Hidden 25 days ago Post by Thanqol
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The Star King!

The Weapon was perfect. It had never failed. It would never fail. The craftsman who had built it had worked back from this effect to whatever causes would make it so. But to kill with Regret meant having to be free from Regret; the faintest flicker of imperfection was like the line of water linking the wielder to the open power socket. All that power needed somewhere to earth itself.

The Weapon was perfect. It had never failed. It never would fail. This was not a promise, it was a threat. To wield it meant having to maintain the same perfection the weapon embodied. If this perfection faltered then, rather than allow itself to be stained, it erased the corruption from its own timeline.

The Weapon falls to the floor in front of the Star Kings. It was pure and untouched. It had never been wielded, a gift from the Gods. It was free to anyone who would pick it up. Of its former owner(s) there was only a fading memory. And a fear.

None of the Star Kings moved. Their pseudowolves shifted, uncomfortable and confused - they did not understand like their rulers did.

Dolce!

"Ha!" rasped the Ancient Craftsman. "You! I dreamed of you. Funny thing, isn't it? To meet a friend from a dream? Peach schnapps, please, and chocolate and chili pretzels. You know these bastards don't have the slightest taste for the finer things in life?"

He unbundled himself, bags of tools filling the chair next to him. Hestia sat down next to him, mug on the table - black coffee for her, she didn't even need to ask. "Do you remember our conversation? I told you how I sought to merge life and energy, stormclouds caged in matter? Well, here we are," he laughed. "Amidst the Funko Pops of my dreams."

He slammed the schnapps down, wiping his scarred lips with the back of his hand. "You - you wouldn't know that, that's a Liquid Bronze saying, the bastard. A man who was so right about his opinions he needed to re-invent his political opponents so he wouldn't have to change what kind of right he was. I worked with him on the Ikarani project now, I remember - well, he remembered. He's a man who forgets nothing and learns nothing. The moment the Underworld coughed me back up he sent his people to collect me so I could see how history had vindicated him. The Summerkind!" he laughed. "He solved the problem of energy based life burning through their physical shells by calling it a feature! He mass produced and militarized my malfunctioning prototypes! There's a genius to him, no mistake - nobody works harder than him towards the goal of avoiding work."

He pursed his lip and tapped his fingers on the table. "That girl - Vesper? I remember her now. I didn't have all the pieces before, I didn't remember, but... I left her in a bad way. I'd like to help her, if you can help me do that."
Hidden 23 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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It is not a door in the air. It is also not not a door in the air. It is a sideways movement; it is the impression of speed; it is the sheltering of vast wings. It is limned in violet.

Ember steps before the assembly, the image of a conquering hero, a daughter of Ceron who has been affirmed in her belief that she is, in this moment, in her sphere, the very best. (The Ceronians aspire to this, yearn for this feeling: this mastery not of a skill but of a way of being.) She is also comic in how she carries Mosaic-Bella in her arms, her lover overflowing that embrace in every direction, but that too is part of the legacy she claims. Behind her come the Silver Divers, comes Dyssia, and comes a very confused and frazzled ex-Alpha of the Star Kings, lips held shut around the message she has been vouchsafed with.

“Did you think that would stop me?” Ember howls her victory, howls her insistence that all acknowledge her greatness. “I am the polestar of the pack, and not even phantoms and could-have-been moments can stop me! I am Ember, Alpha of the Silver Divers, and also apparently a princess, and a child of the gods! Your dominion over the people of this planet is over!”

Behind her, Dyssia gets an excellent view of how furiously Ember’s shaggy grey tail is wagging, freed from the confines of its tight “denim” disguise at last. Of all the possible heroes, Dyssia, how surprising is it that Ember was the one?
Hidden 23 days ago Post by Balmas
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What a tail.

Like, it's not a. It's not a thing people talk about, right? In conversation, polite or otherwise?

Like, you might discuss it in terms of aesthetic and sexual appeal, and here she's pretty sure that Azura have the advantage? You just can't beat a couple dozen feet of pure ripcord muscle for sex appeal? Can't beat it for the pure amount of cuddles it can dish out?

But she's looking at that tail--startling somewhat guiltily when Ember turns--and wishing she could whip hers around like that.

It's the swish, right? A swooshy tail, wagged furiously with the pleasure of achievement and a hard-won victory.

Of course it's Ember. It could never be anyone but Ember.

Or, you know, maybe Mosaic. But probably Ember.

There isn't. There isn't, you know, something she can point to? Not the voice, the hair, the facial structure, the bone structure, none of it is recognizably her, but--

It's the vibes. It could never be anyone but Ember.

Princess and child of the gods, huh?

That's gonna take a bit to sink in, honestly, at the same time as she feels silly for not seeing it earlier?

She looks at the Weapon on the floor, and does not reach for it.
Hidden 21 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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That’s…what?

Oh, dear friend, what have they done to you? Conversations in dreams? Snatched away? That’s not how it happened at all. Though perhaps this does fill in a few other blanks. You were and are a Biomancer. You studied at the most prestigious academies of your craft. You flew too close to the sun. The fullness of your wanderings brought you to Beri, along with Mosaic, along with Vasilly, and him, and then at some point your old colleagues must have found you there and spirited you away. Don’t you remember? He remembers. He remembers the time you explained your dream, walking down the broken roads of a ruined town. The cracked, blackened streets stretched on forever. The homes were packed in, sometimes one on top of the other. And they were looking for. And they were going to. And they had to. And then.

It’s quiet. Everywhere is quiet. His own heart makes no sound. The Ancient Craftsman is looking at him. He’s frowning. Oh dear. He’s supposed to speak, isn’t he? Dolce coughs, begs pardon, and mechanically refills the glass of schnapps, pouring with both hands like he was taught. It gives him a few moments to review the last few seconds. Piece together the thoughts. Stuff one in a box. Promise to come back to it later. Wait patiently for its last echoes to die away.

Why can’t I remember where those ruins were?

“Vesper…yes, Vesper, of course. Yes. The last I had heard, Mosaic was keeping good care of her, and she was holding up as well as she could.” More. Not enough. He left her? He was…trying to help her, surely? And then got taken away before he could finish? “I would be happy to help, in any way I could. I know they’ll both be delighted to see her well again. Ah, however…” Bigger problems. He promises to come back later. “I’m afraid this ship is currently en route to see her. Along with everyone else who lived on Beri, who are now currently fleeing in an ancient Imperial cruiser. Quite a lot’s happened, you see…”

They do not have the luxury of time. But they do have the luxury of snacks, and a pretense for conversation. In short order, he recounts his curious and doomed foray into civil service, the greed and downfall of the Crystal Knight, and the bureaucratic prison he currently finds himself in, all while faithfully attending to the guest at his kitchen.
Hidden 20 days ago Post by Phoe
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She arrives with her own name still lingering on her ears. Everything is cooler now, darker, dimmer, duller, diluted. It's a welcome relief against the quiet sizzle of her own skin as even now waves of heat rise off of her in little hisses of steam. Stacked against the reality of her nightmare, this place feels even more like an unfocused dream than it did when she first landed. Her eyes long to flutter closed, her head to loll, her body to sag and spill out over the arms of her partner in this life, her heart to drift away on the currents of a long-distant river.

Anything to rest. Except that her ears are ringing: Bella, Bella, Bella. In Ember's voice: Bella, Bella, Bella. And the name stirs up the wind, and with nothing else to distract her all there is to breathe is the scent of effort sweat that carries her all the way back to long afternoons in the gymnasium and sleepless nights thereafter. Roses. Sweet, tender roses painted over salt and heat. And alongside them, a memory of a face. A hand reaching out to her so deep inside the armor of XIII that gave her the strength to pull free. A smile she thought she'd only seen in her dreams. And the name that goes with it all.

Dany. Dany, Dany, Dany, Dany. Re. Da. Na.

Bella stiffens. Her head lifts and her neck cranes, looking for the one who wears that face and mantle now, but there is no sign of her. There wouldn't be; she elected not to come along on the barbaric mission to doom an independent planet. There was only Ember. No. No, no, no, no. She can't. She couldn't. But... she is. Every breath only confirms it. The sounds her voice makes line up more and more. A princess and a child of the gods?

She's going to vomit. She's going to faint. She's. She...

She rises. Plants her feet on the ground, which isn't hard being so much taller than the one who's holding her, and forces them to be strong enough to hold her. She curls her back and wills the muscles to clench and pull her skyward until she stands vertical once more. Her body feels heavy and exhausted as she slips around behind Ember, but she stands tall against the tide of wolves and wolflings, and taller against the memory of the hateful sun. Her hand finds Ember's shoulder, and she squeezes it. Her second hand on the other side. A gesture of support, on the surface, throwing her weight behind the declarations of the bright young Ceronian and latest face of the Princess Redana Claudius (she sniffs again, quietly. Her mouth curls in surprise). But in truth it's Ember that's lending her strength to Bella. Just like always. Ever since...

"You're going to leave this planet," her voice is imperious, booming against the empty air of 'Portugal', "And you're going to take these half-lifted with you when you go. Find them somewhere new to be and teach them how to live with the bodies you've given them. Then you're going to fuck off back to Ceron and let them record the stench of all your failures into the histories, or else tuck your tails between your legs and go running from all the things in this universe bigger and badder than you. I don't care. But fix this first. You owe them that much."

Bella's head dips, just a fraction. Her eyes lower, and find the weapon that had killed her. Failed to kill her. Even now was killing her. She snarls.

"Dyssia. Pick that fucking thing up right now. I want to throw it into a star."
Hidden 20 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Mosaic and Ember!

There's so much to say. Beneath the light of a single, unglamourous moon, beneath a sky of inaesthetic clouds and satellite stars, on a sad little hill with a boombox playing music you forget as soon as you've heard it, all of the mundanity and disappointment comes together to make something awkwardly memorable. A date night. Not a thing of romance and passion, but an unglamourous freedom to be mundane with each other. Here Empire only exists in dream and aspiration.

Dyssia!

"Of course, we are grateful for the removal of the Ceronians," said NBX-462. When had he - !? If he wasn't so obviously soft, small and harmless his sudden appearance would have been startling, but the tension of his appearance disappears as quickly as it came. Even a Biomancer wouldn't have been able to fit an assassin into the helplessness of that ball of wool.

You've just stepped out of your Plover and are on your way back to your room. It's kind of the perfect moment to catch you - plenty of people around but quiet enough that you can talk, you're already moving so it's not taking any of your time, you just had a rest on the way back up here. Perfect timing. "And of course, we will maintain our existing commitment to resupply your ship in full. But an opportunity has arisen in the form of that Esoteric there," he nods at the lethal little nightmare gun that you are carrying. "The Service would like to issue a formal request for that item - and I have been advised that it has been appraised at about the same value as the entire planet you were just on. If you would like to sell it to us, I have the authority to redesignate Portugal according to your designs for an interval of two hundred and fifty years."

Dolce!

At some point during the conversation, Iskarot picks you up. Light as a bag of wool, he lifts you over the counter and puts you on the stool next to him. Then he clambers, three-legged, over the bar and stands behind it so that he can serve you drinks as you tell your tale.

"I can tell you that there's no way your friends will evade Liquid Bronze militarily," said Iskarot. "Killing him wouldn't do it. I mean, he had a divination shrine set up just in case a three hundred year dead colleague should mysteriously return to life, and a commando squad who could find me on a trackless wild. He's a bloodhound and I don't mean that metaphorically. There has to be a way to use that against him but I can't for the life of me figure out what. Vesper would see it, though. She always knew how to get people to consume themselves on her behalf."

He tapped his fingers, brass and gold, on the counter. "Well, that's my request. You figure out how to give me... a week would be excellent, but I'd need at least a day. A day with Vesper and I can find out how to break this chase. But you'll need to get around your little nemesis for that - 20022? I don't doubt he'll be looking to make sure everything goes smoothly for Mr. Bronze, and while Bronze might not notice a day's delay I am sure he will."
Hidden 18 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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"I'm sorry," Ember says, pulling steaming tins out of her basket. The scent is buttery and rich. "I know you are probably sick of rations, but it's what we've got." What else? The same thing they've been eating this whole time: crab upon crab upon crab. Crabs boiled, crabs jellied, crabs made into cakes, crabs made into candy, red crabs and blue crabs and green crabs and yellow crabs. A black one, a white one, a pink or purple one. What else would Poseidon provide for provender?[1]

She's wearing lace and doesn't quite know how to wear it. Her thick hair peeks through, the sleek beach-blonde hair designed to repel water and to retain heat in the void, the hair that she so often shows off under her warrior's silks. At least she knows how to wield a brush and a pen like knives, doesn't she, Mosaicbella?[2] All that training as a scout and operative means that she's able to bury her discomfort underneath alluring smiles, sharp wing'd eyeliner, and an offer of crab legs to break together and dip into the crab sauce[3].

She leans back, one hand on the checkered Cloth of Love spread out upon the grass[4] and watches that crab with the intensity of a knight ready to fight. But she's already fought, hasn't she? Not just in shooing the Horse away from the basket enough times, but on Portugal. If she were to close her eyes, she would still see herself leaving herself open, touched by the madness of Dionysus that screamed: the only way out is through. And it was, and victory is hers, and here she is in white lace and pearls at her throat, and Goldie's done her hair in wavy curls framing her cute royal face.

This makes sense, doesn't it? The reveal. The gods descending from on high to declare that a mysterious warrior with no past is in fact their descendant, destined for a crown, capable of defeating heroes and monsters alike[5]. That she deserves to be equal with Mossabella.

"...do you prefer Mosaic or Bella?" Ember asks, softly, her thumb working firm circles on her finger. Her ears are low, and she is awash with Sincerity, her eyes moist with the instinctual seduction of the forward scout working on a target. There are many ways to get the measure of someone, and a kiss is as good as a fight, and if she's a demigod too, maybe she'd give as good as she gets. But a fight's as good as a kiss, too, if it comes to that.


[1] And it was difficult enough keeping this away from the Horse.
[2] Bellasaic? Mosabells?
[3] Made from real crabs!
[4] Red and white, a board for making careful moves towards victory, and each plate of isn't-she-sick-of-this-now crab is one of her tokens.
[5] But it's unusual for you to be the god, too.
[6] Why is she thinking like this?
Hidden 17 days ago Post by Phoe
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"Bella."

Her voice is automatic, casual. She doesn't even look up from her crab. Not that she's eating any of it; she's too focused on preparing and fixing it. Her pinkie claw slides through the shells of various legs and she plucks the flesh out whole and unspoiled before she sets it on a plate near a heating pellet she cracked open when Ember wasn't looking. When the smell shifts she picks it up again and places the properly cooked leg in a neat pile on another plate, dips her claw in a jar of water, and then starts again.

Occasionally she picks up a bit of crab and sniffs at it with a frown. Overcooked, instead of under. Not that there's a lot of nuance to cooking these stupid rations, but still. These, she shreds to tiny bits and places in a bowl. When she's done with the rest of it there will be a chance to stuff these shredded bits in some old dumpling wrappers, where at least the texture differences will make the mistake pile more edible. Old cooking tricks applied to Ember's picnic instead of actually eating any of it. She won't touch a thing until it's perfect.

"Mosaic." she corrects herself.

This is a lousy date so far. Bella still hasn't looked up from her work long enough to take any real notice of Ember. The lowered ears, the watery, seductive eyes, the small gestures she makes with her hands: Bella sees none of this. The smells and the tone of her voice are impossible to ignore but those amount to all the physical presence her supposed girlfriend even has. She couldn't even say what Ember is wearing right now. Whether she's done herself up in the style of an Imperial Princess or a Ceronian Scout. She could be nude and unadorned and all Bella would know is crab.

"I don't care." she says, and the lie is obvious across every sense that it possibly could be.

She sighs.

"It's not like I hate the name Mosaic, ok? My sister gave it to me. And pretty much everybody's going to call me that anyway so it doesn't really matter if you're one of them or not. But Bella is the name that you... that Princess... it's. My name. It's the first thing I had that meant I was a person and not a, a," she snarls, "A product. And it's been twice now that the universe has tried to take it from me. Is that really a preference? It's mine."

She flinches, and looks up from the rations for the first time since she sat down. The scowl hasn't faded from her face, but guilt and shame are welling in her eye. What a fucking idiot. This is how you lose everything you've gained in life, Bella. Is that what it's worth to you?
Hidden 16 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Have you ever been a bag of wool before? You really ought to try it sometime, it’s quite comforting. Not that it’s suitable to be a bag of wool with just anyone you meet, but after a long day of stress and work and worry, imagine the relief at not even having to manage where you’re going. You are held. You will wind up somewhere nice. And all you’ve got to do is hold still. What a bargain!

“Please sir, I’ve not had nearly the free time to find a nemesis,” he says with a slight smile. It’s a joke, because it’s not really fair if it isn’t one. He’s not. He’s not personally looking to thwart 20022, they’re just. Working at cross purposes. They haven’t talked about it because. He hasn’t talked about it, because 20022 won’t listen to him. 20022 hasn’t bothered to talk about how he’s working to murder his wife, his friends, and everyone else who happened to live on the same planet as him. He hadn’t even acknowledged that bit.

Which did feel rather personal.

“20022…” he starts, staring glumly into his drink. But there’s a job to do. And there’s nothing to be had by sulking. So instead, he says, “There’s little I can do procedurally. I imagine he’s got enough to keep him busy, but the bulk of the work’s done now. If I suddenly take an interest in anything sensitive, he could spare the time to triple-check anything I do. He might just cancel my orders and do it all over himself, just to be safe.”

“I don’t know this for sure.” He shifts in his stool uncomfortably. “So take it with a grain of salt. But it’s possible he’s keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m not up to anything.” Which would be entirely uncalled-for. Nothing that happened on Beri was his fault. He was well conscious of that. “Just in case, we ought to find a way to keep in touch. It might look a little odd if you keep stopping by for lunch.”

His ears flick. No one in the halls. Nobody in the nearest few halls.

“You mentioned Ikarani. Is that anything like a Deodekoi?”

Somewhere, in the collection of all the words ever written, there must be a combination that, when said in the proper order, the proper way, would make 20022 realize how wrong this all was. He did not have time to find those words. He might have time to thwart an extermination fleet. If he hurries. If he can work through the sting of settling for a second-best, less sensible solution. Most importantly, if he can keep 20022 from noticing what he’s really up to.

Do you plan on using the assassin against Liquid Bronze?

“If so, I would like to formally request your assistance with a little matter of my own. You see, I don’t know if I’m properly caring for a severed head…”
Hidden 16 days ago 16 days ago Post by Balmas
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You know, she's pretty sure the gun wasn't this heavy before, right? Didn't sit in her hands like the weight of all the consequences of this moment?

Because, on the one hand, fuck this little sheep. She has no reason to despise this synnefo and his obsequious little smile and his pleasantly neat hat and his encouraging eyes.

She has no use for the gun. Too many regrets to wield it, and those among her companions who could, wouldn't.

She has every reason to sell it. Seven billion of them, in fact.

Purple and gold flicker around the edges of her vision. No plan. Every plan.

How do you plan for this? What can you even say to this?

Two hundred fifty years. That's a lot of time. Hardly seems fair that it's only two-hundred fifty, given he just said it's worth the entire planet. Like, in perpetuity.

An entire service with guns like these. Would they need two hundred fifty years?

She could smash it, here and now. Dash it to pieces on the floor. She meets the eyes, purple in their olive frame, and almost does it. Lifts the gun, dashes seven billion lives to crystal shards.

Seven billion lives in her hands.

Meets the gold eyes, the beatific smile. Uplift them. Condemn them to order. Perfect vassals, perfect subjects, kings and lords and rulers and godlets.

No. False. Imperfect. An impossible dichotomy. A fake dichotomy.

There has to be a line between perfect chaos, abandonment, all for one, and perfect order.

"Find out what they call themselves, and uplift them under that name. Not as servitors--as a new administrator species. Uplifted according to their own design, according to the things they value and prioritize. They are to be given resources and technology, and helped by the service as they request. No guidance on culture, on values.

"And they are to be left alone, to do with that technology and resources and service as they see fit. Given access to the hyperlanes, but left alone by others."

Awful. Terrible.

The only answer she can give that doesn’t feel worse.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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“Bella, then.” Do you hear that, Bella? This must really be your princess come back to you from across the impossible gulfs of memory, saying words like that: as if she’d simply chosen how the future would be, and pivoted herself accordingly. Bella is the name that makes you happy; Bella you will be. That’s what she owes to Mosaic lying naked with her in the moonlit flowers of Beri.

The timing is, naturally, wrong. Bella looks up; Ember is looking down, arms up to the elbow in the basket, unearthing the Rex Carcis buried underneath the purple crab tins. Some crabs gain space by having overly long, singularly unnerving limbs; the Rex simply grew a shell the size of the Shield.

Have you asked her about what happened? Will you ever ask her? Do you suspect that she allowed herself to be shot in the hopes of finding her way to you? But that would be as foolish as diving into the Lethe and hoping to find your heart on the other shore.

“Do you think we’ll actually be hungry enough for this?” Ember lifts the Rex, holds it before her, and if you took away the roughness underlying the voice, ignored the small strong claws, and just listened…

It’s like you never left, and it’s just the two of you back in the garden, that small room attempting to be as large as possible, that playplace of farce and arena for assassins. Except the ceiling’s been opened up, and the prim and proper outfit is gone, and the princess on the other side has been devoured by a wolf.

She lowers the crab and meets your eyes, on accident[1]. She sees the tears.

“…I’m doing it wrong. Am I supposed to sit like this?”

And she tucks her legs in and straightens up and curls her tail in, managing to look incredibly unlike Redana Claudius, who was never able to achieve even half of this. And she looks at Bella, the demigoddess of Beri, for approval: hands in her lap, chin lifted regally, ears cocked hopefully.




[1]: naturally.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Dyssia!

There was a strange ripple in the air. There was a... a sword in your hand. You didn't remember it getting there.

"Of course," said NBX-462. "Indefinite redesignation, it's as you say. Should hold up to Sector Governor level. I'll issue the decree immediately."

He turns to go. He doesn't take the gun. There isn't a gun. There's only this sword, ethereal and silver, surrounded by drifting threads of wool where it's cut through the heart of the Synnefo. When did this appear?

"Hey!" bounding towards you, a golden ball of fur and ultraviolence, came Gemini, warrior of Ceron. "Hey! That's my sword, you big dumb pool noodle!"

Her tail wags. The wagging of tails like this have been turned towards orbital bombardment as easily as they have to playfights or games of fetch. You don't know how you got her sword or what you did with it, but she's ready to throw the fuck down right now over it if you don't think real fast.

Dolce!

For all its importance, it is rare for anyone to see the actual work of Biomancy being done. Everywhere its consequences spiral and unravel but the act itself...

Demeter watches over the work of the Craftsman. She wears a laboratory coat melded with blacksmith's apron, and carries a metal leg as a walking stick which she sometimes idly gnaws on like it's a bone. All about her bloom the fruit of summer, sunflowers opening petals of bones, trees that drop acorn seeds filled with teeth, blood oozing out like rubber from the pierced trunks of trees and rows and rows of intestines growing on a trellis. None of this us ugly, none of this is wet, none of it even looks like the gore that should be inside people. Why should it? That would trigger primitive disgust and self preservation instincts and there was no reason that should be a barrier when it could have been engineered out. Why not make that disembodied nervous system a thing of prismatic coral colours? When that ear of corn is torn open to reveal a deltoid muscle group ready for immediate application, why should it not be the pleasing yellow colour and texture of corn?

To work in this garden of nightmares is no different to working in the little garden that fed your tavern on Beri. Demeter oversees both the same as Iskarot carries out the long work of regrowing Sanalessa.

"A strange harvest for you, little chef," said Demeter, measuring the growth of eyefruit with calipers. "And one I am not sure if I should permit you. I am in a generous mood, but nevertheless... tell me, do you remember meeting me once before?"

Memories through the Lethe. Displeasing Demeter beneath a desert sun and storm. This is a dangerous line of questioning.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Phoe
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Bella's stare is blank. For a moment that's all she offers. And then the smile creeps across her lips. It spreads up her cheeks, into her eyes so that they glitter like the depths of space. It crawls down her throat until she can't hold it there any longer and she trembles with the beginnings of laughter. Where it starts it catches, like a fever, like wildfire, like the raging waves of the endless sea.

She has to catch her forehead with her palm to keep from doubling over into piles of crab. To keep her hair from tumbling down over her face and into sauce or brine or... whatever the fuck. Don't talk to her right now. A snicker turns into a chuckle turns into a laugh turns into full on breathless guffawing in the span of one tail's mirthful twitch.

The noises escaping her can't be described in terms of pure joy. They're too amused, too uncontrolled, so hard and so full is on the verge of tears without ever quite spilling over. But still. It's clear and bright and musical, even if that music mostly resembles a jam session at a percussionists convention. She is so concerned with not toppling forward that she nearly pushes herself backward instead, and has to catch herself with her other hand, which crushes a pile of discarded shells into powder so fine it's now impossible to repurpose into leftover ship supplies.

And still she laughs. And laughs. And laughs. She finds the air for it all. It is all the good that air can do in her lungs. There is no point to breathing but to laugh. She holds her face like she's afraid it's going to split and expunge some new god, and she laughs. Her brilliant, glittering Auspex shines in red from between her fingertips and somehow it laughs too. In on the joke.

"Oh gods," she manages at last, "Holy shit. No sweetheart, not like that. Dany couldn't pull that off with a thousand years of practice. She'd... you'd have caught fire trying. I mean, you did try I guess. You were constantly in etiquette lessons that I had to keep sneaking you the answers when nobody was looking so you wouldn't get disciplined. And even then you blew off everything you thought you could get away with to spend more time in the gymnasium. Training for the Olympics and for... this, I guess. Adventure."

The laughter has fallen from her face and her posture now. Bella is careful, proper, delicate, demure, and above all clean as she takes the first bites of offered crab, and precise when she chews. With every bite she waits a moment before cleansing her mouth with water, or with sub-par wine. In every action she is noble. Imperial. She is what she was made to be. Watching a new Dany be what she chose, entirely.

No more smiles, now. She stretches out a hand, across the blanket, across the spread, across the galaxy. Across the Lethe.

"But you don't... actually remember, do you? You didn't get everything stuffed back inside your head like me. You don't remember the garden, or watching me chase the butterflies in there when we were kids. What about the bells? Do you... were you told about them?"

She does not pull her hand back. Nor does she push it the rest of the forward into Ember's. And from the look on her face, it's not clear if she'd rather the answers be 'yes' or 'no'.
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The look of distressed puppy all over Ember’s face melts into confused relief as Bella laughs. She dares to join in with a chuckle, but her brow is furrowed. She might as well be trying to defuse a Vesuvian Crab with a knife. A Vesuvian Crab that she longs to kiss, to hold, to be loved by[1]. That longing is the shape of Ember, and that longing keeps her hoping that she hasn’t done something wrong, something that proves she isn’t the princess that Bella remembers. That somehow even the gods themselves got it wrong, and that other self will come back and apologize for the inconvenience, here’s your real princess, Bella!

And that tension softens as Bella speaks about the Princess Dany, but it doesn’t entirely leave.

“…the first time I saw you,” Ember manages, pulling her hand back, pushing her hair behind her ear, “it was like being punched. Right here.” She demonstrates: her sternum, between her svelte breasts. “I couldn’t get the thought of you out of my head. I sleepwalked through training exercises. I volunteered for scouting missions hoping to get close to you, to be caught by you, to smell you, to touch your hand. And I did. Your pet, your loyal alpha, your Ember. That’s me. But I’m…”

She struggles for the word[2], scrunches her face up exactly like Redana. “…written on top of her. And I don’t know if you can… if I can… the Plousios was our ship, wasn’t it? I know that. I know that. And we had a brave captain who was so soft in my arms, and a daring— or was she the captain— and a garden but I was dancing there with a pack[3], and…”

For a moment she almost has it. But it’s as impossible for her to hold onto as the word. She slumps, disappointed, a disappointment. Crab falls limply from her fingers back onto her plate.

But Bella’s seen that exact slump before, a hundred times, a child frustrated that she can’t keep dinner manners straight in her head.




[1] Claws of Danger… Maxillipeds of Passion!!
[2] palimpest.
[3] her cheeks flush, unconsciously, and she shifts where she sits like a flick of a hip.
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A flicker of irritation betrays Bella. But the speed of a Diodekoi assassin is not a thing that can be denied, especially in pursuit of her target. Her arm and then most of her body crosses the sacred border of the picnic blanket faster than a falling star. Her fingers close around Ember's wrists and as she stands she lifts her Princess into the air as easily as a doll.

As a child she'd mistaken this cluelessness on Dany's part as a lack of interest. But Ember pines so obviously that isn't possible anymore. Instead she's left to wonder how the fuck she missed it all in the first place. The way the girl in her arms tosses her hair when she's flustered is exactly the same. The slump of her shoulders a moment ago. The smell is so similar it's overwhelming. The sparkle in her eyes, not to mention her own Auspex gleaming there like the most obvious, screaming sign ever crafted by any of the gods.

The flush of her cheeks is so intense it leaves her legs short on blood to keep her standing. Before she can fuck everything up and drop Ember straight into the six dozen preparations of crab she finishes the motion and tosses her up into the air, instead. Smooth, calculated, though more Mosaic than Bella. She catches the other girl as she sits down and wraps her arms around her in the exact way she used to at the Palace, whenever Dany failed a test and thought the world was ending with it.

Pinned safe and still against her larger frame. Held tight against her body, the shield that denies the galaxy. She waits for the breathing to settle before she risks loosening her arms to put her fingers in that radiant, golden hair. Then, she begins to weave.

"When I was very young, I..." Bella hesitates, "Fell into a trap. A terrible prison I was sure would kill me. And you, still a child, pulled me free. You held me and called me beautiful. The most beautiful thing in all the world. I had bells in my hair, and on my collar. You loved the sound they made. Asked if my name could be Bella. And I'd... never had a name before that."

She has Ember's curls tamed now. This hair has never been a match for these fingertips. Even if the claws that tip them now force her to be more careful than she'd needed to be, once upon a time. She pulls it all back and spins gold into a braid reminiscent of the laurel wreath. A thing fit for a princess.

"And then I met you," she said, "Just outside of Beri. You weren't watching where you were going and you walked straight into my trap. I'd set it up for crabs but in the end I caught something a bit more... valuable. More dangerous, I'd thought. And the look on your face burned itself into my mind for the rest of the day. I was useless, I had to give up on hunting straight away. Vesper made fun of me for a week. Because I saw myself hit you."

Bella reaches around Ember's shoulder and brushes the spot where she'd hit herself, whisper soft in the space between those beautiful breasts, using only the backs of her fingers where nothing sharp can threaten them.

"Right there. Shit's funny, isn't it? That I've got memories of meeting you for the first time twice? I don't know. Though as a matter of fact, I've spent most of my life chasing after you. Myn-- someone told me a little bit ago she hoped I'd find a new dream. She went on and made it sound like a very pretty sentiment. But fuck her. I don't need a new dream. I have you."
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The first months of training with the Silver Divers were physically and psychologically intensive, and one of the first lessons is that control is something that can be taken, won, used as a prize. Control of a body, control of a hormonal system, control of a heart. Control wrenched away over and over until she was strong enough to keep it. You do not belong to yourself, Ceron says: you belong to the pack.

Ember melts into how Bella handles her with eager gratitude. The way her stomach twists as she’s tossed up in the air; the way that she is crushed against the full and supple flesh of, of Bella; the way her hair is attended to. You do not belong to yourself, Ceron says: you belong to Bella[1].

She hums[2], eyes shut, basking in Contentment. The kind of scent usually only released during cuddle piles. Safe, soft, secure. Caught again. And again, and again, and again. Woven like strands of hair into a braid, into a crown.

A crown.

“…is that why I became the alpha of the Silver Divers?” A furrow in her brow. “But I didn’t want to. It’s just that no one else could have done it and stayed loyal to your commands. Shouldn’t that have come naturally to me if I was a princess? Did I lose that with my memories, too?” Underneath, unspoken: was I a good leader? Am I broken, lesser than Dany was? Am I worthy of being your dream?

By the gods, I want to be worthy of being your dream.




[1]: and Bella belonged to you, and Bella saved you, and you saved Bella, and love is a spiral of shared belonging. You are hers. She is yours.

[2]: the Ham-Scraper’s Lament, first introduced as a leitmotif in Rage of the Batrachomyomachia.
Hidden 12 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The Craftsman tends to the harvest, and Sanalessa. Dolce stands to the side, and this takes all of his attention. He moves with a careful economy of motion. One step, even if two would be more comfortable. Three steps, if one would risk his balance. Each piece of him moves in turn, bending at the waist while his raised leg hangs motionless, that not even a scrap of wool will catch on a hanging vine. He places no hoof without watching it fall. Demeter’s garden is a wild, thriving thing. He will neither harm nor impede it.

A dangerous line of questioning. And he had not recalled a thing until she asked. What snippets floated through his mind were so incomplete, he could hardly make sense of them. Pain worse than he’d ever known. A chef lying bleeding on a desert battlefield soaked with rain. Defying Demeter, and yet, the thought gave him no shame?

His hoof stops. Shifts a hair to the right. Comes down beside thorns.

“If I had, then I would have not been so brazen as to seek a harvest without the slightest of offerings. Only now I remember…something. I see fragments, but nothing around them. I see what must be me, but it is no me that I recognize.” He is troubled. He is suffering. He lets it show. “I am afraid something may be terribly wrong with me. This is, of course, no excuse for impoliteness. While I serve your adherents aboard this vessel, I will tend to a garden myself, and all of its fruits will be given unto them and unto you. Please accept this in recompense for my poor memory.”

“But I ask for no harvest myself. With form and contract, ink and blood, Sanalessa entrusted herself entirely to my care, and I swore I would act in her best interest until she was whole again. I did not lightly seek my friend’s help, for I know not whether she herself would wish to be treated by the same arts that carved a curse into her bones. But he is my friend. I trust that when I ask him to do no more than speed what growth is in her body, he will hold to it. I believe that, given the choice, she would prefer a swifter freedom. And most of all.” He bows his head. “Sanalessa is only under my care. She is not mine. She is her own. If she decides to leave me as soon as she awakes, I will respect that decision, and wish her well.”

“Though it is my voice that asks, whatever harvest you see fit to give is hers, and hers alone. I humbly entreat, Lady of Summer, She of the Eternal Garden, that she not suffer on my behalf.”
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Oh god oh fuck oh shit aaaaaaaa

Okay so one problem at a time, right, problem one being: the fuck?

Problem two: Where's the sheep? She didn't stab 'im, she's like ninety percent sure but also two seconds ago she was holding a gun and also not dealing with Gemini, so what does she actually know?

Assume. Assume, right, working assumption, okay, this is another bullshit thing like what she just got out of. Sheep is okay, because if he's not, she has to do a whole lot of panicking about holy shit she just stabbed somone, and also now that she's had a second to breathe, no, of course she didn't, because she's not currently being blasted with life newborn into the galaxy.

Ergo!

Which, by the by, ergo, fantastic word, need to use ergo more often. Delightful mouthfeel, could say it rapidly and feel quite happy about it.

Er-fuckin-go, the sheep is not dead or stabbed and thank goodness for that, because it means that she has a chance to get him back, which is good because she needs that designation.

Which, you know, maybe Gemini might help with that? If it is her sword? With getting the sheep back, obviously. Does this thing have an off switch?

And honestly, would it even be that bad for Gemini to hold the sword? Like, on a scale of one to will-plunge-the-galaxy-into-bloody-conquest, she's--

Well, neither the least nor the most likely. Who would she put as least likely? None of the Ceronians, right? But also like hell is she giving it to the Captain or another of the Pix, or--

But it doesn't matter, is the thing, because she's selling it, [i]Gemini./i] She has a plan, which is to buy the freedom of billions with your fancy bit of glass! They already shook on it! No receipts but a sheep's word is his bond, and there's a planet on the line and--

"I'll fight you for it!"

Oh god oh shit oh fuck aaaaaaaa
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Silence rules the date site.

The tinny, soulless music barely qualifies as subliminal memory. The highest notes it can reach on crescendo speak less than Bella's lack of voice; they don't even register. What is properly worth listening to in the moment is the sound of breathing, the tiny popping of tired muscles and overworked joints, and the subtle thumping of a fluffy tail on a very exposed thigh.

Bella closes her eyes. Her hands slide down Ember's arms and press against her tummy.

"You haven't eaten enough lately," she says, "Get working on these rations."

She leans in close, which squashes her breasts against Ember's back, and softly sniffs at the spot where her neck and shoulder meet.

"You haven't slept a minute since you saved everybody, either. Bad Girl."

Before a reply of any kind can interrupt her flow, Bella's tongue darts out and drags itself slowly, sensually up the neck and along Ember's cheek. She clicks her tongue in playful disappointment.

"So nervous," she purrs, "Not to mention poorly cleaned. Shall I draw you a bath, princess? You always did need me for every little thing~"

Her fingers trace their way down the body trapped in the prison of her own limbs to brush playful fingers and even clawtips against shivering thighs. Bella dares every little thrill a teenaged version of her had fantasized about every night but never dared to act on. The sounds she elicits are the first notes of real music this picnic has known. The chirps and half-panicked, half-desperate whines pull her lips apart in a savage grin. She leans in again and lets her teeth speak as well: neck, neck, shoulder, ear, and then she drags them all along the route of Ember's flesh to where she started once again.

Now her hand grabs both wrists and pins the would-be Alpha, would-be Princess' arms in front of her. Her other hand grips Ember's jaw tightly and she presses, gentle enough not to hurt but much too firm to be ignored, until their eyes meet and Ember can watch the dim and dusty light of faint stars find true purpose and glimmer shining through those brilliant red and gold orbs.

"Honestly, when they were wolfing you did they just skip your nose entirely? It's like you don't even know something's there at all if it's not one of those cute little pheromone packets your lot are always huffing. Sorry I don't stink good enough for you to hear me, but unlike some of us around here I have standards."

Bella laughs, taunting and bright. And then she buries that laugh along with her tongue down Ember's throat. No breath allowed for the living, today. No thoughts but the moment, the sensation, the heat. No food but this divine flesh, in defiance of her own commandment a moment ago. The feeling, the pressure of lips on lips, of teeth that always threaten blood but never make good on the promise, of impossible strength bent like a singularity toward holding this one position in this one moment and this pointless gesture forever.

Until they part. Bella scoffs.

"I could waste my entire night explaining it all to you," she says, "But you're not going to listen if I do. You're going to find some secret worry that I missed and cling to it all night long, because you're you, which means you're a dumbass, and turning into someone else entirely hasn't changed a fucking thing apparently. But that's fine. I can just work on another problem I've been having."

She smirks wickedly, and pulls Ember's hands down to the feast of Crabtions still sitting patiently in front of the pair. She grabs it, pulls it up, and artlessly stuffs it into her lover's mouth.

"See, nobody listens to me. It's not just a you problem. And it's entirely my fault. I got too used to just thinking I'm in charge and that everyone knew it. Forgot to actually put in the work of proving it. So how do you feel, Dany? My Ember? Is the princess in command by divine right?"

Bella's hand, which has never left Ember's jaw even as she sputtered and half chewed, now presses firmly and drags that silly head from side to side in a demure little 'no'.

"Correct. You listen to me. You obey me. When you knew your wore a crown you would have put it on my head in an instant if you only thought you could get away with it. Now I'm going to show you why."
Hidden 10 days ago 10 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Dyssia!

Gemini has been training. Sort of. She's been trying to train. It's hard because she's not really made for it - she's not really a Ceronian, she just looks like one for the purpose of murder. She's certainly not capable of keeping up with a determined Azura on flat terrain.

Her and... every single bystander in the corridor, though? Well, maybe. You'd better figure that out real quick Dyssia because every Lantern deckhand, Beri songstress, Stone Tribe brute and apologetic Pix have suddenly found their brains telling them that it'd be super cool and good to crash tackle a creature more than twice their bodymass. The upside is the corridor isn't that crowded, and the attempts are kind of halfhearted and impulsive.

But then, you've got this magic sword! And it doesn't seem to hurt anyone you cut - if anything, it makes them snap out of whatever mojo Gemini hit them with and back off. So, how does that go for you?

Dolce!

"It doesn't have to be so," said Demeter, turning over leaves one by one. An old instinct, searching for fungi, insects, discoloration - elements of chaos that she is still vigilant for despite having long banished them from her garden. "Here is my advice: If you love something you should care for it. This is basic morality, and like all morality it can and should override physical law.

"If you were to raise a horse on your farm then you could love and tend it, nurse it with your own hand, raise it taller and stronger than any of its kind could ever be, give it a paradise to exalt in. Yet at any time a flaw in its brain structure might cause it to leap the fence, gallop off into the uncaring wilderness where it will sicken and die alone. No chance of freedom - domesticated racehorse biology requires a caloric intake that cannot be supplied by grass, they need processed grain. That is a disaster! That is an obsolete, broken quirk of genetics. It causes heartbreak and tragedy - and to what end? To what value?

"Take that thought further. Consider your wife; how she struggles with attraction to other people inside the bond of your marriage. No matter how well you care for her something in her brain might make her leap that fence and bring your story to a tragic end. She hates it as surely as you do, but you're both powerless because that's just how things are - but what if it wasn't? What if a little medicine could cure her of that desire? How is that different from setting a broken bone or cleaning the parasites from a rose bush?

"What special value does 'pure' desire have? What special value does 'true' love have? We have seen Aphrodite's face and his cruelties, we have seen where he takes people and how he works in the breaks in evolution's design. Why look at an overgrown forest full of tangled, feral, disease-ridden desires and call it better than a tended and ordered garden?" she smiled. "A sentiment all the more ridiculous given that you, and she, and every other creature in this galaxy are already tended gardens. Biomancy has been used to architect everything you love and hate from before your planet was built.

"And now you're here with an assassin who was built to be an insane hyperfixated murderous psychopath, whose brain was assembled in a lab like this with nothing but contempt for her and the target that aches in her bones. And you suggest that she is in any way capable of making her own decisions? Who are you respecting in that situation? Her, or the Biomancer who added an empathic camouflage subroutine?" she sighs with frustration, clanging her metal leg walking stick on the ground. "Civilization has been so slow to adapt its morality to the technological reality of the modern age. The simple fact is that individualism has no basis in reality now, if it ever did; organisms cannot be separated from their biosphere. I think that the smallest coherent moral structure, then, is the family - and a family member does not need to seek permission before doing what's best on behalf of its members."
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