Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Pause a second to mourn the death of the engine's electric-guitar whine. Sit with Dyssia in the cockpit as the world spins lazily outside it like the thoughts in her head.

Intellectually, the plover isn't dead, just not powered, and it's been less than half an hour since she clapped eyes on it, but Dyssia is--

Well, she bonds fast, doesn't she? You did good, little plover, and you're gonna get a name after this. Something cat-themed. Would that be offensive to the kitties on board? Not a lion or whatever kind of cat Mosaic is. Something sleek and prowling, all underbrush and treetops and sudden teeth in your throat.

So, not captured. Pretty cool outcome, all things considered. And in an unpowered plover--what's a good cat name? she can't just call it Tiger, can she? Adjective-noun? Noun-possessive? Tiger's Roar? Do tigers roar? Tigerclaw?--she's basically anonymous. A bit of space debris, to be ignored and swept up after the battle or, more likely, abandoned if inconvenient.

That means she can, if needed, figure out the new rules of the puzzle. She has time, that most blessed resource, to think and plan.

It also means that, the second she sheds the Tiger's Fang,--mmm, no, not right, too aggressive, too typical, something florid? Descriptive?--the second she sheds the plover, she's the center of attention. A Knight, surrounded, bereft of legions? A feather in someone's cap, to be sure. And let's be honest, a threat too large to be ignored.

So that just means she needs to jump out at the best time to--

She scrambles, presses her face against the cockpit glass, confirms what she'd barely glimpsed as the cockpit spun past. Hits the emergency explosives on the cockpit, pushes the plate of glass out, bellows a warcry from the top of the Electric Tiger, draws all attention to herself.

Here she is! A knight of the Publica, a beacon of sparking red against the rainbow of the night, grav-rail spinning up to whip a dead plover through a clump of enemy like skittles. Hear her! Fight her!

Pay no attention to the dead plover, spinning its way towards your reactor!

[Keep Them Busy: 2,3,+1. [6]]
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Even with Dyssia's distraction, getting close enough to the Reactor Sphere to steal a new tether is impossible. Of course it is impossible. There are a dozen crows between her and the prize. The moment she sticks her precious little nose out of her shield of plovers, it's all over.

Which is what makes it work. Several of the frozen plovers around her are already spinning in the eddies, and she spins away, lets the current take her, drifting on momentum behind a furious pilot. She is, for a few precious moments, floating in the greatest sea that has ever been, eyes closed, hands adjusting position on her throttle.

Then she opens up her howling engine and feels the acceleration in her teeth, in the back of her eyes, as she hurtles tetherless towards the Sphere. She twists into a spin, into a loop, elegant, reacting on instinct before her slow eyes can catch up with the crackling bolts that she's evading. Her stomach drops like Mosaic's picking her up and whirling her around, and when she finally rips a tether out of the hands of a technician, feet already drumming the enemy cockpit senseless, it's almost incidental.

Because it is, you see. Because Ember's got her eyes on the prize.

Because the flock will have to scatter if a Sphere with an overloaded reactor spins languorously into the midst of them all.

[9 on Overcoming the peril.]
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Was that necessary? Was that really necessary? Adding in the little personal address at the end? Now he has to say something back. He was falling to pieces a moment ago. The news is…he has to know, doesn’t he? He can’t not know what that means, to him. How can he say it so casually? The same way he can ask him to make a polite response, now that he’s been lightly addressed. The words carved into his bones spring to his lips. His voice is warring to stay neutral, and warring where to go from there. “Thank you. I’ll-”

You’ll like him.

Dolce freezes.

“Why should I be meeting a Regional Director? I’m not part of the Service.”

20022 is watching him. The Royal Architect is passively watching him. The Emissary is watching nothing. There is one door, to his right, currently closed. The room contains a shack, an X carved on the floor, a ramshackle table and chairs, food, water, fire, on the table, several patches of torn floor. Nothing within arm’s reach of anyone but the Emissary. Nothing between him and anyone else. Apertures for drones cannot be seen. He hears them in the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. There must be many. The buzzing is constant. They are not moving in.

He is standing with his hooves shoulder-width apart. His hands are clasped together, at his waist. He is leaning neither forward nor back. He is not moving. He is looking at 20022. He is speaking.

He is not safe.

“...why did you bring me here in the first place?”
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Mosaic!

"The first shape of anger is to conceal your anger," said Hera.

She never let it show. She never let the monster boiling beneath the surface show even for a second. She crushed it back and smiled. She poured tea and tended her bonsai. So patient, so calm! She never raised her voice, she never shouted, she never raged. She was only ever disappointed.

But that did not mean she was not angry.

There were certain things an Assassin could never say or do. Political reliability is essential, a lack of ambition, a lack of impulsivity. She was good at wearing the mask, even though it made bile raise in her throat. But she learned that other things could be done with that bile. A harsh word, a disappointed glare - if you were powerful enough and/or beloved enough you did not need to do much to break a heart or fill someone with terrified anxiety. Sometimes you didn't even need to do that - you just needed to break your pattern. Leave a breakfast early. Take a long walk. Plant a seed and let it grow and your victim would tear themselves apart for hours after hours after hours wondering what you meant, how bad it really was, how badly they'd damaged something you'd made precious to them.

A maid learned this kind of anger too.


Ember!

The electric storm ignites again but this time your Plover does not die. Bolt after bolt strikes you as you take your bearings, coursing through the metal frame and out through the cable, null energy again and again without effect. Electrical death is nothing compared to the firehose of power from which you now drink.

It's only incidental that your nervous system has to deal with thunderbolts of null energy coursing through it from every direction. Doctor Ceron, in her wisdom, designed for that. It's quite simple, you see: when a Ceronian is electrically overloaded then their brain shuts off entirely and they become an instinct engine of hormones, chemicals and pheromones. It's a berserker trance; an eternal moment of empty mind and designer instinct.

Better hope you're pointed in the right direction.

[Damage your Sense]

Dyssia!

That gets their attention.

The entire flock pulls away from the other Knights, away from the Reactor itself, away from every other priority and objective to come after you. After all, you are the Azura Knight - the one real person amidst all these rogue servitors, the inciting incident, the greatest prize. All of these other creatures mean nothing against you. Without you, they will be leaderless and lost.

And so they close in on you with nets and ropes. They bind you in chains and set their thrusters to maximum and tear away back towards the Slitted. It limps in the far distance, a broken eye, surrounded by frenzied moons that try to patch the scars you gave it.

You will, of course, be afforded the courtesy of a Knight. That means you will be taken to meet the the Crystal Knight.

Dolce!

"Oh, forgive the confusion," said 20022 modestly, taking a bow. "I was under the impression that you were following me because you were still interested in joining the Service. Of course, I'll have the Architect deposit you back on Beri after he has finished resonance mining the area around your home. I'll even put in to have your establishment rebuilt, not a splinter out of place."

It was remarkable, how someone could be polite and even nice, and not even a little bit good.
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Mosaic sucks in air through her teeth. She can feel herself cringing, body folding in on itself and compressing to a denser form as though it could shield her from the feeling of immediate failure stabbing through her nervous system. Her arms burn, her legs freeze. Her eyes wince shut and her lips open to show her fangs to... nothing at all. Herself, with no reflection.

Immediate failure. The very first thought that had come to her, as an instinct level reaction, when she'd tried to preemptively tackle the problem of being doomed by anger. Master it, hide it, push it beneath her feet and walk away on it until she could wrestle with it enough that she wouldn't hurt anybody on it. The least clever clever idea in the entire arsenal, and it's the blade she'd drawn first.

The Plosious is pointed away from the battle. The hangar's view is only space. But to Mosaic, it looks like a vast and dreary hallway, filled with impressive and important furnishings that served no purpose other than to remind her that she was beneath the ones who put it there. Her hands attempt to smooth an apron she isn't wearing as her fur lifts off the back of her neck in a rush of pure fear.

There was... a garden. If she walked this hall, she would enter it. If she walked this hall, she would die. A simple glance would turn her to stone and she would be nothing but another warning decoration because she was a failure failure failure failure failure! Her lungs squeeze her like a vice as air stops traveling through her system. She is choking on a memory that doesn't belong to her, she is dying from a terror that isn't hers to feel.

She slams a fist into her own leg, and feels a dull ache wash over the rest of the cocktail of sensations swirling through her body. It draws a snort from her nose, and the spell breaks. She observes the polychromatic-black sea of space once again. She wipes the sweat from her brow before she dares a glance toward Hera.

How could she fight this? There's no weapon mighty enough to slay this sort of beast that can slip through the cracks of even her best intentions. If attempts to hide her mood were the poison that would eat away at the bonds of her heart then... what? Should she give herself over to rage when she feels it? Impossible. But then, if she spends her days binding herself to keep a lid on it in the first place... ha! What, if anger by thy doom then simply feel none to begin with?

Ridiculous. The tighter a leash she kept herself on the less she would be able to act at all. If she kept at it she'd be no different than the statues in that garden, or that hallway. Every special thing about her, the things that Ember and Dyssia and Vasilia and all of Beri were counting on and following her for would die. And her family might very well die along with them. The riddle of strength and weakness looms over her again. It casts a much darker shadow this time, than when it spoke with Zeus' voice.

"I..."

Mosaic's voice falters as she turns to stand side by side with the goddess. She fights a war to regain her posture; her neck pops loudly in protest as she straightens her spine, and her tail twinges with irritation when she forces it to unwrap from her leg. She remains proud, but now, in spite of herself.

"I see," she begins again with a yawn, "Then I really was raised by monsters. Which parent gave me this, I wonder? Was it the fur and the claws, or the bare skin and the teeth? Was it neither? Is it one of my eyes, instead? I am a -- hmph, haha. I am what I was named for. And I guess that must mean I have another kind of anger that I was given to hold. Fuck you both, mom and dad. I won't let this beat me. I refuse."

She flashes a grin and tightens her muscles as if she were preparing to hunt a crab large enough to crush a plover into a can. The rush of battle soothes her even as the tension wracks her injured body with pain. But this too is armor, and she wears it as well as her dress.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Did they really have to take her gravrail?

Well. Yeah, okay, yeah, they did. Deadly weapon, utility. They'd have to be idiots to see a space wizard bending time and reality to her whim, fight another Knight to a standstill with it, and then not take it off her. She'd have done the same, if positions were reversed.

But it means that she's stuck. On the ground. On her own power, instead of slipping gently wherever she wants to go.

Honestly, the ropes are just adding… Well, the saying is insult to injury, except she's not even that badly hurt? And it's not insulting? And let's be honest, they're nice ropes! Ropes like you don't actually expect a person like the Crystal Knight to have? Silken to the touch, but somehow with the exact right level of grab to make the knots inescapable?

Like, if this whole situation weren't awful, it'd kind of be hot? A scene out of one of the better class of stories. The defiant heroine, clothes in tatters, top hanging out, bound in ropes, presented before the vile villain, for--

Hmm. Vile villain. Satisfying mouthfeel, good alliteration. Defiant heroine doesn't work as well. Hard headed? Headstrong? Insubordinate? No, no, implies subordinate in the first place, which isn't true, and--aha!

The Dissident Dyssia, versus the Vile Villain, the Nasty Knight!

In the books, it'd be a scene of sexual tension, a will-they-won't-they, an enemies-to-possibly-lovers, a place for a villain to saunter over and raise the heroine's chin with a swordblade.

But in real life, that would require the heroine to be kneeling with a bowed chin, instead of staring at the Crystal Knight with undisguised loathing.

"Love what you've done with the place. The holes in the ship have really given it a pleasant open air feel, and the bits of town bring it back to earth. A+, five stars."
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The chill ascends from feet to knees,
the fever sings in mental wires.


Lifeboats shunt off, spinning slowly in loose orbits around the Sphere. Cable after severed cable lashes madly between them, like a nest of maddened serpents. The flock— what remains of it— contracts to try and salvage their beachhead, their tactical advantage that might yet gain them the secondary prize of the fleeing Plousios.

Here, Ember dances, her enchantment burned away by the rising tide of instinct and battlefrenzy. Flow state, Tides, ecstasy, revelation, Howl from the Ashes. Howl. Howl. Howl.

And Ashes’ spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ares by her side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Howl havoc and let slip the wolves of war!


A pike she rams through the gravitational core, twists it like she works the guts of a boar, and then there is only making her way out without the use of the cable, for the cable is burning, the Sphere leaking its essence into the tumult of Poseidon’s sea. But the flock is scattering, and the Sphere rolls like a dying whale, and only the sight of a ripple of red and gold cuts through the desire to hunt each one down one by one, burn them out, leave them drifting, wring their reinforced spines—

But that is a leash. You will return.

And so Ember waits, and at the moment when the world goes silent she flings herself from the Sphere, firing towards her waiting lady, more for aim than for momentum, because then the Sphere ruptures outwards, and the force shakes her into shaking laughter as she hurtles back, and the startled crows scatter so far that they’ll be days cohering again.

Back to Mosaic. And what will she think of a pupil-dilated, tail-bushing, sense-shifted Ceronian coming back to her from the blossoming force-rose of a dying gravitational core?
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Ah.

Dolce is nodding. Slowly. Wonderful thing, a nod. All at once, it tells a room you understand, you’re thinking, and you’re going to talk, but not yet. Not yet. Give him a little time, please. He will give you a good answer. Just give him a little time. Please.

He heard every syllable, every brush of air that passed 20022’s lips. Intonations and emphasis pile up alongside carefully smoothed expressions. This raw material, he systematically tears to pieces, cataloging every bit of data he can wring out. If he works hard enough, he'll find meaning. He'll find reason. He'll find everything he missed. The first time. Every time. And. And. And. And. Not yet. Put it in a box. Set it on the shelf. Later. He’ll get to that later. He knows it’s important, but there’s no time. Not now. Later. He promises. He’s got more important things to worry about.

He stands in the seat of power of the second highest-ranking individual in all the Skies. He is bound by oaths, a labyrinth of corridors and sealed doors, an army of guards, a horde of drones, and more besides. Dolce of Beri wields neither power nor influence. He’s got…well, he’s got the hope that when he leaves here, someone will remember to give him back his little sword, and whatever else he happened to be carrying in his bags today.

He. He has. He had. He’s not got…

No one here is a friend. At least, not a friend he can rely on.

He is not safe. He may not be safe for quite some time.

Dolce is not nodding. He lifts his head the correct amount to indicate both attention and humility. His hands remain folded. He speaks in a voice beaten into his tongue.

“Thank you, but that doesn’t seem sensible, given the circumstances. I’m sure I can find some small way to make myself useful in a time of crisis.”

He is a sensible sheep. Thank goodness for that, sensible sheep are well-known to be helpful, nonthreatening, and inoffensive. You will find no better follower in all the galaxy. Through Poisidon’s storms and Zeus’ thunder, they will put one hoof in front of the other, and they won’t give a lick of complaint or question. They’ll find a way to roll up their sleeves and muddle on through, somehow. 20022 may collect his voice, and search for the fear that brought this lost lamb to heel, but he may not recognize the shape of it.

Dolce is not safe. Somewhere in the universe, on an Imperial warship, rides safety. Rides home.

He has to live. He has to muddle his way back, whether it’s under the nose of 20022 or from a cafe in Beri with two windows.

It’s the only sensible thing to do.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Mosaic!

"This at least I do not need to teach you," said Hera. "I cannot say if pride and spite are sufficient as virtues, but I have found even these to be far better than being ruled by anger. Arm yourself with these and you will have my blessings."

She looked at the deck as it ignited and burned, as Knight after Knight touched down, as untrained deck crews fumbled about them in crowds. All of your warriors have returned. All except one.

Ember!

As you hit the deck a curtain of lightning opens behinds you. Sagetip has restored at least some of the point defense Flux spikes and what stragglers remain break off from the lightning curtains that guard the Plousios.

You feel the tactical situation in your nose, in your hindbrain, deep and muscular as a yawn. Enemy in disarray. One suit captured, nonpack - acceptable trade. Retreat is clear and prize enough. The wisdom of Minerva rolling in your DNA is clear: you can flee, you should flee, even crippled the Slitted remains a terror.

Tell that to your Queen. It is your duty.

Dyssia!

"Don't you start," hissed the Crystal Knight. "Insurrectionist. Nihilist. You would trade centuries of progress for a few squirts of dopamine."

The material of the Azura warship is hungry. Already the metal is, with the speed of living plants, running roots and channels into the detrius of the town. It will suck iron and carbon and trace elements out like trees ripping nutrients from the soil and use the mass to rebuild itself, leaving only heaps of silicon and rock dust behind. Warships repair themselves by digesting the materials they need directly and the town of Beri will be rendered down to repair the damage it inflicted.

"All this for some servitors?" she said. "Fine. I'll put in a special order. I'll have an entire planet repopulated with nerve-stapled species. They'll be deleriously happy every second of the day, wherever you go you'll be able to see their maximal smiles. We'll see how long it takes before you understand how important the Skies are."

Dolce!

"Wait!" said the Emissary. He clattered over to Dolce, flinching as a drone followed him threateningly. "Wait! Take me with you!" he looked back at the enormous, staring eye of the Architect. "I - I can't stay here. I won't! Please!"
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Ember does not walk over to her Mosaic. She runs. She greets her Queen, her lover, her captain, with a kiss, standing on the tips of her toes, hot, hungry, alive, needy, excited, excitable, barely restraining herself enough to stop her from bowling the taller woman over. But she does, just enough.

“We won,” she pants, her tongue pink, her teeth white. “Now we can regroup, prepare, gain ground, and…”

She trails off. Blinks. Looks around. When she flexes her fingers, sparks of bluewhite static hiss between them, remnants of her flight suit drawing off excess. “…what happened? Where’s all the, the, the banners, and the statues, and why is the marble cracked and scuffed and— and why are there crabs in here, Mosaic?”

She looks around, baffled, her old inkmarks charred away. “What happened to our ship?
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Phoe
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The inside of Ember's mouth is hot, and tastes of copper and smoke. Her teeth are sharp and smooth and perfect, perfect rows of cool smoothness within the spice where Mosaic's tongue can lap and find respite, a chance to play with textures instead of flavors and revel in the intensity of the inside of those cheeks all the more for having the contrast. They kiss like two women who have been starving in the desert for so long that the idea of savoring their meal no longer occurs to them.

Her hair is soft and wet, and smells of flowers. Pollen and nectar and the delicate caress of petals all dancing with the crisp burst of raw electricity that permeates Ember's entire being just now. The rich bouquet sets her heart racing and calms it again before the breath can finish. Enticing and soothing, all at once.

The weight of her is intense and densely packed: when it launches at Mosaic like a bullet it takes her a concerted effort to keep from tumbling over and proving how weak her legs have become in payment for her great feat. But Ember is solid. When she is held, all of her presses back without compressing, without sinking or becoming insubstantial for even a brief touch. She is stable and steady enough to be leaned on without needing to do anything more significant than embracing her. A rock lifting out from the sea. A muscle to clench when hers cannot.

It is in this moment, with their lips finally parted and Mosaic's nose buried in the top of Ember's hair, that she watches Hera depart. The goddess offers her a single nod: Mosaic sweeps Ember off her feet until the tangles of both of their hair sweep against the hangar bay by way of a bow in return. She lifts slowly. She breathes steadily. She entwines her tail with her lover's, and feels the ground beneath her feet.

This is possible. Yes. This is something she can manage, perhaps even without the twin swords of pride and spite. At least... right now, she can. She chuckles, and flicks Ember across her nose.

"Have you been remembering a past life, too? Little idiot, we dragged this thing out of the ocean. It's a wonder we even have a ship and not just a void-bound pile of crabs. Don't worry, we'll get to work making it pretty just as soon as we manage to get it to stop breaking as soon as anybody says a mean word."

Mosaic's chuckle builds into a laugh that seems to shake the ship. As if on cue a crack in the marble of a nearby fixture widens into a proper fissure. The Plosious can laugh too. In the groan of metal that follows, Mosaic lets her smile fall. Her eyes do not flash anger, but they are sharp. And they are grim.

"But never mind that, where is Dyssia? Where is our knight and my instructor? And for that matter, what have you all done with the ribbons I lent to you?"
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Dolce waits placidly as the Emissary clatters across the floor towards him at maximum speeds. Not yet. His hooves remain grounded. His legs stand ready for the one step necessary to prevent being bowled over. Not yet. His spine remains properly straight as he skids to a stop in front of him. Not yet. The Emissary begs for his life. Frantically he pleads, pouring words out as fast as he can think them, asking Dolce - Dolce, of Beri, when once he was the Architect - for the privilege of simply going with him.

There is a pause. The Emissary doesn’t need to breathe. His thoughts and his hearts run too fast to continue. His metal hands grasp at the air. And his metal body completely blocks 20022’s line of sight.

Now.

Now, Dolce's calm mask melts into the weary, but earnest smile, glowing until it wrinkles his nose and lights up his eyes. “It would be no trouble at all. If there are no objections,” he says of the Architect, who would have kicked the Emissary out personally if not for the divine repercussions, and lack of feet. “Then of course, you may come with me.”

Please, Emissary, do not take it too personally, that he kept you in suspense. You are not safe. He is not safe. There is no reason for him to refuse your claim, and 20022 has an. Opinion, of him, that would make it more surprising if he turned you down. But 20022 does not need to read the message in this smile; it is meant just for you. There’s been enough trouble this day, you ought to have this gift without fear of how it may be used against you.

You have nothing to fear from me. I would have asked you to join us if you had stayed silent.
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"You just don't get it, do you?"

And her dom game is weak as shit, d'you see that? Rattled. Frustrated. No use of the harness to physically impose presence, responding to the barbs. Any basic brat could see what buttons to push to play her like a piano.

Honestly, a little frustrating? Like, you never meet a person, but you hear stories about them, build up this mental image, and then they turn out to be just some asshole. No style at all.

"The Skies are over. We lost. We were glorious and powerful and vain and so, so proud that we could not see the gods abandoning us until it was too late.

"We live in a desiccated corpse, surrounded by the evidence of what we were, and tell ourselves that this is just a temporary setback. We can recover from this--build back up, reclaim the galaxy, end the Ceronian threat, make the Azura Skies great again."

Also frustrating? Hands being tied means no gesticulation means half the message isn't being sent. How do you expect her to talk without her hands? She's doing her best with voice alone, right? Letting scorn and--oh, this'll piss her off no end--pity drip from every syllable.

"Happiness is cheap, Tilly." And oh, the flash of annoyance at the nickname is too sweet. "So's dopamine. I wanted that, I coulda had them without leaving home."

Or, you know, more accurately: coulda let them decommission the Pix and come home. Or could have turned back at any point before this. Kind of getting past the point of no return, frankly, and also kind of past the point where some Publica members would back her? But that's… probably okay, she thinks.

"Don't you get it? The gods abandoned us because we kept servitors as slaves. We fell because we made thinking, breathing people--people that the gods recognize as equals to us!--and robbed them of the choice of what makes them happy. Act as if us telling them, making them, molding them to be happy in a specific way, making them happy when they're useful to use, somehow makes them less our slaves for that.

"Happiness? Happiness? The fuck is happiness worth when your entire race can be wiped out of existence for being inconvenient? What does happiness even mean when it's programmed in at bone level? We can make them as happy as clams, set them adrift on a planet somewhere to be deliriously happy, and we'll still have robbed them of that choice as thoroughly as if we'd stuck to whips and collars."

Note to self: no matter her taste in rope, never try to find out what kind of whips Tilly keeps in the nightstand. Barbed, probably.

"You idiots look at an empire shattered by the gods for keeping slaves, an empire defeated at its prime, and say, 'well what we really need, see, is to be better at the cruelty and slavery. That'll fix things.' Fucking ridiculous."
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Dyssia!

"Fool," hissed the Crystal Knight, brooding on her throne. "You point at the fall and ignore the rise. We conquered the galaxy with Biomancy. We leashed the stars, harvested black holes, mapped the edges of the galaxy. Yes, there was a fall, but you blame the very thing that made us strong in the first place. And your moralistic blindness prevents you from seeing the new source of power that will remake the Skies greater than ever before."

She drew her blade. Crystal lenses aligned, and a projection of simmering, dimensional energy blazed above her head.

"Do you see?" she said. "These crystals! They are new to the galaxy and represent the next generation of technological mastery. With these we have already built the crystal dragons, a new non-biological lifeform that have bypassed the injunction against electronic thought! With these we have built weapons that render the old rules of invincibility irrelevant! With these the Royal Architect, when he finishes his harvest, will be able to mine the same planet dozens of times over. A new font of boundless wealth awaits us, a new vector for supreme power, a new frontier that will render biomancy itself irrelevant! And rather than supporting the Skies as we master this new paradigm you fight yesterday's battles, weeping over the fate of slaves who will soon be as obsolete as slavery itself."

Dolce!

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," said the Architect. "I'd already written off the material composition so I'll cheerfully take a restoration of my hull in exchange for trying to grasp an undeserved windfall."

There's the screeching sound of power tools as the Architect's tools bent the makeshift house and table back into his superstructure.

"Actually, while you're here, and while you're visiting Liquid Bronze, and while you're taking out the garbage, I'm curious if you'll take another of my unexpected guests with you!" said the Architect suddenly, his massive video screen shifting to showing the Diodekoi assassin, frozen in stasis. "After all, if one thing has been made clear by the Biomantic community, I'm not really participating socially if I don't send an unstoppable killer assassin after them from time to time."

20022 is shaking is head and making the X symbol with his hands, but the Royal Architect has evidently decided that this is your decision alone.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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All of Ember’s confusion about the way that the world has changed since she departed on her Plover suddenly sharpens to a point, and the point is the sudden threat of disappointing a superior. More than a superior: Mosaic.

“We were separated during the fighting,” she says, ears low, tail tucked against one knee, eyes tactically pitiable. The very model of a demure knight sorrowfully bringing back news to the Daimyo. “She bought us time, but I didn’t see—“

“That’s because you were totally ganging out there, Embs,” Goldie says with a toss of her head, interrupting. Her hair is damp against her forehead, and there’s a bit of holmganga in her eyes herself. “She got flocked. Traded herself for the ship.”

“Oh,” Ember says, trying to read Mosaic’s face. “I… I blew up a sphere,” she says, gesturing over her shoulder. “Cut so many cables.”

“She did. It’s bad, but it bought us all time to scatter, like, off to regroup? Like Ember said?” The pack is coalescing around Ember, the remaining pilots backing her up. As one, we move. As one, we retreat.

Then Ember dredges more words out from the bottom of her stomach. “You want to go back for her,” Ember says. As a statement of fact. But just saying the words makes her stand that much taller, makes her look just a little more like Howl from the Ashes. Her hand cups the pommel of her sideknife.

And she did keep that ribbon, Mosaic. Really, she did. It’s burnt, sure. But it’s what brought her back. To here. To you. Stopped her from overextending and being caught out herself. Is that seen? Is that understood? Or will you stare down the Speaker for the Tyrant until she scrambles to bring it back to you?
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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This is not a time for punishment.

There is no twitch of irritation or even a flicker of disappointment across Mosaic's face. She does not flick her tail or twitch an ear, she does not glower or yawn to bare her fangs without angling for a fight, she does not flash her claws, and she is hardly so rude as to begin slouching. She smiles, warmly, and though it reaches her eyes it does so only for a moment. The moment is too serious to get lost inside of it.

"You blew up a sphere?" she asks, laughing, "You cut how many cables? Idiot, what are you flinching for? You kicked ass! Everything I asked for, and with style! And then you came back! And you're whole. You were perfect, Ember. It isn't your fault our knight did not return alongside you."

Mosaic leans forward and plants the softest, sweetest kiss on Ember's forehead. A mote of sunshine or a splash of warm rain. A replacement for a charred ribbon that was only ever a symbol of what she really wanted. Her beloved being here again only proves its power.

She steps away, and sighs as she glances out into space for the hundredth time today.

"No. Nothing is your fault," she says, "It's mine. I sent her out. I did not go with you. I did not arm you with a plan or a prayer to ensure your victory. All I did was bind you with an oath. Strong enough for you and your pack, whom I love, but nothing at all to the comet who brings miracles wherever she falls. I'll kick her ass as soon as I've got her safe again, but I'll apologize after. It's my fault. My fault only."

Mosaic walks across the hangar herself, to Ember's plover. She wrenches the lance from its grip with her bare hands; her muscles scream in protest, but she is able to hide the quiver and the strain for long enough to flip it and impale it in the hangar floor, and maintain her posture of invincibility after.

"Which is why I will fix this myself. Those of you who managed to bring their ribbons home, please give them to me now. Every ribbon you return, I give to you as a gift. It is now my duty to return them safely. And I swear by Queen Hera that with these as my armor I will not fail to come back to you. Now hurry. I've got a lot to prepare for and fuck all for time to do it in before I squander the window you brave, beautiful ladies just won for me."

Now she does flash her teeth. Her grin is dazzling. Her swagger could crush a sun into powder. She is Mosaic. She is inevitable. Healing instantly from debilitating injuries in a time of crisis is just one more verse in her legend, right?
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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See that? See that right there?

Drawing a sword is supposed to mean something. It's supposed to be intimate, personal, a sign of who you are. This is the point where the heroine and the villain have their closest heart to heart, separated by the merest thinness of a blade.

And, well…

Well. Dyssia's having difficulty expressing her disappointment. It's the confidence, right? That confidence, that self-assurance, that certainty that the world is exactly as you see it, is just missing? Or, or, or warped or something?

"And then, of course, the Azure Skies will rise again. If everyone pitches in and hauls together now and gives up everything that's worth a damn, this will be the solution that biomancy never could be. You know, just like how biomancy was the solution that electric intelligences never could be!"

She should be--well, not dead, not actually dead as such. But she should be on the floor, being dogpiled by whoever, not able to wander up to the throne, heap some coils on the armrest and stare into the Knight's eyes.

"And of course, it means that you can genocide the slaves at your convenience. What's the point in keeping them around, right? We have crystal technology now! This is the solution to all of our problems, get rid of them!

"And, bonus, it means you never have to face them for what you did!"

Pressing herself to the sword tip is also suicidal, frankly. Madness, to press yourself against that tip, as if to invite the blow. A pinprick, just barely enough to draw blood, a fraction of an inch from harm. One madman, staring into the eyes of another, and daring them to be the first to press back.

"But it never works out like that, does it, Tilly? Infinite materials, infinite wealth, infinite dragons, and all you've done is change the shape of the hands holding it. Who's going to mine it? Why, slaves! Who's going to care for the Azura while they wield the infinite wealth? Slaves! Who's going to fight the battles? Would you credit it, it's gonna be slaves!

"Congratulations. You've uncovered a new technology that can never make slavery obsolete, because it's baked into the Azure Skies at bone level. Slavery for Azura and servitor alike, Tilly. You'll never get away from it."
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“........................................huh.”

It turns out there is no amount of training, no amount of present peril, that can quite withstand the shock of suddenly being offered a free Assassin to take home with you. True, he had just prayed for her, but he was well resigned to holding a quiet, forlorn hope for some distant future, and only wished for some small token of comfort in the meanwhile.

This sort of thing happened, sometimes, in the stories. Somebody makes a prayer, a god appears, and they choose to make an entirely different offer instead. Does this mean he has some god’s attention? For what, exactly? He’s hardly done anything recently, beyond fill out paperwork, sit on a shuttle, and follow strict walking directions. Odd, definitely odd. And a little worrying. Because…he musn’t know he musn’t know he mustn’t know well, it just is.

“That is. Quite the offer.” He looks to 20022. He looks past 20022. He looks to the Emissary, still lost in relief. No one here is a friend he can rely on. The decision is his.

But no matter the peril, this much is true; Dolce is a sensible sheep.

“Well, I did say I don’t know very much about Assassins,” he continues, speaking directly to the glowing eye. “Other than the job title, and that I’d really rather not be killed by one, if I can help it. Not just me, I also wouldn’t like it if she tried to kill other people along the way. So, you see…” He wrestles with various degrees of unstoppable, comparative safety, and the difference in scale between a sheep and a machine intelligence, before finally shaking his wooly head. “Oh, let me put it like this: Is there a way to keep that from happening? At least a little reliably?”

It’s not a yes. But he is taking a seat at the table (metaphorically, the real one is being disassembled as they speak) and shows no sign of leaving just yet.

Yes, it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, he doesn’t expect an easy answer here. But what else can he do? It’s no good holding a wish in your heart, and then balking when the gods offer to grant it beyond your wildest hopes.

So. He’s at least got to ask. It’s the sensible thing to do.
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Mosaic and Ember!

The Grav-Rail is a magnificent piece of technology. Unbelievable power and maneuverability, incredible acceleration, the ability to turn on a dime, as mobility option goes it's profoundly powerful and versatile.

Unless you weren't in a gravity well.

In deep space it doesn't have anything to work with; no matter how complex your sail array, with no wind the ship does not move. The Endless Azure Skies has always been a 'coastal' power as a result - dominating when operating in close proximity to planetary or stellar bodies, becalmed and vulnerable in the deep void. All Azura military doctrine was based around the assault and garrison of planets. In a lot of ways, the worst thing that a Knight could do was to give chase.

But surely it was alright this time. Their enemy was just that far beneath them, after all. They didn't even have their Knight!

Dyssia!

The Crystal Knight sneered. It took genuine, magnificent beauty to be as hideous as she was in that moment.

"Such is the judgement of a philistine!" she said, not addressing you any longer but her court. Ranks after ranks of perfectly organized shades of blue. "Someone who does not understand art! Someone who cannot imagine sacrificing for beauty, sacrificing for love! Someone with so little imagination she cannot comprehend loving something greater than the people she sees before her! Cannot comprehend sacrificing for that love! Cannot comprehend fighting for that love! Someone -"

She's going to go on like that for a bit, Dyssia. Let's tune out and focus on something far more interesting: the sword at your throat.

See, you got to see a few shots from this kind of weapon during the battle. Important fact? What it doesn't do is kill people. What it does do is... strange. It was chaotic, but it looked like shots from the Hermetic's crystal rifle split people into multiple competing copies of themselves - it didn't sever so much as it duplicated. In the chaos of battle, adrenaline pumping, half entering an alien dimension then it stood to reason that people might fight themselves in a panic before they realized what was happening. But...

Maybe it wasn't a sword before you. Maybe it was the Crystal Knight's flaw that she could only imagine it as a sword.

Dolce!

You are in a shuttle flying away from the Royal Architect of the Endless Azure Skies, on your way to meet Biomancer-General Liquid Bronze. You have with you a deeply exasperated 20022 who is working out his annoyance on one of the endless stacks of paperwork that he has with him, the Emissary of the Architect who is engaged in a deep conversation with the Corvii pilot to convince her to disable the shuttle's self-defense Flux spike, and the galaxy's most perfect killing machine.

The Diodekoi has been provided to you in a Stasis-Coffin with wheels and handlebars. In order to keep her under control the Architect has provided a rather novel device constructed of prism-crystals. Activate the cutters and the Assassin will be duplicated - some alternate version of her pulled in to reality for a time, one who can be dissolved/returned/however it works by ceasing the flow of energy through the crystals. This, proposes the Architect, will give you a chance to meet and talk to the perfect engine of death while being able to get rid of her again with the flick of a button. Gather enough knowledge of her personality and how she works this way and you might become confident in your ability to release her for real!

It will be a long flight, but you'll have time and space and supplies to make whatever kind of first impression you want, as many times as you want.
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It had to work. It had to work. It had to work. It had to.

Mosaic grinds her teeth as she stares out the porthole at nothing. This part of travel sucked, she had no tolerance for it. Relying on auguries and prayers to tell what's going on, her own senses completely useless in the face of the sheer scale of the thing she's attempting to do. In fact there's nothing to do even though she's the one who decided to do it. The speed of her legs means nothing. The strength of her arms means nothing. The sharpness of her claws is worthless. For the dozenth time she asks the navigators if the Slitted is still in pursuit. For the dozenth time she tenses up tighter than a coil slipped under a collapsed building while she waits to hear that, yes, it is.

They're beginning to get annoyed with her. She shrugs. Can't really blame them.

The Plousios was a museum relic disguised as a coral reef. Its maximum speed, its high end maneuverability, its weaponry and debatably even its armor paled in comparison to the Slitted. Mosaic knew (and Omn was not yet tired of telling her) that it was a miracle they'd made it this far away from Bitemark without being overrun. That miracle was too much to ask for another; it had already bought her the one advantage her ship had over the Crystal Knight's. Namely, its engine.

Who the fuck knew how it worked? Frankly, who the fuck cared? It did, and it made this Imperial-era warship the true power of, of... the middle of fucking nowhere. Ha! Still the queen of the stick, huh Mosaic? She stomps her foot, as if that could bring this crumbling leviathan to heel.

"All hands!" she bellows into the tubes where he words will carry to those who need to hear them, "Burn the engine! Let it roar, let us fly! But turn as we go! One of our own has been taken prisoner, and we will not forsake her!"

The glistening of saliva over fangs is not audible through the Plousios. And yet. Every single denizen shivers in unison as the image pops into their heads unbidden. Even the Pix do not make a play on her in this moment, content to bide their time as they scramble for the wheels and levers that will bring Mosaic's plans to fruition.

"Take us all the way around! And I said speed up! When we see the bitch, jam our fist right up her throat! Rescue missions require boarding, don't they!"

She laughs, and the ship grumbles at the sound of it. She laughs, and the head of every person who'd made their life in Beri perks up. She laughs, even though the sensation of the sharp turn is so slight under her feet she can only tell it's happening by the muffled impacts of random debris shattering on the suddenly lurching bulkheads. It feels nothing like running, and yet. And yet. And yet.

Her heartbeat quickens just the same.
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