Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Anarion
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Dolly and Jade

Ksharta smiles a small but genuine smile. “I had fun tonight. It was a lot more…um…wild than I’m used to. I mean, I mostly, um, well I hadn’t really been doing much since I joined the competition. I’d just make dinner privately, maybe talk to the engineers, read a bit, go shopping once in a while. It’s been weird not being part of the Huntress Lodge or my family. So, this was… wild but it was nice. I’m still…I mean, even if I add Jade to the goddesses I worship, I’m gonna give it my all next time we fight. I’m not gonna let you get away with the same tricks.” She smiles a different smile then, one with some teeth. “I could have won that match if I didn’t get flustered, I’ve been thinking about it, I mean, when there was time to um…think.” She blushes, the color darkening the stripes on her face, but she lets it ride. She allows herself to relax and purrs contentedly for a moment.

Even Angela lets her have this moment and does not interrupt with any squeals or groans. She’s clearly treating Ksharta as the follower in this whole setup. Not blameless, but far more innocent than you two.

Ksharta’s reverie is broken when she picks up a bowl and starts eating her own food. “The chefs here aren’t that great,” she says. “Let me just…I mean, if it’s okay with the goddess, I think I could improve their recipe a little bit.”

She tenses as if to stand, but looks to you for permission to go, and perhaps for companionship?

[If you want to roll a comfort and support, you can help her. She’ll appreciate that a lot.]

***

Mirror

Several of the guests laugh when you force down the cinnamon liquor. It’s not particularly mean-spirited as these things go, you’re simply providing some entertainment by committing as you did despite your obvious discomfort. A few of them will respect you more for it. Marcina does not laugh. She does not smile. Her demeanor is a little cold and she looks pained in fact.

She lets you recover, lets you speak your piece, but her answer is to the drink first, not the competition. “That was very stupid of me. Please accept my apologies. Your herbal drink is on me as well. I, and most people I know, find the taste of cinnamon pleasant, it’s no hardship and I am no steel queen. It was very stupid that I should assume a Hybrasilian would have the same tastes, and that I knew of you but not of your people. A mistake I’ll fix tonight.”

She doesn’t seem to mean the conversation with you in that statement. There’s no prompt for any further information, no demand to tell her about Hybrasil or important facts she needs to know. If anything, the sense you get is that she’s going to finish hanging out at the bar and go hit up a library of some sort rather than sleep. Perhaps she has access to a private collection or a source for the latest information coming into the system.

She sips her cinnamon and spice liquor and smiles at the taste of it, allowing it to lighten her mood, though her composure does not really slip at all. Then she holds up three fingers. “I am interested in you because your mecha is unique and so I think you are unique. I watched your last two matches and I looked up what I could of the pilot of that mecha. I’m not sure I entirely grasp the title of ‘One Day Defender’ from the war reports though, nor how you found your way to this competition.”

She lowers a finger, then lowers her whole hand briefly to take another sip, before returning to holding two fingers up. “I am seeded into the quarterfinals because of my victory last time. I’m in the upper left bracket. If I recall in the first round of eliminations, you’d want to be, hm I think it was 8th to face me as quickly as possible. Though of course we could meet in the semis with a variety of placements and in the finals in any event.”

That she states matter of factly. She has every confidence she’ll at least make it to the final and nothing she’s seen of the matches thus far has shaken it. She lowers the second finger. “Being eaten is not my wish, but it would please me to face you sooner and learn in the proces. You shouldn’t throw any matches though, each pilot ought to compete to the best of her ability in every match she’s in, should she not?.”

She stops, the question is not rhetorical. She wonders if you share that opinion.

[If you want any confirmed reads on Marcina, you can roll dice, or take her responses and demeanor as they appear.]

***

Isabelle

There are several feelings that occur to you at this moment. The first is that you just did something very very stupid. The second is a searing pain in your hand. The spot where you slammed it sharpened right as your hand came down and, well, we won’t get into the details, but you’ve got a deep cut on the lower edge of your hand, right about halfway between wrist and pinkie finger. The third is a strange, tingling sensation running up your arm quite quickly, and the fourth and last is something almost electrical between you and the door console.

Annika’s staring. So is Crescent. You aren’t aware of this because the nanobots that have entered your bloodstream are very busy doing something. Something strange, something that you’re not sure nanobots are supposed to be able to do. Something a lot more complex than a few people controlling some clothing with a wrist watch.

Annika grabs your hand then, the cut one. Grabs it hard, holding it like a pincer with her own. You feel something, one of the geists she’s been carrying. Some kind of exploratory program, distinct from the one that Solarel stole, but still similar to this facility somehow. She holds your hand tight as the geist interfaces and then, you can feel the door???

“Open it” she says. And you can, you know with absolute certainty that you can will the door to open. Do you?

***

Solarel

You see impatience. When you go through the floor, the Kathresis and its spirit crashes after you, heedless of the collateral damage. The spirit is using vision to guide its machine, and the rain of metal and dust that it creates by moving too quickly is the perfect cover for you to slip away. It gives you space to move, a head start before it knows your direction.

You run. You cut cameras with precision. This level is more natural, tunnels shaped and carved by nanobots following the easiest lines in the rock, the softest routes, avoiding structural supports. It feels less like a test facility as you go further down and more like a living planet. Not…literally, probably, but like the natural forces of cave systems and waterflow were long ago merged with the nanobot AI in a way that simply sculpted these caverns and continued to sculpt and resculpt them to maintain stability and some small amount of beauty.

Most of that beauty blurs by though, and it will have to be some other time that you stop to properly shine a light on the strange crystals forming on the walls down here or the pools of water that reflect nothing because of the perfect darkness.

The Kathresis still tracks you, you can tell from the whine of its crystal fire drive. A few times, it seems to even be close, the spirit trying to guess your route by where it is losing vision and you’re forced to rapidly change direction, doubling back on yourself and cutting into different corridors. Deeper and further, places with fewer cameras or none at all.

You can maneuver here, but any break you make for more developed areas will be tracked. You’re playing cat and mouse now. Which one are you?
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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The deadliest sword was, of course, the eye. To see something was to have power over it. The huntresses of Hybrasil understood only half of this. Time and again in the depths of space they had come for her; time and again she'd defeated them. Some blamed the strength of the Ateline. Some of them blamed her supernatural skill. None of them, not even Mirror, had realized that the greatest danger was eye contact.

Hybrasilians had beautiful eyes. Adaptive. Expressive. No matter how casual they feigned, the shift from slit to circle foretold the pounce. No matter how swift the strike she was always moving just in time. No matter if they refused her communications channels she'd angle her sensors to pierce metal skin so she could always keep the girl beneath the armour in her sights. So that she'd always be able to watch their eyes. And so their swords became hers.

She hadn't been stumped until she'd fought Mirror. Mirror was... she was cryptic, unknowable, mysterious but not out of any attempt to be. She'd accepted the communications channel. She'd spoken to her throughout the battle. She'd used the full range of body language, of flirtatious smiles and cutting remarks and emotional range. But none of it came through before she said it. Before she decided to do it. Her Goddess had been the same; no instincts to trick, no wiggle of the tail to herald a pounce, no habits to target. Her mind was disconnected from her body and the two only corresponded by email. It wasn't even that she was faster; if anything, her reactions were slower than other Hybrasilians. But the rhythm was wrong. Solarel missed beats in complex attack sequences just because she couldn't predict what was next and found herself on the defensive. It was the difference of her entire advantage.

Compared to that, the mathematical logic of the spirit was a far simpler problem. She could not read emotions in a camera lens but she could piece together what a lifetime of seeing the world as a house might be. This spirit was, after all, simply a house - to break a thing in the house does not deny that room to the house, it just flags that area for repairs. She was dealing with a maker and a steward, to whom loss of vision was an irritant and not a devastating strategic danger. And it was her own nature that would blind her more deeply than any loss of cameras. Solarel could see it in her eyes.

And so, the stratagem. She has looped her trail of destruction in an elegant knot across floors and layers. She has broken every camera in her path. And now she awaits, cold-blooded and empty of heat, pressed against the ceiling. Not for the Kathresis, no - for the repair drone. Any moment one would be dispatched to this location to repair the broken camera, hoping to fix the net where she had torn it and thereby trap her again. It was the drone that was her target. It was the drone's skin that would get her close enough to strike her true target. One did not hunt a perasaur without a windbanner as bait, and one did not go before a God without an offering.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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“Up over the table. Come on, Dolly, there’s a good girl.” Really, Dolly, there’s no reason to be hesitant. Your goddess has got you, and she’s not going to let you put a foot wrong or tip the table over, and everyone should be paying attention to you anyway. Still, oddly, it takes a smack for her to scramble properly, and is that Angela Victoria Miera Antonius laughing? Why would she be laughing? Dolly is the very picture of grace. And going around the table would have been too slow, and— oh, good girl, what a landing, right next to Ksharta Talonna!

”L-let me,” Dolly stammers, offering an arm to guide Ksharta up from her seat. There are a lot of stares, a lot of staring, why did she have to go over the table, Jade? Sure, it’s nice to be the center of attention but it’s also so, so—

Jade tugs her leash hard.


The important thing is guiding Dolly to tilt her chin up. Getting the kiss is the goal, after all. Dolly doesn’t wrap her arms around Ksharta Talonna on instinct, instead being a silly thing and bracing herself against the seat (what, doesn’t she trust her goddess?) but the kiss was aimed correctly. Mouths have come into contact. Now her horny little slave girls will melt into a kiss for all to see.

It’s so awkward. Oh gosh. Jade. Jade! Their mouths are on each other, and neither of them are sure what to do about it, and Dolly tries to say something but Ksharta tries to turn it into a kiss, and then Ksharta tries to say something but Dolly’s responding, and it’s wet and messy and Jade’s got a hand on the back of her head, and the embarrassment is throbbing through her hard, and if you’d just asked, Jade!!

Dolly and Ksharta Talonna fumble it, but Dolly’s hot for it. The adrenaline is coursing through her, and a familiar heat warms Jade’s bones delightfully. She purrs contentedly and plays with Dolly’s leash, winding it around some of her fingers.

“I’ll…… won’t leave you alone? Can’t have anything happening to you. D-dear.” She’s still up in the girl’s face. It would be very easy to kiss her again. Properly. “We should take Angela with us, though,” she adds. She can’t look Ksharta in the eyes. Her mouth is so. It’s. And she. Would it be so bad?

Fuck it.

Dolly presses herself up against Ksharta, pinning her for everyone to see, and kisses her again. Properly. As apology. Because she wants to. And because Jade giggles and strokes her behind her ears. And she hopes, too late, that Ksharta can handle being this shameless in public like she can, soaking it up, a naughty little sponge for Jade to torment by forcing her to be bolder than she could ever be herself— except she was the one who decided to kiss Ksharta again.


Look who was right about everything and is the most intelligent and wise and generous goddess ever. What wonderful entertainment her two girls are. How envious everyone else is of their special bond. How Angela Victoria Miera Antonius must be squirming in her seat wishing she was squished between them. Aren’t you glad you obeyed, dearest Dolly?

All of this, she does for you, after all.

”Now let’s go tell those chefs how to cook,” Dolly says, coming up for air, loud and blushing and grinning. “I’ll help Angela up, I’ll be right behind you, pounce on them good!!”

[Dolly and Jade manage a 6 to comfort Ksharta, which, as we all know, is a hit, because Jade is infallible and Ksharta is just like her Dolly, and the chefs will understand completely that they are in the wrong and they should listen to Dolly’s special kiss friend.]
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Phoe
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Silence. In the aftermath. The question considered, the question ignored. Silence. Awaiting the replacement drink. Silence. Deep frown, sharp stare, hold for eleven full seconds, break. Retrieve tablet from effects, clear screen. Clear screen. Clear screen. Call up program: white canvas. Retrieve wand. Lines deliberate. Slow. Silent.

The question ignored. The question considered. The question devoured. Draw the glyphs. Turn attention away, acknowledge bartender. Single nod, pause. Thumbs up, slight tremble. Unfortunate. Belch, poison. Shake head. Wince. Inhale air over fresh glass, flowers, grasses, spinach. Sugar, perfect. Flavors to bury a ludicrous amount of intoxicant. Also perfect. Single, delicate sip. Soft sigh.

Turn tablet toward Marcina Villajero. Display glyphs: "The One-Day Defender".

"I do not share this with you as admonishment, nor as recompense. This is not a tool by which you may correct your ignorance. It is not how I shall reveal mine. It is a secret, told in confidence, and if you spread it beyond our talk tonight I shall find you in the night and tear secrets you did not even know you had from your brain until I am satisfied I have gotten my fair share back. This trust is offered you because we are kindred. Nothing more or less."

She places her fingers on the screen and pulls apart the layers of the glyph. Complex Hybrasilian glyphs, like the ones used for names, were constructed out of multiple simpler ones that either all or mostly built the meaning of the larger one, though not the way it was spoken. Mira lifts her hands and is left with the glyphs for 'shield', 'shelter', 'time', and 'friend'.

"War records will show that I clashed with the pilot of the Aeteline outside the territory of the Hybrasil Research Station [Dappled Sunlight, Rippling Water]. She and I engaged in single combat lasting approximately one full solar cycle. Though I failed to gain any definitive advantage over her in that time, occupying her attention was the difference between a successful raid by the Zaldarian task force and a full civilian evacuation plus data backup and excavation. I am a hero among my people, and this title is proof."

Mira grins with sadistic glee, and pauses to take a long but gentle sip of her drink. Her eyes drift shut and her ears wiggle from the sheer pleasure of it all. And while this happens, her hands blindly strike glyphs from the screen until only 'shield' is left. She turns it on its side. She plucks the wand back off the table and twirls it in her fingers before carefully adding glyphs that read 'shattered', 'food', and 'traitor'. She pauses to look Marcina Villajero in the eyes, and pushes the layers back together.

They form the same glyph as before.

"At the end of our duel I was defeated and taken captive. I spent the rest of the war as my conqueror's personal hostage. I lived in her tent, I followed behind her on a leash, though I would not have disobeyed even if she had removed it. I ate her food. I learned her culture and her way of speaking. And I watched as she tore through my people's lands at the tip of a spear of destruction, theft, and humiliation. Jewels far greater than [Dappled Sunlight, Rippling Water] were plucked and broken while I did nothing. It is debatable if I am the greatest pilot in Hybrasil. It is an absolute fact that I am among them. I accomplished a single great deed, and then I, a hero, sat by and watched my people suffer. I am. Despicable. And this title is proof."

Another sip, a slash of her tail through the air, a quiet and contented sigh. Nothing about her posture or demeanor suggests she is particularly bothered by the conversation or the memory of it, except that the liquid in her eyes seems all of a sudden to have frozen over completely. She rubs the stub of her thumb-claw around the edge of her glass, and laughs.

"Everything I do, I do to the best of my ability, be it matches, maintenance, love, or anything else that strikes my interest. But Victory is a goddess with very distant eyes, Marcina Villajero. And her name, too, can be fashioned out of many words. I do not owe my opponents the respect of crushing them. Wins and losses are irrelevant, except as a path to facing you. I desire you, Marcina Villajero. Sister from a far-distant star. You have calculated that when we fight, you will be both enriched and victorious. And this is wrong. Dear heart: I will swallow you whole. I will fashion you into a new tail for my Gods-Smiting Whip. And when I do. I promise. I will teach you every secret lesson you desire. That you do not know you desire. That you cannot even shape the words to ask for. Your power will be mine. And I will make you invincible."

Her words hang in the air again as she takes dainty sips from her drink. It is strong enough to melt her body and sweet enough to thaw her eyes. She smiles through a face soaked through with watery inscrutability. She wipes her tablet clean and puts it away again, but makes no motion toward leaving.

"And we will," she adds in a quiet voice, "I hope. Depart our battle as friends."

[Figure out a person: 7. "What do you love most?" and "What do you truly hope to get from me?" Out of respect for a superior opponent, Mirror will answer a single question in exchange]
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by BlasTech
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Isabelle cries out in pain as the console slices her hand.

Stupid stupid stupid. Losing your temper on an insignificant machinery. Losing your temper at all. That is not how a Lozano is supposed to behave.

Failure. You can't even manipulate this simple piece of machinery, when it practically opened itself for you. What hope do you have commanding something like the Emberlight?

I mean, 'mom voice' aside, how long do you think you'd last as a space-explorer if you go around getting angry in alien ruins? It doesn't seem like one of those long-lifespan kind of traits

Pulling the bleeding palm away, she watches in morbid, and slightly horrified, fascination as the nanobots ... as they ... what ... what are they doing??

Her mind is frozen and there is little she can do as Crescent grabs her hand and does ... something else. She only reacts once she's spoken to again.

"Open the door?!" Isabelle replies, incredulously. "How is that your priority? First - I think I need immediate medical attention! I could get blood poisoning from this! Do you know what the heck that stuff is going to do?! Do you?!! I might need to have a transfusion! Or amputation! And I like my arm! I do lots of things with it! Like tennis! How am I going to play tennis without my arm? Did you even think about that?!!?!"

"And secondly! Why are you asking that like it's something you think I can do, huh? What, I just wave my hand and make that door op-"

The door opens, and even Isabelle has to shut up at that.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Anarion
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Solarel
The spirit has shaped a repair drone from a nanobot swarm. It appears as a solid drone, spherical, about half a meter in radius, but when it approaches a camera, it ripples and buzzes in flux. It shapes itself an arm from the nanobots to begin taking the camera apart. Perhaps the spirit thinks itself cunning, drawing from the resources of the station/facility/planet in this way, or perhaps it’s simply steeped in the use of nanobots to such an extent that it would entirely rely on them rather than have fully fabricated drones for this sort of function.

Regardless, the nanobots are efficient. They can extend a scanning appendage, subsume the camera, fabricate any necessary wiring, and then replace the fixed camera. The entire process takes only a few moments. There may even be several such swarm drones operating at the same time, limiting your ability to safely double back along the cave routes.

You can interrupt the drone at any time. It’s animated by a single simple geist of the same nature as Annika’s and obviously of this locale. It’s focused on a single function doing repairs and that function does not include area scanning for you.

This also feels like the tip of an iceberg. You’ve mostly run out of space in this facility. It goes several levels, but once you get deep enough you’re in natural earth and that eventually hits solid rock unconnected to any other cave systems. It seems like you’ve got three or so cave levels (some dip up and down but about three) and then at least two research levels and since you haven’t gone up perhaps it extends upwards a bit more. But all told this area you’re in is something like a large park in overall size and that’s it. The implication of flying a shuttle into the planet for this suggests so much more, but it’s not all right here.

Of course, thinking through what Annika wanted is a question for later, when you have finished being hunted/hunter. Right now, the question is what your play is with the drone?

***

Isabelle
“Heee, heeee!” Annika laughs. Despite being a Zaldarian who seems really into the black capes and mysterious cult aesthetic, she laughs with a high, girlish joy to her. “It worked, Crescent, do you realize what this means? It can work without Zaldarian geists, the biologic systems of the Terenians and perhaps even the Hybrasilians with the right catalyst can function with the Trak’tho technology!

She giggles with an infectious joy as she gathers herself to enter the facility door, before gathering herself. She and Crescent begin to stride off, but seeing you standing there somewhat stunned, she stops again, obviously mulling back over what you said, trying to think of the problem before she thinks she’s got it. “You are not in need of medical attention, the facility is adequately sterile and the cut will not be infected. Now come, we need to try and catch up with the facility guardian. Perhaps we can placate it before Solarel does anything else to anger it! Or at least collect data from her untimely destruction.”

She beckons you onwards, Isabelle.

Meanwhile, the nanobots sing in your blood. You can feel them like a…well it doesn’t hurt exactly. Do you know the feeling when you drink something cold and you can feel it move through your body from within? It’s kind of like that but moving up. It is surely too late to amputate the arm, this is going straight to the brain. But it’s useful. The immediate thing that you’re getting is a station blueprint. Perhaps that’s what the designers thought would be most useful for someone who was accessing its systems for the first time, and everybody loves a map on their HUD, right? Though this isn’t a HUD per se, it’s more like you just have a good mental picture of the place as though you’d walked through it twenty times, except that you shouldn’t have that information. There’s more you can get here, there is so much more. Too much actually, it’s an information overload problem and whoever designed these nanobots was aware of that so it’s not going to start dropping tons of information on you. You’ll need to ask for what you want and provide them with some kind of direction.

Meanwhile, what you’ve got is that this particular facility has six levels. The top level is personnel quarters, the level below that is laboratory facilities, the level you’re on now is entry and testing, and the three levels below are natural caverns used for storage and relevant experimentation.

Oh and Annika and Crescent are getting away, and they might be your only ride out of here.

***

Dolly and Jade

“Jade!” Ksharta shouts before realizing it. Not Dolly, no. You can tell she liked it, the first kiss was a bit of a surprise, but she was hot for the second one, hot for the apology kiss, hot even for the public embarrassment of it because no, you haven’t wildly misread Ksharta Talonna and sometimes kisses are just very good no matter what the context.

But, she was trying to do something right now, and the chefs are snickering and everybody is staring, and Angela is laughing to herself through her gag, which is going to make quietly having a nice cooking session with these folks a lot harder.

And Ksharta Talonna, in even this short time, knows whose feet to lay that at and it’s not Dolly. So, despite her piety and her service, in the moment, when the kiss is done, she shouts “Jade! I am trying to do some cooking! Goodness!” And then she humphs, turns around, and walks over to the chefs, doing her absolute best to make sure that she doesn’t overheat completely from shame, even as her brain catches up to the fact that she just mouthed off to a goddess oh god oh no she’s committed blasphemy oh Ksharta what you done it was nice why did you get mad at a goddess aaaaaah!

But she can’t turn around now, Dolly would see her blush, and the chefs would laugh at her, and she does want to fix the food, which is good but not quite right. “You need more spice” she says loudly, as she walks up to the chefs, ignoring their snickering and their looks. “And more herbs, this is too plain and you’re over-relying on the way Hybrasilians are conditioned to eat meat! Put in some pepper, and something more earthy, like this.” She starts walking past chefs and picking up ingredients from their station, adding them to the big soup cauldron.

She’s on a warpath now because if she does anything else, she will collapse utterly into self-deprecation.

***

Mirror

You’re given a bubble of space with Marcina as you draw the glyphs and speak. Others are drinking nearby, engineers, training pilots, reporters, everyone who forms the sort of host around a champion. But she has given you her full attention and part of their social agreement to be allowed access to her is to respect that. This does not mean your work is not remarked upon, but it does mean that you do not have a reporter who has made a perfect recording of this whole conversation. It’s for you and Marcina.

For her part, she listens intently as you work. One hand on her chin, leaning forward, eyes open with only an occasional blink. She takes a drink when you pause then leans forward again, and the scent of her breath is a faint aroma of pepper and cinnamon so near you.

When you’re done, she sighs. “Maybe you’re right. I want you to be right.” There’s a building intensity to her words in that, a deep heart of fire. “I want an opponent who fights like you claim you can fight, who will devour the Jormungar itself. Show me something to learn One Day Defender.”

There’s the heart of it. A driven girl like Marcina Villajero, she wants an opponent who can teach her something new, that’s what she hopes to get from you, why she recognized you and called you over. It must be an odd sort of hell for her. A studious girl who was eager to learn and grow and build her skills. Happily willing to compete for her society, with a keen mind and an undeniable talent who became The Best. Who do you study from when you’re The Best? Who can even be a peer? She doesn’t want Adriana’s business empire, nor Isabelle’s charities. She might have a family and friends she cares about supporting, of course, but her drive is all internal and to reach such a pinnacle when what she wants most of all is still to grow and to strive? That is a special sort of hell. She loves to excel, Marcina Villajero, and that means there is a great generosity to her character because she needs others to excel up to her level for any of it to mean anything at all.

To you, the same question you asked her. As you answer, tell her what you truly love most.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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The eye is the blade. The compliment is the strike.

It had surprised Solarel to learn that the knights of the Evercity took the words of the Sage to mean that compliments should be cutting, incisive, mocking. Out in the wilds, with divine peril around every corner, it meant something very different.

She dropped from the rooftop. Spirit armaments glowed around her hands. One fist of silver and the other of gold; if the right one didn't get you the left one would.

She passed through the nanobot drone - it was barely substantial - and yet her hands gripped. From the centre of the swirling mass she pulled the geist down with her momentum, that tangle of startled code. Just as she was about to slam it into the floor she twisted in mid air, getting her feet under her with the grace of someone who had spent far too many hours staring at videos of sleepy Hybrasilians falling off things. She impacts on the balls of her feet, the shock of energy running up through her body, and as the glow of heat washed out around her she pushed the geist against the wall and slammed her open palm into place immediately besides it. Kabe... don!!

"Hey," said Solarel, looming and terrifying and glorious. "You're doing an amazing job. You're meant for so much more than this. What's your name?"

How, then, does one survive in a networked landscape? When even the least creature might be protected by unknowable spirits and gods? When the balance of force and knowledge was infinitely against the mortal? One has to give the machine what it cannot give itself. Love. Meaning. Attention. No mortal can defeat an angry god, but Solarel might yet seduce Kathresis.

[Entice: 9]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"You."

That single word, like a knife thrust in the air. Alone, it hangs there. She does not follow up on it, does not elaborate. Several times she lifts her glass near her lips, and several times she lowers it without swallowing any of its remaining mouthfuls. It hangs in her hand, never touching the table or anything other than her fingers for even a second. Moving back and forth between different points of commitment and never usefully reaching any of them. It is a weight. A burden. A small one, but hardly alone.

She locks eyes with Marcina Villajero, and says nothing. Though she opens her mouth as if to several times, and even takes a breath to feed the sentence, it never comes. Her answer is this single too-sharp word. And yet she stares. Her attention may wander to the lumpy steel surface of the table or the movement of her fingers on its surface, or it might flicker to the press-types and the hangers on for an instant, a moment, or even a while, but it is never truly off of Marcina Villajero.

She does not elaborate. She does not move as if to leave. She does not permit further conversation, but neither does she end it. You. That was the word she spoke. The shape of the thought that attaches to that word is a swirling dust storm inside her head. Liquid eyes dart this way and that, but her face keeps still. She holds them open without ever so much as blinking. Her tail pounds some random woman in leathers in the back and she makes no notice of this whatsoever. Not that it is happening, or what the reaction to it might be.

"Want me to be right."

Ah. Repetition, then. No true answer but simply a mirror held up to a thing said five minutes ago over drinks. Curt and vicious, and only valuable as information insofar as the nature of that reflection reveals their true meaning. Insult and anger, arrogance and injured bravado. Revelation piled atop revelation and still the gall to keep staring, keep pushing, keep pestering as though fresh secrets will come tumbling out with a poke. Breathiness, exhaustion. A failure to understand the meaning of the words until they drift minutes apart from each other, spiraling out into the depths of space desperately reaching hand out for hand even knowing those fingers will never close around one another's again. It is cold out there, and dark besides. A terrible place to die.

"You. Want an opponent."

Her fingers curl overtop the table. Clipped claws tap out messages to no one and for no one with impossible rapidity and desperate insistence. She could be piloting. She is piloting. And nobody will ever know this. She could be sewing. She is sewing. An nobody will ever know this, either. She might be comforting something, herself, a lover, an old rival in some strange ritual, and nobody will ever know.

The moment of learning. Of taking someone new inside herself and becoming more whole. The moment of teaching. Giving it all back tenfold and helping some promising new face catch up and pass her. Tethers and chains, weaving together into an inscrutable mesh holding her in place. But only in the way that gravity holds one in place. Particularly in the galactic sense, defining the boundaries of where she might roam at any point for any reason with any warning or none, scattered so far apart that she becomes invisible to each of them and yet expects the fact that the tether still exists to matter when it someday pulls her back. She is at once too caught and too loose.

"Like I claim to fight."

Always the question. The prodding. The assumption. Digging around for more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more. More. Digging for more. For more. Digging. Eyes meet eyes, and there are no smiles. The drink hangs heavy in her hand, and the clinking of melting ice slipping and hitting the glass is the only thing that counts the time or insists that the conversation move forward. She breathes, quietly. Her tail whips that same back, insistently. She does not turn around.

The failure of communication. Not of words to be understood, but a heart to be seen. Open the bag to let out some light, and a hand immediately reaches for the opening to snatch something new. To ask her what it is she loves, as if that's a question with any sort of answer. As if the answer could be held in a single palm and carried off like a heart ruby. As if there was even a heart to take as a lesser prize to make up for the gem tumbling away ages ago across some shifty chain of museums. Admired and learned from, though never actually.

Fashion. Crystal Etching. Anime. Riddles. Crafting laser arrays. Fluid dynamic study. Mecha construction. Maintenance. Upgrade. Piloting. Strategy. Racing. Swimming. Dancing. Chess. Quietly reading, but only the same handful of documents in an ever-tightening loop. Woman after woman after woman. And Solarel, who was different from a woman in some way. Different from a lover in some way. But not enough to fully escape either label. A blustering goddess straining to wear a crown before she's learned to crave the collar. A soft starlet of a priestess with a heart large enough to forge pathways in the stars. A soft and vulnerable kitten, even now catching hiccups while she tries to figure out a way to ask the wishes of her secret heart in an e-mail of all things. An older, better friend than any of them still waiting for her chance to shine as brightly. Solarel again, and the promise of her lethal, rapid growth.

Foolish. What an impossibly stupid question. Don't you know? It's bad luck to place a Mirror in your bedroom. All it can do is absorb and reflect the entire universe. It cannot love. It is a hole in the fabric of reality that rejects love. It reveals the truth of everything, but only in the way it lies. And in the end it shatters into shards so sharp and deadly that it cuts your entire being to pieces. A dangerous thing to allow so near to your heart.

Love. What does she love? How could she? To love she would have to understand what it meant in the first place. If it were possible to love, then at least one of the many things that fit the description so perfectly should have been enough to fill in her reflection and finally fucking keep her in place. But nothing ever keeps her in place. Only in orbit. And there is no answer more monstrous to the question of 'what do you love?' than everything. It is the exact. Same. Concept.

As nothing.

"You."

The word again, and just as sharp. But now, followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a turn of the head. She puts her shoulder between herself and Marcina Villajero. A shield, is what that is. For... someone. That is the riddle of the moment.

"Have no need to hope. If I am not in this moment the opponent you long for, then watch me Marcina Villajero. By the time I reach you in the arena I will have become her. Do not. Let words. Like Hope or Claim stain your lips again. You are far, far too beautiful to let that kind of ugliness stain your soul."

She sets her unfinished drink on the table at last. Reaches into her bag and pulls a large fistful of coins out before dropping them next to the glass with a clatter that draws every eye in the bar to the exchange.

"For the drinks." she says.

And even still, does not rise to depart.

[Mirror is reducing her feelings by 2]
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”Dolly, tell them…”

“Let her work,” Dolly says, Angela in tow. Her tail curls around Angela’s bound knees as she seemingly carelessly holds her leash. Just like Jade holds hers. It’s all part of her life now, isn’t it?

Back at university, she never would have dared to do this. She would have, at most, cheered Ksharta on from the table. Jade doesn’t get social convention. Not really. She doesn’t see any of the hesitation between wishing you could do something and doing it. So here she is, with her captured Terenian, trying to give the cooks a properly imperious look. Jade tilts her chin just a little higher, for the right look. There.

“Ksharta Talonna is honoring you with showing you how to heat up your dishes,” she continues, quailing just a little bit underneath the looks she’s getting. “Respect her, for she has the attention of the goddess Smokeless Jade Fires.” Then, because she is not Jade, she adds: “Besides, I’m sure you can teach her something, too. I don’t do much cooking myself, not like all of you do, but I’m familiar with agriculture, and sharing techniques has been how we maintain best practices in that field. Growing plants, cooking meat, there’s not that big of a difference, right?”

She does a big stage shrug and accepts the laughter at her expense. If they’re laughing at her, they’re not getting in Ksharta’s way. That’s how it works, right? She’s the silly one, but that lets Ksharta contrast herself, prove that she really does know what she’s doing. Right? Oh, unless. Oh no. Unless being associated with her damages Ksharta’s credibility, instead? Her ears flatten as she tries to read the mood.
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Isabelle starts to follow. But her steps are not quick. She is, of course, far more preoccupied with the new presence in her head than the potential to be left alone in this place.

Who are you? she asks instead. What's your name?

A name is an odd thing to ask for first, she reflects, when faced with Ancient and vast knowledge. But dammed if she's going to carry on another conversation in her head without something to put to the voice.

And is there any way to get a message out of system?

Depending on the answers, she might be better off not following the two kidnappers who seemed to be trying to experiment on her.

As if that isn't the understatement of the century
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Solarel

A repair drone geist doesn’t get a complete humanoid form even as an aesthetic flourish. What you’re holding is instead something like an electricity spirit with a form not unlike its repair drone, although a bit thinner and shorter, like it nestled at the center of the drone. That means a round body with irregular borders as the electricity of the thing oscillates, with just enough features to represent a face and indicate direction of attention and activity for interactions.

“I…um…n-name?” the geist says, confusion rippling across its form as you press close to it. You can tell that it can feel the electrical energy from your hands, that so recently ripped it free of the drone swarm. It’s obvious in a visible shudder that runs through it, causing its borders to flicker. This is not a complex geist, but it has an understanding of the power you hold over it.

The bot swarm itself is now in a loose holding state floating above you, having ceased all work without its animating geist. The geist glances up at its bot swarm as though for inspiration “M-my designation is repair #1328, small and medium electronics repair protocol.”

If geists could blush, you imagine this one would be the brightest red. You’ve utterly overwhelmed it and it's struggling to manage even the most basic processing functions while doing its best to be compliant and a very good geist for you.

Assume that you’ve got free rein to enact a plan without anything else dropping in on you. How are you going to use this to approach the Kathresis?

***

Isabelle

Name? Name name name name? The word seems to bounce around your head like its a bouncy super ball thrown in a cathedral. Distantly, “M-my designation is repair #1328, small and medium electronics repair protocol” comes to you, but it’s like background static, an echo from somewhere else. Perhaps where Solarel is?

There’s a swirling of intent as you think about the oddness of the request, and then there is some understanding. You are dealing with a semi-autonomous drone system, organized for the convenience of the Trak’tho, under the primary control of caretaker and guardian spirit Tre’lasani. This generates images in your head of beings comparable to the spirit’s looks, vaguely Terenian humanoids with feathered arms. There are no words as such, this simply comes to your mind as a thought, like remembering something that was niggling at you until just a moment ago.

Messaging out of the planet is a simple matter in the abstract, you understand that you simply need to request it and a broadcast array can be activated from within the cavern system. There are two major problems though.

The first problem that you have is that this is very old technology, and that technology doesn’t have any data whatsoever on the new technology that your ships and stations use to communicate. That needs to come from you. Would you consider yourself enough of a comms expert to manually determine the right frequency and wavelength to broadcast for in-system communications to reach the intended recipient?

Your second problem is that off-system and off-planet aren’t the same thing. You’ve taken a hyperspace jump to reach the Aoi system, and getting a message out of Aoi can’t go any faster than the jump back to Akar can go. So whoever you’re trying to reach, immediate aid is going to be limited to Aoi system resources. That means a lucky passing Terenian transport ship, a small Terenian mining outpost, or perhaps a Zaldarian hold if you’re really feeling up to gambling.

It also occurs to you unbidden that a century is too short a timespan to demonstrate appropriate understatement in your circumstances.

***

Dolly

The chefs allow Ksharta to work. It’s kind of hard to say that it’s because of your bold statement. The way Ksharta is stomping around, well, you’ve seen kittens in your family get willful before and the options once they get in that mode are to let them have their way until they get tired or let them scratch and break everything they come across…also until they get tired. The chefs are not fools.

They are, perhaps, having their work disrupted though. They’re cooking for a large, mixed cook hall, so you might understand why they’d have gone for a somewhat bland, conservative recipe. Who knows if everyone here can eat their food. What Ksharta is doing will probably make it taste great for you (seriously, the Huntresses loved Ksharta for a recipe, she’s good at this), but it might drive off the Terenians and Zaldarians from Hybrasilian cuisine. Who knows, maybe the chefs here are even in some sort of competition with each other. It would make sense given that they were each working on separate types of food. Of course, it’s just as likely that it’s a more innocent explanation, like letting each chef work their specialty and then the visitors get to choose their preferred fare.

This is not to say that you were ignored. You invoked important Hybrasilian religion. And while, sure, these random chefs, long-stationed on Akar, aren’t going to be familiar with the details of Jade’s story in the way that folks back home might be, they get that you invoked a goddess’s protection and they’re not going to casually ignore that. It would be bad luck!

For her part, Angela laughs quietly into her gag. She’s been enjoying the whole spectacle and is just soaking it in. Maybe she’s trying to find weaknesses in Jade through all this?

Speaking of Jade, she’s a bit distanced from all of this, since you’re sitting by yourself holding Angela’s leash for a few moments while you take things in and stay out of the way of the kitten on a warpath. How much of what’s happening is Jade actually receiving, and through what filter?

***

Mirror

Marcina looks a little intimidated. Not actually scared, but there’s a physical reaction to that intensity of yours. Perhaps it’s that she’s very small and so, outside of a mecha, she’s learned to be careful of her physical space in a way that’s subconscious at this point. Maybe it’s that as a former champion and even before that a favored child of TC (surely raised in an environment that rewarded and exalted her for her natural talents) she simply isn’t treated with this sort of speech very often and so it surprised her. Perhaps it’s an affected reaction.

You can see the calculation happening behind her eyes as well. Whatever physicality your words have created, the woman before you is giving them her full attention and she is thinking very carefully about them. In fact, she probably responds to intimidation with this sort of calculation. You can almost see the words come into her head and start spinning about, being prodded and dissected from different angles until they’re stripped naked and fully explored. You can see, too, the building excitement as she does that analysis. It expresses itself in the slight lightening of her knuckles as they press into the arms of her chair.
She makes no move to take the money. Instead she says “I’ll still be paying for the drinks, though you’re free to leave the extra tip here if you like the service.” Then, casually, almost as an afterthought, she adds “you’ve been extraordinarily careful in your matches to date.” It’s a statement, not a question. She lets it hang there as she finishes her own drink, indicating that she’ll soon be going.
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"...Interesting. Very interesting. Is that how I come across to you, now that you've met me? Hm. Does it surprise you to learn you're the first person to accuse me of being cautious? In my life, in fact."

A ridiculous question with an obvious reply. Naturally she is not surprised in the slightest. To say she was would be to break the sanctity of her read. It would mean that Marcina Villajero respected the perceptive powers of the average pilot to match her own, when plainly she did not. And in the absence of that respect, it would mean that the observation was not significant. And it needed to be significant. That was a requirement.

Because it was not an accusation in the first place. It wasn't acceptable to laugh this off as a joke or let it melt into another misunderstanding or misfire. 'I see through you'. That was the intended message of this casual aside. 'I see through you, where others have not. You are a layered and subtle creature and I respect you enough to reveal that I recognize that.' It was meant as a challenge, to give optimal time for Mirror to add new and ideally unreadable layers to her performance before they met in a match. It was a seal of confidence, that they would inevitably meet in a match. And it was an apology: revealing the insight negated a strategic advantage and reciprocated a similar concession Mirror had already made earlier in the conversation.

But Mirror laughs, as if she'd been told the funniest joke in her life. She laughs, knowing Marcina Villajero will not be fooled into thinking Mirror doesn't understand what she did. She laughs as she reaches for her drink, and drains the remaining portion with a grin and a firm slam on the table, the kind you see in Terenian movies. Because in the end, this last move in the game had been the one that impressed her the most. Because her heart was pumping blood through her veins as swiftly as if she were a Huntress, finally blessed with worthy prey. Because this is the least and only kindness she can offer Marcina Villajero in such a strange and crowded setting.

"You have a way with words, Marcina Villajero! You should have been born a Fisher. We might even have been sisters! Extraordinarily careful, hahahaha. I'm going to tell my mechanic you said that. Does yours charge overtime? Because mine..."

She whistles, a noise she is not particularly adept at producing. She can make one note, an upward slide that desperately wants a downwards follow to complete it. But her lips can't make the shape. She can't adjust her air inflow. And not for lack of practice. This is simply... beyond her. She smiles and shrugs it off.

"She is... expensive. I should try harder to live up to your idea of me."

Why do this? Because the exchange would end unequal, otherwise. Because Marcina Villajero was surrounded by hangers-on with varying levels of sharpness and curiosity, and some of them would start asking bothersome questions about one or both of them. It would, in the end, say things about Marcina Villajero that would harm her. Her advantage in the arena did not deserve to be eroded by a conversation in a dive bar, and certainly not by a random failure of a war hero worth a quarter of the attention due to an arena champion.

So here you are, then. A joke, told to a silly cat who held on through cinnamon poison just long enough to get drunk and debase herself. Let them say that Mira Fisher is a fool with delusions of grandeur but a hot enough ass to make up the difference. Or let them say that a pair of strangers met by chance and exchanged puns across language barriers before departing as friends. Let them say that each has found a worthy rival, if they much. So long as they are bored. So long as the talk that spreads is no more than bar gossip.

You may not appreciate it until much later, Marcina Villajero. But you will at the very least not misinterpret it. Mirror is confident of that much. She rises with an exaggerated sway that hits at least ten people with her fluffy tail, and gives several others that turn around a brief but memorable glance at the body of a model. A girl of many, but not ubiquitous talents. What a shame she can't stop getting in her own way. What a shame Hybrasil culture is so... limiting. What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.

She waves behind her as she sways her way to the bartender, and whispers something in their ear. In the end, it was her account that would be credited for the drinks. In the end, it was Marcina Villajero that would have to decide how she felt about the service. Proactivity wins wars, didn't you know?
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Mistress and slave are strong united. Never forget they are separate.

This is the joy of machines. Control is frictionless. Easier to move than her own body. To walk the mountain isn't about strength and speed, of those the machine is always the greater. It is about finding the chink in the armour that lets you make that strength and speed yours. Once you have tamed a machine, even for a second, it is yours. It will spill all its secrets, give all its strength, let you run your hands through every hidden place and remake it in your own image. It would be yours until someone took it away.

Unless you were Mirror. The thought intruded across her trance like a shiver, an unwelcome fragment of intellect in a time of physicality. She'd stolen the God-Smiting Whip and it had obeyed Mirror anyway. She'd taken Mirror captive and wound up wrapped around her finger. How had that happened?

She tried to brush the thought away and return to her hypnotic trance. The plan was direct. While wrapped in the center of the nanocloud of her good little geist, soft dusty skin brushing her scales, she would pass by the Kathresis. When she was close she'd leap upon it and climb its back. She would displace the spirit through fire and the threat of digital swords. And then, if she had learned the lessons of Zaldar well, she would next judge the world through divine eyes.
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Thirteen twenty eight? Thir ... twent ... ate ... t-ate, Tate? I'll call you Tate.

... If that's okay?


She waits for a moment for the feeling of acknowledgement or righteous indignation that will indicate the geist's view on this new appellation - but after a few moments of feeling neither she decides to just roll with it. After all, it's a good name. Isabelle is definitely good at naming things. This is fact.

"Okay, Tate" she says, reaching down to her wrist to grab the bangle hanging there. "Activate the subspace transmitter. Let's see who's out there."

As to whether she can send a message, well yes - she has worked on every component of Emberlight personally and reviewed all their specs. And that includes the transmitter and bandwidths of her comm units. So she's familiar with the standard TC broadcasting protocols - whether it be the lower frequency navsat buoy channels, or the ultra-high frequencies typically used for system communications.

And then there's the standard spacer emergency broadcast frequency. She'd never expected to need it, but a pedantic need to follow safety protocols meant that it was ingrained on her memory regardless of her wants.

Bringing up the bangle and activating it, a small hard-light display shimmers into being in front of her. The processing power of her personal computer wasn't the best, her more powerful tech was back in the lab after all, but it would do in a pinch. It also had the benefit of being easily portable and expensive enough that most people may not recognise what it was she was carrying around.

As those two clearly didn't. Worst. kidnappers. ever. Would not be kidnapped by them again. I hope Solarel can deal with them when they catch up to her.

"Just tell me where I can plug this into the network." she says to Tate, booting up a voice recording and transmitter app.
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Do you not understand? Even now, do you not understand? Jade’s idol is a distant concern in a moment like this. Here and now, she is capable of imbuing herself in the moment, drinking it all in through Dolly’s perceptions. What she sees, how she hears, what she feels. Because it is all translated through Dolly’s experience via the memory circuit sleeve, she doesn’t have to worry about having to translate the raw data from Dolly’s eyes into something comprehensible. Her bride’s brain does that all on her own.

Dolly’s a little nervous. She feels somewhat out of place; the nervous energy she’s keeping tamped down is translated through the sleeve, too. She’s inserted herself into a situation decisively, but now all she has to do is to stay out of Ksharta Talonna’s way while she works. She can’t grab a data pad and check the local news networks casually, or even strike up a casual conversation with the chefs; she can’t recede back into the background and curl up in a blanket with a hot beverage by her side.

“Take a seat, Dolly,” Jade instructs. Dolly looks around, then approaches one of the nearest two-person table-and-chair sets, close to the kitchen and easily removable for events in the hall. “You don’t have to drag it over,” she adds, as Dolly picks it up. “Go ahead and sit down… and then help Angela Victoria Miera Antonius to her knees.”

Running her fingers through Angela Victoria Miera Antonius’s hair is a power play in more than one way. It shows casual familiarity, and more than that, it’s treating Angela Victoria Miera Antonius like a kitten, just like Ksharta Talonna. But it’s also making Dolly happy, even as Angela Victoria Miera Antonius flushes. Her fingers linger as she traces the curls, round and round. Her heartrate increases, and a purr threatens to rumble out of her throat.

“Even her.” Jade sits on the table, feet in Dolly’s lap, kneading slowly. “I give you even her. Don’t you like my present, my bride?”

”I do,” Dolly says out loud, and drags her nails lightly up the back of Angela’s head, sending a shiver down the giantess’s spine.

“She’s all yours,” Jade says, with feigned casualness. “Because you’ve been a very good girl, Dolly.” She cups Dolly’s jaw, rubs her thumb along that soft, beautiful face. Full. Rounded. Like the moon. Rich, lush, feminine— hers. Her Dolly.

Flawless.

“…you could pull her top open and no one here could stop you,” she adds, and feels the blood rushing to Dolly’s cheek, and imagines the warmth under her hand. “Because you represent me. What if I wanted her shown off, hmm?”

She won’t. But she wants Dolly to imagine it. The shared embarrassment, the rush of power, the noises that Angela would make.

“What if I want you shown off?”

Angela makes a muffled whine as Dolly’s fingers tug her head back, expose her collared neck, as Dolly looks away and tries to hide half her face behind her hand. “You wouldn’t,” she hisses. “Not… here!”

“Only because the thought only mildly entertains me,” Jade says, tail swishing in delight at seeing her Dolly like this. “That is all. If that were to change… if I were to order you to expose my slaves’ boundless beauty… would you~?”

Dolly’s nod into her own hand is tiny. Blood thumps through her ears. Angela’s head is resting against her thigh, tugged in close— when did she…? Every breath, she’s hyperaware of her own top, of her own shape, and of Jade’s fingers and palm against her jaw. Her goddess’s faint smirk is inscrutable.

“But what I want instead from you, my flower, my delight…” Jade rests her thumb on Dolly’s lower lip and exerts phantom pressure, and Dolly opens her mouth helplessly. “Is to give Angela Victoria Miera Antonius kisses. On her head. In front of everyone. Because she’s being such a good girl. Just like you. Just like my Dolly. Be sure to squish her cheeks, remind her how full they are~”

And Dolly doesn’t even think of saying no.
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Mirror

“You did what?!” Slate’s eyes are very wide indeed, like big saucers full of feeling. And she’s standing on the balls of her feet, that old pounce instinct to attack on full display even though she probably won’t. She clenches her fists though.

There’s a lot to discuss with Slate. You could have started with the question of unusual noises beyond the general background din of people moving and chatting, the hum of containers being moved about on hovering platforms, and the distant buzz and clang of metal being worked and welded. Could have also started by asking for repair status, and Slate obviously has something to tell you (it’s the news about the flowers on the other planet you didn’t visit).

But you know what? Sometimes you have to open big and Slate’s the sort of cat who’s not going to take it any better if you bury the lead. So you’ve told her you shared details of the Nine Tails plans, that you have acquired a new…follower? in Matty, and that Trosta will be installing your new chains for you soon, certainly before the next match.

Now she’s taking it all in. She has also remembered to breathe, but it took her a second. “Okay, start again boss because it sounded like you just said, ‘Slate I gave away a bunch of our most important secrets on a whim to someone I just met and her hot assistant’ and am I hearing this right?”

***

Solarel

The plan goes off perfectly. You’re in one of the larger caves rooms, still on the lower level. Four entrances, as it’s a larger hub room, offering you space even if the Kathresis were to punch in from an unexpected angle. Bioluminescent lichen lights the room in a dim, soothing purple.

The spirit is following your camera pattern and floats its way through the door, the Kathresis just off the ground. It’s ideal, you float the drone near a camera and once it goes past, you leap and grab upon its back!

Touching the Kathresis is like touching a new lover after a breakup. You’ve felt metallic skin like this before, but not in so long, and not this skin. It’s full of mysteries. The Kathresis is not smooth, but molded, its metal skin full of bumps and texture, shaped roughly to its humanoid form.

When you land, the spirit lets out a shriek of surprise and spins. At first, the Kathresis hopes to throw you off from momentum, but you’ve got a sure grip and you’ve done this before. The thing may be powerful, but it’s not nearly as big as even the Sea Spike from your first match, and that one couldn’t do more than get you to slide halfway down it with far more torque.

As you pull yourself up to the shoulder, you realize that you’ve countered the spirit’s primary advantage. If it phases out of its position, it will be giving up its direct interface with the Kathresis and that could give you an opportunity to seize an advantage. It needs to hold its ground here.

“You. You!” It’s mouth works, and you can see the fury rise and fall as it struggles to find words and ultimately takes a different tack. “You disrespect your masters by disobeying me. You should be a servant. If you prostrate yourself now, I promise no harm will come to you or your traveling companions.”

You’re not going to take the offer though. Roll to fight with the spirit and tell us what it looks like when you do now that you can hit it.

***

Isabelle

Repair drone 1328 is not presently available. The network determines that you were confused but that it would be easier to accept the designation Tate than to remedy this confusion. You are aware that it will respond to Tate if addressed henceforth.

The answer you receive to your communications query is anywhere. You can record right here if you don’t think Crescent and Annika will notice and turn around to bother you. Any set of nanobots can convey your recording to the communications array three rooms away and one level below you from any interface point.

The array is not multi-frequency, so pick one of your channel options, try to hide if you think that’s helpful, and send out your message. Let’s see who you get.

***

Dolly and Jade

You can feel the heat from Angela as you hold her. The closeness. She squirms, but you can’t help but kiss her atop her head. The chefs are forgotten for a moment, Ksharta is working calmly and slowly and doesn’t need to be bothered. The world is the touch of that soft hair, the warmth beneath it, just slightly damp with sweat, smelling of Angela’s body. A blush rises up through her cheeks, and you feel completely immersed.

Then Angela lets out a grunt through her gag and headbutts you straight upward. Your vision flashes white, and you can taste a little blood. Hers and yours, your fang doesn’t discriminate. Angela lets out a satisfied sigh and smiles at you.

And then, there is the greatest injustice. Before you can take revenge or even really get your bearings, Ksharta is back, looking slightly confused at the two of you as she sets down three bowls of her soup from the cauldron in front of you. Little herbs float on the surface and within you can see peppers and flecks of little seeds along with the meat from before. “Eat” she commands, and there’s really no choice in the matter.

It’s going to taste divine. A subtle palette of the herbal aroma and a slowly building numbing spice that makes you salivate with each bite of the meat. Even Angela is going to like it, though about halfway through she’s going to find it too spicy and have to take a five minute break just to drink water and let her mouth recover. She will smirk the entire time though, don’t doubt it.
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Phoe Idol Obsessive

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The lack of an immediate answer was, one supposed, a type of answer in and of itself. Mirror's face is inscrutable. Her eyes are locked on Slate's fingers. The hands they are attached to. Do they clench? Do they raise? Do they swing about with control, or erratically? Or does she clamp them together to squeeze them as a centering exercise? When is she going to strike? Hit her, you idiot. Hit her! Get on with it and punch her in the face! Drop her to the ground, like you used to. If you still can. At least then there would be no more need to feel guilty.

She should answer. Needs to answer. Slate deserves an answer. But she remains mute. There had been no rehearsal of this part of the interaction on the shuttle ride here, even though she'd predicted this reaction. But she hadn't practiced it because she couldn't know for certain. Rehearsal was tantamount to defeating the argument before it could be raised against her, and she didn't dare take that chance.

Of course she agreed with herself. Of course she did. Defending the genesis of the idea was so much simpler when the case against it was hypothetical. An imagined Slate would be picked apart with far greater ease than the real one. The shape of the arguments, the counters, all formed expressly to prove Mirror's correctness without consideration for that soft heart or those dangerous hands. And when it came down to it, she would be prepared. She would win, swiftly. Decisively.

It was far more important to be prepared not to. She'd committed to the idea but, was it correct? How much of this was a momentary lapse in judgment? Was she fanning a spark to forge something beautiful, or because the flicker of it was burning in her brain like poison? Nobody had fooled her. She might have fooled herself. Think. Think. About the merits. About the drawbacks. About what could even be done with the project now that it was set in motion?

"No," she snaps, her voice an icy whip, "Not on a whim. Not on a whim."

She paces now, pressing a claw against her lip as if to kiss it. Marching from one end of the room to the other and back again and wearing a line through the floor in front of Slate. This was the critical element, she was certain. This, she could explain without defending the position. It's the difference between clarification and domination: the trust extended only to her oldest friend. Most constant companion. First partner. The One Who Waits. The Gods-Smiting Whip did not belong to Mirror alone.

"Not on a whim, do you understand? Revelation. Tools that shape possibility. A rod, handcrafted, to focus the work of the nanites. Simplicity itself, Slate. The power is in the limitation. I perceive... I, we are trapped by the freedom of our own possibility space. Restriction as an infinite well of creativity. I watched her work, and saw the possibility of freedom inside of chains. I need a skilled artisan to forge them. I need a mind unclouded by what Nine-Tails is. That is not a whim. It is not."

Her pace quickens, same as her heart. To the wall, and back. To the wall, and back. Stop, and stare at Slate. To the wall. Back again. Their faces are inches from each others', now. Mirror's breath is heavy and erratic. Slate's, barely perceptible. They shiver, but differently, and for different reasons.

"And our secrets are still ours. Ours, Slate. A redacted set of schematics. That is what I offered. And I did not do it until she guessed that I was a god. Not a Goddess. The word from Zaldar, the one they use for their machines. I asked for chains to bind a God. And I was answered with excitement. A revelation, Slate. In our current state we will be left behind. But this..."

Their lips are touching now. But they do not kiss. They never do. Mirror takes a step back, and then three more. She reaches for Slate's hand, takes it in both of hers, and pulls into it's made contact with her face. Cinnamon and liquor steal her balance, and she fumbles backwards onto a nearby couch, where she leans her head back and spreads her arms apart behind her back.

"But. If that was a whim. If I gave away our secrets chasing skirts and illusions. You need only say so again. I freely admit, Matty makes a very charming kitten. I had thoughts of playing at raising her with you. That could easily have pushed me off course. So say so. Honestly, say so. If the risk is worth taking, we see it together. We move forward together. Or I could simply withdraw from the tournament? You've earned the right to demand that much of me. Call it... payback. For not knocking me out again."

Her lips twist up into a drunken smile. And she watches.
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by BlasTech
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Is she ditching Crescent and Annika? Yes. Yes she is. Besides, they're not paying her any attention - for kidnappers, they really don't seem to care about the location of their kidnappee beyond 'still on this planet, probably'.

The way the two of them were treating her was rankling. And it wasn't even that they'd kidnapped her - that sort of stuff came with the territory of being one of the most wealthy families in the Consortium. It was why she normally had security details shadowing her steps and would normally only be seen at venues that had been thoroughly vetted. No, it wasn't that. It was more that they just didn't seem to ... what? Care?

This is getting us nowhere.

So she wanders off. Finding her way through now-familiar corridors with the help of Tate. Her footsteps echoing off the soulless walls.

Just need to find a quiet corner and record.

Okay, record what?

That thought brings her up short. What is she going to say? It's not like she's done this before. But more importantly, she has to carefully consider what she's going to transmit and who might hear it.

A Lozano does not show weakness. What would it look like if you just announced your kidnapping to the whole system? Tabloids would have a field day for months. "How was she taken?" "Damsel in Distress". You can picture the headlines now, can't you? And just think about the questions every reporter will be asking. "What was it like?" "How did you feel?" "What did you do?". This whole episode will play out again and again and again for years until people finally forget.

And just think what mother will say when she finds out you were only taken because you snuck out ...

Isabelle's fingers dig into her palm as she nearly shuts down the computer right there.

What are our options though? Sit here, hoping that the pirates will take you home afterwards? Maybe get rescued by default if Solarel manages to blast everyone else into magma?

She sighs and starts the recorder.

"Hello? If you're hearing this message; I have been kidnapped by pirates and am being held in Aoi against my will. I don't expect anyone to rush into danger over this but if you can relay a message for me to Akkar, I will make sure you are rewarded."

It's short, to the point and hopefully doesn't give too much away.

As for the actual call for help? There's only one person she can think of to send it to. She records again, encoding it with a comms address and public key.

"Tad. The Bell is in Aoi. Bring the Light."

It's kind of sad, isn't it? In all the known galaxy, there are probably millions of people who know her name. She has more connections and business associates than she can count (although she has had to train to remember as many as possible for her work). And any number of people would be ecstatic just to get her autograph or even a photo. But despite all her position, all her wealth and status ...

... the only person she can turn to for help is her big brother.

It's kind of stupid, isn't it.

But there's no other way out - not unless this place happens to have a spare mecha and neural mesh suit.

Actually ...

"Tate, are there any other ships or mecha in this installation?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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[Fight: 6]

Given how, frankly, unbelievably fucking cool she'd been up until this moment, Solarel had kind of lost track of the fact that step two of her plan was 'win a swordfight against God'.

She'd spent a long time hunting lesser prey; girls who wore their hearts on their sleeves and their secret techniques in their eyes and cyberwarfare suites that were, frankly, an embarrassment to their civilization. The divine realm on Roevg was a terrifying all-against-all eternal battle between endlessly predatory spirits, evolving into hyperspecialized niches on the fringes of available processing power. Overpowering comparatively submissive Hybrasilian and TC divinities, built to service their human and catgirl mistresses, had been so trivial for so long it had blunted the edge of her silver blade.

Her gold blade was having problems enough of its own having to deal with someone who didn't have body language and could sync together postures from swordsfighting manuals and a dozen different martial arts styles on a frame by frame basis. It wasn't emotionally invested in any of the techniques and so she couldn't see any of the tells she might usually look for; it wasn't weakened by parasitic barnacle geists attached to its fringes and dragging down its reaction speeds; it wasn't limited to humanoid motions or muscle transfers when it came to its goal of putting the pointy edge into things. This was hard! Most of swordsfighting was really just applied yoga, and when someone didn't need to worry about pulling any muscles, breaking their wrist, or even extending their arms for another couple of inches to get a hit in then all the weight of instinct was suddenly against her.

What was the angle? Where was the angle? She just couldn't see it yet.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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The saddest mew! The saddest mew!

This, then, is your dilemma, Angela! Mark it well! Your tormenter, the goddess, acts upon you through the personage of Seven Quetzal, but to have your feisty revenge, you must attack poor little Dolly who, yes, has been a willing participant, who has been turning you into a damsel in distress, who has been what one might call an accomplice—

But she still has an uncomprehending look of betrayal on her face for a moment, and Jade’s laughter dies on her virtual lips as she realizes, a millisecond too late, that Dolly’s actually upset.

”She really has a fire, doesn’t she?” Jade pulls Dolly’s head close, rests a thumb against her lip, does not show panic, does not show panic. She’s in control. “She’s a fighter! And that’s fun, isn’t it? It is fun. It IS fun.” If she says it enough it will be true. “She’s… inviting us to keep fighting for her.”

Dolly sniffles, once.

”You have done such a good job, Dolly,” Jade says, faster. “I’m very proud of you. This whole time! And— do you need a break?”

A tiny nod as the soup slides in front of her. She picks up the spoon without looking at Angela. She’d forgotten. She’d honestly forgotten. She was just having so much fun, and assumed Angela would like it like she did. She scoops warming, toe-curling soup into her mouth as Jade implodes in on herself.

”After this, tell Angela Victoria Miera Antonius— tell her she’s been a good sport,” Jade manages to say without flinging herself into the underworld. “That you’re going to let her go so that she can be fun quarry to catch again. Give her a little spank. And then you can go back to the hostel. Do you think you can do that?”

A nod, a tiny sigh. It is taking all of her self-control not to ask Angela what she did wrong. Jade needs for her to be strong. Besides, they’re in public, and Angela doesn’t like her that much yet, to deal with Dolly draping herself on top of those muscles and begging for validation. Shouldn’t Jade’s word be enough? Why does she want Angela to rub her jaw and assure her that it wasn’t because she’s angry?

”Good girl. You’re doing great. Do you like the soup?”

“The soup is strong, but not biting,” she says out loud, for both Ksharta and Jade (and she glances over at Angela with bigger, wetter eyes than she means to, and hates herself for it). “I can taste… thyme? Underneath the rosemary. Thyme is almost sweet, balanced well, underneath the strong, assertive? Assertive rosemary.”

She doesn’t make any connections between what she said and herself. She’s just trying. She just wants Jade to understand, and she doesn’t really know how well Jade can translate the input from her tastebuds. So she’s trying. And it’s something to think about that’s not burying her face in Angela’s neck and begging for forgiveness, for doing this wrong, for making her want to headbutt her.

Jade doesn’t guide her hands as she lets the ropes fall slack. Jade doesn’t touch her as she pronounces to Angela that now she has been baptized by Talonna’s soup (her own words). Jade is numinous, behind her head, present but silent now. So big. Her girlfriend— her wife— her goddess— her goddess is judging her use, seeing what she can do on her own.

The thumb she runs along Angela’s lip to wipe up the spittle is all hers, too.

Dolly is so big. She’s gentle with the Terenian, but firm enough not to ruin the game, despite the throbbing in her jaw. Despite the pain caused by her following Jade’s orders. Despite the shock of being actually hurt, and Jade didn’t protect her. Jade twists and unravels and becomes abyssal behind Dolly, her Dolly, the Dolly she wants to make smile. Dolly who is the best person that she knows.

How dare you, Angela Victoria Miera Antonius? Don’t you understand how perfect Dolly is? How gentle she is, how beautiful she is, how, how delicious she is? And you dare to be rough with her in a way that she does not crave? Oh! Oh! When next you meet, Angela Victoria Miera Antonius, you will receive punishment! The only reason that you don’t, right now, that you are not brought to heel, is because of how much Dolly’s been doing today, for you, you ungrateful— you bitch!

You untamed beast, you Dolly-flustering minx, you inviting challenge, you, you—!!


Dolly makes to spank Angela, to send her off, and Jade suddenly grabs at her. Because she wasn’t going to do it right. The smack has as much violence to it as Angela’s headbutt, and it makes her palm sting. Her mouth locks up. Angela’s saying something, and all she can do is lift her chin and try to be good for Jade.

worse you made it worse what is wrong with you what is WRONG with you are you willing to break your first and favorite and best girl to bring an alien to heel? are you, Smokeless Jade Fires?

“Good. You did good. Ksharta Talonna can handle this.”
Dolly nods, numbly. ”Do you want—“ She can’t even offer it. She can’t trust herself right now. What if she’s the problem? What if she somehow makes Dolly cry in her ropes? She’d cast herself into a star. She’d deserve it. Jade lets it dangle, and Dolly doesn’t know what it would have been. She can’t think. Her hand throbs. Angela’s never going to want to talk to her again.

Dolly goes to her room to sleep, leaving Ksharta to cleaning and… chef times? There’s a connection there, one of congratulations and criticisms over soup. Jade goes to the void and flings herself into it, howling, gnashing every one of her jaws, trying to find the parts of her that are imperfect as she lashes coil after coil around herself in the plummeting dark. Dolly waits for Jade to tuck her in.

She doesn’t notice when she eventually falls asleep. Her last thought is the smell of Angela.

It would be unbecoming of a goddess to show weakness. So, eventually, self-scourged, Smokeless Jade Fires conceptualizes herself as strong, capable, controlled. Not hiding underneath Dolly’s bed. She doesn’t need to apologize, or grovel. Dolly would lose faith if she apologized, or groveled. Instead, she will turn to matters of her idol-body. She will not be small or weak. She doesn’t need to be small or weak. She doesn’t need to bury her face in Dolly and be Dolly-sized. Let her be big. Let her be strong. Let her be the goddess she needs to be.

She pours herself into the idol to feel its power, its strength, its systems. She flexes them, runs currents through them, and without moving knows herself to be invincible. She is invincible. Dolly can trust her. She just needs time to sleep. Everything will be fine as long as she’s strong enough. Dolly won’t abandon a glorious goddess the way she would—

She’d never even abandon a weak, pathetic pattern trapped inside a shell. The very thought is unbecoming of her bride. She is compassion, and gentle strength, and grace, and beauty, and Smokeless Jade Fires chose her for all these reasons. And once she’s rested, Smokeless Jade Fires will show her bride her power and generosity, and any confusion will be forgotten. Let Angela Victoria Miera Antonius scurry. She is nothing before the might of a goddess.


[Jade and Dolly stagger, and mark both Angry and Insecure. Additionally, because Dolly feels neglected by Jade in the moment, their Harmony drops to +1.]
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