Hidden 16 days ago 15 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Tatterdemalion Trickster-in-Veils

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Cair!

Fallen Far goes dead still in that Lunarian way, like a spirit tablet processing footage. (Which usually takes a while after a filming shoot. After you take one picture, the painting function is still filling it out as you watch; taking hundreds at a time leaves it rendering in the background for ages. But experimentation is its own reward, isn’t it?)

Finally, Fallen Far nods. “This is the interpretation performed sufficiently. I am the endeavor of safekeeping to my sick suit. You are not the acquisition of that which is in possession. You are the managing of materials for the Recurrence.” A hitch in the buzzing voice. “…for the Heron? The maintenance of my sick suit is the objective. I am the successful use of the Shaping Matrix. You are dictating how this occurs.”

An awkward moment of silence, and then a hapless gesture at the tablet. “You are the active appreciation of our gift?” Some gift. Well, technically this was a gift. From Civelia. Heron somehow getting her to agree that the whole Handmaiden team needed their own tablets was a major coup on her part, and likely an accounting headache for somebody else. If you break this, some Civil is going to be sarcastic at you on her behalf (because she barely ever changes her facial expressions out of the defaults of Refined, Thoughtful, or Appropriately Pleased, see). Anyway, the point is that these things are expensive imports.

“I…” For a moment the Lunarian just locks up again. “…am not the provision of this gift.” Is that a buzz of defeat? “You are dictating how this occurs. You are the contractual formation. I am the subject of contracting. I am not the relinquishment of this sick suit or the teaching of the Pure Land. You are the service offered the Heron.”

The gloved hand offered, palm-up, is slender. The fingertips are all orange, like the ridges of the suit, but not hard. This is a wild thing to be offered. You may very well be the first person who gets an invitation to touch this hand like this? The Lunarians are very good at keeping their distance, fighting with polearms, bowing politely before leaving a room, ignoring offers to shake hands: that sort of thing. Posterity and science have their eyes upon you, as do the members of the small, curious crowd accreting around the two of you.



Eclair!

Travel directly through the Outside is harrowing. This is something that is taken into account by just about everyone, even the Order. Everyone uses the Stone Roads to travel from hub to hub, settlement to settlement, because they may have their own dangers, but they are at the very least stable.

The Outside is unstable. It is what is left over from the wars between existence and the void, the turbulent half-places of strange adventure. The venturer guilds know its rules, by and large, and exploit them to bring back treasures, exotic materials, and goblins. Goblins like these riding beasts, actually.

That’s the lesser part of the boast that is being made here today: look at our goblins, o you city of colors and serpents! This one, grey and clammy and long-haired, was bridled at the side of a treacherous stream; that one, maned and tusked and full of cowed rage, was wrestled into submission. This one, thick-shelled and heavy-pincered, is broad and flat enough that a Nagi rides on its back; that one, a goblin-mouse of unusual size, long-tailed and clever-handed, with a slight-framed rider low in the saddle. There’s even a Civil in a fur-lined coat riding a hippogriff with the forequarters of a dove and the hindquarters of a pony.

And there, in place of honor, is the Khatun. Not that you would recognize her on sight, mind you— you are not familiar with her night-black steed, its crescent horn, its vicious fangs. Neither does she wear a crown to mark her leadership of the Khaganate. All that there is to mark who she is are the furs draped over her shoulders, the straightness of her back, the single golden torc about her neck, and the eyes as hard and sharp as flint. Eyes which take in the city of Crevas and offer nothing in return.

“She rode through the flipping Outside?” Mel breathes, holding the tablet close to her chest. “All the way here?”

“And they’ve barely changed at all,” Jaks— adds. “I’ve heard they all have to swear to her that they won’t. And she refuses to let the Outside change them, so they just… don’t. Because they promised her they wouldn’t."

(This may sound familiar to you: the promises that you have made the Order and the securities which you have been granted when traveling into the cities are similar. But the thoughts of three dreaming dragons armor you and your body while walking through a dreaming world, not one grey-haired woman.)

Those flint eyes fall on you. The Khatun pulls back her reins; the night-black monster she rides complies, fangs grinding against the bit. The procession halts, with most of the riders managing to rein in their goblins with half as much skill and authority. (The goblin-crab scuttles sideways and nearly crushes a teenager against an ice cream stall before the Nagi gets it in check.)

She stares. dum-te-dum, dum-TE-dum. Members of the procession, as well as onlookers, glance from her to you and back. Mel is shrinking back into a doorway like it would save her, if it came to that.

“Girl. How is Noon?” Her voice is not loud; it doesn’t need to be. It is not even cruel. It is burnished steel and a velvet sheath. There is a turquoise stud in one ear. There is a ring made out of the skull of a small avian goblin on the ring finger of her right hand. Under her coat, a shirt of scales (goblin-drake, not dragon, you know dragon scales better than anyone in this city) is cinched tight against her wiry frame, her slight breasts. There are bags under her eyes, suggestive of chronic insomnia; no sign of how she handles it. But she must.

She is a warlord without a war, so the hunt will have to do. How is Noon, Eclair? That most rambunctious and aggressive of dreamers and mistresses. Dreams herself out beyond the Mansion, sometimes, to run into travelers. Or hunters.

Perhaps that was a hint of fondness in her voice, though— for the chase, or for memories as old as you, or for a worthy adversary well-remembered. Or perhaps it’s just a threat from a brute, an iron fist in a velvet glove, an old woman slavering at the thought of skinning a dreaming dragon and seeing what’s underneath.



Yuki!

Sulochana slowly, languidly curls around your legs. It’s a very natural instinct for Nagi, reflected in their furniture; it feels much like a cool, smooth blanket tucking you into bed, enough to lock you in place but not putting your legs under strain.

She approaches giving you scritchies in the same relaxed fashion. Her long nails graze your scalp, running along the natural lines of your hair pulled into that ponytail. You’d swear that your scalp becomes twice as sensitive in Thellamie, comparatively, especially riiiiiight there just behind your ears. Do your best not to melt in a complete puddle, dear.

“Shhh,” she whispers. Nagi would be amazing at ASMR, actually. Their hypnosis runs on something similar; since you’re not staring deep into her eyes right now, listening to her is just a pleasurable, relaxing buzz. “Keep that adorable voice down, Yuki. Didn’t I just say I’m not supposed to know? But… they say that when it chooses you, your head is wreathed in light. It’s all curves and arches in the Civil art, but of course I’ve never seen it.

“Long ago, generations ago, another one of the Fallen tried to conquer Thellamie. This one was worse than Azaza, if you can believe it— at least she was just economically ruinous and expected everyone to accept slavery under her ‘enlightened’ rule. This one had light which filled the trees, the flowers, and the bodies of the dead, and it overwhelmed several northern hubs, the ones where the Avel lived.”

She’s got the cadence of the opening scroll of a dubbed JRPG, and she’d do an amazing job at that. Her coils shift against themselves slightly as she adjusts her position, rubbing against your legs; she cups the back of your head.

“Vesper the Conqueror, who brought the Serigalamu back to the light of Civelia, led the final defense at Willowbrook. And she sealed the Fallen there, somehow, and Civelia forbade anyone from trying to find her body. If you try to travel there by stone, you’ll emerge in a dark forest which has swallowed up the hub, where all the trees are a little bit alive, and all of them hate you… but the forest’s advance was stopped there.

“But without the Crown of Light, which Vesper wore to battle, we haven’t been able to perform effective rituals to expand out into the Outside, and we have to rely on Outside hunting to supplement our farms— which makes the Outside more hostile in turn— and thus we have to run blessed Heron ragged keeping the mirrorfolk and rampaging goblins at bay. So land prices have been steadily rising, multiple hubs are at risk of housing crises, and there was a famine two years ago which… I did my best to make sure no one in Crevas went hungry, Yuki.”

She leaves unspoken: my best wasn’t good enough.

She leaves unspoken: when I am the Queen, there will be neighborhood expansions underneath Crevas, and I will order the creatures of the Outside to leave the hubs alone, and I will run myself into the ground to make sure that famine never touches anywhere in Thellamie again.

[And here, darling Yuki, you may roll to offer her Emotional Support, or you will add to her Need.]



Hazel!

A memory, dredged up while you’re in the “shower space” of dancing: one of the first interactions that Yuki had with these two was being offered guidance in the seedy areas of a hub— and then they revealed, when they had her in a tight spot, that there were fees involved. Oh, how could this have slipped your—

Keli guides you into lifting her, and you manage, given that you’re both putting momentum into it, you’re doing a spin, and she comes right back down—

That would be why. They want your money. Though there’s reasonable evidence that they’d accept sizable discounts for “kissing us and deciding which one is the better kisser” or “taking your shirt off, handing it to us, and posing, actually, do some of those dance moves again, and maybe you’ll get the shirt back.”

You have experience with girls like this, haven’t you? Not a lot of experience, but you know the way that some girls can treat boys who are quiet, shy, weird, and, well, bullyable. Even if these two think you’re entertaining, maybe even more than that, you’re doomed to humiliation, impoverishment, and inevitable rescue by Yuki unless you can figure out how to weasel your way out of—

Oh, you’ve been going longer than you think, haven’t you? Song flowed into song into song. And the crowd’s applauded a few times, and Keli’s showing you how to bow properly (at the waist). And then, oh, lucky boy, you get to experience the after-performance: members of the crowd coming up to offer donations, praise, and requests.

“That was wonderful!”
“Are you a new addition to Keli and Seli’s act?”
“You added so much to the performance!”
“Here’s my ID, message me later~” ([.mashbash], if you’re wondering.)
“Here, you simply must accept this!” (A handful of Coronets for your purse, and is that a purple gem? Keli will insist on that for sure.)
“May the light of the stars illuminate your path!”

A little Nagi kid actually wraps around your leg and gives it a big, big hug, nuzzling their soft cheek against your knee. Their mother eventually convinces them to let go, apologizing profusely, but the kid still waves bye to you over mom’s shoulder as she slithers away.

The crowd finally thins out, but before you can attempt an escape from the nefarious duo and their intentions on your purse, a shadow falls over you.

Have you ever listened to ASMR, Hazel? Ever felt that shiver run down your spine as something in your brain shifts straight to relax? Especially after, say, a moderately intense workout?

“You’re very talented,” the Nagi singer says, leaning over you, to your left. (That’s a thing they can do! Most of her body is behind you!) “But you don’t look Aestivali. What led you to fall in with these two ashiqs?” Her voice is melodious, as soft as Keli’s silks, and perhaps this is when you realize that you’re dangerously susceptible. Her eyes are barely visible through her bangs, but every glint of gold is intoxicating.

“We’re showing him around, Anat,” Seli says, on the other side of you, dangerously sudden (you just didn’t notice). “It’s his very first time in Crevas.”

Anat Amora-Ugari lifts one ringed hand to her vividly black lips. “Oh, well. You should keep him around, I think.”

“What,” Keli jokes, a little titter in her laugh, a little bush in her tail, “and share the spotlight?” And whatever is under that, and there is something, is lost to the shift of Anat’s bangs and the sway of her upper body. She’s not even doing it on purpose, sweetie. (But it does have something to do with that dance, and how perhaps their answer is a little different now; how, perhaps, they might be considering you more than just a victim, having seen how quickly you took to performing. But that goes right over your silly little head.)

“If you don’t steal him away,” Anat says, and places one hand on your shoulder with a squeeze, “I just might~”
Hidden 15 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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Cair!

She slapped the offered hand.

"Oh damnit," she said, sticking out her tongue. "Instincts, you know? Heron and I started doing this high-five, down-low, too-slow game at each other and it became a whole thing. Now I'm just conditioned to slap any hand I see in the microsecond for which it's available. Don't spread that around, it's a real liability in contract negotiations." She stood up. "But it's cool. Would have been nice to spend another fifteen minutes clarifying some things but too late now, we're signed and sealed."

To prove how cool and with it she was, she offered her hand to the Lunarian in a gallant sort of way so that she could use it to stand up. If she took it, this would give her a better opportunity to get some handfeel for what that material was, it would prove that she had the strength of mind and will to resist the urge to snatch her hand away at the last microsecond, and it'd make a great shot.

"Sicksuit huh?" she added. "So, like, are you sick, or is this place sick in general, or is there a heightened risk of getting sick that happens here? I ask because if something happens in the Stacks and your breach gets worse, I want to know if I should be running towards you, away from you, or hanging back and letting you deal with it on your own."
Hidden 14 days ago Post by Anarion
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At first there’s just the physical intimacy of the moment. Yuki relaxes into the coils, the fingers brushing her head, working through her ears. Her arm pulls the silks of the palanquin close around them, nestles into a pillow as she relaxes her legs and lets the cool coils work around them. She purrs and she lets herself close her eyes and relax into the moment as Sulochana speaks.

But oh, what awful things. Yuki is still purring, low and deep below her throat, almost in her belly, but her eyes are open again, looking up at Sulochana’s, meeting her gaze. “I so sorry, I didn’t know. Everyone was so focused on Azaza. And before, it was such a whirlwind of places. Arriving in Kel, the temples and churches, rushing through the stone roads, the Viperiat. I just assumed…well…I don’t know, I was so much younger. Earth has environmental problems too, and overcrowding. But it always feels like a problem that we make ourselves. Like a problem of people disagreeing about how they should live, and if we could just all agree and work together, we could build more homes, higher and in new places, enough to give everyone some space even if it’s not as much space as a few people really want.”

She’s silent for a few seconds, mulling. “Well, this isn’t about Earth. I’m here again, and I’m going to learn about Thellamie’s problems. And…I’ll help however I can. Whatever happens. Famines shouldn’t ever have to happen. And you shouldn’t have to deal with something like that alone. Not ever.”

Yuki looks right at Sulochana with earnest eyes. Eyes that say that she’s older and that she read about famines in 11th grade history and has opinions about them, and that maybe this is the kind of conversation that’s going to impact her college major, And even though Sulochana probably doesn’t know what a college major is, she can tell that there’s a sincerity there that isn’t just momentary and that Yuki means what she’s saying. And maybe Sulochana hasn’t noticed, but the hand that was holding the silks is warm and it’s resting on her coils and Yuki is here, now. Intent, focused, however her friend needs her.

[Comfort and support with heart: 2+3+2=7.]
Hidden 13 days ago Post by Phoe
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Phoe Idol Obsessive

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Travel discovery: Serigalamu war queen. Classification outrider, literally travels the Outside without the Paths.
Air of familiarity - forgetting a history lesson? Possible. Reminder for clarification later.
Claims familiarity with Mistress Noon. possible, given credentials. nature of relationship unknowable.
personal observation, extreme fatigue. likely in need of long rest, personality deemed unlikely to accept prognosis
Trust level: /-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/
Assigned mystery score on first contact: C+++


Once more the little ritual to dry the ink in her notebook. Refusal to look up until finished. The importance of accurate, on the minute information was paramount. Three nods in satisfaction, return to pocket. Full curtsy, right leg sweep out wide, skirt at maximum flare. In the absence of certain hostility, information gathering favored respect and kindness.

"Greetings to you, Madame Outrider! Your, ah, pack looks well? Congratulations on your difficult journey. I am pleased to inform you that Mistress Noon is exceedingly well. She is in excellent spirits after development of a technique she refers to as 'Soul Hacking'," (pause for exaggerated bunny quotes), "Which has rendered her the delightful terror of the Order's communal spirit tablet letterhead. We are at her mercy at all times, Milady. It has been sometime since she has gone hunting, as Your Ladyship no doubt has noticed and, well, the heart has needs does it not? We provide."

One problem people sometimes have with the Order of the Aurora is that the Maid-Knights' tendency to treat everybody with their maximum level of respect and formality meant they had nowhere higher to take their honorifics when addressing a person of note. Ordinary folk found it off putting to be lifted so high without warning, and nobility or suchlike as they refer to themselves rankled when addressed without their due, specific respect.

The bright smile and shimmering eyes of Eclair suggest she has not even considered this possibility. She is much too caught up in the delight of being offered a chance to talk Order gossip in a safe context in front of outsiders (even Outsiders! or Outriders at any rate) to have any space left in her brain for consideration of the risks of etiquette. If she were not so hyper aware of the clock ticking down in the background she might very well attempt to hold up the procession with this discussion the entire night, causing either a series of heart duels or for a very prominent political group to miss the core of the festival outright. Such a shame that she was cut off from the possibility by her own prior commitments.

In any case this was all for learning. Now she would see by laugh or scowl how this woman connected with one of the dreaming dragons that loved her so. And by detailing herself as not a threat in the immediate sense, Eclair also kept open the chance for further exchanges of important information. This might even be a lead toward her primary investigation in time. She might even--

"Aha~! If this one may be so bold as to intrude on your time Milady I would please kindly propose an exchange of information in return for the requested news."

Eclair's smile approaches manic. She can't keep it in, does not even wait for a nod of assent. Such a worldly traveler must know, and she has the right of fair bargain on her side! It must be correct! It must be! Once again in any case, this was all for learning. Her glossy purple hair bounces with every excited movement of her body.

"...Are you familiar with the song that goes dum-te-dum, dum-TE-dum, dum-te-dum-DUM?"

She leans forward, poised and ready. Her notebook has appeared in her hands again, though neither Mel or Jaks-- saw her reach for it, pen hovering excitedly just over paper, ready to fill in several pieces of missing information at once...
Hidden 13 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Does he have experience with girls like this?

No, not really. Well, sort of? Kind of? It’s, hrm. He has experience with different sorts of girls, who are a bit like these girls, if that makes sense? He’s never really been bullied properly, if there’s a proper way to be bullied, that is. Nobody’s ever been deliberately mean to him, not really. Hazel Valentine Fletcher is a friendly guy, and gets along well with just about everybody, even across cliques and social barriers. (And hasn’t he been lucky in that regard?) He’s got a good sense of humor, smiles easily, loves to hear about what’s going on in your life, and never has a mean word to say about anybody.

But. There have been girls who freely give out kisses in the group chat to all their friends. And the first time it happened to him, he was so startled and flustered that all he could do was transcribe the noise he made. And maybe from that point onward, girls like that take special care to kiss him in the chat because everyone likes to see him flustered. Or fumble a train of thought. Or curse the name of his tormentor in allcaps, to a chorus of little kitty faces.

He’s got a good sense of humor. Sometimes a joke needs a goofball to say something silly. Sometimes a joke needs a straight man to step on the big red X. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. He doesn’t mind it if everyone’s laughing together. Though he’d mind a bit more if the aforementioned girls also took his wallet. Especially today, on his first Festival of Lights, at the start of his Thellamie adventure. And he didn’t have anything he could bargain for, not like Yuki might’ve. If he took his shirt off, they’d probably charge him extra.

…they’ve been dancing for like, four songs? Five songs? More? Are they ever going to - oh! Oh! That sounds like a big finish! Keli maneuvers them into a final pose, with an arm around the small of each other’s back, and in one motion they bow low until she whispers that’s low enough. She starts to say something else, maybe “good job?” But it’s drowned out by all the applause.

The applause. Somehow, he forgot that there were people watching? Except, he didn’t, because now that it’s over, he feels fit to burst with nervous energy. Despite all that dancing, he could run for miles and still have energy to spare. But they liked it. They liked it! They liked it a lot!

He grins until his nose scrunches with joy, and he shakes every hand offered, and oh, thank you, thank you so much. No, he’s just helping them out today. Aw, shucks, no worries, he’s glad you liked it so much! His head whirls, and maybe he shakes some hands more than once, but it’s better than missing someone, right? He makes a mental note to add a real note to his tablet later, he can’t forget to message that nice girl back. (He can’t forget.) Oh, goodness, for him? Thank you! That’s so kind of you! And may the light of the stars illuminate your path too!

Now, uh, how do you hug back a kid who’s hugging your leg? Are headpats appropriate, or…? Oh! No, no, ma’am, it’s no trouble. It’s okay. Glad she enjoyed the performance, take care! And of course he waves back, like a big goober, and his heart soars to see the tiny Nagi smile-

oh.

A shiver visibly runs down the length of his spine. All the stress and effort of dancing just. It doesn’t go away. Not really. He knows that his body is tired, he knows that he’s worn out. But he doesn’t feel it so strongly. It’s there, but wrapped up and kept away in a thick blanket, and in its place there’s. Stillness. Relief. Peace.

Her voice.

His legs tremble. He can’t stop them from shaking. His stomach performs complex acrobatics, tying itself in a knot of acidic panic. He smells and hears and feels Seli steal up on his right, and some dutiful part of his brain registers the fact but the rest of him isn’t listening anymore. There are more urgent matters to attend to.

Where does he look. Where does he look?! She is. Wow. She is. She is really pretty. Which is fine and he is not going to do a thing more with that thought. He is going to stand here and. His mouth is hanging open, but he’s not saying anything, but everybody else is talking so that’s maybe okay for a little bit longer. He’snnghhghhhhuuhhhhhhhhh. Gold. Shiny. Really, really shiny. Bad. Can’t. Shouldn’t. Can’t. Can’t. Look at…hair? Face? Face is safe. Face is moving. Hair is swaayyyyyyyyynnghhhh hair bad hair bad. Nose? Lips? Lips. Um. Lips. Um. Um. W…wow. Shiny too. Pretty, and, that’s all. Do not. She is pretty. She is so pretty. And that is okay but that is it. This is just a conversation. You’ve just met. She’s just being nice. She doesn’t know you. You don’t know her. Stop it. Don’t be a creep. She is pretty. Leave it at that. You’re just talking. Keep talking. And look away.

He tears his gaze down to the elegant hand squeezing his shoulder. She whips it back to her face with a soft, sultry hiss.

“I.” Ear. Look at her ear. “That’s really nice of you to say. Miss. Anat? Anat.” His curls tremble with the effort to hold his neck still. “But, I, really, I don’t know a thing about dancing. I wouldn’t have stepped up if it weren’t for Keli, and I only knew what to do because she was leading.” Gold sparkles in the periphery. He should look away. Look away. Come on Hazel. Look away. “I just. Hung on for the ride, and, I’m glad it turned out so good.”

He’s so tired. His heart’s racing so loud. Just keep talking…

“Anyway, it’d be a really risky start to a life of crime, and I don’t think you should kidnap me off the street.”

…okay, maybe stop talking.
Hidden 13 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Sayanastia!

Cair has just walked blindly into a risible comedy routine. The Lunarian is going to keep meandering around in linguistic circles, constantly trying to pin the world down in terms of being and connections, sharp if impermanent definitions, while Cair casually switches between multiple meanings of “sick” to muddle everything up.

That is, if having its hand slapped doesn’t make it drop dead on the spot. Fussy little things, those moon-people. All convinced that contact with the world down here will infect them. They’re already infected in the most important way: they accept the world for what it is.

…once upon a time, that would have sent you into a seething, furious monologue. Come! Let’s! Turn the world over! That sort of thing.

Whatever happened to that fire, hun? Is there any of it left in the ashes of your heart and cosmetics palette? Generations ago, you’d be seizing Crevas as a beachhead for the reclaiming Outside, that swamp which washes out towards the far-distant void; now, you’re just—

“Pardon me, ma’am,” one of the Brothers says, after clearing his throat with more thoroughness than necessary. “In recognition of your exemplary behavior here today, refraining from uncivilized and unproductive behavior, the Goddess wishes to offer you a gift.” This, a palm-sized box wrapped in cheap and colorful paper, he offers you.

(Inside— not that you know this yet, not unless you open it, and of course he’ll just stand here awkwardly until you do— is a bar of Shining Shield Soap, for the Most Persistent & Undesirable Odors. And Civelia will make eye contact with you for just a moment, a moment in which it’s clear she hasn’t fully forgotten certain chariot incidents, and then return smoothly to her tiresome playacting with Rurik. If you open the box, of course, and do not enter into a stubborn-off with this nun, or run away, or start one of Cair’s ridiculous chains of deals, or anything of the sort.)



Yuki!

“All I need is you in my song,” Sulochana says, and squeezes your shoulder. Could you ask for a better bestie? “No matter the verse. And— ah, I think, here we are.”

But here we are doesn’t mean you’ve arrived to greet Civelia. She’s chosen, instead, to pull over to receive a gilt box through the curtains. “Ah, thank you, Sulmya,” she says grandly to the artisan standing on the steps. Her voice slips registers so smoothly, from a soft-spoken friend to this assertive Princess. “I am sure this shall be sufficient for my needs. I shall send my regards and orders for the solar festival.”

Sulmya does that funny little shimmy of her coils that you think counts as a curtsey, and Sulochana lets the curtains fall again as the palanquin-bearers pick up the pace. In her hands, it’s clearer that it’s gold and silver worked over a thick, dark Outside wood, so dark it’s a little dizzying.

“Go ahead. Open it,” she says, pressing the box into your hands.

(And of course you’ll open it, thumbing the lock, won’t you? Won’t you have a glimpse of the fashionable necklace inside? Outside of Crevas, where the Outside meets reality, there are crabs which eat the grains of the variegated sands and the insects hiding between them, and over time the inside of the shells become something like mother-of-pearl, all iridescent and glossy, different colors every time the light shifts. The panels of sand-nacre here are divided by absolutely perfect pearls from the Aestivali islands, their pure milky white contrasting with the mutable hues of the panels. And in the center is the official cartouche of Crevas, the coils working around each other, done in the palest and most delicate gold. If you open this, if you hold it against your skin, if you let her use her tablet as your mirror, you’ll see that she picked every part out deliberately to complement your ears and your complexion. Somehow, she’s managed to find something in Whitemarket that is as loud about how much she cares about you as it is about the money she spent on it.)

(But you’ll also— for just a moment— see a flashing, furious eye where the light hits the silver so perfectly that it’s almost… well. A mirror.)



Eclair!

“You ask me for a song, girl?” There is a dry bemusement in her voice. “I wonder what I should make of that.”

Fortunately, in the moment in which she is considering you and your status as regards the hunt, the song is echoed back from the retinue. “dum-te-dum, dum-TE-dum, dum-te… this one.”

The huntress is one of the younger members of the pack; her voice is a hoarse whisper. She wears weatherbeaten, mottled black and grey; her eyes and lips are also painted black. In the shadows, in the dark, she would be invisible. But here in the colorful city, in the Festival of Light, her gangly, hunched frame is superimposed on the world. In her hands, she fiddles with a tablet.

And from it, blessed relief, issues forth the song, now familiar. Even before she says it, Dollwaltz has clicked into place. If you’d been able to explain the tune properly, Madeline would have been able to help; she introduced the song to the Manor, after all.

A memory surfaces: a fellow maid, glimpsed from behind, humming along as she dusts in the Evening Wing of the Garnet Library. Her vibrant carrot-orange curls bounce with every completed tripartite collection of notes, and a glossy black heel lifts off the floor.

In this memory, Timtam does not turn to face you.

…but she was not the composer, and plenty of people have listened to it and saved it to their tablets, probably. This huntress, for one. Her smile is self-satisfied, even as she lifts her dark eyes just enough to meet yours. The Civil claps her hands together and looks up reverently at the huntress; she barely comes up to the huntress’s chin, even in that hunched posture. (The Civil is wearing a simple leather collar lined with fur, with a silver ring hanging at the front, almost hidden by her fur ruff. No member of the Order could miss it, or fail to guess at its implications. You are very attuned to such matters of positioning.)

“Ah,” the Khatun says. “So clever, Olesya.” If she was unsure if she approved of you for asking, there is no doubt that she approves of Olesya for answering; that she is proud by proxy. “There. You have your answer, little sluzhanka. So we are settled.”



Hazel!

“I still can’t believe you said that to her, yah?”

I’m very certain that the end of that conversation is still playing on loop inside your brain. For all that you’re trying to distract yourself with pretty flowers in the light of early dusk, marveling at statues of Nagi that don’t have any of the mesmeric prowess of the living, you can still remember her surprisingly husky laugh, her pat on your cheek, her suggestion that you shouldn’t miss the Queen of Light.

And now here you are, trying to distract yourself a little more with a view from the gardens, which are on this jutting outcropping from the rock. From here, from this railing, you can see the city stretch out above, but mostly below. You can see the plaza which is thronged already with people waiting for the goddess’s big reveal, and you should probably head over there soon, you and these two girls hoping to steal your wallet, and if you’re lucky you’ll meet Yuki there to defend you, and if you’re really lucky you’ll catch another one of Anat’s performances.

Turn your head to the right, and there’s rooftops glittering in the last rays of the sun’s dimming light. (The sun never sets in Thellamie; it just powers down for the night, like a giant lamp on a timer.) The streets that Keli and Seli have pulled you through, giddy and delighted, full of wonders you’d never see back home.

Turn your head to the left again, and there’s the Viperiat, the final dungeon, the castle where Yuki saved this world from an evil snake-star-lady in all of the mirrors. The place she didn’t drag you to.

“Oh, don’t kidnap me~”
“Ha! What, don’t you remember what we told you?”
“The Nagi don’t snatch people right off the street.”
“You need the Khatun and her pack for that.”
“Though people who don’t pay their debts sometimes find the homehubs perilous.”
“But you’d never do that, yah?”

Turn your head a little more to the left and there’s Keli, hand underneath her chin, tail resting against the back of your thighs. Turn your head all the way back to the right, and there’s Seli, running her fingernails across the stone.

“Really, it’s been a magical day, yah? Priceless, even?” And here it is. Oh, here it is. Earlier than you expected. Are you ready to stand up for yourself, Hazel?

Well, it doesn’t matter, because that’s when somebody screams at you from a private gazebo higher up the smooth ramps of the garden, and what she says is:



Purnima Karn-Pana!

“I need her weakness!” That’s what you said, slithering in circles around the family’s private gazebo, tugging at your hair like you were wringing Yuki Edogawa’s neck. “It’s her or me, isn’t it? That nasty little outlander, that assassin-for-hire, that… that… that awful little brat! How am I supposed to outplay her? We don’t have her context, she doesn’t have a home hub, and I need information! So Mevis, report!

You’d turned on your family’s spymaster-general, then, this two-legged Nagi with the build of the Kel. She’s old, certainly, but that’s become a viciously-used asset in her line of work. She’s able to ferret secrets out of half the grandmothers in Crevas.

“Well,” she said, interlacing her fingers, “dearie, there’s one weakness this outlander has that she didn’t have last time. You see, she’s become a young woman now, and she’s so confident in her alliance with the Arju that she has brought her husband to Crevas this year. A young and handsome man, with horns like a venturer scout; that’s what I’ve heard.”

Your heart leapt. Mevis lapsed into silence then, smiling as she let you think through your thoughts. Quite considerate of her, but you didn’t stop to consider how she knew to do that. “Yes! If we can seize this husband of hers, we have her by the very heartstrings! What will you do then, Yuki Edogawa? Go running to Sulochana and the Arju, force them to overextend, start an open war between the families? Or will you come to me so that I may give you terms. What would you do for him? Would you betray Sulochana? You would, wouldn’t you, you conniving schemer! I won’t just be safe from you, you wretched assassin, I shall use you to be Sulochana’s very downfall! And all we need to do, Mevis, is scour this city— spare no expense— to find this antlered outlander, wherever he…”

You let your words trickle away as you stared down into the lower gardens, where a young man with antlers just so happened to be, flanked on either side by elite Aestivali bodyguards.

And now we’re caught up, aren’t we?

"Seize him!” You are, of course, flanked by your bodyguards, well-coiled and strong. But you’re not content with pointing him out; you heave yourself down the ramps, showing the vaunted speed of a furious Nagi. "He’s mine!!

Oh, sure, the Aestivali can grab his arms and run with him, but you will have him. You shall have him, or your name isn’t Purnima Karn-Pana, next Princess of Crevas!
Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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It can be hard to remember what her anger had felt like.

She remembers the Dark; the dreaming dragon-place. She remembers the warmth and the quiet, the murmur of sleeping breaths, the shift and rustle of scales, the heat of hearts. She remembers her dreams in full; they still fill her, still animate her, unforgotten by waking. The problem was that waking made her smaller. She became too small to fit those dreams in her head. Once she had been as big as they were, now it was like looking at a forest from inside it.

She remembers the Light. A dreaming infinity had inevitably heaved forth its opposite. It had risen above the dark in at the top of an endless pyramid, and it had said I AM. At first the pyramid had been made of light, but the Light had said I AM, and the pyramid had become stone instead. The pyramid had dominated the void, but then the Light had said I AM, and it had broken itself from the sky. Each time it had declared itself to be it forced everything to be other than it was. Each time it had made her smaller. Each time it had broken her further and further away from her dreams. And they had been such good dreams too...

She feels the anger inside her. It lies like a stone, smooth and hot and mirror-polished. There was no flaw in that structure, no weakness in her argument. She had been right. She had suffered injustice. How dare it wake her? The edifice of rage was still there in full, a fury she felt in her teeth. She could still feel the jaw-shattering impact from when she'd gotten those teeth on the light and answered its helpless I AM with a screaming, biting YOU SHOULD NOT BE. She'd crushed it, splintered it, torn open the stone pyramid that had supported it and filled it with every hatred she could imagine.

All futile. She had not said, 'You are not'. No matter how she'd ripped and torn and cursed and raged she still had no answer for that desperate, proud declaration I AM. It was, and she had hated it; her hate was consequence of and proof that it was. She had scrubbed the mold and in so doing spread its spores. Everywhere it had grown. It announced itself more subtly now but it was still there. From the sky, still stained blue from the broken light her jaws had made, all the way down to this infuriating little puppet demanding her attention. Pardon me - just as she had broken light into the spectrum, so she had broken the raw declaration of I AM into this twist of sound that meant the same thing. And then, the delegation - not only was she supposed to give this man the right of veto over her dreaming infinity, she was supposed to acknowledge this box. It declared with its existence I AM just as surely as the Light once had, and by its existence it demanded her attention. Just another assault on her senses, another distraction, another reason to rage. Another reason to destroy. Another thing to wish she could be free from. Another opportunity for failure. Spurn the gift, infuse it with her reality by hating it. A failed stratagem that had taken her so far away from the peace she had sought to win.

She hadn't been wrong. The stone was perfect; a gleaming marble of internally reinforcing logic. She could roll around in it for a thousand years and find no flaw in it. She had been right to be furious. It was an injustice that no amount of fury could solve the problem. The only way left to her passed through surrender, injustice and madness.

She let her left hand take on the aspect of her dragon talons (the right was tricky; too close to Civelia even now) and she tore off the paper. Looked at the soap. Another declaration, another demand - now she was to acknowledge Civelia, now she was to force her mind down paths of memory and wit and insult to decode the statement, another long moment where she was not free to think as she wished to think or be as she wished to be. A gift.

She opened her mouth and took a bite of the soap.

"Uh, Yana?" Kalentia said. "Uh, that's not for eating."
"I know," said Sayanastia. "I am making a point."
"O-oh. Can I ask... what it is?" said Kalentia.
"No," said Sayanastia.
"Oh! Oh, you really don't have to take another bite," said Kalentia. "I'm sure your point is made."
"I am," said Sayanastia grimly, "committed to this course."
"Because that really doesn't look that - oh no - it really doesn't look like you're enjoying it."
"I am not," said Sayanastia. "This was a mistake."
"Then are you going to stop - oh, well, I guess not."
"I will not give her the satisfaction," said Sayanastia.
"But I don't understand, what point are you trying to make?"
"I don't want to talk about it. It was stupid. I overthought things and - well."
"Oh, okay. Uh..."
"What?"
"Do you want help?"
"What?"
"Well, it can't be healthy to eat that much soap on your own -"
"I am a dragon."
"Okay yes. Okay. It's just that, um, you've asked me to use healing magic to help with your digestion before, so I think you've got a regular intestinal setup -"
"Fine! Eat some if you must."
"Okay! Thank you!"
"Don't mention it."
"Oh wow, this is really bad."
"I know."
"And you ate like half of it on your own?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I'm not going to be able to get more than a few bites of this down I think."
"That's fine. Just give it back here."
"Hey guys, whatcha eating?"
"Oh, hi Cair - we're just eating some soap -"
"Word? Let me try."
"Oh - oh you shouldn't -"
"Oh wow. Terrible."
"You don't have to -"
"Nah, what kind of friend would I be if I let you eat all this soap on your own?"
"We are not friends." said Sayanastia.
"Uh doy, how do you think people get to be friends?"
"Hrmmmm."
"Hey Tsane! Wanna eat some soap?"
"No."
"C'mon, it's a team building activity!"
"I am leaving."
"No problem, let me see if Fally wants some -"
Hidden 10 days ago Post by Anarion
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Yuki can tell that they have started to cover some distance as Sulochana parts the curtains of the palanquin to receive the gift box from the artisan. The scent from outside the palanquin has changed, the whiff of air from the outside no longer smells of the scent of sand and stone that characterizes the looming Viperiat. Rather, they are closer to the market and she can smell the scent of baking dough on the air. The warm scent of cones, waffles, and fried sweets that characterizes the market at all times, multiplied in intensity when there’s a festival. The Nagi know how to make their food enticing.

It makes her think of Hazel for a moment. She hopes he had a good ice cream and that he found something nice from the street vendors after that. She imagined he might have gotten caught up with any number of Nagi attractions, which was a fine enough way to enjoy the world. She figured he wouldn’t get too over his head and it wasn’t likely that any Nagi would do more than tease an unusual foreigner like him. Certainly not in public and at a festival! Even so, she would need to check on him soon.

Her attention is, of course, pulled back to the box before she has time to write out a proper message. She’ll for sure chat Hazel after this, but she can hardly ignore Sulochana presenting her a gift. And what a gift. She holds the box in her hands for a moment simply marveling at the gold and silver combined with the beautiful dark wood. Her father likes woodworking. At an amateur level, mind you, his day job was tax accounting. But on weekends, he’d often make things in his workshop. He had started with whittling, years and years ago, carving little pieces of wood with a knife. And when he’d gotten space, he’d built up some tools, a bigger saw for cutting larger things, and made some himself. Again, nothing this fancy, but he had made them a nice salad bowl, and he’d made Yuki a little treasure box for her room and carved her initials into it along with a little vine pattern around the outside. It had taken him two whole weekends to do that because he had gone slowly to make sure he didn’t make any mistakes. He would love this box though. The way the metal was inlaid into it and the deep color of the wood. He liked that, and he’d want to learn all about the inlaying process. It made her smile to think about it, and so for a moment, despite Sulochana’s obvious twitchy anticipation, she simply looked over the box, ran her hands across it, felt the way that the metal joined with the wood and tried to understand it.

But she also didn’t want Sulochana to explode, and so she took out the necklace. Stared in jaw-dropping awe at the mother of pearl. This was surely too rich for her. She knew Sulochana was a princess, of course. And even that wealth was a little different in Thellamie. They didn’t have the same range of electronics as she had at home, the tablets were new and special, whereas she understood vaguely that precious metals were a bit less precious here and could be found more readily, particularly as people explored the outside and found new pockets of special materials. For that matter, she’d heard that sometimes Heron would just drop into a town with enough valuables to completely upend the economy while buying them out of all the useful trinkets and adventuring tools.

But even so, even so! This was incredible. She lets out a little squee as she looks it over, and happily goes to model for Sulochana. It’s only as the tablet is held up that she sees the eye. Her reaction is all instinct, and it is mainly bumping her head on the ceiling of the palanquin because the part of her that added the fluffy triangles wants to be up high and feel safe and trying to suddenly and instinctively stand up and jump away inside a palanquin just means bumping your noggin, shouting a sudden “ouch” and then rubbing her head sheepishly and settling back down as the eye fades. She quickly rubs her hand against the spot on the silver though, smudging it with a bit of the natural oil of her fingers as she looks down, then back up at Sulochana.

“Did you see…um…is it safe to use her name? The um…the star who was here before, I saw her eye in the mirror. Is that um…normal? Do all the fallen stars stay here? It’s safe, right? Is it safe to use her name if I see her like that? It just startled me, but that must be why you have all the velvet in the Viperiat so intensely. How does that work now? Do people know why she doesn’t appear in the tablet screens?”

Yuki has a lot of questions, very quickly, and she’s also looking at Sulochana’s face, trying to quickly figure out if this is a special Yuki thing that she’s going to have to worry about now or if this is an Azaza thing and if so just how far it extends and what it means years after her defeat. Her mind is whirring and she’s realizing that there are a lot of questions she could have asked before coming back here and had never really thought about.
Hidden 10 days ago Post by Phoe
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Trust level: /+/+/+/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/
Dollwaltz!!!!!!
Connection, taught by Madeline. Recollection of Timtam Target's performance.
Coincidence? Connection. To investigate.


Dollwaltz Dollwaltz Dollwaltz, oh than the dreamers she has the tune now! The entire piece is audible inside her mind. Information processed, stored. Releasing and resuming investigation. Temptation: immediately query Lady Olyessa about the song and the Target. Rejected, mission orders prioritize Order privacy.

Madeline will know. Official business to ask her, now. Priority, post cleaning post festival post nighttime meal. A lead! Or a herring! Either way, delicious! Er, exciting!

"Settled?" Eclair cocks her head.

"No I am afraid not. I must impose upon you a moment longer."

Eclair's face is tense. The kind of tense that many outsiders and possibly Outriders mistake for a battle aura but is really just the focused concentration that comes from noticing something important. And she has. There is a very real argument to be made that spotting a Pairing supersedes the importance of all but the highest missions, and in Eclair's case the only thing that had even raised the Mystery Score above her default ranking was the involvement of a, a, a, a... um. You know, a colleague. Coworker. Fellow Knight. Person. Girl. Who, like, used to give offer extraordinary ear rubs. For. Medicinal purposes. You see.

Stress kills, you know!

Anyway, there is a spark in the air. This demands attention! Eclair rushes forward with supremely reckless speed and takes the Civil woman's hand in her gauntlet with a care and gentleness that is startling for how quickly she was able to seize it. She takes the Hunter's hand in her other.

"We are not settled," she says through a smile as magical as a sunset, "Because the information I was gifted has turned out to have far greater value than what I offered you."

She pulls, and brings the hands together. Some say that Maid-Knight mystic arts bind the hands of those they touch such that you can't help but entwine your fingers with whomever you've been brought together with. The Order simply insists they have a talent for spotting matches, nothing more. Either way her smile intensifies, from Evening glow to Noon, as the maxim holds true this time as well. She holds them together with one hand now, and draws a glyph in the air with another.

It's a simple bit of hedge magic, actually. Nothing to be excited over. Basic retrieval. She takes the long, red string she pulls free and wraps it several times around both of their wrists.

"Please, be excellent to your mistress, Lady Nun."
"Please, be excellent to your pet, Lady Hunter. Olyessa? Yes. Yours is a sacred duty."

She places the end of the string in the Hunter's other hand. The string with a handle looped onto the end. And a clip dangling from the other. A leash. She has given the pair of them a leash.

"The blessing of dreamers upon you both. I only pray that you each remain constant, whatever that may look like for you."

With that she hops away, somehow landing ten feet from where she started and also in the middle of a beautiful curtsy (the envy of even the one she opened this conversation with). Her tail tip flicks merrily behind her as she smooths her apron.

"There. Now we may consider ourselves settled, Madame Outrider. Enjoy the festivities, I am told the local cuisine is..." she fumbles, "Noteworthy?"

That's surely NOT the word, right?
Hidden 10 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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His tail flick-flick-flicks with the rhythm of a curiously low, rumbly laugh. Butterflies in his tummy flutter and alight on the fascinating words “my dear.” His cheek still tingles.

Yeah. Yeah, he’s still thinking about the end of that conversation.

Didn’t turn out half bad, huh? That was, whoof, that was really dicey there for a second, and before there’s a next time he’ll ask Yuki about proper protocol when talking to very tall girls who are snakes with dangerous eyes. It was messy. No two ways about it, but she laughed! She did very much laugh! Never underestimate the power of a floofagoof! When all else fails, it never hurts to be a little silly. Like the little smile he’s wearing as he takes in the sights of Crevas at dusk.

The crowds around the plaza look like the crowds on TV for the Thanksgiving parade, only the giant mass of people was constantly broken up by swaying Nagi and towering Seligamaru, by clothes and fur and scales of every color imaginable. Against the riotous splash of the crowds, the city around them stretches out, weaves of color swirling from street to wall to roof and back again. Districts, neighborhoods, families, he can spot them all by the colors they share. Where some giant must have delicately painted the sands, and here and there people called out, asking to share a brushstroke with their neighbors. As the lights from above fade, lights from below flicker on; some in lanterns, many more in glittering orbs of magical light, rising above the streets and setting the sand to sparkling.

Crevas. The real Crevas. At the Festival of Lights. Being shaken down by Keli and Seli.

It was all really happening.

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

It was all really happening.

“So which is it? Kidnapping or not?!” He pants as they all but fly down the streets. “I’ve been getting some very mixed messages lately!” Behind them, the sound of the guards grew…closer? Farther? More angrier? Look, it’s very hard to tell under the circumstances, and he really didn’t feel like taking his eyes off the street to check!

And Keli gave Seli a look, and Seli gave Keli a look right back, and, oh beans.

He’s in a Spot. With Keli and Seli.

If you’d asked him before, he would’ve told you that being chased by rather large Nagi for no reason at all alongside two foxgirls who might be considering if there was a reward for turning him in must be a rather stressful experience. Ask him now, and he wouldn’t say a thing, because he needed all that breath for running. Ask him later, and he might remember not thinking very much at all, in the moment. Just a few wishes, wished so loudly that there wasn’t room for anything else.

Please don’t catch me.

Please don’t rob me.

Please don’t ruin this day.


[Spending my final question on Keli: How could I get Keli to help me without making me sacrifice my precious treasures? (His special festival day, the purse itself and at least a few of the coins Yuki gave him)]
Hidden 10 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Rurik!

Civelia almost cracks.

By her standards, however, she barely holds it together when Sayanastia takes that first bite. For just a moment, it is almost possible to see her as just a young woman missing one arm, absolutely baffled by the fact that Sayanastia just keeps eating the soap, bite by bite. Perhaps something could have pushed her over the edge, in that moment— but it passes. She does not even smile. Her lips clamp like the claws of a crab.

“One more thing,” she instead says. “If you can, I encourage helping out that Lunarian, Heron. We could always use examples of exemplary conduct to be taken back up to the Moon, and the opportunity to treat with one below the Ribbon-Road is not to be wasted.”

…Cair is presently trying to explain to the Lunarian why eating soap is a team-building exercise, and also asking how the moon people eat (“W-we are not the consumption of the sustaining as one. You are not the preservation of affections!”). How would Heron usually handle this sort of nonsense?

(And, keeping in mind that the ceremony will be here before you know it— are you going to take Heron’s place here?)



Yuki!

Because the palanquin is in motion, it’s really quite lucky that you didn’t cause the guards bearing it to lose their balance. As it is, there’s a moment of Sulochana holding both her hands out to her sides, ready to try and counterbalance one direction or the other, her eyes startled slits.

Around halfway through your explanation, she snatches the necklace away from you, even as you work your way through the question-filled conclusion, and smothers it underneath a cushion— which gets a coil slapped over it. Back out comes the tablet; her focus is on you, even more than when she was trying to let you in on her secret before.

>[.realsuloarju]
>I am so sorry I didn’t think
>She’s in the mirrors but that means she’s IN the mirrors
>I’m so sorry
>Using her name risks attracting her attention
>But she can’t maintain attention for long, not unless she’s watching someone; she’s in the mirrors and that means she’s in any mirror, which means any mirror across Thellamie might have her attention
>I can’t believe this one
>She’s not dangerous I don’t think but she’s still a STAR, Yuki


She takes a deep breath. The cushion is still. No movement from underneath it at all. Azaza’s not going to jump out of it, nails extended, and make good on the threats she made all those years ago as she scrabbled against the massive golden frame of her vanity mirror.

Sulochana moves the cushion off like she’s doing bomb disposal. The necklace lies there, innocently beautiful.

“…she makes all kinds of promises, asking to be let out. Or screams. She did a lot of that before we removed the mirrors in the Viperiat. Then, around about the time we got those last ones, she was just… watching me. And she knows how to change the reflections, if she wants to. Thankfully she just… gets distracted. Remember how she’d just stare at herself for hours, or how we distracted her with those jewels? Now she’s got every reflection in the world around her all the time, and so she… it had to just be bad luck. That’s all.”

She picks up the necklace, letting it pool in her hands, and doesn’t make a move to give it back to you, but she doesn’t put it away, either.

“…she won’t hurt you,” she says. The undercurrent is palpable: I won’t let her hurt you. Then, as an afterthought: “And the tablets are made by the Lunarians, so. Maybe they have something to do with it. But it’s ’the trouble of our world’ so they won’t have anything to do with the Fallen Stars at all. Because the Fallen Stars are impure, just like we all are. Each and every one of us, apparently.”

Perhaps a touch of bitterness there. Just a pinch.

You’re approaching the plaza— not the Welcoming Plaza, but the one set aside for the ceremony, which will begin at dusk, but, oh, Sulochana will have so many things to do beforehand to make everything perfect. This is the moment you have with her before everything starts rolling.



Juniper!

Oh, this is, this is…!

This is some sort of blessing from the Vagabond Order, isn’t it? You’re not familiar with this one, but someone learns something every day, which means that once again you’re the lucky one learning.

You’ve been learning quite a lot, haven’t you? The baygum’s sluzhanka, you: you and this Maid-Knight are the same in some important ways. But you know in your heart that you’re the lucky one. Legends say that their Mansion is a hotbed of repressed tension and simmering desire, but the Pack do not often repress themselves, and their desire frequently boils over, and— as you have learned, intimately— those that try to behave in public are all the wilder when they finally let loose.

Olesya is stock-still. You can feel her fingers clenching tighter, and you rub your fingertips against the back of her hand. Her eyes move up from the ribbon to meet yours. The look in those eyes is the same as the one she gave you after she brought down that stag-goblin, right before she collapsed on your legs.

You try to contain the warmth that is flowing through you, but it’s spilling out: you’re smiling like the first time Olesya showed you the flowers she crushes to make her eyeshadow, your ears are trembling with excitement, your tail is thumping against the ponybutt of your steed. This is unbecoming of both a nun and a sluzhanka, but you’re helpless to stop yourself. You’re going to have to think your way through this, and a little bit of you pouts and leans against a wall in your mental fastness at the thought of thoughts when you want to just give Olesya a kiss and show all of Crevas how amazing the Khatun-to-be is.

But being a sluzhanka means paying attention to your lady’s needs as if they’re your quarry, and Olesya is— she’s still stock-still, she’s trapped in the middle of her mother’s procession, she’s having pictures made of her and you by onlookers, and the only safe action she can find is to do nothing at all.

“We shall both be excellent,” you say, nudging your goblin a little closer. If you were Olesya you could do this in a way that nobody sees it move at all, but here it makes you seem like you’re struggling to control your animal, which is good, actually. You’re not a huntress, after all. “How could we not be? We run together behind the Khatun, underneath the moon’s light, in us found the best qualities of both the Goddess’s serenity and the perilous ways of the Outside…”

The Khatun is watching you, turned in her saddle. She often does. You work very hard to earn your place as Olesya’s prize, her servant, her bedwarmer, but it has not escaped you that the Khatun only pretends not to have her daughter on her own sort of leash in turn. If you were ever to get in the way of Olesya’s path to greatness, well. There are many perils on a woman’s path, sluzhanka.

“…and in turn I offer one of the blessings of the Civil Church that has found its birth in the fertile soil of the western hubs…”

You glance up at Olesya, and you’re close enough to see the moment of realization in her dark eyes. The opening that you are giving her. The threading of the needle between what she feels and what is expected of her.

She reaches around, covers your mouth with her palm, and pulls you up against her (muscles, scent, promise) body. “Hush,” she says, monotone, as you meekly put your hands on the horn of your saddle to the laughter of the pack. “You talk too much, sluzhanka.”

Then she looks to the maid-knight and grunts, shrugs her (broad, scarred, kissable) shoulders. “What she said.”

The Khatun smiles. Your heart is racing like the first time Olesya told you the night was cold and then sat in silence until you figured the invitation out. You squeak pitifully into Olesya’s firm hand and give the Maid-Knight the look of a silly little nun. And then the Khatun drives her spurs into her steed, and the procession moves on, and Olesya moves her hand up— scritches you, the once, a silent relieved thanks— and then pushes your head to the side, a sign to ride straight again.

As if you could, still glowing with that rosy blush. But that’s good, too. You’ll get teased about that later and it’s already making your toes curl. Just wait until your friends meet your mistress!!



Eclair!

It’d be really nice if figuring it out made the song go away, wouldn’t it? I expect it’s still rattling around, this time as a complete piece, with mere emphasis on the fragment you remembered, as you work (one-two-three one-two-three) in the near-empty Vessenmer Dyes and Paints workshop.

A lantern flickers light from the back office, where Anesh Vessenmer is going over her records, hunting down your mystery purchaser, as you clean up after the staff. Tools need to be neatly organized and put away, dye pots stacked properly, and so much sand to sweep up and… let’s be honest, if you had all the time in the world, you’d be enchanted by the thought of sorting them all out by color and gradient, wouldn’t you? A task so difficult, so infinitely sub-dividable, that it would be like helping administrate the Mansion in miniature. You’ll have to reveal how much you’re able to resist the temptation, and—

Boots.

Heavy boots. Pair; only one person’s footfalls. Think back: sound of door opening, buried under consideration of task. Approaching you.

Pivot when able.

The Paladin’s tall. The Kel tend towards being short, compact; this one isn’t. Kel tassels hang from her armor, particularly her arms: decorative, distracting. The armor underneath is so much like yours; two sides of the same coin. The distinction is in who you chose to serve. Starglasses at night; the kind of Kel who tries to keep her mind on the ground. Practical, or attempting to convey practicality.

“You know,” she says, stretching, hands behind her head for a moment (important before a possible fight: get limber, get ready). “I thought for a while: why? Is it because you get all obsessive? Or is it just like another of your chores? To do: make her love me. Personally… I don’t really see the use in that.”

And she just. Leaves that dangling, and open, and she’s watching you from behind her starglasses, a shadowed shape in the low light of dusk. A firework goes off in the sky, and colors skitter across the floor between the two of you.

Anesh’s office is dead silent, as if she were holding her breath.



Hazel!

The thing about Keli and Seli is that there is something in them that is shining right now.

“Wow, you really hissed her off, ha!”
“Oh, poor dear, running away from your betrothed~”
“You looked so happy because you were thinking about having escaped her~!”
“Oh, you thought, is there no one to save me~?”

They treat obstacles like things to flow around like water: going up over carts, sliding under roadblocks, skidding around large groups, and pulling you along with them. (It would be very unworthy to consider the degree to which they are bouncy, so don’t even start.) It’s not technically parkour— wait, no, Seli is pulling you up a flight of stairs and onto the rooftops. It’s actual parkour.

Both of them are delighted. This is making their nights; a perfect capper to a perfect day of attempting to acquire your money. They almost certainly could get you to Yuki, and—

Yuki.

She’s brave, she’s confident, and she definitely would not take sass from these two. She’d convince them to claim that they were doing it out of the kindness of their hearts! She might have to posture, but she’d save you, her helpless damsel in distress. Maybe you could convince them that you have a contact in the Viperiat who will richly reward them.

Beyond that, well. There’s another thing that might work, right now, and that’s crying. Just bawling as soon as you manage to shake this crazy snake woman for even a moment. Sniffling and hugging your knees and bemoaning your fate. Out of the two, it would very definitely break Keli, and even Seli would probably be awkwardly attempting to comfort you. Just be the pathetic little meowmeow.

Because trying to walk away won’t work (and neither would running away, watching them work), trying to outwit or outflirt them would be a challenge that they couldn’t resist, you don’t even know how to use a heartsword, and—

Keli pulls you into a darkened alcove, claps her hand over your mouth, and manages to fit both of you into a very small, tight space just behind an uncomfortably thin bit of curtain. The sudden attempt to control her breath, to not pant heavily, is making her tremble, and she’s trying not to have her bells and bangles betray both of you. She’s electric with Getting Away With It. In her head there’s not so much as a thought of getting your money, though it’ll come back; she’s just trying to save you from whatever this snakegirl wants, and proud of herself for getting enough of a lead even with you in tow to pull this stunt.

WHERE DID THEY GO?” howls the scary snakegirl— from a little bit past you. Just a moment more, and you might be able to sneak away behind her back while she chases after a flash of Seli’s silks.

Regrettably, you have an adorable sneeze, don’t you? And you’ve been running, nostrils flaring, and it’s a little musty back here, and Keli has a distracting amount of perfume (and a distracting amount of taking deep breaths at this very moment), and, well…
Hidden 9 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol

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Rurik!

There is how Rurik, Seneschal of the Hero, would handle the problem. That would be a matter of discipline and diplomacy within the household, a moment for intervention with a firm voice and intimidating stares. He would break things up, calm things down, and generally do everything Civelia wished he would do. Tragically, Rurik was not present, and Civelia had allowed her faith in him as a man to blind her to his duty as a Handmaiden.

What would Princess Heron do in this situation? Why, she would go over to Cair, put the remainder of the soap in her mouth, kabedon the Lunarian and flirt with her while chewing. "Hey babe," he said. "I'm sorry to say you're not the only one who's Fallen Far recently~"

Now, Rurik was not Heron. The disguise was very good but there was a certain... je ne sais quoi that made the Princess more than the sum of her Handmaidens. In particular, Rurik could never quite disguise his eyes, which had a kind of perpetual ferocity to them that made everything he said come across as a mafioso's threat. Under those circumstances, his kabedon felt more like the beginning of an actual mugging instead of a sexy mugging.

(In the back of his mind, he is prioritizing the ceremony over this. In his mind, he does the Heron move which makes the girl go weak at the knees and then ditches her mid-swoon. In his mind, he gets the soap out of the situation in one quick bite and it doesn't taste like anything and he doesn't start involuntarily blowing soap bubbles while fighting down the urge to scream for the team healer while standing dutifully for the ceremony. In his mind, Rurik is a dutiful and loyal Handmaiden, and not a braincell timeshare investor.)
Hidden 8 days ago Post by Phoe
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ONE two three and STEP two three and SWEEP two three and TWO two three and STEP two three and SWEEP two three and~

Dollwaltz is on her lips the entire time. Every little motion of Eclair's body is dance and song, though respectfully quiet versions of each. Lady Vessenmer is doing work in the other room, after all. But still, ah! The night is full of love: beautiful partners making a connection, threads of mystery pulling to a satisfying knot, promises made and promises kept! And of course the very best expression of love Eclair can imagine (outside the boundaries of the Manor), cleaning! Organization! The slow but stately transition from dirt and clutter to a sparkling finish. The sudden gasp of realization when it becomes clear how large a physical space is once the tools are put in their proper places and the sand is swept into its piles and dumped back into appropriate containers as per instruction.

There is so much beauty in all of it. It is only natural to dance, isn't it? But even with the flourishes and seemingly unnecessary twirls back to a spot she'd already passed over, Eclair is very worthy of her name and of her title. She does the work of several staff with enough speed and precision that she very well might finish these tasks before the festival reaches its conclusion. That would only leave the improvement of several shelving arrangements and a polite check in with Lady Vessenmer, preferably after making a pot of tea as an icebreaker, and then --

Pause. Fall silent. SWEEP two... hold. Flourish with broom, rest on shoulder. Seven steps perpendicular from location of Interloper. Turn head, mark frame and form. Roll neck, tap feet, tap broom. Surreptitious muscle loosening, extend possible range of motion in response to possible combat scenario. Do not engage.

Hmph. A Kel. Unusually tall, otherwise quite a typical member of their stock. Haughty, dismissive, pretentious. Rumor had it that after whatever bartering magic they pulled with the Lunarians to sponsor the development of the spirit tablet they had tried to covet the technology for themselves only. As if the magic that had brought so much equilibrium to the world in its coming had been a thing that could be dominated solely because of... what, exactly? That Yuki had happened to fall among their midst? That the sweet girl with time to help an overwhelmed squire work through a mission without her notebook just wound up in the colors of the Paladin?

Absurd. It was a sure bet that if she'd landed in the Manor instead there is no way that the Order of the Aurora would have-- ah. Well. There would have been an argument about it. And a lot of kissing. And another argument. And more kissing. Possibly the entire hierarchy would have upended in a night of passion. It is hard to say. But what is clear is that Eclair was standing on higher ground in this particular hypothetical.

She snorts.

"There is work to be done," she says with professional coolness (not ice not ice. Ascertain), "If you wish to debate philosophy then kindly join me in organizing the sands. With two hands we might be able to sort the grains by hue, if not gradient. Otherwise..."

Four steps, stop. Plant feet. Flourish with broom, spear stance. Dip, catch, pivot on ball of left foot, lean in with hip. Launch.

The second broom launches itself like a missile off the end of the one in Eclair's hands. Straight and unerring, but nevertheless intended to be caught.

"I will escort you from these premises myself."
Hidden 8 days ago Post by Anarion
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Yuki looks at her tablet, reads it over carefully, listens to Sulochana. She nods as her friend is speaking. Nods again when there's the undercurrent of I won't let her hurt you and looks right in Sulochana's eyes and smiles. An act of particular intimacy with a Nagi, to gaze straight into their eyes, particularly if they're feeling jumpy.

But then, Yuki wasn't feeling jumpy anymore. She had been startled, of course. She wasn't sure if there was danger, or if Azaza's presence might have been related to her and Hazel being called back into the world. She might be, but the way Sulochana wrote "STAR" in the chat, that said something about Thellamie, about what people thought of Thellamie and it sounded like Stars still being around in various forms over time, that was normal. It was part of the world, even if it was risky too. So Yuki was reassured, even though Sulochana obviously wasn't.

Yuki pulls her tablet out to reply, lowering her face before she can give away anything with the impish grin that's spreading on it
>[.snowkitten]
>No need to apologize. It's part of the world, right? So that's normal and I'll learn how all these things work. Now that I'm here the second time, now that there isn't such a rush. Well...probably, we'll see if somebody makes a rush. But I think it won't be MY rush this time. It's not the same, I'm not the same, and everybody has gotten older and knows how to do things differently. I mean, heck I even learned fencing, and maybe I'll have some good heart duels while I'm here without any extra help!

Yuki furiously types all of this and then sends in one block, causing Sulochana to look down at her tablet as it beeps at her to read Yuki's message. There's a light sound, the softest swish of silk, no more than a breeze blowing in from the palanquin curtain. But when Sulochana looks up, she's find Yuki's face in between Sulochana's arms and face, as Yuki's hand gently extras the necklace and fastens it around her neck, then looks up at her friend. She pulls the silver up, blows on one time with her breath so it fogs and lets the fog naturally fade so it remains just a little cloudy.

"There, beautiful." Yuki looks again right in Sulochana's eyes. "Listen, Suli..." she uses the short name she'd used all those years ago. "I'll be excited for you if...you know" she inclines her head toward their destination without saying the whole crown thing out loud again. "But whatever happens, whatever power you have, it doesn't mean you have to do everything, okay? You can relax sometimes, and not just because you've already arranged everything just as you want it and are taking a break before a new problem comes out. It's okay to accept help when you need it. That's what you told me once and I didn't forget. So many people helped me in Thellamie, and then more when I got home so I could focus on studying and sports. And even then it's not like I've decided what I'm going to do with my life. I'm not a princess at home, I don't rule anything except a medium size collection of stuffed animals, and they're very easy to deal with. Except for Pink Bunny, who's terribly uncommunicative." Yuki blushes, lets herself focus on Sulochana again. "Promise me that if you're having a hard time, you'll say that you need help. Okay?"
Hidden 6 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Later, he’ll marvel at the magic of Thellamie that kept him from crashing into every person, cart, and fragile object along their escape route. Because it has to be magic. There’s no other explanation. In his short time here, he’d gotten a whirlwind crash course (oh no!!!) in how the world works here. He’d walked through the Hubs. He’d drawn a Heartblade. He’d (safely) caught a glimpse of the dancing stars. He’d also grown antlers, and it was taking him some time to remember to duck through some doorways. But his legs?

They weren’t his legs. Subtly, not in ways he could really articulate, beyond looking in a mirror and having to pull a double-take. But they worked just fine, and he moved just fine, like he’d had these legs his whole life, and so he hadn’t thought anything of it. Later, he’ll think about the running, the leaping, the bounding, the climbing, and he’ll wonder how the legs of a stranger knew to carry him like that, and no matter how he looks at it the only thing it could be is magic.

That is later. This is now.

Keli and Seli scamper ahead of him, twin comets, guiding stars for him to follow. They speak no words to each other (but plenty of words to him) and take the road like it’s another stage, one they’ve spent their whole life rehearsing. They trade off leading and pulling, one of them surging ahead and around and over and under, the other clutching his hand and guiding him along the path. Around this crowd. Over that cart. Down this alley. Turn, climb, run! Run! Run!

And Hazel runs. With a bounding, leaping gait, he runs as fast as he dares. He can’t manage the sliding dives, or the steps that carry them along a wall, or the hi-five they give each other as they cross paths, but there’s just no time to think about what he can’t do. Because he can scramble over that cart with just two steps and a leap. He can vault that roadblock if he steps one-two-three-hup! He can squeeze himself sideways, and let his momentum carry him with a lunge-step and scrabble. He can follow them. He can keep running, even though by all rights they should’ve had to slow down six times now. He can hear the angry shouting behind him, as the terrific speed of the Nagi fights with their muscle and bulk to unsuccessfully push through the crowds.

He can leap off a building with Keli, and if you’d asked him before he would’ve said absolutely not, and you can’t ask him now because a helpless giggle is blooming into a wild yelp of adrenaline and joy and-

”Mmmphh!!”

Abwuh? Huh? Running? Warm? Dark? No? No running? Oh. Oh. Hiding. Hiding now. Being quiet. Okay. Okay. He can be quiet.

Um. Was she going to stop…? No? No. Okay. Nose breathing it is. Right. In, and out. Deep breaths. Slow breaths. Quiet breaths. Wait for that heartbeat to slow down. Try to find his heartbeat; one beating in his chest, and one beating against him, all tangled up in. Here. Very tightly.

Um. Oh dear.

That’s okay! This is okay. When next she looks at him, he looks at her, and wrinkles his eyes in what he hopes is a reassuring, friendly sort of way. (Can she feel his lips smile under her palm?) Slowly, deliberately, and above all silently, he wiggles his hands until they’re safely pressed between his body and the wall. See? No funny business. He will sit here, perfectly still, and perfectly quiet, until they get out here. No worries.

…it’s a bit difficult to see if she got the message, on account of the veil and all. And the look in her eyes - Bright. Sharp. Alive. - hardly changes. Nor does it change when a sudden angry shout jolts him against her. She raises one finger to her veil in the universal sign for silence.

And winks.

Okay! That’s okay! She’s fine! Winking means she’s fine! And he can keep being quiet and still! No problem! No problem. Just. Keep standing here. A little squished. Don’t think about the slight pressure against his chest every time she breaths in. Don’t think about the trembling of her body. Don’t think about how sweaty and gross you might be from the run. Don’t think about a snakegirl bursting through that thin, thin curtain at any moment…

He always hated this part of hide-and-seek. The waiting. Hearing footsteps nearby, and all you can do is wait. Hope they don’t get closer. Hope they don’t spot you. Sit, and dread, and worry, and implode, with no end in sight, repeat forever. Except. Well, yes, the worry was still there, somewhere. But there was also the comforting warmth of another person, standing close beside him, and how often did that happen? Somewhere along the way, one of Keli’s fingers had started idly stroking his cheek, probably without her realizing, and he couldn’t forget that. There’d just been a chase too, and if that memory could ever fade he would see it echoing through her glittering eyes. All that time dancing, and she’d never quite looked like that, huh? And with every deep breath, there was a rush of her sweetly spiced perfume, tinged with a smell he’d later realize was her skin, holding back the musty, dusty air of the alley, and, and, and-!

“Wa-chew!”

...and he may have forgotten not to sneeze.

Oops.

Well.

Maybe it was so quiet she didn’t hear it?
Hidden 6 days ago 6 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Eclair!

You know, in retrospect the Paladin is going to be very embarrassed that this is what starts the fight. She only half-hears your very good challenge, because she’s already throwing herself into the footwork, the pivot away from the projectile (the broom, let us underline, as her brain will only afterwards), the draw from the center of her chest.

The heartblade starts as shimmering motes of light streaming from her; her breastplate has a stylized Stone over her chest, from which the light issues forth. (A typical aesthetic flourish.) Her weapon is pale and cloudy green as it forms, even as she reaches out for its lengthening (and lengthening) form. The initial draw is a vital part of sword training, even with how it’s drawn to your hand; it won’t finish solidifying until you have it. Inexperienced duelists can be disarmed before they’re even armed. But she’s not inexperienced. Her hands go right where they need to be, her palms wrapping around the thick shaft, and the heartblade finishes materializing: a Kel glaive, the thick head single-edged. The counterbalance at the end is the silver moon, full and heavy.

The sweeping arc rising from below is heavy, intended to smash through a block; rather than striking at a limb, looking to limit mobility or capability, it is meant to be a shock to the system. If it won’t drop someone strong-willed immediately, it will at least stun them long enough for her to take the momentum and follow through with a blow from the counterweight or a spinning chop from above. It’s a fighting style that emphasizes devastating shock, meant to leave the opponent unable to stand, let alone continue a fight.

But you have light-treated armor. Arrogant or foolish of her, then— or she simply assumes the physical shock of the blow, even if it fails to penetrate, will stagger you long enough for her to make a more decisive strike, or that the light worked into your armor will dissipate under multiple blows. You can, at risk, accept the blow to buy yourself advantage; the orthodox play is to simply not be hit.

Strike for the head to break her thoughts; strike for the heart to break her will and blade. (But her heart, too, is behind her breastplate— and fending off blows to the head is a fundamental of fencing. Only a novice would leave her head open.) Strike to the limbs to numb them; strike at the flesh to make her reel with the shock. And to make an opening— distraction.

To duel with heartblades is a noble art; to duel with heartblades is a cruel art.



Yuki!

"I promise.”

Sulochana has a broad couch up front, on a raised platform, here at the event plaza; multiple important people do. People behind can see just fine as long as she doesn’t stand up and as long as you lie down next to her, propping your head up with one arm. Nothing to do but hang out in the pleasantly cooling dusk and—

“May the light of the goddess show you the right way and may you find what hides from you!”

Sulochana sits up, grinning, as Juniper steps into view. She’s wearing an awesome fur-lined version of her usual Civil casual wear, but with an exposed tummy and… a collar with a red string looped a lot of times around the circle at the front? But she looks happy. Amazingly happy. Her autumn-red tail is swishing wildly as she waves for you to get up and give her a hug. She’s gotten bigger since you left, or maybe that’s just the bulk of her jacket.

“Can’t stay too long— I’ll be blocking the view— but an invitation for both of you: the Baygum has agreed that I can invite some friends to dinner. We’re all taking over the Golden Grill after all this.” She gestures over to the southern side of the plaza, where a bunch of mean-looking people in furs are lounging on, around, and in front of couches: the Khatun’s pack that she’s been talking about so much.

Speaking of which, Baygum: it’s a Khaganate title, like Khatun. It’s (if you remember Juniper’s infodumps correctly) someone who’s authorized to call and lead hunts independently of the Khatun herself. It also sounds like that means her self-imposed administrative mission to the Khaganate has been really successful, as if her cheerful updates about sleeping on furs, sleeping with huntresses, and developing a new casual style for the Civil nun on the hunt weren’t hints enough. The Baygum, though. That sounds familiar. A patron? A girlfriend?

“We’re actually—“

“Don’t tell anyone I told you,” Juniper barrels on, past Sulochana’s attempt to point out that you have plans for the Ox’s Eye afterwards. “It’s just— she wants me to bring some of my bestest friends to a pack feast. Do you have any idea? And that Maid-Knight bound us together, too, just today— please, be sure to come, it’s going to be great!”

And then she licks you. On the cheek, affectionately, like a puppy. This is not a thing you’ve seen people in Thellamie do before. You’d definitely remember.

“I am crushing it today! Tonight! Golden Grill!”

You’ve got just about enough time to ask her one thing, or explain one thing, before she has to bound back (again, like a well-trained puppy).



Keli!

That sneeze! It’s sharp, and cute, and adorable, and the way his pretty little face scrunchies up, and all of it, the whole of it—

You cannot hold it back. The laughter bursts out of you— that laughter which is a little manic, a little piercing, a little like your beautiful and skilled mother’s own— nothing polite or cute, just the real deal of delighted, surprised joy, until it feels like your ribs are aching, even as a Nagi bigwig pulls you up by your scruff.

Oh, by Inara, where did this ridiculous little creature get dropped from?!

You’ll have to figure a way out of this eventually. But you always do. Hell, this isn’t even the first time your laugh has gotten you caught! But that’s a long story, and you probably don’t want anyone here to know that one yet. Maybe when you get your own proper post, sweetie. <3



Hazel!

“There’s really no need to struggle,” Purnima says, honey-sweet. “Wouldn’t it be so much more pleasant to just sink into my coils?” Her eyes are warm embers, the toasty warmth of sinking into blankets wrapped all around you on a cold evening. “Relax. Let go. You’re safe from any peril here with me.” She cups your chin, caresses your cheek, draws you into the depths of her gaze—

You manage to wrench away with all of your strength. Her coils tighten around you, forcing the air from your lungs in a little gasp. Purnima folds her arms, her expression of placid, trustworthy calm suddenly turned stormy (and absolutely definitely not embarrassed, goodness no). The room swims around you as those coils treat you like a squeaky stress toy.

“You could just leave him down here?” The guard with the ends of Keli and Seli’s leashes in his hand shrugs. “I could lock him in one of the back rooms. Easy.” He gestures deeper into the… house? It has the feel of one of those businesses that operates out of a house; there’s what looks like a couch-elevator on rails in one corner of the atrium. The windows are high and letting in the last of the day’s light. Memories are starting to swim back: that sneeze making Keli burst out into peals of laughter, getting you both caught; Purnima seizing both of you before you could properly draw your weapons, and Seli making a bold rescue attempt; being tossed over a guard’s shoulder, Keli and Seli being marched here behind you, and then Purnima staring into your face, and, okay, yes, that does bring you back to the present.

“What? And give the Arju the chance to have their spies locate him, steal him? I am not letting him out of my sight.” She turns her attention back to you, glowering… and then her smile turns smug. “Actually, yes, that’s an excellent idea. I won’t let you out of my sight at all. Jomes—“

(“Gemes, ma’am,” Gemes says with the exhausted air of someone who knows he isn’t being listened to at all.)

“—bring me a sash and veil from those shameless little hussies.”

You twist around in time to see the bushy tails of the twins, to hear their absolutely outraged grunts, and to watch them twist around in the chains Purnima had them locked in down here. (Who has a hook on the wall just for dangling chains from??) But on tiptoes, it’s hard for them to get leverage to avoid Gemes removing Seli’s sea-green sash and veil.

Underneath, Seli’s face is blushing furiously, which just brings out the freckles generously scattered over her cheeks even more. Her lips are forced apart by a scale-patterned cloth, the edges of which are already beginning to grow moist. (And, hmm, try not to stare at those full brown lips, okay, Hazel, sweetie?) She tosses her head and looks away with her nose in the air, face pointed away from you, even as Keli starts a garbled rant at Gemes, rattling her handcuffs and hitting a soprano note of outrage.

You turn back to Purnima just in time for her to push a square of soft, slightly warm cloth into your mouth, large enough that she needs to work it into your cheeks with her fingers. “Thank you, Jomes,” she says, taking the proffered sash and pulling it snugly over your lips and cloth-packed cheeks, leaning in close to knot it firmly behind your head, her smug grin as sharp as a knife. Then she takes the veil and drapes it over your nose, over the cloth, and lingers in securing it. The clasp can’t be that hard, can it?

It smells of Seli’s perfume. It drapes over your face, impossible to ignore. It’s not thick, and it’s not like it’s pulled taut over your face, but it’s just there, settling, concealing, being technically clothing that technically belongs to a girl you’ve been technically hanging out with.

“There we are, you naughty little thing. You might have an iron will, as expected from Yuki Edogawa’s husband, but now you’ll be mine in plain sight, my pretty little escort for the evening~”

She scoots over to the couch. (Moving around with someone in their coils is hard for Nagi; it’s like having your hands full, but for your legs.) She drapes herself down, showing a decent amount of core strength as she lifts her lower body up onto the couch— with you still coiled in it— and brings you close enough to play with your antler as Gemes starts working the winch.

“You’re my ticket to victory,” she says, rubbing her thumb aaaaaall along that antler. Both Keli and Seli are making angry noises below, as if telling her to come back. (The noises are also huffy and muffled in a way that you were not entirely prepared for.) “Bereft of her vicious outlander assassin, Sulochana will be wide open for my counterstrike.”

The ceiling folds back as the couch rises onto an open-air veranda overlooking a packed plaza. It’s noisy down there, and any noises you’re able to make will be lost, and anyone glancing up here is just going to see a rich Nagi enjoying public affection with a boytoy. A boytoy whose ear she’s now idly rubbing.

“Shhhh,” she says, unnecessarily, also unnecessarily sensually. “I think it’s starting.”



Tsane!

Crown of Light Ceremony. You’re digging up a reference, scanning over accounts, trying to find that one little detail that isn’t quite coming to mind. All of you sitting and lying all together on one couch (and around, and in one person’s case under). Trust the Nagi to make sure that everyone has to figure out how to use their weird couches on the fly.

The Crown, of course, is familiar. It’s the sort of thing that Heron says can only be made “with an experience tax,” which seems to mean that it takes a lot of time and magical cultivation to make, and Civelia’s going to be leaving herself open and weaker than she’s been in centuries just to hand it off to the new Queen.

Good thing Yana’s not looking for a rematch right now. She interrupted the original ceremony and kidnapped Civelia right after Hermeshind’s coronation, and all of Thellamie would be mortified and furious if she tried to do it again and, in the process, disrupted the important business of the newest Queen of Light.

The Crown itself is going to choose its new wearer. Queen Hermeshind was the first to be silhouetted by that radiant halo, but every time the crown passed on, it marked its next bearer without anyone being involved, right up until Vesper lost it in the process of losing herself. And it will do that after… there’s an extra step. Heron’s step. Then the Crown chooses the Queen and everything’s wonderful again.

The Lunarian has lowered into a squat at the foot of the couch, but their ears are still causing grumbling behind you all.

At the center of the plaza, Nagi singer Anat Amora-Ugari has finished her set and has taken a spot near the front to refresh herself. The dancers are already out in the ritual space, each one representing one of the noble stars, performing the Golden Road in accordance with the hypotrochoid mosaic prepared here years ago. Collected starlight seeps from the mosaic, all around— yes, here they come, Civelia in a high-necked gown and a headdress spreading in a halo behind her head, and Rurik carrying the crown in his hands.

The murmurs are spreading through the crowd, getting louder and louder, until Civelia raises her hand for silence. It’s showtime. Confident that your dad’s gonna do his best?
Hidden 5 days ago Post by Phoe
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Good theory, good form. A power stroke from an angle that takes advantage of the natural spawning position of her heartblade and is simultaneously designed to incite a blocking instinct in the opponent. Weight on opposite end creates a natural fulcrum around which the power of that large body could constantly be leveraged. Attack defeats lesser foe instantly, greater foe reduces possibility space via absorption or avoidance, defeated by follow up strike from more natural stance. Higher power, weakened opponent, broken will. In short, immaculate training resulted in purest crystallization of the Paladin as a woman, as a warrior, and as a creature of this beautiful world.

How! Ev! Er! Fundamental misunderstanding of the opponent in front of her. Few fools would dare, if they knew.

Eclair is perching on the tip of the glaive. The skateboard she uses as a shield has already left her back and is arcing through the air over her head. When the inevitable, wild swing attempts to shake her loose she merely turns the weapon into a launchpad. Such a beautiful haft, as strong and as straight as the Paladins' code. A more perfect rail could not be asked for.

The board comes down and Eclair's feet plant firmly atop of it. As one they come down on the shaft of the Kel's heartblade, and now it is the Maid-Knight who controls the weapon's center of gravity. Angled as it is when she rides one set of wheels the whole way down its length it is as though she has controlled the Kel's own heart into betraying her. She builds speed in shockingly little time. She leaps as she reaches the bottom, forcing the weapon out of a blocking position and flipping her board up into the air behind her.

It is entirely necessary to perform the mid-air split. In the first place she must achieve maximum extension in order for her kick to have the desired effect, and in the second place she must reach in the opposite direction to put on foot back on her board as she grabs the edge of it with her left hand. Place the offensive foot on center of breastplate. Push. Full transfer of energy of motion through largest amount of opponent's body, now off balance from kickflip/grind combo, mountain girl takes flight.

Eclair curves her spine in the seeming of the crescent moon to plant both of her feet on the back of the skateboard while she is still pulling it back into alignment with the ground. The stomp onto the clean, sand free surface transitions perfectly into a smooth kick along the ground to realign her momentum toward the skidding form of the woman who had dared come between her and the act of cleaning. The gentle sound of wheels rolling across the ground is a brief balm to her mind, even now attempting to hold onto Dollwaltz, but before long she has overtaken her target and taken her by the heartblade.

It is, of course, folly to try and disarm somebody of their heart's weapon by simple brute force. Fighting their willpower and their muscles with only the power of your body was a type of arrogance that belonged more in a Fallen Star than in anyone who counted themselves as an ally of justice (or even just a casual fan of justice). The tendency of a heartblade was to remain with its master until or unless said master yearned for surrender. But all the ways a heartblade was the true strength of a warrior made it their weakness, as well. Maintaining grip at the center of the shaft on an opponent determined to fight was essentially the same as holding a kitten by the scruff when you both go spinning around a support column to build up sufficient velocity to go careening through the front door and into the cool, dark streets outside. What could the Kel even do but hold on? To be disarmed of your own heart was to surrender inside of it.

Strike with broom, still held, at fasten of armor near waist. Goal: unbalance, disorient, remind of soft flesh underneath that glittering shell. Release. Admire sparks on street for ONE two three... darn it. Roll to stop. Stomp on board, return to back.

Eclair plants her broom in front of her like a sword. In almost the same motion she has retrieved her notebook and is hastily scribbling information into it. No time to care about her handwriting now, that's a problem for future Eclair to unravel.

Attacked. Kel Paladin, unusual build. Tall, heartweapon typical single edge glaive with full moon counterweight.
Highly typical aggression. Interrupted cleaning of Vessenmer dyes, ignored attempts at parlay.
Stupid? Assassin?


She blows on the ink, peering with one eye over the edge of her book.

"What I do not understand," she drawls, "Is this utter lack of respect for the art of the heart duel."

"You draw your heart on me, without my permission! And I am expected to, what? Bare my heart in kind? Sweet Lady Knight, we have not even exchanged names yet! Does the rest of your order know how... promiscuous you are? And yet doubtless in this exchange I will be perceived as the rude one."

She snaps the notebook closed and pockets it again so she can grip her broom with both hands. Her eyes glitter in the reflected light of fireworks bursting in the sky above them.

"That is a delusion you are laboring under, Miss. You must not think of yourself as an aggrieved knight. You are in fact a stubborn stain on the floor of Vessenmer Dyes. We do not duel, Miss. I am cleaning."

And she leaves that hanging in the air, with her nose turned slightly up in that haughty Aurora way. For all with ears to hear it, and all with eyes to see it.

(Fight with Daring: 12. Eclair inflicts a Condition, takes a String through the power of raw humiliation, and seizes a superior position)
Hidden 4 days ago Post by Anarion
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“Juniper?”

Yuki’s eyes are saucer wide as her friend suddenly steps into view. At Sulochana’s high bench no less, striding among the well-connected or wealthy Nagi who have the best seats with only the barest concern for not blocking their view too long. It’s bold, but then everything about Juniper screams bold at this moment. Except the tail wag, and the glow. That screams happy and it’s that tail wag that sets the mood for Yuki. Because hey, if this was Juniper’s true heart and living every second of being the pet puppy on display for everyone was making her this happy, then it made Yuki happy too.

She lifts her head up, one pigtail dangling below her, one swing past her ear to floor into her face. She rolls a little, groans when she realizes that her elbow had fallen asleep where she was lying on it, and swings out legs first instead, using her momentum and weight to send herself standing without needing to push with the asleep arm. Then she moves into the hug, ignoring the pins and needles as feeling comes back to her.

Juniper is…gosh. The furs have the scent of wolves. Yuki doesn’t have a dog at home, and she’s more of a cat person (maybe that’s why she’d been sent to Kel, come to think of it?). But she likes dogs, and Juniper has the right feel. The furs are soft, and the smell on them, it’s powerful, covering her, making her feel like the Serigalamu feel as she envelopes Yuki. She was taller than Yuki before, but as they both grew up, the gap there only widened, and Yuki feels her face close to Juniper’s chest as they embrace close. It’s warm and it’s not just her arm that tingles as her face presses close.

And then there’s the lick. It’s timed perfectly. She had just shifted herself, started to bring her head up to speak up for when Sulochana had been cut off when the lick pushes past her left pigtail and brushes her cheek. She lets out a distinct meep! and manages not to jump or hit her head on Juniper’s chin.

This wasn’t a Thellamie thing, and sure wasn’t an Earth thing! At least, she didn’t think it was. She’d had one boyfriend (oops) and two girlfriends, only one of whom had kissed her and nobody had every licked her! She blushes, turning her skin dark, and starts to bury her head into Juniper as a hiding reaction before realizing what she’s doing and blushes even hard as she tries to look up without pushing Juniper or doing anything even more awkward. In her head, she’s considering the merits of trying to summon a hole to the Outside to swallow her up right here with how much of an idiot she’s making of herself right now.

But then, a few things start to catch up. The string, meaning Juniper is taken. The maid knight. She had said that maid knight. Did she mean Eclair, the one from last time? That was The only one they both knew. That maid knight. If she’d blessed this relationship, it was serious and Yuki should support it. But a glance back at Sulochana also showed her a snake girl who was not well-pleased at having her plans disrupted and was wearing a face that said both how dare you and poor Miette at the same time.

“You dummy!” Yuki punches a fist into Junipers side, though not hard, more a play punch than a real one. “You said you couldn’t make it! Or at least I thought you did!” And now she has a glare in her eyes. “Surprises are great, and I am so, so happy to see you, but we could have coordinated on the restaurant instead of both of you trying to make me a local dignitary at two different restaurants at the same time. …Oh my god this is why all the famous people on TV have secretaries isn’t it? Never mind, that’s a rhetorical question.”

“Juni, I will…come by your dinner at some point. I do want to meet the Baygum. Sulochana is going to be the one to decide when we go over and if she wants to come. If you want us earlier than whenever that is, you’ll have to come to us.”

She hmmphs like she’s heard her mom do sometimes, a strong exhalation of breath with a finality to it. It’s not something she’s done much herself, high school plans were always so chill and she’s always been careful since starting college not to double book herself. Not a lot of chances with mostly chill friends to hmmph at anyone. But even so, she rather enjoyed it. It felt powerful and a little bit more grown up than she expected and she understood a little why her mom did it when she got exasperated with someone.

Yuki wasn’t a fool. She understood that telling the Khaganate to come get them wasn’t just a figure of speech and it might happen. But she rather thought that would be fun and a fine enough introduction to the Baygum if that’s what happened. And if not, then Juniper would have to settle and Sulochana would have to be just a little flexible but still in control. It seemed like a good compromise to Yuki.
Hidden 3 days ago 3 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Tsane!

Shut up a second I'm looking at lizards.

These are Void Fireworks. They range from five to thirty centimeters, zygodactylous feet with specialized suction caps, and ultratensile jumping musculature. Their second most notable feature is their obsidian fangs; extremely powerful but extremely brittle, hollow-tipped and capable of suction, a lot in common with a mosquito's proboscis. They can puncture flesh through clothing, and sink into wood or even stone with extended effort. That then leads to their most notable feature: once a Firework is attached it drains the colour from its prey. The subject loses colour from its distant extremities first, cast increasingly into a blue-greyscale[1]. Note that the Firework does not actually drain blood or other fluids despite being inclined to puncture flesh; that seems to be entirely for the purposes of grip, and it can draw from the clothes someone is wearing even if there is no direct fabric bridge to the Fireworks' mouth. Once the prey is completely drained of colour then the Firework will drop off like a filled leech and scuttle to safety.

[1] the Fireworks don't seem to enjoy the colour blue, though they'll eat it if there's nothing better. They really like yellow and incorporate it into their scale patterns.

This whole process is mostly benign. There is a lot of superstition regarding being colour drained and how it enlists you in Sayanastia's army, but that was correlation rather than causation. Her conscription/mind control/corruption was a separate subsystem. These creatures are the shards of one of her great monsters, the Light Eater, and they follow in her wake but are not active contributors to her schemes. Modern medical treatments and careful exposure to the Outside can restore lost colours without too much trouble, but objects are much harder to restore and generally have to be repainted if possible. Which is to say, nobody likes the Fireworks; they're considered pests and people generally try to swat them when they notice them. But that's when the Fireworks' defensive adaptation comes into play.

When a Void Firework is directly threatened or attacked then they perform an emergency expulsion of the colour they've stored. This creates a 1-5 meter radius detonation of ultracolour, like the explosion of a rattlecan full of paint, particularly with a mistlike residue that lingers afterwards. If this gets in living eyes it results in complete blindness until washed out with tears/cold water/eyedrops, and this can occur from the lingering mist residue as well as the initial detonation. Colours applied tend to be a mix of whatever the Firwork was eating at the time, and it has a permanent effect on what it impacts. Applied to skin it looks a lot like a shitty tattoo and will last for several weeks until replacement skin has grown in. The Firework uses the distraction to escape, sacrificing around 60% of its collected meal to save itself and the remainder.

That is all to say, they are regarded by the general public as extremely obnoxious pests that can completely ruin an outfit and presentation. The emergent implications are rarely considered. If these creatures emerged from the breaking of the Light Eater, what does that say for Sayanastia's other great defeated monsters? Is the trend for Void Fireworks to get larger or smaller over time, and does that indicate consolidation, continued fragmentation, or true speciation? Did they come into being with native migratory instincts that carried them to different waystones, or are they actively trying to follow Sayanastia out of residual loyalty? Collectively, are they more or less effective than the Light Eater itself?

And what's really cool is that these ones have little dragonfly wings. Associated atrophy of their jumping musculature. The Light Eater only had wings in its second stage - what does that mean? The elemental affinities of the Light Eater changed when it changed form, she needs to set up an experiment to confirm if that's the case with these too.

And - alright, fine. Work mode for a second. Glance at the situation - the idiots are bugging Kalentia for cures, dad's doing the ceremony bit, Sayanastia is not obviously gearing up for an attack. That meant whoever was going to attack the ceremony - and it was going to be someone - was doing the bare minimum to cover their tracks. Rather than looking into it, Tsane rolls up her left sleeve and draws a couple of glyphs on her skin with rainbow markers. Red, switching to purple, switching to cyan, switching to bone yellow, swirling and circling symbols. When the shit hit the fan she was going to be ready.

Once that was done, she turned her attention back to the Void Fireworks. She had another few minutes to do what she was really interested in before the proverbial phone rang again. Every second was precious.
Hidden 3 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Did you know? If you let your eyes unfocus juuuuuuust so, and let your head flop back and forth as coils thick as your whole entire body squeeze you silly, you can see secret creatures in the ceiling colors? It’s true! He’s just spent…several? Probably several instructive minutes making a close study of the subject. He’ll have a paper out next month. It’ll flip the whole world upside-down. Or rightside-up, if it was already flipped wrong. Now that he’s got that sorted out, he can tackle the next item on his to-unpack list. It’s a very good list. One of his favorites. Excellent work, under the circumstances. Now let’s see here, ah! Yes, of course. One teeny tiny itty bitty question to tackle:

Was the gagging supposed to make him squirm?

Like, okay, the gag makes sense. He’s caught, she doesn’t want him talking, gags are very common here, that all tracks. But there was an awful lot of production around the choice of material. He thought maybe he was naughty because he didn’t let her hypnotize him, but was he actually naughty because this is Seli’s sash and veil? Both? Maybe a bit of both? He guessed? Resisting her, of course that’d be naughty to her. But why’s the sash and veil naughty? Seli was just wearing them, yes, but so what? How was this any different from borrowing a coat? Was it a heat thing? A smell thing? Was it supposed to be taboo because she was just wearing them, and didn’t want to give them up? Sooooo, borrowing a coat without asking first? That is a bit of a power play. She’s making him borrow her coat without asking. And maybe she’s playing like it was all his idea, like he’d wanted her sash and veil the whole time. For smell, or for her just wearing it, something like that. There’s options, the specific answer isn't all that important. He can see the underlying theory. Feels like it’d be more potent if she picked something other than a veil and a sash, but then again, if she’d chosen something more intimate that would’ve been a bit much. Ugh, didn’t bear thinking about.

Anyway.

“Mmmpphhh!!!!” Hazel’s muffled, panicked squeaks rang out through the empty halls, wavering as he shook helplessly in her iron grasp. And then they fell even quieter as he buried his face in faintly cool coils. The only defense of a goofball. Hide away from his tormentor. They can’t see him, they don’t exist. Flawless logic.

It’d be better if he knew how to flop his ears down over his face, that would be a nice touch. But he works with what little he’s got. Moments like this, you’ve got to do something. It’d be odd if he didn’t.

Almost as odd as thinking he was Yuki’s husband??!? Excuse me? What? Why?! Oh gosh, that wasn’t the rumor around here, was it? Yuki-

Yuki.

The plaza.

The ceremony!

On the one hand; he had successfully made it to the plaza, where Yuki could, in theory, spot him and rescue him. On the other hand; if Yuki were to see him right now he would Die Forever. Tough choice, touch choice. No, wait, not a tough choice! Not a tough choice at all! This lady - Purnima? - was up to no good, and was planning on using him, to get to Yuki, to get to Princess Sulochana, to get to all of Crevas!

Oh no. Was this a Market War?!

He had to escape. If he could convince her this was all a case of mistaken identity, maybe she’d let him go? Or at least let him go enough to reach his tablet, get a message out to Yuki, warn her of the danger before it was too late. He just. Had to. Work his jaw just so, and. Not chomp on the sash while he…

“Mrrr!”

Okay, not. The most clear, but he can work with that.

“Mmphh? Mm mrr?”

Did she get any of that? Any of that at all? No, no, doesn’t look like it. She’s not even looking at him. Just, rubbing his antlers. Still.

“Mmphh? Mmphh! Mrrrph, mr mpphh-!”

Huh. He could feel her rubbing his antlers. That was. A new feeling.

“Mrr? Mrrr…mrr…m-mrrrrrrr~”

O-oh. Um.

Okay! Apparently! Antlers can feel! And ears can feel even more! That doesn’t change anything! Not one bit! Even if it does feel kinda nice and there’s a funny tingling in his spine threatening to turn all his bones to wiggly jelly, you do not! Ear rub privileges are a sacred thing! And, he doesn’t want them from somebody who’s plotting against Yuki and Princess Sulochana, especially not somebody who thinks he’s her husBAnD?! A fact which she would know if she would just! Listen!

“Mmmph! Mm mrp mrr mrrpmrrrphh!”

Golly it’s hard to talk like this!!!
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