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“So what is up with you and Molech?”

Redana has fallen headfirst into the aesthetic known on Tellus (among the commoners, not the palace) as Post-Crossroads Poisongoth. It took some doing! She doesn’t exactly have the services of a stylist on board! But the dark lipstick and pattern of crosshatched diamonds running down one cheek are vivid against her skin, and her now-dark hair is fashionably ragged, her bangs the color of beetlewings and ancient copper. It only took a little coaxing for her spacer’s gear to become a dress that falls about her thighs, with her boots becoming longer and very impractically buckled. Between her shoulderblades, the stylized cross of Hecate marks her as cursed and beset by woes[1].

She is clinging desperately to the aesthetic of the clothing as both balm and indulgence. If she is like this, she is allowed to brood and sulk in a way that would be ridiculous if sunshiney, chipper Redana tried. Her eyes are half-lidded and project disinterest as she folds her arms and leans, unarmed, against a bulkhead wall, watching as Alexa fends off a battalion of crabs. Her sword was broken by Dionysus, and none of the regular weapons in the army feel right, and besides, aren’t people always making a fuss about her putting herself in danger? You can’t complain about her fighting and then complain about her not fighting, numbnuts.

“It’s like, did you even read the Codes of War?” Redana lifts one boot and lets a crab scuttle past to latch onto Alexa’s ankle. “All human life is of infinite value,” she quotes, sing-song. “The true general makes all who oppose her vassals, in the end. But I guess, like, that goes out the window when you see a scary guy, so it’s, you know. Whatever, I guess. What do I know?”

She shrugs to indicate that she doesn’t really care about crabs, war codes, or even Alexa[2].

***

[1]: she bullied Dolce into using the stylus. Needles are obsolete tech, as long as you’re human. Just press tip to skin and painstakingly draw, clicking the beaded head to change between gradients of color.

[2]: caring about things without a filter hurts. So the only safe way to care is to act like you don’t care and you’re untouchable and the universe can’t take anything else away from you.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Alexa!

The holy paper burns from both ends at an equal, dull pace. There is no struggle in the fire, no wrestling between order or chaos, no pattern to how the ash falls. Both Athena and Ares are utterly indifferent to this conflict. They do not favour you nor the crabs. This is indeed the reaction an augury would receive when contemplating the threat posed by a herd of cattle. An obstacle, perhaps, and perhaps a danger. But not a true military, nothing to draw the eye of the martial gods here - not yet at least.

That might be a matter of time, though. Crabs are advancing down the corridor, claws clicking, and their leader carries a flag made from a repurposed curtain. Some of the other crabs are wearing exceedingly basic war paint. There is a definite attempt to draw the eye of Athena in that, and the fire flares as the last few embers fall. These crustaceans do not have divine favour yet but they are, ominously, trying.

Vasilia!

"Define people," buzzed Iskarot. "Define work. The gods alone know what kind of entities we'll find out here, and we need at least two hundred to properly man and maintain a vessel of this size - and up to five hundred if we expect to endure regular military engagements. We could absorb a full compliment of trained staff at Jorel Kell, but there the problem is as you put it, funds. We could acquire funds from the Yakanov, but that will be difficult while so short-handed. Our greatest asset in recruitment is, of course, the Imperial Princess, but that is an increasingly dangerous card to play."

"Not to say the matter is impossible," he added after a moment's thought. "There are great numbers of souls out there willing to adventure to the stars, and places where entire societies can be absorbed into the crew of a ship. The question that presents itself is would you prefer experienced spacers - footloose, disloyal, and expecting regular payment? Would you prefer planetary locals - provincial, naive, and with entrenched customs? Or would you prefer more... abstract solutions to the issue of crew?"

Bella!

Ships contain secrets. The Anemoi is no different.

The menials have amassed in clan-ranks, well over a hundred and more arriving constantly. Each clan-unit is lead by a great warrior-knight, clad in plate, bearing lantern and sword, faces hidden behind visors marked with the icons of Apollo. These figures practically shine with the sun's courage; here in the heart of a ship of terror and darkness they are pillars of safety, as much in the presentation as in the power of them. These are the daring warrior-mice who fear neither owl nor cat.

Around them are their militias - thin and nervous, clutching improvised swords and spears and clustering in nervous and twitching bands. Each clan is marked with some unique heraldry in textiles and metals, different patterns of scales, rough fabric and smooth surfaces. In dark tunnels touch is a dominant sense and light a precious scarcity - and rarely have so many lantern-knights been gathered in one place that all the clans might behold each other like this.

The mouse girl you sent out earlier approaches your side again, and this time she wears a ceremonial-looking collar around her neck with a variety of dangling amulets that seem to match up to the heraldries of the various clans. She scratches at it with extreme discomfort, but takes a deep breath, puffs her mousy heart up with all the courage she possesses, and stands straight before you. "The clans are assembling as you ordered, Praetor. And, um. There weren't any problems or delays. Apollo gave us a prophecy that we would be called, and the Lanterns have sworn to put aside their differences as long as you lead us."

She clearly wars with the impulse to throw herself at your feet and praise you as an avatar of her god's will, but she resists. You can tell how much courage that takes, and how much sense - the Kaeri are accustomed to such servile devotion and it's an act of genuine insight that she's not doing that with you. Perhaps the shirt helps.

"What is your will, Praetor?"
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These crustaceans do not have divine favour yet but they are, ominously, trying.


Alexa stares at the smoldering ashes, and does her best to resist the urge to light another parchment.

That's not the result she was hoping for. Neutrality is better than Athena favoring the crabs, but that little flare-up at the end? How could that be anything but Athena's interest being piqued? Surely Alexa's not so far gone that even Athena would turn her back?

The precious scrap of parchment gives a nervous flutter in her breast pocket.

Maybe they have time for Redana to attempt the augury instead? The thought pains her but, as someone yet in favor with the gods, maybe--

“So what is up with you and Molech?”


Alexa freezes like a child caught with a hand halfway into the cookie jar.

Ah. Yes, that book. He never let anybody but himself near it, you know--it was his magnum opus, his legacy, and he'd be damned before he let lesser hands dilute his masterpiece. Alexa has read it cover to cover over a dozen times, looking for--looking for something. She's not sure what. Some hint? Some mention of her? Some idea that maybe, under all the bluster and distance, he might have--

That's not important. It's done with. He can't hurt anybody again.

She stands, not looking at Redana. It's not a snub--there are crabs, see? That's what she's looking at. Definitely.

"Zeus-touched Highness, I would crave a boon. I shall answer, but in doing so, I may tell a different story than your mother. May your wrath be brief at this?"
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This hallway stinks of fear. Frightened mice smell of fermenting vinegar in such overwhelming quantities that it burns Bella's nose just to breathe it in. There notes underneath it too, the telltale savory line that every creature that's resigned itself to the life of prey carries, but there's something else besides. It's sweet. It's incredibly sweet, even refreshing, like honeysuckle spreading across her tongue after a bitter pill choked off her sense of taste.

Bella tilts her head, and her lips curl into the smallest and briefest of smirks. Then her eyes settle on the girl's collar, and her entire face darkens. What a shoddy thing. Look at her frail little fingers clutching at it. Pathetic. She can feel her chest tightening more and more the longer she watches. Her mouth goes bone dry, and she licks her lips just to make anything happen to wet it again. The mouse-girl half squeaks in that awkward way of hers that's permanently stuck at the boundary of bravery and cowardice.

Bella blinks in surprise. When she puts her hand on the girl's shoulder, she's softer than she realized she could be. Her tail flicks its approval, making her shirt flutter tauntingly in front of what passes for her army.

"You know damn well why we're here, so don't bullshit me. We're about to deal with an infestation, and you little twerps are the only thing standing in the way of this ship getting picked clean. Lorventi's so far out of it she can't tell her ass from the infirmary bed she's tied to. And the rest of my so-called 'warriors' are apparently too busy feeling sorry for themselves to notice we're being attacked by fucking pirates."

She scowls. In the gathered light of the lanterns, her eyes glow like horrible mismatched embers burning with some sort of dark and evil power. She makes no effort to conceal her fangs, which flash and sparkle in the shifting lights. And even still, her hand is as soft on the girl's shoulder as if she were holding her own kitten.

"Bunch of fucking parasites? Know why they're coming? They think we're weak. They think we're easy. They think they've found a juicy little morsel to slurp up, and all it's gonna take from them is some theatrics from a bunch of clowns and they'll be rich enough to drink and fuck their misery away for another week. That's so insulting it makes me wanna..."

Bella spits on the ground with disgust. She flashes her talons, and a wave of power washes over the hallway with her as its source.

"This is Her Majesty's vessel. And all of you are servitors of the Empire. I don't care what you believe, that makes you better than some random space trash. And since you're the ones who come when I fucking call for you, that also makes you the best army on this ship. Today, you're the will and pleasure of Empress Nero IV Acontecimento Azurius, and I expect you assholes to act like it. We're going to greet our guests, and we're going to teach them what happens to anyone who's stupid enough to try and rob the Anemoi. Don't you dare disappoint me; if any of you let them leave her carrying so much as a spare nut, I'll kill you myself."

Her face splits into a feral, predatory grin, and she leans low into the mouse-girl's ear as she turns her to face the coming fight.

"And as for you," she purrs, "I want you to tell me what the fuck I'm supposed to call you."
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“My mom.” Dany’s tone is just sharp enough to not be properly flat. “Oh, no, I might get upset at that, Lexi. After all, I do everything my mom tells me. That’s why I decided that going into space to prove that humanity is ready to reclaim this amazing universe was a waste of time and that I should just sit in my palace like a good girl with my bodyguards all around me still pretending to be my friends. Yeah, if you told me something that made my mom seem like an overbearing...”

She trails off, not quite able to come up with an insult that’s both appropriately contemptuous and doesn’t make her feel dirty.

“It’d probably destroy our entire friendship,” she continues. “You know, the one where you don’t give a flip about me, just like Mynx or... the other one.” Her voice is raw for just a moment, and so she doubles down on the acid, picking up a crab and wiggling it as she speaks. “So don’t you do it, Lexi! Don’t break the dumb, innocent princess’s view of her perfect, perfect mommy! Everybody knows Nero is basically an Olympian already, and if you disagree with her, she’ll appear on the wings of the universe and give you spankies!

Arguably, Redana is not handling what happened on Baradissar well at all. One might be reminded of a hedgehog[1]: bristles on the outside, but a belly as soft as cream within.

***

[1]: oddly enough, hedgehog-servitors make up a majority of culinary servitor roles. Something about their taste buds, or perhaps how cute they look in those tall white hats!
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“Redana? Recruiting? Ugh, no thank you.” Vasilia pulled a sour face. “We’ve enough trouble already with the hoplites, can you imagine five hundred of them? We’d have a mutiny or an example on our hands, and neither helps us go any faster.” She sank deeper into her chair, posture crumbling under the weight of a thousand unjust slights. “I can’t fight my own crew every step of the way. Unity, expertise, rhythm, we can work all of that out, but I simply can’t do a thing if they’ve already decided to be difficult.”

“If it were up to me,” Dolce tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Everybody who’s here would want to be here. In space, on a long trip, on this trip, with these people...” He looked out into the dreaming distance, and smiled at what he saw. “They ought to want to be here.”
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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It's impolite to laugh at your ward. Improper! Unimaginable! The perfect guard is emotionless unless needed, melts into the background, and certainly doesn't get the giggles.

So that choking sound Alexa just made is a grunt of effort from batting an overly courageous crab back down towards its compatriots, and the quirk at the edge of her lips is satisfaction at doing a job well done, and so there.

Alexa shakes her head ruefully and moves closer to Redana. That is the correct position, right? Sitting at her feet would demonstrate the proper deference, but seems inappropriate given both the still-damp tunnel and the imminent crabs. At the same time, facing towards the crabs allows her no ability to read the Princess. She hesitates, and then selects a careful ease next to the princess--not lax! Never lax!--but one that lets her watch both crabs and princess at once.

"It speaks well of you, Zeus-touched Highness, that you can tolerate a world in which your subjects do not view you as a perfect being. That you can rebel in this fashion, criticize your mother, is quasimiraculous."

Alexa rubs a thumb across the grip of the spear, traces the familiar grain of the shaft, lets its worn groove stabilize her while she lines up the right words in her head.

"To question the orders issued by the Warsage was to admit, however tacitly, a treasonous belief that he might be wrong. And to do so to his face! To insult, impugn, imply? Was to earn a traitorous reward."

She contemplates the crabs in silence, having run dry on sentences. Their wet skittering echoes distantly as Alexa thinks.

"I do not resent your mother the privilege of editing his book to fit her regime. Indeed, if she must have a foible, overly generous mercy can only be preferable to cruel, certain destruction."

The shadow of a scowl passes across her face, and she amends, "…in most cases."

More silence, more fitting of words into mental slots.

"Still, it is vital to recognize that it is an alteration from the original. If Molech ever wrote that--and having committed large portions of the original to memory, I can confirm he did not--he did not often put it into practice. To make an enemy a vassal is good, yes. But far better to teach other vassals-to-be the consequences of becoming his enemy."
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Alexa and Redana!

The crabs continue their thoughtless advance, for crabs know no respect and no fear. Imperial princess, avatar of Athena - they would clack their claws at the sun itself if they thought there was clamflesh inside.

Lack of fear does not equate to efficacy in battle, though, and these crabs are very much figuring things out. They are newly hatched, their shells are soft, and their battle tactics are crude and undirected. They are trying, bless them, but they're not putting either of you in any particular danger.

Vasilia and Dolce!

"Hmm," said Iskarot, clearly weighting the discussion of motivation far lower than you do. "Then what you want is planetary locals. Some backwater servitors who've been cut off from space and have stories and dreams about journeying amongst the stars. In that case, I definitely recommend intercepting the Yakanov - one of their exploration objectives is to elevate a tribe of primitives."

He shuffled through his papers and produced an anatomical diagram of an avian servitor, all sharp edges. "One of the Order's scouts found these and designated them Species AVX-44. Abduction and study indicated that they are sourced from dive predators such as kingfishers. In the absence of interstellar contact and modern energy sources their society has collapsed to the point of emphasizing ocean-going trade and warfare. Magos Birmingham is commanding the Yakanov to investigate and uplift qualified individuals into the Order and locate rare technology."

The Order of Hermes is one of the great interstellar powers in the post-Emergency Declaration galaxy, but it has no interest in conventional displays of might. Holding territory seems to the Order perverse at best, as does diplomacy or recognition of foreign rulers. The Hermetics are a self-absorbed and insular religious order with an ideology that considers all outsiders in terms of how they can be made to serve the Order's divine mission. There are a great many instances of them doing just this - taking up orbit over a primitive planet in one of their great cathedral-ships and conducting their research without bothering to communicate.

This, in the old parlance, is something of a prime directive violation. Plenty of civilizations have been pushed into religious rapture at the arrival of these star-faring magi, old traditions of power and government have been destroyed as the Hermetics invite all the qualified individuals on the planet to join them on the Saffron Path, and everything worth having is looted into sacred vaults. The Order leaves wreckage and cargo-cults in its wake, shattering cultures that were just starting to acclimate to being cut off from galactic society and their human masters. They are, of course, not the only faction who does this, but their means are considerably greater than many of their competitors as is their disregard for consequences.

"With their nautical culture they should adapt well enough to starship maintenance," the Hermetician went on, oblivious to the reputation that surrounded Hermetic interventions. "And they're likely impressionistic enough to believe we are demigods so control should not be hard to establish."

Bella!

The knights let out a bellicose cheer in response to your words, banging on their shields in rhythms that their clans quickly pick up until the entire room is shaking loud enough to momentarily drown out the detonations against the hull.

Everything about these people is to do with courage and cowardice. Their responses, their rituals, the battles of their hearts is one of fear and of overcoming fear. The Lanterns wear heavy armour and bright lights so that they might render themselves too slow and too radiant to even be able to flee, and it is their exhortations that keep the clans standing firm. In the dark these people have nursed an ember of hope and now, with your recognition and words, it is finding fuel at last.

That same conflict is clearly raging inside the heart of your chosen herald - from her blush to her inability to figure out where she should put her eyes and the way she shivers against her collar and beneath your hand. But, too, the light of Apollo is settling around her shoulders like a mantle. "I am Jil of Bridge-Clan," she said in a voice that hardly wavered at all. "Daughter of Ri and Ter, defended by Lantern Gol. I will defend your ship, Praetor. May Apollo give me the strength to do so and abandon me in darkness if I fail!"

Impacts on the hull - those are different. Enemy Plovers - at least a dozen. You know enough of military strategy to get by, Bella, picked up from helping someone through Imperial lessons on war, but this is a novelty. The process for boarding an enemy starship is a well-explored concept, balancing skirmishers, phalanxes and esoterics in an hours-long struggle over key intersections and power nodes, striking always towards the Engine. But Plovers? Perhaps it makes sense from a financial perspective - splitting the spoils between a dozen champions rather than a hundred soldiers would make sense from a pirate's perspective.
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“I’m not stupid,” Redana says, with surprising acid. “That’s not an answer. You think if you dance around it you can be clever. She is wrong, please! I got the message already. I know what you want to do to me.”

She holds up the Command Seal melded with her miraculous flesh. She figured out how to get it to meld. But she didn’t have time to puzzle out the other half of the instructions. Which left what? Cutting the whole hand off? Getting an Aírgetlam from her Magos to replace the failable flesh? Just so that...

“Molech gave you orders and you killed him.” Her tone’s flat. “I gave you orders, too. That’s it. That’s why Bella wants to hurt me and why you aren’t my friend. It’s because of the orders. And all this time I thought the Father of Theory was wrong. That just because I was a princess and you were servants...”

She clutches the hand close as if she was suddenly burned, eyes wet. “All I wanted was freedom, just like you. Except for you freedom was sitting with a pedestal up your butt looking out at an overpacked planet and not doing anything about it. Well, I don’t care. When I remove this you’ll try to kill me. Whatever, I don’t care,” she says, lying transparently. “But I just want to hear you say it, to not lie to me again. Go ahead and tell me you killed Molech because he gave you orders and there can’t be anything but violence between people who give orders and people who take them.”

Because the alternative is that it’s just her. That she’s bad and broken. That it’s her fault Alexa hates her and Bella hates her and maybe Vasilia and Dolce really are scamming her or something and she’s alone, really alone, and maybe she really was alone all along, that her feeling of safety around Bella was bullshit all this time. So it’s that there’s this rule of human nature. And all that’s still true and she is alone but it’s not her fault, it’s her mother’s fault for wanting a daughter in the first place.

She can’t look Alexa in the eye. Her heart’s loud. Shut up, heart. Stop pounding her head in. Is she feeling woozy? She promised she’d take it easy while walking off the fever. Alexa can’t notice her wobble, right? Stupid! She couldn’t even wait for a better opportunity to get the truth out of her murderous new bodyguard, not that her old one was really any different! “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Did she say that out loud? Will Alexa assume she’s talking about her? Well, well good! Dany’s done caring! Care-free zone! Do you think she cares? Haha, it’s hilarious how wrong you are! She’s tearing up for completely unrelated reasons!! So there!!!
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Alexa's spear drops from nerveless hands, and she turns to Redana with shock writ large across her face.

"That is truly how you see me?"

There's shock on that large, rigid face, but the greater emotion still is sadness--an ancient weariness, writ across every line.

"You think me a rogue killing machine, flawed, faulty. Mad with age, a threat in waiting."

The spear flashes to her hands, and for a moment every muscle tenses to hurl it--at the crabs, perhaps, or simply away? Arms drawn back, grip tight, poised to throw--

And she sighs, lowers the spear, and tosses it on the ground. Winces, scrabbles, picks it up, and leans it gingerly against the wall.

But when she walks to the bit of errant debris, steps heavy, and sits arms wrapped around her knees, she does so facing away from the spear.

"Perhaps you are right." It comes out too quietly for it to be just her arms muffling it. "Maybe I am just an old machine, built for one purpose, whose time is past and is yet too stupid to see it."

One of the arms not locked around her knees snakes out and, after a bit of hesitation, pats the debris next to her.
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“What? Maybe? Sure, I guess?” Poor Redana doesn’t know what to do about this. Now Alexa is upset and she’s not angry upset which is what Redana was braced for. Maybe she really does feel guilty about what she did on Baradissar? The affirmation is half-hearted and it doesn’t take an augur to see it.

She doesn’t sit down. She takes the huge spear in both hands and pokes at the crabs, using the spear’s butt, with that same exhausted half-heartedness. Alexa has given her a response she does not know how to use. If Alexa just killed Molech because she’s a broken war machine, then that doesn’t explain Bella at all.

“When I get it off, you’re going to kill me too, right?” A crab takes her moment of distraction to grab at the spear’s butt, and it holds the spear still long enough that its brothers and sisters begin to clamber over its shell to grab at it, too.

The heels of Redana’s overbuckled boots squeak as she is slowly pulled into the crabs, but she’s not really paying attention. “Because I don’t blame you. I’ll figure something out. Really.” Because she has to, doesn’t she? It’s all on her. Can’t fob it off to Bella anymore. Not anymore.
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Dolce studied the drawing of their potential crew. His attentions wavered between intense scrutiny and downright forgetfulness, tracing the shape of a leg as he silently mouthed sums and figures, only to return to that spot moments later. Every inch was scrutinized thrice over, at a minimum, before he asked, “Are we sure this is what we want?”

Vasilia quirked an eyebrow. “Are we?”

“Ah. There could be a slightly more civilized planet along the way that we could visit, and still stop Birmingham from destroying their world. We should not feel as though we are forced to choose them.”

Her smirking gaze bore down on him. Unchanged.

Dolce cleared his throat quietly. “The...less familiar with the rest of the galaxy they are, there’s just so much room for things to get messy. Surely, we would want to get a crew as easily as we can, yes? We wouldn’t want to borrow any more trouble.”

Vasilia slowly closed her eyes. Pondered this wisdom. Let her mind take in the realm of the possible, the impossible, and all that lay in-between. And said, “Are you worried they’ll try to marry you off again?”

“It was one time!”

“Oh, if you say so.”

“Pardon?”

“Anyway, I’m positive it will be just fine. I’ll duel any suitors for your honor, of course.”

Dolce replied with a most expressive series of squeaking bleats, slightly muffled as he buried his face in his hands.

“I believe what my Chef Mate is trying to say,” Vasilia translated helpfully. “Is that they will do nicely.”
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Everything in the universe is made by the Gods, and only by their divine will does anything remain so. Bella has always understood this instinctively, but only here with the help of her Auspex does she really understand what that means. Everywhere she looks: the walls, the floor, the lanterns carried by the knights, their armor, the mice themselves, all of them are wrapped in haphazard white threads. Thin, jagged, fraying things that pulse with inaudible heartbeats and writhe when she stares at them too long. They seem to her like nets holding holding her ship and her army together. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what that means.

Everywhere she turns, the Auspex fills in more of the gaps. One by one, the members of her army blip from sight. Distractions. Behind her the hallways turn to walls of such inky black that they must have learned to swallow light. Her ear twitches at the sound of a Plover impacting her ship and the noises ripple across her vision like waves after R-- after someone suddenly stands up in a bath house. Huh. Are these ones smaller than the models she used to service back home? Their touch is lighter than it should be, and more frequent. They'll breach the hangar within another five minutes, unless they're stupid. The pathway to the hangar grows brighter the farther along it she looks, until the breach point seems lit up almost as bright as day.

The sight pulls at her like a leash. Her legs are moving forward and the motion of her muscles sounds like music in her ears. Her tail flicks with a hurried sort of urgency as her nose picks out a scent hiding among the metals and oils and lubricants to pick up a trail reminiscent of palace halls and meeting rooms. It makes her palms itch with an ancient and familiar need. As she curls her fingers, she could swear she feels a weight enter them that's as natural to her as her own fur.

And it's that weight that makes her stop in her tracks, because the image it calls to mind is her favorite mop. That she even has a favorite mop is galling. She digs her heels in and hisses as the Auspex grows so cold the air around it curls with wisps of steam. A thin trickle of something streams down her cheek, but if it's a tear or blood she doesn't care. She brushes off her shoulders just to regain some sense of dignity, rolling her eyes when the motion makes her shirt flop over one of them again.

She clenches her jaw tight. It takes all of her focus to force her army back into her sight. Her army. Hers. She stalks back into their midst, finding a spot where a proper commander should be, and clears her throat.

"They're coming. But they don't know the dark like you do. They don't know these halls like you do. They don't know fear like you do. So hide yourselves, got it? We'll draw them to the Lanterns, and when they come that's where you'll hit them. This is the Anemoi, damn it. Teach them what that means! The old roles are dead! The darkness belongs to you now."

Bella flashes an evil grin, even allowing herself to unleash the purr building in her throat. Jil of the Bridge Clan looks up at her in awe, and through those quavering eyes, Bella beholds Apollo. Beholds Light, beyond the need for form or pretense, pure and unrestrained and terrifying. Her heart races in her chest. She swallows, but her purr only grows louder.

This is not a mistake, then.
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Alexa's head shoots up and whips to stare at Redana.

"I--wait, kill you?! Why would-- I do not-- you have not--!"

For the first time since Barassidar, Alexa properly takes in her ward. She'd sat through the tattooing and outfitting, but--well, with the letter burning a hole through her mind, she'd not really been focusing on the outfit. You'd have to be blind--and possibly on a different planet--to miss the outfit but.. Has she ever seen Redana so exhausted? Like an enormous weight has been placed on her, dragging each limp limb down? So droopy, so tired?

So covered in crabs?

With a small yelp, Alexa rushes forward and, to her credit, she tries to be delicate. The crabs are relatively small, but there are hundreds of them, each clambering over one another in a small sea of chitin. Picking the crabs off the princess one by one isn't working, so she decides on the next best thing: remove princess from crabs! It takes a bit of doing, but she clears out enough space to get a grip on the princess, and lifts her high above the wave of shellfish.

Which, alas, leaves Alexa about thigh-deep in the rising, skittering tide. Bother.

As delicately as possible, Alexa settles the princess on her shoulder. "Highness, if you will forgive my bluntness, why on earth would I kill you? You have done me no wrong, harmed none I care for. What cause have I to harm you?!"

She's not fully panicking, but that edge of strain is creeping into her voice now. Her ward is worried, concerned, and it's her fault!

"For that matter, there are at least two times in the past month alone that I did not harm you! When Bella brought you to her ship, did I stand with her and bring you back to Tellus, back to my niche? Nay! When the Bloodfeather stabbed you, did I let you bleed out? Did I avail myself of that same knife for my own? Or did I get you to safety, to medical attention? Highness, you are not the monster Molech was!"

Redana can't become that, right? She couldn't grow into that kind of tyrant? Alexa has to believe that!
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Thanqol
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Vasilia and Dolce!

At first, Iskarot's instinct during your conversation seems to be to fold his hands in his lap and wait impatiently for your moment of warmth and affection to be over so he can go on with his discussion of important numbers. But then there's a brief flicker of yellow and red amidst the lights beneath his hood and he strangely changes course.

"I apologize, I was under the misconception that you were in a monogamous relationship," said the Hermetic. "But if the sheep is married to one or more planetary denizen(s) then I will have the imperial head recalculate our route. The lost time will be more than made up for with Aphrodite's favour in reassembling his harem. Captain, which worlds are these lost lovers located upon?"

Big Bone Lick!

You chose for your pirate name Big Bone Lick. This was an act of creativity for which you are still proud.

You inherited this ship, this crew, and these tactics from your weird uncle, New Ganymede, who died along with his heir in some sort of Shakespeare thing. You asked Hades if that meant you were going to see ghosts, and Hades said yes. You still kind of worry about him saying that, but you won a cool pocketwatch from the God of the Dead afterwards so you think you came out ahead.

You charge your Empathic Obliterator and blow up a couple of mice servitors coming at you with knives. You think that's awesome, but not in, like, a way that's worth remembering. It's awesome in the way that fried chicken burger you had this morning was awesome. You've had a lot of awesome burgers in your role as pirate queen. A couple of mice rain down from the ceiling, extremely dead, as you push ahead. You note the heavy weaponry and something in your brain tells you that this was a trap for you. You tell your brain 'that owns'.

The Empathic Obliterator is your favourite gun and you're always looking for excuses to use it - and in fact, if you have any sort of low cunning, it comes in the mastery of this weapon. Nobody really gets it like you do. See, what it does is that it kills the target, and then it finds everyone nearby who is thinking like the target and kills them too. It's an absolutely poggers weapon to have in mutinies, or against fancy-pants militaries doing the super-discipline-and-coordination thing. It's why you work so hard to maintain your beautiful one-of-a-kind individuality, Big Bone Lick, you singularly creative soul, you snowflake in the rough. If nobody is deep enough to, like, get you then you'll never accidentally Shakespeare yourself.

You're dimly aware that the other Plovers in your lance are struggling but you don't mind. This ship is like, fancy. The fancier you are the more dangerous you are, and that's a fact. That's why you had the people stitch together a giant white-and-blue leather admiral's coat for your Plover, gilt with gold. Because you, Big Bone Lick, are dangerous as fuck.

And this catgirl chick doesn't even have pants on. This should be another awesomeburger of a fight.

Probably the mouse is in charge, that necklace looks pretty fancy. You wonder if it'd make a good ring around one of your Plover's fingers.
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"Spread out! Spread... scatter! Stop presenting a target or you're all gonna die!"

Bella's spine burns with the effort of Command. A good leader does not take the field when she doesn't need to. She does not. Her muscles are tenser than steel and her jaw is clenched so tightly that when she shouts out her orders it sends ripples of pain through her face and down her neck. Her bare foot-claws tear deep grooves into the floor.

And even with all that effort, she nearly loses breakfast to the smell. It isn't just the rank stench coming off of this ridiculous plover, with its overpowering aura of cheap fried foods and a dozen different battles it's yet to be properly cleaned on the back end of, though that's bad enough. It's the bodies. Even the bloodless ones carry a chemical fear that makes her stomach churn more fiercely than the boiling nebulae of space.

There's so many of them. Bella raises a hand to her mouth and retches violently. Her cat's eye won't stop trembling and warbling and dripping hot liquids. The Auspex stays laser-focused on the enemy plover's power line, covered up as it is by the ridiculous oversized coat and the various other trinkets and baubles, there to cover up its weakness. She lifts her hand from her mouth to give a signal. A good leader does not take the field. Her eye darts from corpse to corpse to corpse. Her people. Her army. Her army. Hers! The plover's joints crack and whirr as it twists in an absurd flourish to point its artifact weapon at Jil's head.

Bella's eye widens until the black iris absorbs the golden pool that normally surrounds it. Her nerves burn like starlight in her limbs, the crackling notes of electricity surging through her with a power that rivals the wine of Barassidar for pleasure. The rush of her blood sings with the grace of a choir in her ears. She snarls and leaps, and her body turns to liquid as she moves. All thoughts of command are left behind in the tears in the floor that mark her passage. She's a rushing waterfall or a bolt of lightning more than she's a person in this moment, drawn along the lines of those pulsating white threads as she spreads her claws and twists her spine in mid-air to put as much power as her body will let her into the blow.

Her howl of fury echoes even off of the dampening walls of the Anemoi, roaring over the clatter of the plover's severed arm clattering uselessly to the floor.

"You..."

Bella breathes in deeply through her nose. She holds the scent of her fallen warriors in her lungs, and then slowly lets them go with a steady hiss. As the air leaves her body it pulls her spine up, and up, and up, till she's standing straight and then beyond so that her shoulders roll and her back arches and her head lolls around to look behind her. Her limp hair falls every which way over her eye and her lips until she pushes it aside with another breath.

She turns to face the pirate again and flicks bits of machine gore off her claws with casual disdain. She licks her lips

"What other little tricks do they teach you backwater hicks? This can't be everything! Come on, bring it out! I left your power connected for a reason, show me what makes you worth so many of my men!"
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“But you wanted to.” Redana clings to her sulk like a cat Servitor clinging to a life preserver in a swimming pool. “If I didn’t have this stuck in my hand you would have ditched me for the chance to go back home, you would have! And... I understand. You don’t want to be here. But I didn’t want to be there. Can’t you handle being out here for a little while so we don’t have to stay there forever?”

She looks at the command seal on the back of her hand again, even as the crabs surge upwards. “Can’t you trust me?” The comment isn’t really for Alexa. It’s not hard to tell.

“Look,” she adds. “I promise once I figure out how to take it off, I will. You can have it, if you want. Haven’t you ever wanted to give yourself orders? Lexi, focus on your history essay! Lexi, do not eat that cookie! Lexi, be better!” She waves her hand airily and somehow manages to avoid activating the seal on those nebulous commands. Then she stops, struck by a thought.

“Is that it? Will you stop hating me if I set you free?” Her grip on Alexa tightens. “Is that why you’re killing people, because you feel trapped? But I didn’t... I did ask, but... but I still care about you, and...”

A crab grabs her boot and starts trying to tug her down, and she throws her arms around Alexa’s head. It’s almost cuddly.

“And then I won’t be like Molech or my mother! I’ll be myself!!” It’s really something how she continues to come close to understanding. It’s also really something how her biceps are smushed up against Alexa’s face while she clings for dear life against the crab tide.
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The distant roar of the engines, filtered through a hundred rooms and five decks, filled the room with a low, droning hum. So quiet, so omnipresent, you could forget that your every waking moment was bathed in the power and fury of a star. Except, in these moments when all else was quiet, and there was room to really appreciate the constant peril of your position.

It was Vasilia who spoke first. Lips straining not to curl any higher. “Well, Dolce? Don’t leave the Hermetician waiting.~”

A jolt ran through him from ear to toe, before finding a nice spot in his belly to settle. Did she..? Was she..? Oh, oh dear. Oh no. He looked to her, then to Iskarot, then back to her, then back to Iskarot, and then to the floor as room seemed to pitch and turn in the corners of his vision. A heat that had been building in his face ran out of room to grow, so it traveled southward until it met its new neighbor; that little spark of Zeus’ in his stomach. And all at once they were everywhere, fraying his nerves and burning his blood and his poor heart tried so, so hard to keep up, it drowned out even the sound of the engine. He...he needed to sit, and - and somehow, he already was sitting, which wasn’t quite right at all. He ought to be standing, but maybe it was okay to sit? Just this once? Maybe if he sat properly, that’d be good enough. Sit up, back straight, deep breaths, hands folded, oh no, was it right thumb over left? That didn’t feel right. Left over right? No, no, that wasn’t right either. And now he was out of thumbs! Oh, which was it, which was it-

*ahem!*

Vasilia politely concealed her sudden coughing fit behind a hand. “Aherm, ah, excuse me. You were saying?”

Dolce shot to attention, hands flitting behind his back where they could fidget in peace. “Y-yes, erm, well, the, the question at hand, you know,” every single word was the worst word he’d ever said in his entire life, ever. “See, I, there’s the matter of, well...”

He took a deep, bracing breath.

“...what, precisely, qualifies as a harem?”

And Vasilia’s cough vanished.
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"Redana! I do not! Hate you!"

Her voice shouldn't be this firm. She should be trembling at contradicting her, fearful of the consequences. She should be worried about the crabs, worried about keeping Redana safe. She should be angry at her for blinding her in a dangerous situation!

And as three arms lash out, sending crabs spinning, she realizes that yes, she's afraid. And angry, and worried! But the fourth arm reaches up to brace the princess tight because, well, she's also not lying.

It's an odd feeling, she decides, but also a nice one. Gently, she holds the princess tighter and experiments with a light squeeze.

"I do not," she repeats, "do not hate you. I am not waiting for you to take the command seal out to kill you. I do not want to kill you."

That's important to say. No uncertain terms, no vacillating, no weasel words. Clearcut, no room to misunderstand.

But Redana isn't talking to her, is she? Oh, she's doing all the right motions in all the right directions, but the real target is far away, on a different ship.

And now, Alexa takes the time to hold the princess securely, safely as she assembles her thoughts.

"I killed Molech, yes. But it was nothing to do with you, nothing to do with the seal or him giving me orders. He had to die because he didn't care about the people he hurt. And you, mistress, could not be less like him if you tried. You are, in many ways, the best master I have ever known. You care too much."

She's built the sentences in her mind, examined them for flaws, and pronounced them serviceable. But it's still hard to get them out. Because, yes, she's doing all the right motions in the right direction, but in reverse? Like she's trying to aim the words at that same faraway ship and bounce the echoes back in the right shapes.

"I resented you. Maybe resent you still, a little, for stealing me. I had my retirement, my peace, my life away from war and being a weapon. A quiet niche, something not too stressful to guard, plenty of time where I could not think for long periods of time.

"And you took that from me. Did not listen, simply did what you believed was right, and in so doing, tore me from my comfort. You loved people you did not know, and in so doing, doomed those closest to you. I cannot hate you for it, Mistress, because in addition to chaos, I have found wonder and friendship."

She's really pushing her luck here. She'd have been silenced before this conversation even began with a more conscientious monarch, and here she is practically telling her mistress off for her poor home life.

Might as well push it a bit further, right? She'd hate to get destroyed for only pushing it a little bit.

"But, hypothetically, if I had found chaos and nothing else? No friendship, no love, nothing but abandonment and the wrath of an empress at my failure? None of the trust I expected from somebody I thought cared for me more than some random peasants?"

She uncomfortably gives another comforting hug.

"Well, I hypothetically might be very hurt."
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The complex dimensions of the conversation crumple under the crushing weight of that thought-rail, that awful suggestion. It can no longer be about Bella. If it is about Bella, then... then Alexa would be wrong. Because she wasn’t there. She was there for a little bit but she wasn’t there.

”And guess what? That person’s not on this planet.”

Alexa doesn’t have the context and doesn’t know what she’s talking about and so Redana doesn’t need to think about those words she just said because they’re wrong and also hurt. Alexa wasn’t there when she asked Bella to come. Alexa wasn’t there when Jas’o’s throat was ripped out. And Alexa wasn’t there when Bella promised to take her home in the dark, struggling, friendless...

“You’re not a weapon,” Redana says, instead, sliding slowly down despite returning the hug, squeezing like she wants Alexa to be the one feeling safe. “I needed you to come because I needed a sailor. I can take care of myself,” she says, completely sincere, despite all evidence to the contrary. “I just can’t do it alone, and...” Oh, whoops! Ouch! Don’t think about that! That’s a thing which is not being thought about! “And I was out of options and I’m sorry I pulled you away but I never ever needed a weapon.”

She looks up at Alexa and sniffles. “You’ve seen the giant woman I turn into, right? You’re not just a bodyguard, you’re...” A thought begins hammering at the doors of her perception, and she looks up, even as the crabs begin clambering up her legs.

“Alexa, were you... who did you bodyguard before Mom won your loyalty? It wasn’t... like, it’s silly, we all know it was the Pallas Rex who protected him, but were you, like, assigned to a Minister? Because I think you really did know him back then.”
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