Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Bork Lazer
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Bork Lazer Chomping Time

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“ I reap for what others sow in the salt.”

Reseph, The Above, unknown source





18th of Uulu Ut, 3 A.R, The Shallows

The heavy purples of the Shallows were fading gently into the blues of the Harvest Dawn, like a painter mixing together a palette. The Moghra’Yi glittered in the shallowlight, briefly resembling a phantom of the once mighty waters that cut through the Rust Shelves. With the sun spilling over the white sand, the light inexorably dripped into a rising tide that luminated the caverns and canyons, millennia of history whetted in each stripe of dried sediment.

Atop a withered witchwood log, Alu thought it was the most remarkable sight he’d ever seen in his travels.

The raccoon stood a lonely vigil on his haunches, his phosphorescent blue fur twitching in the cold shadow of the canyons. He wore a vestment of burnt ridgebark tapered together with strips of skin with a green steelsilk cloak shadowing over his heads. Tied around his waist with his tail were two steel-quenched stilettos the length of fallen twigs. Two bracelets, inlaid with copper whorls, were clasped around his wrists. His scarred paws were clutched on an oblong pipe carved from a crab shell. His right head took a deep breath from the mouthpiece and puffed out a series of cloudy hoops whilst his other head acted the part of a sentinel. The vapor, scented with dried urberry, trickled down his maw and electrified his nerves, blinding his hands and feet with heat before simmering down into a mild sweetness. They floated upward, bobbing up and down like jellicines, before dissipating into thin air.

He peered down to Hagashem on top of the rocky outcrop he was on. From this point, he could see the entirety of the slumbering village. The sandstone huts were built on different canyon shelfs, making use of the limited space as best as they could. Decks had been built at the edge of each of the geyser pools, lines and nets hung from them into the still waters below. The highest one, where the elder stayed in, was gated behind a wall of thatched brinestalk with guard goats patrolling the battlements. The only sources of light he could make out were the now fuming cinders of the sconces erected around the village and the prowling ray cats that skittered along the pebbled paths.

Suddenly, his whiskers twitched. He could smell a rustle in the cat bristle bushes behind him. He unholstered his brinewood derringer and fired off one warning shot into the shrubline.

“ Who goes there?” growled Alu’s right head. “ Reveal yourself before I reveal your corpse.”

The bushes parted. Alu lowered the barrel, his fur now glowing a brighter shade of blue in embarrassment. No, it wasn’t a snapjaw. It was a dromad. Specifically, a very annoying dromad that had been one of his most faithful companions throughout the entire expedition. Ivory robs swaddled his entire upper body, decorated with the tapestries of one of the Argent Fathers, Alu couldn’t tell which, knighting a Mechanimist. His ungulate face was sandscratched and veiled in a fleece scarf that was weaved in the highlands of Mercalli. Down his neck swayed trinkets that hung from flaxen necklaces, chiming raucously with every turn of the head. Pouches and skins could be seen stuffed underneath every corner of his body. Alu’s whiskers could pick up the thick odor of perfumes that made him gag, even, though he’d warned him a dozen times that it would attract stray predators.

“ By the Argent Fathers, I’ve been looking all over Hageshem for you! No wonder you were so hard to find, you weren’t even in the village in the first place! ” The man-camel spoke in a rich accent that had been refined and forged in the dying heat of desert bazaars. He then looked down at Alu’s pistol with amusment. “ If you are going to shoot me, I recommend aiming to my right instead Dromad hearts are located ipsilaterally to most races.”

“ Live and drink, Bacter.” Alu’s right head sighed, rolling its eyes, whilst his left still peered at the sunrise, its molten light cascading down on the saltmarsh.

“ Live and drink, Alu.” Bacter replied back. The orange light was now spreading across the red sands of Hagashem, reminding the raccoon of the soft blaze of a campfire. “ What are you doing perusing the salt winds this early?”

“ Taking watch,” he lied. Well, half-lied. It was said that the Spindle was the most magnificent during the Harvest Dawn, a chrome tendon between two planes of existence. He’d also done it to get away from the prying eyes and questions of the villagers.

“ That or wasting your time away with that shisha.” Bacter’s took a draught of the humid air around Alu, nostrils flaring “ Is that scented water I do detect? Of course a plebian like you couldn’t handle raw, undiluted water.”

“ It allows me to concentrate better.”

“ Whilst I do applaud your vigilance, Warden Iya is more than capable of standing watch over this little canyon hamlet..” Bacter gave a little chuff of amusement as he approached Alu’s vigil from behind.“ Unless you are not confident of her abilities…..?”

“ I do not lack faith in the quillipede.” Alu’s left head looked at the dromad with a hard glare “ Regardless, this expedition is my responsibility and I am the leader. I should be the first to wake and the last to sleep.”

Bacter settled down next to Alu, sitting cross-hoofed in a hunched stance. The dromad took a deep breath, the sound of wet throttling in his lungs, as if he was preparing to undertake a pilgrimage.

“ Alu. You haven’t relaxed since we strode a parasang past Joppa. Look at the sky. Taste the salt in the air. You are breathing Qud’s air. Your paws are awash with its soil.” The dromad took a scoop of soil with his three digits and tilted his palm, letting it fall back to the ground. “ When we started this journey,my kin believed we would die crossing the Yawningmoon. I believed we would be skinned alive and our corpses butchered into sweetbread by the scorpion-men in Satur.” He then chuckled distantly, rubbing the wispy hairs on his chin. “ I remember at the beginning when our journey nearly failed because you couldn’t hold yourself from strangling a water merchant who overcharged his prices. We’ve come so far, Alu, and yet, still you are unhappy?”

“ Bacter, I am unhappy because we still have so far to go.” Alu pointed a finger towards the left, beyond Hagashem, where the mottled swamps of the salt marshes began to mix with the outlying fortification of trunks and trees that made up the borders of Qud’s jungles. Behind it, Alu could see the green hills and mounds, imagining the buried chrome that laid underneath the bed of roots, desiccated leaves and loam.

“ In spite of your penchant for realism, you pay little attention to the other members of our company.”said Bacter. “ Have you ever thought about how far they would be willing to go for your dream?”

“ Our interests align, Bacter.” Alu looked away from his friend, hunching in discomfort. “ It’s not as complicated as you make it out to be.”

“ You made them think your interests aligned with theirs. You sweetened the deal by offering them shade and water. You concealed your lofty dreams as theirs, like baiting a madpole with blood.The True Kin from the Cloud Temples......The moon priest....” Bacter palmed his face in shame. " I thought you had gone half mad when you allowed that Black Shelf calf into our expedition...."

“ Do you not think I have thought of that?” Alu snapped. “If they knew what I was grasping for, the very stuff of the Eaters… Why doubt me now? After all we’ve been through.”

“I do not doubt, my procyonid friend. I offer reflection in a journey that you are determined has no mirages. We have made it this far thanks to your careful guidance. Do not let your obsession, whatever it may be, endanger this expedition.”

The raccoon and the man-camel sat in silence as the sun continued to rise and split the salt-spangled sky into fragments.

“ Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot to ask you.” Bacter’s voice now was lighter, scented with curiosity “ Will you be joining us for the meal mid-Harvest Dawn?”

“ I don’t see the point of such a event in the first place.”

“ Perhaps, you don’t but the true Kin, mutant, plant and fungi you have brought hundreds of parasangs over to Qud would appreciate it.” Bacter groused. " I've made dietary preparations for Efere and Starfield already."

“ Of course you have. Useless…” Alu pinched the bridge of his beady nose in frustration“ Wasting time when we could be half-way to the Stilt by now. Can’t we just use our rations and make off before the waxing salt sun?”

Sighing, Bacter instead took a different tact by appealing to Alu’s inflated sense of logic.

“ It is not a matter of nutrition. It is a matter of morale. To merely eat rations is to avoid starvation. To eat together is to celebrate, to feed the soul as if it were. It would do good if you were there with them.”

Alu sat unmoving, contemplating Bacter’s words. He made several tired nods, shoulders sagging in surrender.

“ You’ve made your point. Now, leave me be.”

“ Very well.” Instead of leaving, Alu watched as Bacter produced a thermal pot from under his robe with a smug grin. “ I’ll very gladly help myself to this tasselwort tea in my tent.”

That caught his attention. Alu’s ears perked up, watching with rapt attention as a hydrolytic cell was inserted into a small port. The bottom of the heating element began to turn a shade of red, boiling water whistling from underneath the cap. The raccoon began waving his stubby paws over for a cup.

Bacter tried best to hide his smile as he poured two cups for both of them. Perhaps, his friend wasn’t lost to the chrome completely.




18th of Uulu Ut, 3 A.R, Harvest Dawn

Alu whistled loudly and waited.

Maybe, that time was too quiet.

Alu gave off the same rattling whistle again to release the anxiety bottled up in him. One high-pitched and two low-pitched. Just as he had memorised. It was the expedition’s code signal for group meals or urgent meetings. Alu did it once, waiting on the balls of his feet as he looked out into Hagashem for the members of his expedition.

“ You needn’t try and wake them up, Alu.” Bacter spoke off to the side, nursing a cup of water. “ I already informed them of the meal beforehand and where to meet.”

“ Well, I’ll know who to blame if they don’t show up on time.” Alu peered behind, trying to ignore the grumble of his stomach and the temptation to dive headfirst into what laid on the table.

The brinewood table was caked in a stack of dishes and plates of a hundred feasts. There were charred spits which speared through greasy char-broiled chunks of meat, jugs of congealed honey and sugar water along with numerous entrees which, in accordance with Hagashem’s ischaari origins, had copious amounts of salt. Tureens of poached glowpads surrounded an absolutely monstrous beast whose yawning jaw was filled with chopped dread roots and julienned starapples. Bacter took a slice of milled vinewafer, dipping it into a saucer of sap before biting off the soggy end.

The Harvest Dawn burnt above brightly, casting its white rays on the pale expanse of the Moghra'yi. The geyser pools of Hagashem glittered in its radiance. Alu watched as a hooded villager of Hagashem hooked bait on their line and threw it deep into the cave water. The Harvest Dawn was known as a time of good fortune, the gentler twin of the more temperamental Hindsun by the Ekuemekiyyen Sun Priests. Issachari nomads claimed their moisture nets were coated with enough drams for a week. Watervine farmers believed their stalks were more turgid and riper during this period. The beetlebums, dew-wings, glowcrows and other pests lied asleep and with the sun out, the conditions were perfect for all manner of labor. Superstition soon led into habits and then, tradition. down via cultural osmosis into the consciousness of humble watervine farmers and ranchers everywhere.

“ What a feast indeed.” A voice rumbled to Alu’s left. A giant shadow swept over him. “ You’ll have to thank our best hunters for that big one over there. It took over two hundred and twelve slugs and that was before we had to drag the bloody thing out of the Yonth.”

Alu coughed in surprise and glanced quickly at Bacter who simply smiled and turned the other way around. Damn the dromad. He was not one for diplomacy and negotations. He usually left that up to Bacter. Alu stood up straight and then, bowed respectfully to the towering man in front of him.

“ Elder Chokes-By-Quicksalt, you honour us with this salt you have procured. We apologise once again for the disturbance we have brought to your village.”

Chokes-By-Quicksalt did not reply at first. Standing 7 foot tall, his sun-burnt complexion was a token of parting from his life as a Isachaari. He still held onto the trappings of his former culture like a snake held onto its shed skin. His frayed crimson sun veil shadowed his head to the point where only his grinning mouth was visible, a crusted beard of grey salt surrounding it. Fading scars of salt burns pocketed his meaty arms and his eyes were scowled, slit shut as if the sun was eternally cursed to shine in his eyes. For a while, he didn't say anything before slapping Alu’s back, laughing boisterously.

“ Nonsense! You have brought more trade to Hagashem than we have seen in the last few moons with your salt-weathered companions. We offer you thanks, wayfarer, and our water if you have need of it.”

“ Your kind hospitality is enough. Live and drink, Chokes-By- Quicksalt.”

“ Live and drink, raccoon Alu.” The elder tipped his hood before leaving the scene.Alu rubbed his aching shoulder which had been almost dislocated by the force of the elder’s blow. He then took a look at the Spindle, which glinted an eerie sliver in the shine of the Harvest Dawn, its tip blocked by the murky blue of Qud’s skies.

Hopefully, the rest of the expedition would arrive soon.

Qud’s chrome would be his, no matter what.

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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Prince Potter
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Victarius slept lightly and little in the presence of what he would have considered horrible monsters as a child. Things had quickly gone awry since he had left the Sky Lattuce, and he had been forced to make concessions he otherwise normally wouldn't. The first and most major being his fraternizing with mutants and other abominations. He had long since made peace with this inevitability, and he suspected that all other such 'chosen ones' of the Lattuce sent down on one assignment or another had either made a similar choice or simply perished. This land was far too dangerous and cruel to reject a helping hand, even a mutants.

He had slowly warmed up to the man-camel, but had interacted little with the raccoon who seemed to be in charge. He did not remember their names and had tried to fly under their radar. Attracting unnecessary attention was often a bad idea. Instead, he had mirrored many of the others, observing and simply sizing one another up. He had been educated about a variety of different creatures that lived below, such as the Great Saltbacks, but the sheer breadth of diversity was astounding. He couldn't help but ponder what wondrous abilities even his fellow travelers had concealed. And don’t even get him started on the times of day and the way light mingled down here, altogether alien compared to an upbringing above the clouds.

Even if he had wanted to socialize more, he struggled. He did not know many of the customs and phrases they used. Live and drink was one he had learned early on but was still hesitant as he was unsure of just how much he didn't know and didn't wish to make a fool of himself. He considered the fungal type creature that had been a fellow traveler, and though he wouldn't say it aloud, he was very glad for his P.A.S. Not only did it help protect him from the radiation or diseases that any or all of them may carry, but it also allowed him to shyly hide his face behind the visor. He shook his head, as grim and intrusive thoughts came to him on if the slightest puncture in his suit would spell certain death.

He was stirred from his thoughts by the sound of the secret whistle all members of their group knew. He stood as he often did, staring straight up into the open sky, wondering where the Lattuce was or how its inhabitants were doing. He had already packed up his lynx leather bedroll and slung it over his shoulder, a possession he had been given by a sympathetic mutant that was the first sentient being he had met upon landfall. Boy had that been an uncomfortable interaction. He hadn’t seen his mechanical companion Kuro all morning, and was only mildly concerned. He began walking before pausing briefly to look back at his own footsteps. Reading about it or hearing about it was one thing, but it was still all too surreal to him, the sheer size of this salt desert.

One unfortunate downside to the PAS and its helmet was that it automatically filtered smells, both pleasant and not. Because of this, it was only when he was within eyesight of the feast did he realize both what it was and how hungry he felt. His stomach rumbled loudly, and saliva already was forming in his mouth. While on the Lattuce, he had been a relatively picky child. He had eaten the lower castes foods, primarily nutri-paste-like synthetic foods, and actual organic grown foods from the hydroponics facility. Out here he had been forced to eat things he wouldn't even have considered before, and he wasn't sure if the attractiveness of the feast was genuine or due to his seeming unending hunger.

He undid the pressurized neck clasps and took his helmet off, the sun seeming to intensify tenfold, temporarily blinding him. As he squinted and blinked away the light, he focused on the smell of the cooking flesh, and a smile crept upon his lips. He took what look similar to a shish kebab with a desert rat he had seen many times as they crossed the Moghra’Yi. It was fairly small, perhaps the size of a squirrel, and rather quick and agile. Without hesitation, he bit a large piece of its greasy flesh from it and began chewing. It was succulent.

“Live and drink!” he blurted out happily as he chewed, before nodding sheepishly towards the man-camel and racoon. He hadn’t even noticed that he was the first here, and hadn’t waited for any of the others. He hoped he hadn’t acted disrespectfully, and swallowed hard. Looking around and waiting for a few seconds, he saw none coming and looked back to the shish kebab. His stomach grumbled again, having been teased with food now.

Shrugging, he took another semi-guilty bite.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by pugbutter
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Khur-kheeeeeee. Khur-kheeeeeee.

The familiar crowing of a ridgehorn rattled off the walls, sent little spills tumbling down their edges. They weren't like the walls shared with the mountains back home—rigid, jagged, glassy-black, always brooding in their God-given shapes—these walls came with stripes of color. Color they left on your fingers, your blankets, anything you touched to them. They crumbled away with even the careless brush of a shoulder; a shoulder which the Tsercheg slopes would've flensed open without care. And that corner of the girl's arm wasn't the only place where they had marked her: below her ankles. Past her wrists. It was strange feeling sadder for the walls than the people inside them. They seemed like they wouldn't last very long. Then where would people live?

Then again, the girl suspected she would come to feel nostalgic, soon, for the ruddy dust staining most of her from the knees and elbows down. The land's brownish-red, like dried blood, also stained the bottom-side of her rawhide blanket, but that only meant the blanket would be her journal of sorts. She'd seen people scratching a system of symbols into thin pieces of wood to remember their travels, but why would someone need to learn any of that when the earth remembered for them? Maybe the next place the girl visited would have white walls, or sulfur-green. Those colors would paint themselves over this place's brownish-red as she laid the blanket down to sleep in them. Soon it would be a tapestry of all the places she had slept in, enriched with all their clays and soils and mosses.

Khur-kheeeeeee. Khur-kheeeeeee.

Khurkhee was still in the room somewhere, but he sounded angry. Wondering if some happy creature had brushed up beside him hoping to make friends again, only to writhe and curl as the poison set in, the girl shrugged herself out of her shaggy cloak and crawled in the direction of the screeching. Khurkhee spooked easily. He'd have more friends if he could only learn that not everyone was scary. Like the one with the bushy tail, and the one with the humped back. Sometimes they gave her what they called "candy," little glass balls which melted in the mouth and gushed sweetness into it. They said they'd be giving everyone a feast today, too! They'd probably have some worms to give Khurkhee if he wasn't so mean to everyone.

The ridgehorn frog was in the corner, definitely tussling with something. He had it in his mouth and spun from his back to his belly to his back, kicking, thrashing it across the ground. The girl hurried to free it, but Khurkhee held on tight, trying to gum and gnaw his way through its supple skin. She held up the bag of dream-worms, now damp with frog saliva; he must've been able to smell them through the leather.

"Let go, Khurkhee," said the girl, trying to wrest him away without hurting him, but he had latched himself fast to the bag. "Ugh. Bad frog!" When he eventually let go, he loosed a squeak so furious it bounced from one side of the room to the next, and sent another spill of sandy powder down from the corners.

Somehow Bogavhaana hadn't woken yet in all this commotion. She only stirred to her other side, still jutting her hip into the air, the rest of her spooling onto the ground. On that ample hip, however, was a rawhide sheath, containing a knife with a bone handle and a knapped black blade.

"You really want some worms, huh?" asked the girl to the frog. Creeping over to the woman, her footsteps a barely-perceptible pat-a-pat on the pliant dust, she took the knife from its pouch. "Okay. Let's go find some."

It was cold out here despite the sun, and the vents protruding from this red ground. None of the earth's heat moved through the soil of this place like through the black glass; in fact it stole heat, if anything, sapping the girl through her feet. The others seemed comfortable enough, but those from the Black Shelf (as they called it) were goosebumped and shivering, always shivering, always swaddled in as many hides as they carried along with them.

The plants didn't mind. They carried on in their jellied green way, so it must've been warm enough for the locals, if not some of the intruders. They also didn't complain when the girl picked out a hardier species, put the glass knife to two of its branches and hacked them off. She put Khurkhee down only when he promised not to go far, then sat in the sun beginning to whittle these sticks into the tool she needed: a sort of musical instrument, played by dragging one stick along the other after they had both been filled with notches. She scooped small wedges of wood from the sticks, making sure there were sharp corners to catch the "bow," and when the thing was finished she stuck it into the dirt and began to play. The notches were bleeding a blood-colored sap—it was sap, right?—but the branches seemed rigid enough to play on.

It was an ugly song, this scraping, knocking, wood-on-wood cacophony; but uglier for the worms, who mistook it for rain battering the surface, seeping down, drowning them in their tubes and tunnels. Sure enough, they started wriggling out from underneath the leaf litter; the crisscrossed blanket of dead twigs; the vaguely fetal fruits, burst from their sacs and rotting underneath the fresher buds; the worms even evacuated the fruits themselves, popping from the bulbous little heads, the ridges which looked like arms and legs curled up against emaciated bodies, purplish skins.

There were spiny, striped, yellow-black worms, undulating rhythmically toward higher ground (the wall of the hostel). Ones with prongs in front, either for snatching prey or feeling seismic tremors deep from within the earth's fires. There were furry ones, glistening with the morning's dew, and hairless pale ones, leaving trails of slime where they crawled. Khurkhee swiveled when he heard one, and took a moment to watch and choose. Then, with a lash of his tongue, he dragged his first taste into his eager, glistening-pink mouth. Smack, smack, smack, swallow, lick.

With her forearm getting tired, the girl stopped bowing just to watch her friend eat. When he had his fill, and the rest of the worms on this spiny, dry ground were free of the wrath of Khurkhee for at least an hour, maybe she'd snatch up a few of them, too.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Adverb
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Starfield came to the inexorable conclusion, through the utmost careful deliberation, that Moghra’Yi was put on this planet specifically to kill them.

The Great Salt Desert, or Hell as they were more apt to refer, is treacherous for most living organisms to traverse - let alone for someone of Starfield’s delicate yet respectable constitution. It’s common sense, or in their mind it should be common sense, that salt and mushrooms don’t mix. One of the basic principles of science and agriculture, after all. Not to mention the wild beasts that circled overhead or burrowed underneath the white dunes or the complete and utter lack of any water with the exception of the conniving merchant folk set about to swindle the desperate vagabond. But, they survived and now enjoyed a relaxing and well-deserved soak in one of the smaller pools of Hagashem.

Starfield leaned back and stretched, taking in the peaceful reverie of the sleeping village, the sandstone huts and canyons tinted mauvish-crimson from the slowly rising sun. It would be light soon, and Bacter kindly informed them the night before that they were to attend a group breakfast. Starfield was looking forward to the social interaction, but not so much the meal. Their companions consumed cooked animal flesh, and all manner of horrible things that they had to get accustomed to witnessing in their life. It wasn’t just their present company that maintained such a disgusting diet. No, Starfield had found that most species ate living things - be it animal or plant, and even... fungi. It was the way of the world, and they silently contemplated that killing to consume nourishment was probably a psychological factor to why people were prone to such violence.

They climbed out of the pool, drying themselves off with a clean cloth, and nodded in satisfaction. When they had first shambled out of Hell, their body was a black and shriveled mess looking like a stick-figure from the dehydration. Now, after the long bath, they looked like a hundred drams and felt twice as good. It’s amazing what a good bath can do for the body and mind. Once dry, they put on the pristine-white clothes they reserved for only the most special of occasions, making sure everything was just-so. They brushed themselves off, to ensure there were no wrinkles, and slid on their goggles. The sun was up now, the sky a deep blue. They squinted at the light, and twisted the small dial on the goggles, making the lenses shift to a dark black tint. Already Harvest Dawn. Starfield was heading to the designated rendezvous when they heard the distant call of who they guessed was Alu. Starfield found it quite remarkable that something so small could be so loud, and this wasn't the first occasion.

“Live and drink, my companions!” Starfield arrived to find some of their company already in attendance. “What a most wonderful Harvest Dawn, wouldn’t you say my friends?” Their eyes glanced at the feast, which appeared to be entirely more food than any of their companions could consume in one sitting. “Oh, is that…”

Starfield sat at the table, grabbing the dram of honey and sticking their clawed finger in the liquid, absorbing it. The crystalline spikes on their back shifted color to a deep orange, small minuscule sparks of static arcing between their points. Starfield’s body shuddered slightly, and they felt a rush of energy and euphoria. Intense at first, but slowly mitigated.

“What most gracious hosts, thank you very much!”
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Dark Cloud
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Rapid Reader
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"Greetings of the Moonsea, fellow pilgrims," the Ekumian warrior-priest beamed with a soft smile hidden beneath her unwavering opal mask that was forever frowning. The light of the Harvest Dawn danced across her unblinking emerald eyes as she joined the others at the table. Efere whispered a prayer and reached out with a gloved hand, choosing a careful selection of fruits which she disappeared into her robe with a blurred motion of her fingers. Food did not nourish her as it did her organic companions, but appearances had to be maintained. Forgoing food would inevitably give rise to unwanted questions and predictable fears.

"My thanks for this wonderous feast, but ritual dictates that I continue my fast," Efere explained to the nearest villager who watched her with curiosity from beneath a heavy hood. "Without moonlight food will not nourish my soul and if my spirit cannot partake, then my body must likewise wait."

The village shrugged in reply, seemingly satisfied with her explanation. Most knew only the vaguest rituals of the priests of the Holy City and travelers with any wisdom preferred to avoid the lengthy explanations from the strange mystics that followed even the most innocent of questions.

Refocusing her attention on the expedition members, Efere felt her own gloved hands dance across the hilts of her Axe and Sputnik blade. Her companions did not strike her warriors. The smallest, the girl, had the makings of a huntress, but the others, the others appeared soft, squishy even. Beneath polite exchanges, Efere felt a kinship with the fungic member of the expedition. She suspected that sentient fungi were as rare as sentient sculptures and she was keen to learn what knowledge Starfield had discovered in his time among the meatbags. The True Kin researcher was a stranger to her, she knew little of the sky-bound True Kin and their ways.

The two-headed racoon fascinated her endlessly, she had seen precious few mutants in the Holy City and none with such seemingly soft fur. The softness called to her and she had caught her hands straying dangerously to the soft bristles of fur when her mind wandered. She hoped that she could bridge the gulf of professionalism between them as they traveled onwards. Out of all the organics Alu appeared to be the most suspicious of her and she felt sure that he was measuring her with each passing moment.

Regardless of her private thoughts and reservations Alu had hired her to protect expedition. The safety of the less martially inclined members of the expedition were her responsibility. She suspected it would be a difficult job. The organics were such fragile things. They were prone to injury and death. They were so hard to repair. They were impulsive, short-lived creatures, but she adored them still. They were capable of so many things, both great and terrible. And there was still so much she had to learn from them about living.

Her creator, the True Kin scholar Lagaishin Umu, had left her with precious little to start with. Sentience, her sentience in particular, was a learning experience. She knew though that the organics valued reciprocity. It shaped their relationships and it allowed them to survive if not always thrive in the desolate lands that surrounded them. A gift of food and water would have to be repaid, at least symbolically.

"Allow me to offer this stone in gratitude of the precious food and water you have offered us, may it bring you peace in these troubled times," Efere loudly proclaimed, pointlessly smiling once again beneath her mask as she placed a strange banded rock that sparkled on the table in the morning light, sending patterns of gold dancing across the table.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by pugbutter
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The girl couldn't believe how many species there were. Then again, she had only just learned that the whole world wasn't a glass plain like Tsercheg. The earth in most places (at least between there and here) had a malleable, gathering quality to it. It drifted on the wind when dry, and the rains turned it soft and pliant. The rotund, elongated little worms glid effortlessly through it, using their legs, their slimes, their mouths, their throbbing midsections.

Now that she'd had a better look, though, some of the "worms" which had joined the fray were actually caterpillars; slugs; even some kind of baby snake, its vestigial arms jutting amidst translucent skin. Just how many creatures crawled through this soil? What untold life had never even been seen before? She took turns picking up them all, and believed them just as harmless as back home: their spines tickled. Their vivid colors glistened in sunlight. Tame, gentle creatures. But when the girl picked up the one with the pincers in the front, it reared back from where she had gripped it. It bit her, and the pain shot through her finger as cleanly as broken glass through the bottom of a foot. It scissored through her skin; rubies pooled up around its pincers.

Hisses of the throat and clicks of the tongue escaped her as the pain snapped across her hand, shot up her arm. She grasped it firmly by the jaw and tugged, but it held fast, making the pain worse. Rebellious tears evacuated the girl's eyes even though she wasn't sad.

While the pincers were firmly sown into her skin, the insect's body wriggled and writhed. That gave her the idea. The more she thought about it, focusing through the discomfort, this creature had been one of many evacuating what it thought would soon be a rain-soaked burrow, too. The nearby pond was grey with depth, and green with algae.

Toddling over to the bank, the girl straightened her finger, and steeled herself, and dipped it in. It was cool, not scalding like the ponds back home; and though it stung inside the bleeding gapes in her skin, that could only mean the pincers had let go, and the stinging waters had soaked in. Sure enough she watched as the thing thrashed to keep itself afloat, and as thin ribbons of blood diffused into the pond. One could call it sadism, taking glee in punishing that which had harmed her first; particularly as she had been first to trick the insect, and then picked it up when it did not want to be fondled. Did that make her mean like Khurkhee? The girl didn't feel mean. But as she thought about it, and wrestled with herself to decide whether she'd done a bad thing, whether she should fish the thing out of the water and let it crawl away, something else robbed her of the choice. It emerged from the deeps of the pond as a yawning mouth, colored by the pond, but of its own shade of green, too, with a bobbing tongue and cartilaginous lips. The girl leapt back just in time to snatch her finger away from these new jaws, leaping back in alarm—"Eep!"—and not getting a very good look at it as it gulped down the meanie, smacked its tongue to its mouth, and flashed away.

Suddenly she felt a little sorry for her wriggly little playmate.

But the girl wasn't given much time to grieve, because by the time people were climbing the hill, she realized the feast must have been starting.

Some were scarier than others, but adults had a tendency to not understand why she didn't care about dirt under her fingernails, or going out with just a loincloth for modesty, or not preening the knots from her hair. They only seemed to get angry. So it was with a hushed and hissing timbre that the girl said, "Stay here, Khurkhee!" and abandoned him at the pond. She went back for the knife she nearly forgot, but didn't know where Bogavhaana was likeliest to find it, so she stuck it into a tree and trotted on.

At the same time ... in the village one never turned down an offering of food. The girl looked over to where her guardian (somehow) still slept unstirred. She debated whether to go and wake Bogavhaana, or to start without her. It was impatience, ultimately, which won out, a rumbling behind the girl's belly button.

She'd already taken a few slaps to the head for staring too hard at the others of the caravan. "Stop that. It's rude," rumbled Bogavhaana, low enough that most couldn't hear. The girl wanted to stare without being slapped, but with such sparse vegetation up the hill there were few places to hide. In fact, the slope of the hill almost looked sculpted to call attention to whoever was climbing it; to funnel them in. Maybe this village's hunters had had trouble with beasts stealing their livestock in the past. Or it warned them of other, two-legged beasts approaching.

Beginning her shy pit-a-pat up the ruddy slope, the girl began to fried greens, roasted meat, and most importantly, fruits. The rest of the village went wild for meat, but the girl didn't know what was so special about it; she ate it near every day, and frankly could get quite tired of it sometimes. But the fruits—fleshy ones, rind-ish ones, small, stony ones—these she had never seen before until Alu and Starfield went out on a forage and returned with small jewels plucked from the stems of plants. The juices bled into the hands, staining the former's fur and the latter's gills. They had offered her some. The girl had never known such sweetness.

By now she had crested enough of the hill to see just about everyone, or at least the tops of their heads. They weren't paying attention to her yet. Good. She could watch from a distance and pick up some of the manners and customs of this place before she went to the table. That way she wouldn't get in trouble again.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Bork Lazer
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“ Do not heed the words of every thirsty fool.”

“Ubdet, the Axewalker, est 1254 B.R (Before Reseph)




The rest of the expedition came neither late nor early, occupying an impasse that was not to Alu’s tasting. The plants were, of course, always fashionably early, having woken up the moment the ultraviolet rays of dawn shone upon their chlorophyll skin. They swayed roots and leaves in greeting before sitting at the expedition. Next came the dromads, the mutants, the odd fish and a few villagers who Bacter had offered contracts to. Alu was,of course, initially miserly with parting with the limited funds available. During the night of their arrival, when they argued about it, Bacter parried Alu’s screams with the fact that they had dwindled severely in manpower after crossing the South Rim of the Moghra’Yi before retorting that he had been insane to recruit the likes of a child from the Black Shelf.

@Prince Potter

Victarius had come first. The iron cat that normally was by his side was nowhere to be seen. Alu gave a small wave to the True Kin as he came to the table and took his helmet off, revealing a porcelain white face that was unmarred from the blights and miasmas that plagued most of the known world. The True Kin was a dying breed of True Kin, the kind that ventured out from their hermatically sealed castles down into the world below. More and more arcologies were becoming infested with the ideology of the Putus Templar, returning to isolationist policies as their crusade intensified with purpose. As Victarius took one of the first bites, Bacter leaned over towards Victarius. He pretended to look around skittishly, before whispering into the True Kin’s ear as though he was spilling an ancient secret.

“ Do you know in Isachaari culture, whoever takes the first sample of food must offer a sacrifice to the salt gods of the Moghra’Yi. I praise you for having the courage to do so, Occian, but I had no idea that you were so willing to strip yourself naked together with me and run into the - “

There was a pause before Bacter guffawed and slammed the table with his hoof.

“ Oh, just kidding!” Bacter then slid a hollowed horn of sap mead towards the True Kin. “ But lighten up a little. It’s not everyday that we get to enjoy such fine delicacies. Think of this as a cultural learning experience for you, man of the Sky Lattice. Few wayfarers have the opportunity to dine on Isachaari cuisine.”

He needed something to take his mind off the dreary past. Smashing open a shale oyster with his septatuple fingers, Alu bit into its soft pearl-white flesh, his tongue curling as the mineral zest of its juices coated his mouth.After an eternity of hardtack and pickled jellysquid on their long voyage from the Crustal Mortars of the Yawningmoon Sea, this was virtually heaven. Trickles of glistening oil dripped down his claws as he took another large bite, this time with more gusto.

@Adverb

The various sentient plants of their party almost seemed to shudder when Starfield arrived. Though they weren’t members of the Consortium, every culture of plants seemed to abhor the concept of fungi, especially one that arrived from beyond the astral heavens. Just as Cyanin, the hitherrose navigator of their expedition, began to complain, Bacter coughed and gave them all a dreaded stink-eye that shut them up. Conversely, the villagers who had decided to join them in the feast shouted words of gratitude, showing no ill will towards the bipedal fungus, raising their mugs of salted water.

@Rapid Reader

The last member was easy to distinguish amongst all the others, a beacon in the sea of smells, sensations and winds that Alu had been acquainted with for his 30 years of raccoon life. His nose wrinkled as the scent of rock and mineral pervaded the air, his mind still struggling to reconcile that a living being could not be composed of the flesh, bone and blood that was common in the air. Alu gingerly accepted the rock from Bacter and bowed his right head low respectfully towards Efere. His left one, however, couldn’t resist taking a nibble of the vinewafer on his plate.

“ Thank you for your gift. I hope that the light of the Many Moons continues to shine down upon our quest, just as you do, lady Efere.”

@pugbutter

“ As do I, even more for the child over there.” Bacter spoke up, looking at Alu with an accusing stare as he nodded towards Ongu and Bogavahnaa, the only Black Shelf tribals in the entire expedition. Alu shrank in his seat and tried to search for another person to converse with. Luck wouldn’t be on his side today, though. The people near him and Bacter were busily engaged in private dealings of their own.

Why did he have to bring this up now?

“ She decided to accompany us,” Alu replied, cool anger in his tone. “ She wasn’t forced, she wasn’t coerced, she came to us.”

“ You trust the judgement of a child?” Bacter said.

“ I trust the judgement of an esper.”

“ Starfield already serves that role.” Bacter pinched his bulbous nose. “ I have humored you this long because I believed you would drop her off at a neighbouring village, not offer her membership on this expedition.”

“ Humor me?” Alu snorted. “ Have you forgotten who is the leader?”

Bacter didn’t say anything. Putting down his fork and knife, he took out a rough-cut agate from his robes which glinted eerily in the sun. He then eyed Alu’s roughshod vest and gestured with the gem in his hoof. Alu dove his paws into the breeches and only held grains of sand and grass chaff in them.

“ Alright. You’ve made your point.” Alu grumbled, crossing his arms. “ So, what would you want me to do?”

Bacter gently picked up a ripe starapple from a fruit bowl, the distinctive white speckled skin responsible for its name glimmering in the heat. He tossed it towards Alu who juggled it in his paws, unaccustomed to its slippery surface.

“ Stop ignoring the child. If she is to be a member, then, treat her like one.”

Alu strode from the table towards where Ongu was. She was a few paces away from the table, on a sparse clearing on the hill. The plate of food felt like a sack of fullerite bricks in his hands as he stared at her, her eyes seeming to pierce into his raccoon soul. His whiskers quivered as he thought about what to do. He couldn’t just leave the plate here for her without saying anything. Finally, Alu made a decision. The dialects of the Black Shelf weren’t his speciality but he would do his best for Ongu’s sake. He cleared his throat and began speaking in the broken tongue of Ongu’s tribe with pronunciation that would make Boghvana, her interpreter, cringe in embarrassment.

“ Ate.” He pointed towards the plate and then, pointed towards where the rest of the expedition were eating. “ Stay, no going.”

He set the plate on the ground near to her and stood there listlessly for a few moments, indecisive about whether to speak more before giving a single nod and turning his back to the Black Shelf child, back to where the remainder of the expedition was.




After much loud boisterous consumption, the feast had now settled into the death throes of boredom and snacking on piecemeal leftovers. Most of the villagers that had joined them had now left, leaving only the various members of the expedition who were busily picking over the remains like circling dawngliders in the Moghra’Yi.

“ Caramelized snail shells?” Bacter offered a plate to him. Alu shook his head as he set aside the ruined shale oyster shell.

“ No, I’ve had my fair share already.” Alu said, wiping his paws on a napkin “Besides, we are already behind schedule. I’ve done all I can to bear this procrastination, Bacter. We must continue on with the journey.”

He stood up on top of his stool and spoke out loudly.

“ Everyone! If I would have your attention, please….?” Rolling his eyes, Alu made a few more half-hearted attempts to catch his expedition’s attention such as snapping before whistling out an ear-rending squeal that was like a knife scraping against a cave wall.

“ Thank you for your attention. Before I begin, I must state the obvious. Our journey has been treacherous and full of surprises that we would never even consider. Nevertheless, in spite of these circumstances, I have never been prouder of you, all 23 members of this expedition, mutants and True -” Alu glanced at Efere momentarily, stumbling over his speech. “ - True Kin alike.”

“ Yet, we must not rest on our laurels. Whilst we have made a feat, being the only successful expedition in the last years to have stepped foot in these chrome steepled caverns - “ A series of cheers passed around the table as mugs were raised. “ - our journey has only begun.”

Alu then tapped his bracelet once, the device shuddering once before a holographic projection erupted from its circuitry. The blue light that emanated from the bracelet was pure chaos, coiling like a glowworm, before coalescing into a large scale map of Qud and its surrounding territories. The map zoomed in on two rivers that cut through Qud's landscape.

“ As some of you might know, I originally began this expedition as a part of my thesis on the architectural migration of Yypian tribes into Qud. My original theory was that the Yypians transitioned from an artifact gatherer tribe into a polythiestic agricultural tribe after Mechanimist missionaries were sent to contact them in 900 B.R. We can see this from the composition of the carbide adzes I found in -”

Bacter gave a small cough and nodded towards the rest of the expedition. A few were paying attention but most were either dozing off, glass-eyed or seemingly distracted with other matters. Alu’s eye twitched as he adjusted the

“ …..But I digress.” The image of Qud’s rivers then shimmered into a rocky coal mural, depicting a multi-armed horned individual engaged in combat with a fearsome Salt Kraken. “ Nevertheless, I found a remarkable number of Yypian shoal murals that all depicted him.” Alu pointed towards the individual in the image. “ Many of you have heard his name before. The locals here call him Ubdet, the Axewalker. The Slaughterkin of the Squalid Marsh. The Fourteen Limbed Man of the Gore Tribes.” Alu paused for effect , his voice becoming slightly tremulous.

“ The Second Sultan of Qud.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, Cyanin raised a wavering leaf and then, warbled with a touch of doubt in her voice.

“ I thought he was the first.”

“ No, he was the third!” A three-fingered mutant spoke in annoyance.

“ By the Argent Fathers, Arakash was the -”

“ Quiet!” Alu thundered out loud, quieting the commotion. “ I will not entertain this debate. Needless of your beliefs, Ubdet was a Sultan and most importantly, we are the only ones in Qud who know the location of his fortress! This will be an exciting archeological opportunity to learn about the history of our forefathers and find…..”

Alu’s voice trailed off glumly as he spotted that most of the expedition had glassy looks on their faces, even Bacter. The raccoon hated that this sort of business attracted philistines with no academic sensibilities.

“ Treasures. Artifacts. Treasures and artifacts for our taking. Enough drams to last you entire centuries” Alu palmed his face as several expedition members began to converse excitedly amongst each other. It was the cost of doing business with rogues and brigands, he supposed. He then unfurled out a large map of Qud and placed it at the center of the table where everyone could see it.

“ Regardless, our first destination will be the chromehold of Tziappur. It’s located to the north-eastern rim of the Moghra’Yi. We’ll need to cross into the Crimson Truncheon, lest any of you want to be eaten alive by a salt kraken or cooked alive by a snapjaw warband in the Red Canyons. However, if we were to wander in there right now without a geosynchronous compass coded specifically to its coordinates, our bodies will be naught but bone by the time someone found us in there.”

“ And where is this compass?” Bacter asked.

“ Where do you think?” Alu spread out his hands and looked around Hagashem. “ My dear Bacter, don’t think I ventured out to this little canyon hamlet just for dinner? No, there is evidence to suggest that Ubdet stepped on these lands and his footprints are evident as all of you will discover.”

Alu then stepped off his stool and tapped his bracelet again. The holographic image of the mural shimmers into a wire diagram of Hagashem. He swipes the pad of his thumb on the bracelet in a fast pattern that causes three sections of the diagram to glow.

“ Bacter, I require you and the other dromads to take stock of our supplies for the journey ahead. Cyanin, you and the other navigators will chart a proper course with your brethren to ensure that we do not roam errantly into snapjaw territory."

Bacter and Cyanin nodded, the two leaving their seats, with other members of the party, mostly dromads and plants, following them. Alu continued onwards.

"For the rest of you, I require volunteers to investigate these items of importance in Hagashem before we take our leave.”

“ I require some of you to investigate Hagashem’s canyon barrows located south of the village’s geyser pools and enter Ubdet's grave. Be careful not to desecrate the burial sites there. There are rumors of void spirits that haunt the grounds. Rumors, I remind you. Take that as you will. ”

“ The second task is considerably more difficult. Some of you must volunteer to talk with the villager’s head tinkerer, Yaran Urz, an artifex from Ibul. I believe he has important information that pertains to what is contained within Tziappur. However, he has rejected all attempts to negotiate with the mutant members of our party. I would recommend any True Kin here to meet with him, although, a mutant from the right temperament may be able to persuade him as well. ”

“ Lastly, there exists an abandoned temple in a rust cave that was once occupied by members of the Church of the Many Moons." Alu pointed over to his left, at an outcrop of shale where limestone ruins of a abandoned building could be seen. " Many of the murals in Yyp had remarkable similarity to the iconography associated with the Many Moons, with Ubdet in them. Investigation of these ruins may reveal clues about the compasses whereabouts."

“Upon completion of these tasks, you will receive a lump sum payment of 500 grams of hewn nymphous ruby..” Alu paused, looking at Bacter for permission. The dromad merely sagged in his chair, as if resigned with the financial future of the expedition, before nodding in confirmation. “ If all of these tasks are complete, you will all receive an additional payment of 200 grams. Each.”

“ So, which one of you would like to volunteer for these tasks?”
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