Hidden 20 days ago Post by Phoe
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Bella's lips press tight together as she contemplates Mynx's words in silence. Her eyes, set hard as gemstones, watch that face with unblinking wariness. She watches the line of her... companion's jaw, looking for the quivering that suggests weakness, or that slight twitch of her lips she gets when she's trying to hide a punchline. That little blink she suddenly develops when she's struggling with a character.

But there's nothing. Nothing but strength and a strange sort of softness that fills Bella with a sense of hope that feels too good to be real. So good it might hurt her. She doesn't dare latch onto it; no smile deeper than a smirk crosses her face. Her eyes never lose that sharpness. Until she closes them. Bella's body settles deeper into Mynx's embrace, and for a small moment she lets her world shrink to just the sounds, smells, and warmth of the only person anywhere who can be... no. Who understands.

"Ha, remember when she was training for the Olympics? She got so sucked into wrestling and racing she'd forget what food was. We had to say everything three times before she realized it meant anything. She's always been such a..."

She lets the thought melt into a chuckle, and the chuckle build into bright and melodious laughter of the sort that hadn't escaped her mouth since before the faithful day when she'd laid eyes on the streets of Tellus beyond the world of the palace. It's the kind of sound that makes a person think her voice was made for singing before anything else. Sweet enough to let it serve as an offering to Hera. For a moment the memory is more refreshing, more revitalizing than all the water that was laid out to help her back on her feet.

And then she sighs and opens her eyes, and everything becomes sharpness and hard edges again.

"What we need," she says, "Is to get rid of the distractions. We won't let her think she's playing the hero, we'll cut her off, keep her away from her merry band of morons. Kill them, catch them, chase them off, I don't care. I only need her. Once I've got her to myself... then she'll see. She has to."
Hidden 19 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Dolce stood pole-straight among the tumbling flowerbeds, frozen under the weight of what was Not.

This was not a stroll through a pretty garden. This was not an outing with Hera, kind Hera. Hera, who had not ever abandoned him or done him wrong. This was not an adventure. He was not a fluffy barnacle. He was not standing still, nervously smoothing his arm over and over and over. He stopped and forced his hands to his side, and they were not content to be still. This was not safe! This was not right! And, and...

And Vasilia was not to have her bouquet, would she?

His chest puffed out with a great intake of air, and he let it all out in a stiff whoosh. Pull yourself together, Dolce! Stand taller. Stop lollygagging. Step proper, and quit dragging your feet, it’s unsightly. You’re tidying up for a god, do you know that? How often do you get to aid the divine so directly? Hades looked so angry, imagine what a relief it’ll be to see his things to rights. Maybe he’ll smile, even. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that lighten your heart, just a little?

So go on, Dolce. Mind the flowers, and step inside. Work waits for no one.
Hidden 19 days ago 19 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

The Hermetic waved a tendril half-irritably. "Desist from panic. I will answer as many questions as you possess. It is... unorthodox," he said the word like one might say 'filled with scorpions', "but I am extending to you the rights of apprenticeship without the obligations. I would not presume to command the blood of Empire, but nor will I deny your curiosity. This means I will help you learn the secrets of the Saffron Path for as long as you wish to walk it."

[Forge a bond with Iskarot the Hermetic]

"Perhaps there is lost context," he buzzed thoughtfully. "Something has been lost. It would take the act of either a god or an Empress to destroy such a vital piece of information on this scale. And it is critical that it be rediscovered, otherwise in time the galaxy will fall back to primitive times, becalmed on a million islands."

Dolce!

You step into a spilled garden. Soft grass beneath your hooves, wild flowers in pink and white growing in patches. Chaotic but not overgrown despite however many years or decades they have waited here in this forgotten room. The coarse white granite walls are tattered with ivy and a single blossoming tree lets a perpetual shower of white petals fall.

And amidst the flowers and grass, bones.

You step into a tomb.

Here lie dozens of long-dead bodies, eroded away to clean-picked skeletons. Swords, pistols, and imperishable jewellery decorate the fallen. There are more gemstones than should be natural, for the strange influence of Hades causes them to blossom like the flowers they lie amidst. These bodies were not laid out according to funeral rites with respect and honour - they lie where they fell, spears still penetrating their ribs, only the murmured ghost of a battlefield.

Two bodies catch your eye. Two skeletons lying side by side, bones having fallen and tangled into each other. Amidst their bodies curves stems and thorns resolving into a glittering pink and purple rose. It binds together the dead in a gentle weave, emerging between them like a single shared heart.

Alexa!

"It is," said the princess, arms wrapped around your neck.

For a long and silent moment you freefall alongside each other, beholding the vista of the galaxy in all its transcendent beauty. It's so peaceful you don't notice at first when you start to accelerate. Then the wind starts whistling through your ears and you're picking up speed faster and faster and at the end of the corridor you can see the spectacular molten glow of the Engine and the enormous stack of grav-plates that the Hermetic has left carelessly vertical.

You're heading rapidly towards a terminal velocity impact. Would it have killed Iskarot to put up a sign?

Bella!

There's a moment too when you're in the arms of a friend, safer than you've ever been, safe in the knowledge that you wore a shield of love proof against any harm.

It changes as you do. As you become hard and sharp, so does Mynx and you can feel her change from shield to sword against your skin.

"Of course, Praetor," said Mynx, as professional as you'd ever heard her. There's only the faintest reluctance in how she steps away and points to the maps and charts laid out on the table - perfectly ready for this moment when you wanted to make a plan. "The augur confirmed we're on our way to Barassidar. The planet is a mess. All sentient life was long since wiped out, leaving only roaming armies of machine intelligences."

There are two Imperial Seals on this map. The first one is from the Office of Fleet Security, warning that the planet is an Alpha-class hazard - the same rating applied to the Eater of Worlds while it lived. The second is from the Office of Reintegration, a tiny and bizarre agency of Demeter worshippers who report directly to the Empress. It's a seal you've never seen before, stating simply 'Valid Resurrection Target'.

"This planet is still the epicentre of the Athena-Ares battle," said Mynx. "Appeasing both of them will be impossible, and whichever one we don't favour will side against us. Which god should we align with, Praetor?"
Hidden 18 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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“It would take an Empress, wouldn’t it?” Redana laughs as she says it, but watch her carefully: how she starts to think, her brow furrowing, her face growing suddenly solemn. Her mother would have the motive, after all. Maybe that’s what’s in one of the Imperial Vaults: the secret of igniting one of these roaring, howling star-chambers. There’s all sorts of things in there; that’s what mother told her one night, a visiting-night, at the end of the day, sitting by Dany[1] on the side of her bed. There are wonderful things and there are dangerous things and only she knows the difference, and only she holds the keys. When she was little, Dany imagined all sorts of things in there: an entire ocean, a little thin-handled hammer with a golden head, the first seeds of all the vegetables in the world, a tusked monstrosity in adamant chains, a sword so thin you could only see the hilt. She drew them when she should have been taking notes: all the marvelous things her mind could conjure, all the forbidden gifts and curses of the universe.

How easy it would be to seal up Ignition inside there[2].

“Well, if it is her,” she says, and for a moment she is the daughter of her father, her eye the unhealthy green of a thunderstorm, her Auspex the blue-white of lightning, “then you don’t need to worry. We’ll open that vault and let Ignition out when we go home. We’re going to give everyone the stars again.”

A moment; little more. She diminishes with a smile. The echo of the Nemean— no, the reminder that the Nemean is Redana, too— dissipates. “But that’s going to take us a while. Tell me more about how our engines work, please! And if you have to explain something else, or walk me through what it means, first, I’m listening.”

She sits down, tosses one knee over the other, and gives the Hermetican her most attentive, malleable smile. She’s ready to listen to this lecture.

***

[1]: And the hollow air where, one day, a best friend would be. But not yet.

[2]: Even Redana is fuzzy, here and now, on how much that thought is metaphor. The gods do enjoy making the metaphorical literal.
Hidden 16 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Hera’s hands still grip him. Feel her gentle fingers glide from shoulders, to collar, to neck. The silken noose draws tight. He is gasping for air. His heart screams, but no word, no sound escapes his lips. Hera is watching. Hera is keeping him from insult. How else? How else to explain it?

This can’t be right. This can’t be here. Why is this here? On their ship, in this wonderful place, why keep this den of tragedy and dishonor? They’re dead. They died. They died, alone, and no one - not even the god of death, the one they’d served - was there to care for their end. Was that what he was to do? Bury the dead? But, but, there were so many traditions, so many rites and rituals, and, the timing. The timing would be all wrong, they’ve been here so long. Who did they worship? Who were they honored by? Did Hades even want them moved? He’d had all the time in the world to, and, and…

He walked lost among the dead. His hooves rose, and his hooves fell, and he counted not where they landed. No bones were trod upon. No flowers disturbed. Hera, kind Hera, bore him onward. Past rubble, past ruin, to the center, to the heart. To a flower blooming and binding.

His hands drew to his mouth in horror.

How...how did they die?
Hidden 16 days ago Post by Balmas
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There's no time to curse the Hermetician's name. If she'd noticed half a second quicker--no! No time!

Turn them so Isty lands on--No. Her stone body would be just as deadly an impact as the gravplates.

Nothing to push off of. The wall is so close, taunting her with the array of pipes and sculptures just out of reach. If she could just reach out and grab--

No. Not an option.

No! That's not true! There's something she can push off of!

There's no time to communicate the plan. Just to tap the hands holding her. Let go, Isty. Alexa's got this. She lets the air spin them around. There's nothing to push off of, nothing to arrest their fall, nothing to get them to the handholds on the wall.

There's enough air to spin them around. And Newton still applies.

Alexa shoves Isty towards the wall. She's smart. Isty'll figure it out, she can catch herself.

She can't get them to the wall. But she can get her there.

[10 on Keep Them Busy]
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Phoe
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Bella clicks her tongue, but says nothing. Her ears give a little wiggle toward Mynx, but her eyes are drawn only to the map. Her fingers hover for a moment over the Fleet Security seal for a moment, which draws a scowl onto her and nearly sends her back into the comfort of the blankets and the embrace that means she has a friend. But she stays strong. She presses her thumb down on the frigid surface of the table, feeling the glass-slick smoothness give way to corrugated ridges as she caresses the second, unknown seal and her expression passes from fury to wonder. And, beneath that, hunger.

"It doesn't matter." she whispers.

Her fingers slide across the map, careful to avoid digging her claws into the precious resources the Empress had seen fit to bless her with. She leans across the table until it's the whole of her world, pushing even Mynx outside of her universe so she can drink in every detail. Her eyes gleam in the dim light of the room as the dart up and down the map. The muscles in her back pull taut with the effort of holding her up, turning her from a creature of softness to a beast of iron. Her tail flicks back and forth with pleasure at the feeling.

"That's such a stupid question, Mynx. Do you think Ares would care if I said I favored him? Do you think he'd be swayed by my plans? Would Athena give a single fuck if I laid out some grand formation in front of you right now? Of course she wouldn't! There's only one god who's ever listened to my prayers, and she has no place on a battlefield. Even if that wasn't true, we'll never hold Athena's favor for as long as Redana has that statue with her, and she'll accidentally please Ares while she runs around more than we could if we spent a month trying."

Bella smiles sardonically for a moment, just before she pounces across the table and pins Mynx to the ground. Her hands slide everywhere, grabbing and possessive, lingering especially under the chin just above the throat. Here it would be easy to pull the shapeshifter into the kind of kiss that would write songs by itself just to hear them sung. Here it would be easy to strangle the life from her and retire to sip wine above the corpse until someone came by to clean it up. Instead, she wraps herself possessively around her companion and squeezes her tight. Her breath is a wave of steam in Mynx's ear.

"What would the Princess do in this situation, hm?" she purrs, "Would she even have an answer? I'll get her alone, and we won't be in Ares or Athena's domain anymore. I don't need your little assassin friends for this. The owls are enough to hunt some mice. We'll trap the lot of them in a pretty, honorable little skirmish and then..."

Her hand brushes against Mynx's collarbone with a strength that almost manages to hide how badly she's shaking.

"I... we'll make her remember. Won't we?"
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana!

The Hermetician has thus far been crabby and intractable, a creature who hoarded knowledge so jealously that a simple 'how do you do?' might result in him grabbing you by the lapels and screeching "Who put you up to this!?!" Even as Imperial Princess they were oftentimes your favourite tutors because if you did not wish to learn they had no desire to interrupt you, and would happily enable you goofing off in your lessons and forge both assignment and grade on your behalf.

But something is different this time around.

Perhaps it's the information. This is not data crammed into an unwilling skull with the consent of neither party. This isn't the theoreticals of Imperial megaprojects or analysis of strategic resource deposits that can transform the fate of reality itself. This isn't the immensity of society and Empire, this is a discussion about the contents of a single room - a magnificent room no doubt, capable of a great deal, but still of a size that fit into a human mind.

But maybe it's you. Perhaps you've grown and matured. Perhaps it's because you're invested now. This isn't a responsibility granted to you by blood, information you must bear with the same flawless grace as your mighty mother. These are questions you're motivated to ask, motivated because within them lie clues and hints as to how you might achieve your even greater goals.

But perhaps it's Iskarot. When you were tutored by Hermetics they were students of the internal journey, travel from the start of the book to the end. Iskarot is not like them - he has traveled. Perhaps more than any creature you have ever met. And while he can discuss the theoretical he tires of it quickly and diverges either into practical matters or anecdotes from the Path.

So you learn the structure of the Reactor Spike, a long thermotransfer rod that runs through the core of the ship. You learn the theoretical - mechanics of heat transfer, how the constant temperature applied to the frontal beak prevents the flowmetal from hardening and becoming brittle. You learn the practical - ship names are carved indelibly upon the forging of the Spike, and the ownership of the ship and any trade permits are carved below this. Over the centuries some ships change hands hundreds of times, leaving the Spikes a historical record carved onto the spine of the ship.

At this point he takes you through to the Spike and you walk beneath the names of the masters of the Plousios. You see that it was forged with the maker's seal of the Tauyk Drive Yards as the masterpiece of Jovian Plainsmith. You see that it was first owned by someone named Doctor V.V. Kuttsledge who bore a trading warrant from Crown&Slate, authority to practice medicine and law under protection of the company. You trace the course of how it changed hands. Here, it served as an exploration vessel, here it was a diplomatic ship, here it was repurposed as a cargo hauler - a claim that Iskarot scoffs at. A ship this fine serving as a cargo hauler? Come, Redana, here is how you can detect the lines of forgery, the subtle tells of unsanctified acid being used to write the name into the Spike, how he once served on a ship where the captain was fool enough to forge a trading permit for the Atlas Cultural Sphere and they had dispatched an assassin of the Toxicrene Temple in retribution. He told tales of how the ship descended into paranoia and how even though he'd caught the adept in the act of a murder, she'd been able to bold-facedly lie her way out of the punishment...

And in the midst of his tales he hands you the acid-laced stylus that will let you add your name to the base of the list - below REBEC CHALIM, and below HADES.

Dolce!

There had been a battle here. Few had stood against many. All had perished.

Many had fallen with blades in their backs and to you this spoke of betrayal. A loss of reason, a loss of trust. A mutiny or a civil war where trust was the worst sin one could possess. Some bodies had fallen together in each others arms, daggers in each others hearts - impossible to tell if it's a tender embrace or a ferocious struggle. Human and servitor bodies intermixed and without a Praetor of the Empire on hand with the precise definitions of each in her handbook no one could tell you which were which.

Hades stands in the doorway and you can see the blue glow of his eye even through the back of your skull.

As you take stock, you pause. One of these bodies is whole. Some bodies wear armour, but none so complete as this, none still filled like this - ah! It is not a suit of armour at all. You look at the mechanical shape of a construct, glass visor shattered by a heavy hammer blow, bite marks in the neck so deep the head is almost separated from the body.

Enough damage to incapacitate, but by no means destroy. Such an entity could be made to live again. What stories could it tell, I wonder?

Alexa!

"Foolish!" Iskarot said. In fairness he had already exhausted six languages in his quest to appropriately express his feelings on this matter. "And you! Away! I will have less of this hovering while I work!"

For a while today, things had been magical. Now you were sitting with your arm in a mold being cussed out by a grumpy Hermetic as he enacted the rituals of repair and threw things at Isty whenever she tried to check up on you. You hadn't lost the arm entirely - the engine had been dimmed for maintenance - but it had still been a pretty miserable experience. Redana had been chipper, though, when she'd come by for a lesson on how to reconstruct the damage. He hadn't snapped at her. Instead he'd told her to get Princess Epistia out of his way, and the two of them had been off together somewhere for several hours in what you could only hope wasn't any kind of a date.

"This is what comes from failing to honour Ares!" blasphemed the Hermetician. "Stupid accidents! Bad luck! It's been the death of half the ships I've been on, mark my words!

[Damage your Courage - but you can use your repair kit to recover damage at this point]

Bella!

Mynx, teasing and daring and provocative, turns out to be unable to handle turnabout. All her slick lines about how she needed to be so suggestive as part of her quest to be a better actress were actually entirely true. Her head raises to make it easier to grasp her throat, her breath struggles to find a rhythm you'll allow, and Aphrodite pockets the wit from her tongue and the rhythm of her heart. This was power. This was confirmation of your words and your god. With one hand, you could make Mynx as strong as steel, with the other you could take it all away and leave her helpless.

"Yes," she managed at the last, "we will."
Hidden 14 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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First Part of the Second Part: Being the Nature of Princess Redana Claudius, Her Virtues, Her Qualities
QQ: Is Redana A Virtuous Champion of her Ship?
Article: Whether Redana Acted By Virtue in Inscribing her Name upon the Reactor Spike?

Objection I. It would seem that the role of the champion is to loyally serve the gods, their ship, their captain, and their crew, in descending order; therefore it was wrong for her to inscribe her name upon the Reactor Spike instead of bringing the stylus to her Captain.
Objection II. As the Starsong Privateers were instrumental in not only securing the ship but piloting it, providing provisions, and passing peril by; therefore it was wrong of her to assert that Hades had given the ship to her instead of an entire crew by signing her name upon the Reactor Spike.
Objection III. The role of a Princess in her education is to be proactive, rather than reactive; therefore it was wrong of her to follow her tutor’s instructions without challenging their validity by signing her name upon the Reactor Spike.
Rebuke IV. On the contrary, Redana’s heroic flaw must be an unwillingness to act as befits a Princess, and in this deed she acted with the authority and pride that are her birthright, both by mother and father, and therefore she acted by virtue in doing so.
Answer V. There are two precedents that may be drawn from. When Zeus and her brothers divided the greater and lesser parts of existence between themselves, each ceded authority over the domains given to their siblings; in similar fashion, Hades ceded authority over the Plousios to Redana, his niece. When Nero allotted prefectural governors across Tellus, she did not retract her authority over her ministers, despite giving them broad authority over life and death within their estates; in the same way, Redana did not cede her rightful dominion over the Plousios to Vasilia, and seen rightly, Vasilia is an honored servant of the Princess, who listens to her demands with the graciousness of her mother listening to the demands of the governors. Therefore the Princess acted in accordance with virtue when she signed her name upon the Reactor Spike.
Reply to Objection VI. Redana must follow her inherent nature, which is to rise above Servitor and human alike. For as the Interpreter says, self-knowledge is the root of virtue, so that each may seek their role and purpose for right action. Therefore, it is lacking in virtue for her to retreat into modesty and uncertainty, and it is virtuous for her to have signed her name upon the Reactor Spike.
Reply to Objection VII. While the Starsong Privateers are skilled and blessed by Olympus, their skills in command and provisioning do not by necessity translate to skill in possession. Indeed, for this reason the merchant does not pilot his own vessel, and the teamster does not own the caravan. Therefore it was entirely virtuous for Redana to have signed her name upon the Reactor Spike.
Reply to Objection VIII. While it might be supposed that Redana simply did as she was told, it must be understood that she herself considered these things: her relationship with Vasilia, her name and lineage, her determination to continue on her voyage, her ability to care for the vessel and protect it, and even her desire to show Hades that she was properly thankful for his gift. And so her decision to sign her name upon the Reactor Spike was in accordance with proper virtue.

***

The admirable thing about Redana, one might discover, is that when she starts a project, she doesn’t stop until it is finished.

The less admirable thing is that she sees a problem or an opportunity and then dives right in, both feet forward. She’s learning the arts of Ares, after all. No plan! Do!

This wasn’t a problem when she was, say, fixing the dumb-waiter. But the last few hours of approach while she improved the landing hydraulics? Somewhat nail-biting.

Someone should definitely have a word with her about approving engineering projects. But in such a way that, you know, she keeps repairing a ship half falling apart.
Hidden 13 days ago Post by Balmas
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"Are you sure this worked?" she very carefully does not say.

Can you imagine the base ingratitude? She almost took a dip in a caged star. She has an arm after all of that! She should be singing the machine freak's praises!

Not, you know, worrying.

It's just that...

She tries, as hard as she can, to wiggle a finger. Come on, thumb, you can do it. Signs of life, people. Something to show that she actually still has an arm, and not just some clay mumbled over by a priest of Ares.

And he won't let her touch it, either. Every time she reaches for it, it's another metallic slap on the wrist. It's not dry, he says. It has to cure before she'll regain sensation. If Alexa touches it, she'll leave indelible marks. Does she want that? Because if so, by all means, be his guest, see if he helps again.

It can't be a trick, can it? What does Iskarot stand to gain from this?

***

She decides that having sensation in the arm is even worse.

Oh, sure. Having a club arm that she couldn't touch was bad. But having a club arm that she can't touch and which itches as it dries?

Torture. That's what Iskarot gets out of this. He's making a point, she knows. "Make sure this doesn't happen again."

The worst thing is feeling like she can't help. The crew has been very understanding, and have taken up the slack. But it kills her to watch Redana doing temple duties, and Isty drilling with Galnius, and be unable to join in.

Useless. It's the worst feeling.

***

Iskarot, after endless days of monitoring and testing and trials, has finally approved her arm for motion. Provided, of course, that she takes it easy, no strenuous activity, and no sticking arms in the Engine.

Which means, of course, the training ground is littered with broken spears.

Hera and Aphrodite, she's missed this.
Hidden 12 days ago Post by Phoe
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The screen wobbles as it flickers to life. At first the image is nothing but a bright off-white smudge, until it gradually starts fading into a blurry and indistinct grayscale picture of a very dark room. Slowly, details start to pop out: a bed with neatly pressed sheets and an immaculate and warm looking blanket folded into a perfect rectangle at the foot. The side of an ornate, whitish tin sitting on top of the blanket. The dark and spotless floor, and in the very bottom right corner of the frame, the sharp pointed heel of a shoe. The screen stutters, and the shoe disappears.

It must be a very old model to be having this much trouble. It must have known a lot of use to be running this quietly. Even by the oppressive standards of the Anemoi, the image is stifling, still, and silent. The shot sits perfectly still, without stimulus of any kind, when suddenly after a minute the sound of a mechanical clicking comes over what may as well have been a photograph. And then, just behind it, the soft flutter flutter of film feeding through a processor slot. It must be a very special model to remember what colors are after so many years of quietly waiting to be wanted again.

The room itself is no less black for all the triumph of the camera. But the bedsheets are vibrant ocean blue, and the blanket the deepest emerald green. The tin, it turns out, is platinum and covered with gold trim in pattern of crawling vines and roses. The lighting in the room is soft but sufficient, the kind of soothing yellow that begs a body to curl up underneath it with a story or to nap as though it were a sunbeam in a perfect garden, full of--

A single golden cat's eye suddenly fills the entire frame. The pupil grows wide as it flits from side to side, hunting, searching, puzzling. And then with equally little fanfare it retreats, and the cat it's attached to furrows her brow in concentration. The frown covering her face conveys nothing of hatred or aggression, but only a quiet kind of focus. She could easily be fighting a particularly stubborn stain right now, or building herself up to lecturing Redana about her bad habits.

"...Is it? Aha!"

Her delight ripples through the room in waves of bright laughter as beautiful as song. The smile it brings to her face transforms her, taking away years of stress and trauma and transforming her from a Praetor to a Best Friend. This is the height of her beauty: her lips painted cherry red and her cheeks stretched wide with mirth. Her teeth are dazzling, and for once their sharpness is cute instead of predatory. Her golden eyes are sparkling as she finally steps back and fully into the frame.

"In the old stories, the great heroes would create records before attempting difficult tasks and challenges. I thought, since my own adventure is about to come to an end I'd maybe try my hand at it. But I didn't what to talk about, so I..."

Bella glances off frame at the door several times before continuing, suddenly looking very nervous. She takes a deep breath before suddenly breaking into a twirl that lifts her skirts in a wide circle of giddy pleasure. Her outfit is simple, pure black and white, and very deeply frilly. Her skirts are layered waves of lacy black fabric lined at each new descending line with white trim. When they settle, they come to rest just below her knees, covering up the little ribbons tied at the tops of her socks, which are every bit as snowy white as the fur they're covering.

She poses by lifting her arms to either side and point out her left leg to show off her shining black lacquered dancing shoes and their 3 inch heels that lift her calves into the most perfect and enticing shape they're capable of. As she gestures with her arms, the wide and open white lace of her sleeves flutters and dances around her hands like falling leaves caught in a swirling breeze. They wind and wrap three full times around her wrists and cover her smooth black sleeves before her dancing pulls them open again. They hang long enough on her wrists to reach the middle of her skirts when she finally brings her hands to rest at her stomach.

When her back arches, it pushes her chest forward enough to strain the oversized black buttons on her blouse, but only just enough to show off the ruffles layered atop the otherwise smooth and patternless design. She is elegant. She is prim, she is proper. If she had her paw print patterned apron with her she would be ready for almost a normal day of working in the palace, albeit perhaps on a particularly festive occasion. She turns to show her back and the many gold laces tying her shirt together, as well as her dazzling and intricate braid. She must have spent hours on it: more than thirty plaits wind their way down her neck and the top of her back in a fishtail pattern complex enough that even a weaver would hesitate before trying to replicate it in their work. Even with its broken chain, her collar manages to look stately and impressive underneath it.

Bella turns and smiles for the camera again before disappearing out of frame for a moment with a series of loud-clicking steps. She comes back with something clasped gingerly in her hands, which she hides from the camera with her sleeves. She hesitates for a long moment, twice lifting her arms up toward her head before bringing them down again before she finally makes the decision and places the ornament where it belongs. The sheen of the golden laurel wreath is almost blinding, even in the low and comfy lighting of her bedroom, as it rests upon her hair like a crown. She tilts her head this way and that, showing how by its own power it stays where it should without ever actually quite touching her. Imperial Regalia... at last a reminder of her station. Of the full degree of trust the Empress has placed in her.

"So!" she chirps, "What do you think? The Princess will love it! Right? She will, won't she? There's no way she won't, I picked it out especially for her!"

Giddy bouncing flutters her sleeves and skirts and bounces her hair, though every piece falls perfectly into place again without a hint of disarray. Her fingers are as clever as they've ever been, apparently. She laughs again, and it's as wonderful as music.

"I really wasn't sure at first, but Mynx said I needed to remind her who I am and... she was right! It's perfect. Absolutely perfect. Oh, I never knew how much fun it was having my own wardrobe! When I get home I should ask the Empress if... oh! I can't believe it! This is finally over! I'm going home! I'll make her understand and she'll come on board my ship, and then... that's it! Just one last trip and we won't have to deal with all this space and danger ever again! I could sing, honestly! I guess I'll have to, actually."

Bella heaves a playful little sigh and sits like a proper lady on the bed. She opens up the tin and tilts it to show the camera: it's full of all sorts of sweets, all classic favorites of Redana. There's candied rose petals and crystallized honey of course, but the star of the show are the variety of colored and snow-covered cubes that are the Princess' absolute favorite: Ilium Delight! Bella reaches in for one, but hesitates before she touches it, and grabs a petal instead. It crunches between her teeth and she squeezes her eyes shut while her ears flutter in absolute delight.

"The Anemoi is no fit place for a princess, but I'm ready for the challenge! I've got her favorite foods and a bunch of her old holos here with me, so I'll just... oh, what's it matter? She's going to love it here! We'll be together, Dany! Aren't you excited? We're going home!"
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Let us not speak too closely of the hours to come.

A start will be needed, certainly. A moment where the will to move overcomes heaviness of heart, that the next moment might come easier than the last. The first bone, touched. The first bile, swallowed. An honorable final rite, cobbled together from the safest he knew, thought up in the spaces between the idle tasks. Care, in repetition, lest it shield him from the dead.

What part would Hades play? When would he first freeze his new servant cold? Would he even mean to? Would he give him a respite from his gaze, or would his presence weigh unforgettable upon him? How hard would he fight, when Dolce tells him this one is not dead, merely sleeping? Will he let the matter pass? Will he press him mercilessly against the iron bounds of service, until only the timely aid of Hera could keep him from being crushed?

Let us not speak too closely of the hours to come. There is too much to know, and too little to guess.

Let us speak instead of the certainty of tonight. That Dolce would return to his Captain’s chambers, as soon as he was dismissed. That he would climb into bed with her, knowing of sweat and snot and shiver, and curl up beside her anyway. That he would not wait long, before she stirred in her sleep. That she would roll over, strong arms wrapping ‘round her Dolce, and pull him tight against her. That he would find peace in the crook of her neck. That no terror known or mystery unknown would get past her on this foul night.

That though the morning would not banish the dark, they would sleep long. Sharing last thoughts, and first dreams.
Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by Thanqol
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It was one thing to burn the sky. It was another to ensure that the sky remained burned.

Caval-4954 only notices the fragment of blue above in passing. A long silent weather assessment module in her central cortex stirred briefly enough to mention it was the first glimpse of a blue sky in three years. It then makes the insufferable suggestion that Caval-4954 should pause to appreciate it. This idiocy is dismissed and a bug report filed. Caval-4954 has more important things to be doing.

The glimpse of blue and sunshine is blocked out. Above her towers a massive tripod walker, twenty meters tall, enormous particle cannon swinging around to lock on to her. She doesn't spare it a second glance - that particle cannon is as dry and dead as the oceans. The tripod maintains the target lock for a wistful moment as though hoping she'll run and evade but then gives up and returns to their shared task.

Caval-4954 lifts a shattered exoskeleton and tosses it to the side. The tripod flips a demolished tank with an elegant motion of its spindly forelimb. All around her hundreds, thousands of other Machine Intelligences in all their nightmare patchwork forms perform the same duty of picking over the dead. They maintain suspicious distances from each other, ten to twenty meters apart at all times, but all of them are rummaging through the immense heaps of shattered metal that mark the site of the war of apocalypse. Bones are brushed aside and kicked into dust. Mechanical circuits are torn open for replacement components. Some broken and deranged models tear at the dead with all the fury of their combat algorithms. None spare each other a glance.

Caval-4954 finds a replacement torsion motor for her fading leg circuit. She stuffs it into her tote bag - a bright and glittery thing with sequins and a cute-faced cartoon Artemis saying "Chase your dreams!" - where it comes to rest alongside half a dozen ruined radium pistols. She wrenches an intact head from a body for later interrogation - perhaps it would contain some precious uncorrupted software modules she could use to prolong her sanity. And then she pulls away the ribcage of a giant warrior to reveal...

The tripod stops. Its single-eyed stare comes around to focus on the treasure she holds in her hand. All around her the sounds of digging, tearing, and crashing metal slowly fade away. All around her the combat suits, battle walkers, abandoned cybernetics, and nightmare amalgamations of decades of field repairs come to a halt. Everyone is staring at her, Caval-4954, and the thing she holds.

A single clip of ammunition.

An electric ripple runs through the crowd.

Battle algorithms spool up. Tactical systems suddenly start considering locations, angles, targets. Scanners and eye-lenses try to take stock of surroundings previously deemed irrelevant, legs flex and stamp slightly to check to the stability of the corpse-piles they stand upon. The faint clitter-clack of mechanical brains can be heard over the howling wind. The anticipation is rich enough to taste and the world no longer seems godless.

Caval-4954 slams the clip into her immaculately tended magnetic rifle, swings about into a combat crouch, and fires.

The lightweight exoskeleton she targeted would have been a tricky target if it was given the opportunity to begin evasion protocols. It goes down with a crash of alloys. Next she comes around to face a hulking behemoth - a creature that had begun life as a main battle Plover but now had more in common with a bulldozer. Six precious rounds are required to tear through its external plating and shatter its brain, turning its charge into a blind rush. Caval-4954 evades and lets the machine sail into a cluster of warsuits forming behind her. Internal self-assessment logs tell her that she has moved faster in the past, that her tactical battle engrams are corrupted and virus-strewn despite her careful tending and her reactions are below KPI. She files the bug report thoughtlessly, but notes that she questions its veracity. She does not feel slow. She has never felt faster.

Like a thunderbolt she slides into close range of an undead Hermetic. The biological entity within those tattered robes had long since perished but the mechanical cyborg augments have endured the years on their own. No more. Two shots tear the mess of tendrils in two and she slams the wreckage aside to tear apart a mobile battlefield surgery walker with two three round bursts. It's bliss. Every action, every reaction, is in line with a purpose so long denied to her. This is war, this is war, this is the war she was made to fight...

She doesn't lose track of how much ammunition remains in that single precious clip. She knows as it rattles closer and closer to empty, each jarring kick to her arm a tick of the clock that counted down towards another decade of desolation and corpse-digging. She is careful, precise, the model of prowess and efficiency even in the face of a complex and unpredictable battlefield but even so the rounds tick away, tick, tick, tick. She knows when she's fired her last shot even as once again the weather assessment module advises her that the sun has been blocked out.

She turns to look. Above her towers a mad device forged in no factory, hunched like a gorilla, one arm weak and spindly, the other comically massive and raised in a wrecking-ball fist to smash her into pulp. Her combat algorithms run the numbers and conclude that this cannot be evaded. She is dead, but because her kill-death ratio is significantly in the positive, she has done a Good Job.

Cavel-4954 raises her empty gun.

"Bang!" she shouts.

The mechanical gorilla stands still and silent for a long moment.

And then, with a ponderousness that turns into shocking quickness, its feeble right arm gives out and it collapses into a pile of wreckage.

There is a moment of silence on the battlefield so deep even the clicking of mechanical brains cannot be heard.

Cavel-4954 turns around to face a silently standing combat suit. She aims her gun at it. "Bang!" she says. The combat suit collapses like a puppet with its strings cut. She brings her gun around to face the tripod walker that had loomed over her earlier. "Ratta-tat-tat!" she said and the tripod immediately dimmed all its optical lights and went dark.

"Bang!" - this wasn't her. She spun around to face the new threat - a mobile artillery cannon who was aiming its coaxial solid projectile gun at her. Cavel-4954 ducks back into cover. Next to her two other skirmisher suits slide into place with perfect discipline. One mimes handing her a grenade. She takes it, mimes pulling the pin, yells "Grenade!" and tosses it over her shoulder.

The artillery piece vocalizes "Boom!" and then shuts off.

By the time the sun had set amidst that impossible patch of un-burned sky, the war had returned to Barassidar.
Hidden 11 days ago 11 days ago Post by Thanqol
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THE PLANET OF BARASSIDAR
Response Level: 1
Location Stats: The Machines - the ancient armies of the Warsage still walk here.

*

The Museum of Victories on Tellus has an entire wing devoted to the Conquest of Baradissar. Within are spectacular moving paintings of Ceronian warriors descending on bolts of lightning in order to cleave through the machine legions of the Warsage. The Classical, the Empress' personal battleship, gleams like a miniature sun in the heavens above as it closes in on the terrible space-station, The Spear of Civilization. As the simulated battle rages, the Emperor Molech cackles and declares that his victory is predestined and none can outdo his perfected Codes of War.

(The Emperor Molech in the museum is, in fact, a clone of the original. All of the staff in the wing commemorating Nero's victories are clones of Imperial pretenders who Nero fought in her ascent to power. Recreating your conquered foe and tasking them with wiping the display cases of their defeats for all eternity is what is known as a flex.)

The Spear of Civilization is a wreck. The enormous megastructure, far longer than the planet itself, was torn to pieces as teams of Ceronian Legionnaires spiked every one of its ludicrous one thousand Engines (wouldn't a ship that size wouldn't use less than a tenth that number?). The resulting cascade of detonations has left the Spear a debris field. Trapped in the sun's orbit it resembles a shattered ringworld more than anything. There are the remains of battle here, too, but this is nothing like the starship graveyard of the Eater of Worlds. Despite the immense size of the Spear, the Museum of Victories does not seem to have exaggerated the miracle of Nero's triumph here. This could have been a battle to severely injure even the Armada, and it did not answer to her when she took Baradissar. The fight to take this fortress world seems, from the trails of wreckage at least, shockingly one sided.

Despite the glory of the victory you feel a chill deep down your spine as you look at the ruins of the Spear. Molech's final obsession, his ultimate organizing tool against chaos... it strikes a dread deep inside of you. There's something primeval, something cold, something... personal in that glimmering wreckage. It feels like you, personally have reason to fear it, like you have a highly specific phobia tied to that ruin. And despite how intimate it feels, when you look around you - at Galnius and their phalanx, or on the Anemoi in the unblinking eyes of the Kaeri, you see that everyone else feels the same way.

*

The Plousios!

"It is this," the Hermetician had said, "or someone will have to learn astrophysics."

It is not a matter that anyone felt like disputing. The ride from the Armada had been hellish - constant impacts, long delays, and during the roughest patches everyone had to pull 48-hour shifts to keep the ship in one piece. Traveling the void without an experienced navigator was a terrible proposition, and so when Iskarot had proposed that you might be able to scavenge a Shipmind from Baradissar nobody objected. The prospect of defying multiple Imperial Edicts and risking the dangers of the Planet of Machines seemed milder at that point than another week in the hateful void.

You had all decided wordlessly to try the planet rather than the Spear. Something there had struck you wrong.

As you gather aboard the shuttle to descend, there is a moment to reflect. This is a planet of ancient legend and terrible danger. Miracles and perils will await you there. What do you hope you might find?

*

Bella!

Aphrodite has sent you a favourable wind and you have arrived in advance of Redana. Your shuttle has touched down on the location the Augur pointed to - the Imperial Palace.

A mountain range has been chopped in half, sanded down, and carved into a ziggurat of cyclopean size. Enormous pillars rise up as though holding up the skies. You could have comfortably landed the entire Anemoi atop this building. The high altitude air is cold and haunting, and the view is infinite. It feels grander than seeing the planet from space - this is a perspective that strikes a chord that goes back to ancient explorers on distant Gaia. Broken mountains, shattered oceans, enormous machines and a sky that rolls and churns with hideous toxic dust. In the sky above the ruins of the Spear gleam balefully like cursed moons.

The Kaeri fan out around you. They are excellent soldiers and you have never seen a unit more motivated. They are united in their jealousy of the Ceronians for having had the honour of taking Barassidar and perceive in this moment a chance to outdo their ancient rivals. Captain Lorventi herself has come, magnificent crimson-black powered armour ready for battle, halberd unfolded and glinting with a deadly edge. Smoothly, she raised it into a combat stance and energized the blade.

You were being approached. A group of armed decrepit machine intelligences were coming towards you. Their body language wasn't threatening but you knew that didn't mean anything to these barely sentient devices. They had some distance and weren't moving fast, but more of them were appearing all the time.

"Say the word, Praetor," said Lorventi and you could hear her warrior's heart start to pulse.
Hidden 9 days ago 9 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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"Are you watching, Nero?" Molech tugs at his wild black beard, lips drawing back from his teeth at the corner of his mouth. Unlike his bodyguard, the fearsome Pallas Rex, who wears a breastplate of black armor whose neon overlays beat in time with the cannon fire and whose helmet bears the goddess's sacred crest, Molech is wearing a simple robe. Bearing arms would imply to those around him that he was not certain in his ability to act according to the collated Codes of War, which he carries in three tomes chained to his wrist. No enemy will approach him if it is not according to his wish, and no traitor will survive the heavy spear-blow of the Pallas Rex. "You hubristrix! You senseless owl! It is my lady's will that I win in her name, by her doctrine, before her image! My rule is the last the age will see, and not one pretender will survive my wrath!"

Redana takes it all in, eyes wide. On the backdrop, the lights shine in simulation of space. Space! There, look at that painting-- the ships cut smoothly through the swirling winds, firing their long-lance batteries as they close in upon the Spear. And there, taking up an entire wall, the sword shorn from the figurehead of the Classical, pitted with starlight and frost. Her hands itch; she wants to vault up onto point in a painting, lead a battalion of Ceronians, crash through a doctrine-perfect phalanx with nothing but fury and courage; she dodges each spearhead as the howl from her throat and the throats of her war-band mingles with the savage cry of Lord Ares, who gives them the strength to do the impossible!

Up on the stage, twelve Machine Intelligences wearing theater masks and billowing robes surround Molech. Redana squeezes Bella's hand, pulls her a little closer. "It's the Board of Administration," she hisses in excitement. "They're convinced by the omens that disaster is about to befall Baradissar, and--"

The first sword moves an inch out of its scabbard, hidden in a sleeve, but the Pallas Rex is impossible to deceive. With a contemplative grunt, she hoists her mirror-polished shield, dark as night, in the air and slams it through the neck of the offending Board member, who falls with a crackle of static. Eleven short arming swords, straight and gleaming, are drawn, and the Pallas Rex begins her deadly dance. (That is why there are Stage Machines here, you see; it would be cruelty to make twelve Servitors die eight times a day for a museum exhibit.) Molech doesn't even turn as the recorded shrieks of the dying traitors ring out. "Nero! Nero! Are you watching, Nero, for once in your damned life? Are you witnessing perfection?"


***

"You know," Redana says, settling onto one of the seats with a relief she can't hide, her leg supported by a lattice of light braces woven into her trousers, "I wonder if Molech's bodyguard is still on the planet. After Mom kicked her out through the viewscreen. The Pallas Rex. She was a statue of Athena, like Alexa, but Molech used her as his personal bodyguard. I always wondered if she got caught in the planet's gravity well and fell to earth, leaving behind a crater. What would she have done, anyway? Probably become a hermit in the Imperial Palace. Defeated weaponmasters are always taking up vows and becoming ascetics."

Amazingly, she has never put together two and two. But, you know, why would she? There's the Pallas Rex, invincible image of the goddess, who faltered in the face of Ares-blessed Nero's swordplay, and then there's Alexa, who sat in a niche outside her prison's front gate until the day she needed her help to escape, and is friends with Isty (the Pallas Rex would never), and probably doesn't even like fighting all that much, and just wants to go home and sit in her niche again. Like Alexa would ever become an ascetic meditating on virtue and the gods!
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“Always, darling.” Vasilia agreed from the helm. “It’s one loss, then straight to the nearest lonely mountain peak. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say their newfound meditative piety was more a newfound meditative tantrum.”

“Maybe losing is an important part of a balanced diet.” Dolce offered.

“The Fates certainly seem to think so. The moment you declare yourself invincible, every person in the system with so much as a pointy stick takes it as a personal challenge to prove you wrong. The wise weaponmaster would hire a bouncer or three to keep out the riffraff.”

Vasilia didn’t need invincible; that was a fool’s errand. You didn’t win by being invincible, you won by being just slightly better where it counted. She’d gladly take surviving, thank you very much, but even that was looking to be a tall order. The weeks since the Armada had been difficult for all of them, but every new problem demanded the Captain’s attention, and didn’t care much if she was ill or healthy. Apollo’s untimely reprimand had greviously taxed her constitution. Though her regalia was as spotless as always, though she sat with back straight and perfect poise, each breath came harder than it ought to, and her attention threatened to slip away with the slightest lapse in focus.

It had taken one miracle to escape, and another to get them this far. She sincerely doubted her ability to deliver a third.

What they needed was more. More hands, more capabilities, more tricks to hide up their sleeves, more leeway for things to go wrong without dooming the whole voyage. All they had was a battered old ship, a miniature phalanx, and a barebones command staff. If they could find something and someones in the ruins of Molech’s keep, that might be just the thing to keep them all going. She didn't care to entertain the future where they came back empty-handed.

Dolce, meanwhile, sat cleaning the valves and workings of his favored instrument, the saxophone. At the terrible sight of the Spear, he’d thought some music might help steel their nerves for the journey ahead, and Vasilia couldn’t have agree more. It was good to have something to occupy himself with. Something...simple.

He’d gathered, from the limited resources aboard the Plousios, that it really wasn’t that difficult to put a machine back together. The problem was putting it back together without hurting it worse. A Stage Machine, for example, might be repaired night after night after night, but every time it rose, it would be as if it was its first performance again. To keep the memories and self intact, that would take a skilled hand.

Stories told of such hands, devised - or perhaps recruited, as some tell it - by Molech himself. Machines with a high purpose, with skill and knowledge beyond even their makers. A machine, to create machines. Revered, respected, feared, by those without hearts of flesh. And when all others declared a mechanical thread ended, they could prove it had not. The Fates, in mechanical form.

And all the legends agreed they’d been lost when Barassidar fell.

It was good to only have a saxophone to worry about. He doubted he’d have the luxury for long.
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This is not a place of glory.

At this great height, the air is frigid enough to be a match for the terrifying maw of space. Only, the way the wind whips through the paper thin atmosphere makes it seem a dozen times worse than a jaunt between shuttles could ever hope to be. It plunges the chill deep into her skin as though it were carried on spear tips, and the way it tears at her dress and threatens to pull apart her delicate hairstyle, it might as well be. It stings her eyes and her palms especially, shifting and changing so constantly that it's difficult to ever properly adapt to it. Sometimes a gust catches her off guard and threatens to pull her foot forward or back. She grinds her teeth together and twists her heels into the ground; she mustn't look weak compared to her Kaeri.

Every other breath forces an involuntary swallow, or near enough, to remove the sensation of the thin film building on her tongue. It tastes as bad as it smells. The Anemoi had been so sterile and muted she'd been allowed to forget for a while, but these... foreign environments really did blanket themselves in their own brands of unholy stench, didn't they? The World Eater had been a sickening, sweltering ode to death and rot, but even that might be preferable to this symphony of rust and gunpowder and oil. It sticks in her nose, along with the pungent tang of leaking hydraulic fluids, and no amount of sniffing can dislodge it. This is the smell of the worst nights of her childhood, when her failure got her secreted away from her Princess' chambers to service ships and plovers while her back stung and bled, only to be roughly shunted back just in time to greet Redana with breakfast and a carefully trained smile that said nothing had come in the night but pleasant dreams. She can hear the angry shouts of her handlers in this smell. She can feel the pain of the rod in this smell. The sooner she can be gone, the better.

This is not a place of glory. The astonishing depth of the horizon stretches on and on into forever, and every last speck of it whispers of pain and ruin. Here, a mountain cracked in half and left to bleed out like a fallen titan. There, an ocean turned blacker than Tartarus with the scars of an unwinnable battle. And just beyond that, there's nothing but crumbling ruins and haunted monuments to the folly of daring even for a moment to stand against the will of Her Imperial Majesty. And all of this before she screws her courage up enough to flick her eyes skyward again and risk the moaning wrath of The Spear. There is one Empress. One. Through history there has been one body, one mind worthy of sitting upon the throne of humanity, and it belongs to Nero IV Acontecimento Azurius. Stupidity to think otherwise. Suicide.

Bella watches the machine shamble toward her position with a strange expression etched across her face. They come, more and more every moment, like a slow and hobbling wave made out of junk. They come promising war, but the Praetor does nothing other than tilt her head to one side and crack her tail behind her like a whip as her soldiers fan out in response. Her hand clenches into a fist and she revels in the feeling of her claws and her talons biting into her palm. Her eyes seem to spark, and her lip curls up in a very toothy sneer.

"Save yourself for the real hunt, Captain. These ghosts aren't worthy of your talents."

She steps forward with a sway in her hips that draws even the most disciplined eyes toward her. Only her. Her heels click sharply with every step across the palace courtyard. She radiates strength as she crosses the defensive line set up in front of her. It's easy for even those sharp-eyed owls to mistake the shaking of her arms for the dramatic fluttering of her fancy sleeves. For someone used to the posturing of battle it doesn't even occur to mark the sharp stomp of her heels as evidence of how much thought is going into each individual step to keep her moving forward, as opposed to the forceful drumbeats of war. She flexes her claws, but her posture is rigid. She closes her eyes, and touches her laurel crown. She is a good girl. She is on the side of justice.

Her eyes snap open to the sound of a series of sharp clicks as the imperial regalia floating imperceptibly above her head twists and unfolds itself from an elegant golden wreath to a wicked thing of sharp edges and gleaming blades. Everywhere a leaf unfurls into a blade, it reveals a tiny rose-like ruby gleaming with the confidence of a ruler who has not known true defeat or disobedience in almost two hundred years. Bella lights up like a beacon, and the somber colors of her servitude give way at last to the bold and powerful red and gold of true imperial authority. Her eyes shine with terrible delight in the rush. Her voice, when she speaks, echoes down into the depths with a haughty and full-throated timbre:

"Kneel!"
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Okay, first off. She does not sulk. Alexa has never sulked, will never sulk, cannot sulk. Sulking is not graceful, beautiful, brave, or strong. She does not sulk.

Now, with that said, there may or may not have been a period where she wandered the surface of Barassidar. And yes, there may have been a certain sulky quality to them. But that's not sulking! She fell from orbit! She was recovering. There's a difference.

Honestly, Alexa doesn't remember much of that day. (She suspects it's probably for the best. She's been to the museum of victories, and it all seems strange, far off, like it happened to another person. Which is weird, because there are other things about the exhibit that have always stuck out as being blatantly wrong and incorrect, like how the exhibit Molech's beard isn't rigidly regimented into carefully groomed plaits.)

She remembers the viewscreen. She remembers the way the expanding cloud of glass framed Nero in a ring of kaleidoscopic reflections. She remembers the fall, the reentry. Remembers watching her hand glow as red as her eyes, remembers wondering whether she'd hit the ground as molten slag.

She doesn't remember the impact. Again, it's probably for the best.

Most of the rest of the subsequent weeks was trying to get back to the palace. Trying to find landmarks that hadn't been destroyed, navigating through a land that was no longer home. There wasn't any point, really--even from here, she could see the moment the Spear went critical. Molech was dead, the war was over.

But the alternative was just lying back to die.

She should have known better, really. Nero couldn't let the palace stand. In the end, the only way she got there was by following the smoke plumes.

Alexa doesn't know whether Nero thought to raid the records storage facilities when she sent the shuttle crews to destroy the palace. And she wasn't going to go off-base looking. But if she's here…

Well. Molech kept obsessive records, right? Citizen papers, citizen transfers, enslavement contracts, every detail in the empire had its paper trail. Nero wouldn't burn that, right? There's gotta be a record in there of where Minerva got sent.

It's not going to be useful. It's been over two centuries. She could be dead, or moved on. But… She has to at least try, right?

"I'm pretty sure the Pallas Rex is dead," she says softly. "And the galaxy is a better place for it."
Hidden 8 days ago 8 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Redana Et All

BANG

Something hits the window of the shuttle.

Something is clinging to the window of the shuttle.

It's a machine - a combat robot with huge batlike wings that have wrapped all the way around the viewport to block out all vision of where you're going. It's holding a massive two-handed cannon and is pressing it right up against the glass, a shot that'll penetrate into the shuttle's depths and create an enormous detonation of suffocating toxic gas.

And it's wearing something on its face that is a mashup between clown makeup and digital camouflage, a manic grin with irregularly overlapping teeth. It's waving at you, fingers coiled around the trigger of its gun.

Bella!

Behold, Imperium.

The galaxy is ruled, and there is only one ruler. She has in her wisdom allowed the population the freedom to organize for themselves the best way to serve her and administer her justice. But free will, like life itself, is a gift that at any time she can revoke.

The constructs halt. Most of them drop to their knees and touch their foreheads - or what passes for them - directly to the ground. Some of them no longer have enough flexibility or motor function in their legs to kneel - these ones simply tip themselves over, slamming face-first into the ground in crashing heaps of scrap. From others, there come the sounds of loud popping sounds and small fires break out across their bodies. One rips free a tank-tread leg so that it can slam down lower to the earth.

One keeps staggering forwards, a demented mass of machinery far too gone to even resemble the holy form of humanity. Inside there are bangs and pops as the power of Imperium searches for a sanity that is no longer there. With a small explosion its arm falls away to reveal an interior blazing with fire, and after taking two more unsteady steps it collapses into a heap of molten slag at your feet.

One of the Kaeri soldiers cheers. Captain Lorventi punches him in the arm and he stops.

"You behold Praetor Bella!" said the Captain, stepping up to your side and kicking the wreckage out of your path. "Agent of Empress Nero, conqueror of Baradissar and your rightful sovereign! You will gather a full tactical assessment of this palace, its layout and resources and provide them to me and then you will stand by for further orders!"

"You..." Lorventi blinked her huge eyes in shock when one of the robots spoke. It kept its forehead pressed into the ground, smudging thick paint onto the stone of the surface. "... have come. As was. Foretold. We shall perform. The Dance."

"What the fuck?" Captain Lorventi turned to give you a look, halberd raised, silently asking if you wanted her to destroy this thing that dared to speak back to you.
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All things considered, Vasilia thought she deserved a medal for only jumping in her chair and hissing an oath.

It was, perhaps, not the first thought she ought to have had in the electric silence that filled the shuttle. Other strong contenders included: “Is there any chance we’ll all survive that cannon firing?” “How far was it to the ground?” “Did that thing really sneak up on us, or did I let this happen?” To name but a few. Just about the only thing this thought had going for it was that it certainly didn’t make a disastrous situation any worse. That was worth something, right? Right. And so, she did the only thing she could do to keep that sterling streak alive for them all.

Captain Vasilia raised a hand, and gave the robot a stately - if lightly dazed - wave.

“...how do you do?” She greeted the robot, manners holding by a thread.
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