Lorelei yawned and stretched as she watched the gypsy wagon ride away and waved a last farewell at her newest friends, Mawazo and Mahara. They were innocent and pure and naive, sure, but Lorelei found those traits to be refreshing when presented in the way that the two snowflakes had done. She smacked her lips a couple times, ruffled her short hair a little and moved her ears around a little before turning towards Astarte, who was already busying herself by poking a small round cactus nestled in between two of the reddest sandstone boulders she’d ever seen.
The cat girl sighed but couldn’t help the smile that came to her face. Ghosts of memories tried to resurface, like a particular scent or a strange prickly sensation across her ankles. After a while, the ‘goddess’ poking the cactus turned sharply towards Lorelei with a quizzical look in her eyes.
“Lore, why is this fruit so prickly? How am I supposed to eat it?”
“That’s not a fruit, it’s a cactus. You don’t eat it, not that I know of. It’s too small to hold any s-significant amount of water, too, so don’t even try any funny business.”
“Aw.” Astarte groaned, but for the first time ever actually listened and stepped back from the threatening little grenade.
“So… A-According to those two, there should be some ‘shiny stuff’ somewhere on this mesa. Let’s start looking, Ace. The sooner we find metal and someone that’s got the t-tools to work it, the quicker we can make ourselves some nifty equipment, like those forks I m-mentioned.” Lorelei explained, knowing full well that Astarte had probably forgotten by now what the whole point of leaving the darkwoods was.
“Ooh, yeah! The forks! By the way, can any of you feel that?” Astarte sniffed the air and dropped down into a prone position, ear against the sandy soil.
Lorelei watched the scene play out with one of her eyebrows slowly raising against her will, and eventually brought her barely-held-together-with-string messenger bag up to her face. “She’s d-doing it again, Smoke…” Lorelei whispered into the bag. A bit of smoke leaked out.
“Master Astarte can feel currents and track down residue, Lorelei. This shadow trusts its Master.”
Finally, she licked the soil, chewed on it and swallowed it. “Mmm! Yes, this is top-quality mesa dirt, and also yes! I’m sure we’re pretty close to a place of power, Lore. Wanna check it out?”
Lorelei psed her lips and crossed her arms, letting her bag fall to her side once more. “Aren’t places of p-power like, super dangerous though?”
“WHAT! Where did you get that from? You silly kitty!” Astarte giggled and scooted up to Lorelei’s side and pulled her by the wrist, walking in a seemingly random direction.
“H-Hey! I don’t think there’s anything down that way- Traveling without a set direction is bad news, too, we shouldn’t do it!” Lorelei desperately tried to reason with her, but Astarte wasn’t having it. In the end, the cat girl resigned herself to listening to the wannabe goddess for once and followed her.
For days on end.
The mesa was a weird place, clearly originally a sub-tropical lush-ish land which had risen high above the clouds into broken apart plateaus usually covered by a thin fog. The local flora and fauna had obviously struggled to adapt, something Lorelei realized thanks to the underwhelming biodiversity in the area. The few living beings that survived what must have been a divine cataclysm in the past had spread out unpunished, giving the unusual combo of visuals such as tall pine trees surrounded by cactus bushes.
The location had already been inhabited by sapients. Small bridges, often way too flimsy to be above endless ravines, connected different plateaus when the mesa broke apart, other times, they would have to rely on Lorelei making ropes or finding a rock outcrop or redwood tree that had fallen across the fissures. The closer they got to the center, the rarer these struggles became.
Finally, they dove into an area where the mist was very thick, to the point the two had to hold hands or risk losing each other. Their main guidance became only Astarte’s intuition, at some point, it felt like the mist enveloped them and almost seemed to try to lead them astray, until, at the last minute, it seemed to give up and slide away. Not long after that, they got up a hill and saw in the distance a tall layered stone tower with a whole complex of buildings around them. The echoes of a murmuring crowd and the smell of barbecued carp filled the air. A smell that immediately made Lorelei’s mouth water and stomach rumble. Astarte laughed at her for it.
- 2 -
Lektor perched on a stone pillar, as she typically liked to do, and observed the students as they fought each other hopelessly, the endurance of the human body was kinda pathetic, but she was sure she could train it over time. Her focus was suddenly broken as she noticed something walking past the main gate, where typically people would only leave.
It wasn’t just a single something either, but three. One of them had a body that lacked earth but was abundant in wind and water. The other had a body identical to that of the humans she’d grown so accustomed to but held a fire that threatened to spill out and burn itself out. And the last one had a body that looked like one of the chimeras’- With the one difference being that her feline ears and tail were not made of spirit, but of flesh and blood. Her fire burned brightly, and deep within her there was the glint of something she had not seen before, something smooth and tempered.
“We’re here! Place of power reached, I know it took a bit long, but what do you think Lore, Big?” The one with the brightest flame asked of the others, seemingly oblivious to everything.
“This shadow enjoys its Master’s joy.” Came an echo-y, disembodied voice from within the bag carried by the tempered one, who spoke next, rather incredulously. “You really haven’t n-noticed the God sitting on a pillar by the tower’s entrance? We’re soo gonna be ash-ified.”
Lektor observed the three stooges at her gate and continued to be extremely confused over it all. ”By the Core, who are you people?” she jumped down and made the whole of the place shake, her students immediately turning to look at the strangers with equally confused glances. The cat-eared stranger smirked nervously while the human grinned with stars in her eyes.
”A Chimera, a human and one of the shadow stalker things. But… my temple was supposed to turn all of you away.” she tilted her head, now towering over the newly arrived. ”Oh. I see what is happening here. You are…” for some reason strange words came to her mind and she almost lost her train of thought, almost. ”Foreigners. Not of this world. So you break the ward of my temple. It is set to ward off all those who leave it or who are born elsewhere on this planet. You… are neither of those. Well, at least not the two with legs. The shadow would likely be expelled if not the bag.”
She raised her golden gloves and grabbed Lorelei by the head, tapping her with a serious look, scanning her body using vibrations, a serious look that turned into a smile. Towards Astarte she would just rub her chin, before she started eyeing downard. All of the sudden, the goddess poked the “human” at her midsection and then seized the arm, squeezing at them. “Gods, are you a woman or are you a slime? I have never met someone so flabby.”
The human huffed. “Rude! I’m a Goddess just like you, you… You… Yoou… Pervy catbird?”
“Sorry about Astarte’s language, Goddess, she was dropped as a child and has been flabby in both body and brain since then.” Lorelei said and knelt with her head down.
“What! You never bowed for me before!”
“Huh! I wouldn’t guess the one with a punkish fashion sense would be the polite one. Do you want to join me for the cocoa ceremony?” she proposed before staring at Astarte with a far more imposing stance, letting the full gravity of her role as the earth goddess weight down on the faux-goddess, who shrank a little with an actually scared look on her face. “And you. Slime girl. Here is a uniform. You will do five laps around the temple then complement it with a brick lifting session. The material is improper, but I will carve a woman out of you.”
Astarte, or ‘Slime girl’ now, quickly nodded and took the uniform. “Y-yes ma’am! Where should I change into the u-uniform?”
”There is a changing room by the bathhouse. Or find a room for yourself, there is plenty of empty spots after I kicked out a whole wave of brats out of this hall.” Lektor’s voice had even changed and she had to put great will in not having the sides of her mouth turn upward in a smug smirk.”Now get moving, if I needed another statue standing around I would carve it myself.”
She then clapped her golden gloves together and turned to the punkish cat, who sported the biggest smirk she’d ever seen as Astarte ran off to presumably find a room. ”Now, where were we? Right. Hot cocoa time with my new feline pal.”
- 3 -
After Lektoria responded to Lorelei’s request for metal to fix her gadgets with a request of her own, the cat-girl decided to stay in the Temple for a while and learn their ways. It was good to have a set place to rest her head every night, and the incredible quantity of new faces to meet and new voices to remember made it so her stay in the Temple was always stimulating.
Before she realized, the next few months had passed by in the blink of an eye. Every day had been busy as Lorelei delved head-first into the Temple activities and training. She quickly became popular due to her proficiency at the Martial Arts, Acrobatics, and most subjects involving her hand crafting skills, but above all else she was also very highly sought after by the many cliques because of how open and welcoming she was.
Her time off was spent either helping others with things they struggled on or hanging out and laughing alongside whoever sat next to her during the many designated break times throughout the temple days.
The trio had been kept so busy (yes, even Big Smoke, who no one was actually sure if he would benefit from physical training) that they had not been able to see each other past a few distant glances and nods here and there. It was only as their 11th week at the Temple came to a close that they were finally allowed to reunite in the form of a competition.
It was a simple 100m run, pitting twelve different runners from different cliques against each other in a free-for-all. Lektoria clapped her hands and everyone sprang into a run. It was all over in less than 10 seconds, with the first, second and third place being taken by Hills of Bountiful Harvest, Gold Fanged Cat and Slime Girl respectively.
Lorelei herself got fourth place and Big Smoke smashed his previous record by placing 6th, mostly by hitching rides within the other runners’ shadows.
It was a surprise to everyone to see Slime Girl (Astarte) become such a fast runner and Lorelei and Big Smoke wasted no time walking up to Lektoria to request a feast for their friend.
It was Lorelei who spoke first, “Goddess, she’s earned it hasn’t she? She’s not flabby at all anymore!”
“This shadow agrees. Its Master has exceeded its expectations. When its Master first came into the world she could barely walk.” Big Smoke spoke, looking perhaps a bit more solid and denser than he did weeks ago.
Lektor had spent the whole time with the group poking all over Astarte, before letting out a prideful single tear. ”Ah! My little slime baby has grown so much! Look at her. You could grind a knife on these muscles.” she pulled the ex-goddess into a tight hug, and while that would be fatal to most, Astarte barely felt it aside from the fear that was clear on her face.
”And yes, she is more solid and denser, which is why tomorrow she is invited to a special class along with the other two winners and a previous winner of the brick breaking competition.” Lektor announced proudly. ”Oh, and of course, a feast will be served today, we even brought over some special snacks from the Shadow Woods, Master Shadow Hopper.” she looked at Big Smoke with a certain smirk, using the name the students had been calling the very popular Umbra.
“This shadow is eager to feel the taste of Home. It is grateful to you, Goddess of Earth.” Big Smoke bowed as low as he could, which was pretty low considering he didn’t have a lower half to worry about. “To think this shadow would be able to taste Chungusite Skewers once more…”
“They are a delicacy for real. Say, Goddess, could we be allowed to dress as we wish for this feast? I love the uniform but I feel like I’d lose something important if I had to wear it any longer.” Lorelei asked, patting her uniform for emphasis.
The goddess tilted her head from side to side. ”Very well. I guess you are not exactly equal to my students, and only a few hate you for being different, and half of those few were humiliated in that whole ‘arc’ with those smug twins from the Slide-Down-The-Snowy-Peak clique. Just make sure your clothing is properly washed for the time, when you arrived your smell was quite terrible.”
The goddess then sighed. ”To continue on my harsh honesty, Big Smoke, I am sorry. But I did make a certain promise to one of the students who won. Please forgive me for my betrayal.”
Just before she had announced that a new arrival had made it in, it was Hills of Bountiful Harvest, who stood at the door with her typical ‘aura’ of smugness. No, not only her, but most of her clique, The Phantom Wings. An all-female clique that had a certain fame for causing trouble.
“Neat that you will get your special feast later, but my feast, like my position, comes first” she announced, giving the group a little clap before leaning forward. “And we wanted a special guest to pamper about! And none other than Master Shadow Hopper will do for me~” she rose her hand and made a signal.
The Phantom Winger students marched forward, an army of the prettiest chimeras about, most carrying big two handed fans. Lektor had discovered these time of focused air blasts were some of the few direct ways to keep the Umbra away, and she had given that knowledge to a troublesome group. They started to fan poor Big Smoke about, slowly forcing him towards a scary group of giggling cute girls. To his credit though, Big Smoke seemed to embrace the treatment and happily engaged the Phantom Wingers as they blew him all the way into the darkest recesses of the Temple.
“I had been wondering for a while whether the Umbra had any kind of reproductive instinct, y’know! Since he never tried to pull anything on me!” Slime Girl quipped, having freed herself from Lektoria’s grip sometime throughout the commotion. “Maybe we’ll see shadow bunnies hopping around soon? Shadow Hills, huh…”
“Are we completely sure he’s not just playing along thinking they’ll just make him play a game of DOS with them?” Lorelei sighed.
”Maybe they will just play pranks on him or try to puff smoke ribbons into his head, maybe… terrible things will happen tonight. There are certain abysses it's best not to peek too far into. Whatever drives Miss Hills is one such a thing. We can only pray for Mister Big Smoke.”
The goddess shook her head in true resignation. ”Nevertheless. Let’s set up the details of the feast, and let me also give Miss Slime the location of the special training. Miss Lore, there will also be a reward, if smaller, to you. I have set aside a room with a forge and a supply of a variety of metals. I do not understand most of what you speak but will that be enough for your purposes?”
Lorelei snapped up to grin at Lektoria, wiggling her ears happily. “Y-Yes! Definitely! Thank you so m-much, Lektoria!” She shouted and jumped up to give the Goddess a hug.
- 4 -
The special training room was a field of perfectly cut grass above the main tower of the building, no walls would stop one from falling down but there was a winged goddess overlooking it all.
By the time Astarte arrived both Hills and a tiger man she would identify as the Golden Fanged Cat were already there, standing up and still, hands raised, in a tree-like stance perhaps.
”Ah, Miss Slime. It is good to see you.” Lektor swooped in. ”I hope your group had fun last night? I was unfortunately too busy to participate in the feast.”
“Oh y-yeah, for sure. Big Smoke was covered in some kind of goop when we got him back. What even was that, Hills? It tasted weird.” Slime Girl shuddered, “So what are we doing today?” She asked even as she assumed the same stance as the other two.
Hills for once did not answer, she seemed to be deeply focused. And when Astarte took that position, she could see why. This whole location, by accident or design, had a massive amount of earth mana flowing through it, the presence of the goddess only increasing it. It would resonate with Astarte as well, perhaps not for the same reason it resonated with the two earthling chimeras by her side, but it was still something she could tap into with the right technique, in fact, upon closer inspection, she already had. The perceived density she had gained under Lektor’s training was in part due to some of this Earth element infusing itself to her.
”One of the greatest weaknesses of our body is its systematic elements, water and air. Most fatigue, most injuries, are not born from a failure of flesh or bones, but of damaged blood vessels, lungs and other key organs.” the goddess explained, giving all three many memories of bruises and injuries. ”The stone too cracks, but at a much lesser rate. What I will teach you three today is a technique that allows you to imbue some excess earth energy into the water and air elements of your body. I like to call it the “Mud and Dust” technique, but it perhaps doesn’t give the right image.” she added with a chuckle.
While all three kept their eyes closed, Lektor called forth someone. ”Miss Spring Blossom, please come here.” everyone had a certain will to peek, but the very gravity of the earth's energy seemed to keep their eyes closed, still, they could feel the flow of the earth mane through the newly arrived student’s body.
“Hello Miss Lektoria. I am ready to showcase to our friends this technique.” she had a gentle, soft voice, giving a true ladylike aura. With a bow to the teacher, Blossom took a similar stance to them, but quickly shifted her arms, as if clawing and hoarding the mana.
”Miss Blossom’s willingness to test her limits with me is how I discovered the path to this.” Lektoria started, as the student started to technique, the Earth mana now flowing along the streams of water mana in the blood vessels and organs, as well as filling her lungs. ”It will strengthen all aspects of your body. Strikes against you will not cause even a minor bruise lest they are strong enough to crack bones, your brain won’t be jostled about when you move, a strike to the chest won’t take the wind off your lungs. And even your arms will feel more solid, acts such as dual wielding weapons or striking with full force with your fists will become much easier.”
Blossom finished her spell, a controlled, angular flow of united water-earth and wind-earth now all over her body. The other students started to follow the steps, meanwhile, Lektoria gave a few warnings. ”It will however fatigue you a lot, avoid running while this technique is active. And uh… Drink a lot of water after finishing it. As Miss Blossom discovered, use of it seems to increase the chance of kidney stones, a pain you would all benefit from not knowing.”
As Astarte finalized her spell, she could feel her body become much stronger and resilient than before. It felt like she’d recovered a tiny fraction of what she used to be a long time ago, but of course she wasn’t able to maintain the spell for long as soon as her memories got in the way. Once she safely dispelled the energies that she’d invited into her body, she dropped to a sitting position on the grassy roof while panting.
“Wow… That’s good magic. Better than anything I ever created, anyway.”
Lektor rose up an eyebrow. ”I would not say it crosses into the path of magic just yet. You are not really generating or even converting energies. But I will not overthink a simple term like this.”
A loud THUMP startled Astarte, but not the other two who were still trying to perfect the spell, showing lesser skill than Slime Girl had. The source of the loud noise was Blossom dropping a few wooden pillars at the center of the field, probably training dummies. This was the first time the two saw each other, Spring Blossom had pink-ish hair and a gentle face, plus the body of a 2.2 meters tall amazoness clearly influenced by her bovine spirit, as seen in her horns.
“Oh, she already woke up? That was fast. Here, have some water.” the gentle giant smiled and handed Astarte a bowl of fresh water she had been carrying on her head, as well as a smaller one to serve as a cup, both of which Astarte took. She’d had enough of pain for a whole lifetime already, so she took Lektoria’s warning about kidney stones very seriously. She drank several cups of water and nodded thankfully at Spring Blossom, then looked at Lektoria for a moment before speaking.
“So, I have a confession to make…” Astarte began, gulping, “I’m not actually a Goddess anymore! I lost my powers, and I’ve been looking for a way to get them back…“
“Oh. Is that soo?” Lektor purred, but then undid her entire playful mood noticing how serious Astarte was about. ”Right. Hmm. Homura would be a shot at this, but if she didn’t give you direct divinity, she may have some opposition to the concept, plus, she is beyond this planet from what she told me, and I am a bit of an earthbound goddess so I would not know how to meet her.”
Then something clicked. ”But ah! Perhaps the Goat boy will know. Ahem, I mean Jeon. He is the god of adventures and quests, if you told him your tale, he would surely be enthralled beyond belief.”
“I have never met these brothers and sisters you just name-dropped. The Homura one sounds like a big shot though. Then again, this John guy…” Astarte furrowed her brow in thought. After two seconds, she shrugged “Whatever! At least I have two names to chase. Thanks, uh… Sis?” Astarte said awkwardly. “Goddess. Lekt-”
“Haycha!” Slime Girl was saved from this moment by the bunny chimera, having woken up and deciding she wanted to test herself against the wooden pillar, carving it with fifteen kicks before she stood back and just went “Wow!” with a smirk, patting her legs as she did not feel a hint of pain or wear down.
Lektor sighed. ”You can go back to CatBird if other terms are complicated to you.” she confessed to Astarte. ”But Miss Astarte, I am sure your Umbra companion, Mr. Smoke, is from the area where Jeon is active, that is why I expected you to have a hint of that. Ironic no? That you seem to have arrived so close to the person who can help you, and then moved a third of a continent away from that.” notably, this was the first time Lektor had bothered not saying the other name. Astarte nearly teared up at that.
”But, I am glad you are here. You, Smoke and Lorelei. It has been fun. But if you must continue traveling, I will also not impede it.”
“Yeah… Lorelei’s on a bit of a quest to remember her past and fix her stuff. Right now, she’s probably busy in the forge you built for her. She’ll probably spend a whole week there, at least. Then we’ll have to go seek the help of a more esoteric deity for those memory bits. I bet she’ll be surprised that I remember what comes next in our journey.” Astarte smiled and stood up. “Is there anything else to the lesson? I need to go for my morning run, I can’t slip up or I’ll look like Hills before I know it.” Astarte smirked.
“Oi, you brat.” Hills pouted at that. “You wish you’d get this flowing form of mine~” she added with a wink.
”No flirting during class please.” the rock cat goddess added with an obviously forced sigh. ”Hmm~ Well, there will be new things we can try, I can built some stone walls to see if you can run through using these powers~” there was a mischievous grin. ”But overall, you did it to an excellent level~ Bet your strong hands will also be super useful for Lorelei with her metal thingamajigs. The way the kitty has to put all her strength to mold those things is cute but also worrisome, one of these days she will fall into her forge and make herself into a marketable iron keychain.”
“She’s too quick on her feet to fall at all, but I’ll ask her to make us matching keychains! Not that I have any keys.” Astarte giggled. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hills isn’t the only gym bunny around.” With that, Astarte took her leave.
The Mortal Gang lands at the Mesa after hitching a ride with the Wonder Twins’ flying wagon. There, Astarte catches a whiff of divine energy and leads the gang to Rock Cat’s Temple. They stay at the temple for a few months, with Astarte becoming a gym bunny (not literal) in the process due to an incredible amount of bullying from many parties. Smoke becomes a gigachad and gets kidnapped by the Cougar Clique, and Lorelei becomes a mix between an actually nice cheerleader and councilor. Towards the end of their stay, Astarte wins 3rd place in a running contest and is taught an earth-element technique by Rock Cat. Lorelei was given a forge and some metal to fashion into whatever piece she needs to ‘fix’ her equipment as a participation reward.
The collab finishes as Astarte (slime girl) announces the gang’s intention to move on soon to Rock Cat, and leaves to go on her morning run around the temple.
The collab finishes as Astarte (slime girl) announces the gang’s intention to move on soon to Rock Cat, and leaves to go on her morning run around the temple.
5MP - 5AP
1 AP (discount from 2) to teach an earth elemental technique
5MP - 4AP Remaining
5MP - 5AP
1 AP (discount from 2) to teach an earth elemental technique
5MP - 4AP Remaining