Hidden 11 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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“Darling, we have got to do something about these trust issues of yours.” Vasilia sagged against her cushions, worn down by the cruel barbs of her own crew, and coincidentally giving her the last few inches she needed to flick her tail at Dolce’s ankles. “I’ve neither reason nor time to lie to my own crew. If you don’t believe me, at least believe the Princess. And if you don’t believe either of us, you can ask Hades and believe him instead.”

“Gambling’s no fun if you know you’re already going to lose.” Dolce paused, then frowned. “...probably.”

“Perhaps the gods do it differently than we? We ought to ask them sometime.” She mulled it over another long sip. Gods, she was parched today. She’d have to get Dolce to secret the bottle away before long, but oh, how she’d rue its absence. Perhaps a little longer… “But there you have it; Hades tasked the Princess with this trip to Gaia, and the lot of us along with her. Satisfied?” And leaving, perchance? Some of us had more important things to get back to.
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Alexa nods, completely serious and also to keep the dismay off her face. Poor girl just lost her mother. She remembers how lost she was when Molech died. Of course Isty doesn't want to be reminded of her post.

"Isty, then."

And she relaxes. It's an order, so she does it.

And as somebody relaxing with a friend, Lords above, Isty's cute. There's a part of her that wants to trace those scars and ask for the stories behind them. Did they happen before, after, or during the battle against the Eater of Worlds? How does she feel about them--are they marks of pride, honor, regret? Are they warnings of too-close encounters with Hades, or simply the nicks picked up in sparring?

Maybe Vasilia could help her curate a few drinks which are neither too toxic nor too intoxicating for a night of stories.

Carefully--but not so carefully that she's no longer relaxing--she picks up the paper and unfolds it. "If I may be so bold as to ask a question of you, to what purpose the distraction? Do you often need to... redirect the brainsquids?"
Hidden 10 days ago 10 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

"Hm. Arguably your motivation is more pure than much of the Order," said Iskarot, nodding with a surprisingly pleased thoughtfulness. His tone now has changed, and he seems to be taking a very different tack from earlier in the conversation. "The Order of Hermes seeks the god of travel, wherever she hides within the cosmos. We feel the drive you do - that distant calling, the drive to explore, to seek, to discover, to trade. Or we do in theory."

His hands are gathering the shattered fragments of his bowl, holding the seams together so the material can heal. He's building something new out of the pieces, not repairing but constructing.

"The Order of Interface was a minor branch of the Order back in the day. They originally believed that by training themselves to administer machinery they'd be able to hitch lifts on any passing starship, paying kind with kind. Later the Order became more... stagnant. A movement began within the Order, theorizing that Hermes was not to be discovered wandering the stars but hidden within the shadows of Natural Law. They settled in place and began to construct massive wonders of science - particle colliders, microwave tubes, N-fusion plants. They accumulated resources and began to coerce the other Orders to finance their constructions."

He looked up from his work, glowing yellow eyes gleaming in the shadowed depths of his robe. "We went from pure-hearted seekers like yourself to a shadow Empire. Empress Nero has allowed the Interfacers unprecedented freedom in their experiments and given them inconceivable resources and in return they have given her their utter obedience, as though she was Hermes herself. We who hear the call out there in the black, Redana, are the minority - and there is ever less space for us."

Vasilia!

"Of course I'm not satisfied," said Galnius, putting his hands on her hips and igniting with the golden light of Apollo Silverbow. "I've been singing, the rest of my soldiers are playing, the sheep is cooking, and you are lounging around eating, gambling and chatting without contributing a damn thing. The Princess tells me that you're the Captain here but all I see is a layabout."

Apollo himself smiles at you from Galnius' face, but it's a dangerous kind of smile - the smile of a God testing you. Galnius wears the icon of Apollo on their wrist, and in their open left hand they hold a beautiful peach. That divine fruit carries trust, belief, respect and everything you need to corral this rigid heart - should the God choose to give it to you.

Alexa!

"Oh, sure," said Isty. She doesn't sit in a relaxed posture, she's sitting in a military crouch, with a soldier's wariness. It doesn't have the faintly artificial edge of a trained human to it either - this is someone whose martial instincts are baked into their bone marrow. "They're goofy, but they've got authority. The swarmers all obey the brainsquids. All we needed to do was hand them the correct paperwork and they'd build a house or harvest the grain. Wouldn't have been much of an Elysium if there was all that manual labour, right?"

She hesitates, clearly chewing over a profoundly difficult question and having no idea how to even begin phrasing it.

"So we're alive, huh?" she blurted out eventually. "What's it like?"

Bella!

"Bella, you gotta know if she had the hots for you," said Mynx as you walked down the corridor together. "I scheduled the meeting right as you were having a shower - wasn't there any chemistry? Aphrodite, Bella, you're the second hottest girl I know, if you couldn't get a reaction out of her then I don't know what to do!"

She pressed her fists into her cheeks and pouted.

Mynx has been fucking insufferable since Artemis had told her that she'd fucked up her disguise last mission by 'not having the Admiral's fetishes right'.

"Next time, could you at least flirt with her harder or something?"
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Redana is quiet. She lets Iskarot finish, then lets the silence stretch out as she stares into the swirling skies. Someone uncharitable might even wonder if she was even aware it was her turn to say something. But then, lo, she speaks! "How would a follower of the Saffron approach crabs in the lower decks, Master Hermetic? I'm listening."

And she pivots to face him, a surprisingly graceful motion involving using her rear end as a pivot point and her arm as a lever. The heel of her splinted foot makes a forty-five degree angle on the floor, almost perfect. And it's the almost, isn't it? Proof enough that she's not really some perfect champion sprung fully formed from Zeus's brow. She's just a young woman (recovering from a wound that should have rendered her disabled for the rest of her life) almost literally starry-eyed at the sight of the cosmos.

One that has been burned by a grueling educational program, but is still willing to be vulnerable to a Hermetic. If he has any wits, he'll treat her evenly and methodically, helping her to open the doors of a plan herself while sharing his insights; if he is too brusque or condescending, not adhering to the golden mean, she will withdraw slowly but surely.
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Bella's hand hits the wall so hard that it reverberates through the hallway, even despite its sound swallowing padding. Her muscles ripple across her arm, and her claws tear into the wall as though it were made of paper. She towers over Mynx to the point where she needs to hunch her back to push her face close against the shapeshifter's. Her breath burns inside her chest, her throat, her mouth. It gushes from her in steamy waves that wash over Mynx's face. She feels her lips curl upward, showing teeth. Her golden eyes are stinging, and she doesn't know the cause. No amount of twitching, flinching, shivering, not a squeak or a yelp or anything draws a single note of pleasure into her body. She snorts.

"Let's get one thing perfectly clear," she snarls, "I am not your toy. I am..."

Her tail thrashes furiously behind her as she drags her hand across the wall to grab a fistful of Mynx's shirt. She lifts her bodily into the air, but there's nothing for her to do with all her strength. No surge of pleasure runs down her spine. No wet relief bursts from her heart. Her fingers tremble around the folds of fabric, and she throws Mynx to the ground. She looms like a colossus in the hall, but her shadow is shaking. It doesn't feel right. Nothing feels right.

"I'm not some weak little pet you can just... I'm! I'M! I'm a fucking Praetor, you stupid bitch! So don't think for a second you can fuck with me ever again! You don't know shit. You don't... you're never there when it matters, so just... no. No. Don't you dare. Don't you tell me you're sorry. Don't you look at me like that. Where were you when Redana ran away, huh? Where were you when the Empress was punishing me for it? Where were you when I was training for the Games, where were you when they carved me open just for winning them? Where were you, huh?! Nowhere! Useless! You're useless, Mynx!"

Bella heaves with the effort of her vulnerability. Don't fall apart. Don't fall apart. Not here. Not again. The Princess needs a calm servant. She needs control. Poise. Perfection. Bella draws a deep breath through her nose, full of the smells of fear and unease, and pushes it through her teeth. She dusts herself off, setting her skirts, sleeves, and hair into a beautiful dance that seems entirely out of place on her body.

The moment passes. She turns her head away to hide the sudden blush, and offers out her hand without saying another word.
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Oh no. Oh no. Was there something he’d forgotten? He’d triple-checked her schedule for today, and he could have sworn her lunch hour was free. Had there been a last-minute shift? Was there a message he’d failed to pass along? Everyone on the ship had been accounted for, he’d not crossed paths with anyone, no one ought to have crossed hers, was it the pipes? It must have been the pipes. It’s so hard, to hear them when he wasn’t in the bridge. “If offense has been given by the Captain’s schedule, you have my deepest apologies.” He bowed to Galnius. “I am responsible for its keeping, and I-”

“It’s alright, Dolce. You’ve done nothing to apologize for.” Vasilia sighed, and a terrible weight seemed to settle on her shoulders. No, a weight she accepted onto her shoulders. Guilt gnawed at his heart. “Right. So we’re doing this now.” She muttered, just beneath a breath, before raising her head and her voice. “Galnius, let me ask you a question; does a good Captain loathe their post? I’d give you permission to speak freely, but...well, it seems we’re quite past that, aren’t we?”
Hidden 9 days ago Post by Balmas
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Alexa fiddles with the paper in her hands before answering. "It is difficult to answer that question, as I have not yet been dead and thus lack the proper comparison."

She immediately regrets the attempt at the joke. Sure, remind the girl that her entire life's been a life. Somebody smite her and get her out of this!

"That is to say," she continues hurriedly, "I am not sure that I am alive, either? I recognize that there was a time when I did not exist, there will be a time when I no longer exist, and that I am conscious right now. But I was not born and the end of my existence will be less a death than a deconstruction. Does a tool, scrapped for parts, die?"

It's cold and logical. It's what she was told her whole life--she was created for a purpose, and when that purpose is fulfilled, then what use in her continued existence? And yet, it feels like a lie, staining her lips with its passage.

"I do not..." She falters, eyes on the floor again. "I do not know, Isty." She's scared to know. "But if this is the afterlife, there is much that we must revise in the rituals of Hades."

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Redana!

"Contemplate the Engine," buzzed the Hermetic. "For the first revelation is that it is greater than the ship in which it rests. It can be made to burn as soft and cool as the heartbeat of sleep, or as loud and hot as the heartbeat of love. All devices and machines flow from the Engine but they are but emanations, ways to channel the celestial fragment into more precise forms. Sometimes they are unnecessary."

He finishes constructing - and it is a humble thing he has made. Instead of a bowl, he has made a covered pot.

Vasilia!

Apollo Silverbow watches you beatifically. Though he is serene and forgiving, in his eyes are reflected darkness. Your stress. Your nightmares. Your exhaustion. All that besets you and weighs you down, all of your regrets and doubts. His smile is kind and he does not judge you for them, but neither is it easy to meet his eyes and all the things that fill them.

"I don't give a damn how the captain feels about their post," said Galnius, but these aren't Galnius' words. These are the words of fear passing through a mortal conduit. "There are lives on the line. Potentially millions or even billions with an Imperial Princess involved. The Grand Armada is after us and they have weapons that can end stars and a leader who is confident in wielding them. With a word, Princess Redana would have a navy to match. Everyone here is fulfilling their function, but you? You carry the heaviest burden of all and do not seem to realize it."

Alexa!

Hades is sitting there besides the both of you. His eyes are crystal blue and gleaming, but he says nothing - just shuffles his cards.

"Hey, Alexa, I'm a Ceronian," said Isty, making a face. "Don't think I'm any less a tool of violence than you are. I might have blood in my veins but once the banners go up and formation instinct kicks in then I'm just another cog in the machine, same as you. I don't know if what we have is the same as what humans have, but we're in the same boat on this one, okay? So let's at least do the courtesy of calling each others' deconstructions deaths."

Hades smiles a little and starts laying cards out in the ancient game of solitare.

Mynx!

It takes a long time for that to soak in.

Bella is miserable.

Was she - really? This whole thing was so exciting, wasn't it? They'd left Tellus! That was her dream! Wasn't that everyone's dream? Wasn't the motivation for every single person on that enormous, horrible, wretched ball of cement? To get out? When she'd lain awake during the agony of the Second Ascension, listening to the sound of her bones crack and feeling her organs rearrange within her body all she'd been able to think was that this would one day be worth it because she might get to leave. And to leave in luxury and comfort, with a ship and her best friend and catching up with Redana so she could be with her too... that was the dream. Right? Together, to the stars...

But this wasn't that.

She was awake now. Awake to her friend who was crying. Who was desperate. Who had endured pain and betrayal and loss and night after night of fear. It hadn't been playful, excited teasing she was doing. It had been cruelty. Because she'd thought that Bella was just pretending to be grumpy and was secretly just as excited as she was to be away.

This wasn't her dream. Maybe that'd come later. But right now... right now she had to get back to work.

She hesitates for just a second as she reaches out to take Bella's hand. When she does it's a firm grip and she stands up, straight and strong. Bella said she didn't want an apology, and she didn't want her to tear up or look hurt. What she wanted was...

"I'll do better," said Mynx. What Bella wanted was someone reliable. She could shapeshift into that.

Bella!

You stare at the Ikarani Adept through a one-way mirror. She sits cross-legged in the centre of the gleaming white clean room, not one speck of dust to distract her, violet eyes wide and staring at nothing. All around you can hear the buzzing of incredibly powerful dampeners, machines that block out even the rumble of the ship's Engine from reaching through into that room.

"It's essentially sensory deprivation," Mynx said, not making any sort of comment about how creepy this was or any other expected wisecrack. "Ikarani are data addicts. They absorb information like sponges and can draw increasingly complex conclusions from even the slightest bit of information. Operational life in the wild is three days, less if they find any books, after which they need to be memory wiped or..." Mynx started to trail off, but then swallowed and finished the thought. "Or else they go rampant. That's a point where they've absorbed a terminal amount of data and have become true superintelligences. From that point there's no stopping them, they'll keep gaining knowledge and intelligence until they rival the gods themselves. And, like the Ikarus myth that they're named after - they fall."

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“The engine,” Redana says, thoughtfully[1]. “If the engine is the solution... wouldn’t channeling its fire through the flooded areas not just flash-fry the crabs and the water but likely destroy all of us, too? Because that’s really dangerous.”

A pause. Redana doesn’t look away from the Hermetic. She’s fixed. Her mind roars like an engine. “No, that’s not what you’re saying. What you’re saying is that the most important part of the ship is the engine. It powers everything else, which has various functions, but it is essential. Only it is essential.”

Her Auspex is running diagnostics and showing her how such a terrible thing might be dangerously done. It would be mad, but perhaps just mad enough to work?

“So... if we cannot safely refurbish the decks below... we detach them. We install bulkhead seals, sever the ship in half, let the sea in space drift forever. That’s a lot of our cargo space and cannons, though...”

***

[1]: or, as Bella might put it, dangerously thoughtful. In the sort of mood where she might find herself marching merrily to a chaotic end, step by step.
Hidden 7 days ago 7 days ago Post by Balmas
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"How do you do that?" she does not say.

Although... Redana isn't here. And Isty has requested that she treat her as an equal. Theoretically then, questions might be allowed?

She decides it's worth the risk. Isty probably doesn't know enough about her to target her real weak points, and besides, Vasilia wouldn't make it easy on her either.

"How do you do that? How do you... simply accept your purpose like that?"

Is she defective? Is that it? Is that why she doesn't want to do the one thing she was designed for? Is that why the Ceronians find it so easy, is because they aren't broken? It'd be a comforting thought if it didn't seem so impossible. The Warsage and the very incarnation of perfect War make a mistake when creating her, but the Ceronians are perfect?

She studies her feet before continuing. "How do you come to grips with that? With knowing that your sole purpose in creation is war? To destroy on command? Please, I appreciate that I am asking above my station, but I must know."

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It's the eyes that draw her in.

So vibrant! Bella has always prided herself on her powers of perception, but those eyes are violet windows into the invisible truth of the universe. Her tongue laps at the back of her teeth again and again as she stares. She swallows painfully; her throat is suddenly drier than Redana's textbooks. And the color... Bella has her mother's eyes. These are unique across the galaxy. Not just how they glint like brooches fit for the Empress' neck, but the sharp spark, that flash just underneath the surface that seems to devour the entire ship even despite being turned toward absolute nothingness.

Bella is dimly aware of the sound of her claws tapping on the table in front of her. Power. Absolute power. Power to know all, power to see all, the power to draw lines between each and every thing that could be. The power to never be taken by surprise. With that much power, a person would be invincible. With that much power, a person could never be betrayed.

"...Mynx," her voice sounds rough and unpleasant in her ears, without the husk or the melody she associates with speaking, "Call for wine."

Her fingers move to softly brush against her collar. The leather sinks beneath her probing fingertips with a pleasing suppleness that threatens to pull a low purr from her parched throat. She bites down hard until the feeling passes. Her hand pulls back to the hard, cold steel of the links that still dangle from the hook looped into the collar. Her leash. She closes her eyes, and there's no stopping that throaty rumble of pleasure this time.

Down, down, down. Link by link, until she finds the broken piece at the end. Her eyes open, and she watches the Ikarani sitting in perfect stillness again. No leash on that one. No control. But still, those eyes... yes. Eyes were always the path to strength. You could see it in every person. Just look at Redana. Just look at Her Majesty. With eyes like that, Bella could, could, could.

No. She swallows again, and turns her head to watch Mynx for a long moment. The straightness of her spine, the expression on her face, the particular notes of citrus she's chosen to hide her natural scent under today. Even now. For the briefest of instants, Bella smiles.

"She sounds more like a bomb than a person. The princess only has her little band of misfits, this would be such a waste of... hrn. No. If they can escape the Armada then we should treat them like a credible threat. Still, Re-- the... princess would be at unacceptable risk. Tell me how to control this. How do I make use of an Ikarani before she burns?"
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Vasilia turned away. It wasn’t surprise, pain, nor cowardice that made her breath hitch. Apollo Silverbow could show her nothing that she’d not seen a thousand times over. But that’s the trouble with eyes, isn’t it? No way to tell what another sees. What hidden thing another might...notice. The god could hear her just fine, whether she spoke to his face or to the ceiling.

“Yes, yes, the Admiral. Working overtime to chase after us with an unwieldy Armada full of disloyal backstabbers. And if she succeeds, she’ll never set foot on her ship again, except to give awful parades.” No one with a shuttle that gaudy could ever hope to organize a decent party. “And then there’s your former employer, Galnius. If I’d handed over the Princess, he’d be enjoying his early retirement in a private galaxy all to his own. Every last one of them works so hard to leave their posts as fast as possible. And me?”

She traced a finger over the rough, cutting edge of her Captain’s medal.

“I am Captain now, and I will be Captain when our journey ends.” She said quietly. “So tell me again which of us is taking this more seriously.”
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Redana!

"Do not second guess yourself, you were correct the first time -" started the Hermetician. "Steaming the ship is the only way to ensure that the oceanic life does not simply enter hibernation, the question is... how do we... do it safely..."

The robotic voice trailed off as your idea began to sink in.

"Bold," he murmured.

"Decisive," he said, a bit more loudly, more confidently.

"Smart," said Ares, standing besides the Hermetician, causing that saffron-robed head to nod.

The War God smiles.

You've never seen him in peacetime before. You didn't know he could appear in peacetime. But now you can see him clearly, without the blurring motion of violence that normally surrounds him. In form and figure he is identical to Athena - he has her face, her eyes, her breasts, her four arms muscled like wire - but the lighting falls differently upon him. His shadows are deep and hard, transitioning between hard black and vibrant colour like a figure from an illustration. His clothes are different too - he comes not garbed for war, but in open-shirted plaid like a longshoreman, sleeves rolled up, ready to work.

"Correct," finished the Hermetician. "You solved not only the first problem, but the second within the same breath. Impressive. One adjustment. We will sever the occupied part of the ship and steam-cook the submerged part before venting the excess moisture. The work will be hazardous -" Ares smiles "- but less so than the alternative. Come, let us gather our tools."

Vasilia!

Apollo smiles and bows, fist in open palm, and steps away and elsewhere. He takes the golden peach with him, and in his wake you can feel your nose start to run and your throat start to close. It is a humble cold, a thing as enduring as life itself. A price to pay for falling short.

But Galnius nods in understanding. His patron god did not give you his blessing, but another did. Strong fingers tingling with electric power rest for a moment on your shoulder, making your fur run and fuzz and stand on end - just for a moment before they're gone again.

"I see," said the hoplite, in her own voice once more. "You rule your domain as a king. I was wrong. I am not your subordinate, I am your guest, and will behave as such."

She gives a respectful nod and turns to go.

Alexa!

"I don't know... mother tried to defy her purpose and look how that ended," said Isty, scratching at a tear in the fabric over her knee. "I guess she tried to shortcut the process. Fight gloriously and die in battle, and enjoy peace in the real Elysium Fields. What's wrong with that?"

Bella!

"She is more bomb than person," Mynx agreed. "We all are."

The Ikarani's eyes are moving. You only notice because of the intensity of your fascination, but they're following the course of an almost invisible mote of dust as it's carried within her own breath. The matter seems so mundane and minor but the more you look the more absorbing it is, like watching a star dragged into the black holes of those gleaming eyes. The philosophers say that all of physics is present in the motion of the smallest grain of sand and you wonder just how much information she is extracting from breath and dust.

The wine arrives. Tinny, weak, the taste of the farms that line the vast heating shafts that run all the way to the core of Tellus. Familiar. Home.

"The first words the Ikarani hears in this state will form her obsession," said Mynx. "They'll become the foundation of her identity and she will not be able to rest until she has achieved that goal or solved that problem. After the goal is achieved she'll return to quiescence. The art to this is giving her concrete goals she can solve within a day or so - in that time she'll be a superlative detective, thief, scientist, strategist or planner. After that she can be reset to use again." Again, that hesitation, and again a stubborn decision to continue talking regardless. "But the final use for an Ikarani is as a society killer. Unleashed she can consume kingdoms, fleets or worlds in madness and strife. It's not quick and she won't survive it, but it's what she's capable of."
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It's written that prior to the reign of Her Imperial Majesty Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Tellurian, most servitors had never known the taste of wine. Vast quantities of land were required to grow the grapes and age the juice into something fit for consumption. Wine was the drink of warriors and was reserved as such. In any case the servitor population was far too massive relative to True Humanity to support letting it pass their lips except perhaps by the grace of a particularly kind master or on especially bountiful or backwater planets where resource management was either so trivial or so pointless as to be ignorable.

But when Nero claimed the throne at the end of her grand adventures and war to end wars, she looked around at her empire and frowned. "I will not suffer my citizens to wither under the labor of those who know neither the pleasures of song or fine drink." Many insisted it was impossible, to say nothing of being pointless. But the Empress is very much not the kind of person who is dissuaded by doubters and lesser men.

Treasuries were emptied. Trellises were built, winding around all manner of available farmland on Tellus deep within the impossibly vast heating shafts that shot through the planet like arteries. The Empress herself devised a method by which the resulting liquids could be rapidly aged to a point of 'acceptable quality' using large amounts of heat and pressurized casks made from an aluminum alloy to prevent its manufacture from eating up the valuable space on her precious and desperately cramped planet.

And thereafter the lowest serving girls and even kennel trainees were given wine with their daily meals. Morale is said to have improved by an amount the Empress personally quantified as being 23.87429%. It is written that she smiled before promptly turning her mind to grander matters and never visiting the issue again.

Bella takes a long draft from her cup, letting the thin and oily liquid slide across her tongue and down her throat. The taste is watery and metallic, just barely not bitter or dry by way of how thoroughly boiled out whatever the originally intended flavor had become. And then, just underneath the surface come the comforting notes that truly make the Tellurian vintage so distinct and memorable: a daring slash of chemically extracted orange, a few drops of pure acid like rain, and then bringing up the rear is a scent almost more than a taste that can only be described as a furnace. The taste is heat. Let it linger in your mouth long enough and it will warm you, truly. It cannot be drunk without calling to mind an infinite field of concrete and a maze of glass, steel, and chipping gold filigree. A city so cramped and dominating that even the vast and open halls of the Imperial Palace feel confined by it. Desperate. Comforting. Home.

Bella snaps her fingers and then snatches the bottle out of the hands of a tiny and particularly frightened servant girl. She ignores the squeaking apology and refills her glass herself before taking a much slower and more deliberate sip. She ignores the tear that comes rolling down her cheek, and watches those violet eyes contemplate the infinite mystery of nothing whatso-fucking-ever.

She bites her lip in between sips, tilts her head to one side. Her ears twitch, seeking information where there is no more to find. Behind her, her tail curls with pleasure before flicking the feet of her chair. Not those eyes, she decides at last. Not that power. She is not jealous. She is a Praetor. Empress Nero's own praetor. The grandest servant of the absolute ruler who has never made a single mistake.

"You do not..." she begins, and then trails off.

Bella swirls the reddish liquid around in her cup, pinching the unsatisfying vessel between her fingers. Like everything else on the Anemoi it feels purposefully made to attract as little attention as possible. Matte black and slick to the touch, even the sloshing of the wine inside it sounds muted. Impossible not to hate it here. She swirls it again, more forcefully this time, just to the edge of spilling it all over. Her ears perk up as a pair of droplets splash against the table in front of her, just missing her clump of tablets and documents she brought with the intention of taking copious and detailed notes. She has not touched them, except to hold her pen in the exact way a certain princess used to before her tests. The final word of her thought, 'approve', fades into the hum of the dampers.

"I will use her however I see fit. But... I don't have any use for shattered planets. What's the point in smashing those dumps, anyway? You make better use of a weapon when you can act like you don't need it, so that's what we'll do here. Have a report sent to my room before this evening with the details of the place we're supposed to be travelling to. We're going to cut the princess off from all the little voices that keep, hffff, distracting her. Then it won't matter what Zeus does to protect her. No blood this time. Clean and proper, just the way she likes it."

Bella allows herself a smirk before she drains her glass for the second time. Her hand is already moving to fill it up again.

"...Now show me the next one. Don't you dare leave anything out."
Hidden 4 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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“The Plousios has suffered major flooding,” Redana says, brightly. “Everything from the old shrine, here, to the cargo holds.” She points at the grand cross-section of the ship with a baton. “As you can see, if the grav-plates here get misaligned, the backwash will flood the engine room, and we’ll be lucky if it only kills everyone inside when that happens.”

She smacks the baton into her palm. “So why don’t we just dive down and vent it into space? Because there’s evidence that there’s crabs, and worse, down there that will invade the rest of the ship if we disturb their nests. That’s why our response has to get rid of both the water and our uninvited guests in one fell swoop.”

One press of a button brings the next slide onto the board, showing the solution. “Hear me out,” Redana says with a sheepish smile. “If we expose the lower decks to the outer airs, we can sanitize them and vent the water at the same time. As you can expect, it’s going to take a lot of manpower to do this right, but when we do, it’ll be the safest and most effective solution.”

The baton strikes the key points like a whip. “There are seventy-five hundred key points that we need to sever using our saws in preparation for separation. Once this is done, we can secure the two halves of the ship with a series of seventy-two cables and then do the final saw work on the hull. We’ll close off the decks using our portable seals, and then we’ll use a series of shaped charges to force the lower decks to separate from the upper. Before you ask, the force of our acceleration through Ocean will keep them together prior to this point. Then we will retract the cables, weld the contact points together, and do a sweep of the lower decks to clear out debris and do inventory.”

Redana beams like sunlight as she reaches her conclusion. “Given the number of points we need to sever, this operation requires the entire crew. While the Master Hermetic and I prepare the cables, seals and charges, all of you will be sawing our ship in half— and then welding it back together better than it was before. If we all work together, we’ll be finished by the time we arrive. Do you have any questions?”

Redana smiles at her audience of one, beaming like the sun. “So how did I do,” she blurts out, before Iskarot can offer questions. “I know this is a lot but I think they’ll see the necessity...”
Hidden 4 days ago Post by Balmas
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Alexa stares at Isty because it's better than watching Hades shuffle through the cards. Honestly, what's the point of cheating at solitaire?

Isty looks so innocent. Was she ever like that? Does she remember a day when she could think of a battle and be excited for the glory she would win? Could think of it simply as a job like washing clothing or selling goods, which could be practiced and perfected and, at the end of the day, left behind?

She hasn't seen the chaos Ares wreaks in battle. Hasn't seen a ship torn in two by a core explosions and hasn't had to avoid thinking too hard about what all the little dots are that show up so dark amongst the Thunderer's canvas. Hasn't been in the push, watched a comrade's hair raise on their neck, smelled that acrid tang, heard the electric whine, and recognized too late that the skirmishers failed to reach that esoteric in time. Hasn't looked out towards the enemy camp and hoped the auguries come back negative because it means that everyone wins the grand prize of Tomorrow.

"It is"--and here, in the presence of the god of death, she picks her words with the same care a bomb defuser might choose a wire--"not so simple as that. I do not mind if I am chosen to to die in battle. I have long known that it is how it will happen. But--"

But what? But she doesn't want to hurt people? But she cares too much? But she can't help but see faces of friends long gone in the ranks of the enemy? But she can't help thinking that there's a better way than us or them? But what gives her the right to take somebody else's life simply because they happen to be on a strategically important hill? But what gives the brass the right to deem that they should own that strategically important hill? But there's no glory to be had in running roughshod over some servitors who'd like nothing better than to go home?

"--I cannot like it."

Dammit.
Hidden 3 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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“‘Guest’ he says! After all that bother, the best he can do is a...a….A-CHOO!!!”

Dolce offered up a whole pile of clean handkerchiefs to the bemoaning mound of quilts. A hand snaked out from under the mass, patted about blindly, paused fondly when it encountered his wool, then snatched up a handkerchief and darted back under the covers.

“Hmph! Was ruining our date not good enough for you, miserable guest? Fiend? What’s the use of fawning over Apollo if you won’t put in a good word for your Captain? What have I ever done to you that you’d wish me ill of the plague? Maybe Jas’o was onto something. Maybe I ought to have you carry Alexa about the ship for a day. No, a week! A week for the rude guest to rectify extreme moral turpitude, and then-”

Her plans for Galnius’ labors withered beneath a terrible fit of coughing. Dolce hauled himself up atop the wide, soft bed they shared, and sat beside her pillow. All he could see of her was a wrinkled nose, a pair of red, watery eyes, and a disheveled fan of hair. All she’d let him see of her. He felt her brow, and grimaced; still feverish. “Shhhhhhhhh. You can figure out what to do to Galnius tomorrow,” he gently shushed her, hand moving to stroke through her hair. “You need to rest.”

“It’s just, the injustice of it all.” She managed a pout with only half her face. But. Still leaned into his touch. “I can’t figure...I can’t abide it. I just can’t, I…” Her gaze grew distant, and oh, what he would have given to see what she could see. But she merely sighed bitterly, and nestled in deeper. All she’d let him see of her. “You deserved a better day than this, darling. So many better days…”

He leaned over, and gently kissed her brow. “We’re still together,” he murmured. “How bad can it be?”

A low purr rumbled in her throat, even as her watering eyes screwed shut. “You’ve locked the door, yes?”

“Locked and bolted.”

“No one will try to get in?”

“I’ve informed the crew you are not to be disturbed until further notice.”

“And you’ll be here?”

“Always.”

“...promise?”

He gently nuzzled at her head.

“Always, my Lady.”

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

Despite it all, she did not sleep easily. Dolce counted the minutes until she settled down. Until her breathing slowed. Until the whispered moans and pleadings stopped. All the while, he stroked her head, gliding his fingers through her hair without the slightest tug to disturb her.

Only when she was quiet, and deep in the grip of fevered sleep, did he open his mouth to pray.

“Hera…” He pleaded beneath his breath. “Please, visit me again. I will make you a feast as before. I will lay it out in the ways that you like it. I will do all I can to make it pleasing to you, but please,” His eyes fell on his sleeping wife, and his voice cracked. “Please. All I can do is no longer enough, and I...Hera, I cannot fail now. I cannot.” Was it disrespectful to wipe away tears while praying? He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t risk it. “Tell me what I must do. Tell me how I can serve and save my friends. Please, Hera…”
Hidden 3 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

"Your plan and explanation is coherent," buzzed Iskarot, "which is exactly why you should not give it. This is not a trial of your abilities as a leader. This is an introduction to the Mysteries. We can accomplish this task alone."

A complex motion was made beneath the saffron like an earthquake beneath the ocean. Steam hissed and flickers of light strayed out from the indistinct realm below before a bulky device emerged. At first it seemed to be a spear but the large and unwieldly horizontal slider at the top made it seem more like a curious broom. A number of faintly glowing rubies glinted within the mechanisms.

"This is a Disintegration-Scythe, one of the essential tools of the Order of Hermes," said Iskarot. "When fed directly by the Engine this device can cut through even the exterior armour of a starship - or for that matter, a hostile phalanx. Wield this and you will be able to sever the ship in half at the pace of a slow walk rather than with days spent with saws and cutters. I will instruct you in its use and care, how to channel the Engine's might and to manage its dark moods. Bear it with reverence and with caution, for these are not common and are jealously sought."

[D-Scythe: Melee, Slow, Dangerous, Piercing, Tethered
Tethered: Can only be used when cabled into an Engine]

Dolce!

"Save them, little sheep?" said Hera, keeping her voice soft to avoid waking Vasilia. "Your friends are nothing but suffering, each one of them. Redana, Alexa, even the Hermetic and the soldiers are all condemned to carry their pain and regret with them all the way to the gates of the underworld. Each one of you is cursed. Brother Hades is both your tormentor and saviour and he has worse in store ahead. None of you will be able to lift the weight from your own shoulders, so look to the darkness of those you meet in the hopes that they will be able to look to yours."

Alexa!

Hades flicks his unreadable eyes up as the cards flow from his fingers. It's like a lance of ice through the heart, but he doesn't say anything - doesn't give any sign that he's angered or bothered. Instead it looks to all the world like he's taking an augury with the way the cards flow and cascade, without him even glancing down at them.

Isty's eyes, however, are clear and innocent and baffled as they look at you. "You don't enjoy it?" she said. "You don't - feel the thrill, the rush? You don't feel the sand and air and fire on your skin? The motion of sweat and blood, the strength? Even just in the practice arena there's nothing like it, it's like being lifted out of the realm of the dead to stand on the border of life... how do you not enjoy it?"

Ah, that mark of Ares upon her. That madness. Strange how she can seem so normal despite it.

Bella!

The sound-slaying acoustics of the ship might have been put in place purely to drown out the attendants of the Diodekoi.

The dim, low-light interior of the Anemoi gives way to something different - eerie, jagged moonlight cast and filtered through spectacular arrays of stained glass to carve spectacular, revolving images of language in motion. The words flow together in shadow and light to carve the shapes of beasts, humans, and everything in between in typographic shadow-puppets. As they stalk and engage in scripture, as scripture, meditating acolytes chant the constant flow in the raw rhythm of ancient days.

It is a place of darkening light, at once insufficient to see by but almost blinding in comparison to the murk of the Anemoi. Ship serfs, thin and nervous servitors, cluster in small groups near the entrance - drawn to the light but unready to enter it entirely. They scatter like birds when approached, to a one seeking refuge in the shadows rather than the cool moonlight.

In the centre, prostate before the altar, is a cathedral-engine. The clattering of the machine intelligence clicks away in the substrata below the din. Though there is no doubt metal and wire below the surface, every inch of her is covered in paper. On her shoulders she wears open books, upon her back a forest of prayer-strips hang like ribbons, and every inch of every page is marked with spectacular illuminated script and images. An art gallery, a war machine and a religious icon all in one - behold the Diodekoi.

"If you need to fight a god, this is your girl," said Mynx. "She's encoded to follow every aspect of the Code of the Hunt in thought and deed. When she fights it's as though Artemis has taken the field herself - not unlike the Athena statue that Redana took with her. She's a precision weapon though - there's nothing that can come between her and her target, but she's nowhere near as effective when engaging a group. Thing to watch out for, though, is that she's so close to Artemis that she can become fully possessed by the Goddess - something that usually happens when Artemis starts to enjoy the hunt too much. When that happens she becomes a rogue, bloodthirsty goddess who isn't particularly interested in things like taking prisoners."

Hidden 21 hrs ago Post by Phoe
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Even Bella hesitates before she walks into the light. Her posture stiffens and her smooth gait turns awkward for a step or two, just enough to get her to slosh some of her wine on the ground. She bends down automatically as if to clean it, but only winds up stretching her back for a moment before taking another long sip from her glass. She sniffs. That is not her job anymore.

Her hand lifts dreamily, as if in a daze, and she brushes her fingers against a spot on the back of her head. Under most circumstances, her hand would drop back down and that would be that. If she hadn't stumbled forward, if the light had been slightly different, if her hair was not tied back the way it is, if eyes less attentive than Mynx's were watching her right now, if, if, if.

But the gods have willed it so, and the traces of a wide scar shine through. It's an enormous, ugly thing: not a mark of punishment meant to prove the Empress' love, but a souvenir from a battle that left no other marks on history. Redana and assassinations are very old friends, after all, even if she's too stupid to know that. It must be an old scar, a partially raised starburst where a trick knife had caught her before it burst into pieces, but against the rich darkness of her hair it seems starkly white and fresh. Almost as if she'd spent several years digging at it herself. Wouldn't that be just like her?

Her hand drops again, but it's too late. Her hair never quite settles back over it, and that mark of imperfection lingers in sight, impossible not to stare at. And that's the thing about perfection: once it's gone, you can never have it back. If the eye wanders from the blemish on her head, it won't be able to help but notice her talon jewelry in new light. Or the way the tip of her tail doesn't quite match the shape and color of the rest, or the spot at the back of her knee where the fur doesn't come together quite right and the needle shaped puncture mark that counts for some other fight or training exercise. They're all over her, but only in the places you wouldn't think to look. Of course they are. A servitor like Bella is meant to be looked at and admired, so naturally they wipe away blemishes on the most visible parts of her almost faster than she can acquire them. But who would waste time and resources tending to tending to the wounds of a maid where they're so easily covered up? You'll never find them if you don't go looking.

Bella sucks a breath in through her teeth. Her glass is empty again, and there's nothing here to fill it. She's squeezing it so hard it's a miracle it hasn't shattered in her claws already. Her golden eyes are sharp and piercing, and they seem to slide right over the Diodekoi. She turns her head and stares through Mynx, instead. Her yawn is full of teeth.

"Hmph. Well this one's simple enough, I don't see a need to waste my time asking more questions about it. Come on, let's keep going. Whatever... all this is, it's giving me a headache."
Hidden 15 hrs ago Post by Balmas
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That's the worst thing. She knows exactly what Isty's talking about. It's just not something she knows how to talk about.

But maybe...

She straightens, and dares to offer a hand to Isty. "If it pleases you, perhaps I may show you."

***

It's not possible for any one arena to perfectly prepare troops for battle. There will always be an unforeseen twist, an unexpected kink in the plans. But the designers of the Plousios had at least done their best. A wide parade ground can, with the addition of massive steel blocks, become a tight hallway, a wide battle ground, a trench, and more.

Alexa opens the cabinet and pulls out a training spear. "My apologies for the lack of proper accomodations. I cannot promise that the Plousios is equipped with scythes. I understand that is your weapon of choice?"
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