-human quickly stabilizing herself on her crutch. The dragon clearly wanted to say something more, but kept her words to herself for now, just nodding deeply in affirmation instead.


“Mhm~! And seeing how much Joy liked Sue today, I’ve little doubt she’ll try to drag you over to meet her anyway, hah!”

The dragon’s expression turned to surprise, eyes glancing between the little one sleeping soundly in her arms and the still-relatively-rather-small-one she helped save nearby. She really wanted to express her happiness at hearing that, but the resolve to wait until tomorrow held; an almost comically large smile filling her face instead.

“Yeah. T-tomorrow. Sleep well Sue, a-and... thank you so much.”

Astra finally collected herself enough to take to flight again, holding Joy tight as she scanned the area for either half of the pantry couple.

Sue wouldn’t get to see whether she’d end up finding them. Soon after, Sundance wordlessly tapped her shoulder and tilted her head; the once-human quickly gathered her bearings before following the two women further into Moonview.

Guess the lanterns she saw yesterday were indeed lampposts, after all.

The realization didn’t elucidate just what it was that they were housing, though. ‘Fireballs’ was an answer, of course, but not one that really explained much at all. Even beyond that, Sue wasn’t sure if that non-answer was even accurate, with the flaming spheres in question sitting motionless and shining with colors flickering between red and purple.

Their walk towards the clinic was uneventful. Moonview felt so different like this when compared to daytime. So much quieter on all her senses, so much more serene, nowhere near as alive, and yet… just as safe. A crescent moon shined at them from above; the sight deeply comforting in a way Sue couldn’t hope to describe.

“Even at her weakest, Her visage is full of hope, isn’t it?”

Sue nodded thoughtlessly to Solstice’s words, needing a moment afterwards to consciously decipher their meaning. As odd as the religious reverence in her words felt, the once-human couldn’t help but agree with the Mayor’s point as the clinic came into view.

“It was a pleasure to finally meet you, Sue. My schedule is much clearer tomorrow, so if you’d want, you could pick your lessons back up with me after breakfast. How’s that sound?”

“I’d love to, th-thank you.”

“Wonderful. See you tomorrow Sue, may She keep your rest peaceful.”

“Good night, Sue.”

“You too...”

With a by now well-practiced motion, Sue scrambled through the doorway once more. Her exhausted body gave into the desire for rest the instant her head connected with the pillow, her crutch slipping until it eventually banged loudly against the floor moments later.

The two women outside doubled back to check up on the younger Forest Guardian at overhearing that sound, but thankfully, nothing was amiss. Only Sue, gradually falling into a deeper and deeper rest.

Deeper and deeper.

Darker and darker...

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 9: Lies


the gay agenda

Chapter 9: Lies

Sue’s consciousness was sinking into a lake of tar, only able to watch the surrounding darkness grow thicker by the moment.

Thicker, stronger, and more vicious; what once was a mere absence of light turned aggressive and suffocating, filling her body with terror through its presence. The pitch blackness leapt at her, tore her to shreds in a way her feeble mind could scarcely comprehend and do even less about. She trembled and tried to scream, only mumbling a few pathetic whimpers for nobody to hear.


Her descent into the pitch black nightmare might’ve been gradual, but its end certainly wasn’t.

In an instant, Sue suddenly found herself at the campfire scene once more. Surrounding her was a wall of twisting, writhing void, presently held at bay by the one being she had never expected to see for herself in person, or even in a dream.

His body was perfectly black, just like in the drawing she saw in her dream. The white of the smoke-like plume comprising His head contrasted greatly with the surrounding darkness. His blue eye stared straight at Sue as His outstretched arms held the seething nightmare at bay.


With another roar, the pitch black deity pushed the Dark Void even further back, banishing it from Sue’s mind entirely. It let her spot the small, but appropriate changes to the all too familiar dreamscape. The fire was extinguished, the lunar body above them was a barely visible new moon, and the sky that surrounded it was nearly devoid of stars.

All that paled in relevance compared to Night Father having decided to join her here.

He stared down at her unblinkingly, His smoke-like body shifting in place as Sue came to. Once she’d snapped back to awareness, she gasped in fear, her body shaking as she tried to scoot further away from the ghostly Satan, to no avail.

“I-it’s you, isn’t it? Night Father, right?”

The deity slowly nodded, not attempting to speak beyond a couple of loud grumbles.

“Wh-what are you gonna do to me? A-am I dead or-“

A louder noise caught Sue’s attention as the dark one shook His head. The dark tendrils of His arms reached up above Him and pulled the fabric of the dreamscape apart, opening a gash through which the once-human saw herself sleeping on the clinic’s bed, safe and sound.

“Not dead. Alright. S-so you’re not Satan.”

Night Father let the rift above Him close as the little Sue could make of His expression grew that bit flatter, head slowly shaking.

“Not Satan, okay. Wh-why are you here?”

Suddenly, Sue felt a sensation of paper in her hand. A downward glance revealed the same drawing that Duck had presented to her, the one depicting her transformation into a Forest Guardian.

The one with a depiction of the being she was mere feet away from next to the arrow connecting her two bodies, with a question mark next to it.

“I-it- she asked me whether you turned me into this, but... it wasn’t you, right? I don’t remember you.”

The deity affirmed her hunch with another nod as the piece of paper disintegrated in Sue’s hands, its purpose complete.

“W-who- what was it then? Do you know?”

Firm, somber shake.

It was followed by a squirmy, unpleasant sensation in the back of Sue’s head, not unlike the pain that had caused her to destroy her dream in a fit of anger. Thankfully, it was neither as intense nor long lasting as what Duck had inflicted, easing out seconds later, only leaving her woozy this time.

Sue was about to speak up about what had just happened before spotting something even weirder in the corner of her vision, something she couldn’t have ever expected to see in this wild world.

An antique film projector, together with an accompanying wall for it to project onto.

“...what the hell is this?”

He wasted no time before showing her; the contraption soon kicked to life with a loud rattle as it displayed a gray scale recollection of Sue’s memories.

Hike through the woods, sitting down to grab lunch, a bang not too far away-

And then, the replay stopped.

A pair of disembodied hands made of something that was neither light nor dark, something that Sue’s mind could only perceive as golden static, began to tamper with it. It pulled out the rolls of film, cutting it off at the exact point the display had stopped at, and then again, further along the recording. Afterwards, it stitched both ends together and resumed the movie at the moment of Sue waking up in her new body for the first time.

While whisking the surgically removed snippet away.

“Wait, wait- d-did something steal my memory of what had happened!?”

Slow, somber nod.

The dreamt-up film equipment dissipated into the dreamscape; Sue left as confounded and unnerved as she was angry at the revelation.

“Who could it have been!?”

The skies above grew full of figures of wildly varying shape, size, and splendor. There were dozens upon dozens of deities there, though with neither Night Father nor Duck among them. The scene soon grew too overwhelming to bear; Sue shielded her eyes as she looked away.

“Okay, okay, I get it! Too many suspects!”

The show ended in an instant; Sue and Night Father left alone in the dream once more, the former trying to wrap her head around everything.

“S-some god took me and tossed me into this world and didn’t even let me remember what had happened. C-could it have been the Pale La-“

Before she had even finished the question, she saw the deity shake His head firmly in the corner of her vision, cutting that lead off.

“Not her then. And not you either, s-someone else.”

Slow, defeated nod.

Both sides only received confirmation of the other not knowing who had done that either. One of them knew of everyone who could’ve feasibly accomplished that, though, about to start internally mulling over them all. And then, the other one cut Him off, her voice uncertain.

“Did you... enter my dream just to confirm that?”

Quick, firm nod.

“I-I see. I...”

Sue thought back to everything she’d seen over the past couple of days. To listening to even the creatures simply affiliated with the deity she was interacting with spoken of in hushed, taboo tones. To Pollux, being forced to hide and disguise himself. To Willow’s profound discomfort when the night kin were brought up.

The mystery was burning a hole in her mind.

“I have to know. You are a god, right?”

Weirdly enough, Night’s Father's reply was much more subdued this time. His head meandered around for a while before eventually settling on the world’s slowest, most reluctant nod. Confounding as that response was in its delivery, it was ultimately affirmative.

Sue followed it up with her actual question.

“What are you a god of?”

Nothing happened for a long while as the two stood at an impasse. Right as Sue was about to start worrying about having committed an incidental faux pas, she saw His eye close.

The surrounding scenery turned liquid, morphing in front of them both into a rudimentary chase scene. A small, black creature was running away from two massive white ones. One had two gleaming eyes like a pair of floodlights, and the other wore a blindfold with a third eye on top of its head, glowing even brighter than the other two, burning the scene with a blinding glare.

Sue could barely stand the overwhelming, crippling light, forcing her to watch from between her fingers. The little black creature kept its panicked dash up, away from the light, eventually leaping into an isolated, pitch-black spot. Even as the lights approached, the spot didn’t budge, continuing to protect the small one.

But that didn’t mean that the bright ones wouldn’t try hurting it all the same.

The one with two eyes cast forth blinding flames as the single-eyed one stabbed into the dark with a pure white tendril. All their attacks did was make the darkness counterattack and flood from the isolated spot, shattering the light wherever it touched and making the intruders run away in fear; the little black creature safe.

And then, in a blink, the scene returned to the extinguished campfire. Sue replayed the events she’d just witnessed in her mind, piecing it together as the deity beside her watched in silence.

“...safety. Protection from eyes, from light, from... th-the third eye...”

Slow, firm, deliberate nod, followed by low grumbling she had no hope of understanding.

“I-I see, I think.”

Sue thought back to the Duck’s altar, and the scenes depicted on it. One of them had been a complete inversion of what she’d just been a witness to, with Duck protecting a small creature from the darkness.

The very same darkness she just saw protect someone.

Something wasn’t adding up.

“Then... what about her? Duck, I mean- Pale Lady or whatever...”

Night Father’s eye grew a bit wider for a moment; the rumbling noise that left him afterwards was probably the divine equivalent to laughter. It didn’t last long before the scene melted again, with Sue being witness to another demonstration.

The little dark creature was shambling their way out of the dark hiding spot and into a nearby clearing; their limp and cuts across their body clearly visible. They pushed for a while before collapsing mid-step, right beneath a full Moon.

The silver light bathing their body grew stronger with their every whimper, flooding the scene with cold, gentle healing. Sue watched the little one’s wounds mend right in front of her eyes, all of them becoming undone in moments.


Sue’s attention was drawn skyward at her comment, up at the Moon. She watched it fly through its phases as if on fast forward; the dreamscape going from pitch black to bathed in cold light and back, and back, and back.

From the Dark’s protection.

To the Light’s mending.

The Moon, one and whole.

One and whole.

The eventual awakening that followed, much, much later, was by far the calmest one Sue had experienced during her stay in this world yet.

Her mind hovered around the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness for hours. It was only interrupted by intermittent attempts at looking at her surroundings. Each time, the clinic was that bit brighter.

Sue could not have slept for more than a couple of hours, and yet... she felt surprisingly alright.

Though a big part of that was no doubt caused by the religious vision that she kept replaying in her mind. The sight felt like it ought to be shattering her world, but… it wasn’t, not really. Suppose it only made sense, if anything, even if it painted everything else she’d seen in his place in a much more confusing light.

The far more startling truth was that of her amnesia being deliberate.

Sue couldn’t even imagine who could’ve done something like that or why. A literal divine intervention to pluck her, a woman of no remarkable qualities, from her own world, and toss her into this one. With no purpose in mind that she could figure out.

Who knows, maybe it was some long con she wasn’t aware of.

Maybe all she was supposed to do was save Spark and Pollux on that fateful day, and ended up outliving her usefulness thanks to Astra’s intervention. Maybe one day she’d see the show host walk out from behind the nearest corner with a camera crew behind him and inform her she’d been being pranked the entire time.

Maybe the god in question just thinks it’s funny.

Trying to think more about the Capricious deity’s motivation would just make her feel even more defeated, and she knew that. Would she probably need a nap down the line after a night like that? Possibly. Was she feeling like trying to get some more rest in her current headspace?

Not in the slightest.

A glance at the clinic’s window revealed the sunrise to have only barely began. Human Sue was the furthest thing ever from an early bird, but she could make an exception this time. She needed to clear her head, and there were few things better at that than a walk around the block, even if without any tunes to keep her company.

Let’s grab the crutch and-


Sue didn’t remember her mobility device moving anywhere after she’d left it leaning against the nightstand, but it had done so anyway. It was splayed out smack dab in the middle of the room, much too far for her to even attempt to reach with her good leg.

A low groan filled the cabin as she chewed through the scene, trying to think through what to do. It was probably a long shot, but maybe the partial lesson she got yesterday would help?

The once-human found herself equal parts excited and antsy at getting to make use out of what Sundance tried to teach her. Getting better at it would be great, of course, but there was also the possibility that she’d mess it up badly. Or worse, that she’d already forgotten how to do it.

Only one way to find out.

Sue flipped through what she recalled of the lesson with a deep breath. Remembering how to use her mental reach was one thing, re-learning where it even sprouted from was another. A couple minutes of poking around her brain eventually found a spot that gave in and extended beyond the confines of her skullcap.

Good Duck, that felt so weird.

Then again, repetition was the best cure for weirdness.

The once-human shook the stray thoughts off before prodding the spot further. Her eyes involuntarily closed as the mental tentacle reached into the room; her right hand twitched with its every move. The realization of her actual limb moving in tow with the imagined one forced her to stop and think.

Could it also happen the other way around?

Carefully, Sue lifted her arm and reached toward the crutch. And indeed, her mind’s reach mimicked the motion in an overexaggerated way. The realization made her sigh in relief; this was so much easier.

So easy that the next part felt downright instinctual.

The once-human’s hovering hand grasped the air as the crutch’s handle was surrounded in a white, spotty glow. She felt the rough, wooden surface, but had no idea where; the sensations coming from an utterly disembodied place. Once she’d secured her grip, it took just a simple pull toward her, almost as if she was just changing the gear. Loud rattling of wood on wood startled her out of her trance, her grasp fizzling out.

And once she’d opened her eyes, the crutch laid right in front of her.

Alright, using my hands is much easier than how Sundance was trying to teach me.

Sue’d hadn’t seen either the vixen or Solstice use their hands when performing their magic, though. Maybe there was a reason for that which she just wasn’t aware of? Hopefully, she wasn’t doing it wrong in some subtle but important way.

With any luck, she’d get to ask the Mayor that very question in not too long.

Before she could head off to the races, she realized she hadn’t told anyone about her little trip. Not that it would normally matter, but considering her hijinks yesterday, Willow in particular deserved to be kept in the know.

Alright, where’d you leave all that paper you brought...

There wasn’t much space left on the page she’d eventually fished out of a drawer, forcing Sue to surround her sketch with a large black circle to draw attention to it. Almost like clickbait, but actually useful here.

Duck, that’s such a surreal thought.

A Forest Guardian stick figure, heading out of the clinic and walking between the various buildings. A straightforward drawing conveying an equally simple and yet badly needed action.

After swatting the charcoal dust off her fingers, Sue finally limped through the front entrance. A glance outside revealed the surrounding streets to be unnervingly empty. Hell, there were more people around before she went to bed than now. A sweep with her sixth sense revealed almost every nearby soul to either be asleep, trying to fall asleep, too focused on something to sleep, or… tossing around with a hangover.

With no destination in mind, Sue retraced the path from a couple of days ago. Aside from the occasional bird chatter and the rustling of leaves, Moonview remained almost completely quiet.

She had little time to focus on the state of the construction work during her escape, but it felt like the builders had since made some progress, regardless. The foundation was almost entirely finished, with only one corner still opened up. The walls were solidly underway as well, aside from that one spot at least.

Wonder how long they take to finish putting one of these up-

*chitter, chitter*

The sound coming from right behind her startled Sue a decent bit. Once she’d calmed down enough to fumble her way into turning around, she saw the perpetrator in all their pangolin glory. As intimidating as their massive claws and brown spikes were, the accompanying emotions of modest curiosity and equally mild surprise made up for their appearance.

Left at an impasse, Sue opted for the default option.

Her gentle wave didn’t immediately clarify anything for either of them, but at least it gave the builder something to do in response. In hindsight, she realized she shouldn’t have chosen this specific gesture, if just because it drew even more attention to their cleaver-sized claws.

Looks were very deceiving; she knew that more and more by the hour in this wild new place. Still… it’d probably be a while before she fully got over herself in that regard.

Before she could give that strand of thought more focus, though, heavy footfalls coming from nearby forced Sue out of her own head once more. The blue bipedal rhino she saw perform on stage yesterday might’ve been a bit shorter than her, but what they lacked in height, they certainly got in heft.

And were much more outspoken than the brown pangolin, calling out straight towards her once they’d spotted her. The rumbling growl was unintentionally intimidating, but the absence of any malice underlying that emotion prevented any fear from worming into Sue’s mind. Hell, what the once-human did sense was the polar opposite of malice; the welcome was warm and genuine.

If only she had any idea of what they just said, she could’ve tried to respond in kind.

Instead, she had to settle for the next best thing.

“Uh, ghood morning!”

The incomprehensible sentence clearly took both of her impromptu visitors aback; especially the blue rhino, who paused mid-step.

Guess that’s one way to get back at them for startling me, pffft.

Confusing as her speech was, the larger of the strangers wouldn’t let it get to her. They walked the rest of the way over as they started chatting the pangolin up, the latter’s responses curt and quiet. Whatever they had just settled on clearly wasn’t their only concern, though, not with the blue performer turning towards Sue again.

And almost toppling her with a few pats on her back, right next to the back spike.

Her panicked scramble to remain standing got a bellowing laugh out of them. Even the spiky rodent chimed in with their much quieter chitters. It was much less fun on her end, especially before she stopped her upcoming freefall. Still, she couldn’t deny that it made for an amusing sight, joining in on the laughter with her own giggling shortly after.

Just please don’t do that again, mini-Godzilla.

Thankfully, the pangolin took the lead in the discussion afterwards, beckoning the other one over to the unfinished portion of the foundation. Tagging along for what was likely to be some sort of safety inspection didn’t even sound all that bad to Sue. Though, without the ability to comprehend what was being said, she doubted she’d get much out of it.

It let her see all the spikes on the rhino’s back at least. Kinda like some dinosaurs she’d seen, and also like that one poisonous fish she’d seen in a documentary once, with all those toxic spines.

Please don’t be poisonous, mini-Godzilla.

Trying to scurry away both from the scene and that unwelcome possibility, Sue thought about where else to head now. Her recent dream gave her even more questions than it did answers, and many of the former were about the nature of the duck-like deity.

Time to inspect at Her altar again.

With only the chilly wind and cold light of the early dawn to keep her company, the monument was even more striking. The central engraving of Duck underneath a full moon evoked power and demanded respect, even if the scenes being depicted were as reassuring as she’d remembered them.

The flowers that decorated the base of the three walls comprising the monument made it difficult to walk up to the stone slabs, forcing Sue to keep some distance. As much as the central scene looked like it was plucked straight out of her vision, the two engravings on the smaller side walls felt… wrong. The chisel work was rougher, the stone had a darker finish. They even used actual black paint for the dark mass that Duck fought against and protected her followers from.

The more she looked, the more confident she grew about the side engravings being later additions. They weren’t right; they were downright tacky, as if added solely to drive a point.

A point whose truthfulness Sue grew increasingly sceptical of.

As she examined the arrangement of the monument, another observation clicked into place. The side walls were massive, but nowhere near the size of the middle one. In fact, she was quite sure they were around-

Around half the middle one’s size.

The realization took Sue aback and wouldn’t let go. Together, the side walls would add up to the same size as the central one; they were both made of the same kind of stone; she swore she saw bits of dried dirt near the top of one of the side walls-

She needed to see what was on the side walls’ other side.

But before she could move anywhere, a soft-spoken, half whistled sentence caught her attention. It was all the more startling because of its incomprehensibility, spiking Sue’s heartbeat as she turned around.

“Oops, my bad! Good morning Sue, didn’t expect to see you up so early, or here of all places.”

Solstice delivered the follow-up with a light chuckle. Comet chimed in as well from his mom’s arms, the baby squeaks dulling some of Sue’s nerves, but not getting rid of them whole.

And predictably, the other Forest Guardian could tell.

“Are you feeling alright, Sue?”

The once-human didn’t know. What she was much more certain of, though, was that this felt like one subject best not discussed with Solstice specifically.

“Yesh, you just shurprised me. A-and I could say the same about you, it’s so early.”

“It is, indeed~. Alas, ‘an appropriate time of day to wake up at’ isn’t a concept Comet is familiar with yet, so here we are, hah. Did you sleep well?”

Solstice knelt in front of the altar without waiting for Sue’s response. Even Comet went quieter while his mom bowed her head in prayer. Sue took the opportunity to back away slowly from the shrine and its unnerving mysteries. As the Mayor wrapped up her prayer, the younger Forest Guardian finally responded.

“Yeah. Had a weird dream, but I shlept well.”

“Hah, with all that had happened yesterday, I can’t blame you one bit. Even if it all ended well, minds always just keep on churning through it all, again and again. I hope it wasn’t an unpleasant dream, at least.”

“Oh no, nhot at all.”

She wasn’t sure whether this was a lie by omission. In either case, keeping just what she’d seen to herself felt like the best idea for the time being. Thankfully, the other Forest Guardian didn’t prod the issue any further.

“Wonderful. So~! Let’s grab something to eat, and then we can get started on your lesson?”

Guess with Solstice already here, there wasn’t a point in delaying getting started with her lessons. Sue itched to get more independent in here and not have to drag someone along with her just to be able to talk. Her nod conveyed her enthusiasm, the newfound motivation pushing the underlying mystery further into the back of her mind.

“Let’s get going then.”

Comet appreciated the idea as much as Sue did. His loud, gurgling squeak broke both women into giggles as they headed towards the pantry. It also brought with itself a question Sue couldn’t resist asking.

“How old is he?”

“Closing in on five moons now. He grows so fast! It feels like yesterday that he would spend all day just sleeping and eating, and now look at him~! He’d be running circles around us if I let him.”

The glee in Solstice’s voice was almost infectious to Comet and Sue alike; the former wiggled as the big one cooed at the sight.

Though... five moons?

Lunar cycle was like 29 days or something, basically a month. If that’s what she was referring to, it only raised more questions.

“That’s sho much livelier than I’d expect a five month- I mean, five moon old to be.”

“Oh? Why so?”

Solstice was genuinely confused at her statement in a way Sue had no actual answer for. Her surprise underlined the obvious reality of her situation, one Sue was guilty of not paying as much attention to as she should’ve.

Humanlike as they were, neither Solstice nor her son were human. Trying to apply human metrics to them was doomed to fail.

And tried as she might to avoid that realization, she wasn’t human either, not anymore.

“Oh, nevermind. I... jusht went from memory about human b-babies...”

Solstice slowly nodded in response, Sue’s confusion finally making some sense. The Mayor didn’t want their guest to feel self conscious about it, though, walking over closer and patting her shoulder.

“It’s all good, Sue. Figures it’d be the only reference point you had. Though... you got me curious now. How old are you?”

The question caught the once-human off guard as they all entered the clearing again. Just like the rest of Moonview, the space was nearly entirely empty, with only a handful of tables needing to be moved back to their proper spots.

Sue had little time to linger on it as the group suddenly turned the other way from their usual path, away from Poppy’s kitchen.

“Umm... I’m twenty-two yearsh old.”

For once, it was Solstice’s turn to get surprised.

The mayor almost tripped over a stick as she processed that knowledge, before scooting to catch up afterwards. Comet had no idea where that sudden motion came from, but he liked it all the same, expressing it with a loud squeak.

“By Moon’s Grace, I had clocked you at almost half that.”



The two were at an impasse as they finally reached their destination, the structure so much larger than Poppy’s pantry. Its purpose was immediately clear, with literal heaps of leftovers piled up underneath the canvas roof and a cook busily fixing something for the being in front of them.

That the cook was a humanoid, four-armed ladybug and the other patron was a blue amphibian her size didn’t even register as particularly noteworthy in Sue’s mind.

Though with the latter having orange gills sticking out the sides of its face, she did wonder how they interacted with normal air. They weren’t in any discomfort from what she could tell, and the wet sheen covering their body no doubt helped with that.

“Good morning, High Tide.”

Solstice’s greeting had the blue creature look towards them, their orange eyes briefly scanning Sue before settling on the Mayor. Their croaked out response remained untranslated, but the once-human had a decent idea of what was said, especially with Comet breaking into chipper laughter afterwards.

And with him, the rest of the group, ladybug cook included.

“Next harvest starts today, doesn’t it?”


“Tomorrow, I see. Best of luck; I hope it goes smoothly!”

High Tide’s reply has much more of a groan to it this time; gurgling noises mixed with wet hisses. Whatever was said, it left Solstice uncertain, but only briefly.

“Sounds serious. Alright, we can discuss it tomorrow; I’ll make sure to swing by the orchard.”

With a confirmation on the amphibian’s side, the brief chat soon wrapped up. Following the serious topic that made Solstice concerned, High Tide then proceeded to grab the meal with their mouth before heading out; Sue left taken aback by the juxtaposition of animalistic traits and higher intelligence.


Once the blue frog had left, the ladybug immediately got to preparing something for them, without even waiting for them to ask for anything in particular. Their meal was a slapdash of several leftovers, but not in a bad way. A handful of dumplings wrapped up in a slightly dry break for the two adults, and some of the spiced fruit slices and one whole dumpling for Comet, both tossed in the oven to warm them up.

It was far from Poppy’s artisanal cooking, but with how tasty it smelled once reheated, Sue’s stomach couldn’t care less.

“Much appreciated, Sunrise. Has Astra already grabbed anything today?”

The ladybug thought for a moment before shaking their head, remaining silent all the while.

“And yesterday? Or were you not around to see?”

A couple of firm nods, followed by intricate gestures with the upper two arms.

“With Joy, I know. That’s good to hear at least; she got here very late. Gonna be calling it a day soon?”

Another nod and more hand movements. Their response was noticeably interrupted once Sue bit into her reheated sandwich, the sheer volume of it catching everyone gathered off guard.

Nothing like a satisfying crunch first meal in the morning, though probably not when it’s loud enough to startle someone.

“Mhm. Hope he shows up soon, then. And until then, take care, Sunrise.”

With a two armed salute and yet another firm nod to send them off, the group could get going again.

The once-human was unsure which mystery she wanted to tackle first. She took a hot minute to finish chewing through her current bite before finally asking.

“Sho... are they alright?”

“Oh? Yes yes, Sunrise is alright. They just can’t speak very well, so they opt for signing.”

“You have a sign language here too?”

“Mhm! Not a very developed one yet, though. Sunrise’s largely been the one spearheading that effort. They’re making good progress last I’ve heard, and trying to teach it to others where they can, especially the little ones. Quite a bit harder with them being nocturnal, though.”

Admittedly, Sue had never really thought of language- a non-programming language at least- as something that was created. It made sense in hindsight, especially with a sign language which couldn’t really evolve on its own.

“I-I see. Hopefully, it helps them out. Not being able to speak shucks.”

“You’d know something about that, hah. Yeah, it’s been a great help for them, and it’s been great watching them teaching it to others where they can. Even minimal communication beats no communication.”

“It really, really does.”

The next while was spent in silence as Sue split her focus between not falling over, following Solstice, and progressing in her grand quest to eat her breakfast. Moonview’s streets were finally coming to life, if gradually. The once-human didn’t have enough spare brainpower to pay close attention to every single passerby, remaining stuck in her own head for the most part.

There were a pair of notable exceptions, however.

A louder, downright ethereal hiss perked Sue up; the noise unlike any other she’d heard while making her way around. The scene she found once she’d glanced at the sound’s source was… unexpected, for a reason she wouldn’t have ever guessed.

The being responsible for the hiss looked almost segmented. Its body was split between a dark brown bulbous lower half with glowing, suspiciously face-like cutouts, and a lighter upper half, culminating with a small face with a few plumes of orange hair.

Prehensile hair, because of course it was prehensile.

As weird as this entity was, the other one was more eye-catching, if for very different reasons. Despite being entirely made of leaves, petals, and plant bulbs, they were one of the most human-like beings in terms of body shape.

Thick legs, pear-shaped torso, a face without an immediately visible mouth, and a blooming flower on top of their head at a bit of an angle. Their arms being singular, long leaves and the silly yellow… shoes sure made Sue do a double take, though.

Half plant, half lady, and all… cute.

As pleasant as the sight was, the once-human grew confused at hearing the two beings argue about something. Ghastly hisses and rustles of leaves mixed in with smooth, sing-song whistling; their subject incomprehensible.

Or at least, that’s what Sue thought before one of them pointed their arm straight at her, followed by the other one. They were still talking amongst themselves. The little the younger Forest Guardian could pick up from their emotions gave her the impression of the glowing face egging the plant lady on about something, much to the latter’s fluster. But if so, what about-


The shift in the mood was palpable enough to give Sue whiplash as she focused on the duo again. And this time, they were staring back at her, too. For a split second, she worried about them taking her attention negatively. And… that was what happened, if not in the way Sue thought it would.

Hisses turned into ghastly laughter as the shorter being took in the taller one’s burning embarrassment; the emotion downright visible on their cheeks. Before Sue could even react, the walking plant acted first, grabbing the other one by a lock of orange hair before running off into the distance with them, towards what the once-human suspected was the local farm.

It took the Mayor circling around after realizing that Sue froze at some point to finally shake her out of it.

Sue had no idea what had just happened, and whether it was well-spirited. She wanted to think that it was, but… there was always that uncertainty, the sort that soon turned her thoughts sour the more she lingered on this subject.

Time to switch tracks towards an earlier mystery.

“So, for humans, the age of adulthood is eighteen years old. What about the F-Forest Guardians?”

Despite how simple Sue thought her question to be, it made Solstice think much more than expected. As she did, Sue felt some of her own thoughts being gently prodded. The other Forest Guardian tried to figure out just what was the hard thing to understand here, looking curiously at her student.

Finally, the Mayor stumbled on a lead, the half-eaten sandwich in her mouth forcing her to use telepathy instead.

“^There isn’t a set age. It’s when one evolves into their final form, which is ours. It happens at around eleven to thirteen years old.^”

“What doesh ‘evolving’ mean?”

As surprised as Solstice was at Sue’s actual age earlier, it paled when compared to her shock at her pupil’s latest question.

The Mayor’s eyes were wide as saucers as she blinked at the once-human. She finished her bite and opened her mouth a couple times as if to speak, but couldn’t come up with anything. Sue felt just how dumbfounded Solstice was at that moment, her own lack of knowledge about something so basic slamming the older Forest Guardian across her cranium.

“Do- do you really not know?”

“No! I’ve heard it mentioned a few timesh and was meaning to ask th-this whole time.”

Solstice slowly worked through her confusion as she gave more thought to it all. Seems that the assumptions about how the other’s world worked went both ways, after all.

“Hmm. I have to admit that I’m just as confused as you are here, Sue. Confused and more than a little curious, but that all can wait until lunch. Will make for a nice reward after practicing for a bit, dontcha think? And in the meantime, we’re there.”

The conical, rugged tent stood out from the rest of the village. Its lower part was covered with blue, geometric markings, not unlike the ones on Solstice’s arms and face, while the upper, narrower part depicted the phases of the moon. The Mayor pulled open the flap acting as the front entrance and gestured for her guest to come in; Sue left gawking as she took it all in.

The inside was nowhere near as dim as Sue expected it to be without any windows. The thinner canvas closer to the top let a surprising amount of early sunlight in, letting her see everything clearly. A handful of thick rugs made for a welcome sensation for her feet after all the dirt, grass, and naked wood of the past few days.

A low-set, extinguished firepit took the center spot, surrounded with the world’s shortest fence to act as presumably baby proofing. A small cauldron stood above it, Sue’s quick peek determining it to be empty.

“Alas, nothing in the pot~. I made sure to empty it before our trip to Central City, lest it’d spoil. Haven’t had the time to refill it yesterday. Wonder if we-“

Solstice abruptly cut herself off as her emotional disposition faltered a small, but noticeable amount. Before Sue could ask if everything was alright, the Mayor brushed it off, shaking her head towards nobody in particular.

“N-nevermind. Take a seat Sue, anywhere is fine.”

A handful of raised surfaces lined the edges of the tent. One of them, presumably Solstice’s bed, was marked off with a curtain and was much more plush than the rest. The others didn’t look all that different aside from looking rather… barren.

Regardless of whether they were couches or indeed spare beds, Sue took a seat on the smaller one, with Solstice taking the one opposite.

“Wonderful. Ready for your lesson?”

Sue nodded eagerly as she set her crutch down beside her.

As ready as I’ll ever get.

“Swell~. Let’s start with the obvious; how much do you already know?”

Solstice carefully lowered Comet down onto the carpeted floor as she asked her question. The tyke’s immediate reaction was aimless, excited waddling before he inadvertently circled back around to his mom. Before he could think of anything else to do, both he and his mom felt Sue concentrate, her focus clear to sense.

And to that, he responded by plopping down beside his mom and paying attention.

Sue’s mental handiwork was nowhere near as difficult to make sense of the third time around, thankfully. It only took her a few attempts to reach out with the extension of her mind, the invisible tentacle moving along with her physical arm. And then, she grasped it, a white light immediately spreading to cover the crutch’s handle.

She clenched her eyes even tighter as she tried moving the tool around, almost standing it up- before it finally slipped out of her grasp. Sue’s glow fizzled out as she opened her eyes, just in time to see the crutch fall back down onto the carpeted floor.

And catch her breath, not realizing how exerted even such a simple action had left her until she was done with it.

“Th-that’s- pant - that’s it bashically.”

Solstice replied with a slow nod as she thought through what Sue had shown. It all only confirmed what she already knew.

Sue was almost completely new to this in a way that felt downright disturbing, considering her age.

Still, it’s not like she lacked the ability, merely the practice and know how. And both of them the Mayor could provide in spades.

“Alright~. What about telepathy?”

“Shundance d-didn’t have the t-time to show it to me too well.”

“Let’s start with that then, if that’s alright.”

“It ish. She mentioned a couple of things, something about mental links, but only briefly.”

“I imagine that was a tricky part for you?”

“I... yesh.”

Sue sighed deeply, unsure how Solstice knew of that, but she was right. She wordlessly closed her eyes as she thought back to what she recalled of Sundance’s lecture. Focus on her sixth sense, and home in on it, beyond just the surface-level emotion sensing. And, as opposed to her earlier attempt, it felt like she was succeeding, even if she was left with little idea of what to do afterwards.

“^That’s a start, but it won’t work as well with many others around. You’ll have to learn how to tune the noise of emotions out. It takes a lot of practice, but even just doing it unskillfully will help a lot going forward. Lemme-^”

The sensation of another mental reach interfering with her own made Sue jump in her seat. Her eyes blipped open for a moment, only to spot Solstice and Comet focusing along with her.

She shook that distraction shortly afterwards, once more withdrawing into her extrasensory perception as she tried to pay attention to what her mentor was doing. Her expression twitched as the foreign aura touched her innermost sense, pushing the burning glare of the surrounding emotions much further away.

With those tuned out, Sundance’s instructions from the previous day made much more sense; the actual blips of consciousness she was supposed to link to now made clear.

Solstice’s was busy reaching out all the way over to her while Comet’s was... all over the place.

Their forms didn’t translate well to the visual senses at all. ‘Amoeba-shaped’ was the closest term Sue could think of, but even that was only an extremely crude approximation. Regardless of how they didn’t look, Sue had them in her mental sight. Her hand and the mental extremity bonded to it reached over towards Solstice, shooting closer and closer-

Before Solstice withdrew her help with tuning the emotions out, their blinding glare returning in an instant.

The immense sensation immediately broke Sue’s concentration. A harsh grimace twisted her expression as she flinched backwards, her lead completely lost.

“^Keep your composure. Follow what I did there.^”

It was much easier said than done. Sue’s attempt to replicate Sundance’s help was nowhere near as effective at tuning out the emotions, but it at least gave her some breathing room.

It also inadvertently made her stick her left arm out to the side as far as it’d go, her body replicating the push-like sensation to an almost too literal degree.

With nearby feelings somewhat tuned out, Sue finally went for it again. Her mental reach closed the remaining distance between herself and Solstice with one swift motion, moving as if about to jab the Mayor’s consciousness-


And judging by her pained grunt, that’s literally what might’ve just happened.

The sound and the muted sensation of pain that accompanied it broke Sue’s focus completely. She opened her eyes soon after, worriedly looking at Solstice before growing dumbfounded at the unexpected position of her arms.

Fortunately, despite the Mayor’s wince, her pain was very brief. Some further rubbing of her temples drove the last of it away as she spoke back up, trying to soften her expression and voice.

“I’m alright Sue, I’m alright, don’t worry.”

“I-I’m so shorry, what’d I do?”

“You used too much force. I know it’s hard with so little control over it, but you really have to keep a firm grasp on what you’re doing with your aura, or you run the risk of accidentally hurting someone. This was just a small Confusion, unlikely to cause more than a headache at the worst case. But the more practice you get, the stronger your aura will become, and the more it could hurt someone.”

Oh, fuck.

She hadn’t thought of herself as someone physically capable of hurting anyone else here, but the other Forest Guardian was right. Deep down, she might’ve been a human, but her body was of this world, one with no less strength than anyone else here, merely with no practice.

Practice that the realization made her even more keen to have.

“I-I see. Do I try that again?”

“Yes, go ahead. Though I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen anyone use their hands while using their psychics as much as you have.”


Solstice’s words made the once-human feel much more self-conscious about that fact. She forcibly laid her hands down onto her lap as if she’d been just caught cheating, embarrassment twisting her face.

Embarrassment that wasn’t intended by the Mayor in the slightest, leaving her surprised with no idea of what went wrong.

“What’s wrong?”

“Wh- sh-shouldn’t I not be doing that?”


Solstice was still confused about the source of Sue’s hangup, but more elaboration couldn’t hurt.

“If it helps, then keep doing that. Everyone has their own tricks to help them control their aura better after all. Sundance’s wand isn’t just for show, hah. If moving your hands around makes it easier for you, then that’s all the reason in the world to keep using them. Maybe you can try to get better at using your psychics without that help down the line, but only if that’s something you feel you need to improve at.”

“I see. I-I thought it was just a- a crutch of sorts, shomething that’d make it unfairly easier.”

“Easier, absolutely. That’s the entire point, after all. But unfairly so, I don’t know how you’d even come to that conclusion. The goal is to grow more independent by honing your psychics. Who cares about how you accomplish that, or if you do it differently than others. I don’t see why anyone would even judge you for that, but if they do, it’s none of their business.”

Solstice gave her student a wide smile, the expression melting through Sue’s uncertainty.

“Nothing wrong with using a crutch, no matter what form it takes.”

The Mayor chuckled as she looked at her student’s mobility device. Her teeny son was busy inspecting the elongated wooden tool, squeaking softly as he patted its surface.

“Thank you, Solstice.”

“You’re welcome, Sue.”

Sue watched the older Forest Guardian’s smile grow that much warmer at her reassurance working out. Her hand moving on her lap in a petting motion caught the once-human’s eye, before she felt matching sensations on her shoulder.

The mental touch was no less warm and reassuring than the physical one.

“Though. I can’t deny being rather curious. Your previous kin, the ‘humans’. They- uh, you- must use your hands a lot, right?”

Solstice’s question took her pupil off guard. Though, the answer was almost overwhelming in how trivial it was; Sue nodded firmly before she answered.

“All the time, for everything.”

“Figures you find it easy to use them, then! So much of your subconscious mind must be devoted to knowing how to control them that it’s easiest for other things to map onto them. Hope the Forest Guardian hands are a suitable replacement at least, hah.”

Sue felt weird as she focused on her new hands. She still didn’t like the weirdly proportioned fingers and the lack of fingernails.

Guess they’re usable enough in the end.

“They’re... okay.”

Solstice didn’t expect her pupil’s response to be so frank. She was equal parts amused at the honesty and sorry for Sue for not enjoying her new body. Ultimately, she didn’t outwardly display either of those emotions, redirecting the topic back to the lesson at hand instead.

“In any case. Let’s get back into the swing of things, hmm?”

Sue was not opposed to that idea in the slightest.

The once-human pushed everything else out of her mind as she focused on the exercise ahead of her, hands involuntarily rising to move in tandem with her mental reach.

“Try what you did last time, just slower. Take as long as you need, Sue.”

Let’s do this.

Sue heeded the Mayor’s advice, more deliberate actions helping her tune the surrounding emotions out. Once she was done with that, she reached in with her aura until it contacted Solstice’s. The sensation was less touching and more so intertwining; unlike anything else she’d ever felt.

And yet, so very right at the same time.

Even in her focus, Sue felt the pride blooming in her mentor; the faint whispers of thoughts she’d overheard matching that emotion.

“^Great! Now- back- again!^”

Solstice’s words were choppy as they traversed through the link between their minds, reminding Sue of a bad satellite connection. Sentences were chopped up into individual words, leaving most of the meaning intact, but not all. The quality of the communication was a concern for another time.

Here and now, all Sue wanted was to get better at the one thing she’d pulled off.

Without even needing to be prompted, the once-human withdrew mentally all the way back before starting again, repeating the entire routine a bit faster this time. And then she did it again, and again, Solstice soon not even needing to guide her anymore as she watched her pupil practice.

Comet just squeaked in confusion, finding the repetitive mental motions fascinating. He sat down where he stood before leaning into the psychic activity around him, wanting to feel more of it.

It didn’t take long until Sue had tried connecting to him, too. The little one’s aura was much more lively, requiring Sue to either chase it a bit or slow down to not impact it too harshly; the tyke just laughed at every successful connection.

His mom wasn’t as amused, keeping a hand on the pulse of Sue’s training to make sure no accidents would happen. Soon enough, though, the once-human had more of it under control than Solstice could’ve ever hoped for, her pride glowing brighter and brighter.

It’s so comforting.

“^Wanna switch over to telekinesis for a bit?^”

The excited comment interrupted Sue’s umpteenth repetition. The girl’s eyes opened to nod at the beaming Solstice; not opposed to changing tracks for a while. Sue took a moment to grab her bearings as her mentor whisked her little one away and moved the crutch before Sue again.

With her breath caught, her pupil focused again. Both of her hands shifted and turned as she directed her aura to the tool in front of her; the full intensity of Solstice’s joy washed over her with nothing to muffle it anymore.

The first attempt might’ve only managed to drag the crutch along the carpeted floor, but that changed the more times Sue had tried it. Telekinesis required her to push herself even further as she tried to think the piece of wood into the air, her mental muscles soon complaining at the exertion.

As much as they hurt, though, their owner had something much better in mind for them to do than rest.

Sue’s hands grasped the air as her mental reach grasped the crutch, again and again; the accompanying white glow grew larger and larger each time. In not too long, she’d finally managed to lift a part of the tool off the ground, if only for a moment before she had to let go of it because of exertion.

“That’s it, that’s it, keep going!”

Sue’s motivation was at an all-time high as she forced herself through the repetitions. Each attempt pushed her limits just that bit further, even if it was only a literal millimeter.

Her mentor’s cheers kept her going through words and emotions alike, keeping her going even if she would’ve long since stopped because of exhaustion on her own.

This feels right, this all feels so right!

“You can do it, sweetie, just that bit stronger!”


Even Comet had joined in on the cheers by now. Sue smiled that bit wider at the added bit of motivation; her hands shook more and more with each go. She would need a break soon, but not before getting this thing in the air first; no shot she wouldn’t.

I got this.

“Just a bit more; grasp as hard as you can!”

Sue did as instructed.

The surrounding joy bathed her in rejuvenating warmth, letting her push herself even harder, even further. Her arms shook as her hands bundled into fists; the entirety of her mind focused on this singular task.

She grasped the crutch with all her strength, finally surrounding all of it with her aura as it took to air. The once-human’s eyelids snapped open as she witnessed her own accomplishment. Jubilant pride filled her body at the sight, even as hard as it was to make out through all the light emanating from her eyes.

And then, it all shattered in an instant.

“You did it Aurora, you did-“

The celebratory atmosphere disappeared as if a switch had been flicked; Solstice’s pride immediately replaced with a harrowed, shameful realization. The whiplash instantly broke Sue’s focus; the bang of her crutch hitting the floor startling both her and Comet as they stared at Solstice in worry and fear.

“Solstice, what’s-“

“I-I-I’m s-so s-sorry.”

The Mayor’s voice was little more than a whimper as Sue’s crutch was hovered up into her reach. Moments later, Solstice forcibly moved her onto her legs; her pupil only barely held her balance as she was pushed towards the tent’s entrance.

“Solstice, what’s going on!?”

There was no response.

Sue’s last glance at her mentor saw a tortured expression, tears flowing down her cheeks. The other Forest Guardian was much too ashamed to even look back at her while forcing her out of the tent, Sue almost falling over there and then.

Solstice’s grief clung to her pupil, the sheer torrent of the former forcing tears out of the once-human. Sue was startled, panicking, worried whether the Mayor was alright, and terrified beyond words of the possibility that she’d caused this.


The hushed whisper had Sue’s voice catch in her throat as her tears flowed on. All she heard from the inside of the tent were heavy sobs and Comet’s quiet cries; the little one now sad together with his mom.

It was too much.

Their shared despair left Sue barely able to keep upright. She was exhausted, completely on her own at the wood’s edge, with no idea of where she even was, and with nobody that could understand her around.


A drop of base, irrational anger dripped into her mind at that thought, expression turning into a scowl at feeling betrayed. It didn’t take long until it all burned out into more sadness, though, sadness that only exhausted her further.

Sue shook as she grasped the crutch’s handle as tight as she could still manage, her body shaking in exertion. There was nothing she could do but turn around and face Moonview, and begin her slow trek back. Feeling so, utterly,


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 10: Birthright


the gay agenda

Chapter 10: Birthright

It took only a few shambled steps for Sue’s utter exhaustion to really hit her.

Her expression turned into a pained grimace as she kept pushing forward, every single part of her painfully sore. It was bad enough to where it left her seriously worried about whether she’d even be able to make it to Willow’s clinic.

The wisps of panic sprouting from that thought joined the stirring pot of misery that was her mind, only making basic movement even harder. It was hardly the only concern bubbling in there, either. Feeling responsible for what had happened to Solstice. Fear of the rest of Moonview learning of her role in the Mayor’s breakdown. Her own utter weakness.

What did she do?

What did I do?

Why does it hurt so much?


The sudden noise took Sue aback, stopping her pitiful march before it had even really begun. It sounded like a roaring flame trying its hardest to whisper; accompanied by clear worry.

Neither the sound nor the sensation could’ve prepared her for the stranger’s physical appearance.

Sue might’ve begrudgingly accepted the existence of actual ghosts by now, and that some of them could be nice. Even with Hazel in mind, though, a floating bedsheet was the last entity she expected to see here; the creature it covered was impossible to determine almost anything about.

It levitated with no visible legs; it had a large point at its top that the off-white shroud draped on, and… it seemed to glow. Kinda. A cold light illuminated the fabric below a certain cut-off line, but shone no clues about what the being actually looked like.

The stranger might’ve been incredibly weird even by Moonview’s standards, but that didn’t mean they were any less concerned about her than anyone else would’ve been. Another fiery crackle grabbed Sue’s attention, the accompanying emotions making her realize just how obviously messed up she must’ve looked.

Her face was sodden with tears, her path so far veered to the side despite being only a few meters long, and every single movement of her body made her wince.

As close to misery incarnate as it gets.

Sue’s brief attempt to repeat the freshly practiced telepathy resulted in an immediate outburst of burning pain in her head. It made her gasp and almost lose her balance there and then, forcing her to lean on a nearby building. Predictably, the floating bedsheet grew even more alarmed at the sight.

“D-don’t whorry, I-I’ll be-“


Before Sue could even finish her sentence, the stranger had left, zipping around the corner faster than their appearance suggested they could. Even as barely capable of pushing forward on her own as she felt, she decidedly didn’t want to wait here for them to return with company.

Not so close to Solstice’s outpouring of despair.

Onward, onward, onward.

Sue took off with a determined grunt, clutching her crutch even harder as she ventured deeper into Moonview. Each step drained more and more of the little strength that she’d left, the accompanying winces drawing worried looks towards her. She didn’t acknowledge them beyond doubling down as the last of her tears dried up.

Only burning determination remained, desperately trying to keep her from collapsing. Even if that headstrong part of her wanted to push on forever, Sue was acutely aware of how little she had left in her. No way she was making it to Willow’s clinic, not like this.

She needed to stop and rest, no matter how much she hated that thought.

The rough bench she’d eventually spotted in the corner of her vision made her audibly gasp as she turned to beeline straight for it. She less sat down and more so collapsed on the cold, rough wood, the relief immeasurable.

Fuck whichever god got me here, everyone else… thanks for the bench.

With her rear finally resting on a flat surface, Sue broke into raspy panting and let go of her crutch. She kept trying to plan her next step between her breaths, forcing the little of her brain that wasn’t hurting into coming up with something.

Gather her bearings and make it the rest of the way to Willow’s clinic. The latter step was then broken down into several more while she examined the nearby buildings. She swore she saw that one taller building earlier when the medic guided her around, should be able to find a way back to her bed from there.

And then, take a nap. Good Duck, could she really use a nap…

But only then. Don’t get any funny ideas, body.

The last thing she wanted to do was doze off on the bench, fall off mid-nap, and end up making even more of a scene. Or, Duck forbid, somehow break her other leg.

Before Sue could finish getting the equal parts terrifying, embarrassing, and amusing mental image out of her mind, she heard a loud cry coming from her side. It was rough, low pitched, but… not aggressive from what she could tell. Much too soft to be a hiss or a growl, sitting ambiguously in the middle. It left her wondering what kind of creature could even make noises like that.

For about half a second before she finished turning her head.

“H-hi Astra, hi Joy!”

Joy’s harsher sounding greeting from Astra’s arms single-handedly broke Sue’s weary expression into a shaky smile. Especially when it was combined with the little maw girl excitedly pointing her out to the dragon, the latter answering with a soft giggle.

The toothy tyke wasted no time before scrambling over to her other large friend once her guardian lowered her down. The bench didn’t have enough space to accommodate Astra, but she wasn’t bothered.

Especially with her line of sight ending up at around Sue’s once she’d sat down beside the bench.

As excited as Joy was to run into her friend, her happiness immediately wavered at noticing the Forest Guardian’s obviously roughed up state. The shaky movements, the wetness on her cheek, the uncertain smile. It only took Joy pointing her little finger up Sue’s face for Astra to notice and grow alarmed too.

Notice, lean in, and pull her and Joy into a gentle hug, patting Sue’s back with her massive paw.

The concern in her voice and thoughts was palpable, even if her words remained incomprehensible.

“I-I’m okay, I’m okay, I c-can’t understand you Astra.”

Her garbled response was enough for the dragon to realize the lack of any translator around. And with the nearby streets not having anyone who could help with that either, Astra was out of ideas.

Another hug helped, especially with Joy doubling down on her own affection.

Helped so much more than Sue would’ve ever thought they would.

Moment by moment, the surrounding warmth slowly banished all the leftover gloom Solstice’s breakdown had left her with. She breathed easier, felt lighter, the modest pain rocking through her body soon eased out.

Guess Forest Guardians interpret the power of positive thinking much more literally.

As curious as that idea was to consider on, the once-human’s attention soon shifted back to the pair of vastly different friends bathing her in affection. Her arms were wrapping or trying to wrap them both. She deeply appreciated the dragon’s quiet, soothing mumbling, incoherent as it was.

“Th-thank you both...”

Even if they didn't fare any better at understanding her than vice versa, it seemed they still got the gist. Their hugs grew stronger, Joy’s especially. Her tiny arms tried their best to wrap themselves around Sue’s midriff as her front head nuzzled her side.

Quite a few pets were in order as thanks for that.

The toothy tyke appreciated them no less than the last time, but this time, Sue wanted to try something else. She waited until Joy was done nuzzling her head into her palm, then reached to carefully pet the top of her large maw, avoiding the bandage still wrapping it.

Despite a brief instant of surprise, it soon became clear that the toothy one enjoyed having her back face pet even more than her front one.

Moment by moment, her worries evaporated, leaving only calm. Calm, comfort, and the desire for more affection, expressed with quiet mumbles. Astra was no less surprised at this development than Joy, but soon grew just as happy, mentally jotting Sue’s discovery down.

Joy may have felt better, but Sue was still exhausted, and clearly needed a pick me up.

After catching both girls’ attention by cleaning her throat, Astra said something to the latter. The little one clearly understood the dragon’s words only partially, if even that, judging by the confusion sprouting in her head. That didn’t stop her from absentmindedly nodding in response, though.

Left none the wiser about nobody understanding what she’d just said, the dragon took off into the air. The fierce gusts of wind left Sue’s front lock of hair flap against her face as she watched Astra fly towards the clearing.

Suppose we can sit here for a while longer, ha.

Sue sure didn’t mind, and judging by her comfort, neither did Joy.

The small, out of the way bench gave the two a pretty good look at the various creatures passing by. Joy was understandably much more focused on her big friend than any assorted strangers she wanted little to do with, though.

Ironically enough, the incoming attention went mostly in the opposite direction. Hardly anyone cared about the injured Forest Guardian; the toothy child on her lap drew almost all the surrounding focus instead.

Be it positive or not.

Thankfully, Joy herself wasn’t paying enough thought to notice the latter.

The more Sue watched the passersby, the more taken aback she got at the sheer diversity Moonview; and by extension, this world had. Not just in species, but also in how close they were to any animals she recognized from Earth.

The group that settled down nearby soon after exemplified that range in particular. A couple of its members tingled the Forest Guardian’s recollection and caught her attention. Especially now that she had enough time and light to examine them closer.

One of them was just a donkey. An actual little brown and cream donkey, reaching to her chest and looking so ridiculously mundane that Sue had to do a double take. If not for them clearly talking with their friends with brays, she wouldn’t have spared them a second glance back in her own world.

The pink creature beside them, though, looked straight out of a nightmare.

They somehow combined the creepiest parts of a bat and a scorpion; their massive fangs a cherry on top. The way they crawled up a nearby lamppost, the way they just waved their tail and its huge stinger around, it all left Sue stunned.

Stunned, and annoyed that it was the shy maw girl beside her that was the focus of so much negative attention and not them. For crying out loud, that stinger full-of god knows-what alone was ten times more dangerous than anything Joy could dish out!

On second thought, probably not a good idea to think about the passersby’s lethality.

Both to avoid dehumanizing them, and to preserve some of her rapidly dwindling sanity.

…’Dehumanizing’? ‘Depersonifying’? Neither?


Somewhere between the normalcy of the donkey and the nightmarish-ness of the winged scorpion sat the last member of their tagalong group. There wasn’t anything immediately offputting about them, or even that weird. At least, beyond them being a light green plant bulb the size of her head, with several stubby extremities that let them move around.

And grasp objects, if them splitting up a small bounty of a few fruits between the trio of presumably children was any sign.

It was that plant that eventually drew the group's attention towards her and Joy, their responses differing greatly, especially regarding Joy. The bulb just gave them a friendly wave, but the other two instead chatted nervously amongst themselves. Nervously enough for it to break into what sounded like an argument, even if fortunately without shouting.

And inadvertently catch Joy’s attention, the maw girl instantly clinging onto her even harder in fear.

The dots weren’t exactly hard to connect. Once Sue was done pulling the little one closer, her focus shifted to leering at the arguing kids. The pink bat reeled immediately, while the donkey kept speaking at them with what had to be the most lethargic raised voice she’d ever heard.

A whistled question from the plant briefly interrupted the spat. The brown one answered shortly after, taking the green one aback as they first looked at the pink one, then over at Joy, and then back at the winged scorpion, their voice getting raised too.

With a double-sized dose of chiding from their friends and a piercing glare from Sue, the bat had had enough. They hissed something out before disappearing behind the nearest corner; the rest of the group left annoyed and confused in equal measure.

I’m neither skilled nor strong enough to actually hurt that pink freak, but if I ever get my hands on them-

Firmer hug from Joy broke her friend’s wrathful train of thought. Sue’s arms shook as she returned the affection and resumed her petting, anger getting banished one deep breath at a time.

“I-I won’t let anyone touch you again as lhong as I’m h-here, Joy.”

The girl didn’t understand the exact words, but at the moment, they mattered the least. Her friend’s embrace, affection, the reassuring tone. Feeling cared for, protected.


As Sue focused on the toothy girl beside her, she felt the emotions and attentions of the two remaining kids shift. First onto her, then onto Joy, themselves, and finally, at something else. Something weird enough to catch much more of their attention.

Something in their direction, but what-

As she huddled towards Joy, Sue felt a very different, very unnerving sensation. Something cold, slimy, and wriggly was pressing itself into the other side of her lap.

I don’t wanna look I don’t wanna look I don’t wanna look-

Joy felt her friend’s sudden freeze, peering out to see just who the intruder was. Somewhat reassuringly, the sight didn’t bother her; the toothy child left much more curious than anything else. If nothing else, it gave Sue the confidence to at least look at what was happening, whole body bracing as she slowly shifted her attention over.

It was much less immediately terrifying than it could’ve been.

The two large barbs on both ends of the brown caterpillar were secured with a small ball of yellowish wax, keeping them disarmed. It was amusing enough to almost make Sue overlook them having those massive stingers to begin with.

But only almost.

It still made her audibly gulp, even knowing that she wouldn’t be getting stung by them anytime soon. The caterpillar themselves barely reacted to suddenly becoming the center of attention. Their front perked up for a moment to return the once-human’s frightful glare, the two locking eyes for a second.

Before the bug immediately went back to trying to crawl onto her lap, much to the toothy one’s giggling.

At least Joy finds this funny.

“Please get off m-me...”

With her plea not getting responded to at all, Sue knew she’d have to do it herself. Slowly, she began reaching over to pick the bug up and put them down some place else. Or at least gathering the strength to attempt that, praying internally for someone to come and take that thing off her.

For once, her prayers would be answered immediately.

A yellow blur in the corner of her vision perked her head up. Its source had already bolted off to the side by the time her eyes got there, though. Loud buzzes and an even louder worried confusion filled the Forest Guardian’s senses as her eyes played catch-up with the stranger, only succeeding after they’d stopped to look her way.

Why did it have to be bees.

All the various bugs clad in yellow and black already had a permanent spot on Sue’s shit list. This one being the size of that flying hell scorpion, able to move blazingly fast, and wielding massive, glistening spikes for arms did nothing to endear them any. Their arm-spikes being disarmed in the same way as the caterpillar’s helped slightly, but any relief that might’ve brought was immediately undone by the stinger sitting in the ‘normal’ position remaining exposed and dangerous.

Oh, and they kept buzzing all the while.

For what it was worth, the sounds Sue could sense being aimed towards her were clearly apologetic. The caterpillar got light chiding as the bee swept in and picked them up; their speed left Sue even further intimidated.

As thankful as the once-human was for the oversized insect taking what likely was a baby of their species away, she couldn’t deny wanting them to fly anywhere but here. They had other plans, continuing to try to chat her up despite receiving no response.

There weren’t any ulterior emotions or motives associated with their actions; Sue was near certain of that. That didn’t explain their motive, and especially not their unending enthusiasm. They were downright giddy at the opportunity to chat with her, confusing her more and more by the moment.

A solid few minutes later, they finally realized the Forest Guardian wasn’t responding.

The resulting silence finally gave Sue an opportunity to respond. It wouldn’t be a straightforward answer, but at least it’d convey the crux of the issue-

“I’m shorry, I can’t understand you.”

Finally, an emotion I can empathize with.

Utmost confusion.

Sue chuckled weakly as the bee turned towards the trio of kiddos; their subsequent question answered predictably. No, they didn’t know what the heck she had just said, either.

Unfortunately, it didn’t result in the one thing Sue really, really hoped it would. Namely, the insect being deterred in the slightest. Instead, they slowed down their buzzing and tried to wave at her instead.

As much as a part of her wanted to, she couldn’t pretend she didn’t understand that gesture. Her arms shook as she returned it in kind. Joy copied her action soon after, her gesture coming off to the bee as hilarious, for some reason.

Now that they’d seen her communicate, however, the stranger wouldn’t even think of relenting. A few unsuccessful attempts later, they finally acted, hovering over to carefully grab her hand between the two wax balls that capped their spikes.

It took Sue her entire willpower to not yank it back with a terrified shriek there and then.

They weren’t done, either, gently pulling on her limb towards themselves as they urged her to stand up. Seems the only way forward was with them, lest they’d decide to express their impatience in a much more painful way. Sue gulped at the associated mental image as she got up. Joy’s confused squeak fell on deaf ears as she scrambled along, huddling as close to her friend as she could.

To little surprise, the bee was no less excitable than before. They constantly pointed the way as Sue ambled on, commenting on everything with their buzzes.

What the hell is that place…

The first descriptor that came to Sue’s mind was a massive, termite hill with half a wooden shack embedded into it. As superfluous as the door of the latter looked considering how many holes the former had, it also was where Sue was eventually led to.

The room that awaited them was small and sparsely decorated, with little more than straw littering the floor, though hardly boring as a result. One of its walls opened up into the myriad tunnels of the insect nest. The occasional movement inside the barely lit tunnels didn’t exactly fill her with confidence.

Their impromptu guide eventually laid down their caterpillar… offspring before diving into one of the tunnels, leaving her alone for once. Thankfully, the little one didn’t immediately try to climb onto her this time, opting instead to close their eyes and try to rest. As muddled and half-formed as their emotions were, the exhaustion in them was clear to see.

Before Joy could waddle over and pet the impromptu friend to help them sleep better, the bee had returned from their delve. They brought a huge egg in their stinger arms, carefully placing it down in an opening close to Sue’s eye level.

Insect eggs were hardly surprising on their own, though Sue wouldn’t have thought they would look so similar to bird eggs. This one was the shape and size of an ostrich egg, colored equal parts green and yellow. It even jittered from time to time, as if whoever laid inside kept stirring in their unborn sleep.

Wouldn’t have thought that an unhatched mutant insect could feel so… cute.

Judging from the bee’s excitement, pride, and a bit of concern, the egg was also one of their offspring. Suppose them being this hyper was slightly more understandable with that in mind, even if it didn’t explain why they had dragged here.

“Umm... con-congratulations?”

Even more confusingly, they kept nudging her beyond just staring at the pretty egg. Sue had no idea how to decipher the gestures they were making in its direction. Wagering a guess, she tried reaching towards it with her free hand-

Only for them to instantly fly right into her hand’s path, emotions turning to shock.

Okay I get it no touching please don’t kill me-

If not for them simply shaking their head with no anger she could sense, Sue would’ve skipped straight to hitting the legs.

Instead, she stood in place as she tried to make sense of it all; her own stress brewing quickly. She’d been left at such an uncomfortable impasse that even her next idea was less anxiety-inducing than continuing to stand here like a dope.

The strained parts of her mind had gotten less sore in the meantime, making communicating with the bee actually workable. Sue was equal parts giddy and unnerved at the prospect of finally talking with someone on her own; the circumstances putting her on edge.

Considering her choices were either trying her luck with telepathy, or continuing to stand here dumbfounded with no way of figuring out what the insect parent wanted, she was just about ready to try her luck. Adding to her confusion, they grew palpably happier once she’d began to focus, not clarifying any of it.

Thankfully I can just ask them about it in a second.

Using her hands made controlling her psychics much easier, but it also meant that being left with just one working arm made the entire process much more awkward. Many, many more emotions in her immediate vicinity didn’t help, either.

If not for her roaring anxiety, she would’ve probably stopped there and then. Her grip on all this was already shaky, and that was with the idealized conditions of Solstice’s training. Sue knew she shouldn’t have kept going, but by then, she wanted nothing more than to be out of this mess.

Despite her awkward pose, using her free hand to tune out nearby emotions worked enough to let her continue, even if at the cost of a steadily creeping headache. With the pathway to the bee’s mind clear, her crutch hand and limited mental control began to twitch as she reached her mind towards the insect that had dragged her into all this.

And maybe she would’ve even reached them, but Fate had different plans.

Sue’s increasingly awkward grip on her crutch made it slip slightly on the straw that covered the floor, throwing her off balance. Her right arm moved wildly to regain it, succeeding soon after.

While driving her mental tendril straight through the bee’s mind.


Their head exploded with pain instantly; stingers feebly held their head as they buzzed roughly. The Forest Guardian immediately realized what she’d done, fear of the stranger’s retribution consuming her as she backed off. Joy’s alarmed squeak didn’t help either, Sue almost hyperventilating by then.

The bee’s pain soon gave to hurt, annoyance, and then, a bit of anger. That latter emotion hastened Sue’s retreat as their eyes narrowed and their buzzing grew pointed. A part of Sue wanted to run while the other wanted to apologize; the realization she wasn’t capable of doing either tying her mind in panicked knots.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m- oh Duck thank you please help explain this mess!

Seeing the leafy caretaker open the shack’s door made the once-human grew weak with relief. Her whole body ached as she bounded forward until she ended up behind Splitleaf, hoping beyond hope she’d be able to defuse the situation.

Joy had caught up to her soon after as the plant-like mantis and the decidedly non-plant-like bee exchanged buzzes and chitters, both trying to figure out what was going on in here. To Sue’s distress, though, their conversation only made the mantis more annoyed at her; the insect nanny turning to face her with an unamused expression.

The Forest Guardian desperately wished she could explain that it was all an accident and apologize, but the ever-tightening bind of panic left her just standing there, unable to whimper even a single word. Her lack of response left the mantis agitated at not being graced with a response before the realization of how overwhelmed Sue must’ve been could begin to settle in.



Hearing the dragon’s voice made Sue immediately bound over towards her. She almost ran into someone else before she clung to the Astra’s soft, orange body. Her entire body trembled in panic as she looked away from the mess of her own making, tears of fear and anxiety flowing freely down her cheeks.

Her overstimulation tuned out any further discussion taking place around her. She felt Astra grow confused more than anything else, evidently unsure what to think. Despite her uncertainty, she erred on the side of comforting her tall friend first and asking questions later.

Splitleaf and the bee weren’t all too happy to see that. The shack’s door slamming closed made Sue flinched as she didn’t dare move, heart racing a mile a minute as Astra gently patted her back.

“I’m shorry...”

The mumbled apology came through much too late.

Astra was already busy huddling them all over to the side of the road, letting the weary Forest Guardian lean on her as long as she needed. Bit by bit, Sue slowly unwound from her panic attack; the zesty fruit roll the dragon had given her once she’d stopped hyperventilating helped greatly.

Eventually, only guilt and regret remained.

I… I just hurt that stranger for no reason, haven’t I.

They probably just wanted to share the joy of having a child on the way. And for that, she repaid them with misery and didn’t even apologize afterwards.

Made Solstice have a breakdown, hurt the bee…

I can’t fucking do anything right today, can I.

Before her train of thought could drag her deeper into the quicksand pit of self-loathing, the movement of Astra’s body distracted it. An upward glance revealed the dragon to be waving at someone down the road, out of Sue’s view.

Or, at least, until her ears peeked out from the crowd.

The rest of the surprised-looking Sundance revealed herself soon after. Her confusion quickly turned into concern at Sue’s situation, her voice calmer than usual.

“Are you alright, Sue?”

Her question was only partially rhetorical. The fox mother was just as clueless as everyone else about what had happened, both earlier today and just now. The rest of the group listened in keenly at finally being able to understand her.

“I-I don’t th-think sho...”

Both Astra and Joy held her tighter in response as Sundance nodded at her response.

“Would you want to talk about it? One on one?”

The option of leaving her friends in the dark felt bad to think about. On the other hand, there was little Sue wanted more right now than to figure out just what was going on, with the bee, with Solstice, with Pollux.

Especially from the one person who seemed like she knew everything.


“Hope you feel better soon, Sue! You didn’t mean it, right?”

There weren’t many things Astra could’ve been referring to. Sue’s expression grew more pained as she shakily nodded, adding further fuel to the fire of Joy’s tiny hug.

“I knew it wasn’t like you to do something like that! Are you gonna say sorry?”

Sue wanted to apologize, wanted to so much, the reminder of her action pushing her almost to the point of breaking down again.

“It’s best if Sue waits until the tension defuses some more and everyone calms down.”

“Of course, ma’am!”

Sundance chuckled to herself at Astra’s response. Some of her wanted to correct the superfluous title, but Sue’s wellbeing was occupying the vast majority of her attention at the moment.

“Let us get going, Sue.”

It took the once-human a moment to detach herself from Astra’s comfort. Joy thankfully gave her enough space to shamble forward until she could grab Sundance’s paw. The vixen looked somewhat taken aback at that, but ultimately didn’t complain, instead offering her a faint smile.

“Shorry for all this. I-I’ll see you both later. You’re both great...”

“Awwww, so are you Sue! Feel better soon!”

Joy’s stutters were much less understandable than Astra’s words, but their warmth was much the same. Sue gave the toothy girl a tired smile before taking off with the firefox; the latter keeping her pace down.

“^Would you want me to fetch Solstice too-^”

I can’t think of a worse idea than that.

“No no no no, not, th-there’s no need to.”

Sue’s forceful rejection took Sundance aback, leaving the mystic more surprised than the once-human had ever seen her up to that point. It didn’t last long once the vixen got her bearings, acknowledging her pupil’s response as she guided her further into Moonview.


“Wh-where are you t-taking me?”

“^My dwelling. I initially considered taking you to Willow’s clinic and grabbing Spark along the way. Considering how you answered that, however... it’s something very private, isn’t it?^”

“More sho just... scary and confusing...”

The vixen’s curiosity grew as she led Sue towards the larger building she’d seen a few times by then. Even beyond its second floor, it stood out greatly from its surroundings; the pale stone it was made of unlike anything else around. The intricate patterns chiseled into the lower floor’s exterior provided a clue as to its inhabitant’s occupation.

Their destination, however, would be the upper floor.

It was shaped like a dome with a circular opening at the top as a large canvas patch flapped beside it; attached to something she couldn’t make out. Sue might not have been afraid of heights, but the stairs leading up to Sundance’s dwelling made her reconsider.

Why do these not have guardrails… o-or even just handrails…

The once-human’s palpable fear made the vixen add a new item onto her to-do list at witnessing it.

“Apologies. I didn’t realize how frightening you’d find the stairs.”

“It’s alright... th-though it wouldn’t pass inspection where I live. O-or lived...”


The question lingered in the air as they finally made their way into Sundance’s dwelling. Its layout turned out to be not too different to Solstice’s tent, comprising a single open space with no designated rooms. The ceiling being set up than anywhere else in Moonview helped make it much more welcoming, though.

On a closer look, each corner turned out to have a designated purpose. A large flat stone slab above a wood-fired stove made for an obvious kitchen. The spacious, plush bedding must’ve been the bedroom, or the bed-corner. Heaps of ceramic jugs and woven baskets full of either food or supplies were a clear pantry. The last corner, though, was much more confusing.

Mostly in that the last thing Sue expected Sundance to have in her dwelling was a rudimentary workshop. Saws, picks, clamps, flat surfaces, a bunch of wooden scrap.

Tinker, Mystic, Psychic… Spy.

Need to work on that last one.

As Sue took the sights in, Sundance grabbed a large ceramic cup from the kitchen and filled it with water from one of the pots. Afterwards, she added bunches and pinches of contents of some of the other pots; a mixture of familiar and alien smells alike soon tingled the once-human’s nostrils.

“Take a seat on the yellow one. And, ‘inspection’?”

A direct instruction snapped Sue out of her spaced out state. Her brief confusion was eased once she spotted the two recliner chairs facing each other at the center of the room. Their covers, one yellow and one orange, made it clear which one she was supposed to take, as did the ‘orange’ chair looking incomparably more worn down.

“Umm, when you b-build a new building where I’m from, it has to fit certain requirements, especially about shafety. So someone qualified comes in and ch-checks the plans before you can even start building it.”

“I see. A dedicated person ensuring construction safety? That sounds like an... exceptionally narrow of a role.”

“Oh, it’s not, there are sho many buildings going up all the time th-they have their hands full, no doubt.”

Sue’s clarification left Sundance thoroughly dumbfounded. Moonview was putting up a new building around twice a Moon at their current rate, and said buildings couldn’t possibly take more than a few minutes each to be ‘inspected’.

Just how ridiculously many buildings must Sue’s people be building for even one person to be occupied with inspecting them full time?

“That’s... hard to imagine.”

“Heh. It helps th-that human cities are much, much bigger than M-Moonview.”

A large part of the fiery vixen really, really wanted to question her inter-universal guest about the size of her world and its implications. She doubted she’d be able to keep herself from asking forever, but at the moment, her curiosity played a distant second fiddle to Sue’s concerns.

“Remind me to ask you more about your world sometime. I... had not realized it would be as different as your words here are implying it to be.”

What? My world’s not that diff- …oh. I, I suppose it is.

As similar as their worlds looked at the surface, the effect that several centuries of global human civilization left on their world was impossible to deny.

Or overlook.

“I will.”

Even if Sue couldn’t lean into the seat because of her back horn, getting to sit down still brought immense relief. Her exhaustion waned by the moment as she observed what her host was doing, the vixen soon catching onto it.

“I’m preparing you something to drink to get you back on your feet. A complex brew, but remarkably good at bringing forth a second wind when needed. In the meantime, could you tell me what happened back there? Did you hurt someone by accident?”

Admitting that didn’t hurt any less, despite some time having passed.

“Yeah. Th-the... I don’t know their name, the black and yellow one with all the stingersh. Their kid or someone else, the brown caterpillar with a couple spikes, had waddled onto my lap when I was resting with Joy. Then, they showed up to pick them up and began talking to me.”

Sundance gave Sue a slow nod as the once-human caught her breath.

“I tried to make it clear I couldn’t understand them, but they didn’t understand and e-ended up dragging me with them to their nest, I-I think. They showed me an egg and exphected me to do something. I tried following Solstice’s practice and linking with them, and accidentally pushed much too hard and got them hurt, th-they felt very pained, and then I-I panicked becaushe of them getting angry with all the stingers...”

Going over it all like that only made Sue even more self-conscious about it all.

Everyone here’s a freak of nature, why would I fear that bee more than anyone else around?

Sundance wordlessly acknowledge her pupil’s words as she wrapped the concoction up. With it done, she moved the cup over to the kitchen corner and set it on a raised stand. Just needed a source of heat to get it brewing.

Sue didn’t expect Sundance’s ablaze paw to end up being that source.

The steady stream of flames that emanated from it quickly warmed the cup up. Sue found herself mesmerized by the casual display of fire magic, especially as it intensified the various aromas in the room.

“That all sounds... unfortunate. It matches what I’ve heard of Basil; he can get rather hot headed. He probably hadn’t even considered you being plainly unable to talk, and thought you were being mystical.”

“Wh-what did he want from me, though?”

“I can’t know for certainty. The most probable answer is that he wanted you to bless his unhatched offspring.”

Me… bless?

The only time she’d seen anything be blessed was when she was four and a local bishop came to tour their freshly renovated preschool. She sure hadn’t gotten any holier since then. Thankfully, Sundance was eager to explain as she held in a chuckle at her guest’s confusion.

“Forest Guardians are commonly seen as emissaries of the Pale Lady. And, as having a special bond with her across all other kin. It’s not a universally held position. Solstice, especially, has been trying to work against the idea of there being any chosen people. Alas, the superstition holds. I cannot blame Basil for his desire either, not with the Night Mother being such a big deal around these parts.”

Sue sure felt chosen, but if the Night Father’s visit in her dream was any sign, it wasn’t by Duck.

Hell, I’m probably cursed if anything.

“I- I see. That’s... that feelsh so weird to me.”


“Is he gonna be alright though? H-he felt really hurt...”

“If he was still flying afterwards, then any injury was at best superficial. It hurt, no doubt about that, but he’ll fully recover soon if he hadn’t already. If you wish, I can come over and help translate your apology. It is unfortunate, but it is what it is. If were to guess, he’ll be more upset about you panicking afterwards.”


“His kin are very territorial, and often thought of as savage. The best we have negotiated with their nearby hive is a hard border between our territories. Splitleaf found his egg ways into our land a few years ago and raised him as her son. Even if his stigma isn’t as recent or cruel as Joy’s, I imagine he won’t be amused by being thought of as dangerous.”


“Th-that’s... I’m s-so sorry.”

“It’s unfortunate, but not the end of the world. I hope he can empathize enough to put himself in your situation, especially with how obviously feeble and tired you were. Sometimes, though, all we can do is apologize and not be forgiven. And that’s alright. The world keeps turning, even if made heavier by someone’s resentment.”

Sue chewed through the vixen’s words as her hut went quiet. For a couple minutes, the only sounds in the dwelling were the crackles of Sundance’s orange flame smothering the ceramic cup, its contents beginning to steam.

With the brew’s unusual aroma growing in intensity, Sue could finally make out what comprised it. The most prominent scent was no doubt coffee; its appearance made even more nose-catching with the once-human having been spared of it for the past few days.

“Yeah. Th-that just shounds so... dreadful, though.”

“It certainly does. Ultimately, it’s merely a part of life we all have to learn. You can do everything right and some people won’t like you, some won’t forgive you, some won’t accept you, and trying to force them to is a pathway to suffering. They won’t be losing sleep over it, neither should you. How do you like your drinks, hot or cold?”

The unexpected question snapped the once-human out of the philosophical mulling. She glanced over at the vixen just in time to see her pour the black, steaming brew through a sieve into another cup.

“...what do you mean by cold?”

Sundance chuckled at her pupil’s question; raising an eyebrow as she picked up the hot cupful of… something and smirked at Sue.

“The same as everyone else. Even if I think they’re missing out on freshly boiled tea.”


“Sorry. I-I’ll have it shlightly warm if-if that’s alright.”

“It absolutely is, worry not.”

The mystery of how was Sundance going to chill the drink turned out to have a very mundane answer. She halfway submerged the cup into the pot of water and waited patiently as their temperatures equalized.

In the meantime, Sue had a moment to take in more of her dwelling’s quaint design. The almost-noon Sun shone bright on the center of the chamber, lighting up a circular patch of the stone floor between the two chairs.

As she looked up to investigate the rudimentary sunroof, the decorations that surrounded it finally caught her attention, previously overlooked as just bits of paint. They turned out to be anything but. A ring of dolls was suspended around the circular opening in the ceiling. Their designs were mere curiosity,

Until they suddenly weren’t.

Are those… Duck and the Night Father?

The rudimentary depictions of the two deities on opposing ends caught Sue’s attention and wouldn’t let go, finally forcing her to ask.

“Wh-what are those?”

Sundance didn’t even have to look to know what her guest was referring to. She chuckled quietly as she walked over to Sue’s seat with the freshly cooled drink, setting it down on a stool beside the once-human’s seat.

“Crafts projects. It’s... easy for me to get lost in my mind’s realm at times. Especially when the situation in the physical realm grows difficult. I found that making myself put these together with my bare paws every once in a while keeps me... honest, sane even. They are simply something entertaining I can focus my attention on and weather the storm without sinking ever deeper into my thoughts. In addition, they help me maintain manual agility and prevent me from getting too dependent on telekinesis for everything.”

“And... deities?”

“Well, I make what I know~. Sometimes, I craft a depiction of someone in Moonview, though I keep these to myself and disassemble them afterwards. Even if someone doesn’t believe that a figurine of them gives its wielder control over them, it still unnerves them, and I’d rather avoid that. Don’t have that issue with celestial beings, lest someone thinks I can make the Moon dance to my whims with a bunch of sticks and leaves.”

“Know... how?”

“Not by any sort of heavenly visions. Various peoples constantly make depictions of their deities, and I just happen to have a great visual memory when that’s concerned. Even here, I can just look at Night Mother and Ni- well, just Night Mother’s altar now and copy that design competently enough.”

Sundance immediately felt Sue’s focus narrowing at her correction, but she wouldn’t act on that right away. Instead, she walked over to the storage corner and dug through one of the smaller pots in search of something, the resulting silence growing that bit heavier.

I’ll need to ask about that when I bring Pollux up…

Instead, the once-human refocused on the deities dancing under the ceiling, a couple of them catching her attention in particular.

“What’s that one?”

Sundance glanced over her shoulder a moment as she kept digging in her supplies, the answer as simple as it was haunting-


Its serpentine body was mostly gray and red, culminating in a yellow head. A multitude of tentacles sprouted from its back, both the shorter yellow ones and longer black ones with red tips.

Judging by the sheer number of additional threads holding it up, its design wasn’t any easier to keep assembled than it was to put together to begin with.

“D-does it kill or-“

“It comes afterwards, doing whatever you think it does with the souls of the dead. Be it ferrying them to the world beyond this one, passing judgment on their deeds, or just devouring them whole and leaving nothing behind. I’ve heard all of those expressed with fear and reverence alike. More so the former than the latter.”

“S-so it doesn’t kill?”

“That would be Gate.”

Sue felt her attention being drawn to one doll in particular, its appearance confusing. It appeared to comprise three equally spaced crimson limbs with black details, and a bit of gray fur around the center. It took her a while to notice a small head between two of the limbs, colored the same as the rest of its body.

Step aside Grim Reaper, a floating ‘Y’ just stole your job.

“Does your world have a deity of afterlife?”

…does the top dog of Christianity count?

“I-it’s complicated.”

“As most things are.”

“Nothing th-that does all the options you’ve listed, I-I don’t think.”

“That isn’t the case here, either. Most agree on what Death is, but not on what it does.”

“There ishn’t even that agreement where I’m from. B-but there’s shomething kinda like a similar symbol of death where I grew up, a skeleton in a b-black robe with a scythe.”

The mental image got Sundance thinking as she returned to her seat. She was holding… a wooden pipe, the kind Sue associated with Sherlock Holmes more than anything else.

“Is it a... specific skeleton?”

“A- a human skeleton mostly, bu-but I’ve also seen skeletons of other species...”

Only ever as a joke, but still.

“I think I like how that sounds. I can’t say I have ever tried to construct a skeleton, or even know what mine looks like, but it sounds like an interesting project idea for when I have spare time on my paws.”

“Yeah. Umm, wh-what are you smoking?”

Sue’s words came right as Sundance leaned back in her chair. A small Ember sprung from the tip of one of her claws, lighting up the pipe’s contents. The resulting smell answered a split second before the vixen did; the answer was the furthest thing from what Sue was expecting.

“It’s just hemp. Considering your question, ‘smoking’ like that is a thing in your world too?”

“Yeah, it’s- it’s a plague.”

“Oh. I can stop if you’d want.”

“No no no, it’s mostly tobacco th-that’s the worst one there.”

The vixen had to think way back to the last time she’d tried that particular plant for herself. Suffice to say, her recollection didn’t paint her experience in the most positive light.

“You wouldn’t get me to voluntarily try tobacco again. I can’t imagine it being pleasant to experience often.”

“You’ve n-no idea.”

Both women went quiet as Sundance took another deep breath through the pipe. Before she could relax fully, something caught her attention first.

“You can toss the cover aside and lean into chair’s back. Solstice loves doing that whenever she comes over.”

The prospect of resting her back after several days of inhabiting this body caught Sue’s undivided attention. The reveal of the widely spaced wooden splat made her feel downright ecstatic, much to the vixen’s amusement.

Not even that came close to the sheer relief that leaning all the way back and resting her shoulders brought, though.

I don’t wanna move… ever again…

“And I thought Solstice’s reaction was drastic.”

“You’ve no idea h-how good thish feels after not being able t-to rest my back...”

“I clearly don’t indeed. Remember to have your drink before it gets too cold.”

As Sue reached over to grab the ceramic cup, her attention drifted upwards once more. A very convoluted doll caught her attention in particular. At least, before she squinted and realized it was two separate dolls, simply bundled together.

“Wh-what are thoshe?”

Sundance followed the once-human’s line of sight as the latter took a sip of the concoction-

Holy shit, what is this stuff!?

It was definitely coffee alright, just one with an absurd amount of additives. Its bitterness was mixed with a fruity, zesty sourness, half a dozen subtler, herbal flavors and at least four tablespoons of sugar.

The result probably had enough caffeine in it to down an Indian elephant in a single sip and enough calories to keep her running for three days straight.

“I don’t think they have a unified name. The titles I remember hearing about are ‘The Capricious’ and ‘The Judicious’, the twin gods of fate and destiny. Or simply Fate and Destiny.”

Both of the intertwined dolls had the shape of a large head with three points, two to the sides and one straight up, and a small body underneath it. One had a yellow head, a white body, and a few strips of green fabric hanging off the points of its head. The other was equally split between pink and gray, with branches that had been contorted into circles and painted yellow hanging from the sides of its head.

They almost look like hoops of some sort.

“Fate and Destiny? Is there... a difference?”

Sundance’s chuckle at her question took Sue aback; the source of her amusement revealed soon after.

“You have just stumbled on a topic of one of the bigger theological debates I ever had the... ‘honor’ of witnessing in person. It was amusing, if nothing else, at least before it devolved into a brawl. Afterwards, it became a matter of making it out of there in one piece.”

Sue’s wide-eyed stare brought even more amusement to the vixen, soon dismissed as she regained composure.

“From what I gathered, ‘destiny’ is preordained by divine will, and ‘fate’ merely happens to you, thanks to nothing more than chance and consequences of what came before. The way I see it, any control over the latter turns it into the former by definition, but that’s what I got out of all the shouting.”

If anything, the chaotic mess underneath the Sundance’s ceiling covered the confusion rather clearly. The similar size and body shape, together with their physical proximity, made it difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.

Physical Chaos representing Divine Order.

“Sometimes they’re just one deity that puts on one of two masks, sometimes they’re opposing forces, sometimes there’s only one and not the other. I don’t think this wider area has a strong worship of either, beyond them both manifesting as comets on the night sky. Remember to make a wish the next time you see one, and who knows, maybe someone will hear it.”

Sundance leaned back in her chair, taking a large hit of her pipe as both she and Sue calmed down. Their respective indulgences soothed their minds, letting them peace out after a turbulent morning.

Or, in Sue’s case, peace out as much as possible while in the beginning stages of a sugar high.

As relaxed as they grew, though, both of them knew full well that Sue didn’t just come here to chill and down an energy drink. Soon enough, the tension began to creep back into the chamber until Sundance finally acknowledged it.

“The incident with Basil wasn’t the only reason you wanted to talk with me, is that correct?”

The once-human nodded as she put her cup down, arms jittering from the mix of nerves and caffeine.

“No. Earlier t-today I was practicing with Solstice and it was going s-so well. A-and then she mentioned someone called Aurora and broke down in front of me and forced me out of her tent. And yesterday, Shpark took me to see her friend th-that was a black fox that I couldn’t sense and they hid from people. And then they and ran away when spotted a-and I don’t know why and-“

Sue only barely caught herself from rambling on, looking up to look at the vixen dead in the eyes.

“What’s going on, Sundance?”

The Forest Guardian focused on her host’s emotions, trying to piece the puzzle with their help. A part of her worried about the topic making the mystic furious because of her uncovering something that wasn’t meant to be known.

Fortunately, that wasn’t what happened.

Unfortunately, the truth was so much worse.

For a few moments, Sundance could only flatly stare at her before she shifted towards a resigned somberness.

“In hindsight, I do not know why I even hoped you wouldn’t run headfirst into all this on your own. Maybe if you had awoken in this realm in any other body, but... no, not this one. Of course, it would all come crumbling down.”

The vixen closed her eyes for a few moments, searching for the right words. Sue could only hear her own racing heartbeat.

“To answer your question. Nothing now. Nothing anymore. To recount what led to this, what happened all those years ago, I have to tell you a story. A story of a wayward soul that came here from afar. One that saw the harm zealotry and prejudice could inflict and vowed to build something better. Better, safer, a place all could call home. Vowed… and failed.”

Despite the comfort of her seat, Sue involuntarily leaned forward, the entirety of her attention occupied by Sundance’s tale.

“Her name... was Solstice.”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 11: Truth


the gay agenda

Chapter 11: Truth

Sue’s eyes went wide at the vixen’s words as she chewed through the revelation. The tense silence soon culminated in a whispered, anxious question.

“Do you mean... l-like me?”

Sundance was visibly taken aback at the idea, shaking her head once she’d figured out what her pupil meant.

“No, not in the same way as you, Sue. She hails from this world, from a clan far away from here.”

A part of Sue was glad that nobody else had been subjected to the same dimensional shift as she had. On the other hand, if anyone else had gotten through it, maybe they would’ve had a better idea of how to get back home.

Or at least would’ve been able to empathize more…

Pushing through conflicting emotions, the once-human acknowledged the vixen’s response. She desperately wanted to get to the bottom of this.

“I see. H-how far away?”

“Approximately a week’s march in a straight line. It’s not something she’s been keen on double checking.”

Definitely not how I would’ve expected Solstice to act…

“Is it because of shomething they did?”

“Worse. Because of what they are.”

Sundance took a deep sigh and an even deeper hit of her pipe as she leaned back in her chair, sorting through her thoughts and memories once more. The Forest Guardian could sense flashes of anger bubbling from deep within her mind, briefly manifesting through shaking, clenched paws. The mystic’s composure strained but ultimately held as she wove through her tale.

“Her clan had a much similar ambition to that of Willow’s. On its surface, at least. Bring healing to those who need it, and honor the Pale Lady through their deeds. They didn’t think themselves mere worshipers of the Moon; they thought themselves Her emissaries. The closest thing to her incarnation in flesh, and as such, it meant that their will was divinely guided, too.”

Guess that’s where that bee got the idea from.

“Her clan might not have spread its territory much, but their rotten ideology had spread far; all the way to here. It sure helps that as opposed to Willow’s kin, the Forest Guardians are far, far from unarmed. Even if both you and Solstice are terrible examples of that.”

Part of Sue felt like she ought to be offended at that, but wasn’t sure how or why, shaking the thought off soon after. Weird as it was to consider, Sundance was right. Telekinesis strong enough to lift whole people off the ground, ability to tamper with minds, reading thoughts. All those were scarily powerful, and they weren’t even the flashy kind of feats she saw at the feast.

Hell, she herself had painfully hurt the bee villager despite her weakness and inexperience, and it was completely on accident! Who knew how harmful a deliberate attack of that sort would’ve been by someone who knew what they were doing.

How lethal.

In truth, Sue didn’t want to know. An icy dread ran down her back at the awareness of how much capability to harm others further training would give her. To maim, even kill, with just her thoughts. And to imagine that kind of power in the hands of a clan that thought itself divinely guided…

If there was anything Sue remembered well from her history lessons, it was that a ‘divine’ guidance at the lead of a powerful group only ended in tragedy.

If not genocide.

“Of course-“

Sundance chuckled bitterly as a deep shudder ran through her.

“-they believe themselves to be kind rulers. They offer their healing arts to those who come. As long as they pledge their worship of the Pale Lady, make an... ‘offering’, and aren’t the ‘wrong’ kind of creature. The kind whose compliance they couldn’t guarantee the hard way because of being unaffected by their psychics.”

Just like Pollux…

“Th-the night kin...”

“Correct. Contrary to what their immunity to psychics might imply, Forest Guardians are hardly defenseless against them. Moon’s pale light drives away the dark just as well as the Sun’s. Their thoughts and minds would forever remain off limits to prying eyes. And there’s nothing people as controlling as Solstice’s clan despise more than someone they can’t control.”

Sundance paused to steady her breathing, keeping her anger at bay through sheer willpower.

“They cast the night kin aside and declared them profane, and their deity evil incarnate. And if anyone ever extended their hospitality towards them… consequences followed close behind.”

Sue shook as she processed the revelation, thinking back to what she’d seen around the village. Willow’s panicked reaction to her as much as bringing the night kin up. Spark lying about meeting one of them through her teeth.

“And their beliefs reached as far as here?”

Sundance nodded deeply, hanging her head and closing her eyes.

“Ideas can spread like wildfire, especially when they appeal to our worst, basest impulses. It would be both foolish and wrong to attribute all the hatred towards the night kin to Solstice’s clan alone. The fear of those different, of the night, of defenselessness. All those were already there, a fertile ground for bigotry to grow on.”

A defeated, weak sigh.

“All one needs to do to control those controlled by these fears was give them enemies to hate and rally against. I’ve seen it time and again, not just with the night kin. It is just as terrifyingly effective each time.”

Definitely seen that one with quite a few politicians and priests.

“Wh-what about Solstice, then?”

The firefox gathered her thoughts and gave Sue a moment to collect herself. Her shaking hand thanked Duck for the cup of her host’s concoction having long been emptied, lest she spilled the sticky brew all over herself.

“She got to witness the injustice her clan had caused, and it was enough to make her doubt it all. Her father isn’t a Forest Guardian. His kin is similarly psychic, even if he looks different. Regardless of how little his otherness mattered, not being a Forest Guardian meant he was still inherently lesser. And so was Solstice, on account of her blood being ‘impure’.”

Sundance briefly paused, her hand clenching. Her anger at her friend having been treated that way warmed the air around her as her expression twisted, but it didn’t last long.

“That planted the seeds of her doubt, and hearing about Night Mother and Night Father not having always been enemies from a passing mystic made them bloom. Every time someone was harassed or denied help because of being ‘lesser’ cemented her resolve even further. To get out of there, and to do what she could to make things right. And once she’d evolved and received her blessings... she did.”

Sue couldn’t help but imagine a younger Solstice sneaking away in the middle of the night, disappearing without leaving as much as a goodbye note in her wake. She grew more and more invested in the story being told, hunching forward as she nodded for Sundance to continue.

“She arrived in Moonview a few years before I settled here for good. Her kinship gathered her no small amount of reverence, one she tried to squash each time. Her knowledge of healing arts earned respect, even from Willow’s kin, and they exchanged many lessons over the years. Ultimately, she was much the same person you know. It’s little wonder that she was liked and eventually joined the Elders’ council. Once there, she did her best to undo the influence of her clan, however she could.”

Now that’s the Solstice I know.

Sundance’s tale lit up an ember of second-hand joy inside Sue, if an uneven and flickering one. She might not have known when the story would take a turn for the worse, but she knew it would, eventually. The trepidation coiled around her mind.

“Was she successful?”

“To an extent, yes. Widespread as her clan’s influence was, Solstice undid enough of it to open the gates for the night kin to live here. They weren’t explicitly forbidden from settling here before, but they certainly would not be accepted with open hands or anything. She changed that, pushed back against them being seen as evil or as Pale Lady’s enemies, used the influence her kinship gave her for good. And, in time, the night kin indeed began to show up.”

The night kin… used to live in Moonview?

“Hard to imagine th-that nowadays...”


Sundance’s response was cold and regretful. The firefox took a deep breath, then another, and continued.

“The beginnings were rough, but familiarity and exposure are the anathema to prejudice. As the relations warmed up, the Pale Lady’s shrine was expanded with a wall depicting the Night Father, leaving them standing side by side. It was controversial even then, but most didn’t care enough to be opposed, especially with Solstice blessing the change. Those that did, rallied around Root, the spiritual leader of Moonview until Solstice’s arrival.”

Having to utter Root’s name had the fox grasp her chair’s armrest, claws scraping at the well-worn wood.

“He was the strongest opposition to the inclusion of the Night Father in their altar, as well as to the night kin’s presence in general. As much as he whined, he accomplished little, not with Solstice’s popularity.”

What an asshole.

“We kept growing, people of all kin kept coming. It really seemed like Solstice’s dream had come true, that she’d defeated her clan’s vicious teachings. She eventually married one of the night kin, and had a child with him.”

One particular name crept back into Sue’s name, as did an icy chill of dread and the implication.



Sundance fought hard to keep too many memories from flowing; their sweetness made harrowing in hindsight.

“She was a wonderful kid. So bright, so curious, she wanted to do all the things, learn everything, meet everyone. The entire world felt much too small for her at times. Her psychics unfortunately came as a great struggle much of the time. Solstice told me that had Aurora hatched back at her clan, she wasn’t sure what they would do with her. Whether they would’ve even let her live with her weakness.”


The sinking pit that had been forming inside Sue had grown tenfold at hearing that word. She couldn’t resist asking the question at the root of it all anymore; her voice was little more than a hoarse, wavering whisper.

“What hap-happened to her?”

Sundance shuddered again at her words. It wasn’t in anger this time, however.

It was in fear.

Old fear, fear thought long buried. It built up inside the vixen by the moment, ending up only barely contained as Sundance answered, her voice similarly pitiful.

“The plague.”

The words grasped Sue’s mind with terror; attempts to imagine what might’ve happened held in check by how terrifying all the interpretations were. The mystic could tell, pushing herself through her pain to tell the rest of the tale.

Sue deserved to know, even if Sundance wanted nothing more than to be able to forget it all.

“It came without warning, its source unknown. It ravaged through the village, scarring our bodies and minds alike, stealing our breath and leaving burning pain behind. We tried everything we had to cure it, but all we managed was alleviating some symptoms. Beyond that, we prayed it would subside on its own. It was arduous, but very rarely lethal, at least for adults. The little ones...”

Even the briefest recollections of that hell brought more anguish than Sundance was equipped to handle. The pain, the cries, the death. Her pipe dropped onto her lap as she reached up to forcibly Calm her Mind, wanting to scream as a part of her relived it all.

Each time, she thanked the Sun for Spark not having hatched yet when it all happened.

Sue’s mind tied itself into knots as tears flowed down her cheek, her heart threatening to shatter into a thousand pieces.

“Everyone lost someone, be it family or friends. Solstice...”

Despite being subdued, the fox’s mind thrashed as she thought back to her friend. The sheer torment she must’ve felt, both her own and everyone else’s. It was too terrible to comprehend.

But she had experienced it all the same.

“She stayed by Aurora’s side as she died. Alone. I was t-too sickly to leave my dwelling, and her husband, Jasper... He is a kind, sensitive soul. But it was all too much for him. He couldn’t bear to witness it himself, especially after it was clear his daughter would die. As understandable as it was, it resulted in Solstice having to endure it all alone.”

The torture Solstice had gone through was unimaginable.

Sue remembered how protective she felt towards Spark and Pollux when they were being chased, how she put her whole life at stake to save them. To imagine the torment of holding her own child, wanting nothing more than to protect her from the sickness ravaging her, and being completely powerless to help, with nobody there for her...

For a while, the Forest Guardian could only weep.

For everyone who had to experience that. For everyone who lost someone. For everyone who was lost.

The once-human had no idea how long it took her to begin wrangling herself together. Even as she did, she felt terror grip her once more at the realization that Sundance wasn’t done yet.

“There was... one more thing. One twist of fate, that would’ve been a cause for joy in any other world. Not in this one. Not back then.”

Oh no.

The revelation was as straightforward as its repercussions were harrowing.

“Some types took it much worse than the others. And the night kin… were immune.”

The vixen paused to let the fact settle. Sue grew more and more disturbed as she tried to imagine how the people who had already distrusted them had reacted to that fact.

How much blood was senselessly spilled as a result.

“Were they… k-killed?”

“Thankfully not, ‘merely’ ran out of Moonview. The grip of paranoia was inescapable. Even those I trusted to know better were briefly swayed. Even I felt its tendrils wrapping around my mind in the aftermath of it all. Ultimately, it culminated in a vote being held whether to exile the night kin for good.”

Sue might’ve been held firmly by despair, but a different emotion soon crept into her mentor’s mind. Anger at her fellows for being so easily swayed by panic, seething fury towards those who had manipulated them. The air grew uncomfortably hot for a moment before Sundance reasserted her grip on herself and continued.

“After Aurora’s passing... Jasper was paralyzed with shame. Shame at abandoning his wife and daughter when they needed him the most. It fed into itself with each passing day, leaving him unable to come back and face his wife after what had happened. Solstice was left even more alone; her entire self shattered and with nobody around to comfort her. Nobody… but Root.”

No… no no no, please don’t let it be what I think it is-

“She was at her absolute lowest, with no reprieve in sight. Utterly consumed by loss and agony, willing to do anything to get any relief from the hell of it all. When the time came, her vote was the deciding one. Between Root’s influence, hurt at her own husband for abandoning him when she needed him the most, and a moment of vicious weakness, she voted for exile. The champion of the night kin’s cause, the one who had opened the village’s gates for them, had now closed them once more.”

The hut was dead silent as vixen took a deep breath, fighting to maintain composure.

“The night kin felt, and were, betrayed. They didn’t fight the verdict. Perhaps some of them knew deep down that it would never work out in the end. Jasper... took it the worst. Blamed it all on himself. I remember him pleading with me, but I had no power there. I stepped down from the Elders’ council afterwards. Solstice... felt betrayed too, by herself.”

Shakily, Sundance picked her pipe up again. She steeled herself before taking a deeper hit, her body language withdrawing further.

“It didn’t take long for everyone else to realize what they had done. Their neighbors, their friends... gone, driven out. Some tried to rationalize it afterwards, psych themselves into truly believing that it was the night kin that had brought in the plague. Anything to avoid facing the responsibility for their actions and the guilt they carried. Guilt and shame.”

So that’s why she felt so shameful…

“Shame, such a caustic, destructive force. It locks one into a cycle of misery, unable to right their wrongs and escape it. Ask almost anyone who’d voted towards exile on that fateful day, drill them past their inevitable flimsy justifications, and they’ll break down and admit that they’ve made a mistake. A mistake none of them will do anything to mend, because of how much even thinking of doing that hurts.”

Sundance looked down at the floor between herself and her mentor, closing her eyes.

“I kept trying to bring it up to Solstice every so often. All that accomplished was making her break down and relive it all, her every loss and mistake, again and again. And so… I stopped.”

Sue waited for the vixen to continue, but soon after, it became clear that the story ended there, at last.

“Th-that’s all... I don’t have words.”

“There aren’t any.”

“Wh-what happened to the night kin?”

“They established their own settlement, Newmoon, not that far from here. Everyone knows about it. We aren’t forbidden there, but… almost nobody wants to see the consequences of their actions. I come to visit sometimes. It’s a quiet place. Rather barren and tiny, but lovely in its own way. They try to make do.”


Sundance nodded, exhaling quietly.

“I know Snowdrop is seeing someone from there. I don’t know why she’s looking for another partner here, too, but it’s not our place to judge. Solstice and Jasper meet up too, sometimes. They don’t talk much. Those are hardly a secret. People find out fast. Everyone knows that nobody cares about the exile and the terrible things being ascribed to the night kin anymore. And yet, here we are.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Closing in on five years now. Spark was still in her egg when it happened, thank the Sun.”

I need to ask about that ‘egg’ sometime.

“Spark’s friend, Pollux... he’s from that Newmoon village, right?”

“Indeed. I know he visits sometimes. As well as he can hide, it’s still easy to spot him. The divide between our villages is such an arbitrary one in the end, a line in the sand that the little ones won’t and oughtn’t to pay any attention to. Sometimes it feels like it’ll take that new generation to finally mend that wound…”

“Guess that’s why they were outshide Moonview when that shpider found them...”

The mention of the events of her first day here immediately startled Sundance. The vixen’s calm demeanor suddenly came undone as she asked urgently, leaning forward in her seat.

“Wh-what do you mean?”

The abruptness of her mentor’s reaction took Sue aback; her stammer intensified as she retold what she’d seen.

“Spark and P-Pollux were together when they ran into me and I-I distracted the spider...”

Sundance was aghast at hearing the news. Sue worried she’d said something she really shouldn’t have, sitting fearfully in place as she felt the vixen’s worry grow.

Grow, and turn into anger.

Not at Sue, not at anyone else. At herself.

The mystic simmered in place for a while. Deeper breaths sent a dusting of sparks out through her nose and ears. Her own fury might’ve been aimed inward, but that didn’t make it any less vicious.

“I-I should’ve realized. A-a part of me hoped it was something else, some other freak accident. I was just fooling myself, wasn’t I. As much as I think myself above that, I keep doing that. Clinging to whatever remote possibility lets me rest the easiest, just to not have to face the facts...”

Sue sat in silence as the vixen fought an internal battle, eventually admitting the truth to herself.

“No, this can’t continue. I let it go on for too long. It- it has to stop. I can’t risk Spark getting in danger like that again, I...”

Sundance trailed off for a while as her anger burned up into grief. She’d failed to make the world safer for her little one, entirely through her own inaction. Before her, Sue wondered what to even do in the face of all the misery, feeling powerless to help.

And then, an idea came to her. A terrible idea, but one she had to at least try. She wouldn’t be able to mend the wound between these two peoples, no.

But I can at least try to comfort one hurt person.

“I guess I’m truly no better. Much as I keep holding it all against Solstice, it had to be my flesh and blood for me to act towards resolving this injustice. Maybe I should’ve kept pressing her harder all along. Maybe I should’ve not even cared about what she'd do and acted on my own. Maybe if I had just pushed through the pain on that fateful day, pushed to her tent to be there for her, the suffering of so many more would’ve been averted.”

Sundance’s dwelling was plunged into silence. A couple of stray tears forced their way past the firefox’s eyelids before she spoke, her voice wavering and resigned.

“I wish I had half the answers I give the impression of having.”

Sue had no idea what advice she could feasibly give to someone who had lived through hell after hearing an abridged version of the events. Instead, she offered understanding, sinking into an uncertain expression and trying to bounce back some of Sundance’s own insight from earlier.

“Th-that’s undershtandable. Even if you’ve made a mistake by letting it fester, it doesn’t mean you have to let it continue.”

The vixen’s expression briefly twisted as she faced her own partial responsibility in all of this. The resulting mental struggle was as intense as it was brief; her eyes opened with a grunt.

“You’re right. Thank you, Sue. I’ll need to think about what to do after all this time. It will be messy, but... I owe it to Spark. I owe it to Solstice, I owe it to you, I owe it to everyone. Something has to be done.”

Sundance’s newfound determination spread over to Sue, adding fuel to the once-human’s recently hatched plan.

“G-good luck. I’ll- I’ll leave you to it, but first I have to know. Where is Solstice?”

The vixen shook her head, eyes going wide.

“Don’t worry, Sue, I’ll handle talking with her. You shouldn’t put this burden on yourself-“

“Th-this isn’t what I want t-to talk to her about.”

Sue’s response was pointed and steadfast, utterly unlike her. The mystic thought about it all briefly before slowly nodding.

“I see. I can’t read her mind from here, but... if I know her at all, she’ll be at the cemetery, praying.”

“Th-the cemetery? Where’s-“

Wait, the clearing I ran into Solstice on. The decorated rocks, the quietness, the distance from the village.

That must be it.

It was a fair march away, but Sue felt readier than ever to take it on. The approximately nine espresso’s worth of caffeine circulating in her system helped, too.

“Seems you’ve figured it out. I won’t hold you back unless you want me to escort you over.”

“No, no, I’ll be fine. I-I can do this.”

Sue’s arms trembled as she pushed herself through her strain and onto her legs. She was tired and hurt, but the burning drive inside her made her overlook all of it, staggered steps quickly evening out.

“May the Sun hasten you, Sue. But remember, it’s not your fault. You aren’t responsible for any of this.”

Sundance’s remark made the once-human pause as her hand rested on the door handle. She took a couple of deep breaths before responding-

“I know.”

-and speeding on, leaving the mystic to mull through her plan on her own.

A mixture of a sense of duty and an absurd amount of caffeine combined into an intense hyperfocus that had Sue hobble faster than she had ever walked anywhere. Her body hurt, but she didn’t care.

She made for an eye-catching, dumbfounding sight, and she was aware. Most villagers may have already gotten used to the second, much younger Forest Guardian in their midst, but watching her sprint with a crutch was something else entirely.

The emotional rollercoaster she’d just been through made the sensation of focus being placed upon her into something unpleasant, nerve-wracking even. It may have fed further into Sue’s anxieties about becoming the center of attention, but she wouldn’t let it stop her.

Not here, not now.

In just a couple of days, Moonview had turned from a location out of Alice in Wonderland to a place mundane enough for her to have a rudimentary, subconscious map of. The surrounding landmarks steered her towards the clearing; her focus squarely on her destination as she passed by Willow’s clinic.

A cry calling from behind her snatched her attention, the once-human only barely braking in time to look behind herself at its source. Willow’s confounded expression hid immense worry as they waved at her. A couple of other beings stood beside them, including the bedsheet covered stranger she’d ran into earlier, a black, short tentacle waving at her from under their disguise.

The other one was mostly white and looked kinda like a cat, and that’s all the attention Sue would spare them, shaking her head at the group before leaving with a response only she understood.


They deserved further explanation, but between her sense of duty and running on borrowed time granted to her by Sundance’s drink, Sue knew she couldn’t stop. The medic’s worry only grew further at watching her shamble away with a single word response, but they knew full well they weren’t gonna be able to persuade her to stop.

Or even catch up to her, for that matter.

Before Sue knew it, she was back at the clearing, gunning towards the path to the cemetery. Poppy’s nearby call went unacknowledged, the once-human’s tunnel vision narrowing further the closer she got to her destination.

After having grown too used to sensing dozens of minds surrounding her at all times, the near complete mental silence Sue felt in the middle of that well-worn path was unnerving. As loud as Moonview was to her sixth sense, she was never alone in there, and help was all around her should anything happen.

If I collapse here, it could be hours, days before someone realizes…

And to think I tried to run away from that safety only yesterday.

Sure, the only other possibility Sue could imagine at the time was death, but hindsight sure didn’t paint her thought process in a good light. Not one bit.

Thankfully, the once-human’s worries about missing the person she was looking for were dispelled before they could build up any further. A distant sensation of sorrow grew closer with every step. It was far from pleasant, even if nowhere near as overwhelming as it had been immediately after her breakdown.

It only made the younger Forest Guardian push herself even harder.

The memory of her encounter with Solstice, likely when she was praying towards Aurora no less, was one that would remain burned into Sue’s mind forever. Her poise, her calmness.

So utterly unlike her current state.

The Mayor was slumped to the side, looking less like she sat down before the silvery sapling and more so like she’d collapsed there and hadn’t moved afterwards. Her hands were clasped together as she shook. And then, stopped, sensing her student’s arrival.

Solstice’s panicked glance over her shoulder was no less miserable than when Sue was being forced out of her tent. Sue felt her mentor’s sadness spoiling into shame as she leaned further away from the cemetery’s entrance, her voice pathetically quiet.

“I-I’m sorry Sue, I-I-“

“Shundance told me everything.”

The older Forest Guardian froze upon hearing that, staring Sue down as the latter slumped forward and caught her breath. The once-human’s body screamed in soreness as she made it through the last few steps separating her from the nearest bench.


“About Aurora. About the night kin. About... your clan.”

Each of these revelations made the Mayor wince visibly as she tried to retain composure; left unsure how to respond to all that.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

The last addition broke the dam, Solstice curling forward as if struck. Her tears glistened in the afternoon light as she wailed, her pupil only able to watch.

Nothing I can do but be here for her.

Minute by minute, Solstice’s outburst of despair slowly faded. Wails gave way to sobs, then whimpers, and finally, silence. Eventually, the older Forest Guardian found enough strength to pick herself back up onto her legs and shamble towards her pupil, even if she felt too ashamed to look her in the eye.

Sue wasted no time before wrapping her arms around her mentor and pulling her into a tight embrace the moment she sat down. Solstice’s tears grew even more bitter at her student’s compassion; the comfort as nourishing as it felt unearned.

Eventually, only a heavy, lingering silence remained. Sue’s green hand gently stroked her mentor’s side as they both sat at a loss for words, for what felt like forever.

“I... I th-thought I had gotten over it.”

Sue nodded at Solstice’s whisper; her one armed embrace tightened and lightly wavered.

“I-I don’t think th-that’s something you ever really, fully get over.”

The Mayor didn’t respond immediately, head hunching forward as she tried to keep her breathing stable.

“You think?”

I know.


“I-it was going so well... i-it felt like I had made my peace with it all. L-like, I have finally moved on.”

“And then I showed up?”

Solstice was startled at Sue’s words; her response caught in her throat. Her gaze trailed off into the middle distance before she clenched her eyes shut, a few more bitter tears flowing down her cheeks.

Sue’s embrace never wavered, nor did the comfort she tried to provide. An attempt at stroking the older Forest Guardian’s head sent a light jolt through them both, the Mayor eventually accepting the affection.

“She... she would’ve been your age.”

The bitterly admitted truth made Sue freeze, lost for words. There weren’t any, there couldn’t be any. Eventually, she just acknowledged the fact with a slow nod, her embrace growing shakier.

“It’s not your fault, Sue.”

“I know.”

“I-I just… don’t know why it hit me there as hard as it did.”

“A false subconscious hope deep inside, maybe. M-maybe you never really finished grieving for her.”

“I thought I have. Though... maybe not. Not too long after, I-I had to pick myself together and... keep going. Despite my loss, despite everyone else’s loss, despite-”

The sting of shame emanating from Solstice was especially potent this time; Sue wincing by proximity as she held the distraught mother closer, her past sins weighing heavily on her. Whether deservedly or not was not for Sue to decide. All she knew was that right now, her mentor needed the reassurance more than anything else.

“Shounds like you didn’t really have that time then.”

“Maybe not.”

Solstice shuddered as she took in a deeper breath, her pupil holding her all the while.

“I don’t know if I could, even. After all-”

“-the world doesn’t wait for us.”

The older Forest Guardian let out a quiet gasp as she looked over at Sue. The once-human’s gaze was focused on the memorial treeling; expression remaining stoic even as a handful of stray tears began wetting her cheeks again.

“Even if it feels like we’ve lost a part of ourselves, like we’ll never be whole again... we have to keep moving on, pretending we’re fine. Faking it until it stops hurting all the time, hoping we’ll get over it, get over ourselves, because nobody will wait for us.”

Sue’s body wavered, her own pain finally breaking through her facade as she thought back, way back. Solstice followed along with her train of thought, all the way back to its only possible destination.

And watched as her pupil relived it all.

“♪Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone~♪”

A gentle campfire lit the clearing up as it chewed through the remainder of its fuel. The pile of dry wood gathered beforehand was little more than a handful of assorted twigs by now, though nobody gathered really minded.

Especially with the pack of marshmallows they had brought with themselves having long since been emptied.

Despite the creeping clouds covering most of the sky, the Moon itself and a small swatch near it remained clear. It’d be a few more days until the celestial body would be at its brightest, but it was breathtaking all the same. Especially with the family being able to witness it away from the town for once.

“♪Only darkness every day~♪”

Neither the three voices nor the gentle guitar twangs could be said to be particularly on key. The instrument especially was in a dire need of getting tuned. Once more, the trio didn’t care, singing on as they wrapped up a fun, eventful day.

The youngest member of the impromptu band enjoyed herself in particular, putting everything she could into the song being sung, despite her tiredness. She rocked to the sides as she over-enunciated every note, pigtails waving and legs swinging under the bench all the while.

“♪Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone~♪”

To her right sat the person playing the guitar, a woman with a similar face and joyous expression. Her shoulder-length hair slid around as she bounced to the tune along with her daughter, without a care in the world.

The man sitting on the next bench over completed the trio. His scruffy and unshaven look gave off a casual, welcoming vibe, helped further by a slightly oversized tie-dyed shirt.

“♪And this house just ain’t no home~♪”

The long pointy sticks they had used to roast marshmallows were lying off to the side, as were a handful of toys they had taken along for the trip. A partially mud caked frisbee, a slightly less dirty beach ball.

An action figure of a main character from a popular cartoon, one that little Sue always brought with herself whenever she went outside, but which she never had quite enough spare time to actually play with.

“♪Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.”​

And with a final chord, the song ended.

“Can we do another one!?”

Sue’s parents smiled wide as they glanced at each other and then at the fire, dad responding in a tongue-in-cheek way.

“I don’t know Sue, can we?”


Her pleading tone of voice made mom finally cave in with a louder giggle. She reached over to ruffle her daughter’s hair, laughter spreading over to the little one instantaneously.

“Well~ I think we could squeeze one more in. So, what will it be?”

“We should be the ones asking you that, Mrs. Gold Award Scout~.”

She couldn’t resist rolling her eyes and sticking her tongue out at her husband in response. Her lover returned the gesture right away, sending their daughter into a giggling fit even without knowing the full context. Once she had gotten over her own laughter, though, Sue wasted no time before finally proposing something.

“The houshe of the rising sun!”



“Okie, we can go through that one again~! Just lemme remember how that one starts- *eek!*

Mom suddenly jumped in her seat. Before Sue or dad could figure out what had happened, they felt the first raindrops hit them too, the girl shivering in response.

“Welp, seems the rain had other plans! High time to get back home, eh?”

“Sue, grab your toys and start heading over to the car. We’ll get there in a mo’.”


Even though she was a bit disappointed by the song plans getting interrupted, Sue knew that there was no point in arguing with the rain. Doubly so, with it deciding to be warm enough to feel more ticklish than freezing- when it wasn’t making its way past her collar, at least.

The six-year-old resorted to hiding the frisbee as a makeshift umbrella next to her parents’ car as she watched them clean the clearing up. With one last look around to make sure they had left no trash behind, they finally started heading over as well; a couple of lights blinked on the vehicle’s sides as it was unlocked.

Sue immediately scrambled over towards the trunk and popped it open. She put all her toys back in, but didn’t have the reach to actually grab the lid again.

Not for a lack of trying, that’s for sure.

“Get in the car Sue, we’ll take care of the trunk.”


Even the brief exposure to the increasingly icy rain left the girl shivering as she climbed back inside the car. The dim lightbulbs provided just enough light for her to maneuver herself back onto the booster seat and click her seatbelt into place. Her parents followed a few moments later.

“Not a moment too late! The sky really just broke down on us there.”

“Ride back home’s gonna be fun.”

“Just take it slow Nick, no need to rush anything, especially not in this weather.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“Seatbelt on, Sue?”

Mom looked over her shoulder from the passenger seat. The sight of her little Sue always brought a smile to her face without fail, no matter the context.


“Awesome. Let’s get outta here. How’s hot cocoa sound after we’re back home?”

“Can we have marshmallows too?”

“Well, we kinda ate them all here~. Buuuut we could make popcorn instead!”

“Yes! Thank you, mommy!”

Another hair ruffle sent Sue giggling again as the lights inside the car dimmed. The steady rattle of rain grew louder as dad pulled out of the increasingly muddy parking lot and back onto the rural road, thanking whoever was listening for the relatively fresh looking asphalt that covered it.

In not too long, the mix of the rain’s din and the engine’s rumbling was the only sound that filled the car. All the while, the headlights were doing their best to cut through the ever thickening downpour, to a limited success.

“Fat chance anything’s gonna be clear through this rain, but might as well try.”

A few attempts to tune into a local radio station ended up unsuccessful. Any melody they could make out was too drowned out by static to be listenable.

“Yep, guess it’s just us and the road.”

“Moooom, can I play?”

Sue’s mom sighed quietly, rolling her eyes with a chuckle as she glanced over to the back seat.

“Sure, sure, just turn the sound off.”

“Thank you!”

The handheld console was scooped up from the middle seat in no time. Its purplish plastic was cracked in a couple of places from overuse, but still held strong as the rectangular screen came to life; the device’s welcoming chime soon silenced.

Much as the girl’s mom tried to limit her daughter’s screen time, she couldn’t deny that a dull ride back home with not even a radio to ferry them over was a more than justifiable time to lose herself to the plumbers and heroes of legend and all that.

For a solid while afterwards, all Sue’s memories remembered was the small, glowing screen in front of her; the outside world being entirely tuned out. Clumps of pixels representing franchise icons moved and jumped around as the same few levels were replayed god knows how many times.

All that mattered was that they were fun, and fun they most definitely were.

With the last of her excitement about their day out camping finally leaving her system, Sue quickly grew drowsy as her dad drove on. Eventually, she dropped the console onto the seat beside hers, closing her eyes and expecting to wake up in her own bedroom.

The moments that followed were nothing more than a sudden, deafening blur.

Blinding lights ahead of them. Her mom’s shout. The next thing Sue knew, the entire world was tumbling around her. Seatbelt dug into her body as she was rag dolled in her seat, the shriek of crumpling metal permanently burning itself into her memory.

An instant later, it was over with another loud crash.

All that accompanied the still present rain and rumble was an occasional crack or groan. The concussed world around her was nothing more than a dark blur as Sue realized she was sitting at an angle, her entire body hurting-

“Cass? CASS!?”

Her dad’s voice calling out her mom’s name made the girl try to focus and look over at her seat. Her memory refused to follow, continuing to stare straight into the back of her dad’s seat and tuning out his despairing screams.

Refused to relive the sight just off to the left.

Refused to notice the blood splatter on the car’s dashboard.

Refused to see her mom’s body, crushed by the tree their car had slammed into.

Refused to hear any more of her dad’s despaired pleading.

Refused to experience losing her innocence again.

Sue’s traumatic vision began to come undone around her; the girl’s quiet whisper was the last thing seen or heard before it all disappeared-


Sue had no idea how much time had passed by the time she felt herself return to reality.

All she knew was that she’d been crying for a while, judging by the sticky sensation on her cheeks. Solstice was steadily stroking the side of her face and holding her tight, just as close as she was held earlier herself.

Sue’s glance up at her mentor was returned. Solstice’s expression tried to be as comforting as the Mayor could manage, regardless of how badly she needed that comfort too.

“I’m so sorry, Sue.”

The once-human thought about getting up before realizing just how utterly tired she was.

Any and all strength Sundance’s brew had filled her with was now completely gone. Old emotional scars, both her own and her mentor’s, had drained her wholly, leaving little more than a mostly emotionless husk behind.

And yet...

Sue’s flat expression shuddered as her emotions crept back to her. Including one particular sensation that she now, more than ever, couldn’t ignore.

Not after a light had been shone on it so directly.

She recalled clasping her hands before bed each night for months afterwards, muttering whichever few prayers she knew for her mom to come back. For it all to have just been a vicious nightmare.

And yet, once she actually felt that comfort, the same warmth once more, after all these years...

She didn’t know what to do.

Did she want this?

Did she deserve this?

Was it right of her to want this?

Was it fair? To her, to Solstice, to her mom, to Aurora, was it right!?

Was it right of her to feel at home in ways she hadn’t since that fateful evening, since her mother’s death and her father’s emotional crippling?

Was it right of her to dread the inevitable return to her world, a world where the future was uncertain at best, a world where she had nobody else, a world where outside of a handful of acquaintances nobody had even likely realized her disappearance!?

She didn’t know.

There was only one thing Sue knew for certain at that moment. Knew deep down so much more than anything else in the world, be it this one or her own.

The truth that felt so terrifying to admit,

And yet, no less real.

I don’t want Solstice to let go.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 12: Daybreak


the gay agenda

Chapter 12: Daybreak

Sue remembered little of the rest of the day that followed her heart to heart with Solstice.

Her exhausted mind kept slipping in and out of consciousness throughout, entire hours reduced to mere moments. Solstice holding her in silence for hours. Being half guided, half carried back to the village, the sun setting above her. Laying on the bed in Willow’s clinic. The medic themselves standing in the doorway, the faint candlelight only barely illuminating them against the backdrop of an almost moonless night.

And then... she was here again.

For once, the once human took her time before springing head first into yet another dream, shaking as she kept her eyes closed. The memory of the actual campfire the dream facsimile was based on was still fresh in her recollection and rawer than ever.

Maybe if she just kept trying, she could force herself to snap out of this vision here and now. Maybe if she told Duck and Night Father off firmly enough, they’d leave this recollection alone and not defile it any further with their presence. Maybe she was just being repeatedly tested, and would be stuck in this world until she cracked a puzzle in her dreams she wasn’t even aware of.

Ultimately, there was little she could do without knowing just what she was in for this time. With a deep breath, Sue turned her gaze skyward and opened her eyes, determined to stare down whichever deity was-

The Moon was not there.

The realization took its sweet time to settle in. She kept looking around the rest of the starry sky, hoping to spot the usually unmistakable celestial body, or even just a Moon-sized hole in the astral backdrop.

But no, nothing.

No Moon, be it full or new. No clouds. Only an endless canvas of darkness dotted with uncountable pinpricks of light, a couple of them moving across it.

Sue hesitated before lowering her eyeline and taking in the rest of the recollection, having absolutely no idea what she would end up seeing. The sky being simultaneously so familiar, and yet so deeply wrong, chilled her to the core.

Still, it wasn’t like she could avoid having to face it all sooner or later. She took a deep breath, then another, and then went for it in one swift motion, hoping her mind was ready for whichever horrors lurked just out of sight.

Okay, this is... slightly less unnerving.

Most of the scene was exactly how she remembered it. The differences were limited to a couple of additions, one of them as familiar as the other was gaudy.

To her right, on the next bench over, laid her mom’s guitar. The same one she played on that fateful evening before it ended up sharing her fate.

The same cheap wood and even cheaper varnish, the same out of tune strings, the same magic-themed stickers covering most of its sides and front, courtesy of Sue from many years ago. The details rushed into her mind one by one, most of them thought long since faded from memory.

The other addition was much more eye-catching, but Sue would be lying if she said she cared about the ornate, closed door anywhere near as much as the instrument beside her.

Before long, she was sitting in her mom’s seat, the guitar now in her hands. Hands that probably weren’t even fit to play it. Even if, though, that was a problem for awake Sue. Without thinking more of it, she got right into plucking away at the strings, half-remembered chords combining into the most listenable kind of cacophony.

Memories flowed with each note, slipping out from underneath the vice press of trauma that had threatened to squash them out of existence. Memories of the happier times, of her spending hours listening to her mom practicing or learning a new song.

Once upon a time, there was nothing cooler to her than being a guitarist.

Sue was so glad she could still remember.

After a few minutes, her impromptu jamming session came to an end as she reached up to wipe the quickly building moisture out of her eyes. Once she had steadied her breathing, she laid the guitar down beside her.

And did a double take at seeing something, someone, in the corner of her eye, in the spot she sat on when she first woke up here-

One blink later, nothing.


Regardless of whatever that was or wasn’t, Sue wasn’t in the mood to ponder on it. Shaking it all off, the once-human stood up and stretched, basking in the campfire’s warmth before turning towards the door standing off to the side.

The golden frame and ebony wood made it look otherworldly, even beyond the absurdity of its presence. In front of it rested a small, pink jewelry pillow, a pair of shiny semicircles she was too far away from to pick up on any detail of resting on top of it.

Their combined appearance was so stark that all they needed was a large wobbling ‘Click Me!’ pop-up hovering above them. It’s as if they were made by someone with no sense of taste whatsoever-

Hold on.

As she walked up to the door, she felt… something underneath her feet, buried beneath the gray sand.

The door can wait for a moment.

An attempt to reach in found a massive slab of what felt like stone, large enough for her attempts to move it to accomplish exactly jack. She settled for the second best thing instead, uncovering the object, one swipe of her oversized hands at a time.

Her determination only grew as she uncovered the slab, engraved writing gradually coming into view one letter at a time, together with… a piece of paper laying on top of it. Without even thinking, Sue grabbed it with an excited, manic motion and brought it in front of herself-

You’re welcome.

Silver ink, elegant cursive, absolutely zero idea what it meant. The words made zero sense until she looked up from the page and at the unearthed slab; imaginary blood drained from her imaginary face as she took the lettering in.

In Loving Memory Of


16th January 2001 - 13th April 2023

Beloved Daughter

Forever In Our Hearts​

Thirteenth of April, when the hell was that.

Sue didn't even notice the second date having been crossed out. Her panicking thoughts kept trying to remember a date, any date, eventually stumbling on something recent.

She remembered waking up at a small rundown hostel and checking her phone first thing in the morning. Just past nine, April twelfth. She had breakfast, strapped on her backpack, and headed out to a nearby forest trail. Was supposed to look stunning this time of the year. Eventually, at around the halfway mark, she found a bench and had lunch. Then there was a loud bang some distance away, and-


And the next thing she knew, she was laying in mud, lost, in a body that wasn’t hers.

Was that supposed to signify her subconscious worry about everyone on Earth thinking she was dead? Sue had no idea, but between the hyperawareness of her memories having been tampered with, and the distress of seeing her own gravestone, she really didn’t want to think about it any longer.

Let’s just focus on that door.

Shaking the morbid discovery off, Sue slowly got up and approached the main attraction her dream had in store. The door’s appearance became more bizarre the closer she looked. Extremely lavish with its choice of materials and yet banal with the absence of any decorations. Even the door handle just looked like an ebony replica of the plastic ones from her campus.

She wasn’t surprised to see the handle not budge even slightly at her initial attempt at opening it. Instead, her attention ventured down and towards the shiny trinkets laying in front of it, the entire display as eye-catching as it was tacky.

The two semicircles resting on the jewelry pillow were made of gold. Solid gold no less, judging by their weight. They were engraved with depictions of Duck and Night Father, respectively. As detailed as the engravings were, they also felt shoddy, as if clumsily machine pressed onto the precious metal.

One of them had a bit sticking out in the middle. It dumbfounded Sue for all of half a second before she spotted a fitting hole in the other one. The realization was as dumb as it was inarguable.

This is a puzzle with two elements.

As much as she felt like a victim of a practical joke, Sue couldn’t resist sticking the two pieces together just to see what would happen. The sound of metal clinking against metal grated her ears, but eventually she got them to fit.

On cue, the dreamed-up door opened, revealing her dorm room on its other side.

It was all there. The bed she forgot to make when heading out, her laptop sipping electricity from the outlet, the trash bin that was long due to be cleaned, the small pile of notes cluttering her desk, a few dishes from the last morning she’d spent there.

This was her way out of here.

Sue dropped the pathetic excuse for a puzzle as she walked towards the gate back to her world. The door wasn’t getting any closer, constantly remaining just out of reach. Panic built inside her as she broke into a jog, then a sprint, straining her body to the ambience of her dorm as the dream fell apart around her.

She couldn’t keep up, eventually putting everything she had into one last leap of faith. Her reach missed the golden doorframe by mere inches as the surrounding scenery finished dissolving, leaving her to fall down, down, down-

And then, Sue’s hand was grabbed by another much like itself, waking her up.

Sue gasped as she came to, eyes shooting wide open. Her mind caught up to her surroundings shortly after; shallow breaths deepened out one by one. Once she’d calmed down enough, the Forest Guardian sat up on her bed. Her eyes stared off into the middle distance as her brain was occupied by processing what the hell she’d just dreamed.

Which fucking deity is messing with me this time?

The Moon’s absence hinted strongly against either of the two lunar deities. But if not them, then who? That tombstone was there for a reason, that door was there for a reason, that guitar… might’ve just been her own subconscious acting up or something.

Even brief thoughts about the implication of her having died sent chills down Sue’s back. Chills, and nothing for answers, forcing her to focus on the other mystery, thankfully as trivial in the waking world as it was in her dreams.

Bring the Night Mother and the Night Father together again, and the door back home opens.

The explanation being as clear as it was took Sue aback.

She tried to arrange the facts into some other configuration, worrying she had fallen into an intentionally placed dead end while the actual mystery here ran much deeper. But… no, nothing came up, there was no other way to interpret this.

Just have to bring two… gods... back together…

As straightforward as her goal now was, that didn’t make it sound any less impossible. She had no idea what that would even look like, or where to even begin. Just... wait until both of them showed up in one of her dreams and make a polite plea for them to get together again?

The mental image of trying to bring a divorced couple together emerged from her brain and wouldn’t go away no matter how hard she’d tried to force it to. Then again... who knew whether the deities’ current relationship wasn’t exactly like that on a second thought.

Oh, bother.

Any further thoughts in that direction would have her grow mad sooner or later, and Sue knew it. The realization deflated her with a weak sigh. The task in front of her was one she had absolutely no idea how to even begin approaching.

Directly interfering in divine quarrels sounded like an undertaking much better suited for heroes of Greek legend, as opposed to one traumatized comp-sci student of hardly any ability and even less renown.

‘Why me’ was a question Sue realized there was little point in asking as she grew up. There was almost never an answer, it all came down to the incomprehensible dance of random chance, chaos theory, and Fate.

Not here, though.

Someone got her into all this mess, someone snatched her from her world and sent her to calm down a feud between two literal deities, without even deigning her with a body she was familiar with. Or any memories of being kidnapped into this world, for that matter.

The moment I get my hands on that someone, I’m kicking their ass all the way to the Moon.

The newfound determination didn’t unravel the mystery any, but it certainly gave Sue the motivation to snap herself out of her funk and face the new day. She tossed the covers off and stretched, finally settling on how she was gonna tackle it all.

One step at a time.

Before she could properly start the day, though, a couple of distractions caught her attention. The bulky cast on her leg had been downgraded to a few layers of bandages. She could still see some reddish swelling underneath, but it was far from the gruesome sight from her first day in Moonview, permanently burned into her memory by now.

A tentative attempt to stand up on just her two feet ended in failure, but only barely this time. The pain was only slightly too unbearable now. If her leg kept improving, then she ought to walk again in a few days.

The other distraction comprised a small off-white bundle in the corner, a far cry from Willow’s usual cleanliness. If it wasn’t glowing, she would’ve probably just ignored it, but that addition made it just a bit too interesting to look past.

Especially when combined with a realization of there being a mental presence underneath.


The bundle’s reaction was immediate.

It shuffled around the floor for a moment, making sounds akin to metal scraping on wood before hovering itself into the air as Sue backed off a couple of steps. Once it was floating, its appearance suddenly became much more familiar, if not their identity.

Sue had no idea why the bedsheet ghost lookalike she had run into outside Solstice’s tent would spend a night in here with her. Before she could start putting even the measliest of ideas together, the hidden creature’s stretch had the canvas covering it slide off. They caught onto it too late, the black tentacles reaching out from underneath the cover fumbling and failing to grasp it before it fell all the way off.

The creature hiding beneath was... a lamp.

It was absurd how well that description fit. The small black body, arms and ‘cap’ had a texture not unlike wrought iron. Their head was a semitransparent, glass-like sphere with a couple of yellow eyes on its outside. It housed a stunning blue flame, growing livelier once she took a closer look.

So… so eye-catching... I can’t look away-

And then, it was covered up once more.

The floating creature hovered away as Sue blinked away her momentary daze. The stranger’s emotions had turned from a mild startle to a heaping pile of shameful anxiety, the shift catching Sue off guard. Their ‘words’ were apologetic in tone, at least as much as the sound of quiet whispers mixing with fiery cracking could be said to have a tone to it.

“What’s wrong?”

The lack of any hostility in her incomprehensible speech caught their attention, calming them down a fair bit. They kept going, steadily calming as they hovered higher into the air, black tentacles holding onto their off-white shroud extra hard. Out of everything she’d seen there, this stranger was by far the weirdest looking creature yet-


The tearing sound had her staring blankly as the black spike on the top of the lamp’s head impaled through their cover. It was intentional, somehow, calming them down further as they let go of their shroud afterwards.

Guess it won’t fall off this way, at least. Wait, is that why-

Before Sue could hone in on that particular mystery, a soft voice from behind her perked her up. The sight of Willow had grown incredibly reassuring over her stay here, dissolving any remaining tension as the elderly medic smiled up at her. As they turned to talk to the hiding lamp, Sue decided to give her telepathy another go.

She wasn’t exhausted or panicking anymore, and there was much less risk of accidentally mentally assaulting someone. With calm surroundings and a calm mind, the ritual she’d learned with Solstice only took a few seconds to perform in full.

“G-good morning, Willow!”

The modest accomplishment had Sue’s expression turn ecstatic at getting one step closer to actual independence. The medic, on the other hand, was taken aback, eyes wide as they turned around towards her.

“Oh? Sue?”

The Forest Guardian beamed as she confirmed their hunch with a firm nod. All the while, she did her hardest to keep any self awareness about being far behind the skills of native creatures of this species at bay.

I earned this, my brain can go and beat it.

“Oh! Good. Very good. How feel?”

Granted, all her limited ability got her were only very fragmentary sentences, requiring a lot more brain power to process than she could’ve thought. Still, it far, far beat nothing, Sue giddy as she replied.

“I’m much better, th-thank you, Willow. Is my leg getting better?”

The imperfect communication seemed to go both ways, the bunny-like medic squinting as they worked through the words they could make out. Their expression lit up as they finally cracked it, an affirmative nod joining it soon after.

“Welcome. Leg better. Walk again in days. No walk now.”

She definitely wasn’t about to after her earlier test, but she appreciated the clarification.

With their message acknowledged, Willow turned back to the lamp in the room. Sue’s body used the opportunity to remind her about itself- it sure was high time for breakfast. Or two. She waited patiently as the other two spoke, the medic eventually speaking up to her again.

“This Crackle. He worried you yesterday, asked me help.”

The name fit, if nothing else. As much of a mess as yesterday was, she couldn’t recall getting scared of him, though.

*Wait, maybe Willow means ‘worried about you’. Yeah, that fits better. Aww.'*

The news brought a smile to the once-human’s face as she waved at the newly identified Crackle, the floating lamp eagerly responding in kind.

“Awww, tell him I said ‘thank you’. That’s really sweet of him. Why is he hiding like this?”

Both Willow and Crackle grew confused as the former passed the words over. It made Sue worry that she’d accidentally made a gaffe towards the animated inanimate object. Thankfully, the lamp eventually got the gist, his whispers growing louder as he let the medic know, Willow’s ‘aaahhhh’ saying everything.

“He say you nice. Glad you not mad. Him fire eat soul.”


“Umm, could you repeat? I don’t think I got that right.”

“Repeat? Crackle fire burn spirit. Bad to look at alone.”

...nope, she didn’t mishear that.

Guess them wearing a blanket made much more sense now, even if it also implied that she had some of her soul eaten at by her earlier exposure. Once she’d pushed past her panic, Sue realized she didn’t really feel any different as a result. Maybe he only burned a small bit of her soul, then? Too small to notice? Maybe?


Her sixth sense let her know that the unintentional spiritual arsonist himself was aghast at her being spooked by the news, only now realizing that she didn’t know what had happened. He hovered away in shame, the malevolent fire underneath the piece of canvas dimming out by the moment.

Regardless of how much of herself she’d lost, an accident was an accident. After taking a moment to compose herself, Sue walked over to the floating soul light, putting on her least shaky smile as she offered him a hand.

“It’s okay Crackle, it’s okay.”

The gesture brought the burning one untold relief, his light burning brighter as he briefly grasped her hand with both of his own. They felt metallic and were *almost* too hot to touch, but only almost. Even their ephemeral speech was much louder and livelier now, even if still firmly in the territory of ‘whisper’.

Hope that the cover won’t fall off again, hah...

“So... breakfast?”

Sue spearheaded the makeshift band in their journey towards the clearing.

She’d grown so used to her crutch that she could wager she was the best Forest Guardian in the world at using it. At least in that specific moment, at least, while being further helped by hunger pangs.

She didn’t have to be told where to go, auto-piloting her way over to Poppy’s stall. Hazel ghosted the counter this time, leaning on it with a bored expression. Even without the knowledge of Moonview’s weird language, the ghost’s croaked words being a greeting was a safe enough bet.

Just don’t call me ‘Crutches’ again and we’ll be all good.

“Hey, Hazel.”

The ghost lifted an eyebrow and groaned at the newcomer having receded to speaking in gibberish. Fortunately for Sue’s hunger, Willow and Crackle weren’t far behind, the medic speaking up as they caught up. Their soft-spoken words confused the ghost even further, her red eyes glancing between them and the Forest Guardian.

With how used she was to Willow’s words being untranslated, it took Sue a while to realize that she’d dropped her link with them without noticing it.

No biggie, just gotta go through the motions again and-

As Sue was about to repeat her minor miracle of mental magic from earlier, a sight off in the distance chilled her mind. Her breaths deepened again as the yellow and black blur turned away from her, her mind hoping that Basil wouldn’t spot her.

Of course, that annoying rational part of her brain may have had a bit of a point when it kept drumming about confronting her fears and apologizing to him before the situation could fester both in her and the bee’s mind.

Even on a purely emotional basal level, as scary as a massive bee with stingers for arms was, a massive bee with stingers for arms and a grudge against her was ten times scarier.

While Hazel and Willow bickered on, Sue finally pushed through her hesitation. One step, then another, then a third still, each one taking her further away from the safety of the medic’s presence and towards the bee she was so scared of.

Willow was too focused to notice her sneaking away, but that couldn’t be said for Crackle. The lamp was torn between the clueless medic and almost as clueless Forest Guardian. Ultimately, they stuck with the latter, even if just to get to see what she was up to.

Her breaths grew shakier the closer she got to Basil, knowing full well his relaxed body language wouldn’t last. She hoped beyond hope he wouldn’t freak out at her presence. He seemed to have just finished making his order, leaning on the counter as he looked around.

And spotted the approaching Forest Guardian.

Both sides ended up equally startled, staring at each other. The bee’s emotions occupied Sue’s entire attention, especially as they went from startled to… afraid.

Is he… scared of me? I’m so sorry…

As bad as the realization made Sue feel, it also melted through some of her panic. Her expression softened as she gave him a small wave, wanting to establish some communication, however limited. The bee returned the gesture, though not without concerned confusion accompanying it, one that Sue had no idea how to melt through short of repeating the action that got them in all this mess in the first place.

Sadly, the more she thought about this, the clearer it became that it was the only realistic option. One that she’d have to act on eventually with the steadily growing tension.

Sue closed her eyes and went for it, hands moving around as she repeated the telepathic ritual. She felt panic spike in Basil’s mind as she navigated her mental reach through the air, making her want to stop.

But by then it was too late, their minds linking an instant later.

Prying her eyes open revealed Basil to be bracing himself for more pain, holding the two massive stingers in front of himself like a shield. He shook as the torment kept not coming, eventually gathering enough courage to peek out from his arms.

As sorry as the sight made her feel, Sue knew she had to act now. Her expression grew determined as she walked over and spoke, Basil’s compound eyes going wide.

“Hello Basil. I’m... I’m sorry for hurting you yesterday.”

For once, the bee remained silent, lowering his guard as he stared, dumbfounded. For a few moments, Sue was worried if she’d done it right. She was about to say something again before Basil finally responded, his constant buzzing translating into an entire deluge of words.

“Heavens you mad not really good I scared Moon angry me little one us thank thank you.”

Basil’s speech was much less coherent than Willow’s, forcing the once-human to fill in the blanks herself and string the words along. Somehow, she’d made sense of some of them, but far from all.

I can just ask again. I can, for once, just ask again.

“No, no, I’m not mad. I washn’t mad yesterday either, it was an accident and I’m sorry.”

“You hurt then accident not intent not mad?”

This time, she was confident enough in her interpretation to just nod and respond.

“Yes. I didn’t know what you were saying and wanted to understand, but I hurt you by accident.”

Basil’s body language grew less defensive as he flew over closer, confusion turning into surprise.

“You not hear understand me saying you psychic?”

Well, how do I put it...

“I’m terrible at being psychic. I’m sorry.”

The admission melted through the last of Basil’s worries, the bee growing calmer despite how fast his thoughts kept buzzing.

“Sorry not understand you not understand me. Thought I you talk sacred Moon like I foolish not understand.”

*Guess being able to say ‘fuck’ with nobody else knowing does feel sacred in a way.*

“I don’t know any sacred words, hah. And it’s alright, I forgive you.”

The mention of forgiveness made him especially giddy. Relief filled his mind as he flew over in one swift motion, nodding rapidly to the tune of repeated ‘thank you’.

“Wonderful wonderful. Forgive I too, wish I know then you confused scared not understand. Here Birch hear good news happy!”

As happy as Sue was to hear his words, she could tell that the last part wasn’t aimed at her. She glanced over her shoulder, following Basil’s line of sight. Willow was there in the corner of her vision, waddling their way over, but they weren’t who the once-human’s attention rested on.

The bespoke Birch was carrying the brown caterpillar she saw Basil looking after yesterday in their arms. They weren’t particularly unnerving or even weird looking, certainly not by the standards of this world.

What they were, instead, was familiar.

Almost entirely white wings with black edges, purplish body with large, blue legs, red compound eyes. The memory of Sue’s encounter with another of their kin on her first day here crept out of her memories and into her attention.

Good Duck was I clueless. If only I knew massive butterflies are some of the least weird it gets here.

The memories were amusing enough to distract Sue from the recollection going both ways. Birch was clearly taken aback as they buzzed towards Basil, the bee’s response catching the Forest Guardian’s attention.

“What met her ago? Away village, not hurt? Run scream away panic see you? Hey chosen Moon mate my Birch say he you met ago away, scare you?”



“Umm... y-yeah, I did. I’ve never seen another like him before and was terrified by everything, sorry...”

And while she was at it.

“Oh, and my name is Sue.”

The sound of her voice got the caterpillar in Birch’s arms to wriggle themselves in her direction. They squirmed until managing to contort themselves to look straight at her. The two engaged in a brief stare-off before the little one broke it with lively wriggling.

The little well-defined there was of their mind felt very happy to recognize someone outside of their parents.

“Sue then happy hear. Sue never see like you scared scared scared then, apology Birch.”

Thankfully, the butterfly didn’t mind one bit.

They remained upbeat as they laughed the whole matter off, legs kicking briefly in the air while they buzzed. As they did, Sue felt something touch her side from behind, quickly followed by a sudden burst of joy and one warm nose she was well familiar with pressing into her leg. And then, shortly after, by a whole host of other noises and emotions, the scene suddenly growing much busier.

But first things first.

“Hey there Spark~.”

The fiery kit was leaning on her good leg with her forelegs, happiness filling her woofs and mind. Off to the right, Willow was trying to catch her attention, likely not realizing she couldn’t understand them anymore. The leafy caretaker closed in on the group right behind them, Comet in her arms.

His immediate reaction to seeing her was an excited squeak and letting her know he wanted to be picked up.

Before Sue could even decide on whom to focus first, Splitleaf took the initiative. She moved Comet to one arm and caught her attention with a modest wave. The tiny martian liked the gesture enough to repeat it on his own. Once the rest of the group had calmed themselves from the resulting giggling, the caretaker spoke up. Her rustling vocalizations were calm and measured, the apologetic intent clear to see.

“Mom Sue you understand not, maybe maybe.”

Basil was right, but it didn’t matter. Splitleaf’s gist was understood all the same, Sue bowing as deeply as she could at the apology while returning some of her own.

“Apology accepted. I’m sorry for all that mess yesterday.”

Still, it’d be nice to convey her desire for reconciliation in a better way. She lifted her free arm, gesturing for a one-armed embrace.

Her gesture was clearly understood, if not necessarily by its intended recipient.

For what it was worth, Basil’s blistering speed made her not even realize anything was afoot until he was already embracing her torso. Birch’s aura radiated amusement as Sue’s brain caught up.

As unnerving as a realization that there were three very sharp, very large stingers next to and wrapped around her was, the adorableness of the attached person made up for that uncomfortable fact.

“Aaa aaa nice nice this nice thank you Sue.”

Thankfully, Splitleaf wouldn’t skip out on the opportunity just because of her son also taking it. She hugged Sue’s other side with one arm while bringing Comet closer with the other one. The little one was overjoyed at his big friend being in reach and let everyone know by squeaking loudly as he splatted into Sue’s side.

Guess even bugs feel nice here.

Once Sue got over the initial shock of Basil joining in on the hug, she wrapped her arm around his abdomen, low enough to not swat into his wings while keeping a hearty distance away from his stinger. His buzzing, combined with everyone else feeling well, filled her with a pleasant warmth, sorely needed after yesterday’s mess.

Speaking of.

As everyone detached themselves from her, Comet much more so begrudgingly than others, Sue looked around the scene in pursuit of either Solstice or Sundance. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t around. It was possible they had just departed for somewhere again, like they had when she first ended up in Moonview, but... worth asking instead.

Thankfully, the surrounding conversation was self-contained enough to let her focus on linking with Willow again. The sensation snapped them out of their own confusion about how to proceed, Sue’s voice perking them up.


Their nod prompted an excited question from Spark, the affirmative answer making her burn even brighter in her excitement. The reason behind her reaction wasn’t exactly difficult to make out, the Forest Guardian just giggling in response.

Sure, sure, you’ll have your speaking time sweetie, just not now.

“Where’s Sundance and Solstice?”

The medic’s own look around the place indeed revealed the absence of either psychic, making them forward the question to Splitleaf. Both Spark and the leafy mantis responded to their question, occasionally talking over each other. Comet interjected a baby noise or two, squeaking loudly at said action getting rewarded with some further pets.

Eventually, Willow had enough of a hold on the situation to pass it back over to their patient, trying to keep their description clear.

“Sundance Solstice need alone meditate. Yesterday very hard both. Be back today hope. Yesterday hard you too, true not true?”

Meditation time, eh? Honestly, I could probably use some too. If I knew how to do it, that is.

“I see, thank you. Yeah, yesterday was... very hard for me too. Feel better now.”

A part of the medic wanted to reach over and comfort her before the reassurance that she was alright followed shortly afterwards. Concern still lingered inside them despite that, though they tried not to show it.

“Glad hear better you. What happen?”

As much as Sue wanted to have someone else to talk about her trauma with, she could probably go a few weeks, if not months, without clawing at these old scars again. Triply so with the deep uncertainty her ultimate realization brought her, many of the intertwined emotions ones she was still yet to fully process.

A firm shake of her head was clear enough of a response, with her words clarifying.

“A lot. So, so, so much, and it was all overwhelming, but I’d rather not talk about the details, not now at least.”

Disappointment joined the partially renewed concern, though Willow once more maintained composure, choosing not to press the issue further.

“Is good all. Now, we need food take, then-“

They paused at the thought, turning over towards Splitleaf once more-

“Splitleaf Spark Comet take you where? Oh- good. Easy calm. Sue take you too? Good good. Sue! Splitleaf take you. Little play where. Calm there. After breakfast.”

As good as Sue was getting at the game of stringing barely coherent words into one concrete through-line, she didn’t quite accomplish that this time. The gist of Splitleaf taking her somewhere calm was as clear as it was appreciated, Sue’s weary smile inspiring a much larger one in the medic.

But first, breakfast.

Willow’s presence as a translator barely made the task of choosing her meal any easier.

Still, Sue eventually settled on something, her meal arriving a few minutes later. It looked like a well-grilled burrito, warm to the touch and crunchy to the bite. Its filling was much more monotone than even something out of a terrible franchise restaurant, though it had a marked advantage of actually being tasty. It combined a crispy seared meat-like texture, with a sweeter, gravy-like flavor.

Not the favorite meal she’d had during her stay in Moonview, not by a long shot, but it was still much better than anything she had a hope of ever cooking for herself.

The meal the bug family went for was tricky to make heads and tails of. Sue could tell it comprised approximately equal parts berries and leaves, the latter eaten with as much gusto as the former. The little ones of the band, Comet and Spark included, each got a singular blue fruit instead, walking away just as happy as everyone else. Splitleaf kept trying, and failing, to keep their cheeks clean and non-sticky.

Crackle was... somewhere, she supposed.

Sue hadn’t realized the floating lamp had left at some point until she was already wrapping her meal up, the realization more dumbfounding than anything else.

Hopefully he’s alright.

Once everyone was done, they could all split up and get a move on. Comet got handed off into Sue’s free arm, much to their shared joy, the caterpillar ended up in Splitleaf’s arms, and Spark scrambled along off to the side. The other adults all departed shortly after.

As they marched on, there was still one unknown she wanted to clarify.

The leafy mantis looked up at her in confusion as she suddenly stopped and concentrated. Her mind’s movements made Comet squirm even more. His psychics just kinda went all over the place, feeling tingly against Sue’s skin as she linked up with Splitleaf, one question tickling her mind in particular.

“Hi! What’s the little brown one’s name? The one in your arms?”

Sue didn’t expect the bushbug to get as confused as she did in response. The caretaker looked down at the little one in her arms and held them closer, a tinge of sadness filling her mind.

“No name.”

The response took the Forest Guardian aback, especially with the unintended tone shift her question had inspired. Comet acknowledged the change in mood with a quiet mumble, clinging to his friend even closer afterwards.

“Why none?”

Splitleaf sighed deeply, her embrace tightening still as her leafy arm pet along the caterpillar’s head and back.

“No until two moon. Then know they live. Then they name.”

The reason made sense when stated out loud. At the same time, the mere necessity of a rule like that stabbed Sue in the heart, the arm holding Comet following Splitleaf’s lead in holding him that much tighter.

“I-I see. Thank you.”

“Is good. They healthy. Have hope hope.”

The rest of the walk towards their destination went uneventfully.

Spark kept trying to get in as much affection with her as she could, getting just a teeny bit frustrated her savior was holding Comet in her arms and not her. The lil’ psychic, oblivious to everything else going on in the world, continued to experience it one exciting thing at a time, waving clumsily at almost every creature the group passed by.

Most of them even waved back, those without the limbs to do so using their entire bodies as a substitute.

Moonview’s playground turned out to be less a structured location and more a large sandbox.

Most of the little ones she’d seen the other day were already playing there, the blue cloud bird watching over them all. They only passed Sue’s group a brief whistled greeting and a timid wave before focusing back on their duty.

Spark ran right into the fray, immediately splashing some sand on a couple of other kids and chatting them up. They returned the favor soon after, forcing the fiery fox to shake sand out of her fur before counter attacking. The quickly escalating sand battle was thankfully called off with a single stern whistle from the cloud bird.

Call a truce and combine your forces against someone else, teehee.

Splitleaf took a seat off to the side, letting the little one wander around freely, but only in her immediate vicinity. Guess with her revelation, Basil’s panic at losing sight of the brown caterpillar made much more sense in hindsight.

As Sue looked around for someplace to sit down herself, she felt a stronger emotion emanate from nearby. Hardly interesting by itself, but with it both feeling really sad and coming from behind the tree line, she couldn’t help but investigate.

It’s probably just nothing, but… it could be a lil’ kid in distress.

The feelings tugging at her sixth sense grew stronger with her every step, sorrow soon getting laced with a few other emotions. Trepidation, worry, even a bit of excitement. Comet clearly felt it all too, growing quiet all of a sudden. The stranger’s longing burned even brighter as she peered into the greenery, made so much more confusing with her not even being able to spot the emotion’s source-

And then she did. Kinda.

To the best extent that her mind could perceive it.

The pitch black spot in the middle of the forest floor felt... wrong. It wasn’t sized right. It was simultaneously too small and too large to be real. The pair of white pinpricks peering out of it wobbled all over the face as Sue’s vision grew blurry and her lungs burned, her entire body losing a grip on itself. She couldn’t stop looking, her body gasping for oxygen as the aberration stared back at her-

And then, it took off into the woods, away from Moonview.

Sue came to with a gasp, vision swimming as she tried to process what had just happened. The unnatural sight was so deeply wrong her mind rejected it whole, leaving the past few moments as little more than a blur in her recollection. Comet’s equally confused squeaks helped his big friend shake her funk off, as she hoped that whatever she’d just seen hadn’t hurt her.

And that whatever it was, it won't do… whatever it just did to anyone else, especially the little ones.

Before Sue could worry any more about that, though, she felt one well-familiar mental presence approach her from behind. The toothy girl’s rough cry was now accompanied by a quiet clinking of metal on metal. Sue’s heart swelled as Joy reached her destination, wrapping her arms around the Forest Guardian's good leg.

“Hey Joy!”


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 13: Bloom


the gay agenda

Chapter 13: Bloom

With everything that had happened last night and earlier today, Sue could only thank Duck for Astra’s and Joy’s appearance.

She was relieved, both at knowing they were doing well after their sudden separation yesterday, and at the fact that Comet would have someone to play with besides just her.

With that heartwarming revelation came another, less reassuring if similarly wonderful at face value.

The bandages wrapped around Joy’s maw were gone, the previously concealed cuts only barely visible anymore. Her menacing back mouth was once more able to open freely, left slightly agape as the metal girl looked up at her tall friend.

That smile is doing wonders at melting through my worries, I have to give Joy that.

Once the two-mouthed girl had detached herself from the Forest Guardian’s legs, she ran back into the sandpit. Astra passed Sue a wave as she sat down and got comfortable, one returned right after.

Comet’s squeaks and wriggling made it plainly clear just how much he wanted to join them all, and thankfully for him, so did the adult holding him. It took her an awkward, drawn out moment, but eventually, the dragon got the cue that Sue would need help with actually sitting down. Sue’s seat in the sand wasn’t exactly the most comfortable, but she had more than enough distractions around her to keep that fact from becoming too annoying.

One of the said distractions could hardly contain himself after finally being released onto his own legs.

His clumsy waddle led him first back up to Sue, and then over towards Joy. The toothy girl’s maw opened a bit as she withdrew into her guardian at the approaching Comet, Sue’s careful pets helping her keep her composure.

“Don’t worry, shweetie, he just wants to say hi.”

Sue’s words were greatly appreciated, if not for their contents, then for their tone. Joy reached up to hold the Forest Guardian’s hand to her front before finally daring a step towards Comet.

A step that the littlest one responded to with a gleeful squeak and an excited scramble, pulling most of Joy’s body into a clumsy, but very heartfelt hug.

Joy’s stammered, incomprehensible words made Comet mumble quietly. The exchange left Sue wanting to link up with the girl and hopefully provide some understanding. Spark’s glorious return onto her lap interrupted the once-human’s attempt to go through the impromptu ritual again, though. Her wonderfully warm presence was accompanied with several woofs that caught the other two’s attention.

Fine, fine, Spark’s been waiting for her chance to speak for longer, teehee.

Joy watched keenly as Sue went through a bunch of odd gestures. Her little arms held Comet throughout, or at least until he got bored and waddled away before plopping down in a random spot.

“Hey Sparkie, yes you can hear me now~”

The lil’ vixen gasped at hearing her friend’s voice, even if she had to put in some effort to piece her sentences together.

“Yay yay! How do? Thought you not do.”

Sue thought back to Solstice’s cover-up story, hoping Spark didn’t know enough to poke holes in it.

“Solstice taught me, sweetie. I’m really thankful to her.”

Spark’s excited nods melted Sue’s heart as the little one gathered her words.

“Can teach me she?”

“Why not your mom?”

Sue felt the firefox deflate at the question, the sensation stinging her soul. For a moment, she worried about having misspoken, but it turned out not to be the case.

“I can’t she say. Too small.”

“Well, I’d guess then that she knows best.”

Spark’s grumbles netted her a few more pets, the affection dissolving some of the resulting grumpiness. Still, Sue wished she could do more. Before either of them could continue, Joy mumbled something out at them, catching their shared attention. Muddled as they were, Spark did manage to make out a couple of words, responding cheerfully.

“We talk Joy! Sue can talk brain, Solstice teach!”

Joy’s face lit up in awe despite her not understanding much. Right as she was about to ask for Sue to speak to her like that too, her whole body jolted and jumped with a startled cry. Metal teeth clinked together as she turned to look over at Comet. The little one was dumbfounded at his curious touch having resulted in such a startle, making him sit down in surprise.

Thankfully, Astra’s comment calmed both kids down. Joy gathered her bearings before walking up to Comet again, the martian baby wasting no time before providing her with some more affection.

This is adorable, but… it won’t hurt to give them something concrete to bond over.

“Wanna try building sandcastles?”

For once, her telepathic capabilities fell far short, Spark just tilting her head with no idea of how to respond. Which left a practical demonstration, and Sue wasn’t opposed to that one bit.

As weird as the Forest Guardian hands were, they were rather well suited for shoveling sand with their sheer size. The entire group watched closely as Sue dug into their playground before sculpting a couple handfuls of wet sand into a cylinder. A pointed fingertip drew a brickwork texture on its sides, completing the look of a barebones tower.

Fortunately, this was all the example the two tykes with hands needed to get inspired. Joy wasted no time before reaching into the dugout and grabbing as much sand as she could, already envisioning her own version of Sue’s tower. Comet, meanwhile, got the equally bright idea of decorating the structure by sprinkling it with dry sand and placing a pebble on top of it.

Spark didn’t have anywhere near the handiness or fine motor control to contribute directly, to Sue’s concern. Her attempt to draw something on the tower’s exterior only ended up taking a noticeable chunk out of the sandy wall. But what she could do, was dig.

And dig she was going to do.

The sight of the lil’ fox excavating the raw material kept Comet’s attention as his playmate kept building. Sue was about to start adding to the impromptu sculpture before Astra’s soft, slightly hiss-like speech caught her attention first. The orange dragon seemed to be chatting with someone hidden behind her large body, words interspersed with an occasional glance at the playgroup.

Can’t see them, but… could try sensing them?

An attempt to probe with her sixth sense revealed uncertainty and hesitation emanating from Astra’s interlocutor, one that was being broken through with each word. A tiny squeak eventually acknowledged the dragon’s words before the hidden being began to make their way over towards their group. With the situation resolved, Astra could return to her earlier duty.

A duty of trying to nap underneath a nearby tree’s shade.

Sue sure didn’t expect the stranger to turn out to be the plant bulb-like villager she and Joy had seen yesterday. Their proximity to that pink bat was almost enough for the once-human to glare at the newcomer. From what she remembered, though, they were by far the least hostile of the three towards the metal girl, the realization softening her hostility before it could build up further.

The Forest Guardian’s uncertainty made the plant child pause in hesitation. Having gathered her bearings, Sue tried to break through their worry with a friendly wave, the gesture’s effectiveness… mixed. Thankfully, it wouldn’t be all up to her, with Comet soon joining in on the greetings with a mumble only he could understand.

The sound made Spark peek out of the impromptu quarry, greeting the newcomer-

“Hi Petal!”

-before going back to her very important excavator duties.

Joy was by far the least eager of the three towards the newly named Petal, and the once-human couldn’t blame her one bit. Sue might have known nothing about the oddly mobile plant, including whether they would be nice to Joy, but at that moment, she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

She reached towards the plant with one hand, as if to shake their nonexistent one, while the other worked double duty in providing the metal girl with some well-needed affection. As uncertain as Petal was, they slowly pushed through their hesitation all the same. Eventually, they reached one of the light green... extremities to be grabbed.

Feels like a stem to the touch. Neat.

From there, it was just a matter of bringing her hands together, the kids at their ends growing less hesitant about it all by the moment. Petal spoke up not long after, her words half-squeaked, half-whistled, and… sounding a bit muffled, probably on the account of them not having a visible mouth.

I... do not want to think too deeply about how that works.

For the second time today, Joy took a moment to cool off before walking over to the plant. She mimicked her big friend and held her hand out, Petal letting go of Sue to shake limbs with Joy instead. The gradual drop of tension was downright palpable for the Forest Guardian.

And so, so welcome.

“Petal! Build us help?”

Any confusion as to the meaning of the question was clarified by Sue grabbing another pile of wet sand in her hands and building the next mound with it. Joy leaped in to help without skipping a beat, followed by Comet. Petal themselves was a bit dumbfounded for a moment before deciding to follow the others’ lead.

Even if they were individually tiny, three pairs of hands added up.

For a good while, the group kept building and Spark kept digging. Nobody but Sue had an idea of just what they were even making a sandy depiction of. Despite that, with the once-human as their forewoman, the construction of the stereotypical rectangular castle progressed smoothly.

With time, though, the sheer mass of the sand made the foundation buckle under the load. After her fortieth attempt to pile on all the material that had fallen away failed, Petal’s whistled cry caught Sue’s attention before she could proceed with attempt forty-one.

Sue watched as the plant scooted closer to try something, resting one light green limb on the sandcastle’s wall.

And then, it started glowing.

The repeated exposure to glow stick body parts had dulled Sue’s reaction all the way down to just her eyes going wide. Eye-catching as it was, though, it was nothing compared to what happened afterwards. The entire castle shuddered as dark, thin roots crept their way around and through the structure, providing reinforcement all around.

Following that minor act of natural miraclework, Petal tried to back away from the castle, with clear difficulty. To Sue’s astonishment, their light green limb turned out to be the source of the roots, each individual stalk connecting back to it. As rigid as said connection looked like, it was ultimately fairly brittle. The plant child freed herself shortly after, almost losing their balance and falling on their back.

Guess the ‘types’ Willow had described included something related to plant life, huh.

Even in that case, Sue wouldn’t have ever expected that sort of affinity to manifest itself like this. Or to show so strongly through Petal’s appearance, for that matter. With the ‘type’ conundrum on her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder what was the ‘typing’ of the rest of their group.

Both she and Comet had psychic senses, which... counted, somehow, as vaguely defined as that category sounded. And, if she remembered right, they also had a special connection with the Moon, a trait that Poppy of all people shared as well. Spark was fiery in looks, body temperature, and skills alike, the displays of her and her mother’s ability to manipulate fire burned into Sue’s memory. Petal had something to do with plants. Astra was...


It was at that point that Sue’s attempt at categorizing everyone present broke down. Sure, Astra very much looked like a big Flying Dragon, but the once-human had no idea how that translated to any type in particular. She didn’t look fiery, or plant-y, or... psychic-y, or even icy like Snowdrop. She obviously wasn’t one of the night kin either, which left... ‘none of the above’? That ‘normal’ type that Willow mentioned and apparently shared?

As unclear as Astra was, the Forest Guardian gave up right away instead of even attempting to categorize Joy. Her looks or abilities gave very little away in figuring out what sort of elemental affinity she had.

Unless ‘cute’ and ‘at least partially made of metal’ also counted as types in this world.

Having a list of all the options would help a lot, that’s for sure. Or even an idea of how many of these types were there. Ten? Twenty? A hundred?

Behold Sue, part Psychic, part Clueless.

Something warm and slightly damp touching her hand distracted Sue from any further thoughts about the wacky genetics of this world.

A glance over revealed her hand to be in a rather unnerving position of being held by the tip of Joy’s maw. Firmly away from the large, sharp, shining teeth, but still too close for comfort. The rest of the uncertainly-typed girl had either not noticed or not paid much attention to what her back face was doing, busily drawing Astra’s depiction on the side of the sandcastle.

As much as the sight unnerved her, Sue didn’t have any reasons to think that the gesture was aggressive in nature, not from Joy. That didn’t mean she had many ideas about any other causes-


Could this... be meant as affectionate?

Suppose it only made sense for a species that was half maw by volume to have ways of using it that weren’t aggressive in nature. That revelation only did so much towards making it all any less unnerving, though.

Unnerving or not, it was on Sue’s end to deal with.

It didn’t hurt, it clearly wasn’t malicious. It just felt a bit weird, with the underlying intent of Joy wanting to hold her big friend’s hand while she played with other kids clicking together soon after. Spooky looking, but ultimately sweet.

Joy in a nutshell, hah.

Instead of disturbing the metal girl, Sue inspected the group’s progress. The towers atop the castle’s bastions were left unfinished on the account of nobody but her having the reach to finish building them. Having absolutely no idea what any of this was supposed to look like in the first place helped greatly in not discouraging the kids despite that setback.

Spark, meanwhile, was growing a bit frustrated.

Having an outlet in digging up sand helped release some of her emotions, but hardly all. And between being unable to start learning telepathy like Sue, and being unable to really contribute to the others’ play, there was a lot of annoyance to get through. Eventually, the fox’s grumbling culminated in her getting up, shaking approximately three pounds out of her fur, and scampering over to nuzzle Sue’s free arm.

“I go play others!”

One affirmative nod later, the lil’ firefox was off to the races, bouncing over Astra's legs. Before Sue could focus too much on the play group Spark was running towards, or the pink scorpion bat therein, her passed-by greeting caught Sue's attention.

“Hello Kantaro!”

The words jolted Astra out of her nap, making the dragon sit up and look over her shoulder. Astra might’ve been surprised at the person’s presence here at the playground, but Sue… was surprised at almost everything else about them, despite it being her second time seeing them.

The bipedal beetle’s dark blue chitin shined under the stray rays of sunlight as they eyed something out. The dragon’s question had them respond with low, grumbly clicks, despite their underlying emotional state being that of an unemotional focus at the tree in front of them.

As Kantaro eyed something out, Sue craned her head and get a better look at what they’ve brought with themselves. A handful of planks, a large coil of rope, and a bundle of something very colorful that Sue had a hard time making out from the distance. And, as they’ve promptly demonstrated, a stick of chalk.

Are they gonna build a treehouse?

While the beetle drew lines on the chalk, Sue suddenly felt a jolt in her brain.

The sensation was rather unpleasant, but… not unfamiliar. Before the once-human could even look around for its source, a squeaky, girlish voice echoed through her mind.

“^Hello Sue!^”

A much louder voice than Sue remembered it being.

Sue winced before looking over her shoulder. Both Thistle and Pollux were there, the latter not wasting an opportunity to chuckle at her startle before waving at her.

“Hey, Thistle. Whattcha doin’ here?”

“^We’re looking for Spark! Do you know where she is!?^”

Despite the once-human’s near permanent state of confusion, this was the one question she had an answer for. She turned further into the playground and pointed in the approximate direction she remembered the lil’ fox run into-


The loud sound from behind made Sue visibly jump, her heart kicking up several gears. As startling as the noise was, though, a panicked look over at the tree revealed its mundane source. Having filled in an outline, Kantaro was now horn-deep into scraping away the bark and the wood underneath, carving the sturdy tree as if it was butter.

The little ones only barely noticed, and Astra was somehow sleeping through it all.

Once Sue had recovered from it all and managed to exhale, she looked back over at where the night kin fox and his friend were-

And only found an empty spot among the trees.

Well, not entirely empty. A black feathered, crow-like bird sat on the branch immediately above where she last saw Pollux and Thistle. They were focusing on Kantaro’s ongoing crafts work, and Sue didn’t have a reason to disturb them, following their lead shortly after.

After a few minutes of working away at the tree with just their horns, Kantaro switched over to using their white claws. Their efforts continued to look similarly effortless as a flat, smooth surface slowly came into its own, followed by the cut-outs for the planks they had brought with themselves to slide into. The beetle finally had to resort to using a tool for the latter, fixing the corners with an elongated, visibly worn down chisel.

As Kantaro worked on, a small display began to take shape on the side of the tree. The way it was attached, and the slanted roof above it, made the once-human think of a bird box, despite how inapplicable it was in this world. Throughout the entire process, the craftsbug obviously tried to minimize the usage of any tools beyond their own body. They only had to resort to their chisel and some sort of wood glue a couple times, the latter just for the supports.

Something falling down in her peripheral vision, following Kantaro trying to hammer in the final support beam by tackling it with his entire body, finally took Sue out of watching the incredible display.

The Forest Guardian blinked the resulting daze away before looking at what had happened off to the side-

Oh no oh no oh no oh no NO NO-

Sue had no idea what separated the creatures in Moonview from those in the surrounding woods. But if there was anything that only belonged in the latter, it was the green, horned spider that had just fallen onto Astra’s front. Its blood-red mandibles choked the breath out of the once-human as she shook in fear, about to shout for the dragon to get away-

Before Astra herself only reacted to the newcomer with a sleepy blink and a calm question.

And the spider responded soon after, to the best extent that Sue could make out. Their ‘words’ mostly comprised soft click-like noises. The spider-dragon exchange lasted only a few sentences before the former... crawled off Astra and made their way into Moonview, Sue left completely stunned.

What, how, but, h-HOW!?

The memory of the green spider’s larger, red cousin having tried to eat Spark, Pollux, and then her was still fresh on Sue’s mind, immediately making her hyperventilate. If there were any species that shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere within fifty miles of Moonview, it was these spiders. And this one was just… there. Having a nap on the branch above Astra.

Splitleaf even waved at them as they crawled past.

Before Sue’s brain could fry itself from attempting to solve that apparent contradiction, she heard someone else’s voice speak up from nearby. It was as soft as growls and whines could be, with a particular croaky quality to it that made the once-human think of Willow.

To little surprise, the newly arrived source of the voice was completely unlike the medic. The two clearly knew each other, if their chat in front of Duck’s shrine a few days ago was any sign at least.

The fur covering their body was split between cream and dark purple, velvety all around from what Sue could make out. Their proportions looked more like a badger or a dog standing on their hind legs for a trick as opposed to a full-time bipedal creature. Admittedly, Sue wasn’t paying as much attention to their legs as she did to their... collar, she guessed.

Nope, it wasn’t a trick of the light last time, these spots are actually glowing.

The badger’s words had Astra almost jump to her seat before looking over at them with concern. Her response was part justification, and part apology, the former featuring her glancing over at Joy a few times throughout. The toothy girl had picked up on the attention and scooted towards Sue at seeing the newcomer, her thoughts full of worry.

And fear.

Whatever they were talking with Astra about, the dragon’s reply only made them more annoyed. Sue flinched at glimpsing violet flames flickering from the purple spots around their neck as they grumbled into their paw. The badger’s response was short and rough, but it thankfully brought Astra some relief.

With the dragon dealt with, they switched their attention to look at Kantaro’s handiwork-

Before spotting Sue in the corner of their vision.

I don’t like how this feels one bit.

Despite the chills that went through the Forest Guardian’s body, spotting her did improve the newcomer’s mood. Their steps towards her were slow and clumsy as their previous scowl turned into a mild smile. Before Sue could react, they bowed as deeply as their elongated body would let them.

Which was by no means little.

Their gesture was accompanied with a greeting of sorts, or at least that’s what Sue suspected. Despite their slow and overly-enunciated words, the end result wasn’t any more understandable than any other time she’d seen them speak. The badger held their bow for several long, awkward moments, with only Astra’s brief comment finally clarifying something and making their expression flinch.

Won’t hurt to speak up and drive the point home.


“Hello, I-I can’t understand you.”

Sue swore she saw their eye twitch as they looked up at her and straightened out. Even as they composed their appearance, the emotions swirling under the surface turned sour. Their contempt was much easier to sense than during their first interaction.

What the hell is your problem...

While the once-human reeled from the encounter, the badger turned back towards Kantaro. The craftsbug hasn’t slowed down even slightly despite the latest arrival, busy adding decals all around what was turning out to be a small shrine. With nothing to display for the time being.

The beetle’s response to the badger's words was curt but respectful, Kantaro even pausing to give the newcomer a quick bow before continuing to work polish into the shrine’s wood. They conversed as the beetle worked on, occasionally pointing at elements of their handiwork, or, rarely, at the large, horizontal branch under which Astra had been napping moments prior.

Once Kantaro was done polishing the wood, they started to hang small, flower-like tassels on dozens of small notches covering most of the shrine. Sue had to admit, they did a decent job mimicking the appearance of all the flowers at Duck’s main altar, even despite the much more limited color palette.

With that menial step done, the two’s discussion grew more focused, shared focus switching onto a small block of differently colored wood that had been lying off to the side until now. Once Kantaro and what had to have been their boss had reached some sort of agreement, the former got to work, carefully working away at the chunk of special wood.

To nobody’s surprise, their carving soon began to take the form of Duck on a pedestal.

Kantaro’s powerful cuts grew increasingly more precise as the statue took form, the mastery within each stroke clear to sense. The beetle’s skill made Sue kinda giddy to watch, especially with an unknown, but pleasant aroma tingling her nose. Before long, she was itching to get back to her own crafts project, or at least check up on its progress.

What was a singular castle the last time she looked was now but a part of a larger fortification. A long wall had sprouted from the castle, snaking around to surround… the asleep Comet. The tyke’s hair was full of sand after he’d decided to take a nap at some point, thankfully with enough foresight to build himself a little sand pillow first.

Joy giggled at her big friend finally noticing how their construction efforts were going. She pointed at the fortifications surrounding the sleeping baby martian, much to Sue’s amusement and approval.

As the toothy girl looked up at Sue, though, something else caught her attention.

Oh? Whattcha looking at, Joy-

Before Sue could follow the line being drawn by Joy’s gaze, she heard the badger’s voice again, low and gruff. They were looking in her direction but not at her, an unnerving amount of honest-to-Duck violet fire surrounding the purple spots on their neck.

The last thing Sue expected was to hear drawn out, singsong whistling, especially not from right behind her.

Sue reflexively looked around her shoulder, only to see nothing. Her sixth sense let her sense the amusement, some of which she had thought to be her own, move over to her other side. By the time the once-human had looked over her other shoulder, the hidden being had already slipped back into her blind spot, commentating with more whistles.

The badger grew as annoyed as Sue was getting dumbfounded, their flames bursting in intensity as they shouted at the prankster. Whatever was said, it prompted whoever was hiding behind her to finally make their entrance.

Right over Sue, no less.

She felt two large, smooth leaves press into her shoulders, a hefty chunk of weight following soon after. Her back didn’t appreciate being used as a springboard one bit, annoying her as she looked up at the offender.

Just in time for them to be wrapping up a backflip before landing with a perfect split, a handful of fruits falling back down into their leafy arms shortly afterwards.

They feel so giddy, so… teasing?

Sue remembered seeing them around yesterday, while Solstice was guiding her over to her tent. The same humanoid yet plant-like body, the same mouth-less head with a pink flower blooming on top of it, the same… cuteness radiating off them.

The badger was unimpressed by their display, that’s for sure.

They kept grumbling only for their complaints to be either ignored or deflected with a couple whistled words each. All the while, the plant person kicked themselves off the ground and into a standing position, swaying in place as they eyed out Sue’s playgroup.

And the once-human in particular.

Petal speaking up finally caught their attention.

In response, the plant… lady? showed off the fruity spoils in their arms. With a well-practiced motion, they tossed a single fruit up in the air in front of themselves, their arm glowing light green as it sliced the treat in half. Whichever magic they had just used had worn off just in time for their glow-less, slightly juice-stained arm to catch the two halves before they hit the ground.

...don’t get cut on those arms, got it.

They spotted Sue’s awestruck look right away. Their whistling laugh made the Forest Guardian feel... weird, weirdly nice, a light smile creeping onto her face in response. Said smile didn’t even think of washing off as she watched the leafy dancer pass two halves of a green fruit with orange flesh over to Petal and Joy. Even if it should’ve been the bare minimum, the once-human felt much warmer at the sight of someone just being unconditionally nice to the metal girl.

The two pried-apart halves of what looked like a comically oversized raspberry were passed over to Astra and left beside the sleeping Comet respectively. The dancer’s last gift, the peach, apparently named Pecha from what she remembered Pollux say, was… handed over to Sue, in its entirety.

Wait, what?

“N-no, wait, that’s not fair, you deserve some too-“

Sue’s subsequent attempt to tear the peach in two with her bare hands was stopped by the plant girl’s smooth, slightly juice stained arm lightly cupping her cheek. A burning blush erupted on the Forest Guardian’s cheeks as her attention was guided upwards, straight towards the dancer’s shaking head, the accompanying words conveying gratitude, but also disapproval.

Why did that feel so nice?

The message was understood perfectly, though Sue couldn’t deny feeling bad at hoarding an oversized part of the stranger’s gift. With her initial idea of expressing gratitude denied, she opted instead to bow at the dancer, making them palpably happier. Their hand kept stroking Sue’s cheek and patting her green head, not helping any with her fluster.

Meanwhile, the badger only grew more annoyed with each passing moment. Eventually they spoke up sternly at the newcomer again as the entire group got to eating. The dancer’s response was as upbeat as everything else they did, but much more forceful, capped with a pointed question back at the fiery badger.

Before the flames on their neck could burst again, Kantaro’s voice diffused the tension.

The sculpted likeness of the Pale Lady in a protective pose was clear to see now. A careful application of the polish even made Her weird wings look multicolored. The leafy dancer liked what they saw a great deal, and so did Astra, both of their responses upbeat and flattering.

Kantaro’s boss, on the other hand, merely acknowledged the beetle’s efforts with a short, approving comment. With that done, the craftsbug carefully deposited the sculpture in the freshly built shrine and prayed to it for a moment, together with the badger.

Once their prayers were done, the badger finally took their leave, neck surrounded with purple embers as they grumbled into their paw.

Good riddance.

The dancer enjoyed that development seemingly as much as Sue. They spoke towards Astra, briefly chatting with her before slyly sitting down beside the Forest Guardian when she wasn’t looking. Before Sue knew it, the plant girl’s warm, smooth body was leaning on hers, tossing another jerry can of fuel onto her fluster.

She couldn’t say she disliked how it all felt, though.

Not one bit.

Right as Sue’s hand was reaching around the leafy body to maybe hopefully return some of the affection, Kantaro’s gruff voice caught the dancer’s attention instead. They sprung onto their yellow shoes from a sitting start before leaping towards the beetle, each motion as confident as it was elegant.

Alright, alright, snap yourself out of it Sue, they’re talking.

Their topic was somewhat clarified with Kantaro leaning in to draw something in sand. To the best of Sue’s ability to make out, the subject of the beetle’s sketch was… the tip of their own horn. The depiction they drew was similar to their current one, but much more pointed, with a clean V shape at the top instead of a small prong between the two main ones. Kantaro drew attention to the differences by overlying the current shape of their horn on top of what must’ve been their desirable one, the dancer soon getting the gist.

After one solid look at the reference, the leafy girl went to work. Their arm once more glowed green as it sliced away at the beetle’s horn, each cut small and careful. Sue was stumped about the purpose of this… minor cosmetic surgery.

Could be something as straightforward as keeping the tool of the beetle’s trade well tended to, but… something told Sue otherwise. There was the expected relief coming from Kantaro, but there also was… euphoria, vibrant to her sixth sense, even if well concealed in their expression.

It only took a few minutes before the procedure was done. After the last cut was applied, Kantaro looked at Astra for her to verify the new look, the deed done with an eager smile. They then glanced over at Sue for a second opinion, blinking a few times before realizing the futility of expecting any words from that particular Forest Guardian. Instead, they took a deep sigh and thanked the dancer, their whistled ‘you’re welcome!’ just flat out pleasant to listen to.

I could definitely listen to it all day, at least.

With the hornicure done, Kantaro turned around to inspect their handiwork once more, growing… annoyed at how it came out, somehow. Sue obviously didn’t have the technical knowledge to tell with certainty, but what she could see looked downright stunning. Hell, both Astra and the dancer clearly thought that, too.

And yet, the sculpture’s own artist remained deeply unsatisfied with it.

They didn’t linger on that thought, thankfully. Instead, they got on with the other construction project of the agenda, grabbing the coils of rope and eyeing out the large, horizontal branch right above Astra.

And then, they took to flight as if it was the most mundane thing in the world.

As Sue stared dumbfounded at an insect this large being capable of flight, a cheerful, whistled call caught her attention. Her glance at its source had her stare face to face with the dancer from just an inch away, their words continuing all the while. Before she could even flinch, the stranger leaned in that bit further to nuzzle her cheek, ruffle her hair, and say their goodbyes.

In just a few moments, they were bounding off further into Moonview, leaping their body’s length with each springy step.

Before Sue even knew, she was once more left with just her thoughts.

One hand subconsciously reached up to feel the spot where the dancer had nuzzled her, a subconscious smile creeping onto her face. For once, her own thoughts caught more of her focus than Kantaro’s artistry ever could. The once-human kept going in circles over what had just happened, the sequence of events insane in hindsight.

All the affection coming from nowhere, so much nicer than it had any right to be. As hard as Sue tried to watch it away with her focus, the fluster on her cheeks wasn’t fading any time soon. The once-human was left to ponder on just what it all implied, and whether she wasn’t misrepresenting the dancer’s actions as something they weren’t.

Because it sure feels like I was just hit on, again.

But this time, it felt… different. Without being put on the spot, without several onlookers focusing on her, Sue… found herself considering it all so much more than Snowdrop’s advance. She had no idea about the stranger’s name, intent, hell, gender even, but at the same time…

Did any of those really matter? The more she thought about them, the less important they felt.

She was thinking about some of these topics for the very first time. What was increasingly feeling like her past life didn’t exactly provide her with many opportunities to socialize romantically. Or non-shitty peers she could do so with, of any gender.

Sue couldn’t even say she wasn’t enjoying thinking about all this, discovering what made her click in real time, but…

Her hand clenched into a fist as she chewed through the peach, thoughts taking a turbulent turn for the worse. The fruit’s sweet flesh turned bitter as angst dripped into her thought stream, more and more of it by the moment.

Why here?

Why do I only get to think these things through here, in this batshit world!?

Why am I being shown affection here, with no knowledge about how long my stay in this world will be!? With any relationship I form here liable to disappear on a whim once whichever sadistic fuck of a deity that put me here decides it’s time for me to go back to suffering on Earth!?

Can I even trust anything I’m feeling?

That thought stung in particular, but was impossible to fully write out. Who knew, maybe this alien body processed romantic thoughts entirely differently. Maybe she was being manipulated by the very meat suit she woke up in. Maybe the moment she was back on Earth, she would only feel revulsion when thinking back to this whole incident?

What if everything nice coming my way is entirely caused by me being an imposter of this revered species?

Sue almost doubled over in anguish at considering the possibility that every single nice thing coming her way was caused by something entirely outside her control. She didn’t even know whether she’d take that trade off.

Receiving affection and literally any modicum of romantic attention because of this awkward, weird body, versus being true with her accomplishments, her appearance, and her mind, just to get nothing but more struggle in return.

The worst part was that she won’t even be the one to make that nightmarish choice in the end. Her Fate was entirely up to the whims of some god or another that seemed fit to punish her for crimes unknown by forcing her to quell a conflict between two literal deities.

I’m going to kill that fucking god-

The last thing that Sue expected to hear in response to her god-hating moping was the by now very familiar laughter. The sound took her aback as she looked up at the approaching, chuckling Sundance.

“That’s one hell of a topic to find you thinking about!”

Sue couldn’t disagree; the religious reverence Moonview held towards Duck in particular contrasted hard with her deicidal thoughts. Hell, there literally was a brand new shrine within a stone’s throw of her. With every passing moment, the mismatch diffused more and more of her anger, grumbles giving way to low chuckling.

“Heh. Yeah, I can i-imagine...”

“That’s the type of subject you normally only ever see me pondering about. How are you doing, Sue, after yesterday?”

Once enough tension had left her body, Sue smiled over at the vixen as she took a seat beside her. She had the same pipe she saw yesterday on her, with, to the best of her nose’s ability to tell, the same payload.

“I’m... alright, I think. How’s Solstice?”

Sundance nodded at the offhanded acknowledgement, taking a deeper hit of her pipe before responding.

“She’s better, thankfully. Still needs more time to finish processing it all, but should be alright before the end of the day. It was... a lot. For all three of us. I certainly don’t see a point in rushing any of it along. If you want to confide in someone about what happened yesterday, I’m all ears, Sue.”

Sue’s response got stuck in her throat as she came up with a vile pun to augment it with.

“Yeah, you are. But yeah, th-thank you, Sundance. I-I promise, I’m better now.”

Once the vixen was done grumbling, she chuckled with a soft nod.

“I’m glad. In the meantime, we’ve figured out a plan for what to do going forward.”

“About what?”

Sundance glanced over at her, her response delivered in telepathy.

“^The night kin. Ultimately, we have to make a first step somewhere. We’ve settled on venturing to Newmoon tomorrow morning to bring the subject up.^”

“Don’t they all hate her?”

“^Not all. Yes, there’s definitely some animosity there, which makes it even more important to face it, overcome the hesitation, and work on mending the wound at the root of it all. It’ll be awful and unpleasant, but it’s the only way through, in the end.^”

“Won’t she get hurt?”

For the first time since she woke up in this world, Sue felt a bitter pang of disappointment run through Sundance’s mind, making her flinch.

“^No, of course not. Yes, they dislike her, but they’re not monsters. Some of them resent what happened a lot, resent her. Even then, they won't murder her in response to a bloodless exile. Thorns isn’t the type, and Juniper…^”

Sundance took a deep hit of her pipe, a light shudder going through her body.

“^…she’ll get herself together once we lay out what we’re there for. I’m sure of it.^”

Sue didn’t question it anymore, settling on taking the words in with a deflated nod. Sundance’s light disapproval gave way to a desire to steer the conversation towards something more pleasant, and the humorously morbid topic from earlier was just the right thing.

“^So, god killing, eh? What got you to consider that?^”

“I-it’s... complicated.”

“^As most things are.^”

“But, wait- is it possible?”

The vixen took another hit of her pipe as she chewed through the intricacies of Sue’s question. She unearthed and looked through third or fourth hand knowledge from back when she was still traveling the world. Despite her heavy doubts about the trustworthiness of anything she was about to say, she eventually decided to just pass it on.

“^From what I know and have gathered from mystics I spoke with during my travels... no. At least, not in a way you can kill a person.^”

“Is there another way, then?”

“^I suppose if you were to destroy everything that comprises them, that would ‘kill’ them. Their avatars certainly can fall, but the gods themselves... fat chance.^"

“Comprises them?”

“^Well, how do you think gods exist? That they just float in the sky, gathering praise and occasionally intervening in mortal affairs?^”

“...pretty much.”

Sundance choked on her pipe’s smoke at her deliberately outlandish idea accidentally nailing Sue’s presumptions on the head.

“^No, not at all. Gods aren’t... separate from the world. They are the world. Or rather, the world is a part of them, as are the people. The dirt and stone beneath us is all a part of the Landshaper, it’s all Its dominion. Even then, the Landshaper exists beyond just the ground we’re sitting on, It has Its own will, even if that will is tied to the will of all the stone beneath us. You can’t kill Landshaper short of destroying every single rock that comprises this world. Even then, I doubt that’d fully work either.^”

The Forest Guardian had to chew on that piece of knowledge to even start absorbing it. The entire description sounded partially like something from when she was reading up on animism for her religious studies class, but far from entirely. Ultimately, she just slowly nodded along as a partial picture formed in her mind.

“^Furthermore, it’s not like there’s just one Landshaper with a unified will. Everywhere you go, It will be different, for Its dominion is different. All Landshapers will be greatly influenced by Its innate, divine nature, of course, but still not identical.^”

“I-I see, I think. You mentioned ‘avatars’, right?"

“^Aye. They’re the physical manifestations of divine will. Partially independent from both their dominion, and even from their divine nature, and yet still ultimately constrained by them. If you’re wondering what the being on the altar and all the shrines of Night Mother is, that’s Her avatar.^”

“Are these avatars just... out there?”

“^From what I understand, no. They manifest when a deity’s will wishes to intervene directly into something, and fade away when they’re no longer needed. They aren’t identical to the deity as a whole, acting independently even if heavily influenced by their underlying divinity.^”

Sue couldn’t even pretend to understand the entirety of what she was being told. Partially to her credit, though, not even her mentor could claim that.

“What about D- Pale Lady? What’s her dominion?”

The vixen lifted an eyebrow up at the once-human, chuckling under her breath.

“^The light of the Moon, from what I understand. Obviously, it’s a much more limited dominion than the land, the stars, or even the Moon as a whole. It’s so fickle, and the Night Mother is so feeble when compared to other deities that, to the best of my understanding, her worshipers are effectively her real dominion. I think I’ve heard the phrase ‘half-god’ used to describe such a being once or twice. You won’t catch me ever saying it out loud in here, that’s for sure.^"

“Her worshippers...? So, from what I understand, what happens to the worshippers affects... their god?”

“^Aye. They’re a part of her. For half-gods, to wound the people, is to wound their god.^”

The Forest Guardian mulled intently through the implications while Sundance was left amused at eliciting such a thoughtful mood inside her student. While the vixen watched Kantaro finish work on the swing, a realization bloomed inside Sue.

If Moonview’s people are a part of Duck, and what they do, what they are, what they believe, can affect her...

And if that also holds true for the Night Father, no reason it wouldn’t with the two gods seemingly two parts of the same coin…

To wound the people, is to wound the gods. To mend the people…

Is to mend the gods.​

“I’m coming with you!”

Sundance blinked as she looked down at Sue, the steadily creeping mental fog not helping make sense of her pupil’s sudden outburst.


“I-I want to help you and Solstice with... y’know, your trip!”

Even if the fiery fox understood what Sue was actually referring to, her snap decision still left so much unclear. Why would Sue want to do this in the first place, why so suddenly, why so enthusiastically?

Did she even know what Newmoon was like? Or, for that matter, where it even was? The totality of unexplained and potentially unexplainable questions brewing inside Sundance eventually reached its zenith, manifesting in a single word.


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 14: Sibling


the gay agenda

Chapter 14: Sibling

The vixen and her student could only stare blankly at each other for a while afterwards.

Both of them were trying their hardest to figure out what the other was thinking without resorting to explicit telepathy. Sue was the first to crack as she brought up her excuse. A very valid reason in its own right, but it was being undeniably used as an excuse here all the same.

“Don’t you think that me being there after what happened with Spark and... her friend would help?”

Sue’s question thankfully broke through Sundance’s thoughtless confusion. Unfortunately, all it resulted in was a quiet sigh as the vixen shook her head, plumes of red fur warming the surrounding air with each motion. The vixen’s brief pause right as she was about to speak gave Sue a brief flash of hope, but sadly, it wouldn’t last.

“^While I can’t deny it being a good idea to bring up your incident and show how our separation is even harming third parties, I doubt your physical presence there would help. I know you feel guilty about Solstice’s breakdown and are invested in all the ugly history that led to it, but you’re not responsible for any of this. These aren’t your sins to be burdened by, Sue.^”

As much as the Forest Guardian wanted to disagree and keep asserting her point, there was a real risk to that. She had already almost given too much away through her insistence, and doubling down would only make that risk worse. Ultimately, she had no choice but to pretend to relent instead.

“I suppose. It’s just… rough, to only watch from the sides and hope that Spark and P- her friend can be friends in peace one day...”

“^It absolutely is. Alas, it’ll be a touchy, difficult discussion either way, its outcome up to the whims of Fate. I doubt your voice would help much. Your deeds will be plenty, believe me.^”

Sue acknowledged the words with a pretend somber nod. On one hand, she was glad that Sundance wasn’t suspecting anything. On the other…

She has a point.

Who knows whether the people of Newmoon will care even slightly about a second Forest Guardian showing up there to steer their judgement. The more thought Sue gave to it, the less enthusiastic she was at the idea of disregarding Sundance’s words and tagging along anyway.

At the same time, what else could she do? Give up? Let her Destiny be swayed by yet more forces and events beyond her control or comprehension?


Fat chance.

A couple pats of a warm, furred paw snapped Sue out of any further moping. The vixen gave her a soft smile, softer still by the virtue of her inebriation, and an approving look.

“It’s alright Sue. You’ve already helped plenty, more than most here can honestly claim. You make the most of your stay in Moonview, and we’ll try our best to mop up the murk in the background. I’d even say that focusing on that is the best thing we all could do today. Compose ourselves, take a breather, try to enjoy this slice of spring. How’s that sound?”

Relaxing wasn’t Sue’s strong suit, not one bit, especially not after her father’s passing. Each day had a shopping list of tasks that needed to be dealt with, ranging from urgent like work, urgent like keeping on top of her classes, urgent like making sure she had something to eat, urgent like doing laundry, to urgent like churning through her schedule to carve out just a single week of vacation from it all.

Suppose that if I’m already taking a break from reality, having a day focused on relaxation wouldn’t hurt.

“Alright, th-thank you. What did you have in mind?”

“I could fetch Solstice, and then we could go for a walk and chat about more pleasant matters. Maybe even enjoy a mug or two of something harsher come evening. How’s that sound?”

Not particularly riveting.

Then again, neither was Sue’s preferred relaxation method back at home, consisting of loading up her favorite sandbox video game, disconnecting her brain from all external stimuli, warping in time to about twelve hours later, and acting all at it suddenly being all dark outside.

“I-I like that, yeah.”

“Great! Astra, we’ll be heading out, mind-”

Sue’s glance over at the dragon revealed the fellow nanny to be talking to the four-armed, gray builder. Their build was so bulky they nearly matched her in size despite only having about a foot on Sue’s current body. They took their leave shortly afterwards, Astra thankfully remembering to respond to her name being called out before flying off with them.

“Oh! I’m sorry Ma’am Sundance, I’ve just been called to help with moving some ore and rock around, I can’t-“

“Don’t worry Astra, we’ll just ask Splitleaf. It’s no problem.”

“A-alright, hopefully Joy will be alright with that too. See you all later!”

“Take care, Astra!”

The once-human’s follow-up lifted the dragon’s mood as she took off. Right as she was about to follow in Sundance’s pawsteps and head out, their idea of leaving the kids under the leafy mantis’ watch ran into a hitch.

A toothy, two faced, tripping hazard of a hitch.

My favorite hitch.

Joy deciding to hug the Forest Guardian’s good leg almost made her fall over there and then, the vixen’s intervention helping her regain her stability.

“Joy! Wh-what’s wrong sweetie?”

The toothy girl shuddered at her caretaker suddenly raising her voice. The actual response she had in mind to the translated question ran into the obstacle of not knowing enough words, in any language, to properly formulate it. Ultimately, Joy mumbled to the best of her ability, hoping beyond hope it’d be enough.

“N-n-n-n-not g-go...”


If Sue had the ability to, she would’ve squatted and pulled the toothy girl into as big of a hug as her tiny body was capable of at that very instant. But, alas, all she could do was stare down at her with a soft, sad smile, and feel bad for her.

“Well, you could come with us if Sundance agrees-”

“And I do~. I imagine it’d be much easier to keep up with us while being held. Unfortunately, not an option for Sue and her crutch. I could give you a lift, Joy, if you’d want.”

Sundance’s presence breaking through Joy’s tunnel vision on her friend made the toothy girl jump with a startle, by now predictably. As opposed to her previous scares, though, she wasn’t as completely terrified this time, considering the idea seriously enough to look up at Sue for her opinion. A big smile, an even bigger nod, doesn’t get more positive than that.

Since Sue trusted the big vixen, so could Joy. She closed her eyes as she reached her arms up to her, bracing herself for… something.

The rattle of metal against metal wasn’t a pleasant sound, but it was thankfully brief.

Joy’s jolt at suddenly being surrounded in Sundance’s glow made her snap her maw shut with enough force to make Sue gulp, especially with her hand having been present there so recently. Once the metal girl was done being spooked, she looked around her new position in the vixen’s arms, relaxing at the surrounding warmth.

“Like the view?”

In a first, the firefox’s comment didn’t startle Joy any further. The little one just acknowledged it with a nod as she waved at Sue with a giddy smile, the once-human returning the gesture once they got moving.

Unfortunately for them, they weren’t the only ones leaving the playground at that moment.

The mixture of loud chitters and quieter hisses running up to them made Sue look over her shoulder, just in time for the strangers to overtake them. Sue wasn’t familiar with the green-cream snake and their fancy yellow collar, but that couldn’t be said for the pink scorpion bat beside them.

And sadly, Joy noticed too, whimpering as she withdrew further into Sundance’s arms.

“Oh? What’s wrong, Joy-”

Sudden as the toothy girl’s reaction was, the dots weren’t exactly difficult to connect. With a tired sigh, Sundance switched tracks over to telepathy, wanting to confirm the obvious.

“^I’m guessing they were the ones that had hurt her a couple days ago?^”

“I-I think so, yes.”

Sue’s voice distracted Joy from dwelling further on her fear, to their shared relief. The once-human couldn’t hold the metal girl in her arms, but she could at least let her hold her hand to calm down some more.


Shaking that train of thought off, Solstice took the lead again. Sue was of half a mind to keep going with that subject, and ask the vixen about what could be done about it directly. Before she could force the words out of her throat, another person passing by caught Sundance’s attention instead; the previous topic unintentionally snuffed out.

“Afternoon Kantaro, how’s work going today?”

The craftsbug had to turn around with most of their body to look up at the vixen. Her presence provided him some relief, enough to make him slow down for a moment as he responded, voice low and grumbly.

“It’s going. That swing was long overdue, and Root talked me into putting up another shrine.”

His words were accompanied by quick, prayer-like motions at the mention of the shrine.

A bit unnerving, but at least he isn’t thinking any less of us for not following along.

“Glad to hear about the swing. Wonderful statue, by the way. Really sells Her being in motion.”

To Sue’s surprise, Kantaro’s only response to the praise were drawn out grunts and grumbles, only conveying annoyance.

“Got to keep trying, then.”

“On and on, indeed. At least the rest of the day is more banal.”

“Hopefully it brings you calmness if nothing else, then. See you around, Kantaro.”

The craftsbug acknowledged the parting words with a curt nod before taking a sharp turn towards the ongoing construction effort. A few questions crept up onto the forefront of Sue’s mind as their impromptu band marched on in a straight-ish path.

“What’s wrong with him?”


Sundance and Joy alike looked at the Forest Guardian in confusion if for different reasons. Uncertainty at Sue’s question was one thing, but surprise at suddenly finding herself so sleepy because of all the warm fluff around her was another.

“I-I watched him make that statue. It’s so well done and everyone else thought so too it sheemed... what’s his problem with it? O-or is it with the Pale Lady-”

“Oh no, it’s only ever with his own craftsmanship. I’ve hardly met anyone that’s as unflinching of a devotee as Kantaro.”

“But it was wonderful!”

“Wonderful, but not perfect.”

“But… nothing is perfect.”

“Usually, I’d agree with you, but that’s not how he sees it. He has tasted perfection twice, and hasn’t repeated it in many, many years now. Each failure only makes that failure sting harder.”

Right as Sue was about to ask about which of Kantaro’s creations was supposedly ‘perfect’, a particular sight crept back into her thought process. One incomparably more impressive than even that pretty statue, stunning to even recall.

I’ll never have a fraction of Solstice’s devotion to Duck, but fuck me if that altar doesn’t look divinely inspired-

He tasted it twice.

“And let me guess, only one of those perfect creations is still standing?”

Sundance’s knowing, proud smirk was all the confirmation Sue needed. Unfortunately, her hunch was accurate, and she could only feel bad for the craftsbug afterwards. To have one of his finest creations destroyed because of what was ultimately prejudice…

Though… that only makes his unflinching devotion even more confusing.

“That’s rough.”

“It is. Thankfully, he got rid of one massive weight on his shell a couple of years ago. It helped, but… in the end, it only put further pressure on his struggle for perfection afterwards.”

“I see. While he was working, someone else came up to him and-“

“Let me guess. Off-white and dark purple, with a fiery collar and a bad temperament?”

“Yeah, them.”

“Root. Figures the old coot has nothing better to do than to come and micromanage, hmph.”

The name chilled Sue as she thought back to the vixen’s lecture from the previous day. His manipulation, his prejudice towards the night kin, the recollection rushing into the once-human’s mind as her own heartbeat suddenly grew deafening.


To think I’ve wasted my opportunity to shout something in his face.

“Indeed. He’s still around, serving as the Night Mother’s chief priest. Leads most of the big, important ceremonies and has little useful to do otherwise.”

As if I needed another reason to like that leafy lady more.

If she had any idea what they had said, she would’ve probably had to hold herself from clapping at what had to be some sort of overt disobedience towards the priest.

“I don’t like him.”

“Welcome to the club, it’s a large one. Petty, old-”

Sundance’s words cut off into a low, spiteful grumble that was left off from translation. Knowing the vixen, it probably contained at least a couple of swears.

As curious as she was, she didn’t push any deeper. Partly because she didn’t want to wind herself into fury on what was supposed to be a day of relaxation, and partly because of the sight ahead being much more eye-catching.

So that’s what Willow’s doing when they’re not tending to people at the clinic.

Passing medical knowledge on was a truly inexhaustible task, one that the chubby medic was very glad to be undertaking. Despite how reserved their squeaks and mumbles usually were, their lecturing voice was loud and clear, not wavering even as they gestured at the sketches behind them.

Most of the chalk drawings covering the massive, blackboard-like slab they stood in front of looked like anatomical cross-sections of sorts. Of what exactly, Sue had no idea beyond a vague guess that it was some creature’s arm. Regardless of who exactly was having their body stripped down to the fundamental detail, Willow was describing them in rather impressive detail. Each individual bone, tendon, and muscle were accompanied by a couple of sentences and an occasional demonstration of the medic moving their free arm around in some specific way.

With everyone in the audience either repeating the gesture, asking questions, or waiting for the co-lecturer to chime in as well.

The exact shape of their body was… difficult to discern from the distance. It appeared to comprise three dark green growths sprouting out from a central point at their base, with their ‘actual’ body growing up out of the central growth. The massive collar of dozens of not hundreds of flowers surrounding their head made it hard to focus, or even make out their anatomy.

Yep, that one has to be the ‘plant’ type that Petal was.

The thought about types made Sue want to give classifying the surrounding strangers another shot-

“Sue? Mind taking a seat here and waiting for me to grab Solstice?”

Sue was unsure why Sundance brought her along here, only to split up again afterwards, but it didn’t really matter. The lecture before her would occupy her attention for as long as was needed.


The Forest Guardian paid only as much attention to the nearby bench as was strictly necessary for her to sit down on it. Her left arm immediately resumed its petting autopilot once Joy had scrambled up and took her seat beside Sue. Each gentle, drawn out pet of her back maw relaxed her further while her guardian watched the lecture with interest.

The medical student her attention ended up immediately latching onto was… hard to miss. Both because of their stark, mostly white coloration, and even more so because of their constant activity. They were responsible for well over half of all the questions coming the lecturers’ way. Judging from the teaching duo’s responses being eager, in-depth, and without as much as a sign of exasperation, these sure sounded like productive questions, too.

It was almost enough to make Sue overlook them being meowed out.

The realization forced the once-human to suppress her giggling lest she’d draw attention to her own rudeness. Her composure was as appropriate as it was ultimately pointless. Eventually, Willow noticed her being in the extended audience and greeted her with a brief wave, drawing the entire crowd’s attention towards her for a brief moment.

Aside from being an immensely overwhelming experience, it also let Sue glimpse the attentive cat’s golden eyes before they refocused on the lecture proper, being the first one to do so.

Most of my professors would kill for a student this proper.

The other students weren’t as actively engaged, but were taking mental notes all the same. After a couple more minutes of discussion about a mammalian-looking arm, the drawings were steadily replaced with… a cross section of a plant, capped off with a distinct hand.

Appropriately enough, the living bouquet took the lead during that part, with Willow stepping back to take a secondary role for the time being. The flowery medic’s sketches turned out to be much larger and more intricate than Willow’s, owing to their vastly better reach. Instead of a stubby paw, they drew with a… long, prehensile vine that sprouted from somewhere in the mess of flowers surrounding their head; the stick of chalk glided along the stone with the speed and precision that would make even tenured physics professors jealous.

That vine tentacle is… eerily glib.

As odd as that realization was, it soon became even worse at the realization that her own mental reach felt much the same when she was using it. It wasn’t just long, thin, and agile, but it was also entirely invisible to anyone but the fellow psychics.

...let’s just drop that subject.

Trying to shake the uncomfortable train of thought off, Sue looked around the plaza. Even the passersby were keen to take a few minutes out of their routine to stop and listen to the lecture. Most of them, at least.

Those that didn’t were largely busy with something immediately important, such as moving cargo around. Clay pots of various liquids, woven baskets of fruit and grain, even an entire log here and there.

For some, even having stuff to carry wasn’t an obstacle in the end.

The low thud coming from nearby made Sue jump as she eyed out its source. Red humanoid with greenish metal covering most of her upper body, and a ponytail that either just looked like flames, or… was flames. Their appearance tingled a remote bell in the once-human’s head, but not enough for her to be truly familiar with them. She didn’t recognize the small boulder they sat down on, either. Must’ve been something they brought with themselves.

No way this is comfortable, but who am I to judge.

Nearby swooshes of wind and grunts of annoyance snatched Sue’s attention before she could refocus back on the lecture. As much as Sue expected to see people be carrying something through the streets, she sure didn’t expect said thing to be a slab of solid stone the size of a fridge.

Let alone two.

If nothing else, both of them were being carried by two people each, one of them bringing a wide smile to her face. And then a chuckle at the realization at just how much higher Astra’s flying point of leverage was compared to that of the gray four-arms, inadvertently pushing most of the stone’s weight down on him.

Even despite that, the task was still clearly strenuous for her. Her wings were forced to work extra hard just to keep her in the air, the resulting gusts knocking a couple of passersby off balance.

The other slab, in turn, was carried by the red robot insect she’d seen work with the other builders, as well as the smaller, blue rhino who may or may not have taken part in the show fight at the feast. And who, despite all the dangers that involved, waved at Sue after noticing her, the stone slab thankfully held stable throughout.

Considering they probably risked their life for that wave, I might as well return it…

Joy sliding off the bench and hesitantly stepping over closer to the lecture took Sue out of that OSHA-violating thought. Her guardian giggled at her tentative steps, constantly interspersed with anxious looks back at her, as if to see if she was still there and watching.

Don’t worry sweetie, I’m not going any-

Oh no no no NO NO NO NO-

Any jubilant mood Sue might’ve had crashed and burned the instant she spotted a particular sight in the plaza’s corner. Her breaths grew shallow and heart threatened to break out of her chest, with the recipient of her attention being none the wiser.

The small, green spider she saw at the clearing was scary enough; seeing the red beast that had almost ended her life a few days ago here in Moonview was a whole other level of terrifying. Sue’s vision swam as she followed the savage insect’s every movement and watched it skitter down the street. The paralyzing terror gripping Sue's mind only let her grasp her crutch in case she needed to get out of here-

Oh god it’s looking at me it’s looking at ME NO NO NO NO GO AWAY GO AWAY-

In a move that was almost impossible to process for her fear-gripped mind, the spider proceeded to do just that. It quickly skittered into a nearby alleyway, though whether it was to get away from her or try to flank her and finish the job was yet to be seen.

The latter was an absurd possibility, and Sue was well aware, but there was no way in hell she’d give that thing an opening, anyway. Her attention finally detached itself from the insect’s last known position as it began to flicker between all the paths that connected to the clearing, looking out for that red beast.

The repetitive, anxious loop felt like something out of a shoddy indie horror game.

And just like in a shoddy indie horror game, there was a mandatory jumpscare at the end.

It might’ve taken the form of Willow’s voice from close up as opposed to a speaker-blowing screen, but it was hardly any less effective because of that, Sue only barely stopping herself from screaming out loud.

Both lecturers and the very aptly nicknamed teacher’s pet were standing in front of her now. Their emotions were easy to sense now that her mind was no longer actively choking itself with fear. Willow’s eagerness, bouquet’s concern at Sue’s startle, the cat’s unemotional and yet very intense focus as the pink medic pointed at Sue’s bandaged leg.

Should I… lift it up?

Thankfully, her hunch turned out to be a correct one, letting Willow’s lecture continue as they reached a paw underneath her leg to help keep it lifted. What they were talking about, Sue wasn’t sure, and could only guess it was either about treating injuries like hers, or about the intricacies of the bandages wrapped around the limb.

The white-navy cat’s barrage of questions was unceasing, to their mentor’s delight. That is, until one of them prompted a much longer back and forth between them and Willow, with even the living florist shop interjecting with their own curiosity. At some point, the question finally fell in Sue’s court to answer, if the entire trio refocusing on her was any sign at least.

Uh… can I ask the audience?

The incomprehensible question resulted in what had to be the first instant of utter, unbroken silence between the trio for hours. And only an instant of silence it was, Willow reminding themselves of the obvious soon after and commenting on it out loud immediately afterwards. The cat acted without skipping a beat by… unfolding one of their ears and revealing a golden, eye-shaped something inside it, the lack of fur making it look almost fleshy.

And then, as one does, said something lit up in a bright, golden flare, much like she’d seen Solstice’s and Sundance’s eyes do in the past. Fittingly enough, it was followed with a jolt inside Sue’s mind, blunt and coordinated, and then by the flattest feminine voice Sue had ever heard in her life.

“Hi. Willow’s asking why you tried to walk with a broken leg.”

Sue needed a hot minute to parse through the cat’s question, the hesitation annoying her slightly. The emotion was so unnaturally well hidden inside her mind that Sue almost didn’t notice, though.

“Uh, I was sca-“

Willow spoke up again, cutting Sue off mid-word, much to her surprise. The realization that she still couldn’t understand them answered the ‘why’ question before she could even ask it. The white cat’s reaction was the first instance of a genuine emotion Sue’d sensed from her, even if it was just a brief blip of annoyance. Much like before, she unfurled her ear and put her psychics to use again before trying again.




“Oh. I-I was scared, had no idea where I even was, and needed some answers badly. And didn’t realize how much it’d hurt...”

“Ha! Ah, it’s alright Sue, I was just explaining how I went about patching you up to Northeast. Anyhow- after that incident, the wound reopened underneath the bandages and bled quite badly. First, I tore the old dressing off to avoid the risk of infection, then applied the first Healing Pulse to stem the bleeding, wiped the skin clean with water and white spirit, and got to the salves. Covered the wound up with a couple layers of antiseptic dressing, applied the Tanga salve around the edges, and rubbed Sitrus salve in further around.”

“No follow-up pulses?”

“No, no, Sue was already so tired she’d fallen asleep by that point. Pushing any further would’ve been more risk than was appropriate Northeast, especially with immediate danger gone.”

“How many dressing layers?”

“I think I went with three there? Mostly because I decided it’d be for the best if it was thick enough to sit undisturbed for a couple days. Then I baby-proofed it with a thin cast on top of the bandage, since we had no way of communicating with Sue at that point... no offense.”



The once-human’s response was thankfully only an amused giggle as opposed to anything more stern. She was in absolutely no spot to be judging Willow, considering how annoying of a patient she must’ve been. Her reaction was mirrored by the chubby medic themselves and the living bouquet alike, Northeast standing silently off to the side throughout.

Even Joy had chimed in with a raspy, harsh chuckle of her own, though largely because everyone else was laughing.

“That is curious, however~. A Forest Guardian making it to adulthood without as much as Telepathy? I faintly remember Solstice mentioning that. I found it unbelievable, and yet here you are. Is it a result of… a developmental condition?” - The flower medic’s words were slow, middle-aged and dignified. It made Sue think of a rich widow in her fifties, enjoying her life and wine selection alike to the fullest every day. Now in a handy, flowery form.

“We think it may very well be something like that, Orchid. Or at least was, since she’s been able to start slowly picking psychic skills up recently. An exceptionally rare and unfortunate case either way. Best not dwell too much on it and just appreciate her being safely with us.”

Willow’s diversion was much appreciated. The tension left Sue’s body as quickly as it had built up at Orchid’s question. Annoyingly enough, her relief wouldn’t last. Northeast didn’t shy from poking holes in the medic’s answer-

“So she’s been capable of psychics for some unknown amount of time before now and only started acting on that here? That sounds incredibly unlikely.”

“What’s so difficult to believe, Northeast?”

“At the very least, she would’ve had to notice her inner sense waking up at some point prior to her arrival in Moonview.”

Sue expected to see the white cat staring at her with distrust, but instead, she only saw the same flat expression, befitting the unerringly monotone voice.

I’ve no idea what her intent is and I don’t like that fact one bit.

“I’d say we drop that subject. I don’t think Sue wants to be interrogated and have her version of events called into doubt right now, or ever really.”

“I’m not-“

“Oh dear, what did you do to get the medics’ attention now, Sue~?”

Solstice’s calm voice immediately snapped Sue out of her anxiety with a drawn-out sigh of relief. The Mayor was looking so, so much better than when she last remembered seeing her. Still not perfectly alright, though. The puffiness underneath her eyes, the warble of her voice.

At the very least, she was trying her hardest to be alright, and that’s all that mattered, making Sue smile bright at the sight.

“Hardly anything but being a jumpy student and a useful case study in application of dressings, worry not dear Solstice.” - Orchid was only barely stopping herself from going on, chuckling under breath at the situation.

“Ha! Though you’re right, it’d be for the best if we went from chatter to a bit of practice. Lemme go and g-”

As Willow turned towards the stone blackboard, their upbeat tone was suddenly replaced with a bunch of confusion. They concentrated on the grass in front of their impromptu canvas, clearly scanning for something-

“Huh. I could’ve sworn I brought some rags to practice applying bandages with. Suppose we’ll just have to grab a couple more from my clinic instead, if you could follow me~.”

Solstice chuckled as Willow led their group away from Sue. As much as the once-human was expecting the latter to suddenly look over her shoulder and shoot her a suspicious glare, both Orchid and Northeast went along with the other medic without a complaint.

Sue’s attention couldn’t linger on them for much longer with Solstice here, though.

She dropped the crutch beside herself and pulled the Mayor into a tight side hug, her front spike pressing into the other Forest Guardian’s chest. The heartbeat reverberating through it proved to be surprisingly calming, not that Sue could complain in the slightest. Solstice had to put in active effort to avoid breaking into tears for Duck knows which time within the last twenty-four hours, thankfully stabilizing herself with a few deeper breaths.

“I’m okay Sue, I’m okay, don’t worry.”

“A-are you sure? I can-“

“I’m absolutely sure. We’ve both had more than enough tears yesterday to last us a full Moon, let us focus on here and now instead, alright?”

While Solstice might have been successful in avoiding any more tears, Sue wasn’t. She sniffed a few couple times as she let go of her more-than-mentor-it-felt-at-times, wiping her eyes and redirecting her attention to the toothy girl on her other side instead, holding her tight.

“Mhm. Okay.”

“Wonderful~. Sundance is off to grab us all snacks, and in the meantime... someone would like you to meet him Sue.” - Sue palpably felt Solstice’s tone turn more somber, making her gulp slightly. She had no idea whose presence could’ve prompted such a mood shift, her own heartbeat speeding up in response.

“Oh. Who is he?”

“His name is Dewdrop, he’s one of our weavers. We’ve got to thank him for many of our antiseptic dressings. Some of which you’re wearing right now if I’m not mistaken~.” - Solstice’s clarification only made everything even more confusing, if anything. Of course, she’d love to meet and thank someone who’d contributed to her recovery; the contrast between the positive news and the downwards mood swing worried Sue further by the moment.

“That’s great! Wh-what’s wrong?”

“He’s... a deathweaver. Of the same kin that the one that grievously injured you was.”

The click of all the pieces falling into place was almost loud enough to be audible.

The gulp that followed it most definitely was. Solstice immediately pulled her student in closer to comfort her. Her touch was calming, but nowhere near enough to make Sue feel alright on its own.

“O-oh, him... I-I think I saw him earlier...”

“Yeah, you have. He went looking around for me afterwards to help facilitate some communication between you two and let you two meet.”

“But, wh-what for? He’s not the one that-”

“No, of course he’s not, but he still feels guilty. And even more importantly, he doesn’t want you to be scared of him in the future, like you are right now.”

The indirect, gentle call-out was successful at stopping Sue’s anxious thought process before it could wind itself up even further. Dewdrop’s reasoning made perfect sense, making her feel bad for indirectly forcing someone innocent if really, really, really scary-looking to defend themselves because of her fear.

“Oh, sorry-”

“Nothing to be sorry for Sue, your fear is all too understandable- that’s what made him want to intervene directly even more and help you overcome it.”

How the fuck is the beast that nearly took my life and someone so considerate the same species?!

“I-I see. That’s really nice of him. I... alright, I-I think I’m ready.”

Sue was extremely uncertain of whether she was actually ready, but it didn’t matter. She’d rather not keep Dewdrop waiting any longer because of being irrational. She braced herself, shifting her gaze downwards and focusing on the ground as Solstice first hesitated, and then followed along, calling the spider over.

“^Alright Dewdrop, she’s ready.^”

The once-human’s heart skipped a beat at seeing the red spider first peek out, and then finally step out of the nearest alley. He was clearly moving as slowly as he could, doing anything in his power to make his appearance as non-sudden as possible.

I wish you didn’t have to do that, but… thanks.

As he approached, Sue got a good look at the things he wore and carried. The elaborate cap was the most eye-catching of the bunch. Twin blue accents that ran down the length of the flaps behind his eyes downright popped out from the brown canvas and red chitin. But what Sue appreciated the most, though, was the central flap resting on top of Dewdrop’s horn and curling around it, keeping it disarmed.

The two… not-legs on top of his abdomen carried a not-legful of tassels each, their vivid yellows, oranges, and reds complimenting his appearance.

“Good afternoon Sue. I apologize our meeting is in... as tense of a situation.” - Even if Sue could still hear the hisses, clicks and chitters that underlaid Dewdrop’s words, her attention was entirely focused on his calm tone and eloquent delivery, helping her greatly in keeping herself calm.

“H-hey, Dewdrop. I-it’s alright...”

“It’s not. I know it’s not alright, but that’s understandable. I’m not holding it against you.”

“Thank you. I-I just didn’t expect to see another... of that one, here.”

“Oh, I can absolutely imagine, with your first encounter with my kin being what it was. But no, thankfully we’re not all like my sibling. But if anything, that makes what he did even more monstrous.”

“Y-your sibling?”

“Not in a literal way, no. Though… it’s entirely possible they were part of the same brood as I. Depressing to consider.”

Very, very depressing. One thing to have a deadbeat family member, another to be related to someone who hunts other living beings.

“I-it is, yeah. Why are they- why did-”

“Why did they almost murder you while I’m here holding a rational conversation?”

Not quite how Sue would’ve phrased that one, but yes, that very much was the spirit of the question.

“It’s... down to choice, in the end. The awareness of Moonview has spread far into the woods, and I’m more than certain that they have heard its beck and call as much as I have. Shelter, food, duty and possibly even family. On the sole condition that you abandon your predatory ways, irrevocably, forever. Many call it an impossible to believe lie, convinced that it’s little more than a ruse to lull gullible fools in before devouring them, predator and prey species alike. Ultimately, it is their choice whether they want to trust us. For me, and many others, the choice was clear. But sadly, not for all. And as harmless to anyone but themselves that distrust is with prey species...”

…a distrustful predator means an actively hunting predator.

“That must feel horrible. Kn-knowing what your own flesh and blood is doing out there, and feeling like it’s your fault for not convincing them.”

“Every day I think back to the last time I talked with my brood, when all of us still subsisted on wild berries. I tried to argue with them how it would make no sense for Moonview to be a trap, how that tradeoff is worth it. All they could muster back was paranoia and outrage at their ‘identity’ as predator species even being called into a question. Constant insistence that hunting was our purpose, that was what we were adapted for. And-”

His segmented body shuddered, mandibles unnervingly clinking together.

“It’s not untrue. That is what we are adapted to, after all. But to put that as the ceiling of what we are capable of, to insist there’s nothing more one would ever want out of life, that murder for sustenance is the most supreme of callings... I can’t put myself in that mindset. I never could.”

Silence lingered for a long while as everyone gathered composed their thoughts. Dewdrop eventually broke the lull with an awkward shuffle and reaching his forelegs to rub under his eyes, one at a time.

“I apologize. I just... really let all that out all at once, didn’t I?”

The two Forest Guardians’ chuckles helped in diffusing much of the tension. The once-human picked up the slack again as more of her nerves faded away-

“It’s alright, Dewdrop. I can only imagine the weight th-that comes with that sort of awareness of what you c-could have done.”

“It’s heavy, indeed. Thankfully, I have others here to talk it all through with, others that know that kind of pain.”

“You can add ‘emotional support’ to the list of what our village offers, teehee.”

The arachnid laughter that came out of Dewdrop in response was a bizarre sound. Hundreds of repeated clicks, almost sounding like the world’s quietest machine gun going off.

“Indeed Solstice, hah. Well, I’m glad you gave me a chance Sue, a-and I hope I won’t be as scary of a sight going forward.”

If not for her injury and having no idea how well that would even work on an anatomical level, Sue was of half a mind to give Dewdrop a big hug there and then. Bit by bit, empathy and a bit of pity replaced her fear. Any spider this size was inherently unnerving, but at least he’d likely not make her panic again by his mere presence.

“You really won’t be, and you’re welcome, Dewdrop. I-I- thank you for this. It was illuminating, and I’m really sorry f-for things being the way they are.”

“Not something either of us can change, sadly. All we can do is keep this place growing and hope we sway more hearts in the future. Speaking of, how far did you all push the other deathweavers back after Sue’s attack, Solstice?”

Wait, what?

“A day’s march, more or less.”

“Pushed back?”

“Between offering predators a place to stay and protecting everyone already living here and others nearby, one of those is more important in the end. A whole brood being nearby is a grave danger for all of us, no matter how much some of its members could be persuaded if given enough time. And so it has to be dispersed, burned down, and its members pushed back, far, far from here, so that they’re no longer a threat.”

“And once the time comes, the eggs they had left behind will hatch here, and the little ones will be welcomed into a place where they don’t have to hunt.”

Dewdrop’s follow up made Sue second guess herself in particular. The uncertainty grew on her face as she worried about the moral implications of what she’d just heard described. Keeping their territory safe was one thing, but kidnapping the eggs left behind?

Though... not like the other answer felt any better. If not Moonview, the baby spiders would instead grow into yet more threats, not just to Moonview specifically, but also to any other prey species around them...

A moral nightmare with no answer.

“Indeed, Sue, there isn’t a ‘correct’ answer to what we ought to do in a situation like that. We can only hope that offering the unhatched ones a life of safety is the right call, even if it comes at the price of taking them away from their brood. And that, if we are in the wrong, then whatever awaits us on The Gate’s other side forgives us for our sins.”

“I don’t doubt one bit that this course of action is the right one for my kin, at least. Though yes, it’s certainly a case-by-case kind of dilemma. Regardless of whatever judgment awaits us, that’s way off in the future, and now I really should get to catching up on green silk, hah.”

“...wh-why green specifically?”

“Some prankster thought it’d be funny to steal half the bundle I kept on hand and I only realized partway through weaving. Oh well, I just need to grab more green dye and get back to spinning.”

“There’s no rush Dewdrop. Tassels aren’t a priority, take your time.”

“With the rate at which Root has been putting up shrines lately, you’d think he would eventually start wearing one on his back.”

Solstice grumbled at the mention of the other elder in a very familiar and fed up way. She grumbled into her hand and rubbing her eyes as she briefly switched to telepathy.

“^I’ll have to bring it up with him. I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately. Take care Dewdrop, and may She keep your rest peaceful.^”

“See you both around. Oh, and you too little one, I almost didn’t notice you, ha.”

The discussion had Joy turn pensive, though her thoughtfulness didn’t last long after Sue got back to the girl with all the affection she was owed. A gentle tickle on Joy’s front had her whole body squirming and hands flailing. The lovely, gasping laughter was mixed with notably less lovely clinking of metal, though the result still sounded really nice.

Just because it was Joy.

“Took you all so long these went cold in the meantime.”

Sundance’s voice had the rest of the group perk up as she rejoined them. She was holding three portions of candied, syrup-covered fruits on sticks in her paw, one of them shorter and with only a slice instead of an entire fruit.

“Well, if there’s anyone around to help offset that grievous injustice, it’d be you, Sundance~. Though, agreed, rather heavy stuff for what was supposed to be our opportunity to relax. Let’s go make the most of what remains of the day, eh Sue?”

Solstice’s quip had Sundance roll her eyes and summon a small, but fierce flame from her free paw while the group got going. Seeing open fire made Joy much more skittish, the toothy girl opting to keep to Sue’s side this time.

“Yeah, something more relaxing would be nice. Do you have any place in particular in mind?”

“Hmm, no, I don’t-”

“Yes, I do~.”

The two Forest Guardians blinked in surprise at the firefox having something in mind for them. Their obvious curiosity went unanswered as they were led in a very specific direction. Solstice soon pieced together where her friend was taking them if not necessarily why, whereas Sue… was just happy to be around.

It’s getting quite late already. Wonder if-

Before Sue could pay too much attention to the passage of time, a sight in the nearby alley caught her attention instead, making her stop. Sundance was of half a mind to tease the once-human there and then, but ultimately kept quiet, just watching along with the rest of the group.

Snowdrop was busy moving several rectangular baskets of grain and berries next to a large hole in the ground. It was lined with something that Sue couldn’t quite pick up on from a distance.

Her routine was straightforward. Assemble a stack of three baskets, do… something to them that resulted in them getting frozen and overgrown with frost, and lower the freshly frozen foodstuffs down the hole. The frosty performer kept going like this until she’d gotten through all the baskets on hand, closing the most unintuitively operated freezer shortly after.

While she took a moment to gather her breath and admire her handiwork, the duo from before ran up to her, their presence throwing a spanner in Sue’s mood. She had nothing against the mostly green snake, but hadn’t gotten any friendlier towards the pink bat-scorpion.

Why must you of all people be fucking everywhere.

The pair of what were presumably children didn’t arrive empty-handed, either. They carried a large clay pot with their combined strength, full of a dark, fragrant liquid.

Sue wasn’t the biggest fan of cherries, but couldn’t deny them smelling nice. Enough so to remind her of the treats Sundance had brought with herself, the not-apple on a stick getting bit into as the once-human kept watching.

She may have had no idea what the two were asking Snowdrop about, but the icy one herself did, talking it through with them before figuring out a right way of going on about it.

Namely, the flashiest way.

The performer gripped the pot before flinging its contents upwards with more force than her dainty hands had Sue think was even possible. Right as the glob of the dark pink juice reached its apex, it was snap frozen with a single powerful gust of chilling wind from Snowdrop’s mouth.

She didn’t wait before scooping the potful of ice cream out of the air, managing to get almost all of it. The handful of specks that had landed on Snowdrop’s face and crystal horns made for an amusing sight to Sue and the kids alike. Right as the performer was about to join them in their amusement, she finally noticed Sue’s group having been watching her all along.

The realization immediately combusted her glee into a fluster bright enough to melt some of the frozen juice on her head and make her scurry out of sight.

“Awwwwh~. She’s sweet, isn’t she?”

“Yeah! A-almost hard to believe she’d put as scary of a show back at the stage as she did.”

“A ghost of many talents you could even say~! Gods, if she’d been here twenty years ago when I first came here, then... hah, no telling who would my heart be with nowadays.”

Solstice’s blunt admission made Sue blink in surprise as they all got moving again. Joy was the only one left unsatisfied at the Snowdrop’s spectacle, and even then, largely because of her not getting any of the freshly made ice cream in the end.

“I-I definitely see what you m-mean, heh...”

“Oh, now you do~?”

Sue threatened to catch on fire following the Mayor’s comment, looking away with a bright fluster as the other two adults laughed among themselves. Sundance wanted to double down on the tease in particular, but ultimately gave her mercy.

She’d be even more flustered soon enough, after all~

“Yeah, Snowdrop’s a treasure. However, she’s always struck me as wanting something more permanent.”

“D-don’t we all?”

Sundance looked back over at her student with a light smirk and a raised eyebrow, a chuckle seeping into her words.

“I don’t~. Never really felt that romantic pull.”

“Oh. B-but uh, what about Spark?”

“A very happy accident, but an accident all the same.”

The response left Sue struggling to gather words, much to the other two’s continued amusement. A big, awkward question crept up into the forefront of the younger Forest Guardian’s mind afterwards, one she’d avoided bringing up earlier because of the implied tragedy.

“B-but, with whom?”

As Sue had feared, the question had Sundance pause. Though, as opposed to her worry that the vixen would suddenly break out into tears, she instead began to count on her fingers, eyes darting off into the sky as she enumerated the possibilities-

“There are... seven candidates in total, I think. Two of them are dead, two more don’t live here, and none of them ever spoke up or came forward even after Spark was on her way. As far as I’m concerned, she’s mine and mine alone.”




Sue’s frizzed brain entirely failed in composing any response to Sundance’s revelation, the cacophony of ‘how’ continuing for a good few minutes afterwards. It took their destination coming in sight to finally snap Sue’s thought process out of the embarrassed deadlock it ended up spiraling into.

The nearby grove of fruit-bearing trees was right beside a house-sized patch of flowering plants, a handful of berry bushes, and what looked to be tomato plants being supported on an elaborate array of wooden scaffolding. The messiness continued further into the farmland with dozens of species of plants interwoven in chaotic patterns that nonetheless had to have some logic to them.

Though… this doesn’t look like it’s enough to feed even a fraction of Moonview.

As sizable as Moonview’s breadbasket was, it still felt like way too little to feed what had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of beings, no matter how nourishing each individual berry was.

Not if harvested annually, at least.

Before she could give the agricultural conundrum any more mental fuel to burn through, a loud, beckoning whistle snapped Sue’s attention whole. All she’d made of its source was a dark brown lower half and an orange body sprouting out it, waving towards someone off to the side before stopping.

Their gaze craned towards their group by the moment-

And then, Sue felt a familiar, giddy sensation and caught a whiff of the pleasant aroma from before. Before she could even turn around, an excited, whistled message had reached her mind, accompanied by a couple of leafy pats on her shoulder.

“Want another fruit?”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 15: Warmth


the gay agenda

Chapter 15: Warmth

The leafy dancer’s reappearance took Sue aback, but she appreciated it greatly.

Her wide eyes soon gave way to a soft, giddy smile as she eyed out another peach-like fruit in their hands. Barring Solstice and Sundance, they were the closest to her height out of everyone she’d met so far. Still a few inches shorter, though, the pink bloom that sprouted out from their forehead at Sue’s eye level.

They immediately tried to make up for the height disparity by standing on the tips of their yellow feet, to Sue’s amusement.

Nuh-uh, I’m the taller one.

Sue's attempt to replicate that motion with her one functional leg accomplished nothing except make her briefly lose her balance. She didn’t end up needing it, but the stranger’s wordless readiness to help the moment it looked like she was about to trip over was deeply appreciated.

“Oh, sure! Thank you!”

To Sue’s surprise, her words took them aback more than her near-fall. They backed up a couple paces as they gathered enough composure to speak again, enthusiasm in their voice giving way to worry.

“Y-you talk?”

Sue blinked in response to the nervous question, suddenly very unsure about what was going on.

“Yeah! I-I don’t know the language, but Sundance is helping translate me.”

The once-human’s remark had the dancer look at the firefox with uncertainty. She had no more idea of the reason behind the sudden shift in mood than her pupil, speaking up shortly after.

“Is everything alright, Lilly?”


As the freshly christened plant lady gathered her words, Sue felt worry build up inside her. She had no idea where it came from, but she still wanted to help, reaching out with her hand as she put as confident of a smile as she was capable of.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Lilly! Thank you for the berries earlier.”

Despite Sue having little confidence in her gesture accomplishing much beyond confusing Lilly further, her reaction turned out to be markedly positive. The dancer’s stress waned as she walked over—

And misinterpreted the Forest Guardian’s action as an invitation for an awkward hug, accepting it eagerly.

Her leafy body was smooth, warm, and firm in its embrace. The absence of a heartbeat was a bit odd, but between it all being immensely pleasant and equally flustering, it was the last thing Sue was focused on.

“N-Nice meet you too. I... I think you not talk, a-and... not care me not talk good.”

Even with Sundance’s translation, Lilly turned out to be trickier to understand than expected. The most likely culprit of her not knowing Moonview’s language well made Sue’s smile all that much warmer and more empathetic.

“Oh, it’s absolutely okay, I’m still learning the language too!”

Contrary to what Sue hoped, her reassurance fell completely flat. Lilly felt even more uncertain afterwards, twitching as if to withdraw herself from the hug before reconsidering and attempting to explain again.

“No no, I- I know language, I understand. But... words, using words, very hard. F-for me. I sorry.”

“Wh-why are you sorry? You’ve done nothing wrong! You still were really nice to me earlier and now with the berries.”

As much as Sue wanted to reassure Lilly that everything was alright—and it was—she couldn’t say she wasn’t curious about what did she mean by words being hard for her. Though that curiosity was probably best left for some other time.

To the once-human’s relief, her reassurance made Lilly’s head and thoughts alike perk up. A few more firm nods did away at any remaining doubt in the flower girl’s mind, her joyous relief expressed with another, much tighter hug.

Almost too tight, in fact.

The flimsy leaf arms put out surprising amounts of force as they wrapped around Sue’s thin body. They almost crushed her breath out of her lungs before Lilly realized she’s gone too hard and eased out. Her headspace briefly shifted towards apology, before deciding to enact it with a much gentler hug instead.

Sue didn’t mind one bit, gently patting her back all the while.

Hopefully that’s not an inappropriate area…

“Sorry! Just—happy you not care me not talk good.”

“It’s all good, phew. I sure wasn’t expecting you to be this strong!”

Sue’s remark had Lilly break into whistly giggling, letting go of the Forest Guardian before lifting her arms as if to flex them.

The elongated leaves remained completely flat throughout.

Lilly followed up on her absence of a flex by throwing the fruit up and repeating her glowing arm slice technique from earlier. With the fruit split in twain, she carefully snatched both halves from the air and offered them to Sue and Joy, balancing herself on the tip of one foot during this entire process.

“Yes! Very strong. I help farm! Want see?”

Yes, yes I really do.

Both of the recipients of Lilly’s gift expressed their approval with a firm nod. Joy’s more limited perspective was quickly fixed with the dancer picking her up as if she weighed nothing and turning towards the mixed use farmland.

Before Sue could get concerned about Joy getting scared, the metal girl’s own reaction was a more positive kind of surprise. Even the fruit in her small hands became a distant second concern as she used her new vantage point for all it was worth, taking all the sights in.

Lilly was much too eager to show off to even think of stopping—though that didn’t mean she didn’t wait for Sue to finish walking her way over to the nearest unharvested tree. She stalled for time by running, spinning, and dancing circles around Sue, much to her own and even Joy’s amusement. Throws were quickly discarded as an option though, the whine of fear that went through Joy at being tossed a few feet in the air clear enough for Lilly to get the message.

“Sorry! Here is, need clean this tree now.”

The cart next to the tree in question answered where Sue and Joy’s recent gift had come from. A handful of the not-peaches peeked out from underneath the mound of yellow, spotted fruit piling on top of it.

The same fruit that Lilly had to harvest another tree’s worth of now.

It looked like such a daunting task that Sue almost wanted to offer some token help, just so that she wouldn’t have to watch the dancer sweat her leaves off for two hours. Thankfully, Lilly was privy to a secret farming trick that helped immensely with her task.

Namely, kicking the tree’s trunk very, very hard.

Lilly’s single strike was enough to separate the tree from most of the spoils, even visibly shaking the surrounding soil. The plant itself only stayed intact through what Sue had to assume was the sheer force of the plant girl’s will.

She sure eats her broccoli, hah. Or maybe she is half broccoli, who knows with the weird plant-like fauna here.

Regardless of what kind of Superpower had fueled Lilly’s kick, her job wasn’t done yet. Fruit in the dirt wasn’t any more useful than fruits still on a branch, and Lilly was well aware. She was about to dive into more of her showoff before remembering she was currently holding a toddler.

Instead, she comically slowly lowered Joy down onto the soil, patted her head a couple times, and then got into it.

Yellow feet and green arms were little more than a blur as Lilly tossed each individual fruit off the ground and into the cart, sparing no effort to show off her dexterity throughout. Spins, cartwheels, backflips, a few more splits just for the hell of it. Her demonstration had it all, just as many feats of physical agility as it had glances in Sue’s direction to keep track of Sue’s live reaction.

Despite that reaction having started out dumbfounded at all the sudden motion, it had quickly turned into cheers and encouragement. Lilly’s dance routine pushed her ever closer to victory over a hearty pile of inanimate fruit with each step, and Sue couldn’t get enough of it.

Goodness, she’s graceful. And… pretty…

Once the fallen fruit had been gathered up, Lilly’s focus shifted towards the few stragglers that still held on for dear life to their branches. A few quick hops up the tree later, the dancer had made it to the largest branch. All she needed to address each straggling fruit was the daintiest of stomps on the corresponding branches; a stomp said branches only barely survived.

Or didn’t on a couple of occasions, making Lilly freeze self-consciously each time. Thankfully, even the embarrassment at having damaged the tree didn’t survive the sight of Sue’s warm enthusiasm, sparking the dancer back to action each time.

As Lilly wrapped her performance up, Sue reminded herself that despite the child beside her and the probably-not-child pulling off anime moves on the tree before her taking the entirety of her attention, they weren’t alone in here. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed what the two older women were up to.

Solstice was by far the more responsible one. She was busy chatting with a couple of villagers Sue remembered seeing around Moonview over the past several days, but of whom she knew very little about. A large, white, cotton-like sphere with something small and greenish hanging from its side, and a blue amphibian her size with orange gills and black fins.

Meanwhile, Sundance stood just a few feet away, munching on a freshly nabbed yellow fruit. Clearly no less enthralled by Lilly’s demonstration than its intended recipient was.

With the last of the fruits placed in the cart, it was time to wrap up the show.

Sue’s focus returned to the dancer right as she finished climbing to the top of the tree, stopping for the first time in minutes as she spread her arms wide and closed her eyes. And then, she jumped, hitting no less than four front flips in one leap before capping it off with yet another split.

The easiest 10 in my life.

All she needed to convey that fact was a large piece of paper, a charcoal stick, and an hour to explain the decimal number system.

Or… just words.

“That was awesome!”

Much to Sue’s astonishment, Lilly took her glowing review very, very literally.

The dancer closed her eyes before her upper half became surrounded in a pale white glow, much more intense than any magic Sue had seen so far. Concern filled Sue’s mind at the sight—but then, as abruptly as it began, it was over; Lilly suddenly left weaker, panting quietly.

“L-Lilly, are you alright?”

The worry in Sue’s voice caught the attention of both the question’s recipient and Sundance. Lilly took answering it upon herself before the vixen could speak up. She picked herself back up in one swift motion and dashed over to Sue—but not before nabbing one of the freshly harvested fruits for herself.

Her subsequent bite revealed her mouth to be in the usual spot. It was just small and very, very well hidden.

“Yeah! You like?”

“I- It was amazing! I-I could keep on watching for ages, but what was that glow?”


Sundance’s interjection had Lilly agree emphatically, while internally thanking the vixen for not having to explain how it worked herself. Instead, she simply pointed at the only half-figurative fruits of her effort. Dozens of tiny, whitish buds covered the freshly harvested branches, some of them Sue swore she could see grow in real time.

“Wait, are these—are these already flower buds?”

“Yep. Some coaxing and nutrients, and trees don’t mind flowering again one bit. Am I understanding it right, Lilly?”

“Yeah, now they grow fruit again. More fruit to pick up in week. Everyone hungry, we need food!”

Sue was too much of a city girl to know whether that was how normal trees functioned back in her world. Because if it was, then Moonview had managed to solve world hunger by just telling trees to flower again with some applied pretty plant lady magic.

And the implications of that fact hit right away.

“D-does that mean you have as much food as you want?”

“Pretty much.”

“Hehe. You not see that before?”

Sue could only shake her head in dumbfounded confusion. A downward glance revealed Joy to be similarly stupefied by Lilly’s feat of magic.

“I understand you not see Joy, you very small! But you not too...”

It was only then, after an entire performance, that Lilly finally realized that she forgot to ask the nice not-mute-in-the-end Forest Guardian for her name.

The firefox sage barked out a chuckle as she cut through the confusion, walking over to the rest of the group.

“Her name is Sue, Lilly.”

Figure it’s only fair for us both to fluster each other without even knowing the other’s name.

“Sue! Good know, nice name. Sue, you not see that before?”

“No, I haven’t, that’s—that’s amazing! How did you all figure that out?”

“Figure what. Synthesis?”

“I-I think so! Does it make the trees bloom again like that?”

Both Lilly and Sundance were confused by the unclear wording of Sue’s question. Thankfully, the latter had ways of overcoming that uncertainty and wasted no time in putting them to good use. The Forest Guardian blinked a couple times as her thoughts were examined, the hangup soon revealing itself to the vixen.

“Oh, I see what Sue was getting at. Berry trees bloom multiple times throughout the year on their own Sue, and Synthesis just helps speed that process up. Did I get that right, Lilly?”

“Yeah! With not, one moon in warm, never in cold. With, one week in warm, one moon in cold. Help many, help more with good ground. And—hi Bluegrass!”


Lilly’s impromptu greeting snagged Sue’s attention over to the more palatable of the duo she’d seen recently. The leafy green-cream snake was smiling brightly at the dancer, slithering in a small circle from all the giddiness on his mind.

“How day go?”

“Excellent! I’m almost done with that field you gave me!”

Bluegrass’s voice was simultaneously too old to be boyish, and too young to be truly grown up, sliding around the teen halfway point as it raised and occasionally broke. Being able to report on his progress excited him further, to Lilly’s enthusiasm.

“Remember take time! No hurry, now learning. On break?”

“No, better! Copper got the idea to bring everyone some frozen juice, Mrs. Snowdrop froze it for us! We’ve got a whole—”

After a glance off to the side didn’t reveal the large pot the snake and his friend spent the last half hour dragging along with themselves, Bluegrass was stumped. He slithered in a circle again, looking around for where it could’ve gone before finally spotting the half-emptied pot.

Which was slowly dragged behind the freshly cleared tree by the one and only pink scorpion bat themselves.

“Copper, what are you doing, come on!”

Wasting no more time, the snake slithered over to the flying scorpion, the hisses, clicks and growls that followed remaining untranslated. Before Sue could feel thankful towards the snake or angry at the bat, footsteps coming from behind her made her turn around.

Just in time for Solstice and the small group she had been talking with to finish making their way over in response to Lilly’s waving.

The ‘cotton ball’ moniker Sue had used earlier turned out to be only partially true. Sure, they were partly a cotton sphere the size of a beach ball with a bunch of small seeds scattered in it, but with the greenish extension containing their eyes and mouth, it was probably their ‘true’ body. With the white fluff being their… hair?

Step aside Thistle, your pastel wizard hat has some serious competition for the title of the weirdest ‘hair’ in this world.

“Is something the matter, Lilly?”

Cotton ball’s voice was old, unusually dry for a plant, and very patient. Its speaker’s ancient age was made even clearer by them closing their eyes afterwards as they listened in.

“Mr. Equinox, I tell Sue about how we grow here, and how you help make good ground. And you too High Tide!”

The blue quadruped responded to the followup with a dry chuckle, shaking their head as they clarified.

“I only help with irrigation, sweetie. No less important, of course, but soil quality is all Equinox. Though… irrigation is our greatest concern right now.”

“How long do you think until we’ll have to expand our waterways, High Tide?” - Solstice’s question had the blue amphibian firmly shake her head and look pensively at the increasingly pitiful stream that sated the farm’s thirst.

“Just expanding it won’t do anything. We’ll need to move the farms way downstream sooner or later. We’re pushing the limits of our stream, and could stand to shrink the land we use right now to leave us with a larger buffer, just in case.”

That wasn’t an answer Solstice would’ve liked to hear, but it was a truthful one all the same. It left the Mayor in a thoughtful mood as the cotton ball chimed in.

“Taking a closer look at the individual varieties we are cultivating will certainly prove helpful. I can think of at least three crops whose bulk inevitably circles around to the compost pile. Doing away with those and the thirstiest ones should be sufficient to bring us back to safety for the time being, no?”

“For now, yes. Though if we keep growing at our current rate, we’ll need another effort like that in just a couple of years. I sure don’t see it getting any easier then. We need a longer-term plan.”

“We ought to ensure that any such plan is considerate enough. Even if we are capable of reaching far downstream, it is far from unlikely we inadvertently end up rubbing shoulders with someone less than pleased about our arrival there. Or, more likely, that we underestimate the scope of such an endeavor in one aspect or another.”

Solstice largely remained quiet, taking in the information one bit at a time and trying to work through its implications. Eventually, she had to admit internal defeat with a sigh.

“We can bring it up at the Elders’ Council. You’re right, High Tide, we need a plan, only so long we can keep doing things the way the founders did a century ago.”

“Thankfully, we still have time aplenty before it gets dire, but best get that done while we can do so calmly.”

“Indubitably. I would rather avoid straining the soil any further than we already are, and more land will help with that concern as well.”

As the trio mentally reset following the discussion about steering Moonview away from a possible ecological crisis, they realized they’ve had an audience for the last few moments. Most everyone else around was staring at them blankly except for Lilly, the dancer chiming in with her own question soon after.

“Mrs. High Tide! How far down river to more water?”

The blue one took a moment to parse the exact intent of Lilly’s question before sighing quietly. This was the hitch of the whole thing, wasn’t it.

“Last time I swam over to scout—our stream joins the larger river a couple days of march away. At that point, it’d be less of ‘our’ farm and more so its whole separate settlement that provides us with food. Hard to solve...”

“Which is why more voices will help a lot~. Thank you for your expertise, Equinox, High Tide.”

“You are most welcome, Solstice~.”

“Eeyup. We can figure it out, even if the transition will be rough—we’ve survived worse. Oh, Lilly, is that the girl Soot has been teasing you the whole day about?”

The attention being abrutly drawn back to Sue snapped her out of passively taking in the informed discussion around her. Both she and Lilly suddenly exploded in bright embarrassment, the latter speaking up in her own defense soon after.

“I not know what you mean—”

“Yessss you do~”

The rustling, croaky voice sent an icy chill down Sue’s spine as she turned around. Its speaker turned out to be the same pumpkin-bodied being Sue had seen earlier a few times. The glowing holes in the lower half of its body still resembled a face, and its orange hair being prehensile was still weird.

And, more relevant to the exchange at hand, they were giggling mischeviously.

“Soot! Why you sneak!?”

“Because it’sss very funny to watch your reactionssss~.”

Soot’s voice sounded ethereal, not unlike Hazel’s in that regard. Though, as opposed to that grump of a ghost, Soot felt much more lighthearted in their teasing, even if they were no less effective at flustering her target.

Lilly grumble-whistled angrily as she searched for words. As weird as it felt to be used as a subject of teasing, Sue didn’t want to leave Lilly to dry in here. She patted the dancer’s shoulder for reassurance; the gesture appreciated right away.

“Adorable~. Though I can’t imagine work isss the best sssspot for a date~.”


The fluster underlining Lilly’s shouted denial was intense, and Sue couldn’t say to be faring any better. She was entirely unsure what to do at the realization of being on a date, no matter how obvious it was in hindsight.

“Denial won’t get you far Lillssss~.”


“No~! I’d sssay you two head off and enjoy the evening together~.”

“B-but, harvest—”

“Oh Lillssss, you really thought I wasss gonna be a wingghost for you just to have you sssslump away with the harvest all evening? You go have fun with your crush, I’ll take care of thisss~.”


Lilly didn’t have it in her to finish the sentence, unable to put words to such an obvious lie in any remotely believable way. Meanwhile, Sue was still stuck in a mental bluescreen, her expression completely blank.

“You’re good at many thingssss Lillssss, but a liar you’re not~. Off you go now, ya dorkssss~.”

As respectable of a job as Solstice and especially Sundance were doing of keeping themselves from laughing out loud at the exchange in front of them, Soot’s last reply broke the dam for both of them. Embarrassment flooded Sue’s mind despite how good-spirited their amusement was; the once-human left to try gathering any words and failing miserably every time.

Thankfully, Lilly was there, snapping them out of their shared mental freeze. She picked the giggling Joy up into one arm and grabbed Sue’s hand with the other one, the firm yank away from the snickering pumpkin getting her crush to move. The rest of their makeshift band were right behind them as they all headed… Duck knows where.

It took both Lilly and Sue a few minutes to calm down enough to process anything but their own embarrassment. The intermittent chuckles coming from the duo of older women trailing them didn’t help either.

And neither did the fact that Sue’s hand was being held by someone actively crushing on her.

And the worst part… I don’t think I mind one bit.

“I-is that true, Lilly?”

The flower girl didn’t have to speak up for her answer to be crystal clear to Sue’s sight and sixth sense alike. Bright red fluster grew on her cheek, her step flinched, her grip on Sue’s hand waned, her head looked away as if struck. Understandable as her reaction was, it was the polar opposite of what Sue wanted to happen.

“Oh, it’s all good Lilly, promise! I—”

It was much too early to say how much Sue earnestly shared Lilly’s feelings on the matter. But, if nothing else, she was really eager to find that out. She held the leafy dancer’s hand as firmly as she could while hobbling along beside her.

“I think it’s really sweet of you. And—”

Good Duck, did Sue never think she’d get to say these words one day. Especially to a creature that looked like much more of a plant than an animal, if it was any of the latter at all.

Since when were plants allowed to be so cute, Duckdammit!?

“I’m down for a date!”

Lilly’s reaction was instantaneous, and almost strong enough to topple Sue over—but only almost. Her forceful hug had her press her white face into Sue’s shoulder, the yellow petals around her neck tickling the Forest Guardian as her and Joy’s brain played catchup. The toothy girl suddenly found herself hugging her big friend once more. And, just like Sue, didn’t mind that arrangement one bit.

“Th-thank, thank, thank...”

Sue’s giggles made Lilly squirm as she tried responding in a more affectionate way. She gently patted around the gorgeous bloom, its aroma growing more pleasant by the moment. Her magical touch to the back of Lilly’s head and neck proved super effective, at least if her leafy body gradually relaxing was any sign.

“It’s my pleasure Lilly. F-first time anything like that happened to me, hah...”

“What! Not believe.”

The conviction in Lilly’s voice took Sue aback. She had no idea why would that be such an unbelievable thing to say.

“Why not?”

“You nice! To sister, to me, to Joy most! You brave, help Spark. Morning I-I think have not chance i-if you can speak.”

...oh man.

As soon as Sue thought she was getting a grip on her own fluster, it was yanked out right from underneath her. Lilly’s compliment left her mumbling for a few moments before trying to steer the topic away from herself.

“You really owe Soot one, eh?”

Joy found the quip especially amusing. Her dry laughter soon spread to the other two; even Lilly’s grumbling had to give way to amusement at the accuracy of Sue’s point and Joy’s reaction.

“Yes, yes... they right. I thank them tomorrow.”

The sensation of Lilly’s hand in hers brought an involuntary smile to Sue’s face as the two marched forwards. Neither of them was sure where they were heading as they marched on through Moonview’s outskirts—

“Lilly, where are you going?”

—and if not for Sundance’s intervention, they would’ve likely kept going like this for hours. The firefox’s words finally made Lilly pause and take a look around her surroundings, before admitting the obvious.

“Uh. Not know. Sorry.”

Sundance’s lungs wouldn’t be spared any reprieve today, would they.

The mystic broke into a bellowing laughter for Duck knows which time today. She appreciated the antics so, so much more than all the dark gloom of yesterday, laying her paws on both dorks’ shoulders as she caught up with them.

“Well! High time we head over for drinks; the sun’s about to start setting. And since Sue will take her time—mind running ahead and grabbing seats for us all, Lilly? It’ll be a while before we get there.”

A part of Sue wanted to object to that. Less so because of being blamed for the group’s slowness, and more so because it meant Lilly would be somewhere else until they caught up with her.

Lilly felt much the same, but with the important addition of having a chance to prove her worth and do something nice for Sue. The dancer didn’t care about having a seat, but Sue sure looked like she’d need it, too.


Before Sue, or Joy for that matter, could get a word in edgewise, the dancer was already on her way, the toothy girl still in her arms. Sue’s free hand involuntarily reached out after her, only to slowly droop as Lilly turned the corner.

A few more of Sundance’s warm pets snapped her out of any funk that threatened to start building. Her smirk, however, only embarrassed Sue further.

“How did it go again? ‘Don’t swing that way?’”

Sue’s low grumble brought not a small amount of amusement to Sundance and Solstice alike, the latter only now having caught up with the rest of the group. The older Forest Guardian took the initiative and pulled her pupil into a gentle side hug, the gesture as tingly as it was comforting.

“Oh, don’t be embarrassed Sue! These things can take a while and a good few opportunities to really solidify. I didn’t even know I could have a thing for boys until I met Jasper.”

Even if that wasn’t how Sue thought Solstice’s words were gonna go, they raised a fair point all the same. She was very aware of her utter absence of serious romantic opportunities back in her home world; she could stand to give herself some slack.

On a second thought, it’s not like these were entirely her own thoughts making her all flustered—

“I- I think I’m more embarrassed because you two k-keep ribbing us...”

“...can you blame us?”

No, Sundance, I can’t. Doesn’t mean it’s any less embarrassing.

The unspoken response sent a wave of amusement through the psychic trio as they got going. Sue not being excluded from this wave of giggles helped in keeping her embarrassment down.

The next few moments were spent in well-needed silence. Everyone caught their breath and composed themselves again, the two older psychics wordlessly agreeing to lay off any further teasing for now.

And instead, bring on some interesting questions raised earlier.

“^So, you’ve got me curious now, Sue. Do fruit trees not bloom several times a year where you’re from?^”

The change in subject to something much more grounded helped Sue maintain her composure. Bit by bit, not-monstrous butterflies vacated her stomach as they were replaced by stirring thoughts in her head. She couldn’t honestly say she knew anything about the non-digital world with absolute, 100% certainty, but she had a good-enough intuition, and hoped it would suffice for now.

“Yeah, as far as I know all plants only bloom once a year i-in my world.”

“^Don’t your people have any invention or process to help with their growth?^”

“There are fertilizers, but they only help with yields, and not with how fast the plants grow.”

Now that was a curious observation for Sundance and Solstice alike.

“^If one harvest a year is all you get, you likely need a ton of farmland and storage...^”

“Mhm. I was really surprised by how small your farm was before you explained that part to me. I-I don’t think that would’ve been enough to feed a village ten times smaller than Moonview in my world.”

The remark had the two natives of this world glance at each other before looking back at Sue, Sundance being the first to raise the obvious question first.

“^How... big are the farms in your world?^”

How big is England again?

“From horizon to horizon, they’re big enough to take up most of the space in farming regions.”

The answer only resulted in further confusion, and a large unanswered question suddenly being brought to light in a very stark way. Solstice blurted it loud out in dumbfounded shock.

“^J-just how big is your world, Sue?^”

“I- what do you mean?”

“^How massive is your town to necessitate having such vast swaths of land dedicated to just growing crops?^”

“It’s not just a town, it’s everywhere!”


It was hard to say which of the three was the most confused at the way the discussion devolved. Sue tried her absolute hardest to think through just what was so confusing to grasp for these two intelligent women.

And then, the realization hit her across the head.

To them, ‘society’ was Moonview and a handful of other, equally small distant towns.

To her, ‘society’ was the entire planet.

“Okay, I think I know what the misunderstanding is. My-my people, humans, they aren’t just in like, one area of the world, or a handful of towns. They’re everywhere, we live on our entire planet. Every land mass has peo- humans living on it, and controlling all of it.”

Every surprising revelation either of them had about the other’s world was dwarfed by Sue’s admission to such a comical degree that neither Solstice nor Sundance had any idea how to respond.

For a few tense moments, Sue feared that she’d managed to completely brick their minds with that simple, but astonishing revelation. Sundance was the first to show any signs of life afterwards, her dumbstruck gaze slowly looking down at the grassy dirt of the path they were blocking. The increasingly orange light of the sunset illuminated the vixen’s expression as her mind tried to comprehend all the implications of what she’d just heard.

“^How- how many. Of your people.^”

Sue slunk off to the side to clear the path; her answer as clear to state as it was utterly impossible to comprehend in full.

“A-almost eight billion.”

“^E-eight... thousand... thousand... thousand...^”

Every single word of that estimation represented a leap in sophistication of a population that was nigh impossible to comprehend to those whose lives revolved around the scale of the previous ones.

Just as few animals sharing a burrow was a massive step up from a solitary existence in almost every way, so would their Moonview completely blow the minds of said burrowful of critters, so would the complexities and intricacies of a city of several million go way beyond what anyone living here could imagine.

And the full extent of Sue’s civilization was another leap in scale up from that, still.

Each of those jumps represented profound changes to every single aspect of the lives of their inhabitants and the exponential increase of complexity of most of them.

Hunting on one’s lonesome, versus stockpiling food as a group, versus division of labor with dedicated farmers and cooks. Further up, specialized distribution networks purely for moving food from mind-bendingly vast fields to hungry mouths.

And then, at the largest scale, an intricate tapestry of a planet-spanning trade network. One in which months of the year were reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet and where the climate limitations of the most popular crops were footnotes whose significance evaporated with the existence of global shipping.

Such complexity was quite literally incomprehensible to a singular mind. No person could ever be said to grasp the sheer vastness of a planet-spanning population like that in earnest. Mortal minds weren’t made for that.

And yet, for a brief instant, Sundance almost accomplished that feat.

Her mind’s eye stared at what felt like infinity for one enlightening moment before it too had to back down with a pounding headache. In just a few moments, her stunned silence gave way to woofed grumbling and trying to rub away the aching with her paws.

“^I have... so many questions.^”

Sue almost felt rude for laughing at Sundance’s admission—but only almost. She sure wouldn’t say no to some comeuppance. The vixen was much too stunned to even acknowledge the soft laughter. Before the firefox could put words to any of those questions, Solstice cut her off.

The Mayor’s mind might’ve given up in imagining Sue’s world at around a million souls, but that didn’t mean she was blind to implications of her supposedly global civilization.

“^W-what about other peoples? Do they live together with your people everywhere?^”

Oof, that’ll be… a touchy one to explain.

The truth that followed was far less incomprehensible than it was simply unimaginable.

“Th-there aren’t any other people, no other... thinking people, it’s just humans.”

“^Thinking as in—^” - Sundance tried to butt in, hoping she or Sue were just misunderstanding something.

“Thinking as in consciousness. Every other species in my world isn’t conscious, they’re just... animals.”

Hearing words like that from anyone else in Moonview would’ve been easily classified as hate speech. The belief that only one’s own kin ever had sentience or morals was not an uncommon one in the wild, and many newcomers had to consciously unlearn that way of thinking. Sue clearly had no problems with treating other species as equals—which only made such a blunt assertion hit even harder.

Was her world truly as nightmarish as she was painting it to be?

“^Do you kn-know for sure?^” - Solstice’s question felt less like an honest inquiry and more like a plea for such a vulgar fact to be merely a limitation of Sue’s kin.

“I- no, I don’t think so. We aren’t psychics, there aren’t any psychics in our world. But no other species seem to be capable of communication or building settlements like we are, and we’ve been trying to figure out if any of them are close to our intelligence for a while. From what I remember, only one or two species came even slightly close.”

It wasn’t certainty, no, but it was as close as Sue could get in the heat of the moment. The other very carefully crammed the unpleasant fact into their minds in such a way that it only touched ‘Sue’s world’.

The worries about that way of thinking infecting any other part of her mind made Solstice shiver.

“^I-I have no idea how to imagine a world like that, honestly. Back when I- when I grew up with my clan, that kind of attitude was everywhere. But even those that expressed it didn’t really believe in it, it was just too easily disproved by stepping out of the borders of our settlement and looking around for even just a few moments... To hear it’s the prevailing attitude in your world, and that it even could be correct is... depressing.^”

My world isn’t depr-

Actually no, scratch that, it absolutely is. But not because humans are the only sentient species, there are so many other, much more valid reasons for it being depressing!

“I... can’t say I agree, even if I do prefer the diversity here.”

The sobering subject didn’t do any of the trio any good to think about for longer. They all resumed their march as Sundance came up with a much more intellectually stimulating question, as opposed to more depression fodder.

“^To bring up something less... morbid to think about. How does housing work in your world? Where do these eight… billions of people sleep?^”

A question like that didn’t have any singular answer, but it didn’t need to in order to work well as a distraction. Both Sue and Solstice got to thinking, even if the latter only kept coming up with super-sized versions of buildings in Moonview.

“It really depends, but for cities with millions of people, it’s mostly apartment buildings. Like this one over here, just stacked on top of itself.” - Sue accompanied her explanation by pointing a finger at a rectangular stone building, unlike the one Solstice’s dwelling rested on. The elaboration helped, but it still left many details unspoken.

“^I imagine these ‘apartment’ buildings also have staircases to enable movement from one floor to another? How many floors are we talking about? Two? Even three?^"

Hell, even two would be a vast improvement in many suburban areas…

“Mostly elevators, but stairs are used everywhere, too. And no, many more than two or three. The one I grew up in was eight floors, but there are many that are even bigger, like fifteen or even twenty.”

To her own annoyance, Sundance had a much harder time grasping how a building of that size would look compared to the incomparably more intricate tapestry of Sue’s world as a whole. It made her stop abruptly and reach out with her paws to help herself visualize it all.

She horizontally outstretched one finger from each paw. One ended up where the building Sue used as a reference touched the ground, and the other at its roof, both from the vixen’s perspective. Then, she moved the upper finger by the same distance that had initially separated it from the lower one to visualize another floor being added.

And then another, and another, and another.

The firefox’s eyes went wide as her head craned upwards. She had run out of reach less than a dozen floors in. By the time she was done visualizing even twenty floors, she was staring almost directly straight up.

“^...what the fuck. How?^”

“Do you get why we have dedicated building inspectors now?”

“^Dedicated what?^”

“^I think I’m beginning to understand now, yeah...^”

It took Sundance a good while to shake that particular strand of confusion off. Her attempt at imagining the sheer amount of raw material and stresses involved failed entirely, forcing her to admit internal defeat with a slump.

“^What did you mean by ‘building inspectors’?^”

“Oh, they’re just people that check on buildings that are being built and make sure they’re safe and won’t fal-AH!”

Before Sue could continue pretending to understand the field of structural engineering enough to comment on what went into building safety, she felt her feeble balance be yanked out from underneath her. Solstice’s intervention kept Sue on her legs for long enough for the younger Forest Guardian to finish stabilizing herself.

The entire trio tried to figure out what had just happened—and found their suspect in a piece of wood sticking out of the wall they had just passed by. Now decorated with a shred of Forest Guardian dress, helplessly fluttering in the evening breeze.

“^You alright, Sue?^”

“Yes, yes. It’s j-just annoying.”

“^Sounds like you could use a trim then—oh good Moon, you really should get a trim. I hadn’t realized how roughed up your dress was until now.^”

A glance downwards revealed said dress to be in a miserable state, even barring the two larger holes. Its edges were tattered and stained with dirt. It was almost enough to cross the line into the territory of disgusting. Sue dearly hoped that nobody else had been paying much attention to it either, Lilly most of all.

Though… Solstice’s wording took her aback a bit.

“T-trim? Like with scissors?”

“^What? No, just a simple flint knife. I have one made just for this at my tent that I could grab for you. Though, if we’re doing that, you’ll need to wash them first. The rest of you won’t hurt to be a bit cleaner either, heh.^”

Sue wasn’t sure whether to take offense at Solstice’s words. She tried to sniff herself, not picking up on anything particularly offensive. Though, considering her crutch arm was sticky to the touch despite her not remembering sweating at any point during her stay here, she figured out she really should shower, anyway.

“Fine, fine. Wh-where are the showers here?”

“^Showers? Unsure what those are, but I’m sure our baths can fill the same purpose. Can you take her over there while I grab the knife, Sundance?^”

“^Sure thing. Let’s all meet at the table Lilly grabs for us. Just don’t drag me into the water with yourself Sue.^”

With Solstice dashing towards the quickly creeping sunset, Sue was only left with Sundance and her stern-sounding remark.

Can’t imagine a fire-aligned creature enjoying being splashed with water much…

“W-would that hurt you?”

“^Oh no, no, it’s just unpleasant. I prefer sand baths when possible. Annoyingly, a good, clean sand like that is hard to find around here...^”

The proximity to Sundance’s bodily warmth made for a pleasant sensation throughout their evening stroll. It'd likely still take a while before they’d get there, giving Sue more time to work through some of her own remaining conundrums about this world.

Starting with the one that has been persistently evading being answered for a few days now.

“So, Sundance... what is evolution?”

The surprised stare the vixen gave her pupil might have been nothing compared to the ones in response to the borderline mind-shattering realizations from earlier, but it was still more shock than Sundance usually showed. She needed a moment to sort her thoughts out, eventually answering with her own question.

“^...I’m less surprised about you simply not knowing about evolution, and more so about that being the case despite your language having that word. If you wouldn’t mind answering, what does your kind of ‘evolution’ mean, Sue?^”

Sue was less annoyed at her question being deftly dodged yet again, and more flustered about her tattered and woefully lacking knowledge of biology being suddenly brought into the spotlight. She hoped against all hope that despite all her C+’s and B-’s, she still understood the topic enough to give a competent answer.

“So, um... you have a population of a certain species, and it reproduces with variations. And then, like, the environment will prefer some variations over others, so when... Actually, think of a species of birds that feed on nuts. And they migrate to a different place with different nuts, which are harder to break. Then the ones that ended up with bigger beaks by chance will be able t-to break the harder nuts easier. They’ll be more likely to survive and pass their genes on, a-and eventually the population will be almost entirely bigger beaks.”

This was the most bastardized version of Darwin’s Finches ever spoken, good Duck.

Regardless of how scuffed her explanation was, Sue hoped it would prove sufficient. Especially since it was the only concrete example she could recall.

Fortunately, it seemed like that was indeed the case. Sundance continued to guide them towards the baths as she chewed on Sue’s idea, scritching her snout and nodding at nothing in particular.

“^Hmm... and then if, say, their environment were to change in such a way that the access to pyrokinesis would prove advantageous, that population would then eventually gain the Fire typing?^”

If not for them taking up a hefty part of a narrow, yet busy path, Sue would’ve stopped on the spot and asked the firefox to explain all that again, but slowly. Instead, she just hoped that Sundance’s smarts had her figure out the gist, even if her chosen example was completely incomprehensible.

“I... think so?”

“^I see. Now that I think about it, I’ve heard of a similarly sounding idea before, however only as a tale. Supposedly, there was once a long-lived dragon that lived in a small valley. And, when they thought back at the end of their centuries-long life, they realized that none of the other species looked the same like they used to when they were younger, despite them having never overtly changed. Interesting to hear that there’s some merit to that tale. What’s the limit of a... population change like that? Also, here we are.^”

As Sue mulled over Sundance’s question, their destination finally came to sight.

It took the once-human aback with how luxurious it looked. A handful of hot tubs stood on a large, elevated platform, all but one of them empty, and, judging by the vapor emanating from it, soothingly warm. The sight was alluring enough to make her overlook the pretty large practical obstacle of her ever getting in or out of these tubs in her current state, between her nonexistent athletic skill and having to use a crutch.

Not to mention the cast on her leg.

Before Sue could take another step towards the warm bliss, she found herself gently, yet firmly, held back by Sundance’s mental grip. The orange sheen that surrounded her body was just as warm as she imagined the hot tub’s water to be, making for a perfectly acceptable substitute.

For the approximate four seconds that it lasted.

“Not there~. Don’t have time to soak like that. And even if we did, you’d have to clean yourself the normal way first, anyway.”

The blip of despair in Sue’s mind at the realization of there not being any warm baths in her immediate future didn’t last for long, thankfully. Their actual destination helped to distract her even further.

The large, flat, slightly submerged basin reminded Sue of a vastly oversized shower tray. It was large enough to force anyone stepping through it to clean their feet in the half an inch of standing water that filled it. Any excess that arose was drained off into a short, tiled channel that then led into a small, partially underground structure off to the side.

The occasional sputters of smoke and vapor alike that escaped through its roof gave Sue a decent idea of what went on in there.

Sundance shivering with her entire body after stepping into the shallow water distracted the once-human away from any further observations, making her giggle. And then again, this time in response to the vixen’s eye roll.

To spare herself any further embarrassment, Sundance pointed to where Sue was supposed to go, the display rather modest. A bowl of water on top of a small table at the basin’s edge, one of many. Around it laid a modest wooden pitcher, a thankfully clean hand towel, and… a bar of soap, worn down to the size of a finger.

“Here. Water, soap, a rag, you hopefully know the drill. If not, then my opinion of your entire species is gonna change drastically. Do you want me to help hold you in place so that you can use both hands for this?”

“Um, sure, that’d help.”

“No problem~.”

The sensation of Sundance’s telekinesis once more grasping her, but only her lower half this time, sent a shiver through Sue’s body. Even once she got used to it, she needed a good while afterwards to psych herself into actually letting go of the crutch.

For better or worse, the tool had become a de facto part of her.

The realization that she would be cleaning herself in front of everyone further delayed her getting started. The vestiges of modesty had to be forcefully and painfully beaten out of her mind with how woefully inapplicable they were here.

For all I know, ‘nudity’ as a concept doesn’t even exist here.

Once she was done bashing through these mental blocks, the actual process of cleaning herself was similar to what she was used to, if much, much more rustic. Two more very sensitive spots on her body didn’t help either, even lukewarm water cold enough to make her flinch when it splashed against her horns.

With her cleaning underway, Sue could go back to the curious topic from earlier, looking over towards Sundance, the vixen now leaning on one of the hot tubs.

“A-as to your question—no, there aren’t limits like that, that’s the point. With enough time and changes, the new population will become its own species.”

“^I see... many incremental changes that eventually result in a different species. That’s... fascinating. Hold on, wouldn’t that imply that all living creatures are related to some extent?^”

“I-it does imply exactly that, from what I know.”

Now that was a deep revelation.

The abject absurdity of everything it implied gave Sundance a pause as she looked around the cleaning area. Her thoughts eventually settled on the green-yellow frog restocking the emptied bowls and replacing dirtied towels with freshly steamed ones.

The sheer magnitude of anatomical differences between herself and them was almost unthinkable.

Aside from a roughly bipedal body shape, and a matching number of limbs, they had almost nothing in common anatomically. That she and them were related in some extremely distant, bizarre way was almost too absurd of an idea to consider. And yet, that was exactly what the simple theory that Sue had described implied.

Something to chew through later. After filing the mystery under the category of ‘meditation fodder’, Sundance got back to Sue.

“^Fascinating. All that from just slight changes?^”

“Yep! Slight changes until you have a new species th-that can’t reproduce with the old one.^”

Her elaboration achieved… mixed success. The initial point made Sundance think some more, only for the remark at the end to send her eyebrow way, way up.

“^Why wouldn’t they? Reproduce, I mean.^”

“...because they’re different species?”

“^And? Nobody I could’ve possibly had Spark with was of my kin, and yet she’s just fine.^”



The part of the discussion that any onlookers could overhear made them look at the two in confusion. The blank stares Sue and Sundance gave each other were silly enough to make a couple of passersby laugh. Eventually, the Forest Guardian managed to mumble something out—

“B-but, that’s not how species work!”

“^Why not?^”

Sue didn’t have an answer. Both because she didn’t know enough biology to earnestly argue her position, and because the definition of ‘species’ she was familiar with forbade crossbreeding by definition. No, not even crossbreeding.

Spark wasn’t some hybrid, she absolutely looked like a juvenile form of Sundance’s species. How that was possible despite the vixen having apparently had her with someone of a different species, Sue didn’t know—


Each time Sue brushed over that thought, she risked her spurious imagination finally giving up and attempting to visualize how that process might have looked like.

To the immediate and long-lasting despair of the rest of her mind.

Best to just drop that whole train of thought and not tempt Fate any more.

“I-I don’t know. Alright, I told you what my evolution is like. What about yours?”

Sundance’s confusion only grew at Sue’s sudden subject change. The vixen came perilously close to accidentally uncovering the reason behind that shift, but eventually just went along with her.

“^Well~. Here, ‘evolution’ is a part of most creatures’ lives. It’s the name for the process of changing from one form to another.^”

That sounded... coherent enough, making Sue think of insect metamorphosis.

Though, of course, there was no way something exactly like that applied towards non-insect species. Sue’s arms lathered her midriff on autopilot as she asked for elaboration.

“By change form, you mean… metamorphosis?”

The unfamiliar word had Sundance immediately pick through her mind to find the corresponding imagery. Her paw tapped on the tub’s edge as she analyzed it, eventually shaking her head.

“^Not wholly unlike it, but very different in how it happens, it’s much more... abrupt.^”

“Like what? One moment Spark looks like she does now, and the next like you?”

“^There’s a form in between hers and mine, and the process is more in the range of tens of seconds as opposed to an instant, but… essentially, yes. She’ll feel ill and weak in the days leading up to it. Once it happens, there’ll be a lot of bright, white light, and by the end, she’ll look different altogether and be completely wiped. And then the same thing will happen again in forty seasons or so.^”

“And she’ll look the same the entire way through that period?”

“^Not exactly. She’ll grow a fair bit over the years, but yes, the same in the broad strokes—^”


The piercing, drawn out call had both Sue and Sundance look over towards its source. The accompanying sight brought a brief smile to both before it soured for one of them at the realization of what was Lilly doing.

The few seconds that followed felt stretched in time as the dancer leaped through the air toward the one occupied hot tub, curling up into a cannonball. Jumping from a nearby roof gave her a ton of potential energy—

All of which was transferred into the water as she impacted its surface.

Sue couldn’t even say this was the largest pool splash she’d seen in her life, Lilly’s short stature nowhere near sufficient to claim that title. It certainly was the most sudden, though. The loud noise startled everyone within earshot, and the actual splash wasn’t far behind.

The once-human only got hit by a few stray drops on her cheek, but Sundance wasn’t anywhere near this lucky. Most of her head and right arm got soaked; the mental grip holding Sue upright briefly wavered in response, but thankfully held in the end.

For a few moments, there was only silence as Lilly scrambled to stand back upright. Her whistled laughter was music to Sue’s ears; music that was abruptly cut off after the flower girl’s harrowing realization.

The green head poking out of the hot tub she’d just landed in was not, in fact, Sue’s.

Lilly’s body language shrunk as the head’s owner slowly opened their eyes to examine what had just happened. Water dripped from their yellow, curved beak, their expression frozen as they stared at the dancer.


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Chapter 16: Justice


the gay agenda

Chatper 16: Justice

Thankfully, the point blank recipient of a tidal wave didn’t mind having been splashed once the entire situation was explained to them.

Meanwhile, Lilly’s rounds of apology gave Sue enough time to wrap up her own clean-up, letting them head out soon after. The dancer was a godsend in more than one way, eagerly helping carry the still-wet swaths of Sue’s all-natural dress, protecting them from getting dirty again.

Doubly so, since it let her walk right beside the Forest Guardian she was crushing on the entire way over. Sundance’s ambient warmth was even more appreciated than usual with the creeping evening chill.

The question of who had been watching over the toothy girl was answered once the trio finally arrived at the clearing. Their presence drew various expressions of joy from those gathered, Joy included. The little one waved at them from Astra’s lap, the dragon herself sitting on the grass next to the group’s table as she sipped from a heavy wooden tankard.

And she wasn’t the only one there, either!

Once Comet had scrambled his way out of his and Spark’s play tussle, he greeted the recent arrivals with an elated squeak and an uncoordinated wave. He was held back from rushing over to them by Spark cutting him off the moment Sue sat down. The lil’ firefox leaped onto a seat beside Sue’s, the water saturating her friend’s dress preventing her from dirtying it any more.

“Hi Sue! Why are you so wet!?”


“I-I had to shower.”


“For this~!”

Solstice’s words caught the attention of both the vixen and her favorite once-human as she slid over, holding a short, flint knife. She lightly patted the firefox to make her scoot away and give her better access to Sue’s dress. Spark first attempted to get comfortable on Lilly’s lap, and then, once she realized it was just as wet as Sue’s, she laid down on the ground beside their legs.

“What that?”

“A kind of knife that’s used for trimming our dress, Lilly. Has to be really sharp, but doesn’t need to be very hard. Flint works well for that.”

“Cut dress? Like hair?”

“Yep, Pretty much just like hair! I remember when I was Sue’s age, there were a few very popular trimming patterns where I grew up. I’m gonna try to replicate one of those from memory, ha.”

“Not hurt?”

“Oh no, it’s just dead skin, there’s no sensation there, thankfully. By the Pale Lady, it’d be really bad if there was...”

Sue viscerally felt that comment, even if nowhere near to the same extent as Solstice. The thought of feeling every single blade of grass that her dress rubbed against made the younger Forest Guardian involuntarily cringe. Solstice’s mention of hair tingled Sue’s attention, though.

If the Mayor was any sign, this stiff hairdo was a species-wide trait, but not one Sue particularly enjoyed. The chaos of the past few days may not have left much room in her mind to ponder about how she’d prefer to style it instead, but that was about to change.

“Since you mentioned hair. Are there any ways to straighten it out?”

The question had the older Forest Guardian blink confusedly as she grabbed the nearest flap of dead skin.

“I... think so, though I’ve never explored them in depth. Wouldn’t surprise me if all one needed was a hefty application of heat and an appropriate chemical solution. Still, with just how stiff our kind of hair is, it’ll be a struggle even then, ha.”

“I’d imagine Patina could advise something.”

“Oh, for sure, Sundance. She’s the best person to ask about anything involving fur, and chemistry in general. I remember her mentioning tinkering with making the pigments in her dyes persistent, so that a light rain can’t wash it off. That sounds like a task you could try to get done tomorrow on your own, Sue~. I’m sure Willow won’t mind guiding you over to her workshop.”

“Me too!”

Lilly’s addition was very appreciated, lifting everyone’s mood while making her seem even sweeter. Sue reached around to hold her closer as she chewed through her kneejerk reaction to Solstice’s words.

Her plans were already set, and much different from what everyone gathered wanted them to be.

Thankfully, Lilly’s adorable reaction to being hugged distracted Sue from any further unpleasant pondering in that general direction. Her ecstatic whistle made the Forest Guardian giggle, her delighted thoughts made her blush. It was almost enough to make her overlook almost everything else happening around the table.

But only almost.


The four mugs Sundance had just set down seemed identical to the one Astra had just finished drinking from. Sue’s curious glance at their contents prompted a rather unhelpful comment from the dragon.

“Phew, they spared no punch this time!”

Only one way to find out what this really is, isn’t there.

Sue grabbed the mug with both hands and lifted it to take a good sniff. A multitude of fruity aromas, some of them growing increasingly familiar. Cinnamon, or something treacherously similar to it. A handful of other nose-tingling spices. And, besides all that—

“Oh, it’s just spiced cider, Sue. First time having something like it?”


Aside from a couple of cheap, terrible beers she’d grabbed from some party before regretting it shortly after, she’d never had any booze in her life to begin with. The incomparably nicer scent of this brew was enough to convince her to give that particular poison a second try.


Whatever alcohol the drink contained was the least interesting part of the mix. The mixture of several different kinds of sourness and sweetness was delightful on its own, and was only enhanced further by all the zesty, fresh spices.

Step aside, ethanol, you’re boring.

One gulp was followed by another as Sue got into it, looking around as she worked at her mug.

Lilly was no less enthusiastic than her at the prospect of a good drink. Her warm, leafy body loosened up almost immediately as she leaned on the once-human. The precious sound of her stray hiccup almost made Sue spill some of her own portion in all her giggling.

Further in that direction, Astra was playing with Comet. The little martian’s attention was so attached to the pretty cup in the dragon’s hand that she made him spin as she moved it around, much to her amusement. After one more glance at Sue, Joy finally acted on the infant’s distraction by tickling his exposed sides, sending them both into a playful tussle.

Spark wasted no time before joining in. Her and Joy’s combined efforts made Comet flail on the spot. His desire to laugh struggled against the limitations of this tiny body, high-pitched squeaks interspersed with occasional winded gasps.

The fiery cub wouldn’t remain there for long, especially not after noticing Lilly having dried out in the meantime. With the lil’ psychic exhausted and gasping, she leaped up onto the dancer’s lap and leaned in to nuzzle Sue’s side.

While almost making the once-human spill her drink all over her freshly cleaned flesh garment.

And with how well Solstice’s trimming was going, it would’ve been such a shame for that to happen.

Sue’s eyes studied the pattern as the Mayor went through one flap after another, her expression deeply focused. First, she cut off about three to four inches from the edge of each flap, the excess material forming a small mound under their seats. Each flap’s corners were then rounded into almost a semicircle, and had regularly spaced, lightning bolt shaped notches cut into it.

The real magic happened afterwards. The handful of straight lines she sliced across the bulk of the flap came together to look like a star, without weakening the structural integrity. Solstice couldn’t help but chuckle at noticing Sue’s increasingly tipsy amazement.

“Like the pattern?”

“It’s amazing! D-didn’t think it’d be so pretty...”

“Hah. And this is one of the simpler, more pragmatic designs. I remember some people carving whole artworks on those, usually only one flap at a time. Some folks ended up turning into walking galleries for a while. It was so pretty to look at, ah...”


Solstice’s wistful remark had Sue smile at seeing her mentor revisit some of the good her past offered. Though, her own dress was completely plain aside from being trimmed for length. The once-human wanted to bring that fact up, but eventually erred on the side of not wanting to possibly aggravate any underlying muck.

Only for Lilly to err on the exact opposite side immediately afterwards.

“This very pretty! Why you have not, Solstice?”

The older Forest Guardian paused mid-cut at the words, her body recoiling. She forcibly straightened herself back out with a deep breath, making both of the increasingly drunk women beside her regret the question having been asked.

“It’s, it’s something you’re not supposed to do to yourself, only to others. I-I’ve been trying to hold that tradition. I’m just happy that I finally can...”

If not for the careful procedure being done on her and the sharp knife it involved, Sue would’ve reached out to hold her mentor there and then. Instead, she limited herself to just a drawn out ‘awwwwh’ in between gulps, soon reaching the mug’s bottom.

“It’s alright, don’t you two worry. Maybe once you have a moment, you could try your hand at this too, Sue~?”

“But, I-I don’t-”

“It doesn’t have to be complex. Even a simple pattern along the edges has its beauty to it.”

Sue wasn’t really opposed to that idea, merely worried about possibly messing it up. And if that weight were to be removed, then… maybe?

Maybe I could even give these nicer patterns a stab, ha. Why not?

“Sure then! W-we could try tomorrow?”

“After we’re back? I like the sound of that! Have any specific—”


Astra’s surprised expression snagged Sue’s attention away from her mentor’s words. Thankfully, as opposed to something having possibly happened with the kids, it was aimed at the stony, bipedal rhino that had walked up to her. Sundance was too busy to have noticed their arrival, not including them in her translation.

Thankfully, the dragon’s side was enough to make the exchange’s subject clear.

“What’s up, Bedrock?”

*grumble, grumble*

“Am I free? Well, I’m looking after Joy and Comet right now, not really. Tomorrow? I’m not sure, I’ll have to hear from Root first. What do you have in mind?”

*grumble… grumble grumble, grumble.*

“Aaahh. Umm… sorry Bedrock, I don’t think I’m really interested. Sorry.”

*grumble, grumble!*

“Oh, it’s alright. Well, good luck with your search!”

To give the stony rhino credit, they weren’t discouraged that hard by being shot down again. Especially with the steady chanting coming from the table next to theirs growing louder and louder, as if to cover for them.

Sue and Lilly’s increasingly floaty attention was drawn to the large gray four-arms. The once-human’s increasingly cloudy mind barely fished out the accompanying name of ‘Granite’ from the recesses of her memory as she watched them attempt to down a mug of cider in a single go.

The repetitive cheers came from the rest of the builders’ team, including the friendly blue rhino and soon enough the gray rhino once more. As their intensity grew, they spread to more and more tables and voices. Even Kantaro got convinced eventually, remaining quiet until then despite sitting right beside the four-arms. His low, gravely voice carried the sounds throughout their clearing, their purpose becoming clarified soon after.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon!

And Granite would not disappoint.

He growled triumphantly as he slammed the now emptied mug on the table, utterly shattering it as his growl turned into an elongated burp. Cheers turned into laughter at the situation, but thankfully not at Granite’s expense directly, avoiding any embarrassment that wasn’t self inflicted.

That must be nice.

The sound of another full mug getting set down made Sue grab it on autopilot and take a sip before calling out to the craftsbug.


Hearing an even-cruder-than-usual approximation of his name made the bipedal beetle look at their table and the kinda-mute-but-not-really Forest Guardian that sat beside Solstice. He raised the bit of chitin that vaguely corresponded to an eyebrow at her, but didn’t speak up directly. The quickly thickening haze filling Sue’s mind lowered her inhibitions enough to let her blurt out a question she’s had in the back of her mind for a good while now.

“What’s- what’s ya name mean?”

His name might have been vaguely understandable, but the barrage of gibberish that followed it wasn’t. Neither was his brief comment coherent for Sue, prompting her to take matters into her own mental hands.

She tried to repeat the simple ritual Solstice had taught her, the invisible mental reach making it all of three inches out of her skull before being forcibly stopped by a presence much, much stronger than itself.

“^Best I handle this, Sue. We don’t want a repeat of the Basil incident now, do we?^”

The light chiding in the Mayor’s voice hit Sue harder than intended. All the shameful worry that accompanied that entire disaster immediately crept out of the recesses of Sue’s recollection and back to the forefront of her mind. Before panic could grip her body any further, a sufficient distraction presented itself through Kantaro repeating himself.

“What did you say?”

“O-oh I- I was curious about your name! Wh-what’s it mean?”

“My name? Kantaro?”

The beetle’s own pronunciation revealed that the name everyone in Moonview used for him wasn’t a translation. Instead, it was just a very limited transliteration, missing no less than four distinctive, guttural sounds compared to how he pronounced it.

Sue had no hopes of ever pronouncing any of them short of a piece of food getting stuck in her throat.


The clarification didn’t get rid of all of Kantaro’s confusion, but now her question at least made sense. It still wasn’t a particularly interesting one, making him shrug, take a large swig of his mug, and finally respond.

“I believe that in Moonview’s language, ‘Stone God’s Gift’ comes close enough.”

That’s a baller name.

Sue and Lilly alike getting further fascinated at hearing that was not what Kantaro expected or particularly wanted to happen. The unintended implication perked his chitin shell up before he elaborated.

“It was a common name in the colony I grew up in. I knew two other Kantaro when I lived there.”

“Why’dja- why did ya leeeave?”

Yet another swig from her mug was unlikely to help with the increasing blurriness of Sue’s thoughts and words alike. Even despite her incapacitated state, she could still sense the pang of darker emotions inside the craftsman’s mind in response to her words.

The worry that sensation brought was overcome with Lilly’s continued affection on her front and shoulder, her pleasant warmth making Sue want to melt.

“It was many things. My colony was a talented place, but deeply stifling and focused only on itself. At some point, one desires to create more, so much more than another variation of the same banal icon. After hearing for the twentieth time about how good of a broodmother I would make, I had enough, and left there and then. I marched westward in a straight line for weeks before stumbling on Moonview’s quarry, right as Granite was in the middle of cutting stone down to size.”

The four arms responded with a comment that had all of theirs and most of Sue’s table burst into laughter. Even Kantaro slipped out a chuckle before following up.

“I had to intervene, Granite. Your technique was atrocious!”

This time, Sue had managed to piece together just barely enough context to chuckle, too. A stray wisp of cold, evening wind had her holding Lilly much closer; the dancer’s warmth appreciated even without an accompanying heartbeat. And, of course, Spark didn’t hesitate to help too, nuzzling into her side all the while.

“Following that, I settled for good. Abundant material, welcome hospitality, exquisite food, inspiration for the subjects of my creations. What else is an honest worker to want?”

Kantaro’s table cheered for that. Sue’s head swam as she tried to pet Spark’s back, inadvertently tickling Lilly’s side as the dancer continued her questions.

“And then stay until leave for pilgrimage?”

The beetle flinched at Lilly’s question. The rest of his table looked at him with concern, Granite in particular trying to reassure him with a couple of pats on the back of his head, behind his horn. Eventually, the craftsbug himself replied with a sigh.

“It was no pilgrimage, Lilly, not the usual sort at least. Imagine… imagine a splinter. Underneath the shell, stabbing your side. At first, it’s tiny, but it grows with you and follows you everywhere, aching you at all times. Every time you look at your own reflection or someone even mentions you, it stabs your guts especially hard. And each time, it feels like there’s no reprieve.”

Kantaro took a deeper breath to sort his thoughts out, continuing the recollection afterwards.

“I ran from my colony in part to get away from it. Not long after I found Moonview, I realized it had followed me all the way here. It hurt so much I was afraid of looking down at my body and suddenly seeing blood. I tried distracting myself from my body. I gave my entire self to the Pale Lady, I worshiped Her through my efforts, I put up the two monuments. It felt like I finally reached the pinnacle of my work, if for an instant. But the splinter was still there, still goring my insides every day. And the pain only grew.”

The builder’s table listened in silence, their expressions all various shades of concern. Most of them were familiar with the broad strokes of the tale because of having known Kantaro the entire time, but not with the exact details.

How it all felt for him.

“One day, I simply could not take it anymore. I ran before the brink of dawn. Away from people, away from water, hoping that it would at least briefly help. It did, and that fact hurt unspeakably. I felt forced to choose between the ones closest to me and even a momentary reprieve. The realization filled me with fury at Fate for striking me with such torment. I thrashed blindly, felling timber around me in a blind rage…”

Kantaro paused with a low chuckle, catching his breath afterwards.

“And then, a tree fell on me.”

Oh fuck.

“Were you alright!?”

“Yes, yes. If the Gate desires me, it needs much more than merely a tree. It hurt greatly, but it snapped me out of the worst of my anger. It also… broke most of my horn off. I shambled towards the nearest stream to make sure it wasn’t bleeding, and then, I finally saw it. My reflection with its broken horn. The splinter was gone. I stared and pondered for hours, trying to make sense of it all, a sense of this sudden relief. Until one moment, the truth hit me harder than even that tree.”

Another sip gave him a moment to gather his bearings. His free hand reached up, feeling along the recently trimmed tip of his horn.

“That splinter wasn’t a curse placed on me. It was a part of me, a part I could carve away. A part I could get rid of. And so I did, spending days whittling my horn down to its current shape, grinding through dozens and dozens of boulders. And it was all worth it, every single moment. I was finally in the shape I should’ve been in all along. I was Kantaro no longer, now, I was Kantaro, and the pain had finally left.”

The difference between the two versions of seemingly the same word was subtle, differing only in parts Sue couldn’t pronounce. But it was still present all the same. Sue didn’t have the time to dwell on that for too long, though. Especially not once Granite had yanked the craftsbug into a massive hug, the rest of his table joining in from all around afterwards. It was enough to make even his stoic voice waver.

“And then, I returned, formed anew, and was welcomed all the same.”

Sue couldn’t exactly tell what, but something in his story touched her deeply all the same.

Soon enough, the craftsmen’s table swerved into a different topic amongst itself. Sue had dissolved enough of her restraint in her mug that she simply leaned on Lilly afterwards with all her weight.

Her weight didn’t bother the dancer even slightly.

Sue’s increasingly blurry vision picked up on the rest of her flaps having gotten trimmed in the meantime. She had no idea where all the trimmings had gone, but was glad for Solstice taking care of that unsightly mess all the same.

“Th-that was so nice, o-oh- hick- oh goshhh...”

The Forest Guardian’s words growing increasingly incoherent had Lilly laugh louder and louder, whistled sounds only interrupted by an occasional hiccup. After barely managing to settle her mug on the table without flipping it over, Sue returned the favor, embracing the leafy girl with both arms.

Spark’s warmth, Lilly’s arms petting her back, the undefined amount of booze in her bloodstream all combined into a heap of comfort that threatened to turn Sue into a puddle.

That me, a very happy puddle.

“Is! Like you!”

An attempt to respond to the tease had Sue mumble something not even she could understand before leaning forwards. The sensations of her front fin resting against Lilly’s side made her shudder, especially with her warm bliss becoming even easier to sense. It made her mumble happily, mumble and take a deep breath of the jubilant atmosphere. The giddy aroma Lilly carried with herself was even nicer than usual, convincing Sue to crane her head and take a sniff right at its source.

Oooh, that’s even better—Lilly?

The leafy girl’s abrupt emotional shift was all the clearer to sense with her closeness. Jubilant glee, immense, stunned fluster, and then a deluge of excitable squirminess. Her leafy arms held Sue that much firmer, that much harder, that much closer.

Lilly’s attempt at speaking didn’t go far either. All she managed was a drawn out, elated squeak, leaving Sue equal parts enthused and amused. The once-human broke into affectionate giggling as she reached to grab another mug—

“...which cup is that for you, Sue?”

“U-ughhhgh... th-third—HEY!”

The moment a number left her mouth, Solstice’s telepathy forcibly yanked the mug out of her grasp. Her mentor’s expression was somewhere between concerned, impressed, and slightly tipsy itself as she stared at her pupil.

“That’s more than enough for you today!”

“B-b-but it’s- it’s jhusht chider—”

“And~? You can hardly even stand up right now.”

“That’sh nhot thrue—”

Fortunately, Spark’s continued presence of her lap, accentuated by her giggling at the once-human’s antics, stopped Sue an instant before she would’ve attempted to stand up, anyway. Instead, she reached down to give the lil’ firefox some more pets, Solstice commenting on her doomed attempt shortly after.

“I think it’s about time you got some rest, Sue.”

“Bhut I-I’m all ghood—”

“She right Sue!”

As much as she wanted to oppose Solstice’s judgment, Sue didn’t have the drive to do the same with Lilly’s.

She gave up with a sigh, Lilly’s gentle hair ruffling that followed helped greatly with accepting such an unfair decision. Solstice didn’t keep her amusement bottled up either, her tattooed arm reaching over to join in on the affection, the blue dye particularly striking in the surrounding lighting.

“F-fine, fine, fine...”

“Let’s get you back to the clinic now—”

“I help!”

Lilly enacted her plan before either Sue or Solstice could react. Spark only barely hopped off her friend’s lap before the leafy dancer effortlessly lifted Sue’s entire body up. It took Sue’s mind to catch up with what was happening, the realization of how cute Lilly was from this closer perspective not helping in thinking straight, either.

“Are you sure Lilly? It’s really no problem-“

“I sure! Can move Sue!”

Solstice’s eye roll and hiccup-interrupted chuckle told it all.

Still, she was in no position to butt into their little display of dorky affection, about to nod in affirmation before undertaking one of her own tricks. Sue felt something ticklish in the back of her head as the extension of her mind was pulled out of her skull and manipulated by the Mayor. Her dulled thoughts only found that sensation funny, and so did Lilly’s once the link was established between them, neither of them any wiser.

“Alrighty then, suit yourselves~. Sleep well Sue, Sleep well Lilly. May She keep your rest safe.”



As Sue was being carried off, she spared no goodbyes for everyone around. Astra looked like she was on the brink of joining the sleeping baby martian and toothy girl in her arms. Sundance only barely held her laughter in, shooting Sue a wink.

The builders’ table was near unanimous in their amusement. Granite and the blue rhino pointed and laughed; Kantaro smiled despite his best effort; Bedrock gave them a wistful look before sighing and joining in on the chuckles. The brown pangolin chittered to themselves, massive claws covering their expression as the red robot insect… exhaled through their nose and took another swig of the cider.

Poppy excitedly pointed them out while shaking Hazel’s shoulder, the distance making it hard to tell whether she was amused, excited, or both. The humanoid ladybug she and Solstice grabbed food a couple days back didn’t notice them passing by, but caught Sue’s attention by drinking on their own away from anyone else, regardless.

“How are you sho strong...”

Sue’s comment made Lilly break out into even more whistled giggling as they neared the exit from the clearing.

The sight on a nearby light pole caught the once-human’s attention, even if she was in no state to think through its implications. In the place of one of the plentiful red-purplish fireballs stood Crackle, without the shroud that kept his body obscured no less.

The light blue flame at his core burned bright; somehow, it wasn’t hurting her the way it apparently had back at Willow’s clinic. This time, it was just eye-catching as opposed to… soul-catching. Even despite his apparent harmlessness, he didn’t remain uncovered like that for long.

Right as they turned the counter, Crackle pulled his usual white shroud back over his body and hovered off to the side of the light pole. And then, he pulled another of those magical fireballs from underneath his disguise, placed it in his place, and floated off further into Moonview, away from the evening chatter.

Such a pretty sky…

Moonview’s light pollution was thankfully weak enough for most stars to still be visible. A new Moon laid smack dab in the middle, at least if the circular, pitch-black hole in the stellar backdrop was any sign.

“Hehe, new Moon tonight...”

Lilly’s upward glance had her hold Sue even closer to herself. The once-human sure didn’t mind that, though she didn’t understand what might’ve caused it. The dancer’s follow-up made sense, though considering what Sue’s plan was for tomorrow, it still stung.

“No Moon, scary. Night people time. I protect!”

“Nooo, they’re not scary, they won’t hurt us.”

“Think that Sue?”

“Yes! It’s sad they’re not here.”

Lilly was unsure how to respond. Though if Sue said that, then there was probably merit to it.

She was still keen to protect Sue should the need ever arise, but she no longer feared that Newmoon’s denizens would threaten her life. Or, at least, not as much.

One corner later, their brief trip had reached its end. Lilly kicked the door to Willow’s clinic open, hopefully without damaging it too much, before she carried Sue in, not letting go of the Forest Guardian until she was laid down on the bed, all snuggly and cozy.

“Thank you so much, Lilly...”

“Thank for day, Sue!”

The dancer had sat down on the edge of her bed. Her leafy arm reached out to grab Sue’s hand, only to be cupped by both of them, making Lilly squirm even more.

“I... happy, happy happy.”

“M-me too, hehehe... i-it’s so soft here, and...”

Before Sue could get lost in all the bliss, a single remaining strand of coherent thought realized a very important omission in the room.

“Oh, we left the crutch...”

The remark snapped Lilly out of her own daze, right before she could finish psyching herself into shooting her shot and laying down beside Sue. The dancer glanced around what she could make of the room, before confirming her crush’s observation and hopping off of the bed.

“I grab and back!”

By the time Sue managed to nod in affirmation, Lilly was long gone.

The Forest Guardian was on her own again, focusing on enduring the arduous wait until the dancer got back. Or, at least, she tried to.

By the time Lilly finally made her way back, the combination of silence, exhaustion, inebriation, and warmth had long since knocked Sue out; the dancer left kicking herself over not acting sooner.

♪ B♭ F E♭ B♭ D. D. E♭- ♪

Sue’s impromptu dreamed up jamming session was abruptly stopped by her blinking and finally coming to. She stared at her mom’s guitar for a few moments, to the backdrop of now just the crackle of flames.

She’d never learned how to play it properly; her mom had only given her a couple of basic lessons. Heck, she didn’t even know how to read sheet music. And yet, despite all that, she felt…

Oddly confident, as if everything was completely alright.

Before she could give that peaceful observation more thought, the shadowy figures she’d just noticed off in the corners of her vision sent shivers down her spine. One of them sat on the spot she’d been waking up in her dreams previously, to her left, and the other sat to her right. Her attempt to investigate what they actually were predictably ended in failure; the shadows gone as soon as they’d arrived.

The rest of the clearing was exactly how she’d remembered it, unaltered to the best of her ability to tell. Above her, the same new Moon as in the waking world, and a falling star beside it.

For once they haven’t messed with it.

The thought brought Sue some well-needed reassurance as she put the guitar away and stood up from her mom’s seat. Despite the surrounding serenity, though, the once-human’s worries didn’t hesitate immediately trying to chime in, their input rational if somewhat unwelcome.

No way I got thrown in here for no reason. There has to be a hitch.

There has to be something to demolish any hopes of this sacred memory ever being mine and mine alone ever again.

And indeed, there was.

To give the responsible entity the credit it deserved—namely none—the alteration was respectfully distanced from the rest of the scene. The doorway loomed in the distance, far away from the campfire to be only barely visible. Still far from preferable, but Sue would live.

Not that she had a choice.

Despite the doorway and the downwards staircase on its other side being completely dark, the once-human could still see them perfectly clear. By the time she’d descended the stairs, her surroundings were pitch black, any and all ambient light gone completely.

Sue found herself on an endless field underneath thousands upon thousands of stars, awe-inspiringly beautiful—


It wasn’t her first time hearing Night Father’s low, gravely voice, but it still startled her. He seemed to have gotten the same idea as she, observing the stars before His attention slowly shifted to her. His pronunciation was… weird, as if He had to utterly contort His voice to end up with something she could comprehend, but being able to understand him was appreciated all the same.

“Wait, how- how do you speak my language?”


Even with the ability to speak English, though, it seemed He wasn’t particularly talkative. The Forest Guardian had no choice but to accept the non-answer with a hesitant nod.

“I, alright. Wh-why are you here, again?”




The record-breakingly curt answer immediately caught her attention, dreamed-up eyes going wide.

“Do you have an idea of who could’ve brought me here?”


“A-alright, what are they?”

The question made the imaginary field beneath them shudder as His blue eye closed in thought. It didn’t seem to accomplish much beyond just startling her though, at least if His words, accompanying the end of the shakes, were any sign.

“Multiple exceed comprehension. Singular.”

“One at a time, then. Who do you think i-is the most likely?”





“Previous. Self.”

“Wh-what, no, I don’t, I don’t remember dying, or even b-being close to death. I-I’m, I was young a-and healthy and all that...”

Even if I wasn’t eating as many veggies as I should have been...


“I-I guess... who did you have in mind first, then?”

The moment she finished asking her question, she felt even stronger tremors than before, almost toppling her over immediately. They were coming from somewhere, making her look at its source—

IT was incomprehensibly large.

Golden scales decorated ITS lower limbs, blindingly bright in the light of ITS own glory. ITS quadruped body was made of purest marble and filled up the entire sky. The halo surrounding ITS head was too holy for her mortal senses to comprehend, forcing Sue to cower pitifully.

An infinitely detailed lattice ran through ITS core. On it, golden threads, green gemstones—one of them being this very planet—and stone tablets carved with divine truths.

Sue could only perceive the latter as colors.

“Demiurge. Hollow.”

She trembled pitifully under the god’s might, feebly trying to shield her body as she was forced down onto her knees. The few parts of her psyche that weren’t being utterly overwhelmed by the deity couldn’t recognize IT in the slightest.

There’s no way in hell I would’ve ever forgotten a sight like that.

The realization made the dreamed-up deity dissolve into fog, letting Sue finally breathe again.

“Wh-what the fuck, was that—was that fucking God!?”


She might have just found the one weird trick for her homeworld’s churches to use if they ever complained about attendance rates.

As profoundly overwhelming as that experience was, Sue knew they were nowhere near done. If there was even a chance she could finally figure out who did this to her, she was willing to go through more, so much more.

Especially with the prospect of returning to her normal life on the line.

“O-okay, who else?”

Her eagerness took the Night Father slightly aback. He did the closest thing possible to lifting an eyebrow up as He stared at her, remaining expressionless. Before long, though, His focus returned to the task at hand; the dreamscape rumbled once more while the next deity manifested Itself.

Any physical distance that separated It and Sue became undone in an instant as Its scarlet eyes stared her down. Its body was made of stars and super-heated metal, their combined white and ultraviolet glare burning itself into Sue’s dreamed up eyes.

Despite being magnitudes smaller than the first one, It felt no less holy because of it. Even the slightest movements of Its colossal arms distorted the land and sky around them, the dimension of space warbling under Its mere presence.

“Sculptor. Cautious. Unlikely.”

The spatial deity was gone as soon as It had appeared. As her dream returned to the largely featureless emptiness from before, Sue processed what she just saw, thankfully taking the mind-bending sight better this time.

“Was th-that a god of light—”

“Space. Presence.”

“Space. O-okay.”

Even if Sue misunderstood the answer, it didn’t matter for the Night Father’s purpose. She had no recollection of Its influence either way, and of all the suspects, It was by far the least likely to have threatened the stability of the fabric of reality to begin with.

“Wh-what next?”

“Gate. Return.”

A cacophony of murmurs filled the heavens immediately, bringing Sue’s gaze up at the sky.

The first deity’s sky-spanning body comprised three fleshy, crimson arms. A bloodied, grayish plume sprouted from where they connected, and from it, a tiny, low-hung head. Black veins bulged out of Its limbs as they held a colossal portal open, their tremors making the immense strain of their duty abundantly clear.

Legions of tiny, white sprites flowed into their portal, pouring in from beyond the reaches of Sue’s mind. Each of them whispered about the demise they had met, be it with grief, fear, or relief.

The sight occupying the opposite end of the horizon was similarly massive. The second deity’s immense, rainbow-studded wings rained sacred fire with their every flap. Its shrill cry brought indescribable warmth to Sue’s soul as it crossed the sky.

Each tiny ember Its wings shed turned out to be one of the white sprites, swaddled in seven-colored flames. As they fell, they turned into flesh in an uncountable myriad of forms.

Some of them even looked familiar.

“Inevitable. Cycle.”

“A-are these the d-dead—”


“Wait, d-do you mean that I-I died and ended up here—”

“Death. Rebirth. Identical. Possibility.”

This world certainly wasn’t like any afterlife she ever imagined, her mind giving preference to the ‘rebirth’ possibility. Though, when it came down to it, was there any difference between the two when put like that?

Either of them required that she had died back on Earth, the realization chilling her to the core. Especially with the loud bang she could just barely recall before she ended up here.

Regardless of how much less improbable this idea sounded compared to interference by a deity further up on the divine pecking order, the evidence for it wasn’t there. After a few moments, Sue forcibly let go of that idea for the time being, even if just to hear the rest out.

“I- I see. Not impossible I guess, but...”

Right before Sue could throw herself into being overwhelmed or hurt once more, her thoughts veered in a very different direction. She'd been assuming that the deity beside her had been benevolent in His investigation, but what if that wasn't true?

What if He'd just been trying to cover His tracks?

“What–what about you?”

His single eye stared blankly at her at the question. Moments dragged on as an utter silence returned to Sue's dream, making her worry that she'd both got it right and wouldn't leave unpunished because of–



I'm not buying that.

"Aren't you a god, too?”


The word made the once-human think back to her chat with Sundance earlier in the day. Him being a 'half-god' would make sense since Duck is apparently one, too.

“A half-god?”

“One of Two.”

Sue blinked at the clarification, guessing uncertainly–

“A half of a god?”


“Is… She the other half?”

The dark deity didn't even verbally answer, nodding his plume of a head before turning His attention skyward, at the uncountable stars gracing the ceiling of her imagination. She didn't remember seeing a moon there earlier, but supposed it only made sense for it to be there.

And then half the sky moved, together with the moon itself; stars whizzed across as if they'd been painted on the surface of wings spanning from horizon to horizon. Sue could only stare, uncertain whether it was her own senses playing a joke or her or not.

She sure hoped it was the former, at least.


“Um, sure. Wh-who’s next?”

Deep silence shrouded the dreamed-up clearing at her question, snuffing out any and all ambiance. Night Father’s eventual answer pierced the quiet, but sounded impossibly distant, like it was fading away.


Before Sue knew it, she was surrounded by dense, pale fog. Salt in the air stung her eyes as she tried to make sense of what was happening.

“Wh-what’s, where are you—”



Her mother’s voice froze the once-human where she stood, face contorting into a gasp as she faced the origin of the sound. There she was, she was right there, alive and just as pretty as she was the last time Sue had seen her! Her expression brightened at seeing her daughter again, even if she looked so, so very different now.

“Sue! My goodness, how much you’ve grown!”


Everything else can wait, has to wait, MOM!

This wasn’t just some memory; she was here; she was real; she was alive!

Sue ran towards her mom, every step filling her with more and more happiness. Tears of joy ran down her face as her mom opened her arms for a hug, the girl closing her eyes as she prepared to take it—

Only for pitch-black tentacles to shoot past her and wrap tightly around her, stopping her in place.

Sue thrashed against His influence, wailing in grief once He began to forcibly drag her back. She was mere feet away from someone she thought she’d lost for good, the pain of being torn away from her again making her want to scream.


And then, Sue finally saw It.

A black, shriveled body laid inside a spiked, purple shell. Sea foam hair flowed down Its face, sparse and tattered. Its opalescent eyes, devoid of hope, stared straight through Sue as she began to choke up.

The joy she had felt bloom inside her was painfully coughed out of her lungs. The sheer quantity of murky brine that had left her mouth formed a small puddle underneath her as she cried in pain.


Sue shambled away from where her mom’s image and the cruel deity had manifested Itself, Its accompanying fog long gone. All the sensations she had to relive in these few moments made her want to cry, to break down like a baby at having to relive her loss once more.

But she couldn’t.

Not now, not yet.

“H-how many left...”

“Two. Chaotic. Unpredictable. Inexcludable.”

Okay, I can manage two, I can do this…

“Okay, n-next then.”

For once, nothing happened right away. Sue tried to look around for any changes to her surroundings, but only found Night Father standing in the exact same spot as before, staring blankly at her.


“No, but... what other choice d-do I have?”

The dark deity thought on her words for a few moments before closing His eye once more.

The scene that awaited the once-human right behind her shoulder was stunningly beautiful. A vast field of blooming pink flowers and fluttering butterflies, all of them facing the figure in the center.

Sue couldn’t see much of it, but what she made out was similarly gorgeous. A massive shell, covered with incredibly intricate etchings. Pinks, reds, blacks and whites combined to depict life in all its forms and vividness. She took a step closer to take a better look—


Suddenly, the shell creature turned around, and everything turned to suffering.

The force of nature locked eyes with Sue, obliterating her mental defenses and flooding her mind with visions of pain. Nails driven into her eyes, joints forcibly twisted the other way, her insides doused in acid, her head burning alive.

Bringing her until the brink of death, right in front of the Gate, but never further. The deity of death barred her from escaping as she was brought back to health before being tortured again, and again, and again, and again.

Sue shrieked and ran, her mind reduced to its basest of impulses as she felt her body be mangled repeatedly.

By the time she could think again, her throat had worn itself dry from the involuntary screams. She was thrashing on the grassy floor of the dreamscape, a look around her body revealing it to be completely unharmed. Shouts gave way to whimpers as suffering finally began to recede from her mind, left only with sorrow and trauma.

I can’t do it, I’m too weak, I’ll never make it out of here. This world, these deities, they’re too evil, I can’t…

It felt like an eternity had passed before Sue could do anything but sob and shake. Night Father stood over her, making her spit out words in anger.

“Wh-why did you do this to me—”


“Y-you brought that fucking thing in here!”

“Divine. Uncontrollable.”

“I-it’s just an illusion—”

“Fragment. Divine.”

Sue had no idea if He was bullshitting her, but by that point, she didn’t care anymore.

All she wanted was to storm out of this nightmare and never see Him or other deities again, to spend the rest of her days in this world, figuring out a way back through regular, not-divine means.

Even if she knew as well as He did it was naught but an agonized, impossible fantasy.

“Final. Harmless.”

Sue couldn’t tell whether His words were a promise or a reassurance, but she didn’t care either way. She was about to ask Him to do away with all this and let her go.

But it was too late.


“No, fuck this, fuck you! I’m, I’m not looking!”

And indeed, she didn’t.

She tried her absolute hardest to not pay attention to the squeaky, androgynous voice that spoke up behind her. The way It enunciated its words sent a deep, frightful shiver down her back.

Night Father’s final remark made Sue want to throw hands as she continued her hissy fit of a march, only speeding her steps up.

“Very. Annoying.”

Fuck you too.

Part of her wondered how the hell was this dream still ongoing with how much suffering she’d experienced. The realization made her tense up, fear mixing with hope of finally getting a reprieve from it all.

Destiny, however, had different plans.

A fluttering sheet of paper floated into Sue’s peripheral vision, intersecting her path. The once human wanted to tear it to shreds there and then, but the glimpse of its contents stopped her in her tracks.

Don’t turn around.

The elegant, silver-inked cursive reminded Sue of what she saw in her previous dream. The accompanying mental image of her own gravestone sent an icy chill through her body as her breathing grew shallow. She was afraid to shift her gaze anywhere else, muttering her words directly at the piece of paper.

“Wh-who are you?”

A stray gust made the page thrash enough to let her spot more writing on its other side. With a deep breath, Sue flipped it around, bracing herself for what she might see.

An ally.

“Ally? Wh-what do you mean—which of these unholy things are you!?”

After flipping the page again, the previous message was replaced with a drawing that defied comprehension.

A silver octahedron was depicted on the tattered page with a mathematical precision, looking more like a platonic ideal of a shape rather than a mere drawing. It slowly rotated when watched, its shining surface mesmerizing. Perfectly ordered.

You can call me JUSTICE.

“Justice. Okay. What- what did you mean b-by us being allies?”

We share a goal.

“Goal? Wh-what are you talking about?”

We both want to make the being who’d done this to you suffer and pay.

The words gave Sue a pause, her breaths growing shallow.

“Do you know who th-that is?”


“Who is it then!?”

Another flip of the page revealed yet another scribble, this one much more headache inducing.

A golden line twisted and thrashed into shapes unknown and unknowable, writhing on the page with enough speed to render the result little more than a blur. Chaos incarnate.

“That’s not—THAT’S NOT AN ANSWER!”

It’s as much of an answer as I can presently give. Idiot covered Its tracks well.

Sue screamed in frustration at being denied the truth yet again. She was about to crumple the page up into a small, tight ball, before seeing a new message—

I would not advise that.

“Why did you contact me like this if you won’t even tell me anything that’s going on!?”

I have a plan to ensure Its compliance.


It promised you a way home. I can make sure that comes to pass, and make It pay.

The mixture of anger and pain finally loosened its grip on Sue’s psyche as she considered the words. Regardless of anything else, the offer of getting out of this hellish world and back to Earth was very alluring, especially right now.

Right as she was about to agree, though, a stray, bitter thought crossed her mind again.

“Will it even matter if I say no?”

Sue hesitated for a while after asking. She knew deep down what the answer was inevitably going to be, but was afraid to face it.

Another flip of the page confirmed her fears.


Of course. Of fucking course I’m just playing into another deity’s sick fucking game.

“What do you want me to do?”

For now, nothing. Continue as you did. Before my plan can come to pass, Its plan must be accomplished first. Before the trap can be sprung, we need the—

Before Sue could finish reading the sentence, a louder call coming from that same squeaky, androgynous voice she heard earlier made her look over her shoulder out of reflex—

And wake up back at Willow’s clinic, the air reeking faintly of brine.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Last edited:
Interlude I: Remembrance


the gay agenda

Interlude I: Remembrance

Nearly there.

The rumbling thunder of the distant storm was a constant reminder to keep moving. The unpredictable currents surrounding what remained of the archipelago were vicious in their temperament, thrashing aimlessly through the ocean with their master long gone.

Guarding the eternal grave of those who once lived there.

Their name was all but forgotten to mortal beings. Only a few coastal-dwelling peoples had ever established trade routes with them. Of those that remained, most regarded their existence as naught more than an ancient fable. A parable of an island kingdom swallowed by the ocean because of hubris and defiance of their deities.

The truth was much more hopeless.

What were once splendid beaches of marble-white sand became little more than swaths of salt and ash. A lifeless miasma preserved the bones of the slaughtered for eternity, most of them doomed to keep their hands clasped in prayer forever.

Prayer to the very beings that had ended their lives many centuries ago.

As much as her body screamed for rest after many hours of flight, the Windrider knew better than to disturb the island with her physical presence. Their selves might have been gone, but the deep bond between the hallowed ground and its once-guardians was still powerful.

Despite how little of the latter remained.

Thankfully, her destination wasn’t too far away. After a few moments of meditation, the dragon continued further inland. Her golden eyes scanned the ruins of forests and settlements alike in search of anything that stood out as she flew.

There was less and less to be found each time.

What hadn’t burned down was left to erode in the briny air. The beautiful wooden sculptures this island was especially known for were now little more than featureless hunks of dried kindling, awaiting their turn to be on the receiving end of the endless storm’s wrath. Back in the day, she would spend days simply absorbing the beauty of this place, natural and crafted alike.

The depictions of its four guardians took up a large and deserved part of the latter.





Names long lost to time, and to themselves.

The thought stung more than even the salty air; the Windrider forced to compose herself lest her tears disturbed the island underneath her. It was far from her first time here, inside the charred carcass of the jewel of the ocean. The suffering that underlaid the gruesome sights never got easier to process, to reconcile with what she remembered of Her.

What she remembered of them all.

Their courage.

Their kindness.

Their patience.

Their wisdom.

They weren’t proud of their pasts. Of what they once were. They had made many mistakes. Out of haste, out of thoughtlessness, even out of cruelty. Even at their lowest, though, when they still were as wild and ferocious as their still-untamed islands, they cared deeply about the islanders’ wellbeing.

Soul by soul, the life that filled these dense forests and craggy cliffs became a part of something larger than itself. Something destined for so much more than a hasty death at the hands of whichever predator found itself hungry that day.

And their deities followed.

Prayer by prayer, ceremony by ceremony, the four deities shed more and more of their savage natures. Their followers’ faith shaped them from guardians of the land to guardians of the people, their civilization growing ever brilliant with each passing year.

The Windrider still remembered her first visit to this enchanted land, to what those that had visited it had described as heaven. She remembered the deep truths of philosophy and geometry the islanders had discovered and were eager to share with anyone who would listen. Their joyous songs, elaborate rituals, and exquisite delicacies.

The latter especially made her exhaustion sting that much more acutely, as did the contrast between her memories and the surrounding reality.

As did thinking back to the memory of her discovering the islands’ destruction.

One moment, the dragon was racing across the azure waves to visit old friends. The next, flying above thousands of dead, above unending wildfires, above charred, dismembered remains of island-wide celebration. She screamed, she wept, she called for anyone still alive amongst the carnage.

And found what used to be Love.

If not for her kin’s swiftness, she would’ve died there and then. Died to what had once been her close friend and mentor, turned malicious and yet utterly hollow, not a thought emanating from its shell as it attempted to torture her into suicide through torment unimaginable.

For the longest time, the dragon assumed that an evil force had possessed them all. Possessed and drove them to commit unspeakable atrocities before leaving their islands for good. There was no other explanation she could think of that came close to explaining the harrowing change that had occurred in even one of them, let alone all four.

It was only recently, relatively speaking, that she finally learned of what transpired here. Of the unimaginable crime that turned them into their present selves. Of a tragedy the Expanse had failed to prevent. Eventually, It gave in and offered her the explanation, the guilt of responsibility weighing heavily on Its divine essence.

One day, the flimsy wall that separates this world from others was breached in the middle of a joyous ceremony.

Hardly a rare occurrence if Expanse's words were to be believed. Its luminous reach is constantly on the lookout for these tears in Infinity’s filament, ceaselessly maintaining the boundaries between realities.

Before It could do so here, however, something slipped through the crack.

A nonexistence beyond comprehension. An absence of light, an absence of self, a living manifestation of ravenous hunger. Hunger for selves, hunger for light,

Hunger for names, mortal and divine alike.

Before the deities knew it, they were gone in a gust of wind.

Their very beings were consumed by It that Wasn’t. Expanse’s intervention drove It back into Its own sunken realm shortly after. By then, though, it was too late. Without a mind to exert control over their divine flesh, every savage part they were purging themselves off crept back in.

What were once beloved guardians were usurped by everything they had repressed.

The Malice of strife.

The Cruelty of life.

The Misery of change.

The Grief of death.

No tale of the events that transpired had ever left the islands, for none had escaped the slaughter that followed.

The Windrider knew full well that her presence here was little more than folly. A childish plea towards a friend long gone, a naïve wish to unwind time and to something, anything, to prevent that unimaginable tragedy.

And yet, she repeated her pilgrimage again and again. Each time, she brought the most meager of offerings with herself, a singular orchid bloom.

Just like the ones Love would endearingly weave into Her own and little ones’ hair at every opportunity.

Only the plinth remained of the monument of pearl and silvery wood that once sang Her praises. It loomed above the lifeless ruins, an utmost perversion of the living rainbows of flowers once surrounding it from every side. A patch of salted, barren dirt was the only remaining sign the latter had ever existed.

Holding back tears, the dragon clasped her own hands to the furthest extent she could and prayed, her words eclipsed by the approaching thunderstorm.

“Oh, the ever graceful Love.
To thee, I offer this gift.
May it findeth thee at peace.
May we be granted solace.”

And then, she followed it with a whisper of her own, placing the bloom on the plinth. The moment the last word left her white muzzle, she took off, flying away from the island before any of its once guardians could show up.

“May Daybreak deliver thee home.”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!