Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Tessaract
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Tessaract Verschlimmbessern

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Chapter 1: Circle In The Water


The night was painted with the sounds of celebration - a landscape of drunken laughter, rattling instruments, and general conversation. A joyous festival of life after a long and hard winter filled only with death. The traditional parades and ceremonies of the day prior bleeding into drink and merriment. It seemed the streets of Mournhold grew heavier with the bodies as afternoon dragged into evening. A glided field of stars opening up above drawing the inhabitants from their dwellings with their cosmic allure.

On the outer edges of the city, where the distant sounds of the merry bands and drunkards floated on the horizon, a collection of wagons lay pulled together in a circle. Resting against the hulking furry frame of a sleeping thort, the one known as Valya sat, faced framed in the dark by the glow of the shimmering mirage-like projection that she suspend in her palm. It displayed a strange cube like object made up of several interconnected pieces and locks assembled together. A Gilbert's box, a creation designed by the Prioy to test mental aptitude. The goal was to dissemble and then reassemble the box in as little moves as possible. They say the Archon can perform the full exercise in under twenty moves, Valya was somewhere in the forties and the box still hadn't come undone. As she tried at another piece which stubbornly refused to move, frustrated she let of a curse beneath her breath.

"You lost the moment you let it get beneath your skin." A warm voice echoed.

Valya went rigid, face flushed as Steward Byerel rounded the corner. Helmer Byerel was an old man, earth-toned skin wrinkled and worn, wisps of grey hair laying atop his head, short in the peculiar way that only that which was once tall could become short, hunched over clutching a walking stick. It was hard to imagine this tiny man as one the primer minds in the field of archaeology, having discovered some of the greatest sites of the modern times. Yet these days he spent most of his time as a teacher of history at the University, one of Valya's favorites.

"Sor-Sorry Brother. I didn't..."

Byerel smiled as he slowly began to seat himself next to Valya using the thick torso of the thort as an anchor, the large beast snorting as it felt the pressure. "You didn't think an old man like me would be up at this hour?"

"No! I mean yes... maybe." Valya sighed defeated as she slid over to allow the old man space as he sat down next to her. Byerel for his part chuckled as he waved his hand in a dismissive fashion.

"Relax child, if I was going to reprimand you it wouldn't be over something as base as a slip of the tongue." The twinkle in Byerel's eyes visible behind the small frames of the glasses that rested on his nose.

Valya smirked a little as she ran a hand through her hair. "Thanks. Sorry, I've just been kinda on edge lightly."

"You don't say? I figured you just normally give off the air of an empty field before a storm rolled in."

"That obvious eh?" Valya replied averting her gaze making little drawings in the dirt with her finger.

"I selected you for a reason Valya. You're ready." Byerel explained as he gently tapped her on the side of the head. "For now though you should rest. Tomorrow is going to big day for everyone and I need you in fighting shape."

"Yeah." Valya responded finally, but by the time she had looked up the old steward had vanished into the darkness from once he came. Another frustrated sigh as she slammed her head into the side of earning a annoyed grunt from the thort as it shifted in its sleep. Sleep. Sleep was the furthest thing from Valya's mind at the moment. How could she sleep right now? No, if she was going to get rid of the excess stress she needed to expend it somehow. She needed to go on an adventure.

She quickly slipped out of her robes, shoving them in a crumpled pile into her bag. This left her in her more standard attire, a simple shirt off-white in color, sleeves hanging loosely off the arms, and a simple pair of brown breeches. Didn't need folks talking about the wandering initiate the next day, Byerel had enough to worry about.

She carefully crept out of the encampment and headed inwards. Valya had seen many cities in her time and each have had their own peculiar character, from the lavish halls of Varkhym, to the austere towers of Hektra. But, Mournhold was a place all of its own. Even now late into the evening as it was, the city breathed a choir of alien tongues into the flickering torch light. Sneaking her way through the masses that thronged the streets; Valya played the game fast and loose between progress and danger as she attempted not to get crushed by the tide of bodies.

Many were looking in the distance where the night sky was exploding into bursts of color. Fireworks, a hallmark of the Jotun tribes. Such displays initially designed to ward off evil spirits. They persisted to modern times especially popular during festivals such as the Budding Wind.

Letting the explosions draw her forward, Valya progressed until she hit the Vira. The Brown Goddess, the vast body of water carries vast tonnes of mud for over 2,000 miles starting in the towering ranges far beyond the Ventari Expanse, before meandering slowly through much of the northern Holdings finally ending in the Far Wilds. In Mournhold the Vira bisects the city into two, serving as the primary method of ferrying both supplies and people to the wayward city, before vanishing into the darkness of the Tyrick.

Much of the entertainment and business ventures of Mournhold are centralized upon the river's banks. Including a large dome-like structure constructed out of sheet metal and heavy cloth that caught Valya's eye. Scribbled into a large wood panel that hung above a pair of double doors - Dagan's Drought. The sounds of laughter and shouting within overpowering even the noise of the fireworks droning them out to subtle tremors in the distance. As Valya step closer to investigate, the doors flung open as three large humanoids tossed another like a sack of potatoes out the door. He landed not far from Valya on the street expunging whatever contents he had left in his stomach.

"Well this looks fun." Valya whispered to herself before righting her posture and stepping through the doors.

Almost immediately, the girl was greeted with the sheer scale of things. The entire Drought was a singular uninterrupted circular room strewn with tables, even above her connected with ropes and ladders, several large suspend platforms which had their own tables and patrons. All of it was connected to a centralized pillar at the center that rose upwards like the mast of a great war galleon. At the base of this pillar was a large bar serviced by an equally rotund Cellva, something which surprised Valya since she didn't even know that Cellva could get fat.

She quickly stepped out the way as a small figure zoomed past her. It appeared to be a variation of the servitor golems that were used to carry messages in the University. The small spherical mass suspended atop of a singular wheel, yet these ones were modified having large server plates that were suspend above their heads with some kind of levitation enchantment, and upon these plates they carried drinks to the various tables, some even going up strange lift like contraptions to reach the upper platforms. This strange menagerie of controlled chaos putting Valya into a sort of staggered awe.

Silently she navigated the sea of tables and people to reach the bar, where she sat down upon one of the provided stools. Ordering a drink, something strong she turned her head over her shoulder to look out into the crowd

---

"Bullshit!"


"Hey, hey no need to get feisty with us here." Priyet spoke his voice a calm warning.

Like any other night he was playing cards at the Drought. Dagan was good to the Vigil providing a sizable discounts to any of their ranks. In exchange, the Vigil was more than happy to provide a little extra muscle to the keep the peace in such a busy establishment. Drunks are a lot less likely to start brawls, when a quarter of the patrons are armed mercs. Tonight, was a little more special than any other evening of course as for many tonight would be the last time they could have a drink, and a hot meal for a long while, so they tended to lean more in the realm of excess than they would normally.

Priyet was playing with Kran, the chapter's quartermaster and a bunch of rivermen in a game of Bal. A popular game among soldiers and sailors alike. Kran who was as readable as a wall having melded a straight flush for the fifth time that night. The rivermen who were down a significant portion of their coin by this point, were starting to reach the point of anger. Accusing, Kran of swindling them somehow without any proper evidence.

"World won't end if I cave his face in." Kran whispered beneath his breath. Kran was another old hand like Priyet, mid to late forties, dark hair and beard peppered with grey, eye-patch over his left eye where a corsair had gauged it out in his days serving in the Varkhym navy. Saltier than the sea that he rode on, but Priyet were sure as hell happy to have him at his back during a brawl.

"Yeah, but Rika will have your balls for it." The Rika that Priyet spoke of was Captain Rika, one of the few Ventarians to call the Holdings their home, the one in charge of their chapter, and the most intimidating woman that Priyet ever had the pleasure of serving under. The mere mention of her name making Kran pause for a long moment. "Come on, just walk away."

Kran sighed in acknowledge and very slowly began to back away with Priyet. The riverman, a large fellow with greasy slicked-back blonde hair and a chest covered in a tapestry of tattoos continued his drunken tirade.

"Ye vig-ul typess ainae 'at toogh ur yeah? He slurred as he puffed out his chest. "Gang 'en rin awa' ye sons ay whoress!"

Kran froze and turned. Priyet cursed beneath his breath.

"Screw it." And with a bounding leap, the quartermaster flung himself over the table and collided into the riverman's chest sending him straight to the ground. Before the man could ever react, Kran began to unload a barrage of blows into the man's face.

The riverman's companion, a weaselly looking fellow with a mouth fill of holes and a wandering glass eye looked at Kran and the riverman, who to his credit had managed to get the quartermaster off of him, and then at Priyet. Giving a broken smile he reached towards his belt and pulled a wicked looking curved dagger.

"Dammit Kran." Priyet muttered as he grabbed a chair by one of its legs and smashed it against the table, leaving him with an improvised club. Raising it into a duelist's stance he looked at the riverman and beckoned him forward. Despite it all, he could feel the smile starting to break across his face. He was rather glad that the idiot had made the unknown mistake of insulting Kran's mother. It had been a long while since they had gotten into a proper scrap.

This was going to be fun.

--

It had all happened so fast. There was a yell, then the sound of something crashing to the floor and then the entire establishment had broken out into a brawl. Valya did her best to stick by the bar and try and wait things out. She watched as a colossal Jotun in the distance took what appeared to be a leg of a chair and hit a man so hard with it he actually went airborne for a second. Others all around were getting into the action as well.

So intensely was Valya watching the scene transpire she almost didn't see the clay bottle that came rocketing towards her head. Seeing it at the last moment she quickly made a series of frantic motions with her hand, her gloves glowing as she did and the bottle was deflected off some invisible conjured barrier. Spinning to the right it collide into the large furry lion-like mane of a Ukanuq that sat the bar. The Ukanuq for his part didn't even flinch as it broke across his head, purple liquid running down his golden fur. His eyes did move though locking on directly to Valya, as he let out a low snarl.

"I'm really really sorry about that."

The girl quickly began to back up trying to put as much distance between herself and the angry cat-man as she could. With the deliberate methodical pace of a predator, the ukanuq rose, his steps slow and measured as he flexed his furred-hands, which ended in some rather sharp appendages that Valya would rather not of liked to have rip her throat out.

"Come on this doesn't have to end violently." Valya insisted as she continued to follow the perimeter of the bar in a long circle.

The ukanuq fired back an unintelligible response of snarls and grunts. Valya who as part of her studies had studied several Ukanuq tribal dialects understood the basics of it, and she didn't like it. The cat-like creature tensed its leg and in a flash he pounced at the girl, knocking her to the ground with minimal resistance.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!"

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Za Warudo
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Lost among the heaving crowds that had packed into Dagan's Drought for warmth and company on this bitter winter night sat Edwina Swift and Calador the drafter. An odd looking pair among dozens that had cosied up to each other during this party. The two had spent the winter months slogging their way through one battle for the walls after another, learning each other's combinative quirks as they fended off waves of barbarian attackers.

However Calador insisted on finding other words to call their besiegers. Constantly knit picking and arguing that these were simply a different society of people trying to make their way in the world the same as everyone at Mournhold. Just with a different set of societal norms and values (and no doubt resources) that had lead them into conflict with the people of this young holding. All the respect he insisted they get didn't stop him blasting them to pieces with sorcery but whenever someone pointed that out he'd insist it was immaterial since their two groups had come to a violent impasse.

It was the pay for those fights that was funding the fun both he and Edwina felt they'd earned themselves now. And it was the loot from their last fight he was playing with at their table. Spread out on its surface was a deck of playing cards Calador had found on the body of a champion he'd decapitated. Made from finely shaved bone and painted with berry juices he'd excitedly claimed it a relic from old Gaerth.

How the bastard had gotten it he had no idea but he was now in the process of teaching young Edwina how to play "Worker and Parasite" a game that was created in the slave pits by some enterprising slaves that refused to let their minds be caged.

"Now you see, Young Edwina, if I play my hanging Jotun in combination with my third shackle card and that's... three points stolen from you and given to me, AHA!" He cheered completely oblivious to the strange look his loud instructions had gotten him from a nearby Jotun who managed to spy the grizzly picture on the playing card.

Ed furrowed her brow in concentration, or was it confusion? She hadn't figured that out yet. Despite the rowdiness of the establishment, there was a cosiness to it all, and something she'd grown accustomed to since leaving her more docile Holding. One thing was for certain, she was glad Calador, or Dory as she affectionately referred to him as, had joined her. It was good to have a friend with her in this strange part of the world, and she had learned so much! Like the dumb game they were currently playing, that she definitely understood the rules of.

Biting her bottom lip thoughtfully, the girl looked between the cards in her hand, and those in play on the thoroughly used table. "I will..." Her hand hovered over a card hesitantly for a few moments. "I will play Cellvan's Vigour, with Flagellation, and take 5 points!" She slammed her cards on the table, a triumphant smile brightening her eyes. "I am so good at this game!" She loudly proclaimed.

"No no no, young Edwina!" Calador scoffed, shaking his mop of white petals. "Those cards are of a different suit. And each others counter to boot. Now I'll give you a tip, you want to play the whip." He leaned over the table, craning his neck to take a look at Edwina's hand and tapped his fingers along the top of some of her cards to point them out. "And something with a slaver's band."

The two played on for a little longer, Calador going easy on her for this practice game and keeping an eye out for the food they'd ordered. "So what do you think of this trip to Ashfoot we're to start out on tomorrow, Edwina?"

"Stop it." The girl mumbled in irritation. "You know it annoys me." Rubbing the back of her neck, Ed let out a frustrated huff and tossed her cards onto the table, sitting back in her chair before crossing her arms sulkily. "You're not my mum, so stop calling me Edwina, also this game is stupid."

Ed was never the best person to play games with, as her siblings could attest to.

"This game was made by the creative souls forced into bondage to help lift their spirits and free their minds." Calador chided her with a click of his tongue to punctuate the point. "And one's name is something to take pride in, the foundation of our identities." And since Calador was the closest thing to a guardian she had away from Plent Calador was determined to treat Ed like, and encourage her to conduct herself as, a respectable young lady.

"And you are avoiding my question. Do you feel ready for the road tomorrow?" He hoped she was, this was the kind of thing she'd been devouring stories of all her childhood. But it wasn't too late and all it would take was a word for Calador to help Ed get home to the safety of her Hold.

"Yeah, yeah, Dory." Ed rolled her eyes, putting her hands behind her head as she began rocking her chair back slowly. "It'll be good to get outta here." she chuckled slightly. "Hopefully somewhere warmer." Plent had cold winters, but they were like sunbathing in the fields compared to Mournhold.

"Are you trying to talk me out of it?" Ed smirked, "Has mum been sending you messages again? I told her 'Stop worrying, I'm with the old man', but apparently that didn't make her feel better." She narrowed her eyes playfully at Calador "I wonder why that is?"

The Cellva set to bristling, leaning all the way back in his chair as he retreated before Ed's playful accusation. "Yes well... you know. Anything can happen out there on the road! Miles away from home and comfort. Surrounded by dangers. You handled yourself admirably during the siege but doing the same in the wilderness is a whole other beast. Not everyone is made for it."

As if to help punctuate his point his statement was followed up by a bellowing roar, as if some beast had been set loose in the building. "It can be very scary out there." Suddenly there was a great crash as a table was sent toppling over. "It can feel like the whole world is against you out there." And the crowd on the other side of the room started exploding as well. The place was already loud and rowdy but this sounded like something else. What was going on here.

Bottles went flying overhead and a smaller Ukanuq by the looks of it. Ah... a brawl was breaking out. Lovely. Fist fights and spots of violent acrobatics were springing up all around them.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" Cried a diminutive human girl who looked a few years Edwina's junior amid all the chaos. A furious feline patron hot on her heels with claws drawn.

"See, like this. That could be you everyday out there." Calador waved sagely.

"Everyday, huh?" Ed draped an arm over the back of her chair as she looked on at the quickly developing situation curiously. The feline Ukanuq was looking for some serious retribution, what could this waif of a girl had done to upset him so much? Whatever it was, it surely didn't deserve a mauling.

"I'mma help her, Dory." Ed's eyes brightened with excitement as she glanced at Calador.

"Leave nature to its work, my dear. It is a delicate balance you risk upsetting." Calador called over the din, gathering up his precious antiques before the brawl could claim them. He'd never get his food order now.

Ed nodded her head quickly. "Yeah, you're right, I should definitely help her." She winked at the Cellvan as she got to her feet, kicking her chair out from beneath herself.

"Oi!" She called out to the feline Ukanuq, "Don't be so catty, if ya..." She trailed off for a second, before quickly looking back at Calador, her brow furrowed. "Is that racist? It sounds like it might be racist."

"It wasn't the best option you could have gone with, no." Calador sighed, just glad no one was paying enough attention to see him cringe. "Perhaps focus your attention on the girl you're saving instead?"

"No, no, you're right, I can do better!" Ed quickly thanked her mentor before turning her attention back to the task at hand. "Oi!" with one hand on her hip, she pointed at the pair. "Don't be so..." Ed frowned as she tried to think of a better pun, damn it! These things were always so much harder on the fly! "I think you should... no, that doesn't work" Shit! She was blowing her big moment to shine! Getting visibly frustrated, for a few moments, the girl shook her head quickly. "Nah, fuck it, this ain't working." Quickly regaining her composure, she coughed slightly.

"OI, PUSS, FUCKIN' FIGHT ME YA BIG WUSS!"

With a big grin, she looked back at Calador for approval, ridiculously proud of her rhyming skills. "Yeah? Yeah that works, right?" She silently mouthed to the Cellvan.

The look he gave back to her said it did anything but, as Calador fought the urge to retreat further into his robes. "Just get on with it!" He mouthed back at her, shooing the girl on and mourning for the noble company he'd once walked with.

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The sounds of merriment, drunken laughter, and chatter all echoed off the walls of the tavern and into the mind of a single feathered Ukanuq. The cacophonous atmosphere brought a fistful of rancor to Vin’s attitude. The rude, crude, and sometimes charming drunken one-liner slurs that were thrown about to men or women –from men or women- did well to remind the muted creature of her scar. Her fingers lightly pushed through her feathers at her throat to scratch the damaged skin with a very sour and disgruntled expression. And occasionally she’d mentally dream of the day she finds the damned human that did this to her, and completely eviscerate him. Then proceed to throw him a party while stringing his entrails in the branches of the trees as grizzly party favor. Get him a pie too, he’d get to enjoy a mouthful of dung as the last thing he eats before he passes away from shock.

Now it wasn’t that she didn’t like festivals. She personally loved them. She fondly remembered the good times she had in earlier years during the Gray March, Meta Day, and Serpent’s Rest back in the Shattered Plains. The many fun little scraps she’s gotten into. The games where the participants were constantly trash talking one another. And of course, the little whispers of sweet nothings from time to time from a charming man or woman.

No… it was the fact that this very scar she was scratching had brought a curse of silence upon her. And it certainly wasn’t that she couldn’t communicate. Either by body language, simple little gestures, a huff of breath, and even the hardlight system she wore that her close friend had designed for her. But all of that meant absolutely nothing in a room full of drunken revelers.

Wish to gamble? Good luck calling out a cheater, blurry eyes and reduced minds often can’t decipher someone grabbing another’s hand to reveal their hidden cards.
Wish to chat? A complex imagery forged by angels themselves and brought to fruition with such intricate detail… would be reduced to only a mess of colors. Like an artist took all of his paints, dumped them into a bucket and mixed them together. And somehow, that artist would not get some unattractive brownish-gray atrocity to the world of art.
And let us not forget how a simple gesture would only get a drunken giggle or a shrug.
Yes… a Tavern is the last place a mute would ever want to be during a damned grand festival.

And yet, there was Vin. She was all geared up and on Bouncer duty in a rowdy dive of a tavern. Among her normal equipment, was her old short sword. A normal, light weight, steel blade. Low tech, but still deadly sharp. She brought her backup, partly because it is unwise to show off near drunks. But mostly because she promised to keep the blood shed to a minimum, and the versatility of her backup made it doable.

She was seated at a table set off to the side. There was an empty beer mug beside her, and then one more mug that was half full with water. Her back was towards the wall, and she was facing the crowd. The entrance was always in her sight, and all new entries and exits had earned a small careful glance before her eyes returned to what they were doing previously. And at the moment, those sharp eyes of hers were peering at a couple on the other side of the tavern wistfully. Well… a couple at the spur of the moment, she wasn’t sure. What she was sure of… was the body language. The drunken brazen man, a surprisingly cute man – likely a shy one on normal circumstances – was laying down the word play on a lass that looks as if she had hit every branch of ugly with only her face on the way down. Needless to say the boy will likely be regretting his actions when the moment is gone, but for now he seemed to be into it.

Hands were exploring publically inappropriate places. And hushed whispers were being shared. Before things got more heated than that, off they went to whatever vomit soaked room it was. And sadly… this whole display was just adding onto the cornucopia of things that made up Vin’s current frustrations. It reminded her that she just wanted to shag something tonight. Female, male… didn’t matter to her as long as it was a good time. But not even a man so drunk he’d mistake a man a yard taller than himself and broader than a gallows across for a female would approach her. She wasn’t the most attractive thing in the world, nor was she ugly. It was just her very bloody reputation and tenacity for senseless violence when there is violence. Who would have thought that a short stock of an Amazonian wouldn’t be able to pick someone up. Sure… race was probably part of the problem. And sure, she was capable of asking someone directly. But that goes back to the issues of communication.

In a normal scenario that would require some very provocative imagery with her projections. And in a dive where everyone’s drunk… you’d be safe to use that… but no one would understand it when the world around them is spinning. So that leaves gestures and body languages. Subtle hints certainly won’t work. So things need to be very obvious. Which goes to just straight up bending over and hiking your tail. Vin has too much pride to even think of doing that. And so… her simmering emotions were starting to over boil, and the cauldrons flames were only just beginning to lick at her sanity as well.

Her fingers began to rake and gouge at the table’s grain as her thoughts started to run away from her. A hard light projection appeared near her head as an escaped jumble of thoughts. It was a simple pinwheel of little dashes. Each one grew and flashed just briefly in sequence after the other. That poor pinwheel is already in the process of tilting from where it floated, and the colorful cycle only grew more violent. The avian creature’s eyes slowly scanned the room to try and distract herself.

And well, it seems that she was just in time to watch her Quartermaster suddenly dive on top of another man. The display drew a quick surprised recoil from the Ukanuq’s head. Then came a different sound from the crowd. Vin’s head snapped too and fro as she saw the effects of a chain reaction being set into motion. One man drew a knife and stabbed some schmuck in the back. Said schmuck turned around and smashed a chair into some guy’s face. A poor man was turned into an impromptu dart and was tossed through the air and into the wall like a dart.

Time to get to work. She needed a medium to release her pent up frustration anyways.

She stood up so quickly that the chair she was sitting on was tossed backwards and to the floor. She rounded the table, and soon caught sight of a large feline kin diving on top of a woman who looked more out of place than a in a herd of sheep. Big guy looked like he was going to eat her, or lay claim on her. It depends really. The first option would be bad, and the second Vin would just envy her luck. Either one though… it looked like this humie didn’t want it. With an annoyed huff of breath, she crossed the distance quickly, shoving people out of her way to break the two up.

Just before the large creature can make a lounge at her throat, Vin had grabbed hold of him by the scruff of the neck, and his tail. With a gargled hiss of breath, she dug her talons into the floor boards and twisted her body. Her strained efforts have served her well, and lifted then tossed the man a few feet and sent him tumbling to the floor. Vin herself was thrown slightly off balance by the massive difference in mass, but she did manage to stumble in a path to put herself between the victim and the assailant.

This hulking furred was quick to get back to his feet to match the speed that Vin had recovered her balance. And if a blood thirsty glare that’s so harsh that it could melt a mirror wasn’t enough to declare to the world his displeasure, then the low rumbling as he stalked his way back to Vin with fangs bearded surely was.

There were no words shared between the two when the lion finally had stepped close enough that his nose was just a hair away from touching Vin’s beak. What was shared, was a fierce battle of bravery featuring only prolonged eye contact. Seconds quickly went by as they both waited for each other to make their plays. Those seconds could have grown into minutes if it wasn’t for a small interruption. Another bottle had been sent cartwheeling through the air, and it smashed into the back of the large lions head. And now, with his fury at critical mass the lion let out a fierce roar. A declaration of war to those who knew the ways of the tribal Ukunuqs.

Vin made her play. One talon shifted a step back behind herself while her head reared back. With a target set in mind, she brought her head forward at a violent speed and slammed her beak hard into the larger creature’s snout. There was a deafening and painful sounding crack when hard bone met softer bone and tissue. And as the male reared back, Vin had pounced him. Her meager amount of mass was enough to send him stumbling back and crashing down into the tables behind himself.
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Naarrah was having an interesting night up to that point, she was seated on the highest level of Dragan’s Drought, one of the platforms suspended above ground level and in this case, above other platforms, together with a married couple of vulpine Ukanuqs, slowly going through a very strong greenish-bluish liquor they tenderly called a Jotun’s End. She had drunk more than the two vulpines combined and she was feeling just a little bit disoriented just now, not that her table partners needed to know that alcohol almost didn’t affect her unless in quantities that were enough to bring several Jotuns down, something that she had already ingested.

Naarrah’s partners were getting very affectionate in front of her and had invited her to participate since they got together in the middle of the afternoon, without any kind of subtlety… Except maybe that the hands that were on each of the Shiriah’s thighs hadn’t gone any further up. Whatever they might offer her, there was little chance of her joining them tonight. Or ever. She knew perfectly what she was and that that was the real reason she was deciding to try and get herself drunk, regardless of the front she had put up that she was trying to demolish the vulpines in a drinking contest. But the Ukanuqs lived, somewhat, to their archetype as cunning and soon had realized this.

“Naarrah, what’s wrong?” Decided to ask Aurkes after exchanging a look with his wife. The Shiriah didn’t answer beyond a surprised look at them which, with the speed it was reversed, immediately indicated it was involuntary. Aurkes then whispered in the closest of the large ears of Oapau, his wife, and after a conversation just by looks alone, the pair of vulpines decided on another course of action. No salaciousness involved this time.

Oapau gently used the hand she had on the thigh of the feline and laid on the side of her face, forcing Naarrah to look at them. “You aren’t comfortable with yourself, aren’t you? Something the matter?” Ever sharp, even when more than half drunk, though back the feline. “And before you hide yourself, we know, we can see it’s not us who are bothering you.” Complemented Aurkes.

“Damn you, pair of lusty foxes.” Naarrah finally answered with a smile that she wasn’t sure had reached her eyes, and took the tankard, more like a jar, and started drinking it at a much less sedate pace.

“What do you know about the Shiriah? -Before you say anything - Please consider all the people I have told you about in the time we have known each other.” This stopped the first reply of Oapau, but not the one of Aurkes.

“They were a matriarchal society. Wait no…” The vulpine let the statement hang in the air before his wife completed it.

“They were all female.”

“Exactly love, but that isn’t very likely. And it grants no reason for you to be uncomfortable, Naarrah.”

Aurkes seemed to want to complete the statement with a response, but his wife beat him to it.

“Of course, you aren’t only female, right?” The Shiriah nodded while looking at the lower levels, suddenly the other tables beneath them seemed very interesting. Another conversation between the couple with only their eyes.

“Oh, we are truly sorry, Naarrah, we didn’t mean to upset you by invading something that could have been – Must have been – so painful in the past.” They could have told her they didn’t mind, and they didn’t, not at all; quite the contrary, but that wouldn’t have accomplished much and the three of them knew it.

“But I know how to lift your spirits up, don’t we Oapau?” Their sights crossed once more.

“Yes, let’s get you your favourite dish.”

“That’s not –” But she was interrupted by Aurkes before she could continue.

“Shush, we are going to pamper you little before you go out running to your destiny or whatever ridiculous heroic quest you are getting your tail into.”

So that is how an entire Sunberry pie arrived at the table while the three were heedless of the tavern brawl going on on ground level. It was a too large to be a proper pie though, it looked closer to a cake and it had several floors painted with mashed berries in tones of light blue and soft yellow. In total, it might have been around a forearm in height and an arm in diameter. On its sides, there were entire berries of different types, all competing for looking the most delicious and how full they could be with sweet juices without rupturing in an explosion of vibrant colours. On top lied a collection of fruits and other sweets large enough to be a desert for half a dozen people.

It was obscene, it was excessive, but most of all, it was delicious just to the sight alone and the smell was driving the Shiriah insane as a group of golems laid it on the table.

“See? You didn’t need to protest.” Added a smiling Oapau.

“Now go ahead, eat as much as you want… Or can. Actually, whatever of the two includes a larger piece of the dessert.” And Naarrah didn’t need to be told twice as she picked up a fork and skewed a group of Sunberries over which she could recognize at least five sweet dressings together with several creams. All of if washing over her nose, all to be enjoyed in unrepentant gluttony… Until something crashed on the bottom of the platform with enough force to knock down the table, and with it the dessert, over the side and towards the lower levels where it was destroyed by the force of gravity.

For a pair of seconds that seemingly stretched endlessly, the Shiriah didn’t move or breathe, just blinked owlishly. Then, in a flash of movement impossible for a human, the Ukanuq opened her greatcoat and took out a small and very ornamented metallic box the size of two thumbnails across and five of length from the inside of one of many larger boxes at one of her belts.

“Naarrah, don’t!” Hurried to say both foxes.

“Don’t worry, this time it isn’t lethal… Nor crippling.” Said the Ukanuq with a half-smile that this she was completely sure this time had reached her eyes, before taking out what seemed like a giant pepper seed, black, rugged and round; spitting into it and letting a short bolt of electricity run from the tip of her fingers to the ball in one swift and continuous movement. Then she launched it downwards with surgical precision before either of the foxes had time to catch her.

The ball crashed into ground, wet with the mortal remains of her cake and exploded into a shower of small pieces, like an egg detonating from the inside out before it all instantaneously dissolved into gas. Aurkes and Oapau were now each clutching firmly an arm of the feline before she could do more damage.

“What did you do?” Asked the alarmed vixen.

“If they don’t scratch their own skin out by the end of the night, and whatever skin of their inside they can reach, they’ll be having a terrible indigestion.” Answered the feline, almost unable to contain her laughter.

“Why did you do that?” Aurkes made his own obvious contribution.

“You think it excessive? Right now we have to go before it catches us too, that gas bomb has a reach of four hundred arms in length at most. This whole building will be consumed, but it is very slow, it won’t reach the ground level immediately. We can escape before they realize it was us or even what is happening.”

“Four hundred arms? Are you insane?” Chastised the vixen.

“Let’s just go Oapau.” Retorted her husband as he saw the black cloud expanding closer and closer to them.

And thus, merriment continued, most not paying attention to the gas until it was too late.
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