Hidden 25 days ago Post by Phoe
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LLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAADIIIIEEESSSS AAAAAANNNNNDDDD GENTLEMEEEENNNNNNN (AND NON-BINARY FRIENDS!)

The scene is an amphitheater nestled into a featureless, black void. As featureless as a black void can be with an amphitheater nestled into it. Raucous cheering erupts from the seats: all of it is the voice of Dulcinea d'Avingon. She is sitting in every seat in a variety of different guises, each guisier than the last. Here she is as a 1950s-style housewife! Here she is as a cat! Here she is as a child, a skeleton, Poseidon Earthshaker and Stormbringer, as a rave scene enthusiast, an Entrapta cosplayer, and the tsundere antagonist and secret best ending character of a dating sim. All of them are applauding and screaming and smiling from ear to ear.

D'AVIGNON PRODUCTIONS PROUDLY WELCOMES YOU TO ANOTHER EXCITING EPISODE OF!

Dulcey! Explains! Things!


The words hang there in the air, glowing bright magenta. Then the audience erupts into an absolutely deafening roar as the star of the show steps onto the main stage, brushing the letters away with the sleeve of her pristine white labcoat. The sleeves stain pink as the title dissolves into mist around her, but she turns and poses for the crowd without stopping to worry about it. There is screaming. And screaming. Fanchants. Somebody, somewhere, throws her underwear on stage. Dulcinea steps over it and presses a button. There's an enormous POV shot of Jasper floating in the air behind her now, filled with rain and sniffles and bits of Dulcinea-brand trinkets that clearly mark it as the moment our lovely and perfect heroine is experiencing this very second. Labcoat Dulcey picks up a pointer wand, and extends it. And extends it. And extends it.

And extends it. It wobbles precariously when she thwaps it against the surprisingly solid image.

"So! Thanks for coming today but we've got a lot to talk about so let's dispense with the pleasantries and get right to it!"

"YAY! YAY! IN THE SHA-DOWS! IN THE LIGHT! DUL-CI-NE-A DOES IT RIGHT!"

She blushes scarlet.

"R-regardless! This woman represents an alchemically significant event unto herself and I think we ought to talk about that! Now, as you are no doubt aware, the concept of 'alchemy' splits along a large series of lines depending upon the origin of the thought that spawned it, and all of them can be more or less significant to a particular discovery depending on the energies and leylines involved in the creation of the process!"

"SIMPLE! ELEMENTARY! YOU'RE SO CUTE OMG!"

Several screens pop up over the picture of Jasper. They're all diagrams, boxes with different colors and little elemental pictures. She clacks her absurd pointer over each one.

"So here you can see your classic Earth Wind Fire Water worldview, thank you so much Aristotle, no I do not think we are discovering Æther today. Shame. And over here the Persian theorem suggesting a great number of so-called 'lesser' elements but holding up our big four as 'sacred', which is nearing something approaching relevance but doesn't quite get us where we need. If we stretch ourselves a little further we can see the Pintrest model which breaks down thusly: Light, Air, Water, Fire, Nature, Mystic, Ice, Magma, Storm, and Dark."

"OOOOOOH!"

"Yes, I agree it is intriguing; you can almost invite comparisons to Outside dust from here," she waves at a picture of a swirling tornado with fangs and a big frowny face, "Though it's even easier if you adopt the Pokemon model. Tempting as that is though, we're better served by stepping waaaaaaaaaaaaay back, all the way to the practice of wu xing."

Applause turns to murmurs turns to stunned silence. Labcoat Dulcey nods solemnly and thwap thwaps her pointer over the five-pointed diagram.

"Yes, that's right. Admittedly we're leaving the firm ground of facts here and wandering into the luscious, sensual, and flirtatious arms of conjecture here but I submit to you all right now that this woman here, this... Sun is a phenomenon connected to a much larger chain of events. It does seem quite likely, given her general state, demeanor, and the fact that she has no clue what food is that she's not actually here by result of her own decision making.

"Ergo, we can reasonably assume she was brought here. And if that is true, we can further assume her physical presence as part of our world means she's not presently manifested in her full capacity as a The Sun, but rather as a celestial body brought to the earthly realms by some force, be it malevolent or beneficent. Therefore! Her dominant Principle can be assumed to be Metal!

"Which, if this is true, is very exciting because it FINALLY provides a narrow enough band of study for us to apply a dominant Principle to the dust of Outside. Metal carries Water. Metal cleaves Wood. Through careful observation we can determine whether she is part of a creative cycle or a destructive one. And that will allow us to, at long last, categorize these stupid storms! Finally, the Metaphoric Principle Assertion Device will have a purpose! We might even get a government grant! And then... ohohoho, and then..."

"DUL-CI-NE-A! DUL-CI-NE-A! DARK OR LIGHT! DARK OR LIGHT! ALWAYS RIGHT! DUL-CI-NE-A!"

"Buuuuuuuuuuut, we do also have to consider another unpleasant truth. If this woman is, in fact, The Sun, and again I have to point out the overwhelming likelihood is that she is. But if she is, then... doesn't she seem a bit... oh I don't know... old? To have been created by the ritual? But the altar is functioning perfectly, we checked it only last month. And yet? Doesn't causality imply that? That is? I mean? Did we create the sun? Or didn't we? And, if we didn't, then... what did... what did we actually do?"

Murmuring and angry whispers fade into so much noise as the camera zooms out further and further and further until the amphitheater is nothing but a tiny mote of light in a plane of pure darkness. Suddenly with a lurch sure to make audiences sick it zooms forward again, through the still-disturbed crowd of Dulcineas and then up up up into the sea of screens, past the unhelpful diagrams and straight into the eyes of...

***

Dulcinea blinks.

"Huh." she says, with a vague air of concern.

She packs away her gear. She glances nervously up and down the street, then at Jasper, then up at the sky. Then at her conscience crystal. It flashes the color of a shrug. She scribbles a few more quick notes and tucks the notebook under her arm, snatching the umbrella up with the same motion and best present-best attempt at a smile.

"Ok well my prognosis is that you are dying because you are very d... edicated to your weird lost bets. Or maybe you're a tourist? And you didn't read the brochure properly? I've got theories. Anyway the point is, and apparently this will be a shock to you, but you do actually need to take in as many calories as you burn on a daily basis or your body will collapse in on itself and you'll die and then I'm going to have to cut out my heart all over agai-- ahem! I mean, nothing! Hahaha, how silly!"

She flashes an even more best-try smile and grabs Jasper by the hand and starts dragging her down the street, carefully angling the umbrella to block the rain from off her head.

"Regardless! I did have plans for this afternoon but I just noticed my karma is getting a little unbalanced which usually works out pretty bad for me so really I've got no choice, no choice but to take you somewhere reasonably far away from here and the people I can feel lurking so I can introduce you, apparently, to the concept of ramen. Which by total coincidence is nowhere near that weird owl cafe I heard was opening soon and also has absolutely nothing to do with this weird roller coaster feeling in my stomach or the fact that you have the softest and most perfectly touchable skin I have ever seen in my life. This is a random charitable act with zero ulterior motive whatsoever! Trust me you will feel a lot better in like an hour, and that will be better for... basically everybody else in the observable universe. Probably!"
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Hidden 25 days ago 25 days ago Post by eldest
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Mila opens her mouth to respond.

“We are here,” she declares, “for the beet poetry! Let the beets commence!!”

She didn't mean to say that. Huh. OH THERE ARE PEOPLE AT THE DOOR. That's good, forgetting to use her voice and using somebody else's would be bad. No time for that, though, somebody is jabbing her finger in Mila's face and spouting... something about beets.

"Oh, you're here about the beat poetry!" It clicks, like a grandfather clock that finally got to go a full circle around the clock face. Quietly, that is. It's a well maintained grandfather clock. It doesn't do for those to be making all these extra noises. "I actually changed the cafe away from that because... well, it didn't feel right. So it was going to be a maid cafe. But now I'm second guessing that." She makes a face. A cafe sounds so nice, why is it so much work!
Hidden 25 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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[Storytime: 2/9
Adventure GET: 3/21
Up to Date: 1/15
Something To Deal With 1]

“Hold the phone. Now give the phone to me.” I hold my hand up to my face. “Hello, this is Rinley Yatskaya, your call is very important to us, and we would like you to know that a maid cafe is exactly what Fortitude needs, especially if it also has those omelettes with the smiley faces drawn in ketchup on them. Thank you for calling Rinley Incorporated, and have a magical day.” Click! I hang up the phone.

And then I look around. Oof. Boy. This is not the sort of place you take a new best friend on your first friend date, is it? We still can’t entirely rule out the theory that this is all an elaborate beat test, but... well, my tail’s twitching and I’ve got a helpful itch in my fingers.

“So what’s the name of the place,” I ask, as I set the lily pad next to the umbrella and wave Sessily over to set Totem over here. This place looks like it’s been ransacked by Mongols and then given a morning’s worth of TLC. “And what’s on the menu? I will have your best dessert for my girl friend, I mean, my friend who is a girl, right here, we’re not dating, this is just a friend date at a cafe, like friends do.” Nailed it. I narrowly avoided putting my foot in my mouth, which I can do, I’m quite flexible, but I deftly avoided making Sessily feel pressured or taken advantage of, and I have surely put the proprietor of the cafe at ease by insinuating that I am interested in spending money in her establishment.

(As it just so happens, I still have that pouch of denarii I found while a prisoner of the Lost Legion underneath the Fortitude Water Tower. They’re really not so bad, once you get to know them. Or, rather, ceoney ouyay tegay otay ohnay emthey, as they say in the Queen’s Latin.)
Hidden 25 days ago Post by eldest
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Now since we have not one but four people in the cafe, let's take a second to describe the cafe itself. It'd be more accurate to call it a future cafe: right now we have a large front room with a counter and two mismatched stools she'd found in a thrift shops and by the side of the road respectively. Behind the counter is the third stool (also a roadside acquisition), a cast iron pan and a camping stove, mostly there so she can make herself lunch while working, and a door through with you can go to the (future) back room, (future) storage room, (current) roof, or (current) restroom.

Mila had been cleaning up previously in the back room, which catches us up to the present with a wide variety of non- and semi-perishables stacked up on the back counter between the stove and the sink, a recent offer of a cook's expertise, no money, and two customers willing to pay money for goods and/or services.

"Our menu! Yes, we'll have our chef here talk over what we can make for you, as you can see we're not actually fully open right now and as a result the menu is in a bit of a flux, but I'd rather not send you out into the rain without a full belly, hmm?" A quick pull of Seizhi behind the counter and a gesture towards the food follows. "We'll see about getting you a uniform later. It wasn't the biggest focus of mine today." Not least because she didn't know this wasn't going to be a one woman show.
Hidden 25 days ago 25 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Jasper didn't understand much of this world, but she did understand that the smiles were wrong. A smile should be... full! And vivid! And overflowing, the kind of thing that happened because you couldn't do anything else! But smiles here were complicated, and she'd never seen a smile as complicated as Dulcinea's. She wanted to study it - wanted to take her face in her hands and feel how it moved and shifted, how it was possible to smile without it touching your eyes. It wasn't even as simple as a deception, pretending to be happy when you were sad - there were libraries of unvoiced secrets in those amethyst eyes. The constant flow of words and thoughts and knowledge from those fascinating lips seemed a mere like a reflection of the complexity below the surface.

Everything up until this moment had made her feel like she was lost. This was the first moment when she'd felt like she wanted to explore. In those two brief almost-smile attempts she'd seen glimpses of a world that was bigger than she'd imagined existing and she wanted to find out more.

The miserable, pelting rain started to ease. In its place came a lighter, powdery dusting of wetness; the aftershock of rain, tangled through a few beginning beams of curious sunlight.

She sped her pace, still unaware of her limits. She tried to keep pace with Dulcinea so she could observe her face rather than being dragged behind her, eyes wide and glittering as though lit by something other than the sunlight. "I apologize for spoiling your plans for the afternoon," Jasper said sincerely. "And though I accept your charity and your pure intentions, I will nevertheless repay your sacrifice. Name your desire, I will fulfill it as soon as I am able."
Hidden 20 days ago 20 days ago Post by Anarion
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Dulcinea and Jasper!

Dulcinea mentions the feeling of lurking and as Jasper finishes her heartfelt promise, right behind you there is suddenly the sound of clapping! Someone is there. She's a young woman wearing mussy jeans and a wrinkled black t-shirt that says "I <3 Fortitude" in white letters. She's got an umbrella but she's not wearing a rain jacket or anything. Peaking out from under the umbrella is her brown hair, all up in a ponytail and it seems like she tried to put a flower in it before going out, but it's like a daisy that's missing a few petals so it's kind of sad. She's got this sincere look on her face as she claps for Jasper though, and it feels like things will start to calm down a little as she's clapping. Dulcinea, you probably hate this. Jasper, you probably find this to be unusually polite based on what you've seen of Fortitude so far.

"Oh wow, that was so moving. Um, you must be new here. I'm Shokyou, it's very nice to meet you!" She extends her hand kind of stiffly for a formal handshake, but doesn't wait for it to complete to keep talking. "I, um, heard you talking outside my window, so I thought I'd come down and say hi. I was feeling kind of down because my comics got all drenched today, but listening to you talk has really helped me feel better!" She gives you just the warmest smile. It's almost infectious.

You could tell her to get lost and go get some ramen by yourselves if you really want. Or you could take her with you, she'd be so happy to get ramen together like friends. She likes plain ramen with salty broth and a little gyoza, by the by.

[Dulcinea, take one Science! XP and one Outside Stirs XP for your theorizing.]
[Jasper, go ahead and take an emotion xp for touching Shokyou's heart (you can't touch Duclinea's heart because she doesn't have one, of course).]
*****

"Yes, of course! I'm a master chef!" Seizhi says, straightening her bearing as she starts heading towards the back. "Don't even worry about the menu OR the uniform. I, Seizhi Schwan, who must have been around quite a long while to have learned to cook as well as I have in any situation, will prepare you something right away, just to your taste!"

Sessily giggles a bit. She seems to be enjoying the place, Rinley. Maybe it's just that the people here are lively, or maybe she likes maid outfits! If I were you, which, to be clear, I am distinctly not, but if I were I'd ask her some new friend questions while Seizhi is getting your mystery food ready. Maybe learn more about the maid who's running the place too. You could have a group conversation, like "everybody say your favorite food out loud on the count of three!" or "we'll each go around the table and say our favorite secret glass dragon fact, ready set go!"

Meanwhile, Seizhi has grabbed a couple cans of some kind of fruit and has turned on the camp stove and she seems like she's super into it. She's got some powdered eggs too, and flower, and it looks like she's whipping up some kind of light fruit pancakes, maybe even crepes! Sessily would probably really like crepes, on the grounds that almost nobody would be like "oh yeah, I hate dessert crepes, like, they're the worst, who would ever want to eat that?"

Mila, since Rinley is showing her girlfriend friend who is a girl this lovely place and Seizhi seems to have the food situation well in hand, how do you busy yourself? Do you try to avoid conversation or let Rinley wrap you up in her web?

[Mila, not seeing any XP since you already got the suspicious one and you're handling the unexpected influx of people pretty well.]
[Rinley, you marked your own XP already, but confirming storytime from earlier. So really you're just trying to get a "noooo!" out of us and maybe learning some mysteries now.]
Hidden 19 days ago 19 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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[Storytime: 2/9
Adventure GET: 3/21
Up to Date: 1/15
Something To Deal With 1]

There is really only one way to get to know somebody in a situation like this. Think about it! The rain’s pouring down outside, the sky’s a dark grey that barely provides illumination, and in here there’s warmth and soft lights and people who are going to be my friends, probably, unless it turns out that they are my nemeseses by the will of fate. Maybe it’ll be maid girl? Her air of flustered refinement will slip and be revealed as a mask as she ties me to the giant minute hand on the Horizon belltower, Big Benjamin, and leaves me to watch as the even more giant hour hand gets closer and closer...

Which makes it even more vital that I get to know her now, so that I’ll have ammunition for heroic banter as she cinches the knots and I hide my pocketknife in my fluffy, fluffy tail. Without heroic banter, she’ll never be distracted enough not to notice!

So I hop up on one of the stools, the wobbly one, and put my elbows on the counter. “Truth or dare??”

The maid totally looks me in the eye and says “dare.” That’s what happens. Don’t listen to her if she tries to tell you otherwise! That’s just her regretting her pick.

So it has to be a dare. She’s brave, letting me, Rinley Yatskaya herself, pick a dare! If she knew me, she’d know better! But she doesn’t, which is the whole reason we’re doing this, so I have to pull out all the stops. Do I dare her to chug from a bottle of Old Indescribable? (They make it here in Fortitude out of seaweed and Outside dust, and the taste is indescribable! At best, I’d have to tell you to imagine making out with an elder god with a tentacle face, who’s slept at the bottom of Big Lake since the beginning of time but has been awoken by the alignment of the stars once more, who has toe-curling morning breath. That’s Old Indescribable!) Do I make her hop down the street on one foot with one hand over her eye, doing Balor’s Walk? No good, it’s pouring outside, her dress would get ruined. I’m not that mean!

But the lights give me an idea. A light bulb flickers over my head. (Thank you, faulty electrical wiring!) I hop off the stool and scamper over to the light switch. Click! The lights go out, and the only light’s the faint grey of the rain and the flickering light of the camp stove. Click! That’s me, with a flashlight. (Which happened to be over with the other tools for refurbishment, because if you have to get into nooks and crannies, you really want to see what you’re putting your hand into.)

“A long, long time ago,” I say, as the cook grumbles about how they’re supposed to make food in the dark, “it wasn’t safe to walk in Fortitude at night. Specifically, between midnight and three in the morning. Because if you saw the Witch, it was already too late. She wore purple and a white, white mask, and a tall, tall hat. And if you tried to walk past her she’d walk behind you and close her long, long fingers around your wrist. And she’d whisper in your ear...”

I let my voice drop into a sepulchral whisper that echoes eerily in the dead quiet room. “Give. Me. Your. Face. Then... they’d find you the next morning, wearing a white, white mask, and nobody would remember who you were, not even you. That’s because the Witch was you, now. And people only figured out who was who when the Witch abandoned a face and took a new one. Everyone started being suspicious of each other! Because the Witch loved to cause accidents that weren’t really accidents, to say cruel things that she allegedly didn’t mean, and to destroy beautiful things for the sake of destroying them.”

Outside, lightning flashes! Thunder rolls, so close that the room trembles.

“Of course,” I add, lulling everyone into a false sense of security, “Rinley eventually ran into her at 2:45 and a plan, and when she tried to take his face, he whipped out his shaving mirror. When her fingers touched the silver, they bled right through. Quick as a wink, he ran that mirror up her arm, over her head, and then right down to the ground, but... he failed at the last minute. He couldn’t bear to stamp on his shaving mirror! It had never lied to him, and always told him how handsome he looked (which was very). But that gave the Witch a chance to escape into the world every mirror connects to, and now... if you stand in a dark room and say her name three times in front of a mirror... she’ll hear.

You could hear a cushioned penny drop.

“So, your dare... is to say her name three times in the bathroom mirror,” I say, hoping to send a thrill of terror down my new friend’s back. “Melanie Malakh, Melanie Malakh, Melanie Malakh.
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Hidden 18 days ago Post by Phoe
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"A... favor? W-well I mean, like... it's really not that big a deal, you know? Anyone would do this! Or, well, I mean, I guess nobody has, since you're standing there all... like this, but still! That doesn't mean I need a--"

Uh oh. That right there? That's trouble. That's trouble with a capital T. That's Trouble with mousy brown hair in just the tackiest ponytail. That is Trouble in the tackiest ponytail walking around like a fashion disaster friendship tornado comic nerd wrapped up in so many bad ideas even Rinley would go, "Hey wait a minute Dulcy I'm busy daring my new friend at this maid cafe don't you go bringing me into this hypothetical imagination whatsit!"

Although actually she would misspell hypothetical even though she was saying it aloud, but we're speaking in laymen's terms right now. In any case, Trouble.

"Aaaaa-te-te-te-te-te-te noooo? No no no no you go crawling right back into your danger hole right this second. Back! Back! Away! My cancelled plans are not allowed to walk up next to me right as I'm cancelling them! That's illegal! Worse than illegal! It's inconvenient!"

Dulcinea snatches Jasper's hand out of Shokyou's with a possessiveness rarely shown by her (or, that one time, by her evil shadow clone who went by Dulcinae). She manages to forcefully drag the scientific find of her lifetime a full five steps before her stupid jerkfaced jerk of a conscience crystal flies up and smacks her in the face.

"OW! What was that for, you... blue? BLUE?! What do you mean, blue? I'm guilty?! No I'm not! Ah! Uh uh uh uh, don't you flash at me, missy, or I'm taking you right back home to get recalibrated. Is that what you want? Huh? Guilty. Feh. Don't you even start with me you..."

Blue. Float. Stubborn crystal noises. The sfx team is out to lunch right now, ok?

"But she's annoying!"

Stare.

"You're gonna make me get the notebook out? Really?"

Staaaaaare.

"No, not The Notebook! Nobody has time for your weird references right now, conscience crystal! You know I mean the record of experiments that she's--" angry gesticulating at Shokyou, "wrecked! Do you really want to add another one to the list? You want that on your, er... my conscience?"

Blink blink!

"Yes I know I was literally on my way to see her just now! But that doesn't mean I w-- uuugggghhhhhh! Come on, you can't be-- I mean what would it hurt me to just this one time-- oh come on, that doesn't even-- no, they do not conflate! I know what conflation is, don't get lippy with-- fffffffffffffrrrrghle!"

She stops in her tracks. And hangs her head. Ok fine, she's feeling very guilty right now. That's not a fair reaction at all, or even an especially useful one considering the present circumstances in and about what passes for civilization around these parts. But three's a crowd, right? Besides, Shokyou's probably one of those "no rules in ramen" types who doesn't blink when she winds up at a sadsack chain restaurant dopily serving her soup with half a grilled lemon sitting on top.

...No really! It's a thing! Something not even nightmare science would dare concoct, yes, but even so it's been unleashed upon the world at least once! No amount of guilt is worth that risk! Besides, if she comes, this is gonna turn into some sort of romanti--

Dulcinea snaps her fingers. She throws a helpless look in Jasper's direction.

"Hey, so, I get a favor, right? Anything I want? That's cool. Then, as payment for my incredible selflessness and sacrifice, I demand you tell me whether or not I'm supposed to invite That Girl along."
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Hidden 16 days ago Post by Thanqol
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The ground felt firm beneath her feet for the first time in days. Here was a demon queen, tormented by the curse of morality (and of course a conscience was best kept in an ionic crystal, floating close-by like an orbiting moon - that was just how things were). And here was a supplicant devil, bounded by the strictures of formality due to their lesser power. And here was an appeal without asking for relief from a burdensome oath. This was a commonplace matter for the Sun.

(And an ideal one, too! She wasn't bound by a morality crystal so she got to pick whatever she wanted! Nyeh heh heh!)

"Noble Shokyou," said Jasper, placing a fist in an open palm and giving a shallow bow. "I am cheered to hear that you find my voice enlivening, though in my carelessness I have almost lost it -" another aspect of the curse, she imagined - it was definitely rasping and soft compared to normal. She raised a finger and illuminated the world with a sunbeam, stately and magnificent. "Once it has been healed, I shall come before you and sing until your heart is full. Until then, I pray that you and your precious things endure these storms."

Again she bowed - then with perfect poise took Dulcinea's arm and lead her away, so smoothly and completely there was zero room to get a word in edgewise.

[Spending a point of will to get a result of 4 on courtly manners for an exceedingly polite disengagement]
Hidden 16 days ago Post by Phoe
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Wait. Wait wait wait wait whawawawawawaaaaaaiiiitt!! What is this what is happening oh jeez oh wow this was not the expected outcome! Not the expected outcome at all! She was supposed to! But then she! And now she's! Oh yikes oh yikes oh yikesy yikes yikes!

Dulcinea is not used to being dragged around. She is very used to plans going wrong but the way! This girl! Is toouUUching heeeerrrrr! Is very! Eeep! Distracting! And not! Conducive! Toward! OptimAAAL! Thin-thin-thinky things! That's why she doesn't manage to shout apologies even though her crystal is battering her. That's why she's a warm and squirming mess right now with every mincing step she takes. That's why (please trust the narration on this) you do not want to see the inside of her head right now. It would only hurt you. And her.

And that is why you should be impressed when she does at least manage to scribble out a note, fold it into a paper airplane (specifically a Learjet 35!), and toss it over her shoulder at Shoykyou. There, are you happy you nosy little guilt crystal? There's a request to talk about (gag) comic books in there and everything.

Then they round the corner. Alone. Together. Oh no. She should, like... say something smart? Or witty? Maybe cute? like, omg?

"Did you know there are technically infinite varieties of ramen?"

Yeah? Ok? That's what we're going w-- a-all right!

"It's true! For example, the place we're going right now serves a creamy, emulsified broth that's... oh, see, so like, they take the bones from animals, right? Pig feet and chicken feet mostly, but you know, some shoulder blades and vertebrae and stuff, it's really cool and good trust me! You take those bones and you simmer them in water for hours and hours and hours, and there's a lot of fat content in the marrow, right? And because you're bringing the water to a boil it creates an unstable emulsification! Cause you know, normally all that fat doesn't mix with the water; they're not chemically or even alchemically compatible, but with the addition of heat they'll mix anyway, only to sort of break apart again when the stock returns to consumable levels of heat. Hence the creaminess!

And anyway yeah that's one part of the soup stock, but you can do it in other ways and even siphon the fat back out for use as a topping later! This place just tosses butter in for the fat component so it's different, but you can do it and that's the important part. Then of course all ramen adds a lot of dashi to its broth, because the fish flakes cut out some of the astringency of the fat and just overall give the bowl a much richer flavor profile, see?"

At some point in the middle of all this, Dulcinea has managed to spin herself free and is now walking backwards with a little sashay in her step. She resolutely holds the umbrella over Jasper no matter how badly this gets her own outfit ruined, and she doesn't turn her head to look behind her for anything in the world. She even manages to round another corner and cross the street without missing a step. Ask her how she does it some other day! Right now, she's too busy blushing and breathlessly talking about food.

"And then! There's the tare, right? That's where you add in more salt content through soy sauce and a low-alcohol wine called... do they have wine where you're from? Anyway it's called mirin, I think, and it's got a very high sugar content so it's just extremely high energy, very dense, and a super rich flavor profile. You could just pour... well ok no, I could just pour the stuff down my throat for hours, but that doesn't even get into all of the ingredients! The chashu, the sprouts, the onions, all add varying levels of nutritional content while also conveying new complexities to the flavor profile of the dish...

But more importantly than any of them is the noodles! See, here's the thing, right? The noodles used in ramen are already separated by thickness between six categories, and depending on which one you use you get different resting temperatures and mouthfeels and absorptive properties, differing levels of protein depending on the flour you use of course. See, because how much flour you add to the noodle mixture changes the level of work that needs to be put into the dough, which produces higher gluten contents and continues to affect the overall profile of the soup. The higher the flour content the less water goes in the noodles themselves, so they can become so absorbent, in fact, that if you let them they'll drain an entire bowl's worth of broth into themselves! That result can be a little messy, but incidentally if you ever see a dry pack of ramen at a store, this is the technique they use so watch out before you get distracted in front of your bowl.

And oh gosh! I haven't even gotten to the matter of alkilinity! See, the noodles are held together via the strong flour proteins, like I said, but a critical component of a ramen noodle, as opposed to like, a somen or, god forbid, tagliatelle or whatever, is carbonate salt like good ol' reliable K2C03! And this is an alkaline mixture, which means the noodles are basic. Not simple, though! They're obviously extremely complex! I mean they are, themselves, a base! And since as we've already noted the soup itself is so highly acidic in nature there's actually a major chemical war being fought inside of the..."

She can continue like this the whole way, if she's allowed. It's her favorite food for a reason, after all! It's just... you know, a shame about what happened the last time she tried to cook it herself. But that's not the point! The point is, even something as distastefully pastoral as cuisine can, in fact, become fascinating when you allow yourself to pull it apart and understand all of its chemical complexities, and the sympathetic connections that build up between the energies of the various components and...
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Jasper soaked in the knowledge like a sponge. Her eyes were shining beacons of curiosity and she kept moving around Dulcinea to try to keep eye contact. Her eyes shifted left and right, focusing on one eye then the other, hanging off every word. It was like a vision of another world and she could feel the weight and importance placed on every part of it. This felt like a quest, an adventure, something to aspire to. A devil queen searching through infinity for...

"How close are you to the perfect bowl of ramen?" asked Jasper - because of course there was a perfect bowl of ramen out there. The idea of subjectivity simply didn't occur to her at all. By the same token, it was impossible that she had already found perfection or else she would not have such detailed thoughts. "What are the rules of composition as you have discovered them? What must be included, and what paths of study are inherently wrong?"
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There is... certainly an expression on Mila's face when you turn to face her. It could be shock, sure, it could be terror, but it feels more like horror. A close cousin, yes, but not quite the same. "I... fine. Fine." She bustles into the restroom, scowling, and mutters That Name three times, into the mirror, followed by a hissed "and you stay there".

It's a masked face of a long dead ghost staring back at her. She's not sure if that's the mirror telling her the truth, or if it's... That Name's bearer, actually staring at her from wherever she is.
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Dulcinea and Jasper!

Shokyou looks like she just stepped into Wonderland. There's this big goofy grin on her face when you take her hand, Jasper, and when you promise to sing to her, she's just in heaven. Her eyes light up and sparkle as her grin goes from ear to ear. "Okay, okay, you definitely need to recover then. That's very important." She gives you the most solemn nod she can manage, her hair only bouncing a little bit and absolutely no giggles whatsoever (please ignore the lip twitch).

The two of you start heading to the ramen place Dulcinea suggested. As you round a corner and Shokyou gets the paper airplane with its offer of comics chatter though, you can audibly hear an extended high-pitched squeeing in the distance.

[Jasper go ahead and take an XP for doing sunny things. Dulcy, you're capped out on XP this scene already (barring a mention of the Archives) but I think enough time has passed that you can get another emotion XP. Also flagging to you that this is getting you an In Over Your Head issue when I do the weekly wrap up]

Oh, don't think we're done though. The ramen place is a classic Fortitude restaurant. The entrance is marked by some bright red wool curtains with the characters for ramen written across them. When you pull them aside, you find a nice warm room full of low pine-wood tables and chairs. Each table has its own little nook to it separated by various painted screens so that you can only see out the direction where you enter from. The air smells of noodles, soy, and a little garlic in a delight to the senses. You can hear people chatting, laughing, and slurping their noodles, but it's not so loud that you can't hear yourselves talk. Everything about the place is warm and homey, full of good memories and gentle care.

Once you enter fully, the hostess, an elderly woman named Ms. Mino, offers you a warm smile and a "table for two dears?"

*****

Mila and Rinley

The figure in the mirror is wearing a mask, so you really have no idea who it is, but she definitely isn't either of your reflections (I mean, probably, maybe one of your reflections put a mask on when you weren't looking).

This is, how would I put it, a little early for this sort of thing to be happening, but you invoked this and invoking names has a certain power all its own. Plus, you did it on the day of an outside storm that seems to have it in for you personally, Mila!

So if you're paying attention, it's not a surprise that the reflection starts talking, but it's not any fun either. "Wow, a maid cafe? I mean, really? Like, don't get me wrong, the costumes are cute, but I bet you've only got the one, right? First time you trip and spill some ketchup on it, you're done, never mind coming up with the cash necessary to dress the cook and your new waitress. Plus, you know they're going to end up wrecking the place, you've got zero practice as a manager and they're both obvious trouble, there's no way you're going to keep them in line. Fortitude isn't into these kinds of gimmicks either, everybody here just wants to eat at the same place they always eat and have the same food they always have. Nothing but fish and noodles. No way you're going to get more than the scattered customer. Like, seriously, you should just forget this and call it quits. Trust me, I'm only trying to save you pain here, this just isn't something you're good at. So, how about you pack it in for the day and head back to the archives for a nice long nap? It will save everyone time."

The sounds of Seizhi cooking outside and some laughter from the straw-haired girl come back into focus. You hadn't noticed they'd faded, but now that they're present, you can both breathe a little more easily at least.

[Mila take a point of the sickness issue. You would get it at the end of the week wrap-up, but I think it's worth giving it to you now. Note that it comes with a free MP.]

Rinley, you probably didn't actually hear all of that word for word. It was directed at Mila. But, well, you're you and if I know anything about Rinley Yatskaya (besides the fact that she has a bushy tail, which is a thing I know) it's that she's way better than the average dreamer and she can see into people's hearts and know that she's looking at a labor of love when she sees this place. So you know that somebody showed up in that mirror and did dreamlike things and that something's happening here that could make Mila's heart waiver. This is concerning. You should be concerned. It is also a mystery! You should mystery at it!

[Mila, I'm tossing you both an under siege and emotion XP here because I feel bad for writing this already.
Rinley, you get an emotion XP for getting this ball rolling. Also depending on how this goes, this could be a 3 XP flag for your adventure quest if trouble really starts here. Maybe, maybe not.]
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She locked that door. The black door, she locked it, nailed it shut, made it stop existing. There is no way she got out of that door. She's there, just on the other side, the outside, Outside even. It's not fair. She got out.

It's not fair.

She can feel the colors leeching out of the room, a black and white wall print reflected in the mirror in it's faded blue patterns. The Woman Who Isn't There reaches out towards the mirror, slowly, and you know that there's that grin under the mask, the one that's only teeth and has nothing happy about it. Cracks start to show, not in the mirror, but in the black and white reality as the Other's hand, just the silhouette, gets closer, stopping just short of touching the mirror.

There's a rattle-SLAM-click as Mila vanishes into the storage room at speed, followed by violent sobbing.
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"The perfect bowl, huh? Well that's really... huh? No, the bar's fi-- I mean, uh... y-ye-yeah. Be-better make it a table for two."

Dulcinea's face flushes a deep pink color, like a sunrise. She quickly hides her cheeks in her hands and shyly looks down at the ground. Disaster. Oh, what a disaster, this is bad, there is no way this is not very very bad. But it's totally her fault for being so easy to talk to! So it's... it's, y'know...

It's fine, right? For today? Yeah. Just for today. It's just a good deed. Doesn't have to mean anything more than that.

She flops indelicately onto the pine booth seating and is halfway to unlacing her shoes before she remembers where she is. Maybe she's first, maybe she's second, can anyone really measure something as imprecise (and more importantly, sneaky) as time? Yes, but not without a functioning calendar. Lousy good for nothing thing. She sighs and sips at a perspiring glass of ice water already waiting for her.

"What was I saying? Oh, um, right yeah. Perfection. Mmm... isn't that impossible to say, really? I mean, that's the promise and allure of Infinity in the first place, that every new zenith looks out over a higher one out in the distance. I will tell you something, lady, every person needs a project, at all times, or they'll die. It might even mean they're dead already and it's more a question of waiting for fate to catch up with them or, or, well you know let's not bring metaphy-- hm? Oh. Yes yes, two cups of sencha, if you don't mind. Yes, hot. No, don't burn it. Yes, I know how your strainers work. No, don't talk t-- just let me take care of this. Thank you. Begone."

Dulcinea plucks a single menu out of the server's hands and uses it to wave her away, fishing a pen out of her bag with her opposite hand and twirling it back and forth between her fingers. She doesn't have anything to write on, but this feels important right now. She needs to be in control of this not-date for it to go right. Which is to say, properly. Which is to say, un-date-ily.

"Anyway not to belabor the point too much, but the day the world presents me with a fully answerable query is the day the universe finishes dying its heat death. But, you know, having said that... there are a few hard and fast rules! For one thing, the noodles are inescapably critical. If you don't have good ones you're just in for a bad time, I don't care how well you nailed the broth. For another thing, those have to be the first thing you eat. They're the last to go in and the least permanent. Noodles first, egg last. That's always the order of consumption, don't let anybody named Rinley tell you otherwise. For another, never overindex on acid or spice. There's no such thing as too much salt. Oh! And, for the the love of everything good in this world, never ever ever let someone sell you on grilled fruit as a topping. Or any amount of anything piled so high you can't actually find the soup. Those are distractions from the true path. Supplements should remain as supplements, that's critical. I feel."

Everything she orders, she orders in duplicate. It's easiest for her if she makes this easiest for Jasper, and that means giving her a functional mirror to copy behavior from. Chili oil to the side, please. Let's not curse this from word one by discovering too late this lovely perfect... platonic stranger has a tongue that doesn't handle spice very well. And by then it's too late. But boy, does everything she's doing make this feel very date-y. The knowing looks and the winks she keeps getting are going to be the death of her. Dulcinea is pinker than pink and trembling furiously by the time she finally gets another moment alone with her target. Acquaintance. Research specimen. Argh!

"S-so... um, you know anyway enough about me, ha ha ha, what's your... I mean, like, what brings you 'round these parts anyway? Your type's usually much too important and fance to get caught slumming it down here with us trash mobs for very long. So is it business or pleasure? Both? What kind of bet did you lose, anyway? What's your story, hon?"

Her lip quivers on the edge of a smile, and her pen hovers eagerly over the unblemished pages of a fresh notebook.
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[Storytime: 2/9
Adventure GET: 4/21
Up to Date: 1/15
Something To Deal With 1]

Oh, gosh, yes! This has it all! Mystery, adventure, horror, and an intriguing plotline! Though, hmmm, maybe "ask the maid to look in the mirror" was the Heartless choice, which isn't my brand at all! Really, I should try to make up for that, but in my defense, I wanted to know if she'd chicken out or not! And it was a cool story to tell, which is why, when you think about it, this really isn't my fault at all, but rather, I'm a hero for thinking about her feelings and wanting to help her out, and this isn't guilt, nope!

I put my hands on the small, dinky sink. It's the kind with the one metal faucet, and whatever temperature you get is what you get, which makes washing your hands a pain in the winter, like, literally a pain, all pins and needles and wiping them off on your pants. I lean closer to the mirror and flash Melanie Malakh a grin. A hero grin! A "look out I'm Rinley" grin. I raise a heroic eyebrow. She lunges forward at the mirror and I give a heroic yelp and dive under the sink. When I peek back up, her shoulders are shaking with silent laughter, and my tail bushes up.

"You're a jerk!" I say at her, but suddenly she's gone, and I'm just saying it at my own reflection, which is... shut up, I'm not a jerk. Would a jerk have walked Sessily over to have a cool time over here? Would a jerk have spiced things up with an awesome party game? No, and so I am not a jerk. I am making my way hastily over to the storage room and opening the-- I am jiggling the locked handle of the storage room, kind of uselessly.

"Hey, so," I say, kind of lamely. "It's your turn. You know, for the whole Truth or Dare?" That'll lure her out! If she's upset with me, well, now it's her turn to think of something mortifying for me to do! Then we'll be totally even. I give Sessily a wan grin: what does she think of this whole, uh, delightful shenanigan?
Hidden 9 days ago Post by Thanqol
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There has never been a more attentive student. In momentary conversational pauses you can see Jasper's lips moving as she subliminally repeats your words to aid in memory. Jasper learns at the intersection of wide-eyed, awed fascination and grim seriousness, and the only thing missing from her is -

"A notebook!" she squeaks suddenly. "Paper! And it's blank! Oh wow - that stuff only comes from the human world!" She leans all the way across the paper, holding her hair back from her eyes as she stares in amazement, hand hovering in mid air as she stops herself just barely from touching it.

Blank paper. Blank prayer strips. What kind of demon queen received blank prayers? And so much of it, too! How?! Her chair scrapes along the ground for half a second - she's almost about to leap to her feet and challenge Dulcinea on the spot for that treasure and damn the consequences. It is only with supreme willpower that she halts herself, demurely folds her hands in front of her, tears her eyes away from the paper and back directly to Dulcinea's eyes. Hm? Is she blushing? Shaking? Thoughts of the paper slip away and Jasper tilts her head to the side analytically. She frowns. This felt like she was messing up some hidden rule of etiquette, like there was a social custom she didn't quite understand here. Was she inadvertently flirting with Dulcinea?

Further research was required.

"Why, I'm down here because I'm a sinner, of course," said Jasper with an angelic smile, still operating on the assumption that she was in the Consuming Hells. "The realms of intellectual enlightenment did not satisfy me. Cruder passions arose. The dances of the devils were far from solar perfection, but like you said... there's temptation in infinity."

How did the subject change when she was deliberately flirting?
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Rinley and Mila

Well, this is a right mess. Rinley, your question is still hanging there in the air. It's up to Mila how she wants to answer it. Or if. Or if she wants to push you away even.

For what it's worth, Sessily and Seizhi both heard shouting. They're standing behind you now outside the storage room. Each of them has two plates containing Seizhi's finished vegetarian powdered egg omelettes with canned tomatoes, spinach, and a little chedder cheese. They smell delicious, and the smell makes its way even into the storeroom along with Rinley's plaintive request for a truth or a dare.

Sessily, for her part, just looks kind of sad. She's holding the plates (obviously one for her that's already got a bit out of it that she couldn't quite resist) but her eyes are downcast. Like she intruded on something she shouldn't have. And, well, if you want to read her any more than that, Rinley, you'll need to spend some Will or miraculous powers on it. You're pretty distracted after all. Stop listening to me and pay attention to Mila, sheesh!

*****

Dulcinea and Jasper

I have nothing actually. This is a nice quiet little scene. The ramen is delicious. The waitress (who is definitely the granddaughter of the owner, they have the exact same bone structure around their eyes, it's uncanny) is attentive whenever you need more tea, but not intrusive. Your soup broth has plenty of salt and the noodles are tender but not soggy. Please enjoy your date exchange of scientific perspectives.
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Some people have melodic laughs, while others have deep belly laughs. Still others have rapid trills or even girlish, snorting giggles. Dulcinea... well, she's certainly got a laugh, you can be sure of that. It's quite possibly the most intensely dorky thing imaginable: squeaky little bursts that end in a sort of hiccup of breath every few seconds. Ahahahahaheeep! Haa ahahahaheeeeep! It's like someone's standing behind her head and flipping a switch on and off.

Right now she's stuck in her giggleloop so hard that she seems like she might burst. Her face has turned a very different shade of red, her hand is caught around her chopsticks still laden with noodles so that every hicsqueak dips them into and out of of the broth, and her eyes... well, actually, her eyes are glittering like diamonds. At some point later, which might have been a minute or might have been three full eternities but in any case coincides with her broth still being pleasantly hot, she drops a notch or two down in intensity to simple out-of-breath sighs and mini-spurts of smaller giggles.

"Oh! My! Goodness! I can't even! I just! You're so! Haha! Hee! You're the cutest! Heeep! Thing I've ever! Haha! Seen!"

Her hand finally regains enough control to bring her food to her lips. She slurps noisily, flinching a little when the flopping noodles splash soup on her face and in random flecks around the table. Her notebook, by astonishing coincidence, stays completely dry. She scribbles a series of tiny notes while she chews. Every sentence ends with a little heart.

"It'sh gonna bhe shho," gulp, swallow, "Sad when this stops working out. Metal. Definitely metal! How lucky can I get? No, but this is sad, actually. It's so sad. Alexa, play... egh, never mind. Gosh you're cute. Is everything so cute up where you're from? You know, once I actually... Hahaaaactually never mind that too."

Her pen hand unconsciously drifts up to brush her chest up and down, where the thin but kind of jagged scar lines lie hidden under her thick black clothes. Her hand rises higher still and she twists her hair around her pen. Around, around, around, release. The curls don't last more than a second, but it's soothing. Or, well. It would be. If she had a heart. Which she does not. Even though for some reason it almost feels like she does right now?

Weird.

"Right. Well. You seem to be laboring under a delusion or twenty, so in the interest of clarity let me be the one to break it to you: this is, in fact, the so-called "human realm". You'll notice all the humans about, if you look around? Provincial little sh-- ahchoo! Excuse me, sorry. But yeah, like, how's the food? Like it? Of course you liked it, I picked it! Hahahee! But no, tell me how it feels. In detail, if you wouldn't mind. What's your physiological response like right now? Emotional? Are you, in fact, experiencing the healing powers of a good, hot meal? Or do I need to feed yet another truism to my Truism-Devouring-Hound? You know, as... as soon as I make one of those. It's on my to-do list! Lotta wasted vocabulary on wasted truisms, you know. The world would be a much better place if we could all just focus on the-- sorry, sorry! But no no no, tell me tell me! Is the mouthfeel unctuous? Is the saltiness pleasing? Do you have the slightest idea what umami actually means? What's your first impression of caloric intake? Ohmygosh don't eat the egg yet!"
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Jasper pouts. Cute!? She is glamorous! She is elegant! She is... she is tall! Tall people aren't cute! Besides, lines of that nature were independently written by two different songsmiths and capable of inducing swooning when deployed by far lesser spirits than her! A line such as that coming from her should have caused at least three of the onlookers in this restaurant to faint, at the very least!

"Hmph!" she hmph!s, but she can't even maintain her attempt at dignity for more than a second because Dulcinea is finally revealing what to do with the ramen and she's fascinated. Up she gets from her chair and orbits around the table, eyes wide, observing everything from as many angles as possible. And the writing! With a magical brush that didn't need to be dipped in ink! She observes every minute gesture of etiquette and pose, the posture, the stance, the control of the fluid that keeps it away from the notebook. She is going to get this right!

She sits again, folding into her chair like a flower retracting. She picks up the chopsticks, lowers her head, and performs an absolutely perfect mirrored slurp of ramen soup exactly as Dulcinea demonstrated. She keeps her off hand in the same place as Dulcinea's notebook and, sure enough, her control is so fine that not a single drop of broth touches it. She sits back, a droplet of soup on the edge of her mouth, and gives a haughty, proud look. Try laughing at her now, demon queen!

And then the taste hits her and she chokes, gasps, and coughs, eyes widening. "What!?" she said. "What is - it's like you fit a savannah into the ocean!" She can't even chastise herself for her lack of poetry in this moment because she's busy reaching into the bowl with her bare hands to pick up the mass of ramen and stare at it - it was uncomfortably warm by this world's standards, and it dripped down her fingers in an incoherent mass. "The water is contaminated with the essence of the forest," she said. "But that doesn't come across at all to my hands or my eyes. But when I -" she took an unglamourous chomp of the mass of noodles she was holding in her hand, "- taste it," she continues, mouth full, "it unravels! It's the most impure thing I've ever experienced!"

She blushes as she realizes, at last, just why the devil queen laughed at her. Oh, how naive she must have sounded just now - thinking that she could talk to a devil about temptation. What power could a pure heart have against a creature that ground all of the forests and seas together? She was really out of her depth. Blushing more intensely, she set down the mass of ramen that hadn't already escaped from her hand into the bowl and picked up her chopsticks again in imitation of Dulcinea.

"It-it's good," she said weakly, watching the devil's expression with a new humility. "The mouthfeel is like the oil of liquidized fire. The saltiness is reminiscent of mountains broken into crystal. Umami is, uh, no I don't. My first impression is that there is an unknown heat at my core that feels like a wood-root fire, consuming and transforming me. As you command - this is the egg? - I will obey."
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