Hidden 24 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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“The Way is in all things and the Way is all things,” Rose from the River says, wrapping her fingers warningly around Qiu’s wrist. They both take a step: Rose back, Qiu forward, the world outside them drowned into stylization. Petals dance in the breeze, her flowers blooming. “Its voice is so quiet that we will often drown it out in the worlds we construct for ourselves. And because it is so quiet, we who devote our lives to following it, in practical terms, follow those who have the most experience listening.”

Neither one of them has drawn their sword yet. Neither one of them has to. The air between them is a Hell of Purgation. Woe to the bird that thinks to flit between them!

“So, really, it wasn’t anything personal, your radiant excellence. It was that my school’s sifu has declared you are... disharmonious. Mmm. Yes.”

When she cocks her head, one earring rests against her jaw. Qiu melts into her as they dance to the beat of their hearts— no. The wrong metaphor. Qiu makes a beachhead of her body as they display their footwork.

“And so I am here because someone else told me to chastise you. Because she knows how to move in time with the auspicious path of motion better than I do. Because I am, always and ever, following orders in one way or another. I made three choices myself, you know that? Ever. And the first two were both wrong. The third one... we’ll see.”

In and out, between the shadows of pillars so high that their tops cannot be seen. They’re speeding up now. Their swords are still sheathed. They are building inexorably to a drawing, neither willing to do so preemptively. The proper moment is not yet here.

“But I am also here because I have seen the ouroboros of power, Threeshard Princess. I have watched the leviathans of monopoly at their feeding. I know what happens to the market when one player gets too big to do anything but expand, and what happens when there is nothing left to eat but itself, company paying out to charge its own workers for what they make to record as profit to pay back out, over and over. I have seen the ruins of empire, little girl; I have shed myself of them to be a new thing.”

And Qiu lowers Rose into a deep dip, one smooth hand on that maddeningly ordinary face, the other’s fingers barely brushing the tiles. In that moment of tension they are the opposites that contain themselves, the yin and the yang, the mountain and the sea.

“Anything that threatens this world that has grown from that poisoned soil, pure and flourishing, will see me as its enemy, Qiu Threeshard; and even if you are wiser and better than we fear, and you very well may be, now that I have met you I know that you are still insufferable.

Fingers tighten on hair. Whose? Does it matter? Artifice peels away, and what is left is a chariot pulled by three horses, one tempestuous, one staggering, one aspirational: the one that wants to start a cat fight right here, the one desperate to find someone strong enough and good enough to yield completely to, and the one that wants to do the right thing, even if it be so hard as groveling at Qiu’s foot. And here is the middle ground between the three:

“So are you going to submit to my judgement and relinquish your third shard to the care of the White Doe School, little girl, or will I have to chastise you first?”
Hidden 24 days ago Post by Anarion
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I am in a rapid river, the water threatens to drown me.
Chen smiles and suffers a slight blush. She can't decide if Qiu is being affectionate and this makes her feel special or if Qiu is treating her like a kid sister and she ought to get indignant. She settles for the smile and that pleasant sense of relaxing into Qiu's strength and the wonderful warmth of her body. Really, why even make a decision when the right choice is to let herself be led along either way?

The light twists when it strikes the water, I see only reflections
It was flattering that Qiu had actually done the painting. Of course she had, she was a Princess of her word, but Chen was excited to see it, excited to even get a chance to do some of her own work. She hadn't had much chance of course, she had been tied and bound much of the time and constantly in transit the rest, which did not make for a good opportunity to do an activity with a steady hand and careful mixtures.

The currents swirl and drag me deeper, I cannot swim against them
"Oh gosh, no I haven't had any chance. I can't wait either, would you believe I've never been more inspired? I even made a fox deal while I was out and it gave me so many ideas. I've got a perfect memory of a group tea as well. There's something about a relaxing tea, it's just this perfect way to express calm and that feeling, I don't even know what you call it, but when you realize that you've been holding your shoulders all tense and you didn't even know it and then you let them go and it's like a huge weight that you were carrying on your back just falls off you all at once. I want to paint that, the way everyone was smiling and at ease. I'd never have thought it, a princess and a village girl, a handmaiden, and an ancient huntress, and two different foxes to boot! It's really an odd one. Oh and I want to see your works too, then maybe we could do something together!"

To swim a river you must trust the water
The painting room is incredible. Chen ought to be taking in all of Qiu's works (and she's going to), but she's too busy ogling the selection of colors and the entire wall of brushes, picking up one and then another, imagining the combinations she could make. Oh, gosh, just look at this red, a little bit of this mixed into a pool of white would make the perfect color for the sunrise sky. And this amber color, where did she even get that, it's perfect for one Yue's little stones. She leans against Qiu, who hasn't stopped holding her close and lets herself rest against that body's strong support. Qiu could be someone's whole world, the earth, sea, and sky that's there for you whenever you look for it.

A river cuts the world in two, the able swimmer crests and dives
Qiu could be everything, but Chen didn't want everything like that. She's with Qiu, but she's alone, all her traveling companions each separated. No comfort from Rose like their ride with Zatoichi, no friendly smile and eager offer of help from Yue. She looked up and there was only Qiu, herself and her paintings. Chen took a deep breath and looked back at the paintings. "Tell me about what you've made, I do want to see. You must have had all sorts of interesting subject matter. You didn't just paint all the places you were going to conquer once I got back, right?" Chen giggles because that would just be silly.

[Trying to figure out Qiu: 2+2+0=4]

Hidden 21 days ago Post by Phoe
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"Oh wow, this is waaaaaay nicer than my kitchen back home! You've got a whole room for it! Y'know, mine's just the spot next to the sink where the oven would fit, and it's just on the other end of my chair and my baskets and the table that I eat at when it's not full of stuff. Wowies. Gosh this is... oh wow! Cabinets! You are a Princess!"

Yue dances around the kitchen just to revel in how much space she's got to work in. Sure, compared with the craziness of the rest of this place and that big open dueling whatever ground that's so desperately crying out for a makeover this place is downright cozy, but at the same time how could she not be excited? She could cook in here with three bowls of ingredients at once! And still have room for a cutting board! She can move her arms without knocking stuff over! If she was, like, five or six wishes deep into some particularly wild Cyanis deals, this is exactly the place she'd end up.

She turns and offers Qiu the sincerest smile the would-be conqueror has perhaps seen in her entire life, maybe probably. It's not a friendly smile, at least not exactly, and not a familiar one either. There's no seduction to it, not even the accidental kind that comes from natural confidence. It's not even an especially pretty smile, as these things go, unless you've got a thing for very plain and scrawny girls in the middle of realizing they're caught between needing to make something special for a very important person and needing to make that special thing with the special person's ingredients so they can't use up any of the important or expensive stuff or they'll be a rude bad guest and a terrible person. And, like, if that's your deal? If you're all spun up thinking about that? Then, hooooooo, you probably need a minute right now, because Yue. Just, Yue.

And that's it, right? That's the thing that makes this such a rare and special smile. There's a certain magic in being so over your head and smiling anyway because you found a tiny thing to be happy about. And then an even bigger thing after that. And then, oh gosh yes! Her smile turns as dazzling as a jar full of sunlight and she goes frantically digging through her bag to find a tiny pouch filled with dried out peppers she's not entirely sure she knows the name of, come to think of it.

"Kay then, I see your flour and your sugar there and... no wait, over there, but where's your knives? I need about two of 'em and, uh, how's your chocolate situation? Your eggs? Your fats? Ooooooooh, ok! Ok! You're gonna love this! Probably! You don't mind spice, right? 'Cause these are... oh yeah, a glove would be super... oh! No wait never mind, I've got one here. Ehehe!"

Whatever her deficiencies in swordplay might be, Yue is a talent with a knife. Her strokes are simple but powerful, and radiate so much confidence that if you didn't know better you might think she was the one with a bunch of sunshards to her name. She dices the peppers into a fine mince before she flips the knife around to crush the result into a powder with the handle, smiling in complete obliviousness to the danger of the blade now pointed at her face. She flips it back and sets it gently in the sink as she grabs a fresh one to start cutting butter and chocolate into easily meltable cubes. Swift and precise, the work of a master.

She stirs them together over boiling water, humming while she works the whisk with the kind of quiet grace you only pick up with hundreds of hours of practice, the sort that's so baked into you that it disguises how much work went into getting there. She grabs the warm bowl and pours it into a well of dry ingredients on the counter. This is not a time for tools, fancy or otherwise. Yue is a master, and a master is all the help she requires.

She twirls the sleeves of her dress around her upper arms and ties them into delicate bindings to keep the whole thing clean. She gingerly plucks the glove off her hand and gently drops it next to the knife in the sink before washing them along with her hands. And then she goes to work. There is deep power in the way she works her hands. Yue stands on her tiptoes to maximize her leverage over the forming dough. There is artistry in the way her hands twirl. There is precision in the way her body moves with every roll and motion. Put a sword in her hands, and the power of her hips as she rolls them could cleave mountains in half. She scoops and rolls her dough into little balls with the sheer arrogance of someone who doesn't bother to measure it.

And then she spots the fruits sitting on the far end of the counter.

"Oh. Oh gosh. Oh gosh gosh gosh! Do you have any idea how hard it is these days to find someone who keeps shānzhā? Ohhhhh my goodness, ok ok ok ok, no no, I... oh gosh. This is a cheat day. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but we have to. Today's a cheat... do you, er, do you diet? Or cheat? Y'know what, I don't care, today you do. We're... ok, sugar sugar sugar, need some skewers, ohhhhhhh gosh it has been forever since I could make tanghulu! C'mon, we're stuck waiting for your oven to heat itself right anyway! Eeeeee!"

And there is a universe's worth of love in the way she moves her knife, now. In the way she harvests the seeds and sets them so delicately to the side. In how she fills the fruits back up with sweet paste and sticks them on a set of needles. She vibrates with excitement as she dips and holds them in the molten sugar mixture. Her smile this time is pride as she offers the first crunchy hawthorn treat to her hostess.

"Um, but... s-so anyway, I guess we're just about... I mean, the sweets are kinda just a conversation starter, right? Cause, we... mmmm. Hhhi ffhnk hhoove... oh gosh, sorry! But, like, I... I really don't understand what it is you've heard about me. Have you got any idea how much you scared poor Kat with all this nonsense? What gives?"

Yue folds her arms across her modest chest for exactly one second before realizing how completely messy they are and also how completely precious her dress is for her to be touching it like she is. She unfolds with awkward and astonishing haste and settles for awkwardly dangling them away from her body, instead.
Hidden 21 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Chen!

"Princess Chen," said Princess Qiu. "I have a confession. I have in fact painted the places I intend to conquer."

And out here on the balcony, beyond the easel surrounded by reference photographs of Ys, you have a grand view of Princess Qiu's mustering legions[1].

[1]: Princess Qiu has needed to perform some truly heroic feats of optical illusion to make this sight seem as grand as it does, given that her army consists of about a thousand total - of which seven hundred are actual uniformed soldiers, and of which five hundred are deployed on various guard duties around her kingdoms. Even fully assembled it's barely a medium sized army by regional standards, and that's including her Assault Ribbons. With careful spacing, giving everyone dramatic helmet feathers, use of vehicles, tents fires, ensuring the skylines are clustered with evenly ranked Assault Ribbons, and other filmmaker's tricks, Qiu has been able to create the impression of a mighty legion ready to march despite having barely enough people to fill up a community theatre hall.

"In fairness to me," said Qiu, "since I intend to conquer everything, it's hard to find subject material outside of that range."

Rose!

"You know what I think, Rose from the River of the White Doe with the Cute Nose?" said Princess Qiu, tail snaking around your neck. "I think that you're a raging submissive who's had some shitty masters. I think that you believe nobody will give you the right orders unless you manipulate them into doing it. I think that you joined the White Doe School of all possible schools purely because you knew they'd send you against me, and you desired this confrontation. Poor girl, to want so badly to throw yourself upon another's mercy while being unable to trust anyone enough to do it."

Her finger pushed against your mouth firmly, pushing aside your lips, sliding along your teeth, intimate and invasive and vulnerable all at once.

"Well, you're in luck," she pulls her finger free and tosses aside her sheathed sword, and draws in its place another, lesser blade. A condescension in shining steel. "You've put yourself in a position where you can be collared and bought to heel in a way that is and is not your will all at once. But..."

She brings her still-wet digit to her own lips and kisses it gently. "... If you fight me here you are surrendering all of your concerns about my monopolistic power. You will lose, of course, and in defeat you will not be able to act on your fears. If you fight me here you won't be able to stop me from taking over the world as you will be too busy decorating the walls of my harem. Can you live with that, Rose from the River?"

Yue!

Watching someone move through a familiar kitchen is a magic of its own. Drawers and cupboards open up like puzzle boxes. Utensils and equipment emerge as if by magic. It's a little world where everything is known, mapped and measured. Princess Qiu must not have any maids to know her way around this place so well. She assists you with diligence and without ego, performing the constant string of support tasks needed to give a chef true freedom of motion.

And all the while her eyes remain fascinated. She's drinking in information and when you catch those eyes in passing you see thoughts swirling beneath.

And then you confront her and she hesitates, and it's not that she's surprised. It's that she's specifically creating a moment where she is letting herself be just another girl in the kitchen here with you. But her eyes linger on your radiant battle-dress, and on the sword you have left by the door. Her eyes meet yours one more time and you can feel the uncertainty there, the edge of guilt to that slowly swishing tail. And then, a smile that is a guess.

"Oh? You dare question me?" said Princess Qiu, leaning back alongside the oven and spreading her arms imperiously. "How audacious! Very well! I have bought you here because you pose a threat to my reign! If you were to be trained in the blade by Mistress Tsao who hides from my wrath aboard the Sky Castle then the demons prophecise that you may yet be my match! And so I have bought you here to be my prisoner - and should you escape, my armies shall pursue you to the ends of the earth!"

This is the kind of thing that no doubt feels more dramatic coming from someone playing a pipe organ at the top of a great pyramid. Somehow, though, having it over cookies and tea in a comfortable kitchen doesn't feel wrong.
Hidden 21 days ago Post by Anarion
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"But why though?"

Chen's why is so many questions. Of course, it's the why of the hero who just doesn't understand the villain's motivation and is supposed to stop them. That's in there with a little tone of defiance. But it's petulant too. It's the why of a frustrated little girl. It's why can't we just hug and snuggle like this?, plus some why can't I just do what I want instead of being stuck having to deal with you?! And if Chen weren't still leaning into Qiu, the other Princess might almost have expected Chen to stamp her foot in frustration the way her body shivers as she asks it.

Qiu might think that this is her shards at work at first. After all, Chen's used to both her mothers, especially Ysel, so Qiu dropping herself as the single dominant point in Chen's world like this might be pushing her into frustrated daughter mode. But here's an insight that Qiu might have. The way that Chen responded so fast and so honestly, that's not just shards. Chen might be a superb sword duelist and top-tier when it comes to navigating magical puzzles, but she has no conception of being in charge of anything. She's lived a life of expectations and demands and she doesn't like it. So her reaction asking why you'd want to conquer everything, that's because she really, honestly doesn't share those desires at all to the point that she can't even get in the headspace of someone else that has them.

This probably is not the intended effect of the impressive army. Chen's impressed, sure, but...exasperated might be a better word? She just doesn't get why you're doing all this, and her body language is a bundle of tension. She doesn't stop leaning on Qiu because...well, she doesn't know either, it feels nice and she wants to live in a world where it's okay for her and Qiu to just hug each other and nothing bad will happen, but it's obvious she doesn't believe, in the slightest that's the world she's in now.
Hidden 21 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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”Down.”

The silk is very thin. There might as well be nothing between her knees and the floor. But she kneels anyway. She is very, very good at kneeling, given her previous occupation and its meditative exercises. Qiu’s fingernails dig into the back of her scalp, sending shivers down her spine, and Rose in Gold groans blissfully, the sound as legible as that of soft rain out beyond heavy curtains.

“Good girl~!”


It is very obvious that Rose from the River is going through her breathing exercises. Her nostrils flare and her hair flexes, making a sound like wind rushing through a grove. She plants one foot heavily, drawing her other in a semicircle. With exaggerated care, she takes up her staff but does not change its shape.

“Of course?” The corner of her lips twitches. It took every part of her self-control to keep those words even and faintly amused. “Yes, assuming that you will win; that, even if I cannot win here and now, that I will not slip through your fingers; that even if you claim me as a prize I cannot outwit you; that I would ever set aside my quest without the blessing of the Way. You narrow the wide world into a binary, and doing so, make it so that every option I pick is held in one of your hands. To run away, or to fight hopelessly, and in defeat, to submit completely. As if you are the most important thing in the world!”

She dances to the sound of Ysian flutes. Chen, sitting at Qiu’s feet, is beet red and peeking through her fingers at Rose in Gold, who leaves a trail of layers behind her. Her breath control; her incomparable precision; her body, closer to a full revelation with every shawl shrugged off and every veil undone; these are all her honors, her glories, and now she displays them for the glory of Qiu. She dances, and every eye on her is envious, and her heart races knowing that all of them want her, everyone wants her, but Qiu will decide who gets her as a prize tonight, and the thought frees her and lets her become the dance, the whirling eye of desire, her own mind a white-hot joy, and when she glances over her shoulder and lets the last shawl slip free, baring the rich, dark flesh of her own making, the sound that comes out from under Chen’s veil is indecent, incoherent, adoring; and Qiu leans down to whisper in her slave’s ear...

“And besides,” she adds, with forced lightness, “what do you think this is, Roads in Autumn: The “Path” Cycles 2? That the horny monk is just looking for an opportunity to shuck her vows and be tied down, to be forced to stay? You’re no Aisling, o Your Graciousness, even if I do want— did want— happened to want what you’re dangling in front of me. If you’re insisting on making me decide between the two doors you’ve selected out of a hundred, at least sell them! Or are you hoping that I will be noble and walk away, leaving Yue the Sun Farmer defenseless in your grasp?”

”I’m never going to hurt you,” Qiu whispers, holding the helpless ex-monk in her arms. The moonlight plays over Rose in Gold’s skin: the pinch of the ropes, the golden chain draped down to her knees, the monogrammed scarves pulled snug over her face. “And I’m never going to make you hurt someone else.”

She cups a flower growing from her slave’s head as if the fate of the whole world is caught up in its petals. “You’re safe, little petal.”


One end of the Conciliatory Ice-Star Blade’s staff-form cracks furiously on the ground, a sudden provocation to see if Qiu so much as flinches. “Keep running that mouth,” Rose says, teetering on the edge of a precipice and daring Qiu to push her (metaphorically, which is necessary to point out, given the number of dramatic precipices around them). “See how deep you can dig!”

[Rose from the River is Smitten with Princess Qiu. Use the String wisely.]
Hidden 19 days ago Post by Phoe
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Yue is very deliberate and quiet as she pulls the tray of cookies out of the oven and sets them on the counter. It takes her a minute because she has to navigate around Qiu the whole time as she's using the door of the oven for Dramatic Leaning, and it turns out that quietly reaching for the door and then retracting your hand when it isn't noticed is not a very great way of getting stuff done, especially where Princesses are concerned.

But she can't speak. Tyrants don't get to help make cookies.

She has to open several cabinets before she finds the one that has plates. And then she almost makes a noise and ruins everything, because of everything she might have expected to find, a plate with a beautifully painted calico kitten was at the very bottom of the list. But she ignored the help to find the cabinet in the first place, so she's strong enough to keep stoic and silent as she lays the kitten plate on the table and very carefully piles it with warm cookies.

It didn't have to be this was. But tyrants don't get to help plate cookies.

Now she very carefully and precisely takes the top of the pile into her hand and bring it to her own mouth. That's right, Princess Qiu, she (a guest!!!) is eating the first cookie! Watch her, she's gonna do it! She's bringing the soft brown confection to her mouth right now! Ohhhhhh, her lips are parting! Look at her teeth, so small and just the slightest bit jammed together, as they part to invite the spicy-chocolatey goodness inside! And then, she, bites!

And she frowns. And she sighs. And she (stoically and quietly and powerfully) fetches the sugar back out and mixes it with some cinnamon before she unplates her treats with a flourish before she paints them with a bit of butter and then dusts them with the sweet mixture. She piles them all back together and pushes the cookies across to Qiu along with a cup of Ceylon. All the while, a fire is building inside her eyes. When Qiu finally reaches for the snack, it reaches the kind of blaze that would freeze a veteran soldier in place.

"Y'know," she begins icily at first, "I've tried my best to be polite about this. 'Cause I was worried about hurting your feelings. Silly me, right?"

She tries her best to keep herself calm and level, with the kind of quiet fury she imagines whenever she pictures the woman who wore this dress before her. But the more words tumble out of her mouth, the more they explode into furious squeaks until her voice is less "demon swordswoman" and more "very yippy fox". Owners and their pets always wind up resembling each other, don't they?

"You... jerk! You stupid jerk! I trusted you! I wanted to be so nice about letting you down 'cause I thought you needed it! I thought, 'oh, there must have been a mistake, no way no how does Chen try'n drag me over here if you were like Y-- Princess Yin! But you are! You're just the same! You see something you don't like and suddenly ohhhhhh, better try and snuff it out! And even worse, you lied to Chen! You jerk! You big... um, jerk!"

Yue stamps her foot points as rebelliously as it's possible for a girl with a hand covered in cinnamon sugar to point.

"Well guess what? I was happy bein' a sun farmer and I was fine livin' out on my own! It's only cause've you that I ever went'n'did anything amazing! Goin and sickin all those demons on me, and now I purified a shrine! And I've already got sword lessons from a beautiful ghost, so there! So I'm walkin out of here today and not a, excuse me, darn thing you say or do is gonna stop me! I'm gonna leave and I'm gonna practice my butt off and when I come back here I'm gonna kick your butt and make you say you're sorry! So... s-so there!"

The length of several deep breaths pass without a response. And that's when the magic powering her anger deserts Yue all at once. She blushes, noticing the cookie-induced smile on Qiu's lips, and storms out of the room before she can say or do anything to ruin her perfect rebellion.

One. Two. Three. She stomps back in.

"Forgot my sword!" she shouts, stomping back out.

"And, and you should... plant some peach trees out front. And add some ponds and a little two-level pathway in there. It'd really help you with welcoming guests."

...

"A-and I'm sorry if the cookies are too spicy."

This time she more melts into the shadows of the door than anything else. In the space of a single long sip of tea, her head pops back out into the light again.

"Oh, I washed that knife already, but... t-to be safe you should douse it in some plant oils before you use it for anything else. A wool towel cleans best, and, um... I left the shānzhā seeds over there in that bowl. In case you get indigestion.

"Thank you."

"Goodbye."
Hidden 18 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Chen!

Qiu gives you a long sideways look, and then pulls herself from your embrace. "Chen," she said gently. "I think that maybe you need to take some time for yourself. You look miserable."

Rose!

"It seems that you are questioning my assumptions," Princess Qiu smiled as she unsheathed her katana. "Perhaps this conversation will be more productive once they are proven."

You are a creature of the ancient world, Rose from the River. You have chased a great many unwary souls. You have fought many security guards and daemonic concepts. You have had the knowledge of the techniques uploaded into your consciousness and been equipped with a shapeshifting body of limitless strength. You have served as knight and guardian in turn. But you have never in all your life fought a real duel. You never had to face anything that your natural gifts alone were insufficient to overcome.

And you are not prepared for Princess Qiu.

Is it the Sunshards that let her move like this? To have her blade brushing your neck before you've even bought your staff into position and then - the tiniest nick, just enough to feel but not enough to bleed, a hicky of a cut. And then as you swing she's already wrapping around you, ghosting flawlessly into an angle where all the momentum is wrong for a strike. Her next nick flicks a fragment of your monk's robe into the air like a falling autumn leaf. And around you come and around she flows and the air comes to fill with falling orange leaves.

With each humiliation you restrain yourself a little less. With each needle-slice of fabric you allow yourself a little more power with which to bring this smiling girl to heel. But each escalation passes unremarked upon except by another fragment of orange cloth swirling up into the air.

After all, you never learned at the feet of a master, Rose from the River. You never practiced for long hours with your blade beneath a waterfall. You never meditated on what it was to engage another. You come from a world where skill was store-bought and a duel was as simple as running the math on who spent on the better combat algorithm. And where that runs short so too do your shapeshifting tricks, as though Qiu can read them on your blushing face.

You're fighting at your full strength and she's still patiently waiting for you to begin.

And then it finally registers. Princess Qiu doesn't need the Sunshards. She doesn't need an army or a kingdom. She doesn't need the Pyre of Knowledge. She doesn't need a HUNTER-Class 猎犬. She has what seems like an unlimited capacity for violence and her confidence is all justified.

This is the first time you have pursued a target and found it out of your reach. This is the first time you have been forced to confront the possibility that you are not the most dangerous thing on this world. You have been beaten and bound before, but that was the work of Empire - and though your mind rebels at the idea, your heart tells you that Qiu could face that Empire too.

You did not understand how a Princess might shoot down the suns. You did not understand the nature of the tomb where you found Yue, or the dress of the Demon Swordswoman. Now you do.

And it's a lot to process.

Yue!

Princess Qiu quietly gasps when you take that bite of cookie.

And isn't that the part that sticks in your head? She watched you come storming back in to get your sword without even a flicker of reaction, like she had wordlessly agreed not to undermine your dramatic exit by commenting or laughing or anything. She had understood that wasn't what you wanted and politely overlooked it. But she had understood exactly what was meant by that act of cookie-tasting defiance and she hadn't politely overlooked it - she'd treated it as deathly serious because she'd understood that was what you wanted. It was like you'd messed it up a dozen times throughout the conversation but with Qiu you'd somehow gotten your point across perfectly anyway.

For a tyrant jerk she was probably the best listener you'd ever met. It's the kind of listening that makes you feel powerful and satisfied. You did it, Yue! You told her right to her face and somehow that's the part that stands out in your memory instead of all the mistakes. Qiu had let everything else fade into the background and as you storm from the palace you actually feel like you'd done that a little bit like a real hero would have.

You've even got a moment to feel a little bit proud of yourself.

And then you look up and see a sky crosshatched with Assault Ribbons. Amidst them are larger ones, much like bulky kites, with painted on yellow eyes - and as those turn towards you they direct the lesser ribbons to dive down from the air towards you. If you're going to get out of here you'll need help - and a vehicle.
Hidden 18 days ago 18 days ago Post by Anarion
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Chen almost staggers backwards when Qiu breaks the embrace. She just looks at Qiu for a moment with big eyes, her lips starting to tighten. Then it bursts out of her.

"Why the fuck would I be anything but miserable?!" She's shouting, and takes a deep breath. "This is impossible! It's all impossible. You're going to conquer the whole world and somehow I'm the only one that can stop you? Look at all this! But my parents and everyone in all the kingdoms expect me to be the chosen one and save them! If I go take time for myself, somebody will call me or come get me for slacking off and I'll be punished! Hell I'm already getting punished. You know I got Yue here by telling Yin to back off instead of teaming up with her because I actually like Yue, and I'm going to get destroyed for it. Mommy Ysel is going to chew me out about how I don't prioritize my own kingdoms, then I'm going to end up with some kind of penance to Yin for mistreating a vassal, and then I'm going to be sent right back out here until I manage to duel you for your shards. Even you want it, don't think I didn't notice that edge on the ship earlier, you wanted me to draw my sword and fight you right there and you used your shards to push for it. I still can't figure out why you aren't doing the same now!"

Chen pulls out her sword then, sliding it up fluidly from its sheathe on her thin dress (still the one that Qiu had given her save the scarf) and turning her eyes to the sparkling crystal. The lights within danced and spun madly, reflecting her own agitation. "I like doing this, you know." Her voice gets quieter. "I like the teasing and the kidnapping and the, you know, the way we're all kind of friends, even the Princesses I haven't met in person yet. And I love flying and moving fast and dancing with the sword. Do you know, my parents gave me a little one, not very sharp, back when I was five, and I wouldn't let it go. I'd take it out and dance around my room at the Waterfall palace at night instead of going to bed. It had little crystal lights too. Ha, maybe it was a dagger for an older princess or something. When it was dark and I danced with it, the lights would leave faint lines like bright glowing ribbons as I twirled it around."

There's a few tears forming in Chen's eyes, but voice grows harder and angrier as she looks back up from the sword to Qiu. "But you're just like everybody else. Once I picked this thing up, all anybody sees is a blade with an adept hand. A sword makes me so special to everyone! Oh Chen, she's our champion! Oh she can be such a good rival. Oh please, work hard every day and be our savior! Nobody cares what I want because it would be such a fucking waste of my talent to do anything else!"

Chen wipes away hot tears with her silk sleeve, little dots of water darkening the fabric. She slips the sword back into its sheathe smoothly, the skill so worked into her muscle memory that even shaking with muffled sobs, the movement doesn't falter.
Hidden 16 days ago Post by Phoe
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If... if she said that the first face she thought of when she realized she was in a dramatic escape scene was Kat's, would you say that makes her a bad person? Well, um. Wh-what if the second face was Hyra's? Oh. And... and if, if the rest of the faces after that were actually just Assault Ribbons?

It, haha, it doesn't matter, right? Now that Yue's gone and made her (totally amazing!!!) declaration and pushed Princess Qiu this far, it's gonna take a miracle and a half for her to get out at all, never mind doing it while getting to make any kind of choices about what happens along the way! Her brain's gonna think about stuff pretty much randomly, right? Just little flickers to motivate her and no rhyme or reason to a one of them, y'know?

Honestly, a miracle and a half might be underselling things here. Yue couldn't tell you how she's managing to dodge the blows raining down from the sky like so many shooting stars. She can't explain how she's managing to run so far forward with all of the hippy hoppy spinny twirl dancy oh goodnessy she can really move like that-y? stuff that's happening right now. A-a-and, when something that scary is happening, you think of the people who need help the most, right? Kat with all her tiny foxiness and Hyra with her curse, don't they need somebody to get them out of this almost as much as Yue does? And, and, and don't they seem like the types to get caught with--

Eep! And eep! And a third, louder, more desperate eep! How does she!? Control so many?! Eeep?!? Ribbons!?!? Eeeeheeeheeeheeeeep!

Oh gosh, what is she thinking? Who is she kidding? She's the one who needs help! Three and three quarters' miracles and as much help as this giant confusing spooky-yet-domestic palace has hiding inside of it, please oh please oh please is this being too greedy? She's sorry, ok? She's sorry, she's sorry, she's sooohoooryyyy~! She was naughty and greedy and bad, but she needs her friends and she needs a hug and she needs something fast enough to get away from here and if it's not too much trouble she could really use a pointer or three on what that kind of thing would look like! Does Qiu own any fast cars? Is anybody here a slightly saner driver than the legendary Zatoichi?

Oh, who is she double-kidding, she'd take anything! And anyone! Cyanis, Rose, Chen, As-Of-Yet-Unseen-New-Friend-Who's-Probably-Some-Kinda-Zhenren-Robot-Girl-Or-Something-That's-How-Crazy-Things-Feel-About-Now! Somebody! She's sorry for not thinking of you first! She's sorry she has to keep dancing around these ribbons! She's sorry for ruining tea and painting and whatever else you might have been up to! She's sorry, ok, she's sorry, so please don't punish her like this! Please, please just--

"Somebody help meeeheeeheeeheeeeee!"
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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"Tch... you damn brat!"

Impossibly, Rose from the River has lost her cool. The Conciliatory Ice-Star Blade flows through shapes like water, but its tip is driven into the crack between two tiles. One of Rose's tight vine-braids comes loose, the ties around it snapping, and her too-thick-to-be-hair curls like the leaves of a fern in the rain. When she looks up at Qiu, her serpent's slits throb with passion, reflecting the ice-and-fire war raging in her own heart.

"Where do you think you get off... hnngh!" Qiu's blade kisses her cheek, and her fingers fly there just a moment too slow. Another strip of orange flutters to the ground. (Orange she wasn't wearing this morning; blame the stylization. A conical hat lies askew on the tiles; her practical black top peeks through the long gashes in the robe, which is much more striking in its damage, and isn't that what matters right now?) "You think I'm going to roll over meekly for you?"

(No, her heart sings: she's going to take those strips and wrap them tight around you, bind those swordplaying wrists fast and pinch your nose shut so she can cram in...)

Rose from the River makes a sound like a thousand-year-old tree being uprooted, all groan of roots and scream of branches, and darts into a nameless style we'll call Move Like Armies Form. She moves so fast, stones shattering underneath her feet, that she leaves afterimages to surround Qiu in a ring of illusions, only to strike from behind. Qiu stands still and blocks the strike without so much as looking behind her. The wind roars through the pillars as the air catches up to their swords.

Rose jumps, leaping from pillar to pillar, stone crunching under her terrible fingers, and then descends like a broken space elevator, howling. Qiu calmly vacates the landing zone, riding the rippling current of Rose's impact on the buckling flagstones, and makes it look easy. When Rose flings herself after, taking her blade in both hands and swinging it like a claymore, Qiu has already moved out of the way of every swing before Rose so much as makes it, and each swing is punished: hiss, hiss, hiss! Like a wasp, Qiu's sword flickers in and out, stinging Rose's skin and reducing that robe of the twilight sun to nothing but tatters, tatters draped over her like a shroud.

There: Qiu makes to block, and Rose surges forward like a hungry sea to slam her weight, her strength, her throbbing lunar blade, all of herself against this waif of a girl who thinks herself better. And at the very moment it is too late to do anything but follow through with the blow meant to pin her fast against a pillar, to drive the Conciliatory Ice-Star Blade through her dress like a spike and crush the breath out of her pretty lips with shoulder and hip, Qiu melts away, ducking impossibly low, leg swinging wide to unbalance the monk. Rose hits the pillar and then the ground hard in quick succession, and before she can stand up, one high heel presses insistently on the back of her head, pushing her back down. The sun gleams mercilessly on the hilt of the Conciliatory Ice-Star Blade, sunken to the crossguard in the black stone of the pillar.

Her heart is racing. It hammers against ribs and lungs heedlessly, howling incomprehensibly about brats and how dangerous it is to be helpless and how no one is ever going to take her seriously again and how her body is a fire from the skin down to the very marrow, and when she tries to raise her head, Qiu exerts the slightest pressure and the head goes back down. If there is any mercy, let no one be watching.

Then the shoe is removed, and Rose traitorously feels disappointed.

"Well?" This time she stays down. "Please, don't let me interrupt your victory gloating, your most excellentness, your royal pain-in-the-ass!" (No self-reflection on her judgment of Qiu. Absolutely none.) "After all, if the Way meant for you to lose here, it..."

It would have sent someone who wasn't Rose. The realization of her own pride slams into her like a mountain falling on her back. She'd not just failed herself, she'd failed the Way-- unless this was exactly what she was meant to do, meant to learn, and the proper harmony of the universe required her to be...!! (No, surely not, that's her petals doing the thinking for her, wanting Qiu to conquer her properly, to be reassured that she didn't have to choose between her own lust and her duty to the good of all things.) Her thoughts run round and round in circles, barking at each other like dogs, and all the while Qiu looks down at her, face hidden by the light of the sun surrounding her head as a halo.
Hidden 12 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Chen!

"That's rough, buddy," said Qiu, sitting on the railing and watching you sincerely. "That's... look, Chen. I've got an understanding with Jessic. If you need to hide out for a minute while you work through all this then she'll put you up and hear you out, she's way better at it than I am."

There's a gentle firmness to her voice. She's not being dismissive or deflecting - on the contrary, she's treating this with absolute seriousness.

Rose!

Princess Qiu drops something into your lap. Something small and soft, yet with cold and hard dots.

A collar, with a nametag.

Yue!

With a crash, Hyra is hurled through a plate glass window. She flips and lands perfectly, one hand lashing out to snatch the Assault Ribbon from the air inches behind you, the other aiming her sword directly at Princess Qiu. Princess Qiu for her part stands lazily with her sword resting across her shoulders, the gleaming light of the full moon raised above her. The full moon! It hangs low and huge in the sky with the cinematic grace of a celestial body who has learned its lesson about disappointing Princesses.

"Oh?" said Princess Qiu in her best villain voice. "I thought I was fighting a wolf and not a guard dog."

"You okay, Yue?" said Hyra, quietly, intensely. "I'm sorry - I can't beat her either."
Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by Anarion
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For a moment, Chen didn't say anything. More tears slid down her cheeks, and she just...looked away.

***

Li came and licked the tears from the sobbing girl's cheek. Her tongue was warm and when she bumped her head against Chen, her face was soft. She was only a little snow leopard, but she knew her friend needed her, so she settled herself in Chen's lap and wrapped her long fluffy tail around Chen's waist. She growled in her friendly way for Chen to give her scratches and the girl couldn't help but do it even through her tears.

"It's not fair" Chen said, wiping her face with the sleeve of her blue cotton training shirt. Li nuzzled closer and ensured that pets were maintained. "None of the handmaidens have to train like this and they do swords and flying and stuff. I wanna be better than them, Li, but, but...this sucks!"

Li didn't know that Chen was exhausted, that she had just spent a day inside a shard-created world of ice and snow battling some kind of storm demons conjured by both her mothers in consultation, or that Chen's arms felt like they were going to fall off and she could barely stand. But Li did know that Chen's fingers were very cold, and the little snow leopard helpfully licked her friend's fingers to help warm them up so the pets would feel nicer.

Princess Hestia did know what her daughter had been through, which perhaps made it all the more surprising when she quietly sat down next to Chen on her bed and pulling her into an embrace. It had been several years since they'd hugged like this. Hestia was often busy and Chen didn't need a hug and kiss goodnight anymore and hadn't for a while so it was rare for Hestia to visit her in her rooms.

"You don't have to do this" she said quietly. "I know your mother and I put a lot on you. Too much maybe. The Princessship of Sourcefall has been passed from mother to daughter historically, but nobody ever said it had to be, Chen. The wind could choose anyone as a dance partner and we don't have to put you up for it. There are other things to do."

Chen had hugged Li then and let her mother hold her, but she hadn't returned the embrace. "It's always all or nothing, Mom" she had said. "If I don't like the training, I can stop, but then I'm not the Princess anymore. Why can't I be the princess and learn to paint?! Or...or play the arhu, or, I dunno, whatever!"

Hestia sighed. She almost clucked her tongue, but held it back at the last moment. After a pause, she said "because you're gifted. You're naturally fast and perceptive, and if you built the right skills, you could be a once in a generation talent. Because you're the Princess Promised of Sourcefall and Ys until you say otherwise and people really are going to expect more from you honey. Ysel and I want you to be ready." She sighed again. This wasn't what her daughter wanted to hear, and she could tell. "That said...it, is arguable that improved fine dexterity would also improve your sword work. That is to say, a painting tutor isn't entirely out of the question. I'll...ask one of my handmaidens about it tomorrow. I recall she does landscapes sometimes. How does that sound?"

Chen didn't say anything, but when Hestia had left, Chen turned to Li, giving her big ear scritchies and said "I'm gonna be a Princess Li, and I'm gonna be a painter. And...and more stuff too, just you watch!"

***

As Chen's breathing steadied, she looked back at Qiu. "You don't get it" she said slowly, letting out a shuddering breath. "You just don't get it at all. I wasn't ready to be here yet, but I came to help Yue and now I'm here. I'm not...ugh, I'm not trying to get out of being the Princess, I'm trying to get out of it being impossible to do it! You're like, 'oof, that's a lot Chen, go talk to Jessic' and meanwhile you're going to go conquer another kingdom or two. And look, I appreciate the thought, I...ugh, I appreciate that you care about me, okay? It's not like that doesn't matter, but you also can't see why you're doing this whole thing in the dumbest way possible. So, fine, I'll go talk to Jessic. If, If! you can throw me out of here. Otherwise I'm taking your shards now and all your armies and demons won't matter one bit. I guess you do get your duel."

Chen gives Qiu a face that's half grin and half shrug and draws her sword back out, its crystal light gleaming. The instant it's fully unsheathed, Chen is already in motion. She steps and launches, her blade cuts the air before her and the crystal flashes. She's not fool enough to think that Qiu will be taken on the back foot, but she does think she's fast enough to press an immediate advantage and so she strikes for all she's worth.

[Fight with Grace: 4+3+2=9. I choose
-Create an opportunity for an ally through prowess or distraction
-Take an object from your opponent or seize a superior position
-Qiu gets to pick an option

Please interpret the results as limited as they need to be. This is not meant to short-circuit the story and I don't really think that Chen can get a shard here. But she is upset and she's going all out as best she can in this moment.

Edit: also I rolled high enough to get a string on someone present for this from Impressive Fighting.]
Hidden 11 days ago Post by Phoe
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"I'm fine! I mean it-- you're not... I don't mind that-- w-we, we've gotta go, ok? We've gotta go, we... please, c'mon, we, we gotta, Hyra please! Let's run!"

It's difficult in the best of times to get a wolf to run when it doesn't want to, and these? Not the best of times! And Hyra's not exactly your average wolf, for that matter. The way she wraps her arm around Yue's space, the way she plants her feet and points her gorgeously shining sword up toward the Evil Tyrant Qiu, the way her beautiful, perfect, oh-so-wiry-and-firm muscles tighten, anybody with eyes and a brain not overwhelmed by fear could tell without even trying very hard that Hyra was ready to break herself here and now if it meant protecting Yue. Running wasn't even a word to her anymore.

Maybe it's because Hyra is a handmaiden and a good packmate, and guarding precious things is what she was born to do. Maybe it's because she's a proper hero (unlike some people we could name) and impossible odds make her blood quicken instead of causing her heart to shrink and her legs to knock together until she can't stand up anymore. Or maybe, and you should probably have considered this first Yue, maybe she's in an impossible spot where if she's good and brave and willing to lose the moon will stay in the sky and she'll get to keep being herself for a while longer. Just a while longer, Yue! What's so hard to understand?

But Yue is mean, and cruel and selfish. This is twice now she's been in the part of the story where the protagonists make a daring last minute escape and it's twice that she's found it way less fun to do than to read about. Maybe someday somebody would write her story down too, and if they do she really hopes they sit down and talk with her first so she can explain how awful this bit is. She hates this feeling, actually. It stinks to be so weak and useless. It stinks finding out you've got it in you to stand up to the great evils of your time but then not have anything left over to stick around and deal with the consequences.

But what's she supposed to do, huh? Qiu is, with one possible exception, the greatest princess every to pick up a sword! Everybody says so! And then everybody else says that they heard so! And Yue's a beginner! Not even a beginner! She's very sorry, beginners, for implying such terrible things about you! Every time she thinks about her sword form she falls on her face in practice, and she only just this morning managed to figure out the first hand position for the spell of flight. This is, if not the biggest mismatch in history, then at least the saddest. Her heart trembles and her stomach squishes like she's in the car on the way up to this palace. The hairs on the back of her neck won't lay down for all the polite asking in the universe.

It's mean to do it. Outright nasty, even. But Yue does it anyway: see, one of the best ways to control a wolf is to make eye contact and hold it. It's dangerous, 'cause that's also how you challenge them to, like, wolf duels or whatever, but there's not much risk of that when the stare Yue's giving is so filled with liquid and so pitifully pure that you'd have to be brainwashed to misunderstand it. It's manipulative and awful to cut off the debate in a way that doesn't even give Hyra a chance to defend her ideas. But the time to start running was at least three minutes ago, and ohhhhhh gosh do they need to run, so she looks. And she grabs Hyra by her perfect moonlight arm, and she tugs.

And when Hyra sees her and goes slack? She's off like a bullet. She doesn't know how she does it, let alone why, but Yue bounds away through a forest of oddly slackened ribbons like she'd been waiting for this exact moment her entire life, and as she does she wraps her arms around Hyra and... no! Is she really? She couldn't possibly! When did she even get so? The very idea that she could even! But... oh! Gosh. She really did just grab Hyra by the waist and lift her off the ground to carry her, princess style, as if she really thought that her legs were gonna be the faster ones.

...D'you ever wonder how you can tell when something's meant to be? Well, turns out? The real trick of it is that sometimes you'll find yourself in a situation that, if you're honest, you've got no earthly business being in. You just came to say 'thank you for the opportunity' and then go home, right? So how'd you wind up running through a whatever-thingy in the moonlight in the middle of the afternoon with a bunch of assault ribbons nipping at your calves with a beautiful warrior held in your overwhelmed and desperately straining arms?

Search me, sister! But if you ever do wind up in a situation just like that, the sign you wanna look for that tells you everything's gonna be ok is when that whole crazy situation happens? The proud and powerful woman in your arms doesn't struggle or glare at you, but pulls herself closer against you instead. If she doesn't try to move except to adjust her weight to make it easier for your poor twig arms to keep holding her long enough not to get you get free and not wind up in super-jail or whatever. If, when she looks at you again, she rolls her eyes and smiles? That's lo-- d'yaaaaahhhIiiii mean, th-that's the sign you made a good choice. Yup. Yup! Sure is a sign, haha! A sign of positive decision making, to be clear!

But what about the creeping warmth that fills you until there's almost no room left for all the fear? Is that a sign of something too? Asking for a friend.
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The collar hits her lap with more weight than it should have— or is that simply Rose’s perception? She’s sitting up now, back to that simple black pillar. One finger runs along the simple, humiliating studs. (As if she were some dog! Not even the fine gold of Ys!) The name is written in the flourish of elegant curves, a reminder of a mistress’s refinement.

Then she is on her feet, and that tattered twilight-orange robe blossoms between the two of them. It takes Qiu only a moment to make a perfect cut right through, but that is moment enough for Rose to pull the Conciliatory Ice-Star Blade from the pillar with a scream of effort. Then it changes in her hands into a staff once more, and the collar swings jauntily on one end of it.

“Your offer is so sudden, your insufferableness,” Rose from the River says, hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. “You can hardly expect me to make a decision so weighty in haste! We’ll call it a draw for now, shall we?”

But both of them know that Qiu won, and that’s obvious as Qiu allows her to disengage, still carrying that collar on the end of her staff. Rose shows her the courtesy of walking backwards, keeping her eyes on Qiu, rather than showing the disrespect of turning and walking away. She might be impish in this moment of defeat, but she’s not that cocky. Not after a display of swordsmanship like that. As it is said,

A sudden hiss, a coming to blows;
then the defeated leaves, tail lowered.
When cats come to blows, they show mercy;
shall their masters show anything less?
Hidden 10 days ago 10 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Chen!

Qiu catches your sword in her teeth.

With a single toss of her neck she sends you and it tumbling head over ass over the balcony and down the side of the pyramid. You've got a long couple of seconds skidding down the glassy stone with which to contemplate the sheer precision of that action and the ease with which she threw you aside.

Are... are you actually talented, Princess Chen?

Well, the objective answer is 'yes' because no sooner have you hit the terrace you're attacked by a dozen guards and a swarm of Assault Ribbons and you're able to hold your own - but that's it. You said armies and demons wouldn't matter and here you are neck deep in both, not even worthy to fight Qiu herself. She hadn't even given you a show. That's perhaps the most cutting thing of all - for how extra she's been every time you met her, here you are, unceremoniously thrown to deal with the help. After you'd finally offered her the duel she wanted so badly!

What emotion had that been in her eyes before she'd done that? Disappointment? Sadness? Resignation? Perhaps, the thought arises, the ceremony had been the point. The whole buildup and the speeches and the pipe organ... maybe that was the point for her, more than the fight itself. And you'd kind of thrown all of that preparation in her face and offered her a pity duel afterwards. And maybe you'd hurt her by doing that.

You're skilled enough when weighed against these guards, though. You'll be able to fight your way to secure an escape vehicle and hold off the guards long enough for the others to arrive with you. But you can't shake the impression that somehow you didn't hold up your end.

[Princess Qiu inflicts Guilty on you in return]

Rose!

The Way has surprised you with a moment of uncomfortable complexity. Luckily, it is not in the habit of those. Most of the time the Way is simple. Where one is attacked by many, defend the one. When Princess Chen is being attacked by a swarm of goons what better moment to re-assert that you are in fact a powerful and wise sage who can wield both righteousness and a staff? That thing with Qiu had been a one-off. You are now as you should be. Nobody saw you slip. Maybe not even the Way?

And besides, if anything can make you confident that you are still good at your job, it's spotting Cyanis as she tries to sneak out amidst the chaos with a painting tucked under each arm while wearing as many necklaces as she can fit around her neck. You catch her by the ankle, hold her upside down, and shake her causing a truly ludicrous amount of loot to fall - matched only by the ludicrous outpouring of lies explaining where she got it. And then, relieved of your earthly burdens, the two of you are on your way to the car.

Yue!

Somehow it's you who winds up behind the wheel.

It's not your fault! The passenger side was closer and it kind of would have spoiled the moment to walk all the way around the van to put Hyra in the drivers seat, and not just because you're not sure your arms would have held out. And now you're here and she's watching you with wide eyes, and it's your turn to have another awesome movie moment - throwing the stick into first gear and slamming the pedal.

Wait, stick? Uh. Yue? You've driven a manual transmission before, right?
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Ok, hands on the wheel. Hands on the wheel. You can do this Yue, you've driven before. Like... once? In a circle around a small playground? With the engine already running? But still! She's got... y'know, non-zero experience! So hands on the wheel and, and um... um.

And look at Hyra?

"Turn the key, Yue."

Hahaha, isn't it funny how she said it like that? She's so cute when she's talking through clenched teeth. And the way she's holding her body so tensely, pushing her legs into the floor and gripping the door handle like it's a sword is almost enough to make a person think she's worried something bad is gonna happen!

Well, that's probably 'cause she saw Yue's first attempt at holding a real sword. And her first try at using magic. And her first duel. And her first adventure. Y'know, the one where Hyra got cursed and they both wound up stumbling naked through the woods until they were saved by a passing and stunningly beautiful fox who has never committed a single crime in her life? So there's... yeah, there's that and all, but it's ok, Hyra! It's fine! Like we've already established, this is Yue's second time driving!

She turns the key with the majesty and raw confidence of a person who is very obviously faking it for the benefit of all her terrified friends. The engine gasps and sputters its affront, then makes a truly hideous death cry before it shudders and does whatever the car equivalent is of collapsing into a pile forever because it's dead, oh gosh it's dead, dead or broken or whatever the technical term is sorry I'm a little preoccupied right now oh no!

"Oh no, I'm sorry! I'm sorry, little car! I didn't mean it! I di-- I didn't mean--"

"Yue. Breath." Hyra should probably take her own advice here, huh? "You need to depress the..."

"I depressed it? Is that why it died? Oh no I made it so sad it gave up its car soul! Oh gosh I knew I wasn't cut out for any of this!"

"You didn't kill it! Just, nnngh, just stomp on the clu... fffff. Ok, no. The pedal on your left. Your other left. Your other..."

"Th-this one?"

"That one."

"And this'll bring the car back to life?"

"It's not de-- yes, Yue. This will bring the car back to life. Just hold your foot on that pedal, and then turn the key. Ok?"

Hyra glares out the window at the swarm of Assault Ribbons as they slither to and fro above the car waiting with the patience of a bunch of monks. They ripple up and down in the ribbon-version of laughter. Yue does what she's told. And then, a miracle! The dead speak! All across the pyramid ('s garage) the sound of an engine shaking itself to life can be hear. Yue laugh-cries in terror-relief, and crosses her left foot over her right to reach what she's pretty sure she remembers is the go button.

The car roars a mighty battle cry, fiercer than any dragon. But it's missed a memo somewhere or something, because all that engine...ing is not doing a ton of thrilling getaway action. Or, um. Y'know. Moving. At all? Tears well up at the corners of Yue's adorable blue eyes and start dribbling down her soft, untested cheeks. She lets go of the go button. Nothing. She tries the other other button. Nothing. She lets up on the Resurrection Button.

"Heeeuuurrgh!"

Strap in and hold on, everybody! Or, well, hope you were already strapped in, that is. But do hold on! Or you're gonna have the biggest headache of your life as the poor, abused car lurches forward with a truly sickening and ferocious heave before uttering its familiar death quote and toppling over again into stillness.

And Yue? Oh, poor Yue is choking back real tears right now. Her slender shoulders shake like leaves with the effort of not falling apart, and she slams her fist down on the steering wheel because it's the only thing her body will let her do besides curling into a ball. The horn honks: an angy chirp that makes her squeak and shoot straight back into her seat again.

"Do you need me to switch with you?"

"I... I can..."

"I'm getting out. Just leave it like it is and we'll--"

"No! I can! I can do this! I can I can! I have to do this!"

The pink on Hyra's cheeks is almost as deep as the dazzling blue of Yue's eyes. Shining with tears that sparkle starlight bright from the fire burning and bubbling inside of them. And, well? The legends say, and of course there are legends of this day! Of course there are! Why wouldn't there be, who says there aren't? Ooooohhhhh, you. Best believe we're going to the library after this! Then you'll see, the legends say a switch was born at this very instant. Hyra untenses and meekly folds her arms into her lap.

"Try again. When I say so, you need to push this stick up here. Then you'll... just do it like I tell you."

The stick slams into first gear, but not before making the single worst grinding noise anybody present has ever heard. Or likely will ever hear again. The engine revs, she pushes one foot down and lets the other one up. Seatbelts lock with the fury of a starving anaconda. The car makes a brief daydream of metamorphosing into a jet. And they fly!

One hundred meters later, headaches. Momentum is a product of the li... actually, y'know what? We don't need to go there. Where we do need to go is through the seats. And the dashboard. And in poor Yue's case, the steering wheel. Collar bones are crushed by life saving restraints. There's pain and grumbling and a great many 'sorry's to go around, but those aren't as important as what happens next:

Hyra smiles. She peels her body off of the door and she smiles the quiet, grim smile of a warrior greeting her fellow on the battlefield before they drown in a hail of arrows. When Yue smiles back, she's softer about it. There's not much about that girl that's very grim at all, bless her. She turns her lips up in a wet and soft and beautiful (but like, in a very plain and ordinary way, right?) grin so full of teeth and encouragement.

This time the car makes it one hundred and fifty meters. And the time after that, startled Assault Ribbons have to shake off their laughter and get to smashing, because that girl is gone. The poor abused vehicle revs and whines with maximum effort and shoots forward like a bunny that's forgotten that there's such a thing as a top speed. The RPM counter and the other little dial whatsit that tells you how hot things max out instantly and then sit there pouting because nobody cares enough to even pay attention. Something, not sure what but I think it might actually be the wheel? Or maybe the wheels, or... ok fine, I don't know, ok? The car's just shaking and it's bad and scary and

"It's vrooming!"

"It's supposed to!"

"But it's not nyyyroooming! Isn't it supposed to-?"

"FOR FUCK'S SAKE YUE KEEP THAT FOOT ON THAT PEDAL!"

"EEeeeep! Y-yes'm!"

...And that's how that's going! What's new with y'all?
Hidden 7 days ago Post by Anarion
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Anarion School Fox

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Chen was falling. It happened so fast that it took her a couple seconds for everything to catch up. time, blessedly, did decide to slow down a moment, long enough for her to replay the scene in her head. A few times. She had drawn, kicked forward, and used all the magic she could muster to rush at Qiu and far from even being a worthwhile match, she had been grabbed, pulled right out of her fighting stance, and flung out. But...what stuck with her were Qiu's eyes. Normally they were so smug, so full of life and sparkle and that burning passion that Qiu emanated. But when Chen had been right there, that close to her, Qiu catching the crystal blade impossibly in her teeth, Qiu's eyes had looked away, that had been sadness and a little pain.

She came to a sliding stop with her feet against the side of the pyramid, still about ten feet off the ground. Sword still in hand. She had trained for thousands of hours by now, so the first two assault ribbons that tried to pull her down were split in two so casually that the sword swipe barely even registered. She certainly wasn't paying attention to it and her eyes were staring back up the pyramid as her sword came to a rest by her side.

Damn it! Wasn't Chen supposed to be causing Qiu pain? She was supposed to be kicking her butt and stealing her shards and crushing her dreams for the good of...of...oh no. No, she'd messed up. This wasn't for anybody's good. Not even her own. Not her family's, not the other princesses, not Yue's or Rose's, least of all Qiu's. Qiu wanted something different and Chen had thrown it all in her face for...for nothing! No wonder she was mad! What was even the point?

She was constantly in motion. Those first two assault ribbons had been followed by twelve more that required a flurry of slashes. She moved through it like she was practicing the forms, slash up, slice down, momentum into hips and turn for another slash fading away only to go into another combination. Guards came up from below, a few trying to meet her head on and tie up her sword while others tried to grab her from below and behind. That made her have to speed up, like showing off back when Mom and Mommy were together and she would show off. Parry, press into the thrust, follow the momentum and kick for a sudden turn, then force backwards through the air turning to meeting the oncoming guards with a wide sweep and push them away. Step downwards, gaining height in the easy style, flying like you're walking up invisible stairs, weight on the balls of the feet. Parry again and riposte decisively, thrust into the opponent and knock them out of the sky before the next can be upon you.

Chen was going to have to take Qiu up on the trip to Sky Castle. If Qiu thought that Jessic really could help, that was a strong recommendation. Come to think of it, Chen couldn't remember Qiu recommending anybody to her before. Like, besides herself. So Jessic was probably really good. Besides that wasn't even accounting that Chen had basically promised to go if Qiu threw her out and Qiu hadn't hesitated in the slightest. It made her mad though! This all sucked. She just wanted a hug from Qiu! And like, okay, she wanted her to stop taking over the world too, but in the moment she had just wanted a hug. Instead Qiu had looked at Chen like...like she wasn't even supposed to be a princess and then flung her out like she wasn't one and it just...It just urgh! It made Chen feel like she was a million billion miles away from Qiu and she was never going to get there. Seriously, Chen was barely making it through a handful of guards and animated ribbons!

She kicked another guard, using that momentum to launch into a proper flight, not just stair stepping but leading with the sword and that speed meant finally breaking some distance between herself and the pyramid. That was when she saw Yue and Hyra fleeing from a thick mass of the assault ribbons.

Chen had a little spark of hope when she saw her friends. It was almost like a fog lifting. Or coming up for air. Like...exactly that, actually? Chen felt like she hadn't been breathing. Hadn't she come here for Yue in the first place? Oh winds, Chen had been the one to say not to pick a fight and now she had gone and done it and it looked like everybody else was in just as bad straights. But that at least gave her something to focus on. With a little space, Chen noticed that some parts of the pyramid weren't half so stark as Qiu's initial presentation. There were little lights for the barracks, and people milling about (probably dismissed from Qiu's military parade maybe?) not to mention old tech with little towers and wires. And, most importantly, some cars! They had too many non-flying members to carry, so shoving down memories of Zatoichi with a gulp, Chen resolved to get her friends an escape route.

She was at the parking lot almost instantly, but it was full of surprised guards and more coming from behind along with the constant stream of assault ribbons. Qiu must have made hundreds of the things! Maybe this was even a shard thing? Didn't matter, she was already coming out of her flying stance with a charging thrust (the unlucky guard nearest the big van was, shockingly, not up to Qiu's level of deflecting swords with her mouth). She sliced upwards, the crystal light rising and released a burst of light at the apex of her slash, briefly blinding the guards as she leapt into the car. There wasn't really time to get it going properly, and less still to drive it, so she settled for throwing down the break, sending it hurtling forward with a blast of raw magical power, and then rolling out of the driver's seat to keep the rapidly approaching guards off the van and on her.

Chen glanced back at the pyramid again, shaking her head. Her thoughts kept wandering back to Qiu. She didn't want things like this. She wanted to be a Princess, for real. Chen just...couldn't figure out what that meant yet. Chen was sure it wasn't throwing everything Qiu cared about in her face just because Qiu didn't understand her. It wasn't just running off and training until her moms were satisfied either. And...and it wasn't just doing what Qiu wanted and letting Qiu take over for Chen's moms in telling her what to do. That was something at least. Chen didn't want any of those things. It definitely did involve some good hugs and a new costume like...like that one that Cyanis made for her maybe...but poofier.

She blushed but didn't slow down as she circled. She wasn't trying to move to a new spot now, so her form had changed. Sweeping strokes one after another. Not fast, but without leaving openings, a constant flow as she used a free hand to quickly shift and steady her aerial position and make sweeping crystal strikes with her blade. The goal was to force the guards into a half moon with her between them and the van and it was working. There was a bang and a clatter and a noise like a hundred vroom vrooming cars all growling at once, but no time to turn her head backwards to look what was going on. She needed to focus and keep enough space.

Chen did spare a glance through the crowd for Rose. Where was she? Between the two of them, they could get everyone else out of here. Had Qiu had a demon ready to ambush her? Or some special trick? She prayed that Rose was okay, going back towards that pyramid seemed like the most dreadful thing in the world to Chen right now, she couldn't bear to face Qiu after that.

[Chen is no longer smitten with Qiu. They're just too far apart right now.]
Hidden 6 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Tatterdemalion Veiled Fox

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"Consulting fees!"

Cyanis soars in a graceful arc up into the air, still clinging to a still life. She curls all of her limbs around it for dear life as she comes hurtling back down right into Rose's crushing grip, the monk having cleared a space around them with a two-handed sweep of her staff. She grimly bites down on it as Rose tries to shake it loose from her grip. No! No dropping the painting! It's hers!!

"Oh, really? And what exactly were you consulting on, little thief?" Rose carries her under one arm and runs nimbly down a handrail towards the waiting car where Yue and Hyra are scrambling in. The smile on Rose's face as she sees Yue managing to carry Hyra is the very eye of the storm, so sweet that hearts would melt just to see it. Unfortunately, she is fending off Assault Ribbons and dangling a very naughty fox from one arm, so there's no one there to witness her tenderness.

"Well, as you know," Cyanis chirps haughtily, doing her best to balance necklaces on her tail without letting them fall off, "Princess Qiu intends to conquer the Nine Kingdoms and prove, once and for all, that she is the best! That is some top-notch villainy! So naturally she needed some advice on how to make her dreams come true, because that's all that we foxes do!" She leans her head back and beams pure, distraught innocence right into Rose's forehead chakra. "And then she paid me for my services because unlike some people she knows that all labor should be ethically compensateeeeeeeeeed!"

Up she goes, and back down she goes. Rose catches the frame of the painting and swings it around in a circle, warding off Assault Ribbons with a screaming foxgirl. Cyanis scrabbles on the frame until the centrifugal force is too much, and she is flung yowling into the air. Rose, for her part, tosses the painting to the Assault Ribbon creeping up on her and then races to catch Cyanis before she can hit the ground. She has to dive and curl up around her in a very rough and bumpy roll, but she manages to do it, fulfilling her commitment to both preventing fox crimes and protecting cuties. Then she has to run with Cyanis scrabbling and climbing around her face and shoulders, trying to distract her for the perfect escape, wailing as she trails her consulting fees in her wake, and in general being a huge distraction.

Rose tosses her into the car through a door graciously opened by Hyra. Cyanis doesn't even hit the ground before she's turned herself around and flings herself back out, right into Rose's arms. Rose buckles them both in with the same seatbelt and nods for Yue to hit it, before resting her head on the well-named headrest a moment too soon. Turns out that it's more of a head-smack when Yue's trying to figure out how to drive stick.

"Why in the name of the right path are you acting like this, fox?" Rose said, holding the suddenly very suspiciously unprotesting fox in her arms. "Just because you thought you could steal something from under my very nose? Or did you think you could escape me?" The very thought! Even if it had been a test of all her skills to keep Cyanis in check while also managing to escape, she'd done it. She was the best at fulfilling the will of the Way and the law of the land.

"Should have known better," Cyanis said with feigned grumpiness, tail wagging between Rose's ankles. "Nothing gets past you." Her cutiebeans ears twitch just underneath the name tag: ~Rose~ She may have been caught, but her honor as a fox remains pure. Sure, maybe Rose from the River will drag her off to cutie jail now, but she'll always remember the moment when she realizes Cyanis managed to collar her without her even noticing. She hums, the true mark of the unsuspicious, right up until the car accelerates and slams her head back into soft fluffy heaven.
Hidden 6 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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You're starting to get the hang of it, Yue! You've got your friends together and you're on your way out of the weird marble pillar field and even the Assault Ribbons are starting to fall off the side of the car.

But then you hear a new sound. Impossible over the roaring engine - and yet. Low and heavy and steady and...

You glance at the rear view mirror. You see the black armoured helicopter bearing down on you from behind. Princess Qiu is hanging out of the side, aiming a shoulder mounted rocket launcher.

Well, she is a traditionalist after all.

You pull the wheel hard to the side, sending the car screeching around a corner as a missile impacts on a nearby pillar causing a spectacular fireball. A moment later the helicopter rushes past, gaining altitude so it can come around for another sweep. You desperately recover from the stall and floor it again and before you know it you're out of the Qiu final boss stage and back onto the freeway.

It's not enough to shake her. That helicopter follows you intently, coming down low so Qiu can fire another rocket.

[Roll to Defy Disaster with Daring!]
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