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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Zhaojun just lashed out for the crime of paying her insufficient attention. Now she lashes out for the crime of paying her too much attention. How dare this Stag Knight confront her? Does she not respect the pounce? Does she not respect her grace, that she has amply demonstrated that she is a flawless predator who can seize any prize she wishes? How dare she be asked to prove it a second time!

How dare she be struck back at?! How dare she be threatened!?!? She is not done here, how dare!?

(Marking Afraid. And it is no wonder that the threat of severing is fearsome, Giriel, for Zhaojun clings to this strength with four limbs and four sets of claws. This is not the confidence of a goddess, assured of her place amongst the stars and contemptuous of mortals. This is the aggression of a youth where everything seems conditional and nothing is guaranteed. Anything might be lost, so everything must be fought for. Kittens grow in destructive power more rapidly than in emotional maturity, and so it is here.)

But she is not Zhaojun. No matter what this witch thinks! She is Heavenly Cytherean Machi! And Machi will not hiss or snarl or shiver at having her power challenged. For Machi too has the character of a cat, and a cat will never blink when watched by a rival cat - even if that cat happens to be herself. So instead of expressing poison fear she expresses liquid grace. She slips into the guard of Uusha - an easy thing because she carries a hostage upon her shoulder that can turn that dangerous spear aside like water.

"Don't be so greedy, witchbound knight," she said with the smug voice of a cat, dangerously close. She has to be, moving step by step to stay inside the sweep of that spear. "You have two witches here, and there's no way you could satisfy them both by yourself. You should be happy with the one you still have - at least until I'm done with this one. After all, yours has been injured by my surprise attack, her fair skin rent, her fair mind confused, her fair mouth dripping nonsense about spirits. She is in dire need of a powerful knight to heal and protect her for I am not the only N'yari to stalk these jungles."

<I Ship Uusha with Giriel: 9, giving Uusha a string on Giriel; she can take/give a string on me>

And then her moment comes. One foot steps onto Uusha's spear, another onto her shoulder, she crouches and uses the knight's back as a springboard to hit the ground running. And if Peregrene gets any ideas about magic while she's being carried a spank or two across the behind should be enough to distract her until more permanent solutions can be arranged.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by eldest
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She takes a good ten minutes of hard walking, Away From There, crossing two streams (one with a fake trail upstream and their real trail downstream, one with a fake trail downstream and their real trail made to look fake right across the stream) and dealing with one viper that was particularly affectionate, before the silence is breached. Even then, it's a simple check in, making sure that Azazuka is unharmed and has no immediate crisis to deal with, and to confirm that she was angry, but unhurt, as Azazuka made some very careful cuts to get the bloody gloves off and get some mobility for the skirt. After, a continued hard march through the jungle, heading towards civilization in general, based on some basic wayfinding the two of them pulled together, stopping for scrounged water periodically.

A few hours later, they finally have their first proper break, sitting in the hollow left by a fallen tree for shelter from both any pursuers and the driving rain. She thinks for a moment to figure out her agenda, and realizes with a start she doesn't have one. Azazuka knows who she is, what she's after, and how good she is (very). A slow blink follows, before breaking into an unseemly, vicious grin. "And to conclude, that's why I hate danger. Because it's stupid and something to avoid at any chance, but it's the best feeling in the world to face the longest odds and win."

She whispers it, at least. She's not stupid.

She looks over and takes stock of Azazuka, and winces when she looks at her hair. "We, uh. We may need to give you a bit of a trim to your hair." She might, possibly, be able to untangle that. Given enough time, persistence, light, and tools. She really only had the persistence to spare right now.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Anarion
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Giriel is not throwing herself into a melee with a hostile heavenly spirit and an branch knight. That would be stupid and she is angry but she is not stupid. The most likely outcome is one or the other using her as a human shield, the next best guess would be somebody hitting her by accident. No thank you.

Instead, she takes her greatsword and flips it point down, striking it into the ground with conviction. She begins drawing a circle in the dirt beside the road with thick, deep lines cut by the blade. One big flowing line to make the ritual space first because sacred sorcery is always done within a circle. Then she cuts within it in quick, sure motions that tell you her sword has been used far more often for magic than for combat. She's drawing symbols of the locality. An abstract line for the buildings of the town before them, wavy lines for water, quick ones for the winds and sturdy thick ones for the earth. Simple symbols carved hastily, yes but clear enough in their meaning to call upon the local gods large and small.

Then Giriel begins to chant, low and singsong. She lowers herself to one knee in a posture of service, and calls to the local gods. Gods of the village, of the fields, of the weather.

She beseeches them for aid and succor. For help to her friends and harm to her enemies. Most of all, she beseeches them for information, for surely a heavenly messenger cannot have gone entirely unremarked! She is hungry and expectant that there will be gossip aplenty. She tells them too how she was attacked and wronged, how the messenger wore the guise of one of the mountain cats to assault them and begs their advice and their aid.

[Giriel is communing with the local gods. 5+1+2=8
She chooses
-Learn something important from the Unseen (as much as she can about Zhaojun)
-Change the nature of the unseen here so that they are angry at Zhaojun for her rudeness
-Being angry, she has almost certainly stirred up too much sentiment and so has also caused a haunting]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Kalaya!

Oh no! As you keep her attention with swordplay and conversation, a great mountain of a lady (a blacksmith, by her leather apron) sneaks up behind the highlander! Her wooden sword raises high, higher, held in both hands as she sweeps down before the warning can escape your throat and-!

The highlander catches the sword in her bare hand.

The blacksmith’s eyes go wide as saucers, then wide as dinnerplates as she strains with all her might, but her sword stays caught fast. A spin, swatting your own strike away, and in one great heave both sword and smith go tumbling across the field. The highlander snorts, and you swear you see smoke puff from her nostrils. “What is this, a fight or a tea party?”

She gives you no time to answer; she’s prepared one of her one. With a shout she’s upon you, raining down blows that leave no room for conversation or mistakes. To call her form sloppy would fall short of the mark. Your trained eye knows by the twist of her arm and the lurching, always-forward posture that this girl’s never seen a trainer for more than an hour. Has she even used a shortsword before? But she’s fast. She’s strong, and you feel it every time your guard catches one of those terrifying swings the wrong way. And she has a complete disregard for pain and her own safety. A feast of openings lies before you, how many do you take advantage of? How many can you take advantage of, brave knight? Why doesn’t it ever seem to slow her down?!

Your own training finally pays off, feint into parry into blades caught and crossed, and still she pushes you back, back, to the edge of the arena! You dig your heels into the earth, you drop to your knees, you throw all your weight against the tide, and at last you stop. Teetering on the edge of diaster, the highlander towering over you. Her blade presses ever closer. Your arms tremble to hold her back. She grins, right in your face, and are you surprised when you don’t see fangs? “Name’s Han. Nice to meetcha, Knight.”

A taunt. A challenge. A test, for the one who put this whole tourney on. Because the only deeds that will earn Han’s loyalty are ones that get the job done. Look around you, Knight, past the festival you’ve set up, to the N’yari roaming the highlands, the demons clawing at the edges, and the Dominion pulling the Flower Kingdoms under their spell. Where are the defenders of the Kingdom? Where are the princesses who swore we could live lives of peace? What are they up to, while the rest of us watch our worlds crumble around us?!

They’re gone. They’ve left us alone, and help isn’t coming. So it falls to people like Han, and the few knights who give half a damn about their duty and have the strength to do something about it.

So. Kalaya. Are you strong enough to do something about it?

[Rolling to Fight with Daring: 6 + 6 + 2 = 14. Taking a String on Kalaya via provocation, inflicting a Condition through violence, and seizing a superior position. Kalaya chooses one in return.]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Azazuka!

Rain trickles down your shoulder blades. It’s not a sensation that you’re used to. Or, rather, it’s still a sensation you take notice of, rather than being beneath your notice. You are a young woman of means; you have always had umbrellas to hand, or else people to carry them for you. That’s why the chill trickle running down the small of your back is something that keeps your attention, even as the Hymairean girl does her best with a sword rather than shears. Tangled knots fall to the wet, twig-strewn earth.

Why are you smiling? For the same reason that she smiled at you. Because you faced the odds and won. Down there in the dark, you were helpless, but that was just a shrinking of the metaphorical cage. Now you’re out here, in the mud and the rain, and for all that it’s exhausting, it’s thrilling, too?

…that being said, once you get back to civilization, you’re going to get an inn suite just for the two of you, and bundle up in a big wool blanket, and shiver the rain away. Over tea. Yes. Tea, shared with—

She is a friend, isn’t she? You’d like her to be. But that’s mixing business and pleasure. If you are indiscreet, you risk handing her leverage in business dealings.

Even so, when she sets down the improvised razor and brushes off the back of your neck, a thrill runs through you, and the temple mantras all slip out of your mind for a moment. You bite your tongue and stop yourself from asking her not to lift her fingers.

She asks you if it’s all right, and not trusting your voice entirely, you nod. You don’t actually know how it looks, but there are all sorts of ways to fix a bad haircut. Wigs, even. What’s important right now is not getting your hair caught on any more branches.

Then, in the sky above, for a moment, there is a flash of lightning that illuminates the sky, and for a moment you see a cloud-herding god stark against the clouds; and in the moment of silence between the bolt and the peal, you hear afar off a tumult.

You don’t have the experience to understand the ominous portent, or to navigate the last mile-and-change out of the jungle. You’ll have to trust in Piripiri for that. And you can do that as easy as breathing.

***

Whisper-of-Rushes!

A mortal invokes symbols and means them. She needs you, and no god can ever quite resist being needed. So you stalk away from the hubbub, the clash of spirits that weave between the mortals that pay you homage, still wearing your reed breastplate and carrying a six-tongued thong. You appear before her, manifest in your breath, feather-haired and rice-toothed, eager to be back in the fight but unable to resist the invocation.

However, there are two… complications. The first is that you aren’t the only one who’s broken away from the battle, an intense clash that would shock the mortals if they had eyes to see the upper airs: Puddlefiller is here too, the vapid cloudy ditz, and soot-scaled Breath-of-Dust. And as for the witch’s news, well—

“Meddler!” It comes out a croak, and you scratch at the dirt with your taloned feet, your spindly legs shaking. “Heaven never understands what it’s like down here! The stars don’t understand plant-roots, soil-tilling, filling stomachs!”

“Only the love in the bowl,” Puddlefiller sighs. Stupid girl! Why does she never push her hair out of her eyes? “I think she’s Blue, I think. Maybe Red. Or Green? Maybe she’s all of them, but Blue the most. She’s wanting ever so much.”

“That’s not how they work,” you snap back. Really, you’re not sure yourself, but you take your chances that Puddlefiller is talking nonsense again.

“What if they’re a sign,” Breath-of-Dust frets. “What if there’s going to be another war? Then the N’yari will come in, and their maids will whisk away my gifts as fast as I can give them! No, no, I put so much care into showing them all how all things change, how all possessions are fleeting…”

“She’s a very good cat,” Puddlefiller says, rolling over and letting her head dangle over the edge of her clouds. The hair still doesn’t fall out of her eyes. “I think that’s why. She’s wearing two cat masks, so that’s doubled. Or squared. Which one is more?”

“Only the strongest god can have a hope of protecting our town,” Breath-of-Dust hisses. “That must be why the priestess told us about the tourney! The court has been stagnant, and Sapphire Mother of Lotuses must have a strong bastion here!” She slithers on her stomach back to the fray, which is quickly becoming visible even among the mortals.

“I don’t think so,” Puddlefiller yawns. “This whole thing has been so odd. What if the cat doesn’t have anything to do with the challenge? Maybe she’s juffffrrfff—!!!”

Your thong curls around her and lashes her pale limbs tight together as you cram more cloud in her dumb mouth. The second complication, which has been building all this time, is that the energy of the tourney, that desperation, and of the summoning, that confused anger, is a heady brew, and you are drinking deep. You knot snakeskin tight at the back of her head and toss her, helplessly wiggling, over one shoulder.

“You want answers, witch? Help me win, and I’ll make every spirit from here to the other shore give you the answers you’re looking for.” Competition thrums through your breath, and it’s only the offer of alliance that stops you from knocking her down into the rushes and letting them cocoon her up. “I’ll throw in the meddler, too; we’ll convince her to leave it out of her report~” You don’t know how yet, but you’ll figure that blackmail out when you get to it.

***

Uusha!

You’re not a witch. You deal with spirits, you have accepted their gifts, you are closer to them than any other knight in the Kingdoms, but you’re not a witch. And the witch you need is making sharp, mortified yelps as she’s carried away by a thing in the shape of a N’yari. In moments like this, all you can do is follow your instincts. And your instincts tell you that something in the shape of a N’yari has the heart of one, as much as it might try to deny it.

So you throw your spear.

It arcs well over their heads, and keeps going, and going, testament to how much you put into the lunge, how it shivered when it left your fingertips. It buries its head, quivering, in the earth far past them.

And when this N’yari-thing glances back at you, you stretch, hands behind your head, muscles taut beneath your armor. Lazy, proud, and implicitly challenging. I’ll let you try to get a better position, it says, and I’m not going to chase after you like a kitten— but I am coming, and if you try to really run away, everyone will know you’re a weak little flower girl.

You didn’t used to sympathize with that viewpoint. Then you watched the kings and queens of the Flower Kingdoms for over a decade. Now you might just understand the N’yari better. Not that you want to see them in charge, however. No.

Your Lady would not stand for that.

You trudge back to where the second witch (the brave one, the one that… mmn) is parleying with fractious gods. And— you glance back over your shoulder. The gods are manifesting in the middle of some fool tourney. Order must be maintained.

“Go down there,” you say. “Make them stop fighting. Gods and flowers. That thief will try to exploit it, otherwise.”

And when you fight that thief again, very soon, you don’t mean to let her have a way out again.

***

Victorious Vixen of Violets!

Drinking emotion is a very intimate experience. You can’t skim mild feelings off the top and hope to have anything but watery, non-filling dregs. No, you need emotions to be throbbing, burning, intense— and then you need time enough to sink your fangs in and drain those delicious feelings dry until they’re pale and hollow and helpless.

But an entire town, all feeling lust at the same time? Fanned up into an inferno by careful use of bellows and enchantment? That’s enough to bask in and lazily chew, teeth needle-bright beneath your veil, squeezing out some of the power you expended to get here in the first place.

Here it is, the first step, the first part of the story: how Kalaya Na was so much a cut above the regular stupid peasant that an entire village fought to try to become one of three chosen companions. Business partners try to beat each other senseless, mothers fight their children, and all of them want little Kallie so bad it aches: her approval, her fame, her kisses. You reel in a porter’s hopes and dreams with a subtle flick of your fingers and rip a bite away before he stumbles back into the melee to lose.

How sweet.

Three swords, three companions. That was a good touch. It’ll help the story spread. And once she’s famous enough, once she’s spent enough time with you— then the crown, then the unification, then the queen, and then her heart.

You will rule the Flower Kingdoms; you’ll use your puppet queen to make a paradise here for you and your very extended family. And it all starts here, with dear, sweet Kalaya earning her retinue and breaking the hearts of everyone rejected, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop you! Nothing at all!!

You let out a dainty giggle, hidden in your sleeve, and roll around finally, my broad shoulders will be useful for more than carrying baskets! in your mouth. It’s sweet. So, so sweet.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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She'd tried to steal the spear; of course she had. An extra mask to add to her collection; who knows when being able to impersonate a big, strong, beautiful Flower Knight might help her on her mission?

She hadn't been able to get it out of the ground. She'd given it a solid, serious pull and it hadn't even wobbled. Feeling that solidity beneath her fingers made that strength suddenly seem so terrifyingly immediately real and present. If this was what those muscles could do - if her goddess' strength wasn't enough to - perhaps it was a trick or an enchanted spear. Maybe she wouldn't know for sure unless she got close enough to feel for herself -

She hisses, scratching at her mask. Backwards! There were bigger things to want! (were there?) And besides! She had a new toy and she was going to get some use out of it. She didn't have a plan for the sorceress (oh goddess a sorceress!?), but plans were foolish. One pushed the vase in front of oneself.

"Tell me what you know," she said, opening one eye to look at the trussed up Peregrine, dangling in twisted blue tape from a tree-branch at the perfect height to spin if she proved bothersome. She left it at that. She didn't really care to know anything specifically, that way Iopeter waited with an innocent smile. But maybe the witch would tell her about something less distractingly solid. Or give her reason to twirl her about like a toy, entangling her further in the ribbons.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by BlasTech
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Han!

The knight in front of you is stubbornly holding on by her bare fingertips. But you're pressing down and it's only a matter of time till the game is over, along with her chances in the Tourney. So why is her expression not one of a person facing imminent defeat? It's ... puzzled? And now ... smiling?

"You know, you're a real odd one Han." she grunts out, voice strained from the exertion of keeping you at bay. "I've got so many questions; Like what're you doing here and just where do you get your arm game from? (Cause dang girl!)"

"And especially ..."

Something golden and familiar glints from between the fingers of her left hand.

"... why is a highlander like you carrying around Snapdragon gold?"

Oh crap. It's your coin! How did she even manage that? I mean, it's not like she could have had a childhood of nicking things off larger bullies when they try to rough her up.

Do you check your pockets anyway? Taking a hand off your sword in the process? And do your eyes flick to the coin in dawning recognition and surprise? Taking them away from the knight in front of you?

And when she tosses it up into the sky, does your gaze track it like a cat following a ball of yarn?

Whatever opening you give her is all she needs. Before you can recover, the knight is on the offensive. Her strikes are plentiful, coming high, low, fast and strong. Oddly, not all of her attacks have the polish of what you'd expect from a knight - the one where she kicks you in the back of the leg, for example, is definitely not in the training manuals. But they get the job done; keeping you off balance enough to stop you from bringing your superior strength and speed to bear.

Eventually you get some space after she ducks beneath a broad swipe and latches on to your wrist, using your momentum to leap a short distance away. But the moment your foot finally connects with the ground is the one where her shoulder connects with your chest. Something catches your heels, and the next thing you know you're tumbling to the dirt.

Your sword is back up in a flash, but the girl is no longer pressing the attack - in fact, her sword isn't even pointed at you anymore. After a few seconds, the reason becomes clear.

That thing you tripped over was the marker at the edge of the ring.

"Now." she says, breathing heavily. "You're clearly not here to join in my retinue, so can you please tell me what's going on? I ... happen to have a vested interest in all things Snapdragon. So if there's any way I can help, I'd be happy to."

She glances down at the sword in her hand, before tossing it to one side and stepping across the line herself.

Kneeling, she offers you a hand up while her other holds the precious coin.

[Fight with Daring: 5 + 1 + 2 = 8. Choosing to Take Han's ability to compete in the tourney away from her, as well as to inflict a condition through violence.]

[From Han's Fight move: Had previously chosen to take Han's coin as my action. Am also taking the condition Insecure as inflicted.]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Anarion
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Make them stop fighting? Uh, Uusha had an odd view of magic and witches. There wasn't a spell for that. Maybe Peregrine had overpromised? Or worse, Uusha just thought Giriel was competent enough to go down there and get everyone to listen to her! Oh gods...were actually no help at all, that had made things worse!

Though, there was something: I think she’s Blue, I think. Maybe Red. Or Green? Maybe she’s all of them, but Blue the most. She’s wanting ever so much, the little god had said. Blue for love then. A little red for battle, but not as much. Perhaps this was all a game then, a contest of her own. And green for secrets. Nothing of violet, which was a relief, and nothing of yellow which wasn't in keeping with a spirit from the Dominion. If only she had time, damn it! Giriel was sure she could puzzle this out and take a proper divination. But while her head was thinking, her feet were already running. Her mother had always said that knowing all the magic in the world meant about as much as knowing how to hold a broom: it didn't do you any good unless you had a broom and got to sweeping.

And as for Peregrine, well, Giri had to trust that Uusha was on it one way or another. Uusha would be a lot better at the rescue part that anything Giri could cook up. So, run run run it was! All the way to the town, sword back in its sheathe so as not to slow her down. At least she could follow the gods straight to the ring. And what in Creation was all this? She'd seen flower knight tournaments before, they were common enough, but this looked like the spirit of madness had seized the town. Children and old men were sitting equally outside the arena rubbing bruises and nursing knocked heads while a portly baker was running about the arena chasing people with a rolling pin amid the actual wooden swords and spears being flashed about.

There was no way this was natural. And that meant...Giriel let out a long sigh. It meant that she was about to be the center of attention in a hurry.

"STOP!" she shouted, skidding down the road into the town square proper. And because that wasn't going to do anything, she pulled out one of the oldest tricks in the book and casts a simple but spectacular spell. Witches, among other things, are perfectly capable of putting on a good show and conjuring from smoke or steam is about the easiest. In an ideal world, she's actually have a cauldron or at least a big pot, which would work better. But a dust cloud would work and there was so much activity that it wouldn't be that hard.

So, Giriel stops just outside the town square, running and kicking and throwing up as much dirt as she can, and then with a flourish of gestures and shouting, she conjures the dust into a great dust dragon which rears up above the arena, casting its shadow upon all the combatants. And she shouts again: "STOP FIGHTING!"

She really might as well have come with a giant sign that read "Witch in town" with this one!

[Giriel is rolling to defy disaster with spirit. 4+2+2=8. She pulls this off, but with a hard choice or sacrifice]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by eldest
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She'd thought about this while cleaning. How best to calm down a crying, furious Azazuka, somebody who had no frame of reference for any of this. Somebody soft of spirit and wanting nothing more than to go back to her cheerful festival and happy mansion with guards between her and the outside world.

Nothing was following that script. Which is okay! It's fine, more than fine, this is good for them to have Azazuka reach inside and find steel to draw on. It's... interesting, in it's own way, to have somebody who'd gone through this.

"When I was born," Piripiri began, "I was the forth child. The firstborn is the heir. They will inherit the noble title, responsibilities, and lands, and are trained in diplomacy and command. The secondborn is the spare. Life is dangerous. Sometimes the heir dies, or something worse happens. The spare is trained in administration and dueling, to back up the heir in whatever capacity is needed. The thirdborn is for the monestaries: the monk spends three decades cloistered, the first as a student, the second as a meditant, and the third as a teacher. Then they return to their families to spend their twilight years there. This also allows for spiritually trained monks to be distributed throughout Hyair, to be able to respond to fairy reavers more quickly."

She pauses.

"The fourthborn and on are chaff. I have no role, except to be the scapegoat, the one who made the deal with the river bandits because I have no particular family honor. The one who can sit down and drink with those we've sworn blood feud against, and maybe walk away with a truce. But also the one who might sit down at that table and get up as the poison starts to take effect. It's a pragmatic system, really. There's a mix of debutantes tolerated by their family, drunkards slowly wasting away, and those who take the chance to do things nobody else can, and you can rarely tell which is which just by looking."

Went somewhat off-script there yourself. Reset. There's no voice telling her what one should do, here, so she's playing it by ear and hoping. They're walking towards the circus in the sky, in an absence of what else to do, as well as having the general opinion that spiritual foes (like demons) are best combated with spiritual allies (like gods). Not much longer till they break the treeline.

"The point being that... my first time facing real danger, I couldn't do anything but be defiant. I've still got the scars from that. And I decided then and there that I would try to learn more, enough so that I would never have to just offer helpless defiance again. And, um. I can't teach you everything that I know, not in any reasonable amount of time, but I'd be happy to try to teach you some, if you want. To have some options."

Great! Lovely wrapup as they step out of the jungle into the outermost fields, towards the village in the distance. A possible new student, maybe a colleague. Certainly somebody who's gone through the same nonsense and reacted, well, the same way. That's got to be why she's feeling a bit of a glow as Azazuka grins. A friend.

[Piripiri is smitten! She cannot date Azazuka because it's been directly forbidden by a superior, who she has to obey due to Commandments.]
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The coin.

All her attention rests on that coin. No time wasted on questions like “how did you get that?” No breath spent on demands like “give it back!” When it flips glinting into the cloudy sky, she does not dare lose sight of it for an instant. Whatever her cause was here, she’s forgotten it. Cast it aside. Doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Take all the openings you want, knight. There’s nothing you can do to her that’s worse than losing that coin.

But you catch it, and you catch her, and out she tumbles. No coin, no tournament prize, and you can see the terrible realizations carving a path through her heart in real time. Out of options. You cheated. She has to have it. She has to take it. How fast can she do it? How much time can she afford to waste here? She doesn’t know. You cheated. She doesn’t know.

[Taking a condition from the Fight roll: Marking Afraid.]

Do you realize the eruption your act of mercy forestalled? Maybe not in full. But fear and wrath give way to shock which gives way to a snortful huff and a critical eye turned on that offered hand, as if there’s another joke you’ve stuffed in there and she just hasn’t seen it yet. “Hrmph. Shoulda said so sooner, saved us both some time,” she growls.

It is at this moment that a dragon of dust roars across the battlefield, carrying a familiar voice. And Han lights up anew. She grabs the knight’s outstretched arm and is on her feet in a flash. “You really wanna help?” Hup! Up! And over! Han tosses the knight on her shoulder like a sack of chivalrous potatoes. “Don't let go of that coin, and don't you dare fall off!” In two steps she’s in a dead sprint, heedless of mud and scattered villagers and flying practice swords, barreling towards what could only be the work of a witch.

And, uh, Kalaya, turns out she didn’t just stop at her arm game because dang it’s like you’re not slowing her down at all. This is. Hrm. Is this the kidnapping that your Princess instructors warned you about? This is, wow, okay, how's this experience for you?

[For Han’s side of the Fight roll, she will be taking another String on Kalaya via sudden consensual kidnapping.]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Heavenly Cytherean Machi!

The witch studies you a moment too long, her close-cropped hair refusing to succumb entertainingly to gravity. “You’re complicated,” she says, more to herself than to you. “Like a city. Influx of different cultures, different motives. Cascading? Possible. Hard to tell from a look. You’re definitely from Her, but cut, adulterated.”

Her eyes glitter. Too keen. She’s dangerous, this witch. “You should have clarity. You want to know what I know because you don’t know. You need an anchor point. Something to pivot on. Torn away? Added to. Cecylene: at a guess. How better to derail?”

She comes to a conclusion, and smiles thinly. “You are a distraction,” she concludes. “You’ve been hijacked, and everything you do with that mask on is going to further the agenda of Hell. So take it off.”

She takes a breath, and then slams her will into the command: bereft of ritual, without signs and tools, barely enough to tilt you unless you were already teetering: “Now.

Do you? Does her cold read of you (perhaps only partially correct, not that you can be sure) rattle you? Does it fracture you further, or make you cohere long enough to send her spinning?

Whatever your answer, keep your head up: there’s more trouble on the way. Tangled-up hearts, emerging from the trees.

***

Piripiri!

Azazuka barely gives any thought to the offer— or, rather, she skips straight to acceptance. She really should be more careful! What if you staged all this to get closer to her, and the warlock was in your employ? What if you were a con woman who got lucky and snuck her out using your ill-gained skills, and you intend to drain her purse dry?

Or, hypothetically speaking, what if you were a spy who would gain a view of the Flower Kingdoms’ political games from within by being close to her, and would be required to push her towards the Red Wolf?

…ah. The Red Wolf. There is a method by which you can send word to her, and quickly, by supernatural means, in case of emergency. What is it? And how will you guide Azazuka past what looks like a dragon of dust arising from the town in order to get her somewhere with tea and seats and the means to contact the Red Wolf?

***

Giriel!

The glamour draped over the town comes apart. Your keen eyes see gossamer-strings snapping and wildly lashing like ship’s ropes suddenly cut. You’ve stopped everyone here from being controlled by one of the rakshasa: one that is evidently powerful, has had time to lay a spell upon an entire town, or both.

The problem is that you stumbled into it and took it apart without even really thinking about it. Anyone here could be the rakshasa, and if you tried to seek them out by magical means, you’d end up with all sorts of false positives.

Like, for example, the two familiar girls in front of you. One’s a knight (how better to prey upon dreams of glory and adventure?) and the other is a burly highlander (perhaps a goblin-queen, hiding her uncouth nature and freakish strength in plain sight) — but either could be a disguise. From this point forward, anybody could be the magician that did this, even that priestess trying feebly to comfort those frightened by the sudden dust dragon, and whoever they are? They have your number, for sure.

But you’re the center of attention, and everyone’s stopped fighting and is looking to you, except for those two girls, who might have a more immediate or pressing challenge!
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Is this what it is to be seen?

Correctly, coldly, dispassionately analyzed from a distance and then dispatched with a single precision strike? Nothing to take back to the mud but the verdict of distraction? If she lets it, this can be true. This can be right. This can be justified, and this story can have a righteous ending.

Some part of her folds before rightful authority. Is it the spirit who collapses, as it is programmed to, or is it the girl who acknowledges that she is a thief who has stolen a place in this story? But the other part doesn't let her. It craves still. It craves to be seen not for what it is, but for what it dreams it might be. The strike finds its mark but it does not split the skin. Accuracy alone is insufficient.

"I understand you perfectly," said Zhaojun, shivering back from the force of the blow to coil her finger under Peregrine's chin. "You say that I am in service to the agenda of Hell? That means the Yozi have an agenda here, and rather than discuss it with me, a rightful representative," of what? "you want to discuss and dictate terms to me. Sorceresses are a disrespectful sort, are they not?"

Her hand flares with peacock blue sorcery. She grasps Peregrine by the chin, throat dry, craving burning in her throat like the deserts beyond the Lap.

"And so I will ask again, this time of the demons you truck with: tell me what you know."

[Invoke a toxic power: 5 woooooooooooo]
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"Giri?!"

Fact: Sound travels faster than highland hooligans.

Fact: This has never helped anybody, ever.

Your ears ring, but she is already upon you, skidding to a halt from her mad sprint. She bears the bruises of hard battle, the muck of hard travel, and also a knight that she picked up from goodness knows where, but no. No it must be Han, yes? What a coincidence, to find an old, familiar face here...

"Okay! Perfect timing." She doesn't waste a breath. Can't waste a breath. "I gotta know where the bastard who left this coin is hiding."

She gives the shoulder-slung knight a thorough shaking. "Hey! Where's that coin?!"
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This is not fun.

Not fun at all.

After all, it's not like Kalaya went through ten years of a mostly-self-studied knight course just to be carried around on someone's shoulders like a battle trophy. It was all the more galling from the fact that Kalaya knew she wasn't helpless, it was just that this highlander was strong enough that she may as well have been.

There's always someone better. I did say I'd help though ... she sighs internally, before flopping down in, if not acceptance, at least a lack of resistance and with a determination to make the most of not having to walk. Rather than fighting, she spends the time staring at the golden Snapdragon coin, wondering what the story is.

Needless to say, she gets two surprises in a very short period of time. Apparently the coin is part of a trail this highlander is following.

I guess she wasn't hired by Ven then.

But more to the point.

"Giriel?" Kalaya perks up, spinning slightly to spot the witch before excitedly squirming her way off of Han's shoulder - possibly accidentally-intentionally giving Han a kick to the head on the way down. She hits the ground in a roll, then jumps up to give the older woman one of her signature bone-crushing hugs.

"It is you!" she cries. "I was hoping to find you a little while back. It's been ages! How are you, what's going on and why are you making sand-dragons over my tourney?"
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"Han, Kalaya? You...know each other?" Giriel pauses, dumbstruck, the sand dragon bobbing its head in time with her own. She's in the middle of a spell here, hands raised to control the dragon, face looking up and out with the idea that she'd be speaking to a surprised crowd with her full and fairly ample stature, not getting bum-rushed by too old friends. Who...also knew each other somehow and were...in a relationship? She wasn't sure, but one didn't normally carry around their friends unless they were close so that seemed reasonable at least.

She cocks a head at the two of them, Han shouting about tracking a coin, and then Kalaya saying...my tourney. That did it? "Your tourney?" she asks, pulling the combined pair into a sudden bear hug, letting the sand dragon fall forward and crash into dust with a sigh.

No, listen, sure either of them could be a Rakshasha, or anybody else here could be, but it wasn't going to do her any good in a Rakshasa contest to start treating her old friends with distrust. None at all! She needed to keep them close. Either they were legitimate and they could work together or one of them was a Rakshasa and being close would help her figure it out!

"Your tourney?" she says again incredulously. "I haven't seen you since you were this tall, Kalaya!" She makes a very low hand gesture that doesn't even come up to her waist "and now you're here running a tournament that was under the control of a Rakshasa?!"

She raises her voice then because, oops, she was shouting to an entire assembled town and gods. "Everyone, please head to your homes. This tournament was influenced by a goblin that was affecting your emotions! Please go back to your homes. I and my friends are trained in finding the goblin, so please don't worry!"

(they were going to worry, nobody had said that Giriel was a great public speaker!)

The sound of her shouts reverberates through her chest, so that both friends can feel the speech coming through her just as much they can hear it, for she hasn't let up the hug for even a second. And she owes Han some kind of response too, can't hold off everything in a hug forever, after all. "Now what's this all about with coins and bastards and Rakshasa tournaments, and...and how did you two meet, you're so cute together!" She smiles at the two of them and hopes that the crowd is dispersing behind them. She really, really hopes it.
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Piripiri draws a wide circle around whatever's happening between the deific and the witches there (yes, she can tell there's something divine going on. She's not well trained in spiritual matters, but she's not blind. And where there's divine meddling, there's either priests or witches, and those don't look like this land's priests.) Not her problem, get too close and you get caught up in it.

She walks further into town, a short walk really. The town was near enough to the jungle that she's pretty sure that there are foragers on a daily basis. Best to make sure to somehow warn of dangers in the jungle then.

And then the sand dragon (witches! See?) collapses as the witch in town scoops two others into her arms and says something about a Rakshasha and Piripiri considers turning around and walking to the next town over. But no. This is a good spot... no, she can't say that, it's a terrible spot, but it's way better than where she's coming from, and she might as well roll with it. So she slips into a teahouse as it's about to close it's doors and smiles her kindest smile. "Hi! We just got into town, would it be possible to trouble you for some tea?"

Paying for the tea is a later problem.
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Zhaojun!

No disguises. Not here. That was a mistake, and one that might be sending hot pink thrills up your spine, the giddy feeling of being in freefall and needing to twist so that you land on your feet.

The Green Sun is one of the most perilous princes of the Demon City to call upon, for his gravity is so great that it draws in those who call upon him, and how light your feet were in yielding, even with a wrapped-up witch in your arms.

The Green Sun is the heart of the Broken King, and in its heart is another heart, a palace of brass and glass and mirror-polished stone. And in the heart of this palace, this core with its crushing gravity from which no one may escape without his leave, is the workshop of the Green Sun. He is here. He has stepped away from his work in order to address you, by the laws that Heaven set in place over him and his kind.

His hair is the ruddy red of a copper bowl. His eyes are the flickering green of his light. He is wearing only an apron around his waist, and his shapely golden muscles gleam in the light of the forges. He could crack a mountain if he wanted to; he could weave spells about the two of you to doom you to bitter love forever and ever; he hates you and everything that you stand for. You are a brat, a child, papering your bedroom with posters of revolutionaries, while he continues to thanklessly embody true royalty.

And royalty never lashes out without provocation.

And the Green Sun is nothing if he is not the prince in exile.

And so you are safe and surrounded by terrible peril on all sides, Zhaojun.

”I do not have time to tell you what I know,” he breathes, and his breath is hotter than Scarlet’s fury. He stands in perfect poise, one hand holding his hammer behind his back, the perfect counterbalance. You do not have time to listen to what I know,” he continues, and the mockery is only implicit. ”You must learn to be more specific.”

“How may I blackmail Iupeter?” Peregrine blurts out, her eyes shining.

”If I knew, would I not already have done so?” His smile reveals nothing. He’s just trying to tilt you, Zhaojun. There’s no way he actually could have followed through on that implication. Right? ”Your efforts would be better suited to an exchange of favors. You deliver her an agent of one of her sisters, a secret for only the three of you to keep, and she gives you a secret— of equal worth, one supposes.”

Peregrine glances at you out of the corner of her eyes, and not subtly. The Green Sun patiently awaits your own question, Zhaojun. It would not do to keep him waiting.

***

Petony-phraya!

This is some real fertilizer, is what it is.

The kid was really getting at it! Diving in, knocking a highland bumpkin out of bounds (she definitely needs to be bigger in the version you’ll tell later, of course) and getting an entire town fired up to win those swords! And then one of those meddling witches comes in and says there’s fairies involved? What a load. Like you wouldn’t notice one of them meddling.

So here you are, the five of you, taking up a big table in the teahouse: you (with your retinue taking up positions at nearby tables), the kid (confused, and who can blame her), the bumpkin (who looks like she’s left her wits back home), the witch (definitely up to something), and the bumbling priestess trying to set up anti-fairy wards feverishly (somehow even cuter the more she fumbles the salt and squeaks, maybe you should make a move~).

“So do you mind explaining again, witch? I just want to make sure I understand what you’re going on about.” The more she talks, the more you’ll be able to see through her tricks. “While you’re at it: mountain girl, do you drink tea?” Sun only knows what sort of drinks mountain peasants turn to for comfort…

***

Piripiri!

This was a bad idea for the one simple reason that, as soon as Azazuka stepped to the restroom to make herself look presentable again, a knight and her entire retinue came crashing into the place, along with: a squire(?), the squire’s girlfriend(?), and the witch.

You’ve gone straight from being in the middle of something to being on the outskirts of something interesting and potentially valuable: how do you play this?
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Well they had...dispersed she guessed. That was something. And everyone had calmed down for tea, which was something too. This was a good way to tackle problems. It didn't make Giriel feel all that much better though. Today had been impossibly hard. People went entire lifetimes just farming the same hillside. Yet somehow Giriel, in the span of a day, had encountered ghosts, demons, and a crazy divine spirit (she had downgraded from hostile based on her info, but crazy was definitely right). And now she felt overwhelmed. There was a Rakshasa somewhere and it had influenced Kalaya. That's assuming it wasn't Kalaya, but she was not going to let herself jump down that suspicion rabbit hole. Besides, tackling a Rakshasa was a slower matter. You had to bait the trap for them and wait, and no Rakshasa was just going to up and announce herself after the entrance Giri had pulled.

She would have taken a sip of tea at this moment to hide her consternation, but it hadn't been served yet, and so she contented herself with clearing her throat instead as she addressed their gathered table. "Of course" she started, looking at Petony and then sweeping her gaze over the gathered. She tried not to look too annoyed, but she really had been through a lot today and her patience was short. And it sounded like Han needed something important too, enough that she was sitting here and managing to just look uncomfortable instead of squirming out of her own skin. Okay, imagining that almost brought a smile to Giri's face and that let her continue forward. Thanks, Han.

"Like I was saying, I'm not claiming that idea of the tournament was a problem, I know you knights do that sort of thing all the time. It's just that the way everyone reacted to this one was very clearly the work of a rakshasa. Old folks and children were running around out there trying to get in a knight's retinue." She sighed. "So, there is a rakshasa around and we'll need to be on our guard. Try not to suspect everyone you meet just...try to stop and think and maybe don't do anything incredibly stupid?"

Giri let out a sigh. "That's the immediate problem. The bigger problem is that there's a lot happening. In the past day, I met Holly's Stag Knight, who's here somewhere, busy chasing after a heavenly spirit disguised as one of the N'yari who assaulted us. She's busy raising the dead to try and chase off the dominion, fool plan that it is. And on top of that, somewhere nearby there are demons on the move and I have it on...good authority that their summoner is someone named Ven who's based at Kingeater Castle. The knight and I and another witch she was working with named Peri...er Peregrine were traveling together to look into that when we got waylaid here and the Stag Knight charged me with stopping the tournament."

She looked around again at all of the assembled. "And somehow, despite all of that, I'm getting the feeling those aren't our only problems. Am I right?" She shook her head and looked imploringly for someone to bring them tea so that she could at least clear her dry throat.
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Would you believe her if she said she had no idea who The Green Sun was?

The Lore of Demons is forbidden. It is power wrapped up within the Bureau of Secrets; the lore of names and power and ancient terror. Zhaojun is the connection between Heaven and Earth, but the mysteries of the underworld are not for her to know. Perhaps it is a joke of the Maidens; one final twist of the knife that such a profound entity be forgotten.

And so, Zhaojun finds herself tongue tied and outmaneuvered. Peregrine has snatched a question, and the Green Sun has let slip a poison answer. A tension coils at the base of her spine, tying into her jaw. Somehow she has become weak. She had called upon the greatest power she knew to ask and now she was learning that there were powers beyond that. She was being threatened, bullied, ignored, disrespected. She'd come all this way and it still wasn't enough.

"You know what my question is," she huffed, bluffing. Her muscles strained against her attempt at relaxation, at confidence. This was the only escape she could see; to shrink back behind her stone mask and force the demon to bargain as though a greater power than he were underneath. "So stop playing dumb, go ahead and answer it."

Don't see me. I need you to see me as something else.

[The Mask to persuade the Green Sun of a lie: 6]
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The server stands by Han’s shoulder, waiting. Perhaps she feels the waves of crackling heat blossoming off the highlander. Maybe she hears the creak of a table, suffering in her white-knuckle grip. To her credit, she still waits.

“Orchid oolong, use 3 grams leaf to 236 mL of water. Awaken the leaves by rinsing them with near-boiling water first, then infuse them in fully boiled water for one and a half minutes. Steep a second cup for 3. I’ll take both." She jerked her head to Petony. “Her tab.”

Anybody else want to cut in with any more stupid questions? No? Good.

“While we’re in a sharing mood: I’ve been out here, hunting down some wilted creep who likes dark cloaks, big straw hats, and kidnapping priestesses with demon magic, and the only damn clue I have is a stupid coin she left behind. Which would be plenty, if I had one thorned minute to get me a divination done. Which I can’t get because you’re second-guessing the damn Witch telling you you’ve got fairy problems, like you’d live anywhere close to a daisy-brained clue what she’s talking about, because you’re sore your tournament got called off. Oh, I’m sorry, it wasn’t even your tournament in the first place. Why the hells are we talking with you anyway?!”

She towers over the seated company, her chair long past able to contain her.

“Go drink your stupid tea and quit wasting our time. King’s Crown, maybe then we’d get something done around here.”

[Han displays instense emotions society would rather she didn’t. Her Feral is now at 1.]
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