Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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True love hates and will not bear delay.

- Seneca the Younger

*

"Re...da...na..."

The scarlet light flickers like your heartbeat. Water runs down on your head unsteadily from ruptured pipes, just as your blood runs unsteadily from ruptured veins. You're so tired and there's so, so, so much road left to go.

And above you stands the God of the Dead. The ceiling light casts him in a dusty blue halo - red bow tie like a bloodless slit across his neck, black and white waiter's dress making it seem as natural for him to take your coat as take your life. When you look at him all you can think of is how easily he would fold up; he gives the impression of a sheet of origami paper, so loosely tethered to this world all of those angular joints might bend and crease and sweep him away on crane's wings.

He has an expression as though you remind him of someone. Given your state this must be a very sad memory indeed.

The thunderbolt is still stuck in your shoulder. A weapon for a king. A weapon to kill an empress. King Jas'o... you know his name. Know his house. Know that you were given lessons about him as a potential political threat to your future reign... all those details run through your mind like wild horses. Why hadn't you paid more attention? What had been so important back when your tutor was telling you about what a crack shot with a bow he was? All of the world had been bent to the task of making you ready for a moment like this and it had been insufficient. And now you're here, at the end, with Hades before you.

"It was too heavy a burden I laid upon you," said Hades. "A quest to find Ancient Gaia? Some things are hubris, even for the gods."

He folds at the knees, then the waist, then the shoulders, elbows, wrist, and each finger in turn, one after another, like watching a slow moving river run up through his legs and down through his arms. He offers you his hand.

"Come. I will hold no grudge for your failure."

*

The red ruin of your work lies before you, Alexa. The dead and dying speak a hymn with their bodies, and its lyrics are you have performed your function.

"Their approach was exemplary," said Pallas Athena, carving the lines of a bloody map into the wall. Her spear is a brush and blood her palette. "Courageously venturing through a solid projectile barrage to land without exposing themselves to point defense fire. When the seal of the boarding shuttle lowered they were too hasty to disembark, rushing forth to try and from a phalanx without sending their skirmishers out in advance. You recognized the opportunity and got amongst them before they could react, and with the loss of the phalanx then the skirmishers were easy to clear..."

She is merely giving voice to your instincts. The second you'd seen the mistake then the battle proceeded with the crushing inevitability of a meteor strike. The completed diagram carved in crimson into the hull of the ship is just another page from the Masteries of Battle, played out exactly as the Warsage proposed it would. A clockwork war, a truth of geometry, biology and physics expressed in bloody lines on a map.

Pallas Athena salutes you with her crimson spear as though there was glory in this. She pays tribute to the machine for functioning as it should. As though any of participants in this battle could have altered its outcome.

*

There is a rainbow wail; seven screams from seven broken hearts. No sound could be more alien; no feeling could be more human.

In the depths of space ahead lies the Eater of Worlds.

The mind cannot comprehend it's vastness. Its shell has stone enough to bridge the distant heavens. Its beak has sharpness enough to break a planet, as an eagle snaps the delicate neck of an ibis. Its flippers have width enough to swim the rivers of space on a voyage between the stars.

And it is dead.

One hundred thousand blackened craters run across its shell, leaving frozen webs of fault lines. Its flesh is boiled and burned, in some places down to the bone itself. And, worst of all, in the centre of its brow in between its mighty eyes rests the Battleship Lupincas - the mighty flagship of the legendary warriors of Ceron, armoured prow rammed through the leviathan's skull and into the creature's brain. It is the greatest wreck of this place and that is no small boast for the butchered hulks of a thousand Imperial warships scatter the void around the Eater of Worlds. The star leviathan did not go quietly - it took the combined might of the entire Grand Armada to bring it down, and left this system a graveyard of broken ships.

This is the site of a legendary battle and the end of an unparalleled beast. And now the fleet that did this, the commander who did this - has come to kill you too.

And here is Poseidon Earthshaker upon the bridge of your ship, tearing the clothes from his breast as he mourns his monstrous child. Terrible light radiates from within him and space runs violet and blue and crimson in sympathy, nebulas of spectacular dust arising into what promises to be a terrible storm.

The ship shudders and pounds beneath your feet, Vasilia. Solid projectile shot after shot is impacting on the Plousios' starboard hull, causing great eruptions of smothering, toxic gases that conceal any hint of the Veterosk's location as they bombard you. But the guns are running quieter and less frequent now - a tell-tale sign that they have launched their grapnels and started sending their soldiers across to engage in a boarding action. A full crew compliment of an Imperial vessel of that size is somewhere around three hundred.

You are four.

*

The Eater of Worlds fills the view screen. That is not why everyone is staring at it. Every eye in this massive hall is fixed on the two out of focus starships burning in the middle distance. Was that the strike of a macrocannon? Was that the launch of a boarding cable? Every heart screams for information but all they see is the Iron Admiral and her greatest triumph.

Admiral Odoacer Hetrodus. It is no exaggeration to say, Bella, that you studied her in school. You know her right down to her favourite food (smoked salmon) and her childhood fears (stampeding cattle). This is not the first dinner party you've attended with her... and despite everything that makes this moment horrible it's not yet the worst.

As the Admiral of the Grand Armada, Odoacer represents the most clear and present threat to the Empress Nero in the galaxy - and by extension, to Redana. Her designs on the throne were never well concealed but have become increasingly blatant as time has gone on. She was a twenty year old NCO on the frontier at the time of Molech's fall but has been gradually weaving for herself a 'secret' backstory that she was the previous emperor's child and styling herself as his successor. She's even gone so far as to increasingly alter her own appearance to look more and more like him while advocating policies like the end of the Emergency Declaration and the violent subjugation of the entire galaxy.

You need to be very, very, very powerful in the Empire to voice an opinion like that, no matter how softly. But such is a privilege afforded to the Slayer of the World Eater - a tacit recognition that even the Empress cannot simply have her killed. On the other hand, for all the might of the Armada, the walls of Tellus are yet greater, so a stalemate exists between the Empress and her Admiral. You, Bella, are on the front line of that stalemate - Odoacer recognized from an early age that Redana was Nero's greatest weakness and has been seeking to leverage her to claim the throne ever since. She has attempted to have Redana kidnapped, poisoned, hypnotized - she even proposed marriage to her when she was eleven, and every year since then. You have fought her agents tooth and nail in the shadows of the palace. Such is the duty of the princess' companion.

And what is happening on that screen might be the realization of the Admiral's ambitions. Redana might be falling into her clutches right this instant. But the Admiral won't even do you the courtesy of focusing on it, instead forcing you to stare at the monument to her greatest triumph. It is a spiteful thing to do, and you are not the only one to think so. This room is filled with all of the greatest hunters, commanders, priests and kings of the Fleet. They were invited here just before Redana's ship was sighted and are now trapped in here while Odoacer's minion King Jas'o - a good warrior but a boot-licker to the core - boards Redana's ship to claim the prize the Admiral has craved for so long.

And she won't even let you watch.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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"Redana!"

When Redana opens her eyes, Bella's nose is inches from hers. Her ears are flat underneath her frilly headdress and her eyes are wide with concern. It's only seeing Redana open her eyes that causes the servitor to relax slightly. "Milady," she says, sitting back on her haunches, hands tight in her lap, "Are you all right? I think that, um, it might be better to call it there for today."

"LESSON NOT COMPLETE," the Wrestler groans through his voxbox, settled back into an opening stance. "TRUANCY WILL BE LOGGED." Bella hisses at the automaton, showing her teeth. Redana closes her eyes and feels the temptation to lie back and let the floor swallow her. Her limbs throb, her head aches where it hit the sand, and her chest is convulsively rising and falling, her body desperate for air.

But if she doesn’t get up, if she teeters off the last of her strength and collapses into exhaustion and aching pain, she’ll lose the only thing on her biweekly report that she’s really proud of.

"I'm not done, Bella," she says, pushing herself up onto her elbows. Her body throbs. "I'm not done yet." She can't stop herself from a breathless giggle, her grin vapid and delighted, even as Bella's eyebrows meet in a worried frown. "It's okay. I promise, I'll be careful this time."


***

One of the worst things about a thunderbolt is that it cannot safely be removed from a target. The power running through it causes muscles to convulsively clench, locking it in place. Once struck by the hammer of the gods, the only thing that may be done for the unfortunate survivor is to be carried from the battlefield so that the surgeons may inject relaxants around the impact site. It is not a weapon to be used lightly; it is not a weapon that respects life.

Redana's hand is clenched into a gnarled claw, her arm will not bend, and her eye of flesh is blinded with salty tears running loose and free down her cheek, cutting a trail through the sweat and the oil. Her Ianuspater locks on the god of the dead, and helpfully informs her that she is in the presence of a deity. On the other side of the corridor seal, the boarding phalanx carefully weakens key points so that the blasting charge will tear it open and blast Redana and any foolish counter-boarders (as if there were any left) with shrapnel.

The official line is that Redana is proof to any violence save decapitation. King Jas'o apparently means to test the blessings of the gods. She does not know whether she is to be taken alive or dead; she does not know whether her fate, should she fail here, is to become the Grand Admiral's concubine or to suffer from an "inauspicious hull breach event" and drift forever among the sea-rimed dead. All she knows is that her flesh cannot, will not heal with this intruder forcing open her skin and muscle, sending shocks of power against the bone it grazed in its impact, and that she is bleeding out at an alarming rate. Dimly, she's aware that her nanites must have some limits to the amount of blood they can replicate at a moment's notice.

And she is so tired. The pipes shuddering against her back invite her to make them her bed, and not even the valves stabbing her in the kidney and spine can make that less appealing. All she needs to do is close her eye and will the Ianuspater to silence. All she needs to do is reach out and take that hand, and he'll carry her off to bed.

"...it becomes us... to uphold our vows," she murmurs, through bloodied lips. "All civilization is... based on the promises that, that the gods make man, and... and the promises that man makes, makes the gods. In all things, the prince... princess... must reflect the proper order, or... or risk undoing... the very founding of their rule." Her head lolls, but the Ianuspater holds steady. "Theoclitus," she cites with absolute certainty.[1] "I made a promise," she adds, but she's not thinking of the promise she made to him. She's not on the ship at all.

***

The eyepatch has a skull on it. Written around it in a circle is BORN TO DIE 777813 DEAD GHOSTS. If Bella understands what it means, she's doing a really good job of hiding it, and Redana really has no clue. It's a "subculture" thing. Down here, everybody has their own "subculture," which they cling desperately to. Everybody has their, their thing, and they'll fight about whose is best, and cram it into their tiny apartments, and take it out on their servitors, and the servitors collect the scraps and make their own incomprehensible mixtures just to survive.

Redana sits on the bench and swings her lace-up boots, and she's thinking so hard that she hasn't said anything at all in, well, minutes. She's practically overheating with it. Beside her, Bella fidgets in the snakeskin jacket and plaited denim leggings, broadcasting her distress loud and clear. And why wouldn't she be distressed? There's only room for the humans, here, which means that a servitor has to live with their human or...

The alleyways are dangerous. Her knuckles aren't bruised any more, but she can still feel the contact, how one swing broke the servitor's jaw, how he fell back onto the box which crumpled underneath him, how he keened as Bella tugged at her hand and begged her to run, how she realized as she let Bella drag her away that she just made him crush everything he owned under his own weight, how thin and lean and hungry he looked, how desperate he must have been...

When she argues with her tutors, she's got rooms and rooms to give herself space. But there's no space here. And everyone loves her mother, and everyone tunes in to one of the seventy available channels every night, and everyone clings desperately to their apartment and their subculture and they never, ever look up. It's like sticking a plant in a pot that's too small, and then shoving it in the back of a closet for good measure, and the worst part is that she can see so much creativity, so much wanting, stifled and channeled into tiny rooms and weird clothes and lashing out at servitors for taking up too much space...

"I'm going to fix this," she says, and her fingers brush against Bella's. "I promise."


***

"King of Stones," Redana says, each word dragged out of some bottomless depth, her throat raw. "I. I thank you for your gift." Her gauntleted hand reaches out and, so carefully, closes his fingers on his palm. "But. I made a promise..." You can do it. Finish strong, Redana. This is the last mile, and then you can drink, and walk in a circle so that you don't cramp. "King of Stones, loosen my flesh as the dead, so that I can pull this dart free. I will... will give you my food, burnt as offering. All yours." She dimly remembers that the gods don't actually eat the burnt offerings. It's something to do with the smoke and the energy released. Without waiting for the answer, she reaches up to her shoulder. (A target chosen by instinct. If she kept her ELF there, it would have been obliterated.) When she grabs it, the energy threatens to short out her gauntlet, but what other choice does she have? What else can she do?

She made a promise.

***

[1] Arathmus, The Letters: "It becomes us to uphold our vows in all things, from the smallest to the most momentous. The structure of civilization is composed of the promises that man makes to the gods, sure in the knowledge that the gods will uphold their one great vow: to maintain their essential and discernable natures. In all things, o prince, you must reflect this good and proper order, or risk undoing the foundation of your rule."

***

[Talk Sense with Sense: 9.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Phoe
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The bitter stench of cheap wine penetrates everything. The overwhelming scent of grapes and currants left to rot for two years in a moldy oak barrel swirls into the acrid tang of the mighty steel that made up the floor and the musty earthen musk of fur rugs mixes together into a truly horrific cocktail that threatens to follow Bella everywhere she goes tonight, into and perhaps even beyond the shower. There's more soaking into the floor here than there is in the bellies of the revelers, which is saying quite a lot. Bella wrinkles her nose and draws her feet up onto the support bar underneath her chair.

It would be quite bad enough without the sickening notes of bile and vomit dotting her breaths here and there, but by far the worst offense was the cloud of human stench left behind by the bloated monstrosity that had been the dining companion to her right, before he lumbered off to another table in search of 'better' company. Even now it lingered, so potent it had its own taste. A salty, vinegary sweat fighting a permanent war with the unholy stench of shit and rotting bits of... she did not want to know, the kind of stench you can only find on those so bloated even their servants can no longer wash them properly.

She raises her gaze up from the table to steal another glance at the view screen. Instantly her golden eyes narrow into slits as her vision fills with an altogether different horror: the corpse of the World Eater. Here and there twisted chunks of metal that must be several meters in length float by for long enough to obscure the view, but even then they are dwarfed by the impossible bulk of this titan of the void. The screen pans, or perhaps it doesn't move at all, and for a full thirty seconds there is nothing to see but the burned and pockmarked landscape of a single mighty fin. Now there are chunks of shell with cracks bigger than entire ships, now there is nothing but the rotting maw inside the great beak that seems even in its stillness like it might at any moment snap shut with enough raw might to tear down the walls of Tellus.

It is impossible to guess what color it might have been in its prime. Everywhere around is the flash of roaring engines of a thousand thousand ships and the angry burst of flak cannons that light up the graveyard like some sort of haunted memorial. Everything is lit in a pale shade of blue. Droplets of blood the size of Bella, maybe even larger, float everywhere in the empty space between ships: the last great gift of the World Eater. Years of floating in Poseidon's starlight sea have frozen them into huge blobs of crystal. Sapphires of such grandeur and purity that a single gem would embarrass the riches of kings float here by the millions, unmolested since the fall of the great best. Fear of the Armada. Fear of the Gods. Fear of the leviathan. Fear.

Bella's breath comes in sharp little sniffs. Her heart is pounding so hard she thinks it might be trying to escape through her chest and out her throat at the same time. The burning in her lungs is matched for agony only by the ravenous hunger gnawing at her stomach. The air in the room is as chilly as a winter's morning on Tellus; the soft white fur on her arms and legs is bristled so badly that it's destroyed her normal aura of elegance. She's a frightened kitten again, waiting her fate in the kennels. The chair is uncushioned. Her butt, her spine, and her legs all complain about it with different degrees of urgency, but she doesn't dare move except to shift her weight and wrap her tail tightly around her leg so that it can't give her away. Her tongue rakes across her sharpened teeth, and her mouth fills with the taste of blood. She doesn't so much as wince.

This is not a place of honor. Dotted across the tables are the crowned visages and absurdly purpled, feathered heraldry of a dozen different kings. In a calmer moment, Bella could name them and each of their precious holdings without blinking. Just now her head is filled with an angry buzzing that drowns out everything but her survival instincts. Each of them sits at the front of their own table, drinks more heavily than the rest, laughs louder, and to a man have their backs turned on the view screen Bella can't tear her eyes from for longer than an instant. Puffed up pretenders. Not a one of them has so much as set foot on the backwater hovels they're supposed to be ruling over, but Odoacer holds them in esteem today because their crowns are what make it an Empire.

A scrawny, terrified cat servitor with less than a hundredth of Bella's pedigree sets a plate in front of her artfully piled with cuts of venison settled amidst a fig sauce and a bed of vibrantly fresh greens and pine needles. The heat coming off the meat ripples the air above it into a tantalizing haze. The smell is so heavenly it threatens to set her to drooling. She restrains herself. She can tell before she tastes it that the recipe has been incorrectly prepared. After all, this is--

Her bells are chiming. Her ears stand on end and strain to catch all the noises she's not processing right now. Odoacer is making her speech, but the words are so much noise and hot air. Bella's arm trembles and chimes as she raises her glass in toast. She drains the foul goblet in a shot. She's six places from the left hand of the Grand Admiral's own seat. This is not a place of honor. She is seated with the malcontents and troublemakers, the Azura mercenaries in their bronze livery are the closest thing to desirable company she has. The rest are cut from the same cloth as her bloated flesh sack of a neighbor, or the thugs and self-styled hunters with delusions of grandeur. In short, those disgraceful wretches that need be kept close at hand. The servitor has cut her meat when she wasn't looking before melting into the shadows. No knives to be found anywhere at the table. This is not a place of honor. She is being watched.

Bella forces herself to eat. The meat is gamey, poorly prepared. It misses the juniper like Caligula missed the moon. It has not been drained properly in the slightest, and she has to keep pausing to keep the juices from spilling messily down her chin. Her eyes flash from plate to plate. She is the only one. This is not a place of honor. Still, it takes most of her restraint not to wolf it down like the animal they no doubt think she is. She has not eaten all day. She chances another glance away from the view screen, resolutely not showing her the only thing she wants to see right now. Someone has refilled her goblet. She drains it again in a pair of noisy gulps, giving in to the haze and the sway so that her body will slow down before it combusts.

The room is filled with chattering. Obnoxious prattling. Shouts, cheers, complaints, threats, praise, calls for more wine to spill across the floor. Bella's ears register only a single word.

Redana. How dare they say the name so casually. Redana. How dare they think her a prize worth winning. Redana, Redana, Redana. What makes any of them think she can be trusted?

Redana.

Her bells are singing with their jingling little voices. Eyes are burning through her. Too many eyes. There's a terrible screeching sound; the whine of metal yielding before a mightier predator. Bella's claws dig satisfying grooves in the table on either side of her plate. She turns her head away from the attention, picks her utensils back up, and demurely resumes her meal.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Balmas
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"I didn't want to kill them," Alexa very carefully does not say. Alexa performed the rites of war before the battle, and doubtless they did the same. Athena favored her over them. What fool could stare into the face of the god of war and spit in their face so?

She walks among the dying and dead, granting the first a quick, calculated thrust, the second the Hades-requisite coins and prayer, and wonders not for the first time why Molech saw fit to grant her adrenaline. Or perhaps it was Athena? It's good in a fight, no doubt. But in the aftermath... well, Molech would no doubt be criticizing her form. That thrust was sloppy, Alexa. You're making them hurt even more, instead of less. Stop shaking, Alexa. Be graceful, Alexa. You're the perfect warrior, and warriors don't have quivery spears or nerves.

"Why did you help him," she also does not say.

With the necessary done, she kneels and offers a salute. "By your grace, I yet live."

Right words, wrong attitude, Alexa. Sloppy. Be grateful. This dullen tone does not befit you. Athena has spared you, favored you.

So stop feeling cheated.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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“You know, I’m beginning to think they’re not taking us seriously.”

Dolce’s ears flicked; they ached terribly under the lamentations of a god, but he didn’t dare stop them up. Nor did he take his eyes off his teapot. Listening and watching. Both were too important. Forty-eight seconds until properly steeped.

“They go through all the trouble of bringing a fleet of a thousand thousands, and they send one ship to apprehend us. One!” Vasilia’s boots marched a slow, sulking track across the bridge behind him. “It’s not even the biggest. There’s a dozen at least that dwarf it. Like their flagship over there, too busy twiddling its thumbs to lift a finger to help.”

“It must have been very difficult to move so many ships here at once,” he observed. Thirty-four seconds until properly steeped. Receiving saucer for infuser: Ready.

“Precisely! A quarter of this would have sufficed to hopelessly crush us. Send a gang of them in for the kill, have the rest running a tight patrol screen. Nowhere to run, overwhelming odds, end of story. Look at them! A scant few circling the perimeter - and doing a terrible injustice to the concept of circles in the process - while this one, measly ship comes to do battle with us. It’s like they’re not even trying.”

Dolce did not look at the ships. Looking at them was not conducive to making a cup of tea, so he did not look at them. “Perhaps they’ve decided they don’t need to try.” Fifteen seconds until properly steeped. Ingredients: Ready. Teaspoon...

“Perhaps they have. Perhaps they’ve decided chains aren’t good enough, they have to spit on us on our way down too.” She slid into her captain’s chair with a miserable sigh. “Enough effort to bring a gaudy show of force, too little care to wield it properly. We ought to track one of them down and lodge a complaint.”

Teaspoon?

Eight seconds.


Dolce rooted around his personal kitchenette, not daring to breathe until he had the silverware drawer open and eyes on the small legion of spoons he knew were there. How strange! How very strange. To forget such a critical tool, whyever would he do that?

Out came the infuser, onto a waiting saucer. Slowly, slowly, he poured the tea, filling the cup with just enough room to spare. Shake, shake, shake, in went the seaweed. In went flecks of scrapped hull. In went shards of shattered window. All stirred together, not spilling a drop.

Done.

Balancing cup, saucer, and teapot on a tray, he waited by his Lady’s side. Watched her stare, unflinching, into the Grand Armada, and the corpse of the nightmare they’d slain. No fear on her brilliant face.

How did she do it? It just didn’t make any sense. The skies were full of foes, the odds were impossible, he could still feel the clap of thunder that’d rang through the ship, and here she sat. The fearless Captain. His Captain. Finding the way that no one else could see, and walking it with the composure of a Queen. Unconsciously, he stepped closer. Her hand found itself in his wool, and gently stroked his heart calm.

He wished - oh, how he dearly wished! - that he had more than a cup of tea to offer.

“We are not the ones with the strongest complaint this time,” he added quietly, glancing to their guest.

“No. No I doubt that we are.” She turned in her chair to the mourning god. “Earth Shaker, Outer Dark, Space Between, hear our prayer: Turn your storms upon our foes. Drive back their boarding parties, make slow their pursuit. And we shall break the remains of the Lupincas that disgraces your child’s end. No more shall it be a trophy to the Armada’s triumph, but a reminder of their own folly.”

Without a word or gesture of order, Dolce stepped forward, and offered up his humble tea set.

“And tea, brewed to your liking, for it is a terrible thing to mourn thirsty,” he added.

[Rolling to Talk Sense, with Sense, with Hope: 6 + 6 + 1 = 13]
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

"Ah. Just like an Empress to ask so much," murmured Hades. You can hear his footsteps but his face has become multifaceted through the tears that have come unbidden. "It isn't simple even for me to snuff out one of sister Zeus' sparks - but then, that cuts both ways."

The crimson light you are bathed within goes dark. Hades has fastened his two hands around the glittering head of the thunderbolt and you can hear the lightning stutter and choke as those long fingers strangle it.

"Let me give you some advice," he said, the slightest effort audible in that papery voice. "Land within the World Eater. Inside it you will find a child of mine, Epistia, who has cried out to me in the dark so many times. Make her happy, Princess Redana. Bring a smile to the lips of my girl, or at the least, dam her tears. However you can manage this will please me because I..." his fingers tighten around the crackling celestial fire. There's the sound of breaking glass. Breathless, inert sparks of electricity cascade to the floor, "... have been unsuccessful."

Vassila!

The Grand Armada is vast. They darken the heavens, blotting out the stars and replacing it with their own electric lines. Banners of warfleets hang like constellations, the multicoloured hues of their engine aftershocks carving dot-point images in the sky - a form of high art and honour for the idle captains to perfect. You can see through the viewscreen the shapes of serpents, of warriors, of bulls and a thousand other kinds of heraldry, carved in the glowing afterwash of thousands of perfectly drilled starships. Imagine having so many warships you could paint with them.

It is some boast to claim that you could have survived even less than a quarter of this number. A quarter is still tens of thousands. It was a subtle jab, a brag by inference - and the sort of thing the gods appreciate. Just like tea. If we know anything from ancient days it's that no horror of the darkening world will turn down tea.

But horror there is plenty as Poseidon gathers his wrath.

"Hades satisfied me before," said Poseidon, "by promising to make this place a tomb. A graveyard! A sanctuary! A place that would never be disturbed again, where no scavengers would pick over the bones, where the ships broken in this place would drift here by my child forever! Hades! Brother! You have lied to me! You have broken your oath! You disturb my child's rest! Athena! You insolent brat, thick and fat on Imperial favour, I will remind you that all of your precious wars are but the conflict of two ants crawling across my mighty palm!"

The bruises on the fabric of space break and rupture. Mountainous eruptions of emerald energy, tinged with electric blue, begin to pour into space. Celestial dust rolls and crashes, lit darkly from within by polychromatic lightning.

The storm builds.

The Veterosk, though, is not yet shaken loose.

Alexa!

There are a great many poets and storytellers who favour Athena. When they speak of cunning plans and twists of stratagem, of war heroes and great generals and the violence of empire that is offered up on vast scale as offering to Lord Zeus, Athena is the principle they swear to. She is terrible in her element. No less mad than brother Ares. She does not fight in poet's wars, she is violence itself, and her belief is that violence is a good thing. A craft that can be mastered as readily as weaving.

"You know the forms," she said, "but your heart is wavering. I say this because I favour you, Alexa: master it. You cannot afford weakness in the face of war and there will come a time where your spear weighs heavier in your hand than the one who fights against you. On that day not all the skill in the world will keep you from the House of Hades. Instead, glory in it!"

She walked over to the wall, rapped it, and the metallic composite of the Plousios went transparent, providing a view of the Grand Armada as its celestial banners stretched from horizon to horizon.

"Glory, glory, glory," she said. "Fight with pride. Fight with passion. Fight with skill, and discipline, and unity. Those who don't will die. Those who do will ascend. Such is war. Such is war."

Then she was gone, and the breach alarms and emergency lighting came back into focus.

Bella!

You're not tuned into the politics. The posturing. When King Anthi stands and announces he's taking his leave, defiant of Odoacer, every eye in the room is drawn magnetically to the conflict between the Admiral and the King. You know better than to watch the magician's flourish - your eyes are on her hands, and you are the only one not surprised when a Codexia steps out from behind a pillar, raises his spear with Athena's aid, and casts it clean across the room. You don't even need to turn your head to know that it will take King Anthi through the heart and pin him grotesquely to the wall of the great hall. You are a little surprised that the Codexia takes the time to fist-pump and give a thumbs up to his buddies, who have appeared from behind every corner and door of this now suddenly extremely tense and armed hall.



"Friends, friends, of course I cannot let you leave," said Odoacer, cloyingly conciliatory, smug smile creasing her face. "We have not yet begun the rituals. We have not taken the auguries. We have not made offerings before the gods. Without these things we may as well go into battle unarmed and unarmoured. Anyone who would disrespect the gods," she says this like it's a shocking concept, like this was a lamentable and self-inflicted suicide, and not a series of precision insults designed to goad King Anthi so she could publicly assassinate one of her major political rivals, "would bring doom upon the entire fleet!"

From the outside, cosmic lightning crashes. As clear a sign as any what Zeus thinks of this murder-by-technicality, but with the Codexia standing ready nobody is willing to challenge Odoacer's interpretation of the auguries. The revelry is gone now and the hall falls into discontented and furious whisperings.

You don't need to whisper to figure this out. This is the beginnings of a coup. Once Odoacer has Redana in hand then she's going to abuse sacred hospitality as far as she is able to remove as many of the Empress' loyalists as possible to consolidate control of the fleet. You're not high on the list, but you're definitely on it somewhere. This feast is now a death trap.
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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When the blast doors are thrown back in a deafening hail of molten slag and broken metal, having been weakened enough that the blasting charge could tear them apart like the claws of a furious beast, the corridor is empty except for the broken remnants of a thunderbolt. The dark passage ahead, lit only by those fading embers, is perfect for a trap; and so the phalanx moves through the broken corridor seal, carefully, bristling; if Redana jumps out at them, or leads a counter-sortie against them, or even lies around the corner bleeding out face-down, they will be ready. So they steel themselves, and advance.

King Jas’o, flush in the victory of piercing his quarry, bringing her down to ground, does not notice the single droplet that bursts next to his foot. And why should he? Ships like this are always leaking: condensation, or oil, or coolant. The ceiling is a nest of cables, thick and coiled, hung with blessed cords and circulating the life’s blood of the ship. In the low light and clinging shadow, he is to be forgiven for not looking twice; in such lighting, even the most precious blood appears black.

The phalanx surges deeper into the ship, seeking out the bridge, or else the engine room, to leave the ship a drifting, useless hulk. And in the stillness they leave behind, Redana drops down to the floor and stretches. “Okay,” she hisses; even though her wound is already closing, the speed incredible, it’s still sore and complaining about how deep and dangerous a wound like that was. If it had hit her dead center, she’d be dead. Very dead. Her heart’s hammering like a drum as she turns and starts loping down the corridor.

Then she stops. “Oh. Shoot. This is my actual job, isn’t it?” She’s the champion, after all. It’s her sacred duty to serve as the captain’s sword and shield, monster-slayer and hero, resplendent in the eyes of the gods, seeking their favor on behalf of the entire crew through daring and piety, valor and submission.

She starts back after the phalanx, and then stops again. Hades just did her a favor and implicitly gave her a command. Insisting her job’s more important here... “That’s hubris, isn’t it? That’s real hubris.”

She looks over her shoulder to where she will find a skiff capable of taking her to the dead leviathan, the Eater of Worlds. Then she looks back at the dark where the intruding force has vanished to. “Maybe they’ll just get lost looking for me?” No, that’s wishful thinking.

She slips an obol out of an inner pocket and sets it against her thumb. “Father, Keeper of Fortunes, Lord of Honor, Stormbringer and Titan-feller... please tell me which one is right. Heads I go and charge Jas’o’s rear guard, wreaths I find Hades’ daughter and help her. Guide me, father, and this too shall be yours.” Even as she says it, it feels right: she’s out here to help everyone she can, after all. And Vassila would probably be angrier if she brought Hades’ wrath down on the ship.

But she still flips the coin, because she doesn’t know for sure which course of action is most virtuous. (And if she asked Apollo, he’d take far too long getting her to walk herself to a conclusion.)

***

[Get Away: 10. Quick and safe.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Phoe
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And now the stench of blood is mixing into the bitter cocktail Odoacer is serving with her meal. What a vile, disgusting scent. Insidious, the way it seeps into everything, an iron-soaked tang that is nothing but acid and misery. Every tiny whiff that travels up her nostrils sends ripples through Bella's brain, activating instincts so ancient they predate the technology that gave rise to the servitor race by countless centuries. They're hunter's instincts: pounce, bite, tear, feast. Even wrapped so tightly around her leg, her tail bristles.

It gets worse with every breath she takes through her nose. But she dare not open her mouth; every time she has before, she's vomited. Her hand is sharp and deliberate as it sets down her fork. Her bell rings softly when she reaches under the table. She closes her eyes and clenches her jaw before she squeezes her tail past the point of agony, filling her darkened world with starbursts of white hot pain until she's dragged her palm across the length of it and flattened out the lush white fur. With equal deliberation, she lifts her hand back up and plucks her utensil off the table. She fills her mouth with this poor excuse for venison, and her breathing slows once more.

She is the only one in the hall to make no motions toward rising from her seat. She is the only one who spares less than half a glance at the Codexia. This is good. She must be calm. This is not a place of honor. It is a place of death.

Finally, she lifts her head. Her golden eyes sweep languidly across the many tables and note with fresh interest the names and faces she can recognize that are seated at each. All of these people gathered here right now are useful. Every one of them is a tool to see her past this stupid politicking. Her tongue glides across her lips while a pattern takes hold inside her. Which are predators? Which are prey? Who among them represent locks, and who among them keys?

It is not even worth considering attacking Odoacer herself. Every guard at the banquet, and a hundred more yet unseen are watching for that move. The first to try it, no matter which gods cling to their lips, will be the next to join King Anthi at the table of the dead. And whichever lucky idiot succeeds will be hunted to the edges of infinity by the Empress herself. It is suicide. No, worse. But several shit-for-brains heroes will try it anyway. It's inevitable, once the writing on the wall becomes plain enough for all with eyes to read it. This place will turn from worshipful feast to bedlam in an instant, and that will be her moment.

It will be a simple thing to slide wherever she wishes in the battle she smells in the air around her. She can gather allies, encircle whomever she needs to break in order to open up her line, and make for her real target before any eyes properly fall on her. After all, her greatest weapon is that she's--

Her fist clenches around her fork so tightly it snaps in half. Her whole body is taken with the rumble of her low, frustrated growl. The pieces bounce off the table and fall to the floor with tiny clangs nobody has any spare attention to notice. It takes her an overlong and terrifying moment to realize that her fangs are fully bared. She glances down, which is how she notices her hands are shaking so badly that she probably couldn't hold a spear, let alone throw one. If she even had one to begin with.

They sat her at his table. They put her within an arm's reach or three of disaster. They marked her as a dissident! And then... they left her to sit quietly, and eat. Her! Bella! Who even now is closer to their precious princess than any of them could dare to dream of being! She is a Praetor! The Empress' own hand amidst the stars!

And no one. No. One. Thinks. She. Matters. Not here, and not in all the wide and terrible universe. She raises one trembling hand to grab her temple, and snarls.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Dolce sat before the raging god. Not so prideful to offer further words or attempts at sympathy. He simply sat, listened, and wept in his heart. It was a terrible thing to mourn alone, too.

Meanwhile, Vasilia flicked open the communication pipes. “Attention, unasked-for guests: My deepest apologies our ship carried no song to greet you. The pride of the Privateers is truly diminished.” She paused, pointedly, letting Poseidon’s vengeful oaths fill every corner of the ship. “As you will soon be aware, we are experiencing a little turbulence due to the raging storms of the void. If you wish to capture your prize intact, then I would recommend retreating to your ship, and continuing your visit once we’ve led you on a delightful little chase. Otherwise, I’m afraid I will have to sabotage our doors and engines, leaving all of us to perish at Poseidon’s hand, and your prize forever lost. Not the most shameful end, but I daresay you’ll have your work cut out for you finding a decent eulogy.”

“Crew? Do hurry our guests along, and give me a status report at your earliest convenience.”
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Balmas
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Slowly, Alexa walks to the wall and puts a stone hand against the viewscreen. She recognizes most of the banners hanging there, shifting back and forth in their chained positions.

Athena means well. She cares, in her own way. And she wishes to bring glory to Alexa, for to do so is to glorify her own name.

But against all the ships here... Damn that child. Four, against an empire. Even the fraction of the empire's might arrayed against them is sufficient to swat them from the sky, and it stings that they'd send but one ship to fetch their princess.

When your spear is heavier in your hand than your opponent? You know what, they feel plenty heavy now.

And with that bright note singing in her heart, she scans the viewscreen for the next boarding party. The same trick surely can't work twice, so she'll be there waiting for them.

[That's either a 5 on Look Closely or 7 on keep them Busy, whichever is more appropriate.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

An indigo hand catches the coin out of the air. Zeus smiles as she passes by, ruffling your hair with a hand that feels like a birthday gift - static and excitement and paternal warmth.

"The reason why I am king and Athena is not," said Zeus, showing you the wreaths side of the coin. "Is that there are paths to victory other than battle."

She's gone in the next step, on her way to visit some distant affair, coin jangling in her pocket.

Vassilia!

"Be reasonable, friend," came the voice in return - young, brash and reckless. You get the sensation of a loyal dog barking - so fixated on chasing the stick that it's blind to anything else. "We just want the princess. That's all! Keep the ship. Take a dozen! Take a royal title! The Admiral has a lot of job openings going right now."

You've never been in a position to negotiate with the Empire before, and oh wow this is different from shaking down rusty old merchant tubs. You could double the strength of the Starsong pirates at a stroke.



Alexa!

Athena's warnings are not idle. They are immediate and specific and terrible.

You realize much too late that the Phalanx was not heading to the reactor as doctrine demands. Instead they're hunting for individuals like you, not caring if the ship continues to have mobility. Distracted by your brooding thoughts you don't realize until it's too late that you've blundered into the worst possible tactical position.

You're in a narrow corridor with a full Phalanx blocking the way either direction. It's reminiscent of a trash compactor - unbreakable, unyielding walls of steel and spears slowly closing in on you from both directions. You're trapped between two rocks and the void of space.

Bella!

The seating arrangements were weaponized. All the elderly, sensible, restrained figures are at one end of the hall, and all the young hotheads are at the other. Insults and snubs were leveled against the young, while full respect was paid to the old. You can see how the dominoes fall in accordance with the Admiral's scheme - a group of hotheads is gathering to rush the Admiral with drawn swords in a pre-emptive act of suicide. The Admiral, despite her threatening posture, cannot simply order her soldiers to attack at a feast in honour of the gods - but defending herself from a charge of young fools is a different matter. Pallas Athena walks amongst them, whispering words of panic, and the wise are still too far to give their restraining council.

There are only two points of stability around you.

One is the priest of Hades, Ivory Smile. He's eye-wateringly blonde, bookish, simply dressed with no honours or embellishment other than a large black book handcuffed to his wrist. Hades, while necessary, is seen as unpleasant by the Empire and he has been seated here with the servitors, aliens, mercenaries and you. He's a priest of Hades, in a landscape that is sacred to the God of the Dead - that's useful. He's a human, which might save you a lot of trouble, and despite his coolness you're sure that you could break him. From what you know about him he has a chip on his shoulder about all the humiliations he's put through, so he might be a kindred spirit.

On the other side is one of the Azura mercenaries, Parchment of Bronze. Deep violet scales, adorned with bones and trophies and scrips of paper bearing her oaths to the gods. When you were cheating your way through the Olympics one of your most important acts of cheating in the wrestling was to make sure you never fought Bronze - after seeing how effortlessly she demolished the competition in the first two rounds, easily manhandling the previous champion, you collapsed the entire hallway outside her room to stop her making it to your match. Pound for pound there's no scarier muscle at this table, but she's not the sort that'll easily accept a subordinate role.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The two of them shared a look. Dolce quirked an eyebrow. Vasilia gave a wry smile and a shake of the head.

And then, she laughed.

Perfectly composed, utterly delighted, thrilled, amused beyond words! Hear it echo through the length and breadth of this wreck. Hear it mingle in a mad duet with Poseidon’s rage. See, king! See how she finds a song for you after all!

“How about your title?” She countered. “Your crown, your holdings, your people, everything you own. Would you give it all to me, if I gave you the princess? Wouldn’t that be the bargain of a lifetime? I’m sure your handlers wouldn’t hesitate to restore your fortunes.”
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Phoe
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The talons she wears on her front two fingers feel sharp and cold against her skin. She squeezes until she can feel the rush of her pulse against her hand. The sharp pain feels good; all the tension that's been welling up in her body finally has somewhere to go, and when she feels the wet trickle finally start to make its way down her cheek she sighs with audible relief. Her fingers go slack, and idly flicks them clean before she runs both hands through her hair to smooth it back down.

When she puts her hand on the priest's shoulder, she is not gentle. There's enough force in the clap to rattle the bones in his arm. When she offers a reassuring squeeze, she doesn't use any less pressure than she had just a moment ago when she was lost in her own thoughts. The silver talons tap an amused little beat on the fabric of his sleeve. Her bells are singing. She leans in close to whisper the council of a conspirator, a wicked smile growing on her lips. Her golden eyes are sharp and all-knowing, filled with the wisdom of a lifetime's worth of snubs and disappointments.

"What's the matter, friend? Why don't I see you gathering yourself for the charge? Are you somehow less insulted than our glorious brothers and sisters? Doesn't it wound your... mm, professional pride to see the Admiral blaspheme in front of the entire pantheon like this?"

She chuckles to herself, a rich and rumbling sound that's half a purr in and of itself. Her hand releases the priest's shoulder so that her fingers can dance their way down his arm.

"Don't worry," her voice drips with equal parts honey and malice, "I already know the answer. You're smarter than the rest of them. You've worked out it's suicide. Well. And you left your sword at your other banquet hall. So you, you're thinking of just sitting here nice and quiet-like while the brave young heroes pile up to meet your god. But the Admiral won't care that you behaved. I know her type: you may not be worth the spit Jas'o leaves on her boots, but you've made her list. Same as me. As soon as she gets word she's got the princess in her clutches, this banquet will end. And then, with all our guardians already dead..."

BAM! She slams her hand into the table. Plates and cups rattle three places on either side of her. Already her claws are digging into the metal as she curls her fingers halfway to a fist.

"Doesn't it make you mad? Doesn't it make you furious? She's snubbed you, and soon she's going to snuff you out, the bitch. All because she can't see a place for you after she's toppled the Empress from her throne. The arrogance! The cruelty... she won't even bother breaking out the clever tricks or kings when our time comes, because we? Don't. Matter."

Just ahead of the sacrilegious melee that's about to unfold, the air fills with the sound of screeching. The banquet table screams its own particular brand of agony as Bella drags her claws across the surface. The metal tears beneath their sharpness, sending little spiral shavings popping off and rolling onto nearby plates. Bella picks up her hand and flexes her fingers, and her joints do not so much as crack. Her smile may well have swallowed a canary.

"I know the way out, friend. I know the Princess. I know exactly where that little dunce is going to wind up before she gets here. I might even know a way to reach her before the lapdog does. And all you have to do is follow. Which sounds better, hm? Tell me, which sounds better? The Admiral's way? Or mine?"

There is a space exactly long enough to fit a single breath before her smile recedes into a full snarl. Her eyes shrink back into angry slits, and she drags the priest to his feet by the back of his collar before he has time to tell her 'no'.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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The most efficacious location for the head of a spear is in the place where your enemy will be. Be as the false-wolf, who waits with his jaws open in the burrow of the hare.
—Llameth ar Violé, Third Dynasty tactician

***

Ack! Redana presses herself against the bulkhead and wills herself to be invisible, as her auspex informs her through neural jolt that it is ready to give her volumes upon volumes of data: the number of men and women in the chamber beyond, their species, their medical histories, the ethnoaesthetics of their panoply, their resting heart rates and their likelihood to engage in criminal activities. If she disengaged the throttler, she’d be sitting here for hours trying to sift through the overwhelming amount of information. Heaven only knows how Mom handles it.

Okay. Breathe. Be quiet. (Redana presses a hand to her mouth, not trusting her ability not to talk out loud.) Jas’o has already breached the hangar. It looked like there was a Boar[1] that had punched through the left hangar wall, and now there’s guards just waiting for panicked crewmen to surge for the skiffs. Which means that her best option for escaping is probably... the Plovers are designed to trade with anti-ship weaponry, though the best defense is always not getting hit. If she tried to burst out in one, though, they could just reel her back in by the cable. Unless... there’s some on-board power capacitors. They’re garbage in these circumstances— one shot and she’ll be floating dead in the water.

Unless.

Auspex, how many active reactors remain around the Eater of Worlds? Thank you. She closes her eyes and drags the information out. Okay. If she slingshots herself out, fully expecting to be hit but with too much velocity to be intercepted, and she has a rebreather on, and aimed just right... she could do it. The alternative is fighting an entrenched position using only the element of surprise.

(The Nemean[2] roils against the edges of her consciousness, but she bites down upon the thought. If she mantles herself inside, if she becomes glorious and shining and irresistible, she will be a beacon, and she cannot channel her divinity indefinitely. Jas’o will just have to wait and then peel her off the floor where she’s collapsed. No. We’re not becoming her today.)

So all she needs to do is find... “A path to the Plover.” It’s a Hurricane frame with belchers slung underneath the forearms and a Chors Anti-Denizen Longsword; the latter’s designed for killing void monsters and severing power cables, but the former’s an excellent if uncomfortably vicious way to clear a room. It’s non-lethal for Plover combat, but no one in here happens to be in one. Maybe they’ll all get behind shields and let themselves get blown away by the choking, furious smoke clouds, and nobody will get killed by the fragments of the pulverized slug the cannons destroy and accelerate?

Okay, how about a version of the plan where she holds off on firing those in an enclosed space and just barrels through. Then if anyone gets hurt, it’s because they’re Standing On The Landing Strip, which everyone knows you aren’t supposed to do with Plovers live. Yeah. That eases up on the knot in her stomach.

***

[1]: spacer slang, short for “Boarpedo,” short for “Boarding Torpedoes.” Recursively, many now have boar iconography alongside the peans to Artemis engraved along their sides, pleading for her to send these darts true into their quarry’s heart.

[2]: the Nemean is hers by the will of the gods. However, to explain her in a way you would understand, look to the Nocturne school of philosophy[3], which states that the gods always abide by the rules of the cosmos, their mother, and it is only their omniscience that allows them to do anything they like; if we understood as they do, had we ten kalpa to memorize the interplay of everything in existence and everything not in existence, then we could travel across the universe in a step and conjure forth being from nothing. In this framework, we may think of the Nemean as being the superposition of an unrealized potential, drawn forth from possibility into realspace by the Will of the prime instance. It is, of course, nonsense; but it is nonsense you may understand.

[3]: ”Ah! Of all I have heard this night, I love this delightful fancy most.”
—The Phoebus Dialogues.

***

[7 on Look Closely: tell me about the route to the Plover. How can it hurt me? How can it help me?]
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Balmas
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"If you're facing a phalanx, you have already failed."

Alexa does not ask the obvious question. Molech is speaking. If he wishes to explain himself, then he will do so in his own time. If he does not, then any attempt to provoke him into doing so is simply the act of somebody too simple to understand what he means. Questions are for people.

Instead, she stands at rest, and studies the men lining the opposite end of the parade ground. Given the ease with which they carry themselves, they're obviously friends. No, upgrade that to comrades-in-arms. Even here, even in an unthreatening environment, they move almost as one to shield and block each other. It's an intimidating wall of spears and shields, and the glints at the points say that she can expect no blunted tips or padded armor today.

Molech waits a second more, and gives an almost imperceptible nod at her silence before continuing. "In battle, your position is by my side. If you are facing a phalanx, it is because you have already failed to prevent them from reaching my side."

Alexa opens her mouth, and then shuts it quickly again. Molech frowns, and she winces internally.

"Nevertheless," he grudgingly continues, "you may someday have need of fighting them. As such, The 601st has volunteered to train you."

Er. Somehow, that worries her more than the unblunted spears. "Volunteer" is a dangerous word in this army. It can mean either "was volunteered" by a commander, and that's the good option. The other option is that a bunch of violent bastards decided that it would be fun to pit themselves against the spitting image of Athena herself. There's no winning for her here--either she spits a bunch of hapless wanna-bes, or spares their lives and has to deal with word spreading that Molech's Pet Statue was defeated in a training bout.

At a command, the bristling spears and shields turn, and now it's like facing an armored, impenetrable shield wall.

Molech is unreadable as a page hands her a spear and shield.

"Begin."

---

She hits the ground, a deep gouge carved into her chest, and looks up into a forest of spears aimed at her throat.

"No. Wrong. Flank, disrupt, tear apart. Again."

---

Aegis shatters under a blow poorly blocked, and three spears physically lift her off her feet.

"Too slow. If this were real, I'd be dead now. Again."

---

Granite, marble and blood litter the courtyard. She's given well, but too much. Please, Molech, allow her to rest.

"Again."


***

Not again.

Phalanxes suck, do you know that? They're grindy, and achy, and full of points, and once they get set up it's always, 100% of the time, a painful affair to remove them.

And here she is between two of them.

One phalanx she can handle, she tells herself. They outnumber her, sure, but she's eight feet of marble with weapons and armor crafted by the gods themselves. Line up with one, bowl them over, and lay waste to the rest. Do it quickly, and she's out and down the corridor before the second phalanx can move in and properly pin her. She's fast, they're slow, and if the second phalanx wants to catch up to her, they'll need to break formation, which is basically an open invitation to be torn apart.

And it works! It's standard strategy to go for the end of the phalanx, as, in theory, that means fewer spears brought to bear. That means that, in accordance to equally standard strategy, the redhead at the end of the line is roughly as thick as a brick wall, and twice as dense. They expect the bull rush. What they don't expect are the arms that snake out, grab the walls, and throw her into the next man over.

Something crunches under her heel, and the man sags against the line. Good. Paralysis can be sorted out later. Line break achieved. Now for the rest.

She lets momentum carry her to the opposite wall, where a quick thrust with the shortspear jams itself through an unfortunate second-rank servitor's armor and down through the lung underneath. Two down, which means that the man in front of them is left alone. Stab him in the kidneys, let the rest of them see a front-line combatant, one of their best, get taken down.

Break their morale. That's how this works. Make them see the folly of facing Athena's champion, the creation of the Warsage. Make them turn, flee, run, break upon the spears of the ranks behind them. Make it confusing, chaotic, but be seen. Be seen as the force of destruction you are. Make them know what they've done. Make it so that next time, the next phalanx cuts and runs at the sight of her.

But it's grindy, and slow, because of course it is because phalanxes suck. And as she cuts down spearman after spearman, she's all too aware that there's more to fill the line, and that clomping from the other phalanx is getting really loud, and then it's a press of two walls meeting and spearmen getting their last licks in first, and kicking and wow they're heavy.

And now it's confusion. Because shit, she just killed Faron, and Zelok is still paralyzed and will be for the next five minutes or so, and... and, well, she looks like Athena, and nobody wants the kind of shitstorm you get by killing someone like that. The redhead linebacker suggests that maybe they capture her? It'd be a commendation for them for sure, that kind of thing. Bring her back to the ship, like, present her to the King? Make them look real good, might even get the king to bow out of his alliance with that prick the Admiral?

Hmm. Not the princess, sure, but still an obviously important person. Bring her back, and let the higher-ups sort it out.

[6 on Overcome.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

The Auspex always gives you the impression that it is condescending to you.

Denied the opportunity to pump raw, unfiltered data directly into your cerebellum it finds creative ways to get its ideas across. So when it looks at the Phalanx it overlays them with pictures of silly, fat, fluffy animals - plush sharks falling over whenever they try to stand on their tails. It's how you'd explain to a toddler that these soldiers are not a threat - a Phalanx is so slow and immobile, and the hangar is so wide and open - that you could almost walk around them and they wouldn't be able to stop you. They're here to stopper an entire corridor if a scout reports a large armed group is coming that way - after all, they don't know just how skeleton your crew is.

But the Skirmishers - the Auspex gives them the faces of scary (but not too scary!) tigers, with big triangular eyebrows and smug tiger mouths (>:3). They're dangerous, Redana!! They're mobile enough to chase you, and if they catch you then you'll be buried underneath a pile of goofy sharks!

The Auspex gets a little carried away with animating that particular scenario. It snaps back to attention, and then animates a big angry wild boar crashing in amidst the pile of sharks and tigers and sending them running and flopping in all directions - yes, okay, thank you Auspex, you get the idea now.

The boarpedo isn't an escape vessel, but it does still have fuel and powerful thermal cutters on the front end. You just need to get on board for a second and you can send it crashing across the hangar firing lasers in all directions.



Vasilia!

"In a heartbeat," said Jas'o, and you realize you've miscalculated. "Let me be extremely clear: you are negotiating with the voice of Imperium. Compliance will be rewarded on a scale grander than you can imagine. Defiance, however, will be punished in similar scope. Defy the Admiral and she will find your homeworld. She will shatter it with a single blow. She will find the survivors and work them to death mining the shattered ruins of their planet. She will make a wasteland of the entire sector of space you originated from as a warning to others of your pathetic kind. Everything that you can imagine as valuable is but dust and starlight before the whims of Admiral Odoacer and the Armada."

There was a long, cold pause.

"So, what do you say? Let's put those silly threats behind us and work together! Everyone will be happy that way - even the Princess! We're just taking her home, after all!"

Alexa!

You are thrown in an unceremonious heap before the feet of King Jas'o right as he finishes his speech. "What's this?" he said. "Some sort of statue?"

"Deadly, sir," said one hoplite.
"Right fearsome," confirmed another.
"Mm. Looks valuable," he said, looking Alexa over. His men exchange glances like the bloodstains and rents in their shields should be telling a more sombre story, but the King is treating this as lightly as a feather. "I think I'll take it as my prize for capturing this vessel."
"My lord, I -"
"Up-up-up-up. I'll make sure you're rewarded for bringing it to me, don't worry, Galnius," said Jas'o. "But don't you think it'd look fine in my foyer?"
"I - as you say, lord," said Galnius with a sigh.
"Get the Hermetician in here," said the king. "Bring it to compliance - and then move on. The princess couldn't have gotten far."

A shuffling, clanking hunchback in yellow robes makes its ungainly way through the crowd of soldiers. Gleaming metal and rubber tubes like intestines are visible through the folds of its heavy saffron cloak. Sleeves unfold as appendages, tendrils, tools and assortments of limbs emerge from under the cloth. The subhuman cyborg cultists of the Order of Hermes, technology specialists who seek the Divine Mysteries left by their elusive deity. The Empire treats them with strange contempt - assuming they can do anything but that they're worth nothing. Pet wizards, attendants to kings when they deign to interact with technology.

There was a rotary click from somewhere inside that clattering machinery, and a voice like a soul preacher recorded on cassette tape. "Blessing be upon you -" another heavy click "- child of Athena. In the name of Hermes I will speak to your secrets. In the name of Zeus I will show you your place. In the name of -" heavy click, "King Jas'o and Admiral Odoacer I will return you to function. Blessed be, o miracle! Show us the golden path through your enlightenment!"

Bella!

Have you ever spoken that way to a human before, Bella? Have you ever spoken that way at all? Was this the first time you ever really let your mask slip and your true feelings out like this?

Because it's had an effect. You got to watch in real time as cold, haughty pride cracked into a moment of wide-eyed panic. You got to see the kind of person who'd lord it over you without thinking instead thinking of how to not be crushed underneath your boot. The Praetor title didn't come with respect, the Olympic medal didn't come with respect, being the Princess' faithful servant didn't come with respect...

But showing your anger? That got you respect.

Ivory Smile doesn't even manage to comment as you drag him up by the collar - him, a priest, a human, in a room full of the Empire's elite. He's shorter than you, hauled up to the tips of his toes, eyes glancing down at the long scars on the tabletop over and over as that powerful mind of his unhelpfully wastes valuable time by imagining how easy it would be for you to do that to him.

"Your way, Praetor," he said, voice so dry he barely got the words out. "Your way sounds better."

How does respect feel?
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Okay. No problem. Think of it as racing. You like racing, like, Redana? All this is, it’s just a nine-hundred meter dash with extra obstacles. You can do this in your sleep.

She steps deeper into the corridor, does her warm-up stretches. (Body of a champion! You sharpen your sword before a battle, should you not prepare your body before you unleash your potential?) One, two. One, two. Stretch that hamstring.

Then she sprints

The world doesn’t move in slow motion. She’s not that fast. But it’s obvious that she’s one of the finest classically trained sprinters on Tellus: her limbs move like pistons, her core is rock steady, her breath cycles through her in a great wave only to be expelled once more a moment later. She is lean, pared down, and focused. Too late, one of the skirmishers manages to get a bead on her, and tosses a bola at her legs.

Watch as she does a perfect mid-sprint jeté that Bella would be proud of[1], letting the bolas strike uselessly at the ground beyond her.

And then, as the Phalanx finally starts a useless maneuver to bank and follow her, she’s already flung herself up into one of the many openings open around floor level.[2] She pulls herself up gantries to the rudimentary bridge in the Boar’s center, and then slams down the emergency switch that reignites the engines.

Then it’s just a matter of using the mag harness to hold her steady while, with a terrible screech and rattle like the battle at the end of the universe, the Boar careens across the hangar. All she can do from here, without turret access, is engage the thermal cutters in bursts (so that she doesn’t cut through the floor and collapse into a lower level). They’re firing when she hits the opposite wall with a surprisingly wet crunch and crumple, and once her mags have stopped chirping frantically at her, she deactivates the harness and works her way out.

The hangar will, uh. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Nothing some elbow grease can’t fix! (Molten slag drips down into the pipes below.) Besides, this is a lot more important than something like “having a place to park smaller ships inside of a larger ship.” The smaller ships can just go on the outside! With the determination of someone who’s done exactly as much thinking as she plans to do, and a quest from a god pressing upon her brow, Redana lifts the hatch of her Plover.

She flips a cover open and slams on the Cable Release. Parts of the hatch flash warning as the battery power kicks in, as Redana straps herself down and lets her limbs nestle into the controls. But there’s no cable whipping dangerously behind her as it coils; it’s still sitting, waiting, in the fertility idol hips of the Hurricane.

For a second time, Redana charges across the hangar, the jet set directly behind her roaring to furious life as her Plover’s feet lift off the ground and she flings herself into the storm-in-waiting, the void of Poseidon; her auxiliary boosters kick in as she slams her output to maximum and is shoved back in the pilot frame by the reacting force, potent even through the dampeners.

The first warning she’ll have of the ELF barrage will be when the roar of the jets cuts out completely, and then her hatch’s viewscreen will begin to flash red in reaction. (It’s not electric in nature, but rather thrice-tempered smart glass, you see.) Then she’ll just have to trust in momentum; that Poseidon won’t drive her off course with an errant wave; that she’ll crash onto the deck of the decrepit man-of-war that slowly grows in the viewscreen, rather than being fished out by the Armada.

“This is the will of my father,” she whispers to herself, and clenches her fingers tighter around the controls.

***

[1]: everyone knows that overwhelming pride makes one’s heart beat hard and fast; that it makes one stare, awe-struck, at the ripple of well-defined muscles underneath skin, before suddenly blushing and looking down at one’s feet; and that it makes one grab at one’s apron and start kneading it with one’s claws. Just ask Bella! She knows all about pride.

[2]: there is no THIS SIDE UP label on a Boar.

***

[12 to Get Away.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Balmas
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It's almost universally acknowledged among experienced soldiers that you have more in common with your opposite number than you do your own leadership. The brass may go on about honor this, and defilement that, and ideals the other one, and for gods and empire and the whole shebang. But when you're at the front, in a line, desperately making promises and offerings to Hades, the guy on the other line is probably doing the same thing. And if it weren't for the order to advance, to kill one another, you'd probably get along fine over something toxic enough to rot away memory, perhaps while commiserating over said leadership.

So when Alexa and Galnius's eyes meet in passing, she perfectly understands the longsuffering eyeroll best expressed as, "Commanders, eh," and can answer in kind.

She seems a decent type. Probably a good social entry point into the local ranks.

No, wait. Statue. Foyer. Right. Not a soldier. A decoration in a king's palace.

Something twists inside her at the thought.

That's fitting. How many times did Molech tell her she was built for beauty? For his glorification? Be seen, Alexa. Be graceful. You are his creation, his glory. At any time, someone looking at you should be both struck by your beauty, impressed by your grace, and too intimidated to even think of starting trouble.

"Blessed be, o miracle! Show us the golden path through your enlightenment!"


Hah. Like she'd actually allow this cretin to touch her.

She shoots an apologetic glance at Galnius which, in body language, roughly expresses "sorry that you're going to get in trouble for this, but you just brought me behind the phalanx and served me your leadership on a silver platter. Join me for drinks afterwards?"

Then she's in motion, and the ship's communication tubes are filled with Jas'o's screams.


She can't move. Every thought is locked on the Hermetician, muscles tensed for fight, flight...

Surrender. This is good. This is a good thing. She's been complaining about Redana and her stupid seal for ages now, and this is how she leaves! She gets to have a peaceful life, being admired, not being asked to kill anyone.

No friends. No freedom. No long tea services with the delightful chef. Nothing but long days filled with staring at the same scene for the rest of eternity.

This doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Vasilia!

"In a heartbeat," said Jas'o, and you realize you've miscalculated.


Oh?

And when was that, exactly?

Word to the wise; don't ask a question if you're not prepared for the answer[1].

"Let me be extremely clear: you are negotiating with the voice of Imperium. Compliance will be rewarded on a scale grander than you can imagine. Defiance, however, will be punished in similar scope. Defy the Admiral and she will find your homeworld. She will shatter it with a single blow. She will find the survivors and work them to death mining the shattered ruins of their planet. She will make a wasteland of the entire sector of space you originated from as a warning to others of your pathetic kind. Everything that you can imagine as valuable is but dust and starlight before the whims of Admiral Odoacer and the Armada."

There was a long, cold pause.

"So, what do you say? Let's put those silly threats behind us and work together! Everyone will be happy that way - even the Princess! We're just taking her home, after all!"

Alexa!

You are thrown in an unceremonious heap before the feet of King Jas'o right as he finishes his speech. "What's this?" he said. "Some sort of statue?"

"Deadly, sir," said one hoplite.
"Right fearsome," confirmed another.
"Mm. Looks valuable," he said, looking Alexa over. His men exchange glances like the bloodstains and rents in their shields should be telling a more sombre story, but the King is treating this as lightly as a feather. "I think I'll take it as my prize for capturing this vessel."
"My lord, I -"
"Up-up-up-up. I'll make sure you're rewarded for bringing it to me, don't worry, Galnius," said Jas'o. "But don't you think it'd look fine in my foyer?"
"I - as you say, lord," said Galnius with a sigh.
"Get the Hermetician in here," said the king. "Bring it to compliance - and then move on. The princess couldn't have gotten far."


Dolce appeared at her side, and at once she held up a hand to stay him. He froze to the spot, studiously not moving a muscle. Oh, but she felt the weight of his heart straining to push past her, as if to crawl down that pipe and rescue their Alexa single-handed. Patience, my love! Patience! You must only bear this pain a little longer. Trust your Captain.

So. It’s ‘fear the Admiral,’ then? Not ‘fear the Empress?’ Fascinating...that explains bringing the entire Armada. This was no hunt. This was a coup, with a hunt on the side, which, frankly, was an even deeper insult than before. But more importantly, when there’s a coup afoot, everything becomes chaos. The status quo is dead, and everyone - from the highest king to the lowliest hoplite - has only one thing on their minds: “How am I going to get out of this alive?”

And this fellow - whoever he was - had done her the service of letting slip some, shall we say, personal frictions among his staff?

Yes, quite a few valuable tidbits in that answer...

“You know, that sounds absolutely delightful, but you see, I’ve just remembered that Redana is a grown woman, and it would be so rude of me to speak for her. I’m afraid you’ll have to charm her yourself, and may the gods grant you luck in your endeavor.” The saddest part was his lack of charm meant he’d take that as a compliment. “I simply must thank you for your truly generous offer. Your holdings are vast and fruitful, no doubt, but to offer me your soldiers too? To gift me an army of such striking loyalty, who follow a lord who would cosign them to the void, give away their services to a total stranger, all to faithfully serve your noble mission?” Stunning. Absolutely stunning. A gift beyond price. Such a home they could have had here!”

And if...Galnius, was it? If Galnius has ears and a brain, she could hear the wink from here.

“Ah, what might have been. Still! You mustn't be too hard on yourself; better than you have tried.”

“It’s true. There was nothing more you have done.” Dolce agreed.

And before they could stall for more time - or needle this fellow’s pride further - the rumbling she’d been hearing from the Hangar’s pipe resolved into the roar of engines, and the game was well and truly up.

***

[1]: Well...unless you have a very good reason to. Or. Perhaps, a very selfish reason.

***

[Rolling to Talk Sense with Galnius, 5 + 4 + 1 = 10 Unsure if this was Sense or Grace, but it's a 10+ either way. In all the hubbub of the chase/retreat, I would like her to take Alexa and her unit to Vasilia, and defect to a side that'll actually value them.]
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Phoe
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The feeling starts in her chest. It's warm and it's wet, like someone snuck up behind her and shot her full of Ambrosia. It tingles as it floods through her body, down her arms and into her fingertips, turns funny in her stomach and threatens to bubble up into something fierce and terrible like laughter that would ruin everything if she let it out.

It sinks lower and deeper, slowing its spread even as it builds in intensity. It reaches hips and she has to bite her lip to keep from letting anything out. It pushes lower still, and becomes a fire. Her thighs clench. Her head buzzes. It is so warm. It is so wet. Her fur ripples in waves from the shuddering muscles underneath. Her skin tingles, and even the heavy, suffocating air in the room feels good where it touches her. Bella's fingers curl inward and clench tightly enough to draw blood from her palms. Even this feeling is ecstasy.

Her eyes, half-lidded and useless, find Odoacer standing across the room from her. In a blink, she's crossed the room and broken the intricate circles of hidden defenses with nothing but her own raw power. In a ragged breath, she's broken the admiral herself. Bella's indomitable glare and feral snare crush Odoacer's will like a rotting grape, and her ears fill not with the sounds of impending battle, but of sobbing pleas for forgiveness. Forgive her, Praetor! She knew not what she did! Forgive her, please!

She will consider it. But in another turn of her head she's back in a dark room on Tellus that's so heavily misted with perfumes that nobody save Zeus herself could enter and think clearly. But Bella is in charge. She is tall and strong and proud, and at her feet the Master of the Kennels is a quivering mess. The whip is singing beautifully in her hand, and his cries of pain are an accompaniment worthy of Nero's golden theater. His back is bleeding from thirteen different lashes and for once there's no vomit-inducing smell but just the rush of her blood and the feeling of the wave building inside of her again and lighting her on fire when he whimpers that it was his fault, all his fault, he called her 'worthless' but the word was really 'priceless'! She could not be sold because she was invaluable and irreplaceable! So please, please, please forgive him!

She does not consider it. With a step, Bella has planted her heel in his back and the Master becomes the bottom step of the staircase leading to the throne of Tellus. Bella's tail swishes as her hips sway with each confident step up. She would never dare do this, but today it feels like her right. Step by step, she ascends. Her body is drowning in that wet fire feeling, which drips off of her claws with the color of blood. Intoxicating. Good. Good! She reaches the chair. It is not the Empress she finds waiting there, but the Princess. Redana... Bella's smile splits her face and she pulls the Princess down onto her knees and it feels so good to see, yes that's right that's where you belong, good girl, now you'll--

All at once, Bella is brought back into the banquet and the feeling of tension and war. She lifts a hand to squeeze her temple and shake her head, without regard to how it makes her look. What was that? What was that? She shivers; she's found her insides again and they've dammed up the wave inside of her, but they've filled themselves with ice to do it. Was this the wine? Nngh, what did that bitch put in there? Bella snorts irritably and forces her eyes shut. Breathe, damn you! Breathe!

hhhhhhhhffffffffffff. Wine and and sweat and shit and blood and misery and stress. She holds it all on her chest.

ksshaaaah. She lets it out. Her mask slips back into place without any further effort. She is calm. She is perfection. She is ready.

"I'm glad you realize that," she says with no small amount of effort to keep her voice from shaking, "Don't fall behind."

She is coming, Princess. Your Bella is coming to bring you home.
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