Hidden 18 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Tatterdemalion Trickster-in-Veils

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Defeat is deepshade brown like trampled mud rubbed against the nose, damp like the post-exertion burst of muscleswell between hairs, salt like a tongue pushed between the teeth victoriously. Every breath is Defeatbrown whistling through her nose, ear-lowering, a better blindfold than the blindfold.

The rope (black, red accents) barely squeaks as Waverunner hauls it against some sort of beam, until her sandals leave the ground, toes curling as she looks for some sort of footing. Give up, Defeat says. Energy wasted in exertion. Defeat tells you when to reserve your strength, black snakes coiling in your arms. Someone— Plundering?— pushes her backwards, one-handed, against her tensed abs, sets her swinging. Her mittens bat uselessly at the rope, trying to get leverage.

"You have time-sensitive information about an upcoming Azura interdiction," Plundering Fang says (from behind her?). "At dusk, they intend to hit Tributary Team Chaksha in a reprisal run. However, like always, you were caught while trying to exfiltrate." Plundering Fang cups her rump and squeezes, then pushes her into a harder swing. Her hips twist despite Defeat, feet trying to seek out an outcropping or a root to stabilize against. "After your captors realized you were no threat, just a pathetic, adorable puppy in over her head, they left you here... after stripping you and carrying off your equipment." Below, Waverunner ties the rope off; likely a Whistler's Knot.

"Inform Gemini about the interdiction before the sun touches the sea." She should be smelling Demand: hot, forceful, penetrating, tension in the shoulders, red like pepper on white meat. It's just really difficult with her face muzzled so thickly in Defeat. "When you fail... we'll discuss your next training regimen at Divers' Dock, Little Ember." Someone— Jester?— scoops up her Silvers: squamata and tunica, silk braccae, her hard-won vēlum, and the intima they peeled off her (and seem content to steal, this time). But not her focale.

No, that's what they soaked in Defeat and tied over her gag, knotted and padlocked in place.

"No Azura patrol is considered aware of your punishment and you are not to reveal what you know to them. All civilians are fair game. Your packmates are honorbound to assist but cannot deliver the message for you. There will be deductions for immodest presentation. May fortune favor you, Daughter of Ceron!" And with laughter, with Joy, with silent feet, Ember's trainers and tormentors (because to the Ceronians, they are one and the same) disappear into the grass, leaving their packmate to swing in the predawn breeze, stifled by Defeat. Ember waits for them to disperse, hands clenched in her mittens, abs tensed.

Then she starts throwing herself into the swing.

She's light enough and strong enough that she'll eventually be able to get herself onto whatever she's suspended from. Blindfold's necessary to remove first; then she can take stock. Give up. You are overwhelmed. Submit. And learning the scents of Ceron was only the first step in her education. Now she is learning the most important lesson of all: how to overcome them if an opponent tries to subvert the scents. And overcome them she will.

(Ignore the fact that she will be a mewling, hot-cheeked, ears-dropped mess by the time that she gets up there, and that one firm grasp on the back of her neck would have her on her knees. Ignore the fact that expecting an initiate to be able to overcome a pheremonal command is like expecting her to juggle a couple of mountains. In theory, there's a flimsy enough justification for forcing her to try, and when she manages to succeed, because she is going to succeed, it should be enough of an upset for her to push Whitebark to the bottom of the pack in her place. Struggling is useless. Doesn't it feel good to yield? Know your place, Daughter of Ceron.)

Assuming everything goes well, assuming she doesn't have the bad luck of running into a patrol (or her girlfriend, which would be a different kind of luck entirely), assuming that she can get herself untied, assuming she can work the focale off despite the padlock, her first order of business will be hunting down clothes. She's been trained in that, after all. Extensively. Infiltration, ambush, and distracting sensuality are all part of her training; if she can't get the drop on a farmer, she'll just use seduction to get one in a compromising position.

(And if you were to ask any of the smaller-framed farmers of Beri about a Ceronian spotted in the area before— blonde, short, figure like an extremely athletic nymph, perky-eared and perky-chested— they might blush, and laugh nervously, and say that the Ceronians are getting bolder this season. And they might remember smoky looks, and careful ropework, and a kiss in thanks, so much gentler than any Ceronian they'd ever dealt with before. And one in particular might remember stumbling on Lady Mosiac's dress draped over a bush and the sound of aggressive and thorough détente coming out from behind the lemon tree. But that is hardly a secret at all.)
Hidden 17 days ago Post by Phoe
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Phoe Idol Obsessive

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There is a particular melody to the hollow crunch-cracking of a crab shell when it shatters under pressure, and today her house is filled with it. The soft strain of the carapace as it shudders underneath her fingers, leading into the harsh snap right as it gives way, ending with a rough but gentle crumbling as the hard bits of shell meet empty air.

The house has been filled with this little symphony for the better part of an hour, only broken up by the scratch scratch scribbling of a quill pen on paper. Mosaic has been very busy today. Crush a crab, separate the meat, sort the lot, write it down. That's how it is when you hunt enough for the entire town at once. It's tedious work but especially in this heat she can't really say she minds it. It's nice to have a break sometimes.

One black-tipped ear bends at the sound of a low moan coming from the next room over. She sighs. It's been a bad week for Vesper, hence all this bothering about accounting. Most of the time her sister would handle all of it, but as sick as she's gotten that's asking too much of her. So until she finally got enough sleep in her to recover that divinely gifted mind of hers, Mosaic had to pick up the slack.

Crunch, crack, scribble. The process all made sense if you stopped and thought about it. You couldn't eat meat unless you hunted it. How would you, even? What were you gonna do, live off the fresh cloud of viruses that might pop out of food you unjustly slaughtered as it converted itself into unique, fresh biomass? No thank you. It was only by Lady Artemis' blessing that killing a crab got you crab meat and useful shell for barter. And the Goddess was very clear that if you were going to kill something then you had best at minimum take enough pride in it to have a thorough enough accounting to name everything you'd hunted.

"Wait, that can't be right. Can it? I'm one short? Shit, I think I'm one short."

Mosaic's mismatched eyes flicked over her carefully (mind numbingly) sorted piles and baskets. Her golden eye watched her list while her deep purple one bounced madly between all the bits of shell and pushed the number inside of her skull with enough pressure to give her a sympathy headache to go with Vesper's. Not that she needed the God's Eye to tell what the itching on her skin already did: she was missing a kill. Precisely one less than she'd promised at the start of the morning.

Everywhere she looked there was nothing but pathways back outside. And one leading deeper in. She rubbed at her eyesocket with the back of her knuckle and wrote a few more things down on a second sheet of paper. Then she picked up a plate of meticulously arranged and pre-plucked crab legs and carried them inside.

"Don't try to move," she said, "Don't say anything. It's fine. This is just dinner for whenever you can pick yourself up enough to eat it. And I wrote down the size and weight of everything there so you can figure out the volume in case you need that today."

She set the plate down and took a step back toward the door.

"I'll be gone for a while ok? They're behind on quota for the new building project in town, so I'm headed up to the mountain to drag some stone down myself. I've got an errand that needs taking care of anyway, so it's just no big deal. I'll be back tomorrow probably, so don't go looking for me. Just rest."


"What is it?"

"You hunting wolf again? Don't forget your invocations or she'll turn you inside out while you're eating her~"

Mosaic stared into the lopsided grin of her half-sister in total silence. Shocking violet eyes meet Gold-and-Royal-Purple without blinking. As one being, they snort until they're choking on laughter.

"Don't know why I was even worried about you. Be well, Vesper."

"Be safe, Mosaic."

A nod, a click, a closed door. Mosaic peeled off her all black suit jacket and hung it neatly on a rack just outside the door. A shame to take it off after so little time in it but in the heat of the day she'd just grow to hate it anyway. The tank top she had on underneath it suited the work in front of her better anyway.

And besides, was it so wrong to be looking forward to the compliments on her muscles she'd get for exposing them like this? They've been coming in nice, of late. Hardly any signs of the lopsided development she'd washed ashore with almost five years ago. With a shrug and a final look back, she left her little cabin and set off toward the mountain trail that gave Bitemark its name.

The itch of a job undone still crawled its way across her skin. But in the light of the sun, she smiles. Even whistles an old nonsense tune as she walks, chan-barra-chan go the words she does not speak. Missing crab or no, this was still another day in paradise.
Hidden 16 days ago Post by Thanqol
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The music is infectious.

It spreads from Mosaic's breath to a Lyri sitting atop a blue-tiled rooftop. She catches the beat, scratches her claws against the stone for a moment until she's sure she's got it, and then picks up her accordion. With a huge, stretching breath, her complicated device fills with the divine logos - and erupts the town into music. Dun-dundun-dun!

More Lyri catch the beat and other instruments join in - brass horns, violins, hands who crave nothing more than to keep a rhythm. Ornamental servitors who live spaced apart enough to bracket the entire town in the improvised symphony when the beat took them. Over the past few months they'd been going out of their way to refine and perfect what they considered to be Mosaic's theme music. After all, with all the divine gifts she bought to the town, this was what they had bought for them.

As the music spreads the town lights up. Servitors open their upstairs windows so they can lean out and wave to her. Siobud and Kaasj, feuding roadside chefbreeds, both try to one-up each other with the generosity of their offered breakfast - simple, hearty roasted chestnuts verses the overengineered masterwork titled the Byzantine Cup. Some girls stare at her from the crowd before blushing, stammering, and hiding their faces in their hands. Dolemon the Giant gets up from her bench without saying a word and starts to walk a few steps ahead of Mosaic, parting the crowd with her mass so that she doesn't have to push through the admiring faces.

It's not quite a celebration, not quite celebrity worship. It's just a bright and colourful morning where everyone knows your name and everyone is happy to see you.


The task is complicated this time. Not just farmers to prey upon today - today there is a Warsphere above, floating unnaturally still in the air, a moon on the inside of the clouds. A patrol shuttle; company compliment, thirty warriors plus officers. No heraldric markings that might indicate a Knight, thank Zeus.

The Endless Azure Skies use a variety of dedicated warrior servitor species to support their Knights - indeed, Waverunner once said that they even had loyalist Ceronian clans, which was why you needed to be trained so extensively in resisting Ceronian influence. On a backwater like Bitemark, though, it was unknowable what dregs might be conscripted to serve in the military.

The downside was that they didn't seem to be going anywhere. On one side was the almost sheer cliff face, on the other side were fields and groves and an awful lot of open space. It was a long way to go if you were going to be pursued all the way.


It's Mayor Kaspar who joins you for breakfast today. He'd need to duck his head to step in even if it wasn't for his magnificent rack of antlers, but the indignity he suffered to fit himself into this space somehow made him even more grand. Not terrifyingly grand like an Azura, but more like an aura of health and charisma that made him as good as a king.

His species was called the Sophists, after ancient enemies of the philosophers. His nature was to be convincing and grand but mentally empty and stupid, a leader who needed to be fed ideas in order to function. His eye contact was piercing, his smile was glorious and the sheer compliment of his presence in this humble place made the whole place shine. Dirty? No, rustic. Small? No, cozy. A figure like the Mayor wouldn't be anywhere that couldn't be described in the most flattering words.

Two bodyguards come in behind him, scarred brawler avians, tall and slender and with swords chipped from each others' bones. They're slender but they both insist on going through the door at the same time - not impatiently, pushing and shoving, but so profoundly disrespectful of each others' presence that they scarcely acknowledge their rival even as they're almost cheek to cheek. They do not sit, they stand, ominously, sorting the room according to value and fragility.

"Please," said the Mayor with the smile of the forest king. "Your finest."


"We've already acquired your entire household," said Tidal Specialist, like stealing the entire building you came in was the most obvious move in the world. "But yes, we are based off the original Bowman's Wolf architecture that became the origin for the Ceronian species, though based off vulpine species instead. The underlying instinct set is different but the uplift architecture is similar, if that makes sense? We were originally specialized for civilian influence work and economic interface but," she made a face, "the economy doesn't really exist any more. So we've got a choice! Carve out a socio-ecological niche in this post-scarcity hellscape, go extinct, or be reconstituted as a species of harem girls. We're currently in the middle of an experiment to see if rededicating around mercenary work would provide a unique service to the galaxy."

She was good at talking. She could talk a lot. Many servitors weren't inclined to speak like this, but words flowed from her more smoothly than the water she cut through.

"Our origin species was less social and hierarchical than the wolves which affects cohesion," she went on. "Accordingly we have what's called the Open Succession system. If you're wearing the captain's badge, however you came by it, you are the captain and everyone must obey you as such. Same for every other social role right down to maids. If you don't have any badge at all you are an Outlaw and can be punished or bullied by every other Pix until you find a role. The badges emit scents that get tangled if you have multiples, to prevent hoarding, and are manufactured by the biomancers according to the needs of society. Need more warriors, forge more soldier badges. It's honestly still extremely experimental, the idea is to prevent an inclination towards opportunism and betrayal from interfering with institutional structures."
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Tatterdemalion Trickster-in-Veils

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The belt is cloth, and she pulls it snug around her hips. Under the slightly baggy shirt, the focale serves as a wrap. Her ears hide under the maze-patterned kerchief that her good boy offered up freely. His tail is still going thwap thwap thwap in happiness behind her, and the temptation to double back and give him some more scritchies is strong. But that Warsphere has her on edge. Almost impossible for it to be anything more than a coincidence, but Ceronians don't trust in coincidences. Treat it like it's deliberate. Compromise could be flowing either way: it would be just like Plundering Fang to get wind of troop movements and use it to set her favorite chew toy up to fail, but on the other side of the knife, the Azures could be trying to catch any Ceronians they could get their coils around after having a sighting reported by a gossip.

But an entire Warsphere? She's definitely not important enough for an entire Warsphere to deploy just to get their hands on her, and it would be a long shot to gamble on catching Plundering Fang and her posse. Still. Now that they're out in force today, they'll take any victory they can get, and that includes catching her (and, in the process, making her fail her training exercise).

Tributary Team Chaksha, at risk. Attack at dusk. Inform Gemini.

Too much open ground between her and Beri proper. Risk of interdiction. Cloudy weather, but no rainscent (she is on her toes, sniffing the air, without conscious decision). His bicycle: possible asset, suggestive of property ownership, easier to blend in while still making good time. But a pleasure ride at this time in the morning? Suspicious. She needs: ah. There we go.

The clink of glass; she sways her hips, lifts her tail as she bends down to pull out the bottles, each one handcrafted. A way of apology to her good, good boy, sitting there so quiet and so pretty. Each one filled to the base of the neck, then sealed tight. "You'll be able to go and fetch them later, won't you~?"

First: she does her gear check, tightens the back wheel, adjusts the seat. Second: she lines the front basket with a cloth, soft to avoid jarring the bottles. Third: she sets two wooden dividers in the basket, wedges them in snugly. Fourth: she slots them in, three bottles to each row. Fifth: close the door behind her and walk the bicycle down to the main road.

Just a simple farm girl out on the milk run, Warsphere. These are headed for Dolce's, necessary for his drinks: stirred into coffee, served with ice, thickened into cream. She had too much anyway, you know, it would have gone to waste, and besides, Dolce always cooks too much. (Wouldn't be the first cover she's associated with him, but he's the perfect mark. Responds better to cuteness and the feeling that he's helping someone who needs it than he would to kisses and compliments breathed into his ear. Only risk is losing track of time after he insists on feeding you. Need a reason to skip out early.)

She lets the brake go slack and starts downhill, grinning as she starts picking up speed. It's a different kind of thrill than diving and climbing are, but one she can definitely appreciate. She'd never been on one before...

Before her initiation. Or before her arrival on Bitemark. Or before whatever else she'd done before that. Swordplay, sailing, service. All components of what she offers to her new pack. But you'd think she would have remembered if she'd ridden these things before her arrival. Not that this is her first time now. Five years gives a wolf plenty of time to get occasional practice in.
Hidden 13 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Most people in town don’t ask Dolce for much of anything beyond whatever’s cooking. That’s just how it works. There’s what’s on the stove, or in the pot, and he’ll see to whatever little ones and elderly you’ve got who need something a little different. But Mayor Kaspar now, he’s very good at asking for his finest, probably because he practices asking everyone in Beri once a month. And everybody in Beri is very good at bringing him their finest, because if they try to bring their second finest, then the soldiers will come and take their first and third finest as punishment. Their fourth too, if they give them trouble.

When Mayor Kaspar decides to ask more than once a month, you have to get creative about it.

“Of course, sir. Just a moment…” A bow of the head, a straightening of the apron, and off he goes. There’s more to a chef’s finest than raw ingredients, you see. There is time. There is attention. There is presentation. The same ingredients that make a serviceable breakfast pile can also make an omelet. The same honey that you toss your fruit salad in can be artfully drizzled atop it in a flowing cursive K. On the proper setting of plates and bowls, with shiny plated utensils, a folded napkin, and a chef hand-delivering the lot, even the humblest of meals can seem a feast.

And Mayor Kaspar has a little more practice asking than appraising.

Once he is served, his guards are next. Each will get a hearty breakfast pile, served in fine crabshell bowls. Light enough not to dent anything when thrown, sturdy enough to add a few chips to their swords.

Then, there is waiting. With no waiter, a chef will have to make do.
Hidden 13 days ago 12 days ago Post by Phoe
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Phoe Idol Obsessive

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Music opens its jaws wide enough to swallow her, and she steps inside without a care. The accordion piles on atop a lyre, a flute, a the beating of some drums, and now a fiddle before several bright voices add their lyricless melody to the all-consuming chorus that has taken the town over. Mosaic's ears twitch to capture every harmony. She feels the vibrations of it all in her bones, feels the changing of the air press against her skin, these subtle changes in pressure that mean spirits are lifting higher with every moment she is here.

But the most incredible thing about music is the smell, actually. Happiness in Beri is a warm scent sometimes, and a cool scent sometimes, and each of these are constantly swirling together like a cocktail of cinnamon and mint in a glass that bubbles all over with mineral goodness and nothing else to get in the way of any of it. Every breath of it is refreshing, and makes her want to take another one. Every step is rejuvenating, and even in this heat her fur glistens in the ever-present light of the sun.

Every step deeper into Beri greets her with new scents shaken free by the music. Kassj is spicy, enough to overpower their food. Tittering, blushing, hiding-behind-a-book-she-isn't-reading-because-it's-upside-down-and-backwards Allanna is extra flustered today, and that gives her an airy aura made of pure sugar that melts in Mosaic's mouth and leaves an aftertaste that will still be tinting her palate come dinnertime. Dolemon is dirt-and-grass with no salt whatsoever in a way that Mosaic has always found intriguing. And so on down the road, and so on through the town. There are so many people to smell and each of them adds their notes to the chorus until even Dolce couldn't make a broth this delicious if he had a week and access to every viable ingredient on the planet.

It feels better than a full night's sleep. Nearly better than the burn in her legs and the rush in her heart when she runs. Mosaic wades into the beating heart of the town that welcomed her so freely, not bothering to measure her steps or check her pace. Every footfall is perfect, regardless. The clump of her boot matches the pounding of the drums, and the swing of her hip fits the rise and fall of the flute and the chorus. Her tongue darts from her mouth and she licks her lips in pleasure; Allanna's scent spikes above all the others.

Mosaic's arm appears as if by magic to catch her by the shoulders before she can hit the cobblestone street. Now a tittering of excited oohs and ahhs sweeps over the heartbeat of Beri until she silences them with a single lifted finger.

The smell of happiness grows richer, and when it does it builds in complexity until she has to pause every few steps to keep picking it out. One-Eye's permanent brine soaked aroma runs through with iron and a touch of mustard today. Katherine's pheromones grow cooler and sweeter; they remind Mosaic of the pungent fruit that grow on the trees just the north of town, the ones that have to be plucked in summer or they'll be encased in a shell so tough the best sword in Bitemark would blunt itself on it.

Her pace is unhurried. She makes good time anyway. The tip of her tail curls behind her as she passes. This is both hello and goodbye. Her muscles swell and stretch when she waves, and this too is music. Every casual little flex and flick is lyrical, every step is confident to travel unbroken through a thunderstorm.

She has come. And she was starving. And ah! What a feast they have brought for her, her many friends and coworkers. Her smile lights the streets around her even in the full radiance of the day just imagining how things will be here when her labors today are finished.

Her eyes lift to the horizon. Mosaic's body flows to and fro along the golden path stretching endlessly toward the mountains in front of her. She allows herself a twirl, and grins with full fang at the burst of fresh intensity that washes over the town. Chan-barra-chan, she whistles once more.
Hidden 13 days ago 13 days ago Post by Balmas
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On the one hand, oh no. She can already imagine what awaits her if even maids have badges. She's gonna have to work her way up to a maid outfit?

Unless maids are something different on this ship? Ooooh, maybe they have assassin maids. Tasteful dresses, hiding steel stilettos. Steelettos.

Mmmf, she's already getting squirmy, and it's not just tentacles getting familiar.

On the other hand, should she be feeling bad about her servitors getting kidnapped with her? It's not her doing, she's not responsible, she's not the one airlifting a house into the ship, she didn't volunteer for any of this, they didn't ask for this, but.

Honestly, it's more that she's guilty for not feeling more guilty? Like, she also didn't ask for this. It's not her doing and she's not responsible for them kidnapping her either, but it's also super reassuring to know that she's not going to be kidnapped alone? She'll have at least twelve other people also wrestling for badges. They can form a badge kidnapping coalition, steal each others' badges, bully the ones who don't have any yet…

Oh, this is a good thing. This is a game. And games have rules.

Rules are good. She likes rules. Honestly, she doesn't understand why other people don't like rules as much as she does? They say they do, but then they contradict themselves the entire time, act like they didn't tell her one rule when yes you did say that rule, you can't just decide the rules are different or act like she didn't understand them correctly. Maybe you just should say exactly what the rules are, and then we can all record it, and look back at it, and you'll see exactly what you said the rule was, and how she is so following the rules, and so there!

Rules are nice. They delineate the world so neatly into what to do when, if you can just figure them out.

But more importantly, rules mean that Dyssia can win.

"So, in the assumption that backstabbing will happen at some point, you've organized your society so the roles will continue, even if the person doing them is different. I wonder, does the badge confer the abilities? Some kind of scent-based prompting? That'd make things so much easier, makes so much more sense than training for a lifetime for one skill."

She's talking more at Tidal than to, narrating a train of though.

"Any means. Is there a system in place to keep them from immediately taking it back if you use violence, beyond the obvious of them already having beaten you? Do you declare immediately what you are, or do you just know by scent? Scent would make theft harder, if only because it means that the person you're pickpocketing can tell when the scent leaves them. Is there a grace period, a time of no-take-backsies? When I become captain, what orders can I give?"

Ooooh. Oh, there are so many thoughts.

"You're excluded from this, though," she says, as if it's the most obvious thing. Which it is? "You're the one running the experiment, after all. If it takes six weeks to rejigger someone into a different role, you can't have the biomancer in charge needing to constantly swap between whoever has the badge.

"I wonder if you're allowed to partake, though. Must be plenty of outlaws for you to hunt and punish, but it wouldn't be fair if they couldn't take your badge, too. Must get tempting."
Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Amidst the brightness of the day, there's trouble. Unfamiliar faces in the crowd - no, not unfamiliar. That glittering crystal scent and taste. Rosedam... the town of Rosedam, it's the next settlement over. Not just a few of them either, there must be more than a score. Normally you'd see some of them on market day, and maybe sometimes one or two will be visiting, but it's not like they can stay. Servitors belong to the land, after all - free migration would cause inefficient pockets of labour.

"There's at least forty of them," Sunflower tells you. She's an old friend from the road and keeps her ear to the ground for things like this. She looks so young in that bright yellow dress it's easy to forget the wrinkles on her face. "They're asking around for accommodation, transport, even hukou," hukou - residency permits. A stamped document matched to a plastic tag generally worn on the ear like an earring. The law does regular sweeps for people violating their hukou - being caught in the wrong village outside a dedicated market day is like getting a parking ticket. "Rumour is that Rosedam's going to be turned over to the Surveyor."


It's a slow day in the Skies. They're all slow days. Slow enough for a wing of Covii to pull you over.

The Covii are relics compared to the Ceronians, unsuited for purpose, overbuilt. They were designed for deep void and zero gravity operations - stocky, hairless, covered in pitch-black radiation absorbent feathers - but the changes went too deep. More modern warrior species can adapt between different biomes on the fly but the Covii are locked in to their single area of mastery. Obsolete on a species level, used to patrol backwaters like this, but still numerous enough to bully an unarmed Ceronian.

Half a dozen of them hover above the road - their grav-rails never turn off. Even just seeing how they turn to look at you from behind their faceless, reflective black masks lets you know that they'll grill you for hours just for something to do.


For all the work put into the food, the Mayor seems to give twice as much attention to the chairs. He circles the entire room, sometimes touching the cushions to check them for softness. In the end he gestures and points and his bodyguards descend on the second-best chair, tearing it into smithereens and piling the stuffing into a heap on top of the best. Only then does the Mayor finally sit. There's a genuine contentment in how he does it, just a moment where he closes his eyes and smiles and is at peace with the world.

Then he gestures and his bodyguards begin clearing the rest of the room.

Tables, chairs, cutlery, everything goes directly out the windows. A space is to be cleared. The Mayor is holding court here today. Already a line of petitioners is forming.

But first enters your double.

All of the servitors of your line look almost identical. Only the red number spray-painted onto the cheek, repeated on the ear tag - 20022 - gives any indication of uniqueness. Where the mayor is grand he is simply dressed, an ill-fitting suit, a plastic folder full of paper, and an atmosphere that is deferential without being cringing or servile. He could be your clone. He bows to the mayor, then takes his place at his left hand.

Your role here is to ensure the mayor's cup is never dry and his plate is never clean while he holds court. 20022 stands by the Mayor's side quietly as they both listen to the petitioners. Each time before the mayor speaks 20022 leans in to whisper into his ear.

"Mayor Kaspar, my daughter wishes to take the trials for uplifting into the glorious ranks of the Covii."
"Your other daughter failed the trials when she made eye contact with the Crystal Knight during inspection. The world of Rosefang will not insult the Skies so a second time. Denied."

"Mayor Kaspar, I represent the Royal Surveyor. We have discovered a vein of titanium crystals under the town of Rosedam but require labour to begin extracting it."
"The town and its population will be offered in perpetuity to the office of the Royal Surveyor."

"Mayor Kaspar, the Princess Redana was overheard arguing with Lady Triden about the aesthetics of the Lyri. The Princess found them charming, the Lady found them annoying."
"Princess Redana is a guest and so her tastes take priority for now. However, arrange for the Lyri to be arrested and shipped to Rosedam as soon as she departs."

On and on it goes, this succession of judgements. Beneath all of them is that same indifferent cruelty that had your furniture tossed aside to make the space more grand for the mayor to sit. The Skies exist for a purpose and Mayor Kaspar, with the perfect memory of 20022 to guide him, never for a moment forgets that purpose.


"Biomantic ability transfer is profoundly unreliable," said Tidal Specialist. "No, if a Pix steals a job she's unready for then she'll have her badge stripped by her superior once her failures are noticed. In ideal situations this acts as encouragement for everyone to train themselves as hard as possible for the jobs they intend to occupy."

The seafloor is coming up into view quickly as the beach rapidly approaches. Soon afterwards your heads are breaching the water and in the distance the monolithic arrow slab of the Pix Battleship is seen looming in the near horizon above the molten crater where there once was a mountain.

"Which is to say, it's entirely possible to learn enough biomancy to get by," she said with a wink. "And if the topic interests you, how about you give it a study? Maybe it's the path of mastery you've been searching for all this time?"
Hidden 9 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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When Mayor Kaspar looks down between petitioners, between his mayoral thoughts, he will see a full plate of food, tasteful in every sense of the word. Balanced portions, a proper understanding of color theory, a nod to the various historical food groups, that no one may think his palate immature. Yes, and a cup filled just so with a perfectly paired beverage

The only pans and instruments allowed are those currently in use. It adds a, how you say, rustic air that contrasts magnificently with a creature of high office. Cookware left empty and/or dirty are sent to join their fellows in the street. A teakettle will not whistle, but a pleasant sizzle of oil is permitted.

Dolce works a big pan of sauteing vegetables, sprinkling in spices that will delight the tongue and stimulate the appetite. They will be ready in time for next refreshing of his plate. A dense focaccia cools on the rack, and in four refreshes it will make its debut alongside a small saucer of oil and cheese and herbs for dipping. Pots are kept full of ever-evolving, ever-hearty stews. At his professional discretion, a dollop of mousse, made with only the heaviest creams, to provide both sweet and cold for contrast. Court is tiring enough without missing dessert.

Every dish will be to the Mayor's taste. He will hardly be able to keep himself from idly snacking on food so fine, so rich, so filling. On a chair so comfortable. In the cool of the shade, with a warm breeze flowing from the two windows, carrying the cozy aroma of home cooking.

Before the fall of evening, he will be half asleep already. A nap. Court will be in recess for a nap. His guards will carry him back home, to his proper bed. Dolce will give him an artful basket of goodies, to thank him for gracing his humble kitchen, and the Mayor will have nibbled on most of it by the time he reaches his manor. Court will not resume today.

Three. Maybe four petitioners, if he's lucky. Up to four petitioners will have their cases heard tomorrow, instead of today. Up to four cruel judgements will be postponed for a few hours.

In the meantime, Dolce will ferry the piles from outside his two kitchen windows back inside. If they are still there by morning, he will receive a citation for littering. He'll grab a new chair from the attic; not one of his nicest, not when there's a chance court may be back tomorrow. Vasilia will be back sometime in the evening, and the work will go much faster with an extra pair of hands. He'll be able to keep the stewpots on heat, so that anyone working a long shift will have a chance for a proper dinner. And when the streets are quiet, and the brushstrokes of the Royal Architect flicker into the night sky, in order, he will go to bed, and Vasilia will hold him until he stops shaking.

But now, he is working a big pan of sauteing vegetables, sprinkling in spices that will delight the tongue and stimulate the appetite. The rest will come later. The rest will be a matter for a future Dolce. He’s got enough to handle as it is. And as he waits, and watches for his moment to refresh the Mayor’s plate, he imagines a sheep standing first in line. He doesn't know how he ought to sound. Sometimes, the voice is far, far too loud to be sensible or his. Sometimes, 20022 gives him a quiet nod, for courage. Or perhaps solidarity? Sheep solidarity.

And he asks, Mayor Kaspar, what is so wonderful about blue skies that we live like this?

What do you see up there that's worth more than anyone down here?

It would be nice if he could imagine a good answer. But there’s only so much he can do.
Hidden 9 days ago Post by Phoe
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Mosaic's head tilts, the way it always does when she's surprised. She frowns, and gently drags a claw tip across her jaw in deep contemplation. Her tail uncurls and drops down to her feet, and she takes several loud sniffs of the air looking for... not lies, really, but mistakes? Confusion and uncertainty have a grassy aftertaste like very bitter weeds, but if there's any present in the air today then it doesn't really line up with this situation.

"To the Surveyor, really?" she asks, "The whole town? Must've found something big I guess."

Tap tap, tap click. Her claws slide over one another in a new rhythm that has already forgotten her whistled song. All around her the Lyrii are slowly giving up on carrying it on without her. The air washes itself clean a few breaths later. Silence, except for the bustle of town and the murmuring of this new crowd. Clean, except for the scent of the markets and of food, in particular the crab scent she carries with her and will continue doing so until her hands become sufficiently covered in dirt to obliterate the aura she's soaked them in all morning.

A normal day, in other words. Completely ordinary and devoid of the magic that made the walk down here feel so special. Mosaic stands alongside Sunflower, just watching the crowd. She says nothing for a very long time.

"...Hukou. Hmmm, hmmmmmm. Certifications like that don't just fall from the sky, though. And there's the whole issue of space and accommodation where we're not exactly empty ourselves. Right? I wonder how many we can take in..."

And then she shrugs, as if sloughing off the weight of some difficult burden onto the ground at her feet. Her spine straightens again, lifting her several extra centimeters into the sky. Her shoulders lighten and her eyes flash with a divine spark of promise. Her smile is as full of teeth as ever, but with the shadows lifted off her face at this new angle it is dazzling where a moment ago it might have seemed dangerous. She had been a creature, and now she seems again the child of a god. Her muscles quiver in anticipation of the work even as her skin itches worse than ever with the threat of her hunt remaining unfinished for even longer.

But really, she'd said she was going to be hauling stone anyway.

"Nothing for it then. I need to get moving if I'm gonna get everything done in time. Let's see, let's see... forty heads. Call it sixty to be safe. That's... seven or so tons of material? I'll clear the trees on my way. I'm not particularly great at architecture, but construction is just shaping and placing. If they're really from Rosedam then they can take it from there no problem. You think so too, right? Tell them, won't you? They shouldn't be asking for hukou. If the mayor gets annoyed he'll have them gone before I can finish."

She tosses her head back and laughs, and the echo of her happiness hangs in the air where she herself had been a moment ago. Her legs strike the cobblestone like bolts of lightning, doom, doom, doom. Already sweat is beading on her face, but she doesn't care at all. There's a need for quickness, now, and running has always felt the best among all her talents.

She gives no thought to what the Mayor or the Royal Surveyor or anyone else might say against her plan. Always easier to ask forgiveness than permission, she's always found. And even if they wind up saying no, someone will be able to find a use for a new neighborhood eventually right?
Hidden 8 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Corvii? Easy. Corvii don't have packs; they have unkindnesses. That's what they intend to bring to bear on the poor, innocent farmgirl taking her milk down to Beri: unkindness from every side. Grilling questions, barking orders, keeping her off balance, even pushing her into tears. Relentless, ruthless, and cruel for the sake of cruelty. It's what you have to breed into soldiers meant to sink ships.

But they're not a pack. Each and every one of them is just instinctively looking for a weakness to exploit: in a hull, in a breach, in emotional defenses. Somewhere to wedge into. And they're competitive.

Ember the Innocent Farmgirl brings the bicycle to a screeching halt and blinks at the Corvii overhead. "Goshies," she says, so guileless that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth (ignore the panting, it's tactical, and there's little difference between someone winded from a bike ride and a Ceronian regulating optimal temperature). "Mornin', all! How can I help?"

"Hukkkou," one rasps, the consonant catching in their throat. They lower until they're just far enough above the ground to tower over her, closing ranks. Faceless, relentless menace. Fake pack.

"Oh, sure thing," Ember the Innocent Farmgirl says, tapping the (pilfered) earring. She kicks the stand and approaches the one directly in front of her, and then stops. "Hold on," she says, tapping her chin. "I should give it to that one, right? He's bigger than you are." Innocence. Wide eyes. Ignorance, but one which hides a point. "Although," she continues, slowly turning, "you've got a better set of Temple Best, and you've got much shinier feathers, but you've got the best 'rail, and you--"

She stops. Tries and fails to stifle a laugh. "Well, of course you ain't the one in charge," she says, trying so hard not to be Rude. The lack of explanation is crucial. It's so self-evident that the others will jump in, pick on the runt, and then they'll split while they argue over which one, precisely, is the one in charge. She might have to cover her head and avoid a few dominance swoops, but she'll be able to split long before they remember who and what they're fighting over~

[7 on the Overcome, but only because she's got +3 Blood now. I'd like a temporary solution to the problem, and to avoid harm as she Gets Away in the process, which explicitly does not mean she avoids further attention.]
Hidden 8 days ago 8 days ago Post by Balmas
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H'okay, lot to unpack there.

So, no skill transference. About what she expected, but still good to confirm. Which means that at any point, anybody has to be able to do all jobs. Or, no, wait, everyone has to. Everyone has to know how to do the jobs, including their own, and below in the chain, because logically, if someone is taking your badge, it's probably someone below you, which means there's now a gap for you to fit into if you can steal their badge from them in return.

Fuck, they really did a number on that mountain, too. She liked that mountain. The Azura would never built or move or arrange an imperfect mountain, but they occasionally might make an oversight, right? And so there's a tiny spot on the west end of the mountain, got a perfect little grove with, if you can imagine it, no line of sight for a crystal dragon to see the giant space mirrors? Shady, cool, has a nice little stream running down the center of--

Had. Had a stream. Probably has some glassy pebbles, now.

What jobs does she actually know how to do? She could probably maid inoffensively? It's a good job, but not one she really envisions for herself for the rest of her life?

(Ignore, for the sake of this argument, the coughs and fits of an imagined Brightberry, stalking from one pile of debris to the other and gesturing emphatically. She likes the state of chaos. It means she knows where everything is, thanks much.)

But that's kind of the point, isn't it, is that this isn't a permanent position? Learn enough to do well in a job, and then figure out who's next in the line, how to do their job, and how to steal their badge.

Unless… If they're not doing their job, their badge will be stripped by their superior. Who superiors for the captain? It's basically inconceivable that she could get in on that, because the captain is the one who's got the most to lose, the most protections in place, the most qualified to rule or at least the one most capable of maintaining their rule. A useful thought to keep in mind, but even then it doesn't guarantee that the captain themself does not have a superior. Hrm.

Gee, that ship is getting close. She should probably be trying to escape, shouldn't she?

But also…

"I'll admit that biomancy is one of my blind spots," she says, more to the ocean than to Tidal, talking aloud. "It's one of those things where, like. If you're mastering sculpting, you might make a thousand vases, right? Or bake a hundred loaves, or forge a hundred swords, or give a thousand speeches, all in search of that perfect one, right?

"But when your product is alive, it feels…"



If, hypothetically, you don't get to that point, right?

If your house, for instance, is full of the discarded refuse work of past projects. Clay pots that have been left unattended until the clay goes hard and dry. Figurines, glued together, but sitting in front of jars of paint accidentally left open, crusting over with sludge. Architectural mockups, half-detailed, miniscule blades of grass glued across half the lawn before moving on to a different project and probably accidentally sat on..

They're not abandoned, right? She's put them down for now, let that field lay fallow. The clay can be rewetted, new paint can be acquired, the building can be rebuilt.

But if you do that to something alive, then you can't just shrug that off. Someone has to live with what you've done besides your longsuffering dragon bestie.

And yet.
And yet, already, she can feel the questions welling up. What does she need? What does she know? How long did it take you to learn? How long did it take you to craft that persona? Hypothetically, if someone had a birthmark, how hard would it be to tell you'd done something grossly illegal? What were you before you were Tidal Specialization? Who were you?

And perhaps more importantly, who will you be once I take your badge?

She shivers, staring at Tidal like an awl at a particularly tempting bit of leather.

"It's something I want to learn, if you're willing to take me as a student."
Hidden 7 days ago 7 days ago Post by Thanqol
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There exists a new technology called Projection Mining. Beautiful crystal mine equipment that can slice a mountain into cubes and result in more material than the mountain contained. A film of a Projection Miner was shown by the Sector Governor on her last visit to wild cheering and celebration, a sign of the Endless Azure Skies rising to new and greater heights.

But for now the work is done with sweat and muscle and bioacid.

The Stone Tribe is more specialized than most. An insular, eerie community, they work like termites. They break stone into cubes, scratching away at the rock with acid claws until they've cut them razor straight and sharp. Then they haul the stones short distances to surround their village, piling them up into walled rings. They'll keep going until they've disassembled the mountain.

Your task - well, Bari's task - involves stealing from the Stone Tribe. They sometimes fire home-made scrap solid projectile rounds to try and deter workers from taking their stone and occasionally send out a champion to duel for it, but they're not warrior breeds and withdraw quickly. There's a ritual character to these conflicts, and each victory is celebrated by the whole town. But for all the extra material you'll need to build these houses you're definitely going to risk a battle, and the Stone Tribe doesn't need to win but only to make it inconvenient for you to leave while hauling tonnes and tonnes of stone.

Your followers sense it too. There's excitement, anticipation, nerves - everyone knows that today is going to be special, and everyone is looking to you. Your legend definitely has room for stealing a mountain.


Fake pack. They fall to squabbling.

The reason, as it has been explained to you while you were pinned to the ground, hands around your neck, lips inches from yours, that the Ceronians play-fight so often is to build trust. To smooth out any disagreements instantly. To create healthy ways for muscles to test each other, for weaknesses to be explored, for physical and emotional vulnerabilities to find safe release. It's important, Ember, that every part of you be put on display so that you can know that you're surrounded by people you can trust~~

The truth of all that long training is illustrated perfectly in the Corvii. Their facelessness is an illusion; their masks do not cover the truths that you pull out of them. It's all tension and battle hormones and dominance displays aimed at each other and their instincts don't allow any of them to roll over and show their necks and that's a weakness deeper than any that your packmates have dragged from you.

You've done such a good job even that you're not even out of their sight when one of them ELF-strikes another.

It's a flash of lightning, a crack of thunder, a weapon discharge visible from the Warsphere. Immediately after there's an exchange of lightning, crack, crack, crack! It won't do more than stun them, but from above it looks like an ambush. The hangar doors of the Warsphere open and shuttles Corvii gliding on wing and rail start to fall out; reinforcements in force.


The mayor starts to fade into listlessness. His judgements become quicker and less considered. He doesn't wait for 20022 much of the time, resulting in several from the hip calls that are almost kind, entirely by chance. It's been a secret since ancient days that criminals judged after lunch receive lighter sentences.

After some time, he calls for a break and leaves to stand on the balcony and look at the sunset. During this interval, 20022 approaches you, politely holding out a chair for you to sit and then sitting opposite.

"Good afternoon," he said. "I am 20022, executive assistant. Am I interfering with some operation of yours?"

Polite, earnest, sincerely willing to believe that this is his fault - but also with the unspoken crystal clarity that he has seen everything you have done and understands the situation perfectly.


Biomancy is infrastructure. It underpins everything in the galaxy, an entire hidden substrate of politics and theory, disconnected from the wider world. Biomancy is why there is peace, why there is plenty, why the Skies are blue. Biomancy doesn't decide what happens but it ensures that it can happen.

What's shocking is just how many people are clones. One in fifty of the Pix is a mimetic spy whose duties involves making regular reports to the biomancers. They reveal everything, from whispers of dissent, to acts of joy, details on romantic couplings. They observe birthmarks, fur discolorations, weird dreams, small diseases, on and on. To step behind the curtain is to see just how deep this goes. One of your attendants is a mimetic spy - in fact, all Azura have at least one.

It's to look out for your health. It's legitimately to look out for your health - none of the Biomancers can even conceive of wielding their power aggressively against you, an Administrator Species. The first and greatest Biomancers were Azura and the mark that they left on their disciples runs deep.

There are thousands of branches of Biomancy. Biomancers specialized in skeletal structure, in noses, in eyes, in culture - all helpfully named things like Skeleton Specialist. There is a common pool of knowledge that they all draw from but creating and maintaining a species requires an entire scientific department hidden in the mezzanine layers. Complex scent-baffles and built in phobias prevent Pix from wandering into the wrong areas. It's explained that the commitment is unusually large - combat species get the most dedicated oversight to prevent them from running amok. Many of the Biomancers speak admiringly and enviously of their colleagues who work on the Ceronians.

But with knowledge as complex as Biomancy, there are multiple different channels to mastery. The most brilliant and dedicated arise from the Academies - prestigious institutions that manufacture their biomancers in house to astounding specifications. Transportation to and from the Academies is difficult, though, especially when operating on a mobile warrior species, so the Journeymen ranks are mostly filled out with clones - castoffs of the elites, though generally far less capable than an Academic. Even though the Apprentices are at the bottom, and you number among them, it's quietly understood that you outrank even the Academics by dint of your species. That's not that you can countermand them if they're working on behalf of the Azura as a whole, as much of their biomantic work is, but even the most senior biomancer will fetch you drinks with perfect servility if asked.

But still, the task most commonly associated with Apprentices is oversight of the Drones.

And drones are Fucking Horrifying.

A servitor is a person. A complete personality with thoughts, opinions, tactical awareness, strategic depth. Sculpted, directed, focused, but an independent sentient life.

A drone is none of that. A drone is a biomantic robot. Ranks of thousands of armoured shells line the walls, crouching in foetal positions, stacked on top of each other on pallets. Inside them is a mass of pink slime, more fungus than meat. Quickened by the right signal and that slime will condense into muscles, growing into its pre-built exoskeleton. It will not develop a brain, it will not develop an immune system, it will not develop a digestive system. It'll operate on a basic logic of move and kill until it starves to death or dies of bacterial infection a few days later. Incredibly efficient, incredibly lethal, incredibly cheap, incredibly easy to store long term.

But because drones are so simple and so disposable, they're also what's given to Apprentices to experiment on. With the right DNA-overwriting retrovirals you can give a drone wings or horns, make it grow four legs rather than two, alter its colour, change its imprinted instincts - even make one intelligent, though that is not recommended on your first few tries. It's the opportunity to work on a creature from scratch and wipe the slate clean if you accidentally create something unviable. Sufficiently complex custom drones are often seen as bodyguards, lab assistants, or even as templates for species modification. Perhaps unexpectedly, senior biomancers rarely have interesting custom drones - their work is on a complete species so they don't have time to do the kind of tinkering needed to create one-off masterworks.

What no one volunteers is why the Biomancers maintain tens of thousands of these things.
Hidden 5 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Two routes coming up. One leads towards Beri: natural next step. Blend in among the villagers, hide out at Dolce's long enough to shake initial tail, steal fishing boat and fake a trip out for crabs, then race Corvii to meet up with Divers once they realize she's not going for crabs. But! That's the natural next step. Route: open, particularly when approaching the town gates. Estimated delay from bicycle inspection complicated by circling Corvii and risk of being run down. Entire plan required being inconspicuous milkmaid.

Downcliff route: leads to the beach, longer way to get to town, more bushes and overhanging trees to baffle being spotted from above. Stash bicycle at first turn, underneath the cherry branches, then proceed downwards on foot. Change feigned occupation to beachcomber; leave sandals with bicycle, roll up sleeves, affect squint from sun glitter, hunch shoulders slightly. Commit. ("Make us believe you're a beachcomber, Little Ember! Wrap your sword in silk! The hidden face can be any face!")
Hidden 4 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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There are, at last count, one hundred million things that someone could say to you after sitting down across from you. It doesn’t do a body any good to try and count them all in the time between sitting and listening, but there’s a natural instinct for it, no? A wish of the heart. To know what is about to be said, so you can get a head start on what you ought to say to that, and never lose your footing. But if you actually try it, and they say something you’d never expect, then you lose your footing anyway from shock, and you’re worse off than when you started.

Dolce is a wise and learned sheep, at least as far as chefs go. He gets to experience the full, undistracted measure of this refreshing and confusing surprise.

“A pleasure to meet you; my name is Dolce, chef.” And a wise and learned chef gets his bearings during a pleasant greeting. “And, I beg your pardon; operation? I’m afraid I don’t quite know what you mean.”

Attention from the authorities in Beri often coincided with unexpected loss of property, unexpected gains in employment, and unexpected trips up the mountain of indeterminate length. Not so much polite conversation and a willingness to simply talk through a tricky problem. But you know? It had been just as many years since the last time he’d dealt with such authorities as he’d had a real conversation with someone as wooly as him. Perhaps that was why he felt so oddly glad to see a reflection that wasn’t his, despite the circumstances.

“My apologies, I am only a few years new to Beri, and I’m sure there are some things I’ve yet to learn. Which makes it quite difficult to know what I don’t know. Do you think you could tell me a little more of your work, and we can see if that rings any bells? And,” he glances to the stovetop, where steam wafts from a (carefully silenced) kettle. “Would you care for some tea?”

[Rolling to Speak Softly: 5 + 6 + 3 = 14 Dolce forges a Bond with 20022. Asking: What does 20022’s job entail?]
Hidden 4 days ago Post by Phoe
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Stone was the best surface for running on, and that was a fact. The impact of the hard, rough surface on the sole of her foot as step after sure, sharp step cracks against it. The way it doesn't yield under her weight the way so many other things do while walking. No spring or squish here, just pure hard push and a fight to see which of them could take more pain in the end.

And of course there was the sound. The snap! The crunch! The clattering of small pebbles on the larger stone as she passed by! This was music that the earth played for her, and no less special than the gift of the Lyri. At every step the mountain fought her, and that made it the most exciting place in all of Bitemark (which was saying something, if you knew where to look).

Mosaic is still but for the unsteady rising of her chest as she pants with a runner's exhilaration. The breeze plays with her hair, but only she can move the rest of her. She does not turn her head to acknowledge the people struggling their way up the path after her; her gift to them was slowing down enough in the first place that they could keep up at all. The air is full of the smells of a dozen different rock types, each with their own specific mineral aromatics that make this just the same as visiting a garden, after all.

This is not a moment that would be improved by Projection Mining. But then, maybe the happiness of a planet was worth more than the feeling of conquest by hand, the sweat beading on her iron muscles and the heat of her body standing against the coolness of the mountain breeze, the view that overlooked at least seven villages at once, and the adrenal jolt of knowing that very soon her life would be coming to a fight. Maybe all of these things were less valuable than the convenience of an instant pile of raw materials and impossible plenty.

Her lip curls. The thought dies with her smirk. Her foot crashes on the stone in front of her, and Mosaic leaps high enough to clear Dolemon twice over to land with an almost dainty grace on the first massive stone block she has marked as her first prey.

"I HAVE COME!" she bellows with a voice made out of thunder, "I AM HERE!"

Mosaic spreads her arms wide to either side of her as she steps closer and closer to the edge of the stone cube she's perched on, walking calmly toward a steep drop and certain peril. She spits, and clears her throat.

"I have need of works, Stone Tribe. And before the night has taken us, I promise I will have stolen this mountain right out from under your feet. If you're going to send a champion, better send six! Minimum! I don't want any complaints later that the costs don't measure up to the ritual!"

And she laughs, in that careless way that has defined her for as long as she's been alive. The mirth of the invincible. The delight of a challenge. A joviality that bends its way to equaling respect.

She falls, and the air whistles through her ears as she hurtles toward the ground. Her legs strike with the fury of a Solid Projectile barrage. The sudden crater is more than enough of a handhold to lift the entire block above her head: the heist is underway.

She'll need to do more than this. There's a host of challenges to overcome if she's going to make good on her promise, but those are lost in the thrill of holding a shard of a mountain heavy enough to bury a village with, instead of building one. Right now she is a thief, but she will at least be a bold one.
Hidden 4 days ago Post by Balmas
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It takes Dyssia a week to realize that she's looking at this through the wrong lens.

Up to this point, it's been a standard adventure, right? The idyllic present, the inciting incident, the refusal of the call, the aged mentor--which isn't being fair to Tidal, really--but she thought this was all going to be a big space adventure.

No. Oohoho, no.

See, this is a spy thriller.

Granted, one where there's not an immediate love interest? Normally, there'd have been a femme fatale type, possibly an opposite number in the villain's ranks, to be a foil to the heroine. And Tidal could fill that role, maybe, if she weren't already being a mentor?

And one that's almost surprisingly mundane? Normally, finding out that one of your most trusted confidantes was an agent for a third party would be a stunning third act twist. Although, since it's this close to the inciting incident, it might also be considered to be setting the stage, determining the rules by which the world operates.

Everyone knows about this? Does everyone know this? It's never quite clear what's common knowledge and what isn't, and the thing about being common knowledge is that nobody tells you it is until you reveal that you don't know it, somehow.

Why do they have so many drones, though?

Probably, she should just ask Tidal. Everyone here seems so willing to bend over backwards to help her. Which is weird, but also somehow reassuring? Even if she doesn't know what the plan is entirely, there is someone out there who does, and who has good ideas.

But also… What if it just is common knowledge? It'd be awful to see the momentary hitch in their gaze, the brief retabulation of how capable she is, the readjustment of where to start?

Because they can't be military, right? The Pix already have a stronger fighting force in, would you believe it, the Pix.

But military is all they seem to be good for, too? Fight, kill, die.

Can't be civilian, she doesn't think. Or rather, there are so many better options for virtually every civilian use. You want the accumulation of skills that comes with life, a soul, a brain.

Fuck, they're creepy.

They could be, she supposes, a form of chaff. Throw them out into a battle, clog the field with them while your actual troops are occupied with something else.

More and more, she believes their true purpose is simply to accustom Apprentices to treating living beings as disposable, as programmable.

(She hasn't gone so far as to give them a brain or a digestive system. That seems like the next logical step, but it's a hell of a step to go from various effective combat augments to creating life. That seems a good way to get in trouble.)

But she still doesn't know, and she still can't ask. And she is on a Pix vessel, center of backstabbing and betrayal.

Which is why she's sneaking into Tidal's quarters. There's gotta be something there, some note, some textbook she can barrow. All she has to do is find it, and figure it out, and hey, here's a chance to scope out where she might keep her badge.
Hidden 4 days ago 4 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Mars is with you. You are alight with glory. Ripe grain sprouts from beneath your feet and a wreath of oak leaves glitters on your forehead. This is a world of summer and summer is the season of glorious war.

You see six. Mars whispers that they have sent seven.

They run crouched low to the ground, burdened under the weight of their heavy turtle shells. Their masks are stone, their weapons are stone - their acid talons would be far more lethal but this is not that kind of war. They model themselves after Ceronians, pack hunters seeking to encircle you, harry you, undermine you with co-ordination and hammer blows until you are forced to flee.

They are not Ceronians. Their formation lacks the fluid adaptability of those warriors, craftsmen playing at soldier. But there is something more than a gap in those places, the edge of a missing scent - the scrubbed nothing of cleaning chemicals, familiar somehow. Their seventh warrior is a mercenary, lurking in secret. An acquaintance from a dream.


There are a dozen Beachcombers here already. Tall, curved and sun-tanned, they're angels in paradise.

Galaxy-class beaches don't just happen. These mountains are fresh, new geologic activity creating sudden descents down into coves of sharp gravel. Not only does it prick to walk on so many edges but it also absorbs summer heat and burns hot. The ideal sand is fine and soft and that takes work. Day after day the Beachcombers pick their way across the scorching sharp gravel. With every footstep the huge crushing jaws of their feet pick up stones and grind them against diamond-hard plates. With each step they leave finer and finer dust behind them. Eventually, when the beaches are soft enough, they'll transition into gardening this landscape - sweeping beautiful patterns and sculptures into the sand each day before the tide washes it away.

You're able to put miles behind you in this way, but the Corvii are having a slow day. Unkindnesses start to fall, surrounding Beachcombers in threes and fours, appreciating the opportunity to harass beautiful creatures in beautiful locations. Soon enough they'll be landing to question you too, and the ways out are in towards the town, forwards towards the headland and its caves - or out, towards the ocean.


"Oh!" said 20022. "I misunderstood, you're not an Employee. Normally we wear these identification badges," he flicked the plastic tag in his ear, "but it's not mandatory, so I couldn't be entirely sure. Well, let me lay it out plainly for you."

He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a little easel. He set it on the table and then laid a piece of paper atop of it with a list of talking points. Every so often as he spoke he'd slide the paper away to reveal the next page. The graphics were incredible, frankly, hand-drawn masterpieces by high quality art servitors; Raphael's slideshow.

"The galaxy has a great number of evolved species," said 20022. "But only two of them arose to sufficient heights to master Biomancy: the Azura and Humanity. Through their conflicts and unions they progressed the state of the Art to the point where they could delegate ever greater aspects of galactic administration to servitors. This, then, is my job: a very small part of the infinite machinery of the cosmos. Indeed, it's more than my job, it's my species' job - and that means it's your job too. We, the Synnefo, occupy a privileged place in the galactic hierarchy. While the Warriors of Ceron may glory in the blessings of Zeus, we are the invisible hands of Artemis.

"My job, specifically, involves managing Mayor Kaspar and ensuring that all his decisions are made with the best interest of the Endless Azure Skies in mind. In the short term this involves taking a more authoritarian tack than I am personally comfortable with. However, there's a reason for this - specifically, this planet is borderline decolonized. It has a huge and almost entirely unadministered servitor population with minimal biomantic oversight as well as an active Ceronian insurgency. Without an active Azura Court, less than a hundred citizen residents and a colloquial name that shames the Skies, the Crystal Knight - that is, the Sector Governor - might decide to Decommission the planet at any moment. As such, my objective is to assist Mayor Kaspar in running a model world and nip any compliance issues in the bud. We're hoping to build a reputation as a welcoming tourist location and retreat world while upskilling into some aesthetic architecture. However, our current military garrison is backwards and insufficient, not the kind of specialized force required to maintain the kind of stability expected from a resort world. There's a lot of challenges in getting the budget to expand it. It's delicate work, and I could always use more help.

"Naturally," he paused and smiled, "you don't have to sign up if you prefer to run your cafe. The private sector is often much more flexible and luxurious. But the Service is where the power is."


The notes that you're looking for are easy to find. They're everywhere, stacks and stacks of ring binders filled with the bureaucracy of biomancy. A simple workstation with a view of a small and beautiful garden. A secondary door presents an escape route even if you're discovered, which lets you comfortably settle in and read while being sure you'll have plenty of advance warning if anyone starts coming down this corridor. So you can read in comfort about how the Pix are rated as Currently Nonviable and at risk of Decommissioning.

And there are plenty of associated reports on how they have almost stockpiled enough drones to allow for Decommissioning.

See, Drones exist for two purposes. Purpose one is to engage Out of Context problems or primitive civilizations. In the event of encountering some entirely new alien species, biomancers have full authorization to unleash drone swarms to cull its population down to a manageable level at which point it can be integrated into galactic civilization. There are files on doing this, it involves mass application of biomantic upgrades, including compliance upgrades that prevent these species from displacing or threatening Administrator Species. This isn't about making them servitors, oh no, they're an evolved species and worthy of respect, uplifting and access to all the luxuries of modern technology. But they are potentially invasive, or are at risk of being wiped out by artificially evolved invasive servitor breeds, and so the transition needs to be managed for the health of the ecosystem as a whole. In the almost unthinkable event of encountering a superior alien species, drones can be iterated and upgraded on shorter evolutionary cycles than mainline battle servitor species.

This is the better use case for drones.

The worse one is Decommissioning, or, the complete obliteration of an underperforming or rogue servitor species. When all subtle course corrections have failed the biomancers are to activate the drones as the final backstop. It doesn't matter if they'll only live three days and can't think strategically if their entire existence begins and ends in point-blank shipboard fighting in deep void.

And from these notes, the Pix are uncomfortably close to Decommissioning. It's not their fault - it's not anybody's fault, really. But the fact remains that they were originally built to service a primitive human economy, and now all the humans are dead and the economy has evolved beyond their effective use. The ability to manipulate market institutions through digital technology is simply not relevant in the modern age. There are extensive notes of Pix culture dissolving, of high numbers joining the Order of Hermes or the Publica, or otherwise becoming deviant.

And be sure, the biomancers are moving heaven and earth to rehabilitate them - to find a functional, unique ecosystem niche that can provide value to the galaxy as a whole. There are a lot of optimistic reports, lots of small breakthroughs, lots of people trying their absolute best to surpass even in one small area the absolute monolithic wall of the Ceronians. These reports are written by people who believe sincerely that they'll pull it off.

But if they don't, there are the drones.
Hidden 2 days ago Post by Balmas
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The spy theme hum dies in Dyssia's lips.

No, that.

That isn't right.

That can't be right.

This isn't right!

She's digging now, scattering papers to the wind, subtlety and spy shit forgotten in her desperation to find. To find something, anything, to show she's--

All of them? Just.

Well, no, clearly not all of them. In the biomancers' minds, that's the problem, innit, is that some of the Pix aren't doing their job, even though they've also decided that their job doesn't need to exist.

All of them? In cold blood? Wiped out, in one three-day purge, all because they don't have a purpose? For not fitting in?

She'd felt comfortable. Like it was cozy, knowing that somewhere, out there, there was somebody making sure that things went right, that were taking care of things, making sure everything happened smoothly. That there was someone with a plan and a handle on things.

Because she was always going to be part of that plan.

Like she'd been part of the plan for Merilt?

Inconvenient, but an Azura. Unable to simply be disposed of en masse simply for not fulfilling a purpose. Sacrificed in the most optimal way.

They kidnapped her, for cryin' out loud. All she has to do to get her life back is wait, and--

And go back to her old life, knowing that she'll never be challenged, and never have to fight, and can return to her workshop, and not striving, and--

And let them die. And not do anything to help them, when she has a chance to help, when she might be the only one who can help, when all the help the biomancers offer is increasingly incredulous attempts at finding a niche for the Pix because they can't see that they don't need a niche, can't see that not having a niche isn't a justification for genocide.

It's okay, she can--

Talking to Tidal isn't an option, though? Tidal's great, hot, fun, but she also doesn't listen? She knows what she knows, and what she knows is that biomancy is the greatest tool in allowing people to be happy maintaining empire? She'll get that look she always gets, and reassure Dyssia that things may not make sense right now, but in time she'll understand, and it's all for the good of everyone, and the empire is happy, and the people are happy, and--

How many drones can she request? Enough to make a difference? Not ten thousand, not for an Apprentice, even an Azura one.

What can she even modify them with?

Virus the lot of them, so they die in minutes instead of days? That just delays the project for however long it takes to whip up another ten thousand. Gives the Pix an extra few days. Maybe gets the Pix declared rogue, because who else could have the motivation to protect them? And if she gets caught, now she's being watched, now she's being protected--for her own good, of course, the poor dear is confused, doesn't understand what needs to happen--

And don't think it hasn't slipped her notice that her first thought in response to a genocide was to treat a bunch of--well, not people, but living things as disposable objects, as tools to be tweaked to purpose.


Unleash the drones on the biomancers. No. Pix fight to protect their biomancers, she's just attacked the ship.

How quickly can she whip up a protective instinct? In theory, it's established research, all the tools exist for it. But again, unless she can infect at least five thousand of the ten thousand, it's only a delay. And again, a three day delay at best.

So, develop a new fighting species in days, find a way to keep the drones alive, somehow apply it to all then thousand drones, and effectively hold the ship hostage with her new combat species which will outdo a group of three-quarter Ceronians? While not also running afoul of Zeus for creating people, who will now be fully people, and as such, their own.

She's not ready to be a mom.

She could turn the Pix into the best servitors? Find their best niche? But the thought sits in her throat like half-returned vomit, burning, acrid. It accepts the Biomancer's position, works within it, acknowledges that the best she can hope for is to prevent biomancers from biomancing near things she cares about.

Which is, itself, a startling realization.

She gathers the notes as best as she can, and puts them neatly back in their folders. Semi neatly. As best as she can remember, which admittedly is not very. Anything to buy time, prevent people from noticing what she knows.

She doesn't know how much time she has. Or rather, she knows how much time she has, and it's Not Much. But despite all logic, despite all sense, she is going to save her captors from themselves.

Hidden 2 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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You know, perhaps an unexpected trip up the mountain would’ve been preferable.

“If it’s quite alright with you,” he pushes his chair out slowly, with both hands. “I think I could use that cup of tea. Would you…no? No, very well.” It didn’t hurt to ask again. Sometimes, a guest doesn’t think they’re thirsty, or hungry, until somebody else gets a snack. They see someone else eating, and all of a sudden they remember, yes, right, food tastes good. I’m a little hungry. I’d like a snack. You always ask, when you get something for yourself. Even if they said no just a little bit earlier.

How much longer until the tea’s done? Three minutes, twenty-three seconds. Right. Right.

20022 hasn’t made a sound. No skin on skin of twiddling thumbs. No rustling papers and fidgeting with slides. No soft shifting in the seat as he adjusts a slackening posture. When he glances over, his guest is never looking his way. But he feels his attention resting on him. Catching the tremor in his arm as he lifts the infuser out of his cup. Noting the pause after he adds a dollop of honey, before he decides on an extra spoonful. But just noting it. Taking note of a fact in front of him, rather than judging him for weakness.

There’s a difference, to the feeling in the air. He’s learned.

It will be at least five minutes until it is cool enough to drink, but it is soothing enough to hold in his hands as he sits back down. “I…did say that there was more that I had to learn. I didn’t expect,” he gestures to the pile of masterwork slides. “Quite so much. Hrm. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of working with the Crystal Knight, rather than keep this all under wraps?” He frowns. “No. No, there’s not, is there? All the reports she’s been getting from Mayor Kaspar have been, well, not favorable, but as close to running smoothly as can be expected. Asking for help means showing her everything. If you thought that all this secrecy was necessary to keep her from Decommissioning the planet, then, you don’t think she’s the sort of person who would accept the difficulties. She just wants results.”

It’s too early for the tea to be properly cooled yet. But some thoughts demand tea, now. “It would be different if we had a Sector Governor who was willing to listen, but…no, no that wouldn’t do either, would it? Whoever’s above her would just blame her for our troubles, fire her, and put in someone who won’t hesitate.”

He takes a long, slow breath in through his nose. Then blows it out through his mouth, making little ripples in his teacup. He imagines Vasilia’s hand, running through his wool. He hears her voice, counting the beats of each breath. His vision narrows to a cup of tea, an emptied kitchen, and a Synnefo? A Synnefo sitting across from him. And at the edges of his sight, two windows.

“I understand why you’d always be looking for more help.” He says at last. “But being a chef is all I’ve ever done. The positions have been a little different, but in the end it’s still cooking. Even traveling here, I never had time to learn anything else. I don’t mean to be blunt, but, what do you think a chef could do to help?”
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