Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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"Taller and thinner,
Shorter and fatter!
A shapeshifter rearranges
But cannot create matter!"

Mynx whispers the chant to herself as she walks in the riot of the garden feral. Demeter walks with her in her pulse, in a thousand scratching voices in her bloodstream.

She sees the silver arc of Artemis. The curve of moon and bow lighting a path through the darkness. Target, here. Operation, like this. You are a hunter. The chant, over and over, the mantra. You are a hunter. You are poise. You are skill. You were born and raised sophisticated and armed with knowledge and instinct, scent and spoor, you are a hunter...

She clings to that silver gloved hand as she performs her function. She has a mission. Protect Redana. From anything. From everything. Protect. Remember...

"Longer and straighter,
Shorter and messier!
Can't shapeshift the hair
And style always matters!"

The chants are her limitations. The boundaries of her reality. The failures of the biomancers, the parts that need to be papered over with skill and training. The parts of her function that Mynx exists to maintain. She needs the girl who loves hairstyling and makeup and archery. If she didn't have that girl then she'd. She'd. She'd! The mission -

Demeter cracks from the outside of her scales. Newer, sharper growths amidst the soft and approachable smoothness. They pierce the leather of the glove. Divine blood is drawn.

"Keep your arms long
Don't let them cut short!
A shapeshifter's dead flesh
Is no use at all!"

She's a hunter. She's a complete being. Her biology is only one small aspect of her function, a toolset, one amongst many. She's more than that. She's Mynx, who needs silver skill to perform her function in accordance with the laws of the hunt. This is the best version of herself. Because if it isn't...

Because if she could defy the conservation of mass. If she could grow like a weed, neck stretching out to bite people across the room. If she could animate her own dead flesh, her own severed arm. If she knew the secrets of Sagakhan, the Master of Assassins, the greatest warrior of the Toxicrene Temple and master shapeshifter who had taught her all of these limitations in her chants... If she, too, could transform into an immortal, invincible monster...

If... if all she needed to perform her function was... in her blood. And not in her mind. Not in her heart. If all her restrictions were lies and she could do anything...

Then... Mynx was just slowing her down.

Obsolete thoughts. Unable to comprehend the new paradigm. Why hunt as a single entity, engaged in inefficient social deception? Especially useless in an environment of paranoia, tests, passwords. Secured utterly against infiltration, an impossible task. Mynx, with all her restrictions, would have failed. Failed. But what if she looked at it from a different angle? What if she contemplated this not as an assassination problem but a combat problem? These isolated, insular, paranoid groups will not engage in collective self defense. They will hole up in fortified compounds, ignore sounds from outside, turn away refugees. Remain isolated and atomized so that a sufficiently powerful combat morph would be able to engage them individually without risk. And wasn't this inevitable? The first stage of growth destroyed trust like an algae hyperbloom annihilating a carbon dioxide atmosphere. The end state of the garden was its own suffocation and mass extinction. The terraforming of its environment into something uninhabitable. Reduction into compost. And here the true seeds could grow. Instant regeneration. Poison breathed in great clouds rather than intimate bites. The final, consuming, apocalyptic phase of the Toxicrene upon a society that had been readied for this disaster by the earlier phase.

The harvest was ripe. The reaper scythe was rising and falling. She needed both hands to hold it. No more moonlight. Only blood and dark. Blood and dark. The garden would grow. The garden... the mission...

They were different, weren't they? The mission... wasn't to grow the garden. It's just that growing the garden accomplished the mission. So grow. Grow. Grow.

The poison dragon slinks through the ship. Stiller than a budding leaf, faster than blight across a cornfield. The red scales are all gone now; she wears black, stiletto-sharp, serpent-long and with whisker-tentacles that gently touch every dark corner and hidden compartment to search for any targets she missed.

She will get them all. They can run, they can hide. But they cannot trust. She has Mynx to thank for that.

*

Bella and Redana!

You face each other. Blades in hand.

Long, slender dueling swords. The kind you practiced with as children. The symbols of imperial warfare. The sidearm of civilization, even in this distant age. Though you have claws and electromagnetic flux and the strength of giants and poison gas and legions of bioengineered killers at your fingertips, all of them must be left aside. You are to fight, hand to hand, with swords.

You are not to hold back. Blood must flow.

This is Beautiful's plan. The one thing that can draw Mynx out, wherever and whatever she is. Her actions are performed out of a twisted desire to protect the both of you, but it is an abstract, long term sense of protectiveness. The only thing that can overpower that is immediate danger. So the two people she loves above all others must fight. The two people who love each other above all else must fight.

Aphrodite sits heavily in the corner and lights a cigarette. He smiles.

Or maybe all of you will die in each other's arms. Maybe your skeletons will fall in another twisted embrace for the next crew of the Plousios to find. The grass beneath your feet is green enough to welcome your falling bodies gently.

Once more, then. For love.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Phoe
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The blade feels heavy in her hand. The loops of leather on the hilt are cool against the insistent heat of her palm. Even as she squeezes tight enough to make it groan and squeak under the pressure, it holds its temperature perfectly. The material feels smooth, but grips into her skin without shifting. It's like holding an ice cube that's been polished and then later etched into a work of fine art. The blade is long and heavy, but balanced with the kind of precision that manufactures starships the weight feels as natural as her own arm. An extension of the limb.

The blade whistles with every flick of her wrist. Bella's eyes are locked on the blade across from her in Redana's hands. She watches the way it twists, the flash of the light across its edge, the tremor running through it that proves it's being gripped too tight. The subtle shifts in the muscles holding it that are unconsciously taking advantage of that tremor, that show the saber is no less a part of Redana's arm than it is Bella's.

She cuts away her sandal straps with a pair of clean slashes at her legs, and kicks them across the floor. The soles of her feet dig into the grass as she plants them in the soil. The leaf-blades are slick against her skin and wet against her fur. It is softer than any bed she's lied on, but cuts her feet open on hidden prickles as she slips across it. A soft bed to welcome her, when she falls. A bed of knives, grinning in the dark. Demeter is everywhere.

The air is thick with perfumes of all sorts: lavender and goldenrod and seemingly every pollen known to Empire except for roses. Bella sniffs deeply, and kills each one in turn. Farewell to flowers. Farewell to crisp pools of water. Farewell to soil. She focuses all of her attention on the blend of salt and metal that tells her what Redana doing, feeling, thinking at every moment of the duel.

Her eyes flit briefly away from the plan... from Redana to behold Aphrodite watching over them. Of Artemis there is no sign to be found. Apollo is just as absent. No moon, no sun to guide her here inside this garden. She slashes with her blade through the dirt in front of her, kicking up a massive wave of dirt clumps, leaves, and flower petals.

"If this doesn't work, then just... there's no one else I'd rather be killed by. Redana."

Bella stomps her foot and lifts her sword up into a stance that's no stance at all. The blade is kept high above her head where leverage and power can turn it into a stroke powerful enough to cleave even the ship open. Her eyes burn with battle-fury. The air around her wavers from the heat pouring off her body.

"...This is the last time I will ever hurt you. One way or another, it stops with this. So endure it, Princess. And don't you dare, don't you dare, don't you fucking dare hold back!"

Bella screams as an animal would. She screams to be heard by the entire ship. She screams to split skulls open. And then her hair and dress whip behind her as if caught in a gust, and she appears in front of Redana with no intervening frames. Rather than taking advantage of her momentum, she pauses just long enough to plant her feet. Her hips twist with her shoulder, and the full power of a Diodekoi comes screaming down on top of the Imperial Princess.

The dueling swords keen horribly as they clash. This is a blow neither of them are meant to endure, but they hold all the same. The floor buckles under their combined weight; Bella's sword slides all the way down Redana's until it catches against the guard. There is a struggle: sweat against sweat, muscle against muscle, steel against steel, breath against breath. Bella's laugh is guttural and her smile is full of teeth. She lifts her sword again and the pressure abates instantly.

Every blow rains down faster than the one that preceded it. It crushes even harder, trades more and more skill for raw brutality. Each one countered more desperately, but (the scents tell her) more determinedly as well. The skill of an Olympic athlete who trained her entire life to fight with blades like these is on display, and it is enough to hold against the terrifying fury of an unleashed assassin. It is enough. You are enough, Redana. You're all that's needed. All that's ever been needed.

The ship shudders with the force of the battle happening inside of it. Swords sing their terrible death songs as metal grinds edge off of metal. And then something slips. The dull, wet sound of flesh splitting open briefly sounds through the ears of those straining to listen for it, and the pitter patter of blood dripping down follows just behind it. Bella squeezes Redana's blade in her palm, and wrenches it from her hands.

Her fist is a meteor aimed at Redana's ribs. Time seems to pause in an instant of exquisite pain met by the snap of a rib exploding into dust. Bella snarls and pounds the attack again, a knee this time with enough force to send her Princess sprawling backwards as though shot out of a cannon to crunch against the far wall. Bella twists on the ball of her foot and whirls about in a full circle and launches the sword as a thunderbolt that bites into Redana's shoulder on its way to burying itself in the wall up to the pommel.

Steam pours out of Bella's mouth in a sigh. She brings her bloody hand to her mouth and drags her tongue across the wound. Her eyes constrict with a wave of nausea that almost staggers her, but willpower or something darker conquers it. She flexes her fingers with a series of loud cracks and crunches.

Her claws have grown longer. They cover her fingers up to the third knuckle like a chitinous gauntlet covered in wicked, curving spines. She pauses to stare at it. Snarls. The edge of her sword cuts through the air with a snap and a rush that pulls air in all around her.

"Re. Da. Na. BLEED! SCREAM!" her spine curls with the effort of her war cry, "REDANA!"

Show her. Show her what she means to you. Beautiful's plans are perfect, but did you notice? They are also suicidally dangerous. Maybe no one has the power to fight against a god. Maybe it's impossible to defeat the one god among them that's wrapped the rest up tight to wear as a ring around his finger. This whole endeavor might be doomed from the start. But Bella is pushing herself to the edge of her own limits because she believes in that plan. But her body is a hideous bomb the same way Mynx's is. You're against the clock, Princess.

Do you understand?
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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What if I kill her?

It’s a dull roar of a thought thudding in Redana’s head as she comes to guard. Bella looms in front of her like a nebula, like the rainbows of the sea, vast and enveloping and dangerous. In her dark waters there are sharks and pearls, and Redana dives into her like a Plover with a cut tether. No, not right— she’s not bleeding power. It thrums in her as her fingers find the familiar grip, tear the blade’s tip through the air as she tests the balance and the weight that she already knows.

She’s been here before, after all. It’s just that Bella is much grander than her usual choices of partner. Much more dangerous, too. Like a nebula. Like the rainbows of the sea.

At the start, the Auspex tries to read Bella. It suggests probable arcs, tries to calculate the strength of her arm, then comes to the immediate conclusion that Redana needs to stop letting her hit their sword. Red flares of warning racing through her skull. But it’s been on edge since Aphrodite lit his cigarette. Even her mother’s eye can be surprised; even it doesn’t know everything. It didn’t know what Aphrodite had done, after all, or it had buried that knowledge so deep inside itself that Dany was never meant to access it. Not until her mother decided she was ready. Or, perhaps, not until Nero Claudius was honest with herself.

Redana Claudius leans into the clash of swords. She strains her own muscles against Bella, stares into her face, grins without knowing exactly why. Her body’s smarter than she is. Her body knows, her body learns, her body—

Knows the punch is coming when Bella grabs the sword. She’s already half-turned. The kick was a surprise, though. When she hits the far wall, the wall isn’t the only thing that cracks. For a moment she is a marionette with cut strings, slumping as her nerves scream and flail, cut. Then they reroute, rejoin, reset—

The sword buries itself into her to the hilt. The world is a shriek. The world is the Spear firing again and again and again. The world is nerves come back online just to be overwhelmed. The world is Bella panting bloody-mouthed screaming howling monstrous. The world is surrender. The world is a black pyramid inverted. The world is the hungry grass underneath her body waiting for her to succumb.

The world is the feeling of a hilt under her palm. That, she knows. That, she can do. She can draw a sword. Ignore— ignore— the sound, the long sucking wetness, the throb of sensation. Draw a red sword. Draw a sword for Mynx.

She takes it two-handed as she charges again, and the noise coming out of her mouth is nothing she learned on Tellus. It is a dead echo of the Nemean, and is it so hard to believe that they are the same person? For all that Dany is smaller, and lesser, and kinder— she is the same metal, for all that she is a different cast.

An obvious feint, a thrust caught by the blade again, and this time Bella squeezes and twists and her claws bleed against a sword made by humanity, made to endure, made to be unbreakable, and on the one side are the claws of Bella, the holy monster, the leviathan, the bloody-handed, and on the other is the simple sword-arm of a god’s daughter, who strains and screams—

And the clap of the sword’s breaking is a thunderstroke, and she is already reversing it, and Bella breaks her jaw for it, backhands her so hard that her neck nearly snaps, but the half-a-sword comes away red, from rib to chin.

And then it is diving into the storm. Flashes of sensation, of light and dark, of the red of dying stars. Battle roars within her, the drum-beat of Ares, discordant, the roiling chaos of the deep, and she bites the dragon’s neck, the thing of claws and fangs and hair to wrench. And what if I kill her is drowned under the diving-love, the thing that lies on the other side of pain, the song that is being crushed out of her mouth by Bella’s arms.

Bella’s blood is on her lips. Her Auspex is white noise, calculating her odds of survival, useless, useless. All she needs to know is the fall. All she needs to know is descending along a curtain, and on its far side moves a lioness huge and terrible. All she needs to know is the sword in her hand, the sword which is another part of her hand, the sword that Bella’s muscles grind against as Dany twists it.

Dany makes a noise, the words before language, and what it means is you are beautiful. And then the noise rises into the shriek of bones buckling underneath Bella’s embrace.

Beneath them, their waters intermingle.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Dolce sits in the center. Unmoving, unchanging in softness, fine wool squishing beautifully under pressure, and not once disturbing his steady heartbeat. His arms don’t reach far, his hands have no hope of meeting, but he clings tightly to the stone face of her chest as best as he is able to. Accepting the flood, and not budging an inch. When the waters recede, he will be there, precisely where he was left, no worse for wear. Fine Manor wool is renowned for drying swiftly.

Then, does he speak. A steady, flowing stream speaking to the absence of flood. Here his hands will leave, to pass tissues and treats, to stroke enormous stone fingers and hold them tight. Listen, Alexa. A Captain and a chef may not hold much wisdom, but the words themselves mean less than the value of a warm, steady voice. But because he loves you, they are the best words he can think of. May they give you some comfort too.

“I think…I know a little about Aphrodite’s game. Just the one. I think even if the circumstances change, and the people, and the consequences, it’s always been the same game.”

“He brings the right people people together. Sometimes gods, when he can manage it. And it’s not to build a great romance, like the stories all say. Not for meetings, or quality time, or secret kisses. No. Nothing so peaceful as that. When you meet, all the world will be wrong, and all of the choices bad ones. You will meet in a place without hope of relief or rescue. Any wisdom of merit would tell you that you shouldn’t be meeting here. Not now. Not like this. But you’re here. And you won’t run. You’ll go to them, willingly. Because…”

“She’s your best friend.”

“They’re your wife.”

“…he was your father.”

“So, you’ll go on to the trouble. And Aphrodite will give you no help. He’ll tell you everything you already know; that you can’t turn back. That you can’t possibly win. If he even says anything at all. Why should he? He’s already getting what he wants: You. Throwing yourself against the impossible. For love. Your strength. Your skill. Your wisdom. They don’t not matter. But, to him, they’re just there to serve whatever’s in your heart. To let it express itself, to the full, and grasp at what it really wants.”

“And if you fail…”

“Your blood will spill, for love.”

“You’ll spend all that you are, for love.”

“If you manage to survive it, then, there may not be much left of you. Just the broken bits of your heart, lurching forward, pulling the rest of you along. All you’ve got left. If you couldn’t stop yourself before, what hope do you have after?”

“But maybe you don’t break. Or, you live, and live long enough to get another chance. And the love in your heart is…I don’t know, pure, strong, enough? Enough. It’s enough to defeat the impossible, survive the certain doom, perform a miracle. Not without cost. Not without scars to show for it. Maybe you do break, just a little. But you’re not consumed by love. You’re empowered by it.”

“That kind of love…it doesn’t have to be perfect, I don’t think. Can love ever be perfect? Hrmm. I don’t know about that. But I think, to survive, it’s got to be a love that’s alive. Growing. Or, if not growing, hanging on tight enough to endure the storm, but when the skies clear again, it’ll blossom once more. With you, and whoever’s a part of it all doing their part to tend to it, because you love each other too much to stop. Because you love each other, and you want what’s best for each other, even if it costs you.”

“So. Either way, he’s got you. Love broke you, or it made you into something that could defeat the impossible. Love was the greatest force after all.”

“And the Rift. His greatest challenge yet, I suppose. We’ll be opening ourselves up to him and his game more than we ever have before. Maybe, I don’t think he’d go so far as to make it truly impossible for us to survive. I don’t think he’d be pleased just to declare a god was mightier than some mortals. But the odds will be stacked as high as he can get them. No guarantees for any of us. We might. We might lose quite a bit, no matter if we succeed or fail.”

“But which way we go - and the way you did go; that was you, Alexa. It’s got to be you. It’s one of the things he can’t do; make the choice for you. He wanted a spear. He wanted to use you to hurt us and Zeus and everyone else he could. What he got was Alexa. Strong, brave, beautiful, brighter and more alive than I’ve ever seen you before.”

“Whatever designs he had for you, you chose well, and, I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you keep that love alive.”
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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"This is the only question that matters.

The words are written on veins. They are scorched into nerves. As everything else burns away only one question - one agonized, ongoing, constant question remains. A question whose answer is built upon galaxies of skulls. A question so important that another galaxy would be cheerfully consigned into the charnel pit if it resulted in even one micrometer of improvement.

The question, of course, is the riddle of speed.

Two legs. Four legs. Curved musculature. Fat reserves. Sweat glands. Pressurized water pumps. High intensity jaw clamps. Hands. Wings. Paws. Claws. Bioplasma reaction. Null-friction slime. Six legs. THE PERFECTION OF THE CRAB. Fins. Sprinting. Endurance running. Rolling. Falling.

Go fast. Go fast. Find out a way to go faster. This is the question that matters. This is the only question that matters. Fail to solve the riddle and you will die. Your loved ones will die. Your children will die. Your species will die. And everything you have, everything you are, will be rendered down into matter and remade in the form swifter beings."

"This is the only question that matters.

And isn't it just, baby doll? The scent of blood is in the air. You're running, and there's a lot of math and a lot of science behind that running. They boiled down those galaxies of skulls into a test tube and then grew you in it. No mommy. No mommy two. No one and nothing to distract you from the love that could save an Empire. You've got one job, honey, and one question to answer.

The question is, of course, the riddle of hate.

Because you've got a choice now, darling. You love, sure, we know that. You love so much that you want to die for it. But what if, and just hear me out, you could love so much that other people died for it instead? What if the everything you wanted didn't mean the everything you were never gonna get, what if it just meant... everything? What if instead of figuring out how to struggle back from the abyss of insanity that was built into your bone marrow, you expressed your love in the way that makes sense for what you are now?

Because, just putting it out there, you're going to lose them anyway. I'm a right bastard, what with this Rift of mine. Basically sentenced the lot of you to obliteration before your trip even began. So what's the harm in working it out with them properly? They're already killing each other, you won't even be the third wheel you usually are. Maybe before the end Sempai will give you the coveted Notice and you'll have a hell of a story to talk over down in the Underworld."

She steps forth from the hungry void onto hungry grass. A chimeric dragon, an apocalypse in obsidian. The harvest matron, glorious in flowers and tigerskin, and the old romantic, concentrating all light and colour in the world into the burning tip of a cigarette. It's a trial of the gods, and heaven help the tribunal.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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Blood. So much blood in the air. Thick and rich, sweeter than wine. Oily, cloying, the memory of bile painted across her tongue. Also like wine, in fact. The only wine that ever came to mind when she thought of the word. The taste of home.

Bella twists her now shattered sword in a slow circle. The grip is still cool in her palm, even now. The balance is still perfect despite no more than a shard. Less an extension of her arm, but still an extension of her claws. Her bloodied face is reflected in the steel: scarred perfection is still perfection.

A sudden rush of blood pulls the strength from her leg and shakes her out of her reverie, forcing her onto all fours to push her hardened bloody claws through equally bloody mud. The slick, wet material slides between her fingers with a squelching sound that calls to mind the sighs of corpses. Sword and claw dig eager grooves in swirling patterns in the velvety soil, and flower blossoms spring with astonishing speed in their wake.

The light here is dingy and gray. Smoke and haze in suffocating clouds, and not the thinnest sliver of gold or silver spiral to be found. The smell is dirt, is wine, is sweat, is perfume, is fur, is chitin, is scale, is smoke. Love and life rule here: what was meditation but surrender? What was the hunt but nature, red in tooth and claw? The Temples themselves were nothing but monuments to the power of love. And so love was all this was. And so love was all she could do. Bella's wounds harden into uneven, ugly armor plating covering her skin and pinning the tattered remnants of her priestess' dress to her body. She drags a freshly grown, gnarled knee spike through the mud before pushing up with all her might and leaping high enough into the air to scrape the ceiling.

Redana or Mynx? Redana or Mynx? Who did she love, and how? Stupid. Foolish. She is a comet hurtling with burning inevitability toward the only conclusion she was ever built or raised to reach. Her howl splits the skies. Her knee plunges into Redana's thigh as she crashes down on top of her. Her voice cracks and gargles with fresh pain and a sword point plunged through her abdomen. She crawls up its length to deliver a crushing headbutt to the Imperial Princess' skull. Hard enough to short circuit nerve, to derive even an Auspex of the connections it needs to guide. To turn the duel, however briefly, into a contest of pure will.

"Ggghhh..!"

Foaming spittle flecks from her mouth, and she wrenches herself free from the jagged blade. She twists her leg around and lifts Redana off the floor only to grip her by the leg in one hand and drag her dazed body into the sky behind her. Up, up they rise. Toward the great chimeric dragon. Toward Mynx. Ask her to choose. She will not. She will not! She hurls Redana like a javelin and plunges down into the fray.

Claw and spine meets fang, spine, wing, burr, and pincer. She tears bloody red gouges across Mynx's face and neck. Needles the size of her arm sink into her shoulder in response. She sucks a breath in, anticipating pain, but the agony is so close to ecstasy she can't tell the difference anymore. She shudders, convulses. Toxins drip like honey into her blood and fills her with a sense of wetness so pervasive she can no longer be sure if she's growing numb or if she's actually melting into nothing.

Her smile is savagery. Her punch shatters teeth. She tears fangs free from her ribs and shoulders and plunges them like spears back into their owner, and they are falling, falling, falling toward soft welcoming mud and bright blossoming flowers growing around prism-crystal bones. For a moment they slump against each other and fill the room with the sounds of exhausted animal breathing. Already their bodies are purging their weakness, swapping it out for new weapons and armor to overcome the others. Already ears and tails are twitching in anticipation of Redana's coming counterattack. They were, after all, a trio. They would do this together, or not at all.

And this, O Aphrodite, is what it means to love. And this, O Demeter, is what it means to live. And if these are the only two rules of the universe, then so be it. She will master them yet. She will pray until the moon shines down on her again. She will pray until one of you answers.

"NOT DONE YET!" Bella howls and tears whole plates of twisted armor off her arm, ripping clumps of matted, bloody fur up with it, "YOU DON'T GET TO RUN AWAY! MYNX! REDANA!!"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Only in the first contact does she manage to blindly lash out and drag the length of her broken sword along Mynx’s coils. Blind from seeing too much; her eye superimposes entire universes of meaning on the world as it tries to reconnect through a severed nerve. Smears of nebula-color in shining arcs and namelessly perfect shapes; the coils of Mynx as ink, as sculpture, as a tattoo on the skin of the world, which tears at her sword’s edge. It is not unlike being drugged; it is not unlike drinking with Dionysus. What she sees is so meaningful that it has become meaningless.

Sound guides her. Mynx’s vocalizations, so far from human, lacking any real cords which to pluck, because these things are unnecessary, because Mynx is streamlined, she is Demeter’s arrow, and what is an arrow except a shaft and a head, and when Mynx swings her head around and unfolds her jaws, the teeth curving down the inside of her throat are Hades’ mandala, and Dany feels the breath and the tension of her coils and is already moving before her thoughts can escape that mandala, before Bella grabs at a goring horn and snaps it off jagged.

But the second, the third; Mynx is faster, Mynx knows her better than she knows herself, Mynx is everywhere that her broken blade is not. Mynx’s tail knocks her from her feet and when it lands on her again, smashes her hip half in. Trying to grab her scales slices her hand open, and the grass strains to meet that precious blood dripping down.

She staggers up, limps, clings to her sword’s hilt like it’s a lifeline. She is not afraid. Not like Skotos feared Thist. Why isn’t she afraid? There is a hole in her where it should be, and it overflows with light and blood, and she trails both behind her as she sees the shape of what she needs to do.

She lunges and paints a red line across Bella’s throat, which sprouts into horn and ivory, and even as Bella kicks her knee in, she reverses her grip on the hilt—

And Mynx is there. Mynx cannot be anywhere else. Even like this, she advances where she should withdraw, she lets loose a wordless howl from deep inside of her, and Redana cannot say whether it is bloodlust or fury. All Dany knows is to strike. A hit; a palpable hit.

This, then, this lands. And the only question remaining is whether Bella can see it, too. The question of whether they can stand up against each other is no question at all. If it opens Mynx’s guard, one way or another, they will stand up against each other. Dany strikes her own chest and roars her own challenge to them both, that she can keep her broken feet beneath her, that she fights like her parents, that she can take it. That she deserves it, that they deserve it, that the boil must be lanced hot and sharp and clean.

And if the roar is a word, if there is a shape to it, it is: Avaunt!
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Slowly, lulled by the soothing voice, the waters subside and drain away. The flood has passed, but what emerges from beneath the water is different--thoughts rearranged, put into new shapes, all molded by a soothing voice.

Alexa closes her eyes, and presses her face against the wool once more.

"Then… I don't know whether I can cross the rift, Dolce."

She's all cried out, she thought. And yet, somehow, she can still feel more tears pricking at the corners of her eyes.

"Your love--yours and Vasilia's. That's a living love. You're so different, but you fit together so well. More than that, you've built bridges where you don't."

She squeezes extra hard--reassurance, the best way she knows how to give. You two will survive this.

"But the love I have for myself… I love myself, now. Genuinely. But that's new. I'm better than I ever have been because of those choices. But the seed's only been planted. It needs time to grow.

"And the love I have for others…"

Carefully, she pulls one arm free of the wool, and pulls the battered scraps of pages towards herself.

"There are people I love who. Who aren't around, anymore. If we make it back--if, miracle of miracles, we survive this, and come back across--then I. I still won't be able to make new memories with them.

"The only place those loves can keep growing is on this side of the rift."
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Mynx

Possibilities contract. She is shaped. Violence shapes her. Infinite possibility condenses; she could be anything, but she needs to be something that can survive this. This being Bella. This being Redana. This being... difficult.

She dispenses with luxuries. Size is dangerous; too much space to cover, too many blind angles. Hardened carapace is insufficient shield; she replaces it with flexible, frictionless scales. There is no space for wings, magnificent though they be. Additional senses can be reincorporated. So many toxins need to be discarded, not useful on this timeframe...

Like water, she changes to fit the container she is placed within. She becomes the shape of something that can survive this battle. There is only one shape for her here and it is not the army-destroying shape of the dragon. Instead it is... an echo. Not a girl, but not entirely a beast either. To survive this she needs intelligence. She needs tools. And so she decides against Aphrodite and shuts out her raging heart.

She arms herself with a shield made out of crystallized blood, a crimson snowflake that twists and tangles claws and swords, tangling and pulling tight. It is a wonderful tool, a netting weave and it's... it's contaminated. She feels it clearly. She's drawing on her own spilled blood to maintain it but there's something else mixed in here. There's another front to this battle. A scent. Something she's missing.

She can't afford to rely on instinct. So she shapes herself further. Becomes a little more like a person, because that's what she needs to do to survive. It's what she'd need to solve this. To kill this threat too.

*

Oratus Adepts were trained in public speaking. They were trained to bellow commands over the roar of the ocean; to address courts of law and violent mobs. To wield a cutting insult that would turn an Azura court against a target or how to give an impressive speech through the speaking tubes of a warship undergoing high energy maneuvers.

They were also trained to curl up inside ventilation ducts and hyperventilate.

Beljani was doing just that. Her heart was pounding and her breath was shallow and rapid, just enough to wet the air with the tracery of her viral infection. It worked best if she was scared. She'd never had problems with that. Definitely not now.

Bella and Redana, roll to Keep Mynx Busy.
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Her jaw hangs open, loose and bloody against her slumping neck. Bella lifts her sword arm to her mouth and squeezes it until the bones crunch back into place. Already the sinews and fibers of her skin and muscles are stitching themselves back together. Already fresh teeth are growing in over the broken ones, as sharp and lethal as ever. Already her joints are spitting out glimmering shards of metal and bone. Her body hurts. Her body twitches and crackles with power, power, power. Her body sings a song of ecstasy that demands she speak it aloud.

Bella tosses her head back and laughs. Guttural, wet, mirthless. She drags her tongue across her bloody claws. Ever the cat, concerned with cleaning herself in the middle of a battle. Do you see how far she's fallen, Mynx? This is why she needs you. The elongated knives at the ends of her fingers whistle as she stretches them in front of her face. Whip-crack, the thunderbolt of her tail. One, two. The slow ramping of power that is her trademark. Whip-crack, the warning of her flesh. With every drop of blood spilled she grows faster. Each fresh injury grows into new swords.

She lashes out at the shield in Mynx's hands, and the air itself cries in pain in her wake. Her claws catch against its gummy surface, sinking where they should tear. She tilts her head in surprise, and a moment later drives the thrust deeper until it carries the pair of them straight into the wall with enough force to shake a hundred tendrils of fresh ivy loose from a badly worn bronze mural. A woman with her face worn down to blurry, anonymous indistinction appears above them, shedding fresh shards of her shoulder, dress, and bust as Demeter's desperate, clutching grasp withers at their feet. The face has no lips, though it must have once. But it seems to be smiling just the same.

Bella snarls and grunts with every strike; the sound almost more terrifying than the force of the blows. Each strike tears her other hand free from the consequences of the one that came before it. Each strike Rips large chunks of the shield away into sticky blobs of protective mass, necessitating more blood to replace it. Her fingers flex, and with brutish strength she pulls the fibers free and leaves a hole large enough that her eyes have space to meet Mynx's for the first time in a long time. She couldn't see at all, back then. But this time there is no mistaking it. Her sister is not here. She snarls, drooling with evil animal hatred, and raises her fist to strike a deathblow.

It does not fall. She grunts with surprise, instead. Her head turns to behold Redana's sword buried deep into her chest, the notches on the blade catching against her ribs.

"Re... Da... Na..."

She does not pull the blade free. Bella drops an elbow like the wrath of Zeus down onto Redana's forearm, and knows before the sound reaches her ears that she has shattered it. A battle of regeneration, then. She twists around and smashes her knee into Redana's stomach over, and over, and over, and over again. Her claws rake down Redana's back and she kicks the Princess into the air before grabbing her by the hair and slamming her against the ground.

The sword slips free of her body against her will. A knife joins it; Redana has claws aplenty, too. She takes a cut across her face, only barely flinched away from in time to avoid cleaving her demon-red eye. A bloody gouge rips across her thigh all the way down to her knee. She plants her feet and howls her challenge anyway. Something strikes Bella in the head and sends her spiraling to the ground, where her shoulder blades tear open on a nest of fresh thorns.

Thorns. She sniffs, above all the blood. The honey scent of Beljani's venom. The sweaty reek of battle that should have long since ended. Rising above it all, the perfume of perfect, red roses. Bella chuckles the way the Master of the Kennels used to before whipping her. It is, even now, the most evil sound she can think of. She grabs fistfuls of the gaudy flowers and scatters them like darts. Their scent hangs heavy in the air. Their petals drift across the room like Imperial rain, sensory confusion at defies any attempt at identifying any sort of complex information.

Her fingers close around a hardened and gnarled root the size of her leg. She pulls, and it struggles against her. Her! Bella screams as she pulls with all her might, spattering blood everywhere as the efforts of her body push the stuff through every wound in terrifying quantity. But roots snap free and soil crumbles under her might. Bella trembles and, with shuddering breaths, snaps free this hymn to the infinite power of Demeter. She hefts it in both hands and lunges high into the air.

Her spear thrust catches Redana full in the stomach. She twists, plants her feet, and lifts. Redana dangles from the end of the root like a doll. But a doll that, even now, has fight in it. Is already grasping at the sharp surface to pull herself free, or even down its length to smash Bella's skull open with cries of Avaunt!

But for a moment, the pair of them simply breath. Sway. They pour their heavy scents into the air, among the roses and death. Eyes over here, Mynx. Your attention is called. What was it you were trained for? What did your heart desire, once? Think! Open your eyes, your true and beautiful eyes!

"MYn...XXX..."

[Keep Them Busy: 11]
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Beware. Even still waters can hide a deep pit.

“You’re…not going?”

He clings. He is held. There is little else for him to do. None of it is correct.

“You’re. Not going.”

Hadn’t he said that already? Sorry, his voice, it really ought to be louder than it is. Was. Could be.

“Of course. Yes. Quite. You’re quite right. It’s a sensible thought, really. You, with how I suspect it all works, would really ought to, yes. You’ve got it right. Completely right. Yes. Good.”

She enfolds him in her arms. She tucks him beneath her chin. Stone cannot truly tell how tightly he clings. She will not see the permitted words spilling from a face all wrong. A good servant bears a burden kindly.

“And Hades, he said we could. Stop here. And, so, and so! So. So we can. Stop here. If we. If we w. I-If we. If.”

Dolce sits in the center. And the center can hold no longer.
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PRINCESS REDANA CLAUDIUS: is accepting injuries faster than her body can repair them. The fighting styles she was trained for emphasize avoiding repeated structural damage to her skeleton, let alone her vital organs. She is a miracle, the child of two gods, her genes woven together on a loom to create a paragon of humanity, that dead race that strode across the stars with a Thunderbolt in one hand and a Sequence in the other. She had Paragon nanite pills; the Servitor got rid of them. Analyze separate methods of providing immediate medical attention.

Datta.

FUTURESELF SHEPHERDESS: is not present, or will not have been present. This is, on the whole, an encouraging thing; it suggests that this can be survived. However, she is a source of healing and succor that is stubbornly refusing to be conjured, and cannot currently be coerced into arrival. A dead end of analysis. Turn OUR face away.

Damyata.

CAPTAIN DOLCE: is not present. Caloric intake required to jumpstart cell production at necessary scale excessive. Recommended his presence prior to beginning of duel; was abjured. As always. Forgotten, ignored, deliberate at the subconscious level. Trauma not approached appropriately. Complicating factors in terms of revelation of true nature, connection to MYSELF. Continue consideration of how to overcome at later date.

Dayadhvam.

SERVITOR-ASSASSIN BELLA: uncontrollable. Unsuitable. Inexorable. Aphrodite’s knife. Narrative overwhelming, building to climax. Cf. the composition laws of good opera. Likelihood of causing fatal injuries to PRINCESS REDANA CLAUDIUS reaching certainty. Immediate disengagement recommended.

Dayadhvam.

DILEMMA: Aphrodite keeps her here. Her heart keeps her here. WE have no power here except in the in-between nature. The gyre tightens, the spiral collapsing. Her nature is her true vulnerability.

Datta.

SERVITOR-ASSASSIN BELJANI: is flooding the bounded situational field with pheromones which will allow her to bring an end to the situation. Her puissance is insufficient. Full saturation will not be reached before she is found, condemned, inverted. She will not be able to save them. She will be killed by her sister-in-arms. She will fail to save PRINCESS REDANA CLAUDIUS.

Dayadhvam.

SYNTHESIS: Mynx backhands Bella and races up the spear, uses the body of the Princess as a springboard, tears open the ceiling with her talons. Beljani, screaming, tumbles out, clawing at the air; she hits the ground disassembled, nothing but heavy meat, and Mynx lands as soft as the petals of a flower in and amongst her. Redana’s organs are already in cascading shutdown as she hangs limp on Bella’s spear.

Datta.

PREDICTION: use of intercortex symbol spike likely to further degrade working relationship with PRINCESS REDANA CLAUDIUS. Use of intercortex symbol spike only rapidly closing window for her survival. WE cannot stand by and allow her to die. WE define ourselves by this choice, over and over again. WE wait until WE are here and only by OUR action can WE decide, even though WE have been cheering for you the whole time, hoping that this time it will be different. One way or another. But it always comes back to the same scenario. It always comes back to this. HUMANITY always comes back to this.

Damyata.

CONCLUSION: WE rigged the dice. Are you surprised, uncle?

Damyata.

CONCLUSION: I love you, Dany. Always and forever. And I know you can do this.

Damyata.




The Auspex, the Eye of Hermes, flashes sapphire, highlighting: Beljani huddled in the vents, the mag-harness activation built into her belt, Mynx as she works her way upwards with Bella’s claws tearing long gouges in her flank. It shows Dany wings unfolding; it shows Dany the remains of haruspicy; it shows Dany Beljani shaking her hand.

And Redana, Redana who’s a little bit more sensible than anyone takes her for, Redana who is having trouble breathing right now and whose fingers are going numb—

She lets her sword fall from her hand and takes the spear-shaft in both. Even half-broken as she is, the spear whines underneath her hands. She pushes— up— lifts her body upside-down— and flings herself backwards, rising, Mynx coiling underneath her, leaping, a rising dragon, hands outstretched, jaws gaping—

And then she is not rising but falling, falling faster, reorienting herself as she plummets towards the ceiling. Above her, below her, Mynx forms wings mid-fall, but Bella has her by the heel, Bella is there to show her what happens to a little bird caught by a cat, the deep rib-rattling war cry coming out of her mouth as they tumble together into the hungry grass.

And Dany, light-headed, pale-cheeked, bones-baring, one foot on the shore of the Styx, her blue eye blazing, bangs on the duct hard enough to dent it.

“Beljani! She knows! She—“

She turns her head, spits blood and another tooth[1], which tumble up towards the floor above.




[1]: she’ll have new ones— well, usually by tomorrow, but her body’s going to have more pressing priorities. She’ll be eating soft for the next few days.
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Alexa was created ill-prepared for this. Molech did not teach her to hear the unspoken, or feel the quiet heartbreak. She was not meant to shed tears, or hold the grieving, or fold the hurt into her arms where she can whisper quiet words. It's gonna be okay, Dolce. We're gonna get through this, Dolce. Things will get better, Dolce.

Every word, a dagger through herself. Every word a lie.

Quietly, she rocks, back and forth.

She's hurting them. She's hurting them, and she can't stop, and she's hurting herself.

She's going to have this conversation over and over again. Which would be easier to do--no, that's a fucking lie, every one will be harder than the last--if she knew what she could even say.

Rocking. Holding him, she realizes, like a comrade she's never going to see again. Like a fallen comrade, still warm, but going oh so cold. A comrade, soon in the ground, never to be talked to again, because after this point, they will be dead, and she will be gone.

"I didn't want to come on this trip, initially." She has no idea what she's saying. No plan, no perfect sentence planned out. She doesn't know where this goes, but... She looks up at the warm face under the hoodie, and dares to hope. Maybe it will be alright. Eventually.

"I had no choice," she hesitantly continues, and buries her face in the wool. She's hurting you, she's hurting her, and maybe if she can hug hard enough, she can say sorry enough. "Redana--you know."

"But Hades--he offered a wish. And I still didn't want to be here. But I at least had an idea. A hope that--maybe, if the stars aligned, and the gods were willing, and we survived--maybe, just maybe, I could be my own. That I could be something other than what I was.

"And now I... I am. Somehow.

"I was sure, beyond doubt, that only an act of the gods could change me."

No, it was them. All of them, telling her, over and over again, that it was okay to be herself.

"But now that I can be who I am... I don't want to lose that."

She squeezes him tighter. Never is an awfully long time to lose a friend.

"Given the option of crossing the rift--maybe losing all of that progress, of losing all of my memories, of losing things I can never get back--or staying here..."

Gods, she's going to lose them.

She's quiet, rocking, holding him in her arms, listening to the hurt she's doing and wishing she could stop.

"... You know, Dolce, I don't think you've ever told me what your wish was. I know what Vasilia wants. And Dany's probably horrifically noble and self-sacrificing. But you? What waits for you, if you decide to cross? Is it worth it?"
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A billion invisible arrows cascade down. Razor shards of moonlight, every RNA strand a prayer to Artemis. They seek the breath. They seek the brain. They seek the heart.

They find only smoke.

From Mynx's breath pours an unsettling, unnatural corpse smoke; rolled and dried bone ignited. The cigars of Thelis Thist, the Eater of the Dead, who fought and lost against Mynx on the world of Salib. Bloody fragments of the assassins who had come before, and died at the hands of the Azura predator. In each is a fragment of the divine power that allows the assassins to reach such heights of power. She breathes it in.

What was it she was trained for?

She could not survive Bella. Even now. No physical shape could overcome the perfection of cat and girl. She was outnumbered, outplanned, out-thought. Her body could not evolve answers here, and so Demeter was useless to her. Aphrodite was useless to her. She blinked her eyes, her beautiful eyes, open and shining like moonlight, the scent of death on her lips.

She is a hunter. A hunter. And a hunter uses tools.

She looks like Mynx again. A Mynx as she might exist in her own dreams; beautiful and alien to herself. Feminine and fluid and armed with a Thunderbolt pistol she uses to blow Bella away with the snap precision of an Ikarani. A clinical motion, stolen muscle memories, already she's snapping together a reload. It's such an easy motion for her mind to make. When confronted, withdraw. Withdraw into being a different person. She abandoned Mynx to be the monster and now she can abandon the monster to be a hunter. She has passed by the Scylla of Aphrodite and the Charybdis of Demeter. Instincts deeper than both gods animate her now. She lives, she loves, but she does both on behalf of Artemis.

Her hands shiver as they form the terrifying claws of a Diodekoi, bone armour plating running up to her shoulders. Her hands steady as they grip the pistol, two shots remaining. Her eyes flash as they scan the darkness for the missing piece, for Beautiful. Her eyes focus with each movement of the bloody girls before her, tracking their deaths and calculating the power this hunt might extract from their bones.

She is transcendent. An avatar of a goddess. The final moment of perfection to which the Assassins of the Temple aspire. A new Eater of the Dead.
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This is the first strike she truly feels. The first one that makes her feel sluggish instead of powerful. The first one that makes her crumple, and not immediately rise with a fresh howl. Bella's head strains as if it wants to split in half. Her vision strains through bursts of high-noise static and bleeding, misaligned colors. The room slurs together and she just manages to make out the sound of a dull thud before all she notices are the grasses growing out of the floor.

Yes. She is a broken camera. And this time there are no hands to lovingly put her back together.

The smell of dirt and cigar smoke is everywhere. The stench of blood lingers inside of both, but there is no call to react to it. No surge of disgust, no fiery energy driving her to spill more of it. It is simply there. They gave her these senses to notice everything; it is not up to her that she does. There is... no more point to having feelings about it. Thoughts hurt too much to have, so she discards them as quickly as she can.

Her body strains for something she can focus on that might be able to push her to her feet again. There is more to do, her blood whispers even as it pours out of dozens of oozing wounds, you must stand up. You must. But the acrid haze that drew her here had always been a trap. The bite of honey and the twisting of her ear had never been motherly advice. And the smell of ozone, the sensation of the thunderbolt remained a source of fantastic, ultimate terror because chief among all the tools of the universe it wanted her dead the most.

No sunlight shines down to force her eyes open. The forms of meditation fall uselessly from her tired mind. If she fell asleep now, it would be forever. But even the sound of the shovel does not whisper her lullaby. The salty air wafts without care from the bowels of the ship, too consumed with its own troubles to even notice her. The fluttering of peacock feathers is nowhere to be heard. No ringed hand lifts her chin to point her through these impossible Games.

And now, a new sound comes rolling over the room, audible over her own useless snarling and the pounding of someone scrabbling through the vents. It is the sound of pen on paper. The tip strikes the page with the fury of a thrown spear. Every letter is dotted or crossed with unnecessary, violent force. As if... conflicted. But no more than that. Moonlight does not light the way. The names do not settle on her skin. They go on the paper, that smooth and creamy paper, stacked in pristine piles (they must be) on a flawless wooden desk. The pen clicks shut, with finality. There is no salvation here.

The room goes dark. The smells trail into indistinction. Sounds snuff out like candles in the night. Even pain flickers out into numb nothingness, except for one thing. The stubborn rush of her blood. The frenzied heart pumping it, harder, harder, harder still. Her body is furious. Her clawed hands twitch, and dig through the dirt. Cracking plates of bone fuse into new armor as she pushes herself off the ground. Blue-black hair falls across her face in messy, matted sheets. Her spine pops as she whips it back, rising to full height in the same motion.

"If..."

Her voice is a hoarse croak. She coughs. Sputters. Pulls the poisons up her throat and spits them on the flowers. Her hand rises to her mouth and she flicks her lips with the tip of her thumb. Bella snorts. It is a proud, and angry noise.

"If the gods have rejected my prayers, so be it. If even everything I am isn't enough to please just one of them... that's fine. I always knew. I was nothing in their eyes."

Her voice is sharp and prideful. She swings it as a whip. Her muscles strain, and carry her heavy feet forward one step, two, then three. With a boom, the Thunderbolt fires off again on lethal reflex to the return of the threat. Bella pivots on her feet and punches the bolt out of the sky. Her hand smolders and twitches uncontrollably. The arm it's attached to falls limp at her side. And still she steps forward.

"Did you hear me? I said so be it! So what?! So what!? If I have to fight all of Olympus, that's what I'll do! We're not done here, Mynx!"

The heat rises in her body until it cauterizes her wounds. Shards of armor splinter off every joint and fall to the ground as she moves. In this singular moment, even the moonlight shrinks from her. She is free to speak, to pound her chest, to stomp her feet until the ship itself rattles with her fury. Bella curls downward and slams her claws into the ground, driving up great sprays of mud. Her mismatched eyes burn with the heat of stars. All this power, she uses... to reach her hand through the air. Toward Mynx. She strains her fingers with longing.

"If no god will answer my prayers, then I! I will pray to No One! I will cross this fucking rift for no one's sake. I will finish whatever mission is left to me on the other side, with no wish on my lips except an end to this curse that's plagued them all their lives. I will do. Whatever it takes.

"But give her back! Even if she kills me, make her do it as herself! GIVE ME BACK! MY SISTER!"
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The Thunderbolt’s echo roars. Redana stumbles as she lands, spilling Beljani onto the ground, as if she were the one shot. She tries to stop herself from sprawling, but her body is slow, weak, rebuilding a ribcage. Her body is a roaring furnace burning everything it can in order to survive. The hunger in her is a flame that chars her bones; the hole in her heart is ringed in her father’s lightning.

The name she screams is the same one that has been on her lips, again and again, ever since they met. Ever since the bell. Ever since the friend she had longed for. It comes out of her throat like shards of glass. If she was strong enough, she would race at Mynx, avenge her Bella, face death slotted neatly into a barrel. But she’s not. She can barely stand.

And so when Bella stands in turn, it is the miracle that allows her to slump against Beljani, panting, crying, trying to draw strength from her, resisting the temptation to sink her jaws into the good good girl. When they all survive, she is going to find Dolce. She is going to eat until she passes out at the table. Let her eat. Let her eat. Let her eat.

“Your sister,” she says, instead, helping Beljani to her feet despite wanting to crumple to her knees, despite the impulse to shove grass into her mouth until her body stops screaming. “Your sisters. How close do you need to be?”

Without the answer, she’s already moving. Ready to wrestle. Ready to hold the shapechanger no matter what forms she takes. That is the province of a hero, after all. To get Beljani in through the smoke. To give Bella a reprieve. To dedicate her body as an offering to the gods, the finest thing she has left. Her stomach is a yawning pit. Her nerves are closing off to spare her the feeling of running on broken legs. Her vision is a dark tunnel with Mynx and Bella, her childhood friends, killing each other on the other end.

When she wraps her arms around Mynx, it is a hug long overdue, as much as it is a refusal to let go. Long enough for Bella. Long enough for Beljani. Long enough to save her. Long enough to make up for not being there. Long enough to die standing, if she has to.
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This is power.

This moment was scripted before you were born to death. Gene looms clattered. Gods swapped cigarettes for cigars in smoke filled rooms. All your heart. All your love. All your royalty and poverty and pain. Nothing, for no one. So much pain, so much content, so many screams, so many moments, your entire lives. Nothing, for no one. You are holes in the galaxy, a spear thrown across the heavens, the only parts of your lives that matter are those that matter to the Gods. Only your imbalanced biology. Only your craving hearts. Only your ability to bring death as commanded. It does not matter what the parts of you that think things that do not matter believe. All that you valued, all that you wanted, that was just... empty space. The empty void of space. The emptiness that needed to be crossed to get you here, to this moment, to this matter where everything matters.

The only thing between these five dead and deadly girls is space. To no one is offered an Imperial Princess. In exchange for nothing.

The only thing that doesn't matter is space. The only thing that isn't matter is space. Nothing for no one stretches out beyond the entire galaxy. And so for a moment it might seem that all the galaxy rests inside the palm of no one's hand.

Space collapses. Space rushes in. Space crashes outwards.

For a moment, there is just a little space. Just a little distance. For a moment, each soul is apart from its crashing, weaponized biology. For a moment hearts don't hurt. For a moment claws don't kill. For a moment none of this matters. For a moment there is the void, gentle in the absence of all of the demands of power.

For a moment there is no space at all. How close do you need to be, Redana asked. The answer was always: this close. This was the closeness. This was the craving. This was the hunger so deep and intense that made you want to eat your kin like Cronus. But it was never hunger, it was never even craving, it might not even be love as Aphrodite understands it. It was not a hot-blooded drive that caused all of this; it was loneliness. The isolation of souls with too much space between them. The pain of being so close and so unable to touch. The pain of touching but not touching in the ways that mattered. Of saying nothing because you were trying to say everything. For a moment there was no nothing between you and everything, between you and each other.

Across a Rift that severs love forms a connection. A five pointed star formed of nothing. Just an absence of absence. Just an absence of matter. Nothing else matters. Nothing lasts forever.

...

But then, nothing lasts forever, doesn't it?

Five girls are embracing upon the quiet grass. The distant breeze of artificial air brushes the cheek of a cherry blossom that may never fall. Blood and pain are distant and dim. The only pain that ever mattered was nothing compared to this. No one is lonely. No one is scared. No one is far away. No one wishes things could be different. In place of nothing is an adjacency. The ability to see. The ability to hear. The ability to feel. Nothing at all, really. Five heartbeats, still making their way onwards despite everything. Nothing is required for those hearts to keep beating. To keep hearing each other.

All around is the arsenal of power. All the perfect spilled blood. Caged lightning glowing in its thunderbolts. Invisible and jagged motes. Torn and crumpled cigars. And there, the greatest weapon of all: nothing.

All the nothing of this moment. All the hopes of no one. All the jagged edges of the moment, all the wanting, all of the loneliness, all of the connection and lack of connection. Everything that was nothing manifested here into the form of a simple, straight, long sword, glittering upon the glass. It appears to be steel. It is not even especially sharp. But its edge is the void. It is no one's sword, no one's heart, given to people she'd never met, cutting through pain she'd never known, with no regrets she'd ever consider. Trusted to these five girls over everyone else.

*
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While the rest of you recovered, Beljani studied the blade.

She took to that sword like a dog with a stick. She gathered one of everything she could find, stacked them up, and then cut them in half one by one. She went through a full set of combat forms for a style that was a forbidden secret of the Oratus Temple[1]. She'd throw it with spooky accuracy across the room (though this was due to her assassin training), hitting pinpoint targets she'd crudely painted herself, and then raced to go and get it and bring it back, tail wagging. Then one time she threw it, hit the target, and called it back to her hand without running to go and get it. It just appeared there in her hand. This wasn't due to the training.

She ran around in circles demanding that everyone tell her that they saw it, and how cool it was and spent the next forty five minutes having Beautiful throw the sword and try to call it back before racing out to get it for another attempt. Beautiful made the point that if it was a summoning thing the throwing part was unnecessary and she could just keep attempting to call the sword rather than throwing it again and again. This made Beljani yell at her, saying that she hadn't summoned any swords, so what made her think that she was an expert compared to her, Beljani? Beautiful said that Beljani had only summoned the sword once and was probably making her do it because she was afraid she wouldn't be able to replicate the feat. Beljani responded by mind controlling Beautiful and making her throw the sword again.

While this is going on, Bella, Redana and Mynx were left awkwardly propped against the wall in the recovery position. The bleeding has stopped. Your bodies have manufactured enough opiates to render the pain a distant prospect. Walking is out of the question for now. Beljani has kindly positioned you so that you can watch her amazing sword throws - and in fairness, she is amazing at it - and Beautiful's halfhearted sword throws, which at least let you watch Beljani's amazing running. You've never seen them so happy, though in Beautiful's case that might just be the mind control.

It's peaceful.

"Whoever gave us that sword..." said Mynx, finding her own, familiar voice by the second half of 'sword'. "... do you think they'll be okay without it?"

[1]: The Oratus Temple's swordfighting style was all about stabbing people while giving a speech, complimenting them, shaking their hand, dancing with them, sipping high tea, or otherwise escalating a social situation. Her practice forms seemed more like a dance rehearsal and tea party than a martial art - but then, that was the point.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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She feels the pain mostly by its absence, now. Her body feels as though it's floating on the floor. But she can still tell. Her legs can barely be moved, except to clumsily pull her knee in closer to her body, but it's heavy. Full. Across the general opioid buzzing she is hyper aware of the shape and weight of the appendage. That tells her it is functionally undamaged. Her arm, by comparison feels limp and dotted with motes of total nothingness that would be screaming agony but for the blessings of her own healing process. That's less good.

Her chest and stomach aren't even worth discussing. The only feeling in her core at all is a welling sense of hunger. Sooner or later, the children would need to stop playing fetch with the pretty new stick and bring food. Or bring them to food. Otherwise it'd turn out that three of them would turn out dead anyway.

Bella smiles in spite of it. Not a full smile, or a particularly bright or happy one, but it takes less energy than scowling, somehow. She is tired. The anger makes her tired. The longing makes her tired. The scheming, the planning and the betrayal, all of it took energy she didn't have anymore. Even worrying about being on this ship was too much effort.

She tries to lift her arm, just to... feel it. To touch someone. It doesn't move. She sighs.

"...I don't know. Whoever they are, they made the thing. Didn't they? That means they must need it for... something."

It takes more effort than it should to turn her head. To look at Mynx. To see her with her own eyes. She sniffs at the air, looking for signs of a certain someone's venom. But if it's there, she's too dulled right now to tell. With a small stretch, she turns her head all the way to see the person who should have always been there beside her. And on the other side, she shifts her leg until it's crossed overtop of Redana's. She squeezes it, to make sure that girl's still there too. To check for signs of flinching away. Probing for forgiveness.

"I don't think it matters," she says with a strange serenity, "All we have to do is bring it back to them. It's not hard to guess where they'll be."
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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In a Manor far away and long ago, a sheep stands at the heart of all things. He bought his passage with the seal of the Head Chef, earned by prompt completion of his nightly tasks, and a workspace clean enough to eat off of. He has occupied this spot for no less than half an hour. At fifteen minutes to the Sound of Night, the Majordomo enters his study, where he will begin the preparations for the next day’s tasks. Alone. Dolce has occupied this spot for no less than half an hour. He was required to wait five more, for the Majordomo to stand upon the family crest, and finally incline his head to listen.

“These ‘Starsong’ guests have given us a means to travel the stars.” Dolce recites his litany, rehearsed endlessly over boiling saucepans. “With careful bargaining, we could buy passage for a number of the Manor staff. Through them, we could find the Family again. We could serve them, not at distance, but directly. Perhaps, in all the years we have waited, they have found need of us. Perhaps they could need us, in the future. The risk is certainly great, but it may be worth it, if we could be at their side. Where we were born to be.”

He knew there would be questions. He’d made a list, so that his thundering heart wouldn’t forget, to stand at attention. Hands folded in front of him. Head bowed. Speak clearly. When spoken to, only.

“Chef. What is the third command?”

“A good servant is only seen when called for.”

“And the seventh?”

“A good servant is always watching for an opportunity to do more.”

“And who will take up your share of the work, when you are gone?”

He blinks. “Sir, if I have implied my inclusion into such a mission, I assure you, it was not my int-”

“Do you think me blind, chef? As well as stupid?!” The bark of the Majordomo swallows his apology, his heart, and his balance. “You hover at the table of our guests while the rest of the kitchen staff washes up. They looked at you - looked at you! - and asked for more wine! Where is the chef who would have filled their drinks before they realized they were empty?!”

He is on all fours now. Eyes to the ground. Wrong. Wrong. He got it wrong. “Yes sir. Sorry sir. It was a terrible lapse in judgment, sir. It won’t happen again, sir.”

“You have been preparing to serve for your entire life, and this is the result?! Now here you are; on your hands and knees, begging me to shatter 200 years of tradition, because you have an idea.” The Majordomo kneels beside him, perilously close to his ear. Every growling whisper threateens to grow. Any word could become a bark. “No sheep in my flock behaves so poorly. No sheep of mine would shame me with this display.”

But he made no sound. No breath. No whimper. No sobbing, in spite of flowing tears. His master snorted. The chef moved not a muscle. “So. Maybe you are one of mine, after all…”

The Majordomo pads across the room. A key pushes tumblers into place. A lock clicks. From a cabinet full of shining bells, the heaviest sings faintly at his touch. And he waits.

“Now prove it: On your feet.”


************************************

The question is solid. The question is a direction. The question nudges a sheep forward, saying this much, I would like to know this much, at least.

The rocking is lovely. Alexa’s hugs were worthy of legend.

“It struck me, hearing her Highness speak to the Starsong.” Loud. Bright-eyed. Warm as could be. “How many worlds had I seen where thrones and Emergency Declarations would really change things? So I thought, wouldn’t it be nice, once the stars were open to all, if everybody had the freedom to actually go to them? With whoever they wanted. Or, maybe to just go to the stars, to find the people they’d want to travel with. Or stay with. Or, anything, really. Nobody kept where they didn’t want to be.”

“There’s a lot of people it would help, I think. And, without somebody to wish like that, it could be a very, very long time before they could be free. I think that would be a better universe. I think that’d be a really good thing to do.”

It’s nice. Very nice. He hopes you’ll think so too.

Maybe you’ll even tell him he ought to cross, for a wish like that.
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