Hidden 24 days ago Post by Thanqol
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So it's clear that Machi isn't going to take this seriously. Words aren't going to get through to her. They wouldn't get through to Kayala either. Desire is not a thing of words.

When Zhaojun leaves the N'yari warcamp in the dead of night none question her. She is, after all, wearing the guise of their leader. It is an easy disguise to wear; confidence translates to confidence. She is sure to leave a trail for Machi to follow come the morning.

This cannot be left to chance. Machi is obsessed with the wrong girl. Kayala doesn't even know Machi's name. They'll avoid each other, slide off each other, focus on their own obsessions and their own childhood crushes and not give thought to the girl who mighty Heaven has decreed that they shall kiss! Enough! No games today; today we embark on love, deadly serious. Today a passion and romantic rivalry for the ages shall be born!

And it shall begin when Zhaojun, disguised as Machi, burns down Kayala's house. Or something. She's honestly genuinely excited about the 'or something' - there are a lot of ways to ruin Kayala's day open to a rogue catgirl and, true to her role, Zhaojun is going to play it by pointy ear.

[Play The Part: 8
One person can see through my disguise, they take a string on me. Everyone else is fooled]
Hidden 24 days ago Post by Anarion
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"I don't...gah, gah!" Giriel manages when the General has departed and they can no longer feel his presence. "What did we do Peri? And what are they doing? Wasn't Ven the name of one of the princesses when we were kids? The one from the kingdom that fell, that must be what he was talking about right? But why would she do this? Aren't princesses supposed to have a court with advisors and all that even when they're in exile?"

Giriel is blabbering. Trying to figure out what exiled princesses ought to be doing with their time is hardly the most important thing they could be doing at this moment (it doesn't crest the top five even!) and she doubts that Peregrine would particularly care at this moment. But she needs to just talk and not about the experience they just had, NOT about all those hands and arms and the slag heap that Tichtokh crawled through. Anything but that, in fact.

She takes a deep breath and reins herself in from launching into a full dialogue on the best dresses for the fashionable princess in exile. "How much do we need to get back to our bodies, do you think? Can we afford to go straight to the castle with this demon-summoning princess? And uh, what did the General mean by 'pick up our meat' Peri?"
Hidden 23 days ago 17 days ago Post by BlasTech
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You would think that it would be impossible for Kalaya to hug Ven any harder, but the second she says her name ... oof yep, there it is.

One last twirl, and Kalaya sets her back on her feet with tears in her eyes.

"Got to be honest here, I'm really happy to see you too." she chuckles, wiping away with the back of her hand. "I was actually a little afraid there that you might've forgotten all about u-uh me."

"And yeah, I-I get that ... everything that happened ... was absolutely crap." She glances down, before letting Ven finally free of her grasp. She doesn't ask about the odd hard spot under her robes, or about how the other is acting. If Ven wants to keep stuff to herself then it goes almost without saying that Kalaya will respect that.

"I didn't get a chance to say this back then. I .. ugh, nobody told me until it was too late to - until months after it was all - ... well, what's past is past. I'm not letting this chance slip by again."

Pulling herself somewhat together, she places her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders and looks her in the eye.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you." she says, emotion roughing her voice. "I appreciate what you're wanting to do with the whole finding-your-way-by-yourself thing - but - but never forget that you have at least one friend in the Kingdoms. If you ever need anything, just ask. I'll be there. And I promise not to mention your return to anyone."

[Rolling to give Ven a bit of emotional support: 1+4+2 = 7]

A beat, and she breaks eye contact, chuckling ruefully and rubbing the back of her head.

"I'm actually up here with another knight; Petony of the Rose and her retinue. We ran into some weird priestess and godling that are trying to get me to do some stupid quest for the Kingdoms and I'm thiiis close to telling them where they can shove it."

"You sure you don't want some company on your journey?" she asks. "A full escort in case those N'yari come back or even just ... I mean, say the word and it can be just the two of us on the road again. Just like old times?"

Glancing around, Kalaya spots the discarded swords and awkwardly gathers them up before holding them out like some odd metal bouquet.

"Or would these help? I ... I'm not sure what you'd need three N'yari swords for ... but you never know?" she says, with a crooked grin.

Oh gods, way to keep it cool Kalaya

"Look ... I-I just ... want to make sure it's not so long before I get to see you again."

Her smile returns with all the hope and fragility of the morning sunlight.

She'd like to think that the other woman hesitates before shaking her head - but would that be wishful thinking? And despite the clarity when she mutters "I'm trying to be inconspicuous ..." would it be wrong to read the way that she trails off awkwardly as leaving room for hope?

Call it a flaw or a virtue, Kalaya can be quick to judgement and in this case the verdict is delivered in a split second: Ven may want a bit of space (understandable!), but Ven is happy to see her, she remembers her, and the two of them will meet again. Whatever is going on in the other woman's life right now, tonight has been a Good Night and nothing, no force on Heaven or earth, is going to change that.

"Hey, that's fine." she says, giving the girl one last hug for the road. "You go do what you need to do, but look me up again soon okay? I'll be in the area for a while - just look out for any stories being told about the best upcoming young knight in the Kingdoms and you'll find me soon enough!"

She tosses Ven a wink and a jaunty salute at that, before making to head off. However, she stops just before reaching the edge of the path.

"Oh! Before I forget!" she says, turning back and rummaging in a pocket before tossing a small metal object to the other lady.

"Don't lose that again okay?" she calls, pausing long enough to see the other woman snatch the brooch out of the air before disappearing back into the woods.

Despite the distance, the battle and the weight of the trophies, the walk back feels far easier than the trek down.

Hidden 16 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Little bud...you’ve had a hell of a day out, huh? The road’s an educational place, but still, maybe you oughta take it a little easier on the lessons. Or maybe you should’ve done some more studying before you headed out. Either way, it’s too late now. The only way through is forward. Plus side, you’ve learned to be scared of the N’yari. Probably. Sheltered priestesses make breathy little gasping noises when they’re scared, right? That sounds right, yeah. So, good, you’ve learned to be scared of the N’yari. You know to stay away from them. And if you learn just whose shoulder you’re sleeping on? If you learn what she’d been just a few hours ago? If you learn there’s things far, far worse than catgirl bullies out here? You’d stay far, far away. And you’d be right to.

Stupid Machi. She was right about something after all. Flowers and stones don’t mix.

But you’re never going to make it to that temple on your own, little bud. In a few years, maybe, but now? You’ll get eaten alive out there. That’s what’s hurts. That’s the stinging, heavy pain in her chest that won’t let her sleep.

Don’t you worry your pretty little head, though. For you, she’ll pretend to be a flower for a few days. She’ll see you there safe. A promise is a promise, no matter what happens.

[Feral: 0]

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

Along the low, leveling slopes of the lowlands, following the course of the river Spearwort as it rumbles ever-onwards towards the sea, far away from cities of industry and consequence, the Sapphire Mother’s gaze fell upon the town of Thimbleweed. She watched their hearts sink deeper into the muck of endless rains, without any sunlight to cheer them. In the quiet of her own counsel, she feared the allure of fire and heroism, and what the good people of the Flower Kingdom might forget in their swooning. So it was that she directed her priests to revive the flagging tradition of the Festival of Leaves.

Come one! Come all! Taste the fruits of generations of Flower Kingdom ingenuity! Leaves and blends perfected over generations of tea-makers! Peruse the finest of Flower Kingdom pottery, and find yourself a new favorite teacup. Sit with your friends, your families, your neighbors, all your favorite people. To brew a fine cup of tea takes great care and practice, a work of art and a work of heart. Who better to enjoy it with than those you love? Sit awhile, share your stories, hear the tales of your Kingdom’s bravest and best. It is the Festival of Leaves, and all are welcome!

Across the great river, two travelers stand beneath half an umbrella, and the sounds of the festival carry over the rain-swelled rush. The lights of the inns and teahouses shine in place of the stars this evening, guiding all to their doors. “Oh! Oh! Oh!!!!” The priestess nearly loses control of her umbrella for bouncing. “They’re having a festival! It’s, it’s, um, I’ve heard of it before, I know it, but I’ve never actually been, so, can we? Can we stop in? Oh, just for a little bit, please?”

It’s a trap. Of course Han knows it’s a trap. Who do you think she is? It’s always ‘oh, we’ll just stay for a minute’ or ‘just one show, then we’re going’ but then you see the market, or you hear about the headline act, next thing you know you’re paying for three nights at the inn and the whole trip’s gone out the window. Oh no. Not this time, festival. You gotta get past Han, first. “Mmmm. I don’t think so. We should keep moving, if we want to make good time to the temple.” Responsible! Thought-out! Selflessly missing a festival! Victory!

Han might’ve withstood complaining. She might’ve endured the long sulk. She even might’ve stood strong in the face of the dreaded Silent Treatment. But the priestess did none of these.

She stops her hopping. “Oh,” she says, in a voice so tiny it could blow away in the wind. “I. Suppose you’re right…” Does she sniffle? Does her lip shake? Impossible to tell beneath the veil, especially when she straightens her back stiff and refuses to let even a single tear fall. Because she’s a priestess, you see, and a good priestess wouldn’t. Wouldn’t cry over something as silly as a mere festival.

Of the mighty Han, there is nothing left but an aching, tearing hole where her chest used to be.

“You know.” She blurts out. “Maybe. We can spare some time to check it out. We’ll just stay a minute. Or two. Tonight.”

At once the light returns to her eyes. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ll only be a minute, I promise!” And before her guide could say another word, she grabs her by the hand and leads her laughing towards town. Han gives no resistance. How could she? She didn’t weigh a thing right now. She was full of air and butterflies and starlight, and maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“Oh look! Look! They have festival dresses!”

Or maybe it was the worst mistake of her life. Hard to say.

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

“So what does Han’ya mean?”

Mistake. Definitely a mistake. As bad a mistake as the dumb rosepetal dress the priestess insisted she wear, in broad daylight. Couldn’t it have waited until they got to the inn, bud? Where no one would ever know?! But Han does not glare. You could tell she isn’t glaring, because she turns right past the priestess, to look at a bird, which is something she does all the time, when interesting birds are around. “Uhm. Who wants to know?”

“Oh. Um, me? Kinda?” The priestess fidgets with the handle of her half-umbrella. “It’s just, I’ve never heard a name like that before. And names are so important! And, I wanted to know what yours meant.”

“It’s-” time to shut the hell up, Han. Bite your tongue if you have to. Except, no, wait, too sharp, you have to keep saying words or else she’ll realize how close you were to exploding just there. “-not exactly,” And you can’t be too hard on it, she seemed to like that name. Don’t want her to think you’re mad at her for liking it, can you? “Not exactly my real name. It’s just,” long breath. It’s just words. This part, you say without thinking. “Just a...nickname, Machi uses.” Awesome, great. Perfect. Now keep going before she notices your face is red why is your face red?! “Call me Han. Because, that’s my name, and that’s what people call me.”

“Han…” Her reaction is inscrutable, as she tastes the name behind her veil. Yes, her eyes were sparkling, but that didn’t mean anything. They were always sparkling, actually. “That’s a nice name.”

Then the little priestess dips low in a perfect curtsy. “My name is Melody of Silver Bells. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Han.” She glances up, expectantly batting her lashes, the propriety spoiled only slightly by the giggles bubbling out of her.

“Yeah. Uh.” Was she supposed to curtsy back to a priestess? Too late, she was already doing it, clutching two fistfuls of flowery red dress and staring a hole straight in the ground. Where she belonged. “It’s nice a pleasure, a nice pleasure to meet you, Melody.”

(Melody. What a pretty name…)

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

The market. A warzone, for the good girl. Tea-soaked idiots clogging all the walkways as they gape at the latest teapots that work exactly like every other teapot ever. No pushing, no shoving, no shouting, just. Patiently follow Melody. For as long as it takes. Each booth, a dark alley, hiding con artists who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, or maybe just some lost kittens, and so little time to tell the difference. No thank you. No thank you. Say it as many times as necessary, without growling, don’t you dare bare your teeth at any of them! Even if they deserve it! Not to mention, a responsible traveler would keep a careful eye on the purse, spending enough on what was worthwhile without spending too much...

“Well. You’re certainly excelling at mingling, little sister.”

Han knows that tone of voice. She knows who she’ll see before she rounds on the culprit. Another priestess, her silks accompanied by gold rings on every other finger, and her veil patterned with an overly-stylized lotus, of all things.Her nose high in the air, staring down at a blinking Melody. Oh, you thought you could slip past her guard and say that to Melody, huh?! You’re a little out of practice with mingling, are you? Good news! Han’s got some quality mingling for you right here you-

“Awww, thank you!”

Huh?

Melody claps, her silks bouncing merrily. “I was so nervous I wouldn’t fit in - it’s my first pilgrimage, you see - so, so I’m so happy to hear that! Thank you! Oh, I mean,” She performs an elaborate gesture which was...um, probably a priestess greeting? Probably??? “Thank you, sister!”

Melody couldn’t see the wicked smile her ‘sister’ was wearing beneath her veil. You gotta look at the eyes. That’s where you’ll see a priestess’ condescension, every time.

Except for Melody. That's where you see her smile.

Han steps between the priestesses. And turns to the smaller one. “Melody, they’ve got these tea sets that look like, turtles? Or something? A few streets over. You wanna take a look?”

“Oh my gosh! Yes! Let’s!”

Ignore the smug satisfaction radiating behind you, Han. Just keep following. Show her some turtle cups. Keep those eyes smiling. Before this know-it-all takes a parting-

“Hmph. At least you’ve trained her well.”

-bwuh?!

Han whirls on her. And Melody whirls on her too??? But the snooty priestess is already walking away! She’ll be gone in a moment! Quick!

“I’m just her-!”
"O-oh, I haven't been-!"

Tragically, their objections got caught in each other's crossfire, with no survivors. At once, they silently signed a treaty, agreeing to keep walking towards turtles, look anywhere but at each other, and say nothing for longer than they should. Which suited them both, as they each had some. Thinking. To do.

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

“Aiieeeee! The Beast!” A shrill cry rings out. “The Vermillion Beast of Lanterns comes! Flee for your lives!”

But it is already too late! The Beast is upon the town! See it come wriggling from the inky depths of stage right, its body so long that none can see the end of it! Wild eyes spin and bulge from its ugly paper-mache head. It opens its mouth, and oh, what wicked fangs! The land erupts into flittering flames, reds and oranges flapping wildly as it roars and stomps, and no flower survives its passing. The good townsfolk scatter like chaff, for no one could have the courage to withstand such horror. But lo! As the princess stoops to collect a child’s toy, dropped in the chaos, she falls! And ruins her dress! The Vermillion Beast of Lanterns towers over her, and she is helpless, only a dainty hand raised against the doom fast befalling her-!

“Get back, your highness!” A brave knight draws her sword with a declaration of steel! In shining armor, she stands between the monster and its helpless prey. “By my oath to the crown - no, to our oath of the moonlit garden, I will hold back the Beast!”

“Trouble these kingdoms no more!” A priestess in bright blue silks leaps beside the knight, streams of calligraphed ropes flowing from her sleeves. “Peace, creature, by choice or by the Mother’s hand!”

The bindings are not for the Beast alone. They’ve already wound tight around the heart of Melody, perched on the very edge of her seat, shining eyes wide as can be. She says nothing. Only gasps escape her lips, and with each turn of the terrible battle, she clings tighter and tighter to her companion’s arm.

Han’s free hand comes to rest gently over hers. She leans close, voice dropping to a whisper only for her. “Easy, bud. No beast is gonna get you.”

“I promise.”
Hidden 16 days ago Post by eldest
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She pointedly ignores The Window and looks over the window. A viable escape route, in any outfit but this. The third time she cannot flex her fingers enough to grasp at something small and tease it aside is enough to tell her it is impractical: even if she was to get the window open properly, she cannot carry out a good escape yet. And so (and this is certainly not just to ignore The Window, oh no), she starts to do the one thing that is guileless and yet gives her access to more information on Ven, as she is watched (of course she's being watched, no paranoia is misplaced in this place) and needs an excuse to spy.

She cleans.

She sorts the trinkets, wiping them down and setting them up neatly in rows on shelves or other surfaces. Masks are polished. Clean clothing is folded and sorted. Maps are carefully straightened and tucked away, in a nook secure from water but to hand for any planning needed. Pouches of hell's reagents and fetishes are carefully hung up on pegs. She categorizes, sorts, and notates in her mind, and gets that much of a clearer picture of her captor.

She finishes spying but decides to continue the bit. A sort of bite at Ven, really, I can be useful but I will never do so at your beck and call, and certainly not just using this as something to do to avoid The Window. She knocks on the door to get her guard's attention. There is a guard of course. She informs him, her, it, or them of the need for additional supplies to properly clean the Warlock Ven's room. She does not ask: that would allow for it to be denied. It is a careful facade of imperious servitude, one she's rarely had need to put on but had perfected in the room of one thousand faces.

She washes dirty clothes and folds them with the same care. The bedsheet is changed and fitted neatly. Pillows are fluffed. The demon scribe's cage is dusted, and the subsequent wreckage of the duster swept up. Rugs are beaten and then the floor re-swept: this could have been better planned, but she's focused and it's a curious blend of hate. See what I can do. See what true nobility is.

Need me, and despair.

rolled a 7 on figuring ven out! I would like to know what Ven wants from Hell (beyond power) and how Piri could get Ven to release her.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Han!

The tiger, frozen in an evil-banishing snarl, looms over the two of you as you relax from setting up camp. It’s a simple set-up, familiar to anyone in the Flower Kingdoms: a lean-to with a small fire pit at the open end, just large enough to give off some light and heat the turtle-shaped tea kettle. Comfortably cozy, safe, and comparatively dry. Melody picked this spot because of the tiny shrine grounds: so tiny, in fact, that it’s barely more than a handful of stone lanterns and the statue of the tiger.

One more night together. One more, and then you’ll have gotten her there, and it’s not like she’ll ask you to go any further. You’ve got to get back home, after all. And it’d be weird and pushy if you offered to keep going. So one more night’s all you’ve got, and so many things that you can’t say to her. Things that would be crossing lines or would make her look away and tell you that she can do the last day’s trip on her own or that she never wants to see you again. But you don’t even get that.

You’d think that it’d be out of the way enough that no one would disturb the two of you. You’d really think that! You can’t even see the road from here, it’s behind a bend in the path! But no sooner have you got the water poured and the tea bags steeping in the little turtleshell cups than you hear the crunch of twigs under a boot, and the pilgrim looms out of the darkness.

They don’t approach you at first, not even after Melody brightly and a little too loudly greets them. (You can feel her hand on your thigh, trembling with just a little bit of nervousness.) No, they approach the tiger and kneel beneath it, bowing their head in silent prayer and contemplation. Minutes tick by; Melody sneaks her cup under her veil and then squeaks because it’s still too hot. Finally, the pilgrim palms an offering into the tiger’s mouth and then turns to you.

“Honor to the servants of the Sapphire Mother,” she says, bowing her head in submission. “May I rest here for a time?” And she sounds so polite and tired, and besides, sheltering fellow pilgrims is auspicious. If you told her to go get stuffed, you might as well pack up and go home right now, because what would be the point of Melody finishing her journey?

So you pour her another cup of tea, and she accepts, and she cups it in two gloved hands. Her wide-brimmed hat keeps all but her strong jaw and the very fringe of her dark hair in shadow. You sit together, and the pilgrim lets out a melancholy sigh, and of course Melody asks if everything is all right, and that makes the pilgrim start a little— but then she gives a tight (self-ashamed?) smile and apologizes, and pulls out a flute. To repay you for your hospitality, she says. A shame she only has the flute, because those are unlucky, you know— but not like you give a hoot about priestess superstitions, and Melody doesn’t complain.

So the pilgrim plays her song, and the notes are sweet and warm. Or is that the fire? It licks at the air like a lover at your throat. Not that there’s any of that going on. A strange thought to have. Your body grows warmer and heavier, and Melody shamelessly snuggles up to you and closes her eyes to listen, and she’s warm and heavy too, and soft, how is someone this soft allowed out of her temple? You can feel every one of her breaths, slow and heavy and sleepy. The fire’s just orange on black now, and the flute is a bird calling in the distant mountains. So far away.

So very far away.

***

The sky is a yellow haze. High, behind black clouds, an emerald has been hammered into place to shine. Those aren’t birds. Those aren’t birds.

You are bumped and jostled on all sides. Coarse fur. Slick scales. Lashing tails. You reach deep inside you, but there’s just an empty hollow where your dragon nature should be. Noise. They are laughing and screaming and yelling from the stalls that crowd the streets. Your first taste of a real city, country girl? It reeks. It reeks of sweat and tears and blood. It is hot. So hot. That green sun bakes the black pavement stones and there is no relief, not even if you pulled off your skin and made of it a parasol. It’s in fashion, though. If you want to try it anyway.

Music. Bells that reverberate in your head. Drums that shake your bones. Flutes like knives. Wordless wails from things hanging in cages. Something without fingers will have played something that will have been in the shape of a harp that will have been in the shape of a heart that is not now because it is a thing that cannot exist in the now only in the then, because that was its punishment, it and all its sisters, for what happened in the War, so there is a hollow in the song that you will only remember as something achingly beautiful and lonely.

You shove against the crowd, but it’s no use. They shove back, harder, and bruises blossom on your skin like flowers, and they push you into the empty square, and there is a giant dancing there, and his tattered yellow robes billow as he spins faster and faster and faster. Beneath the layers of rotting bile fabric, his body is beautiful brass. So beautiful. You can’t see more than a flash at a time, but you know in your bones. Beneath his veils, brilliant light throbs where a face should be, might be. His footprints are red. So red. So red. So red.

You shouldn’t be here, he says, pityingly, without stopping. Don’t you know where you are, daughter? Don’t you recognize my body?

And the stones beneath you buckle, because they are skin. And the high spindle-towers buckle, because they are bones. And the sun throbs, because it is a heart. And beneath you, a scream boils upwards through the Broken King’s ruined body, agony and fury and desolation and despair, and when it reaches you? You will throw back your head and it will tear through you and split you apart like an orange as you birth it and you can’t run you can’t even move your feet and the creator of the world spins faster and faster and raises five hands in merciful benediction as the scream rips through your feet—


***

The gasp jolts you awake. It’s so soft that you barely hear it leave your lips. Your throat throbs, raw and hoarse, with the effort of its passage.

You’re lying on your side. It’s a mist-shrouded morning, and the rain is a gentle thrum on the lean-to. The fire is cold ashes, and the tea cups lie where they fell.

You are alone.

In the tiger’s mouth, a beautiful Snapdragon coin waits for you to find it, turned down on its face so that it would not witness its lady’s deeds.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Heavenly Cytherean Machi!

There is an aching knot of Fate entangled in Turtlehead. The first building here was erected by a hunter of tigers, and these he would trade to travelers going up and down the Spearwort. Others stayed with him over time: friends, members of his family, a clever witch who saw the value of the surrounding marshes. Stories heaped heavily upon themselves here for generations, but still you know the very house where first a man looked upon the land that would become Turtlewort and desired it without knowing it.

What a fool! As if muddy bogs are better than the glories of worked stone and the shining treasures of Mount Fang! Steal, kiss, and laugh without remorse!

Kalaya is coming here. Look! Here she comes with a heart full of joy, tended to carefully by an obedient shrine maiden! Her heartstring drags her towards Turtlehead, following in the footsteps of an old friend. And here she must learn that her true nemesis is the N’yari raider!

But so too comes a daughter of dragons, raging and furious, her anger threatening to boil. She, too, is being dragged along by her heartstring. She aches with her loss. An easy tool.

And here, too, you stumble upon two witches on their way to Turtlehead, accompanied by a fearful and terrible knight. One sees you for who you are, but she seems deeply troubled by her own thoughts, her heart’s string tangled up frightfully.

How do you present yourself to her?

***

Giriel!

Following your heartstrings, as it turns out, was the way back to your bodies. They shine in all the colors of blue, and it is fortune that the General managed not to sever them. That would have been a terrible wound. They are things to be kept careful.

But when you got back, Peregrine’s eyes burned. And she was the one who told Uusha, and that’s why the three of you have been on a grueling march for two days with half-a-dozen of Uusha’s best followers. At Turtlehead, you will rest and sleep for hours, and from there you will seek out Kingeater Castle, the path to which is occluded from mortal eyes. The Stag Knight is loyal to the Flower Kingdoms first in all matters, after all.

Which has made it all the trickier that a heavenly spirit has revealed herself in the form of a N’yari. It’s the blue of her eyes that gives her away. (If Peregrine recognizes her, she gives no clue, merely raises an eyebrow.) As a witch, you need to acknowledge you are at her disposal, but you would be disrespecting her if you revealed her identity to Uusha.

How clever are you, Giriel? And though it’s been a few days, you can be honest: does the memory of Hell still haunt you?

[You, clever witch, may take a String on Zhaojun, but may not reveal her identity— yet.]

***

Kalaya!

“You’re not really a knight until you’ve won your first Branch War,” Petony says, not unkindly, as she buckles her gauntlets. “Don’t worry, though. I won’t go too hard on you.”

You are a knight in training, and therefore you are in need of a retinue. In the trading town of Turtlehead, then, you are holding a Branch War: using wooden weapons, you and glory-seeking volunteers will stage a mock battle over flags against Petony’s retinue. It’s not just a test of your sword skills, but your ability to inspire and lead fresh recruits against a superior foe. Your problem isn’t finding people to fight alongside you, however.

It’s the fact that Victorious Vixen of Violets has somehow convinced half the town to volunteer to join your side. This has spiraled very quickly out of control from a fun event for the young and restless to the event of the day, with the other half of town planning to watch and eat fried noodles on the sidelines. You’re going to outnumber Petony ten to one, at least, if you don’t figure out some way of winnowing the ranks.

Is that what you want? It’d be more glorious if you overcame Petony with a smaller retinue, and your knightly skills will be difficult to display when you can just overwhelm her defenses with bodies and sticks. But if you try, you’ll have to be clever to avoid causing offense to Victorious Vixen and the townspeople you reject from your ranks.

After all, you can’t just lead half of an entire town into battle against the N’yari, right? Right? It’d be like trying to hit a mosquito with a battle axe! Forget the guilt of leading so many people away from their town, just think of the logistics! Okay, maybe some of them are just volunteering for the day, but you’re still running the risk of having too many people want to join you— and if you’re leading a horde, how will any of them stand out?

***

Han!

Do you have a plan?

Do you even know where you’re going?

Your feet are leading you to Turtlehead, but is that intentional or simply the providence of Heaven?

What will you do to that duplicitous pilgrim with her stupid coin when you find her?

Questions. Many questions. All that is certain is that right now, you can see the wooden walls of Turtlehead rising up out of the marshes, hung with colorful reed mats.

(And that, perhaps, if anyone could help you now, it would be a witch.)

***

Piripiri!

Messages and missives pile up for Prince Ven while she is absent. It takes time for you to assemble a report out of each one (which is reported to the scribe-demon, each in turn, by hissing serpents), but two narratives emerge: one set of reports deal with challenges to an infernal assault, places where the Flower Kingdoms are weak, and ways in which it can be subverted and turned to Ven’s dominion.

But the second has to deal with the fallen kingdom of Snapdragon. After its fall, its royals were banished to the highlands, it seems, and Ven craves to know their movements, their health, and to have demons work to their good— unseen, by her orders, but even so. A narrative suggests itself: that she has offered herself to the very kings of Hell for the sake of her family. No, you decide after some further consideration: she made the deal for herself, but some small all-too-human part of her wants them to be awed and proud when she reunites the Flower Kingdoms under a green sun banner. So what if they would be horrified? She can keep lying to herself until that day comes. Then, her heart touched by Hell, she would likely lash out terribly, and do things that everyone would regret.

And therein lies the second problem: Ven will not let you go if you do not have leverage. And the trick is that information she would try to torture or bewitch out of you, possessions you clearly do not have on you (and information of where you have them, well, as above), and you have nothing you can meaningfully threaten.

It’s a question that gnaws at you. You’ve been in no-win scenarios before, but this one is particularly vexing. How can you force Ven to let you go short of somehow ambushing her and taking her hostage?

The solution, however, comes from an unexpected quarter.

“Prisoner!” It is one of the daughters of the Laema, having pushed her way through the Wrack-doll guards. “You have done such a good job in here that you will be required to do it elsewhere in the castle! After all, when the Prince arrives with the great prize of Hell in her grasp, she must be received in cleaned halls!” Her tail twitches, and her performance is just a bit too broad: she is trying to deceive anyone who might report to Ven. Maybe this is one of Hell’s intrigues, on behalf of an infernal rival of the Prince or her own mother; maybe she simply cannot bear to see such a good maid face a terrible fate. Maybe she wants to sneak you into a side-passage and seduce you for her own satisfaction.

Maybe she is enough like a human simply to pity you.

But that is not the only thing that you must address. For you have been watched this whole time, haven’t you? By such clever eyes. Tell us what Ven will soon know: how could Ven get you to submit to her?
Hidden 13 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Love is about timing, not planning. Zhaojun has done no thinking or preparation for how she will handle this scene or its outcomes and in truth she never has. Reality is but one timeless moment and one can navigate it simply fate - but even amidst one moment there are correct moments. A heart must open if it is to breathe, and a heart must be open if one is to stuff it shut with gags. She has simply to wait until the world breathes in.

In the meantime she is strong and feral and beautiful as only a N'yari can be, wrapped in a destiny of easy pleasures - and here are two right now. Witches, so soft and useless, nerds who study uselessly spiritual conundrums rather than practical skills like swordfighting or chewing through ball gags. She, Machi, has nothing to fear from whatever trickery these witches might pull. Her strength is in the flesh and it is from the flesh she will extract value from these girls -

But wait. She is a spirit and is intensely vulnerable to sorcery. She grips her rampaging craving and pulls it back before it can master her; no. She cannot fall in love with her own strength, not here, not with these girls. And so she restrains herself in the best way she knows; by allowing herself to fall for a different craving.

And so with an ease that leaves her a little giddy she hauls a boulder into the middle of the road and sits upon its warm stone surface with the casual danger of a feline who is pretending to sleep. She makes no move, but to pass by her boulder along the road is to come within arm's reach, and as many a sorrowful hound has learned it is a dangerous thing to try to walk past a cat.

Do you approach?
Hidden 13 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Plan? Yeah. She’s got a plan alright.

Run until hungry, thirsty, or tired.

Fix the problem.

Keep running.

Find her.

Make. Her. Regret it.

(The teacups and dress are bundled up and packed away safely. She’s back to her sleeveless shirt and pants, the better to run with. Her hair is even more of a wild mess than usual; the plan has no considerations for roads or baths. She holds the coin in her pocket instead of her hand. It would not be intact otherwise.)

Turtlehead isn’t the plan. Turtlehead is where she’s at. So, Turtlehead is where she’ll search. Not for a priestess. Never them. They wouldn’t believe her. Worse, they’d think her the culprit. Never a priestess. She needs a witch. If you want something done, you get a witch.

First person she meets. Are they a witch? Great, problem solved. Are they not a witch? Then they’re going to tell her where she can find one.
Hidden 13 days ago Post by BlasTech
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"I'll keep that in mind after my side trounces yours" replies Kalaya, looking up with a grin from where she's sitting cross legged on the floor. The younger knight is surrounded by pieces of paper, with scrawls and drawings across them.

Curiosity eventually gets the better of Petony and she can't help but walk over to catch a glance.

"What are you working on there sprout?"

"Well, it looks like the whole town is catching Branch War fever." Kalaya replies, as she continues scribbling. "It's no good to sign everyone up, and there's no benefit to turning away half the town. Plus, there's a part of me that remembers how hard it was to get that break into following your dream. So ..."

She holds up the piece of paper.

--===--

"The Grand Turtlehead Tourney!" she says, holding one of the flyers aloft.

"If you've ever wanted for a life of adventure, of heroism or simply want to safeguard your homes in the grandest traditions of the Thorn, then this is your chance to prove yourself!" she continues.

"Today's competition will take place in three stages! The first is a grand melee - defeat your opponents in the arena by disarming them, forcing them to yield or knocking them outside the ring!" she says, pointing off to where a field has been marked with three large circles.

"The top performers in the melee will progress to the Jousts and then the Duels! One on one tests of your prowess until only the best remain!"

"The final test will be the Branch War itself! Join me as we pit our might against the Legendary Petony-Phraya and her retinue! The three judged the best candidates will be awarded a N'yari warblade - taken in battle and a prize worthy of any knight - as well as a chance to join us on our next adventures!"

[Enticing the crowd to join in - 2 + 3 + 2 = 7 (Using Power of Conviction and invoking the order of the Thorn - a superior there gains a string on Kalaya]
Hidden 13 days ago 13 days ago Post by eldest
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She looks over the missives and for the first time she pauses and has anything else but scorn in her heart for Ven. A smidge of pity has wiggled in, as she sees this cousin and that sister and that greatuncle being watched over and protected by demons under Ven's control. This. This is not what a power mad warlock behaves like. This is what somebody who's desperately homesick might behave like. Somebody who for all their flaws loves their family.

Piripiri loves her family. She does what she does for them, it's the root of her oaths of obedience. And that is the best way to her heart.

Good thing that all of them are up north and untouchable!

And the snooping comes to an end, eventually, as a snake-daughter overacts (sloppy, sloppy, you need to sell this on being boring and routine) her need someplace else. A betrayal, stealing away the bound maid before Ven can discover the trick? Further torment? Something else?

Something else wins as one is lead to an empty and mouldering storeroom and immediately pressed against the wall. No. This will not do. Not at all, one has obligations, one has things one must do. One cannot afford to be seduced by a (admittedly tempting) snake demon.

One must do the seducing.

A casual stroke along the jawline, thumb guiding the demon to look into my eyes, as the hand curls possessively around her neck, not even squeezing but making a statement. Mine. Eyes on me, spare hand pinning her hands behind her, rope handily placed (likely by the demon, thoughtful and a planner, one must remember this) and looped lazily around each wrist. Follow the pattern, a light coil around the chest, another. Look into my eyes. You can stop this at any point, it's loose enough to slither out and turn the tables, you just have to want to. And you won't.

Eyes on me, not this one, me, as I loop further coils, the demon so distracted with her breathy sighs that I can have the rope dance on it's own and not need to move each loose knot into place by hand. Doing in seconds what takes another minutes or hours. Eyes on me. You could demand your control back at any time. You don't want to.

One last, sharp pull, and she's left suspended from a handy trio of bolts, an artful curve of tail set just a foot above the ground, able to escape if only the rope would give that few precious inches. The gag is almost an afterthought, layers of cloth from what's handy, tied firmly (not too tight, no need to hurt the poor girl) in place. A writhing demon with nothing to do but sit there and savor the defeat.

She steps away with a wink and a single finger to her mouth, hush, and desperate and highly muffled cries respond. For freedom, for more, or of simple, pleasurable frustration, it doesn't matter, as they are silenced when she closes the door.

Time to properly explore the castle. Azazuka is somewhere here. She should not be. One should at least attempt a rescue.

Defy Disaster with Grace to escape. That's a cheerful 13.
Hidden 12 days ago Post by Anarion
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"Hail N'yari traveler" Giriel calls out, holding up a hand in a wave. She's been in the mountains and her calm confidence might be recognizable for someone who is familiar dealing with N'yari. Not so submissive as to be a target for teasing, but neither so aggressive as to a rival or challenging. Just someone who knows what they're about.

Giriel's confidence is only a little betrayed by the bags under her eyes and the slight sag in her shoulders that speak of sleepness nights and weariness. For what she most took from hell is a haggard fear that has caused her to go over and over again what had happened. Had Peregrine tricked her? Or Uusha? Or had their spell just gone far over what they were expecting? She couldn't hold it against either of her traveling companions, nevermind Uusha's retainers, not when it could have been her own failure or some odd result of the combination of her powers with Peregrine. Or even some malicious act of the demons themselves being closer than anticipated and influencing their magic. Too many possibilities to blame anyone, but that just meant that she had been going over it and over it in circles. The best she had come up with was that she might manage some new magic by replicating some of what they had done with a little better intent behind it. So, though she puts on a good show of their travel, Uusha is already pushing hard and it's clear enough that she's tired.

But, now she's presented with a spirit from the heavens. So she continues "We are in a hurry to deal with matters of demons, so I apologize but we do not have time for sport." and then because she wants this spirit to understand that she's offering her capabilities without really doing so, she adds to Peregrine and Uusha but loud enough for the N'yari to hear "I've been working on magic that could simply transport us past the rock, but I don't think I could take the whole party, just a couple of us. Still, that might get us to the castle faster." She glances back to the spirit and offers just the hint of a nod as she does so, indicating perhaps, that her services are equally at the spirit's disposal if they are needed.
Hidden 11 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Giriel!

“It’s one N’yari,” Uusha says, rather simply. It’s not the opening to a rant but rather a raised eyebrow, an acknowledgment that your priorities are odd in a way that suggests there’s more going on beneath the surface. But she doesn’t press you, and neither does she try making her way around the boulder. She plants her feet and looks to the two of you, you and Peregrine, and her retinue (somewhat more baffled by what’s going on) do the same.

“Something different from calling down heavenly tigers,” Peregrine says, and she’s intrigued. “You’d need a lot of weight pushing through on either side of here and there; that’s how the 108 Celestial Gates function, though they link that weight to the position or the stars, and I’ve only gone to visit examples once or twice.” Not an insignificant trip, likely one of the times she just left for a few months in the company of strange things. “But you are not thinking about weight.”

She takes you by the arms and looks up at you and you (and your thoughts) are all that shines in the world for Peregrine. You have an idea she wants, and she’ll turn her attention onto you until she gets it. This is made more complex by the circumstances, namely, that you are all busy, not to mention the heavenly spirit disguised as a N’yari.

***

Heavenly Cytherean Machi!

Each part of the whole must be in unison: witches are nerds. They are the sort of girls who poke and prod and question the simple rules that Heaven puts in place, and they are not incorrect in doing so, because those simple rules are put in place as guidelines, policies and (in some cases) wishful thinking.

But there may be internal dissonance in the severity of demons. The Heavenly Envoy would, of course, be aware of the seriousness of that matter. Machi of the Ōei, on the other hand, would regard them as a challenge to her authority. This is made further complicated by the occlusion: Hell works outside of Fate, and thus must be opposed wherever it is found to avoid doing damage to the right, ordered, and proper destiny of all things, despite that it cannot be found by simply following the threads of destiny.

In short, you are obligated towards some sort of action, or to further provoke some sort of action, so that you may further use these nerds and their knight (older than them, heartbroken once, loves the idealized kingdoms more than she loves herself and is thus empowered in the sight of Venus) to further your own goals—

Or at the very least, to pursue the overlap of your myriad goals, great and terrible raider in the name of love.

***

Han!

“Oh, you look like a strong one,” the priestess breathes. Of all the luck! Everyone in town is streaming out towards one of those knightly tourneys. You know, where you can compete to try to prove to a snooty knight that you have what it takes to be a professional spear-carrier and hanger-on. If you got involved, you’d probably beat everyone and then offend the knight by turning down her honors, and then there’d be words, and then the Vermillion Beast would strike again, and this definitely is all theoretical and has never happened.

But the priestess is pressing a flyer into your hands, written on a strip of off-white reed paper, the characters written in broad black strokes. A grand tourney: a big fight, jousting (in boats, first to get overturned loses) and duels, all just to get one of three exclusive and prestigious slots for the Branch War itself. And it’s important. It’s terribly important.

Hypothetically, if you were being enchanted right now, it would be a rather diluted one, given that it has to stretch over an entire town, but if you’re already thinking about a priestess, worrying about her, focused like a dart in flight on her, then it might, perhaps, be easy for someone who lives and breathes fantasies to just poke that a little bit, without even trying.

Whatever you want (a witch) can be yours if you win! Therefore, you should take that full head of steam (or so the thought goes, even as that purple-eyed priestess flounces and chirps about how exciting it’s going to be and what an opportunity and her brush strokes on the paper thrum in your head) and go and win the tourney! Don’t let anybody stop you, because that’s how you (and everybody else involved) get what you want!

Hop to it, mouth-breather. You’ve got those intense Crazy Eyes and while that’s great for anyone who might be into eating something spicy and strong later, some of us are trying to build up a legend here, and you smell like you haven’t showered lately. Just get over to that tourney already.

***

Kalaya!

Everything is ready! You’ve even got the fishing coracles ready for the joust: getting one up to speed and knocking over an opponent’s boat while keeping yours upright is a test of strength and skill worthy of any knight.

“You know,” Petony points out, “as excited as they all are, they’d be even more excited if you participated.” She offers you a wooden blade hilt-first as Victorious Vixen orders everyone to get into their rings, having just arrived with a surly highlander in tow.

It’s actually your choice whether or not to get involved: some knights would tell you that it’s better for you to remain impartial, as the judge, and that it’s very inauspicious if you’re defeated by a contestant this early on, while others (like Petony) would tell you that no retinue follows a knight who hasn’t proved her strength and skill, and how better than to disqualify some people personally? Besides, it’s a good way to gauge the most skilled people involved.

Petony’s cashing in that string immediately: if you get involved in the same grand melee as that highlander, showing off your trained sword skills and hyping yourself up at the expense of some early disqualifications for others, take 1 XP on the house.

***

Piripiri!

The teased and tantalized seamstress will not be found for some time, and she’s quite unlikely to “recall” what you might be up to. You have free rein through the mouldering, labyrinthine castle.

Corridors are shadow and reeking moss. On the other side of rotting doors, always on the other side, can be heard the sound of Hell’s revels. Sometimes, horribly, you find skeletons down in the dark, and ancient flower iconography suggestive of a burning rose.

There was a Hell cult here once. They’re gone. The stain on reality remained.

It’s below the earth, in the deep dark, where you find the cells. You creep along, relying on hearing alone, your sight blind and your gloves uselessly thick and your nose overwhelmed by a smell like ten thousand fallen petals. In that dark, all you can do is extend your senses as far as you dare, almost to the point where your body moves like a puppet, and listen for the sound of a heartbeat and a breath beneath the distant cacophony.

You return to yourself in time for battle. You feel the sword coming, a ripple of displaced air against your skin, and nearly twist an ankle ducking out of the way. Two of the Wrack-dolls, here, alone, guarding almost-abandoned dungeons. There’s no quarter here: either they will bring you down and lock you away in the dark, or you will overcome them and free Azazuka, who presses herself against rusting bars and tries desperately to will you to win, unable to tell what’s going on but trusting that it must be salvation.

Fight them, Piripiri. Do not hold back. Down there, lightless, against the undying soldiers, reach victory as your teachers insisted. Take the battle to these things of Hell, even if you have to snap a leather-thong wrist and steal a sword for yourself.

(Your prize in victory: the keys they carry, Azazuka’s total freedom, her assistance there in the dark freeing you from that fine and hellish dress.)
Hidden 10 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Oh, Machi-Zhaojun is offended.

Her eyes narrow into slits and her legs shift catlike to be ready for a deadly pounce. Her face loses any hint of a smile. How dare you? Of all the insults you could have presented, you offer this, the mortal one? You offer her disinterest? You, Witch, stand before a waiting avatar of the Maiden amongst Maidens and you dare to offer her a standoffish greeting and a respectful nod?

No. This will not be borne. Whatever intentions she had laid they were irrelevant now. She was furious. There was now only the wroth of a scorned heart. What kind of witch was so perilously unlearned to dare a spirit so?

Her eye burns as blue as the Heaven hidden behind the eternal stormclouds. Her eye burns blue behind her Mask that is Machi and the earth yearns not.

And in the flash of feline power she is moving, unbound by gravity's call. In liquid motion she is moving. It is said the Shadowed Dragon invented the first cat out of the darkness that pooled in the Unbroken King's pronouncement of self; each one an echo of divine kingship. Behold, mortals! If all cats are divine, I am chief amongst them! If all girls are beautiful, I am chief amongst them!

Like a hurricane her pounce carries her into the midst of witches, and with instincts both as natural as her heart and and stolen as her face she is one with violence. A snapping whirl of fabric that seems fur, dragged along the brutal channels of a N'yari at work. With her left she sends Giriel away, shoved to the edge of the path, at risk of tumbling from the side towards the river below. With her right she snatches up Peregrine and tosses her over one shoulder in the traditional way the N'yari steal flower girls. The moment of your distraction by the sorceress is more than enough time for a feline as driven as Machi-Zhaojun to cross that distance.

"Shut up," she said, "nerds."

[Fight: 11!
Taking Peregrine from my opponent
Inflicting a Condition on Giriel.]
Hidden 10 days ago Post by eldest
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Borrowed steel is never fun to fight with.

A slight breeze in a still corridor is her first warning. The click of a boot on stone tile is her second but she's already moving, twisting away from the blow and forward, and that's when she goes shoulder first into the second wrack-doll and they thump together.

Fighting blind is really unpleasant, okay?

Turn the contact to your advantage, shoulder throw because you can't fucking bend at the waist, directly into the other one. Aim for about the shoulders on them, add a heel-assisted kick landed more by grace than skill, down they both go. Listen to the thump of falling bodies and more importantly for the clatter of the fallen sword. The smell of petals is joined by an acrid scent she's smelled only once before, demon blood. Good.

Borrowed steel is far more effective to fight with than unarmed.

Grope about in the general area while you listen to the dolls get up. Get the sword. Get the sword. Got it. A hiss of triumph, mistake as the other sword swings and clips you, bouncing off this damnable corset but ow that hurt. They chuckle in response, a dry hateful noise. Mistake on their part. A palm jabs out and catches them in their throat. They reel, steps back and there's a rapidly fading flutter as they fall. Danger, do not step that way. The other's the one who she got with the heel kick, the blood-smell's coming from in front. In fact...

A silent lunge gets her in range and pins the demon to the wall. A rake with it's sword is the response as she grabs towards his belt and the keys. Bloodied but free and more importantly out of range of any further retaliation.

The first words are spoken of the fight, breathed into the air really. "Azazuka, stay silent until I tell you otherwise. We are leaving."

A distant thud as the falling one hits the unseen floor answers her.

Rolled a 9 on fighting with grace: swapped conditions with them (Angry for one on them), and snagged the keys to the cell.
Hidden 10 days ago 10 days ago Post by BlasTech
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"Oh, I can't say no to an invitation like that" replies Kalaya, grasping the sword from the elder knight. "It'll be a good warm-up for the Branch War"

To be honest, she'd been on the fence about participating already - weighing up the propriety of joining in with the desire to actually meet some of the entrants to understand why they were all so eager to sign up to the contest. She liked to think she had a good rein on her ego but ... there was still something flattering about the sheer number of people who were entering a contest that, at the end of the day, might mean being a part of her travels.

Do they all really want to join me?

She looked down at the sword in her hand, suddenly giving it a few practice swipes and sighting down the blade. It was straight, solid and would do well enough in a contest like this one.

At least this way I can find out.

Her eyes refocused from the tip of the sword to the grand melee where the Priestess was leading someone to the tourney ring.

Is that a ..?

"I think I know which melee to join in on too." she sais, slotting the sword into her belt and making her way out of the tent. "I'll see you on the other side."

[taking the xp and off to meet Han!]
Hidden 9 days ago 9 days ago Post by Anarion
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Giriel blinks and before she realizes it, she's thrown several feet and shoved aside. What?! The spirit has seized Peregrine as well. Is it a fool then? Or perhaps an enemy? Were the rumors of Red Wolf more true than Giriel had thought and the spirit served the Dominion and was come to kidnap Uusha? A single N'yari, even a powerful one, wouldn't provoke two witches and a flower knight with a full retinue. Giriel had tried to offer her information covertly and she had revealed her identity instead, which meant she bore them hostility.

Fine then. So be it. Giriel stands and draws her sword. It's an odd weapon, large and heavy, but she doesn't hold it with the expertise of the knight. She's moving it differently. You're a smart spirit though, N'yari, you can see the danger. A witch's blade doesn't need to touch you to cut, it just needs a little time to focus. And for a spiritual possession, a spiritual blade is the far greater danger. Giriel is already speaking her spell as you heft Peregrine over your shoulder. You've got a strong hold on the world, but what happens if one of the threads is snapped? Will it change your personality? Bring that human's fears and worries to the fore?
[Giriel is inflicting a condition on Zhaojun in return in return as part of her Fight.]

"Heavenly Spirit, what brings you before us?" Giriel calls out. Cat's out of the bag (cat is so very out of the bag). "Stop fighting and announce yourself, or I'll banish you if I must." An empty threat of course, you're far too fast to allow Giriel to get that far. But, if the knight intervenes, and if the second witch were to start helping...she's looking for a reaction in this fight.

[Rolling to Figure Out Zhaojun: 4+2+2-2=6. Giriel's only question on a miss is: What makes you insecure? +1 xp]
Hidden 7 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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You wanna know why the last knight was running a tourney? Because their precious princess picked somebody else as their date for some ball or whatever, and they were so mad they ran off to get a new set of lackeys to cheer themselves up. For that, she turned over three towns to snatch up their best and haul them off to be as useless as her.

So Han did them all a favor; she kicked the crap out of anyone dumb enough to compete, and told the knight where, in excruciating detail, she could stick her honors. And the knight lost her mind. Ranted and raved about how this highlander thug was spitting on the knightly traditions of the Kingdoms or something. And the townspeople listened. And they ran Han out of town.

There would’ve been a makeup tourney the next week, if everything hadn’t caught fire, or the knight hadn’t gotten absolutely thrashed by the Vermilion Beast of Lanterns. Last she’d heard, her legend still hadn’t recovered.

Now here she is again, with a wooden sword gripped so tight in her fist it might splinter into nothing, about to do it all again. No clue what this Kalaya’s about, but this stupid tourney’s all anybody in this town cares about, so here she is. Beat up enough people, get enough attention, get someone to tell her where a witch is.

After that, who cares if they chase her out? She didn’t wanna stay here anyway.
Hidden 6 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Heavenly Cytherean Machi!

You dance on the edge of disaster, and how beautiful the prance of your feet! Over one shoulder you have a very dangerous witch indeed; if she realizes your nature, she could punish you for it. After all, this is the girl who spoke with the Morningstar herself. So you leave her breathless, disoriented, jostled; you have done your best to remove her from play.

The Stag Knight vaults forward, her great bronze-ringed spear singing in her hands, and, ah, to fight her? That would be a battle. But you don’t have the requisite audience yet. You will need all eyes on you for that battle. Draw her out, lead her on, and let her give chase!

***

Giriel!

The way that Uusha moves is incredible. It’s not showy, not flashy, but it is intense. Her witch has just been stolen, and now she’s going to get Peregrine back. There’s no room for this fight to deescalate now; it’s on, and good luck trying to stop the Stag Knight when she’s on the move.

You may continue to chase at their heels, but Uusha dictates the tempo of this battle now, not you. Hike up your skirt and run after them, if you dare!

***

Kalaya!

The highlander is small (even compared to you), but practically radiates surliness. Whack, whack! She sends aspiring warriors tumbling to the ground with her great swings of her sword. (Some of them will definitely feel it later; even middle-aged shopkeepers and mothers with their skirts tied up around their ankles are involved in this fight, because this tourney’s feverish energy has infected everyone. Luckily, anyone who really shouldn’t be here should get disqualified early, thanks to your plan.)

She’s perfect.

What a perfect supporting character! (Is a terrible thought to have, but there it is.) Everybody would take you seriously if your second-in-command was a fire-breathing, butt-kicking highland scoundrel, with you around to keep her in line. All you need to do right now is show off just how worthy you are of having fans! To display your skill with a sword and awe this surly girl, who’s just looking for a knight worthy of her service!

***

Han!

Usually, these tourneys are just a bunch of, you know, young adults looking to blow off steam and earn the chance to travel the Flower Kingdoms. Traveling with a knight is a hell of a way to spend a few years, after all. You get to see the land, make new friends, have big useless battles that get the blood flowing, and party all night long afterwards. No wonder it’s a coveted gig. Too bad that you are here to tell everyone that they are dumb and useless, though that’s to be expected when—

Someone who could be part of your mom’s tea club brings her sword down towards your shoulder blades. You smack the sword out of her hands so hard that it flies into a pimply teen and knocks them sprawling into the wet earth. Why is everyone getting involved with this? Like people with grey in their beards would want to pick up stakes and go tramping around the Flower Kingdoms?

That’s when you see the knight approaching you, and she’s… well, what’s your impression of her? Not like you can tell right away that she’s a princess and a knight. She’s small, deceptively so, and you need her attention! You have to make her tell you where you can find a witch!!

***

Piripiri!

Stumbling upon the secret passage wasn’t as much a stroke of good fortune as you might think. Kingeater Castle actually has a lot of them, burrowing beneath the ground like an anthill— not that you would know that, of course. To you, it was just the breath of hot, sweet wind down there in the dark, and the rich smell of rain, and a tunnel sloping upwards.

When you make it out, the sky above is a dark bruise, and the rain is coming down like falling teeth— but you can’t afford to dally. The longer you stay here, the more you risk being hunted by the hounds of Hell. The jungle stretches out before you, thick and vine-choked and bursting with colors: purples and blues, reds and pinks, and most of all green on green on green, visible when lightning cracks across the sky.

Beside you, Azazuka squares herself up. Her hair’s loose, and risks being caught on vine and bramble; her shoes are gone, her dress is rumpled and moss-stained, and her cheeks still have indents from the straps; but she’s not panicking or whining or draping herself over you. When you glance at her, and she glances back at you, there’s a little bit of steel in her that wasn’t visible back home.

She needs your help, she needs your expertise, and she may even need an impromptu haircut before you make it out, but she doesn’t need strength. Azazuka of Golden Chrysanth will provide that herself, bereft of her wealth and her servants, allowed to use it for the first time in her life.

How does the journey go for the two of you, the spy and the heiress alone together?
Hidden 6 days ago 6 days ago Post by BlasTech
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BlasTech

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Perfect or not, there is something off about the Highlander's appearance.

Now, she's not funny looking or anything like that - but it's just that her appearance in the tourney makes little sense to Kalaya. After all, the tourney was for the people of Turtlehead - a chance to join a knight and go find Adventure!

Why then, is a highlander - one who is clearly capable and travel worn - joining up as well? She surely can't want a N'yari warblade that badly?

Or is she just here to wreck the chances of those who actually want the opportunity being presented?

Kalaya navigates the melee, beelining towards the highlander but also taking note of any other contestants who seem to be displaying competence in the blade. It's a disappointingly small percentage, particularly given the sheer volume of applicants, but it does mean that actually getting to her goal is less an obstacle course and more a focused set of dances.

Eventually, she's facing off against the highlander just after the latter has knocked out a pimply headed youth who really needed to learn when to duck. She holds her blade in a ready guard pose but her face is smiling in the hopes of making a good first impression.

"Hi! I'm Kalaya! It's nice to meet you!"

Nailed it.

She launches to the attack, but her strikes are controlled - probing rather than combatitive. To one who is truly familiar with the sword, they would be an accompaniment to the conversation rather than requiring a significant amount of attention.

"So, uh. Tell me a bit about yourself?" she continues. "What's your name and what made you sign up to the tourney today?"

Her attention remains fixed on the highlander as they duel, and is only momentarily diverted as she steps back to sweep the legs out from a young townswoman who was trying to sneak up on her while she was distracted.

[Figure out a person: 2 + 3 - 2 = 3. Still asking one question due to it being a combat situation: As we fight, tell Kalaya - What kind of deeds earn your loyalty?]
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